Saturday, July 20, 2013

Divergent Priorities

Cardinal Tim Dolan seems a bit miffed, indignant or maybe even outright pissed that people don’t universally regard as heroic his sloth-like actions removing sexually abusive priests from ministry while he was Archbishop of Milwaukee.  To his credit, he did at least see some of them through to completion which puts him head and shoulders above many of his brother bishops.  However, that is somewhat analogous to being miffed at not winning “Father of the Year” for finally after years of stalling, ceasing to use a babysitter who molested your children.  Yes, that does make you better than fathers who knowingly continue to use babysitters with a history of molesting their children.  But Tim, in charity, I must confide that this is not typically considered award-winning parenting material. 

I think Tim’s attitude is due to the insulated and isolated clerical culture in which he dwells and the resulting priorities held by that culture.  To help span the cultural chasm between lay and ordained, I thought I’d use Tim’s experience as a teaching opportunity.  One of my daughters has been studying for her Medical Board examinations so I’m a bit steeped in study guides right now.  Therefore I put this in study guide form to aid comprehension and retention. 

Here’s how to read the table below: from left to right for each row, read the column heading and then read the column’s contents.  As an example the first row of content in the table below would read, “People interpret your actions <waiting months or years for Vatican responses on sexually abusive priests> as meaning you think <protecting children> <is not important> but many people think it is <very important>.”

The table demonstrates marked misalignment between what many people see as your priorities and theirs.  Thus, though you are perhaps dismayed as not being heralded as a hero, many people believe your actions are but a very tiny baby step towards addressing the clergy abuse problem.  Quite frankly Tim, many people are miffed, indignant or maybe even outright pissed that you and your brother bishops operate in a world that establishes, fosters, and validates your skewed priorities.    Such people often have similar emotions intensified when you have the audacity to lecture them about morality.

Furthermore, people’s ire only increases when you and your brother bishops repeat in parrot-esque fashion the mind-numbing phrase, “The abusive priests are just a minority of the clergy” in an attempt to diminish the severity.  Again, borrowing the parent and babysitter analogy, that is like downplaying the seriousness that one of your sitters is molesting your children because you also use nine other sitters who don’t molest your children.   Similarly, it is like justifying doing nothing or doing something at glacial pace to address the molesting babysitter because the other sitters don’t molest your kids.    

However, the mantra incessantly repeated by your brotherhood that perhaps most devastates the faithful is the one where you say you ignored this problem and dragged your feet, “Out of concern for the reputation of the church.”  Tim, God’s people are the church.  The church isn’t some abstraction of rules, or buildings or merely the clergy subset of God’s people.  But, the brotherhood’s priorities tell us all those things as well as your personal careers rank higher in priority to you than children, victims, their friends and family, and those who stand in solidarity with them.   This is the majority of this precious church that you wish to protect.

So, on one hand many hierarchy members think Catholics avoiding Mass indicates diminished morals while on the other hand, the majority of the church finds your priorities, attitudes and actions so deviant from the gospels that they leave.  Perhaps this is seen as a victory for the brotherhood to have critics leave.  But, that would be a tragic proof-point supporting your critics’ assertions. 

What can be done to close the chasm in value systems?  Hint: It isn’t “Let’s devalue children, victims and laity even more.”