Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mothering tips for Holy Mother Church

The Catholic church refers to itself as "Holy Mother Church".  As I mentioned yesterday, Holy Mother Church's official voices all proceedeth from the mouths of men, most of whom have no children.  I have three children and almost 25 years of parenting experience.  Despite Holy Mother Church being around for over 2,000 years, I seem to have more practical parenting experience than the guys in charge of the church.  So, I thought today I would offer some parenting tips from a real mother.

1.  Focus on doing what's right not on image management. 

In March, 2010 Pope Benedict wrote a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics stating that there had been, "a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal" by church authorities in failing to deal with abusive clergy.

Parenting 101 says that one's reputation develops based upon actions.  If one desires a positive reputation, then follow the advice of Micah 6:8. "You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God."  No where in there does it say, "but above all else, make sure you look good".  What is the genesis of church leaders' pre-occupation with image management?

The way church leaders handle the topic of child molesters is akin to parents who cover up their child's legal infractions.  This benefits no one.  The child does not learn responsibility or accountability and usually becomes more of a bane to society.  If bishops are father figures to priests, then why don't they act like it by insisting upon accountability? 

I remember a story about a young man who committed a crime in my community years ago.  His defense attorney commented that the parents wanted to know options but wanted to do the right thing.  Thus, the attorney advised if their son was guilty, then the right thing to do was for him to plead guilty and experience the repercussions of his actions.  That's what the kid did.  Those parents and attorney have great reputations...they earned them. 

If church leaders righteously deal with abusive priests and suffer some damage to their image as a result, I direct them to Matthew 5:10-12, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven."

No where does Jesus say, "Blessed are they who hide truth and avoid justice for the sake of reputation". 

2.  Always "siding" with your child is a recipe for raising brats and bullies.

When someone raises a concern about one of my children, I do not immediately defend my children.  I seek the truth.  If truth indicates the concern is valid, I address it with my child.  If not, I defend my child.

Most concerns voiced to bishops about their priestly "sons" fall upon deaf ears.  Rather than seek truth, the assumption seems to be that the priest must be in the right.  This seems to be the case regardless of the topic of concern.

If I always defended my children regardless of their actions, they would learn very quickly that they could do whatever they want and suffer no consequences.  Parents who use this approach seem to offer the world bullies and spoiled brats.  Why should bishops expect anything different from their "sons" if they do not hold them accountable?

3.  Honestly IS the best policy.

When my siblings or I did something wrong, my parents used to say that it was better to admit our wrong-doing and face the music than to lie about it or hide the truth.  Consequences for attempted cover-ups were far more severe than for the initial error.  Furthermore, if we tried to cover-up our transgressions, our reputation rightly suffered.  Restoring one's good reputation took a lot of work.  My siblings and I carry this tradition forward with our own children.

On a monthly, weekly and sometimes daily basis we learn of cover-ups by church leaders regarding handling clergy abuse.  Do church leaders realize how much they have damaged their credibility?  Do they know they must work to restore their credibility?

4.  Reconciliation is a great thing but make sure you hit all the steps.

The steps of reconciliation are to admit wrong-doing, express sorrow, repair damage (if possible), do penance, commit to changed behavior to avoid the sin and ask for forgiveness.

How's the church doing on all those steps with regards to clergy abuse?  From my vantage point, they still struggle with step 1.

5.  Forgiveness occurs when the injured party decides to extend it.  It can not be commanded.

My children know that though they can humbly seek forgiveness, they don't get to decide when it's extended or when trust is reinstated.

In November, 2009 at the annual meeting for the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal George, the group's president told the faithful that the church was beyond the clergy abuse matter and needed to just move past it.  Excuse me Cardinal George but you guys are the transgressors; you don't get to tell the faithful whose trust you've grossly violated when they shall forgive you and begin trusting you again, particularly since you haven't humbly sought it.

Furthermore, let us please review the avalanche of new horrendous abuse stories pouring forth since Cardinal George made that statement.  Belgium where several suicides by abuse victims are attributed to abusive priests, Ireland where abuse and cover-up were rampant, Austria and Germany and the tragic mess in the U.S. regarding the deaf children abused by priests.  I do not have access to strong enough hallucinagens to share your delusion that we are past this issue.

