Sunday, December 27, 2015
I vividly remember “the talk” with my mom. You know, “the talk…” My older sister, tired of defending my unwavering belief in Santa, bullied me into asking the big question, “Is Santa real?” My mom’s gentle explanation combined with my fervent desire to believe initially produced the opposite effect my sister intended. Words are weak instruments to describe her reaction when I returned from that little chat triumphantly proclaiming, “I knew it! Santa is real!” However, I do remember her reaction did include grabbing my hand and dragging me back to our mom protesting, “Mom! What did you tell her?! She still believes!”
My mom had taken me to a mirror and said, “Yes, Santa is real but he is not a fat, jolly guy in a red suit. He can look just like the girl in the mirror when she gives a gift at the giving tree.” I so much wanted to believe in the entirety of the Santa myth that I filtered out all words except “Santa is real.” I’m happy to report that we did achieve mutual clarity within the span of about 15 minutes. I was 8 years old and it was time to live with a different understanding of the myth. My sister felt for her and my own physical and mental well-being, it was well past time but that’s a debate for another day.
I find myself reflecting upon that fervent desire to believe in a myth after watching the movie “Spotlight.” This movie chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism that led to its January 6, 2002 bombshell story about the Catholic Church knowingly leaving numerous pedophile priests in active ministry for decades. Though individual sex abuse stories had been published throughout previous decades, this story altered the conversation because it demonstrated that a sick, systemic culture involving hierarchy and laypeople enabled and helped perpetuate widespread abuse. It revealed a culture pretending each abuse case was simply an individual, isolated, “whoopsie there” incident so as to perpetuate the myth of a perfect church. People turned their heads for a myriad of reasons all stemming from scandal avoidance desires: “priests are good guys”, “just doing my job”, “the church does such good work in other places”, “my fellow parishioners bully whistle-blowers”, “Cardinal/bishop so-and-so says it is the best thing for the church”, etc…
Why did the church hierarchy obsess on avoiding scandal? Because it feared scandal would shake people’s faith and possibly inspire them to leave the church. Yet, Holy Mother Church’s fervent desire to avoid scandal became a monumental, self-destructive scandal in itself. Instead of Holy Mother Church, it’s more like Our Lady of Macbeth - externally presenting the mythical image of perfect hostess while plotting and scheming to manipulate and neutralize people seen as interfering with this burning ambition…eventually resulting in the opposite effect from the ambition.
The church so desperately wanted to perpetuate a scandal-free myth that it caused huge, unimaginable scandal. The movie’s ending flashing four multi-columned pages naming over a hundred Catholic dioceses where major clergy abuse scandals and their even more scandalous cover-ups have been exposed to-date punctuates the scandal-based damage that arises when an entire system prioritizes myth perpetuation over truth and people’s lives. With over 100 dioceses, over 100,000 abuse victims, and about 75% of Catholics leaving the church, it is well past time for the church to live with a different understanding of the myth. Our mental and physical well-being requires it.
I believe the exodus occurred because too many still want so desperately to believe in the myth that they only begrudgingly implement superficial changes to address the issue and bully those who wish to live with a more mature understanding of the myth that includes real systemic change. For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in anticipation of the movie’s release, prepared dioceses with talking points aimed at portraying the topic as a thing of the past – as if it’s all different now. Yet, even the reports about filming the movie illuminate that it’s not all different now. The New York Yankees declined being filmed for a scene at Fenway Park because they felt it wasn’t a topic with which the team should be associated and believed that the Red Sox shouldn’t be either. Why would a sports organization that profits from attracting fans, many of whom are children, think it inappropriate to be associated with a movie about protecting children? Do we smell New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Dolan’s breath in that statement? The same old pattern certainly is there.
Yes, some things have changed since the Globe story broke yet much remains the same. Because thousands of priests raped children, I had to be finger-printed and watch movies about protecting children. It is as Mitchell Garabedian says in the movie, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” Therefore, we must educate the village. However, one constant is the existence of lay and ordained staunch defenders of the church who treat truthful criticism as an attack to which they must wage a counter-assault. This attitude contributed to creating a penalty-free environment for abusive clergy and irresponsible bishops. Until that fear-induced arrogant rejection of constructive criticism is replaced by humble sincere truth-seeking, there is no marked difference in the culture. One need look no further than the sheep-like unquestioning obedience to Mass language changes to see that those in the pews largely still operate with a “Father knows best” deference to men wearing Roman collars.
Unfortunately, the staunch defenders actually have changed in that they have doubled-down on irrational defense of the church’s indefensible. They have doubled-down on squeezing their eyes shut and stuffing their ears with earplugs to shut out reality. They want the myth of a perfect church and will stop at nothing to retain living in their myth. They are happy to chase away anyone who tries to bring them to a more mature understanding of the myth.
It is impossible for the vast majority of humans to consider the Catholic Church the penultimate “truth team” when its Canon Law and culture consider fact-based criticism to be “the enemy.” Thus, it’s no surprise that active Catholics represent merely 4% of the world population. (7 billion people, 1.2 billion Catholics, of whom only about 25% are active.)
