“It is time for a new vision of a universal Church whose all-inclusive justice and unconditional love…can lead to a future that preserves the true right to life of all of God’s creatures.” Bert Thelen
If Cardinal Tim Dolan was following the George Zimmerman trial, he may have breathed a sigh of relief at the outcome: “not guilty” on all counts. A victory for process over person. That’s something the out-of-touch leaders of the church know too much about. The story has become chillingly familiar. Armed and eager, the over-zealous neighborhood watchdog thought he could be a pretend officer of the law. Seeing someone he identified as one of those “F*** punks,” one of those “a**holes” who “always get away,” he pursued an unarmed teenager who had offered no provocation. Except that of being young and black. Their confrontation led to Trayvon Martin being shot dead. Within the framework of Florida’s laws, Zimmerman was “not guilty” because he was defending himself against the threat of injury from his prey.
What has this to do with Cardinal Dolan? The Cardinal seems to take the same legalistic approach as a cleric that Zimmerman took as a neighborhood vigilante. The church’s culture of secrecy and circling of the wagons around the predators trumped compassion for those who had been their prey.
Church leaders stood their ground as defenders of the institution while leaving innocent children exposed to sexual predators. The justice system did not apply — till it came calling with subpoenas. We know now that Cardinal Dolan won quick approval from the otherwise notoriously slow Vatican for his plan to move funds out of the reach of those seeking redress. He has been conscientious about providing financial support to offending priests, citing the supposed obligations of canon law. The obligations of the Gospel were apparently less compelling.
What is the moral compass the Bishops use that lets them bristle at the healthcare law and call the striking down of DOMA “tragic” even as they shrink from taking a long hard look at why the Church failed the children so greviously? Their Fortnight for Freedom in relation to Obamacare was a call to “stand firm and be emboldened by the strength of our religiously-held convictions” but the tragedy of crimes against children did not embolden these clerics to launch a Fortnight of Repentance.
Where is the anguish? Where is the liturgy of atonement?
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has called for the kind of institutional soul-searching represented by Vatican II. Some priests are doing alone what the church refuses to do as a body. Jesuit Bert Thelen has given up the priesthood at age 80 to protest the church’s obduracy. There is no indication that actions like his will move the church to change. It isn’t encouraging that within the recently named inner circle of advisors to Pope Francis is Cardinal Pell who has admitted to covering up abuse for years to “respect the reputation of the church.” “There’s no doubt about it that lives have been blighted,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it that these crimes have contributed to too many suicides.”
Many have observed that America is a nation of laws and Zimmerman got “a fair trial.” How then did we lose sight of the people — Trayvon Martin and his family –whose injury nothing can repair? People yearn for a better, more honest conversation about race in this country. And we who yearn for a church that is more faithful to the Gospel should also press for more far-reaching, substantive change than that represented by new protocols for dealing with misconduct. Initiatives like the new missals that no one in the pews felt they needed do not make us better Catholics. Addressing the question of how and why the rot set in and what we can do to change the culture that made it possible would make for a better church. The institutional church needs nothing less than to rethink how it looks at the world.
Can it learn to see? Can it begin to hear? Are the bishops ready to give up their Machiavellian maneuvers to preserve power and return to the Gospel message of love?
For now, as one reader of this blog has suggested, “it is the church of our hearts that we must nurture.”