6.  Do not confuse "persecution" with "prosecution".

Criminals are "prosecuted".  That is not considered "persecution".  Child molesters are criminals.  Seeking their prosecution is not persecution.  Aiding and abetting a felon is also a felony.  Bishops who cover-up child molestations are accesories to felonies and thus felons themselves.  Those are also crimes that should be prosecuted.  Expecting bishops who commit felonies to be held accountable is not persecution.

My children know better than to act persecuted when they are being held accountable for their wrongs.  Throwing a pity-party for one's self when being held accountable only makes matters worse in my family.

7.  As the song says, "To know, know, know you is to love, love, love you..."

I could not love my children if I did not know them.  I invest a lot of time to learn about my children so that I can lovingly meet them where they are in life.  This involves more listening than telling.  It did not take a master degree in counseling, divinity or theology.  It just took a genuine interest and a lot of patience and humility.  How do priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope know their "children"?  If they don't know them, how do they love them?


  1. Very good points re: Child abuse by clergy.
    Mind if I copy it?

  2. Shelah, Thank you for your supportive comments. Yes, please feel free to share.

  3. Cardinal George cannot speak for and has nothing to do with Belgium, Ireland, Austria or Germany. And the title reinstatement of the priest who abused the deaf children was appropriate in my opinion because he was repentant and on his way to meet our maker. I thought you said this was a positive forum.

  4. The church is "one, holy, catholic and apostolic". We can't claim to be "one" until a part of the church has an issue and then decide that's not part of "us". We are "catholic" meaning a universal, one universal body. If Belgium, Ireland, Germany, etc... are having issues with this topic, then the "catholic" (universal) church is still dealing with it.

    I disagree with you regarding the priest working with the deaf. Regardless, that story broke after Cardinal George's statement. This situation seemed to be widely known amongst various hierarchy members but hidden from the public. As stories like it come to light, many people will be outraged, disappointed, hurt, etc... Thus, we are still dealing with this in the U.S.

    This blog is meant to be a positive forum. Constructive criticism is a positive thing and requires looking at facts (even when they are unpleasant) as well as allowing people to express divergent opinions.

    Cardinal George's statement was not made "ex cathedra". Thus, I do not have to agree with it. I found his statement an insult to the intelligence of many Catholics and particularly demeaning to abuse victims. The hierarchy have the freedom to say whatever they want but then, if it offends people, they need to be adult enough to take the criticism...sort of like I'm willing to listen to and consider your criticism of this blog.

  5. The abuse was undertaken almost entirely by homosexuals who infiltrated the Church and formed cliques in certain seminaries and orders in the 60's and 70's and who then excluded or discouraged heterosexuals who followed the Church's teaching and wished to pursue a vocation. It was the modernists who wounded the Church.

  6. @StevieD, your assertions are not supported by facts. I hope you are familiar with the USCCB's "Causes and Context" study published earlier this year. If not, please go read it. It is available online. However, here is a quote from that study commissioned by the bishops,

    Despite "widespread speculation," priests with a homosexual identity "were not significantly more likely to abuse minors" than heterosexual priests. Sexual "identity" should be differentiated from "behavior." A possible reason so many male minors were abused is that priests had greater access to them.

    Expression of sexuality is different than sexual abuse. Abuse is about power, not sexuality.

    Also, about 20% of the victims were girls. And the abuse continues against girls. Fr. Ratigan in K.C. was taking pornographic photos of girls - in the past year. And his bishop, Bp. Finn, ignored, moved and covered up for this priest - in the past year.

    This is not a thing of the past, nor a homosexual thing. Msgr. Lynn in Philly, Bp Finn in K.C. and other church leaders around the world are starting to be held accountable by the secular authorities for their failure to be good institutional leaders in the protection of children. This is the same treatment that is occurring to leaders at Penn State with their leadership failures.

    In the U.S. it is the law that an adult who has reasonable suspicion of abuse must report to public authorities. Failing to do so is a crime. I would expect to see more and more bishops and church officials get arrested like Msgr. Lynn and Bishop Finn until church leaders start complying with the law of the land, which happens to comply with the law of human decency. If Canon law prevents church authorities from doing the right thing by children, then it needs to be changed.