If people truly love the church, they must welcome criticism of the organization. Since sports form an informal pillar of the Catholic faith, I’ll try a sports analogy to describe the detrimental impact of ignoring institutional shortcomings. It’s like a basketball team which commits many turnovers declaring this statistic as anti-them and refusing to work on turnovers. It’s like the team and fans bullying anyone who mentions the statistic and asking them to leave the game and never come to another one. It’s like a team with the highest turnover rate blaming the ball for its stubborn unwillingness to remain with the team.
The turnover metaphor only speaks to the abuse scandal’s collateral damage - people's mass exodus from the church. The most profound damage occurred to the 100,000s of people molested by priests. I can only think of a parenting analogy for this. It’s like a parent entrusting their children to a known pedophile as babysitter, and then when the child reports the abuse, recommending the pedophile babysitter to friends and neighbors. Would you trust such a parent? No, I wouldn’t either. Not even after they said they were sorry or enacted a Dallas Charter creating great bureaucracy to guide them since they demonstrated a collective lack of common sense to do the decent thing. Such a parent would be declared unfit. The same is true for all bishops who shuffled abusive priests.
Is it time to behave like my unrelenting older sister, grasping hands of staunch believers in the myth and insisting they adopt a more mature understanding of the myth? Don’t we owe the survivors at least this much?
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Dear Pope Francis,
This will be short and sweet. Saudi Arabia just elected 20 women, which is 20 more than ever in the Catholic Church. So, I find myself in a position asking you and your brotherhood to consider learning something from the Saudis on sharing power with women.
Hope you are having a transformative Advent.
Love and prayers as always,
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Truly, when I publish a blog article, I think it is my last one...until...something in the church cries out for commentary that does not seem to be getting expressed.
First, my last blog article about sexually active priests quickly catapulted to one of my most read articles. I am always humbled that people invest their time reading my blog.
But, I neglected to highlight one extremely important point in that article so I will do so now before delving into some recent comments Pope Francis made. The one African priest discussing priests' sexual activity with me blurted out, almost as a defense for priests not honoring the implied chastity of their celibacy, that such sexually active priests do so in "secret." What he saw as insignificantly dismissible, making priests' sexual activity permissible, to me exposes significant moral disconnect and systemic foundational rot in the church.
Over 125,000 priests have fallen in love and done the honorable and healthy thing for themselves, their lovers and their relationships...they married. And as a reward for their honest, healthy relationships, these men were expelled from the priesthood.
Instead, we are left with the cowardly, selfish priests who engage in sexual relationships that they hide as though their lovers are some sort of embarrassing sin whom they publicly pretend do not exist so that they may continue in their prestigious role, deluding themselves that they serve some higher purpose as a priest, and therefore it's ok to stuff their lovers in closets...for the greater good of humanity. These insidious men, who number 50% of the priesthood, are the ones we are stuck with...playing some perverted charade that they, who are fundamentally dishonest about their relationships and sexuality, provide the most astute moral guidance to lay people about human relationships and sexuality. Is my mind the only one numbed by the painful realities this demonstrates about the clergy's moral fiber and the resulting systemic societal impact of revering categorically dishonest men as ultimate guardians of truth?
Continuing in the category of mind numbing moral pain inflicted by clergy, let us turn our attention to Pope Francis' recent statements about condom usage to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. A reporter posed this moral question to him and the pope replied that he did not need to consider that question until African food and water security issues were solved. He rather dismissed HIV/AIDS as some obscure insignificant threat to life. Yet, if we read reports from the World Health Organization, we see this disease as a front-runner astride malaria as a leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.
Francis, what gives? Truly, that ranks among the most callous statements dismissing human lives that you've ever said.
Even if it were true to portray sub-Saharan Africa's 60% hold on all HIV/AIDS cases worldwide as insignificant...and it is not true...to say we should not concern ourselves with easily, I repeat, EASILY saving those lives until other concerns are addressed is like saying we should not treat prostate cancer to prevent the annual 27,540 deaths attributable to it until we first eliminate lung, breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer because they all account for WAY more deaths. "Sorry guys with prostate cancer, but we can't be morally concerned about preventing your deaths until we eliminate the cool kids' types of cancer?"
I find myself wondering how often the pope listens to what he says or reflects upon what he said and thinks, "Yowsers! Jet lag struck again! Senior moment! Stupid, callous thing to say!" But, words are a little like toothpaste squeezed out of the tube...difficult and messy to undo.
But both topics leave me wondering, "which lives are you 'pro'?" Evidently not lives whose acknowledgement would require humble honesty about clergy sexuality and relationships, nor ones which saving would require humble reclassification of a tool as "good" that they have invested years demonizing due to their twisted understanding about what it means to have healthy sexual relationships open to life.
Maybe it is time to right the barque of Peter and resume allowing clergy to have honest sexual relationships...reinstating the honest clergy who married their partners, re-permitting clergy to marry, and at the same time, ridding church leadership of the 50% of clergy with dishonest sexual relationships.
Pope Francis, you could do much for the church's and your personal credibility if you did two things: 1) re-instate a married clergy and 2) publicly correct your callous statement dismissing the lives of 36.1 million people with HIV/AIDS. Really, truly, those 36.1 million lives matter and it is immoral to not prevent the preventable to save them. Absolutely, infallibly, immoral.