Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Do you have eyes and not see?" (Mark 8:18)

I recently finished a three month Peace Corps Response assignment in Ghana.  Being in Peace Corps required refraining from political commentary and this blog danced along a line regarding that stipulation so I suspended writing during my assignment.  However, I’m back. 

I actually began writing this article on the plane flying home, having just watched the movie “Spotlight” again.  This is the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism that blew the lid off the systemic nature of the church’s sex abuse scandal. 

After spending three months in a culture that has extensive unreported sexual exploitation issues largely facilitated by cultural taboos against pursuing legal action…much like those the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team exposed in the Archdiocese of Boston…I find myself even sadder for the Church than the first time I watched the movie.

The movie ends by listing 203 dioceses around the world that have had major sex abuse scandals exposed.  A few more have been exposed since the film’s September, 2015 release.  I believe there are probably many, many, many more dioceses that continue enabling abusive priests, especially those in regions with cultural taboos acting as accomplices like in Africa. 

Spotlight portrayed the privileged status Boston’s Catholic hierarchy enjoyed which permitted priests to abuse and bishops to cover it up.  Beyond even Boston priests’ privilege, many African priests enjoy outright demagogue status.  They are untouchable.  They are not to be questioned.  They are in prime positions to abuse without accountability.  I pray that somehow the lid gets blown off of any sex abuses occurring in African Catholic Churches. 

Before I re-watched that movie, I intended to write about attending Mass at the Papal Nuncio’s residence.  He opens his residence every Sunday to anyone who wants to attend Mass – a nice diplomatic touch.  The Mass was lovely, the people were friendly, and I was even asked to join the choir.  The Papal Nuncio is a Francis appointee and works the crowd greeting people and he even engaged in a meaningful discussion with me…more on that in a bit. 

However, he celebrates Mass on his outdoor patio and Mass goers sit staring at the glass patio doors of his residence, the Vatican Embassy.  Clergy abuse issues in every country filter through the Papal Nuncio’s office.  So, although friendliness floated in the air, I kept getting a sick feeling in my stomach wondering how many sexually abusive priests this man knowingly leaves in service in Ghana. I would hope that number is zero but I am skeptical.

Re-watching Spotlight, I was sad for my church that chooses to not see what it does not want to see.  It prevents us as individuals and an organization from achieving our full potential.

By the way, my discussion with the Papal Nuncio was about three points associated with the “Doubting Thomas” gospel reading. 
1.        I am very tired of people preaching about Thomas’ character flaws.  He was the only one not in the locked room paralyzed in fear.  He was brave enough to be out and about. 
2.       People say Thomas doubted because he did not see.  And yet, the reason those in the room believed was because they saw. They saw and believed; Thomas saw and believed – but - most homilies portray Thomas as the only one who had to see to believe.  Whom Thomas doubted was his fellow humans, not God.

I mentioned these two concepts to the Papal Nuncio and he initially said, “Yes, yes…of course” in a dismissive way that feigned interest. 

That was not the case when I mentioned point 3.
3.       In his homily he repeatedly referred to “the apostles” and “the guys.”  I held the gospel reading in front of him and pointed to it saying, “It actually says disciples not apostles; there were women there too.” 

I wish I had a camera for the stunned look on his face.  He laughed and said, “OH MY GOD!  I NEVER SAW THAT BEFORE! THAT IS FANTASTIC!”

His reaction pretty well sums up some issues in the church.  A passage that is used to justify marginalizing women from ordination clearly says disciples not apostles, but he did not read what it actually said.  He read what he wanted it to say.  Things that clearly exist in front of people are not seen because they do not want to see it – whether it is sexual abuse of children, reprehensible reshuffling of abusive clergy by bishops so they can abuse other children or unjust marginalization of women based on not seeing what is clearly written in scripture.  How do we fix willful blindness?

Side note: There were many women disciples.  Jesus breathed on the disciples present, told them to receive the Holy Spirit and if they loosed or held sins, they would be so loosed or held in heaven.  This is a pivotal scripture passage used to withhold ordination from women because hierarchy leaders read “apostle” of which they believe there were only 12 male ones.  This passage is considered instituting the sacrament of reconciliation, granting powers to absolve sins only to male apostles. 

Side note 2: Thomas, an apostle who was not present, did not get hit by this holy hot air yet is considered a full apostle and predecessor to priests and bishops.  However, the women disciples who were present?  The hierarchy evidently believes they had their Star Trek matter/anti-matter shields fully operational and deflected any such holy hot air from touching them. 

I was in Ghana working on girls’ education and empowerment.  As part of that I taught a session on “Finding Your Voice.”  It is a mini workshop I conduct to help people realize their ideas and opinions matter, and to help them cultivate their critical thinking and expression skills.  The Boston church found its voice.  I found my voice. How can we help others find their voices on children’s and women’s rights, especially in the church?


  1. Thanks for this. I appreciate your on the ground reporting in Ghana.I'd like to know more on what the lid on African cases is keeping shut. In the USA we have been importing vocations from Ghana for years. I have first hand experience of that in my local parish. The RCC needs to do better in finding their celibate candidates for the RC priesthood.

  2. Questioning a Ewe -

    'Canon Law says it is not only a right but a duty to question the church. Also, Canon Law provides an over-riding power to the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful). By this, Canon Law says that if the sensus fidelium (collective of the faithful) reject a law, it is not valid.'

    Please provide Canon Law numbers.

    The Boston church found its voice from a Floridian Jewish outsider.

  3. Great post, glad you’re back, and a huge question you ask at the end, I don’t know, but I do know that those of us who have voices, like you, just keep using them.

  4. Welcome back. I've missed your usually excellent commentary. This one is great. I have used my voice and pen to say things to the bishops that I think they need to know. None ever respond, save one, my own bishop. He tells me the bishops need to hear voices like mine, (and of course like yours). You should send your remarks to the USCCB.

    Richard Placone
    Palo Alto, California

  5. Yes, and besides that the two "disciples" (one named, the other not named) going to Emmaus,were probably a husband and wife. In the breaking of the bread THEY recognized him, which means that both had been at the last supper.

  6. I enjoyed your article, as I almost always do.
    Keep on questioning !

  7. So glad you are back! I'm a womanpriest trying to get the word out and appreciate your input. How amazing that you were able to enlighten a Vatican priest a la Nuncio. When I preached about Thomas, I renamed him Deliberate Thomas because he was so intentional in wanting to understand. The doors were still locked, even though the apostles (yes!) had already seen the risen Jesus so--yep, they might have seen but they still weren't believing. After Thomas gets his questions answered, he becomes passionate about his ministry. Would that we could all do the same.
    Keep up your good work.
    Mary Kay Kusner

  8. Ewe, As another example of "blindness", I'm beginning to believe that Francis' "blindness" to survivors is strategic, not real. I cannot believe that after all the exposure of clergy abuse Francis doesn't understand it. Especially after appointing the new bishop of Osorno and denigrating the resulting protests I find it difficult to give him....or others in the hierarchy....a "pass" that they just "don't understand".

    Thanks for pointing out other instances of institutional "blindness". 1concerned200


  10. Thank you for your reflections, Ewe. Both "Mea Maxima Culpa" and "Spotlight" brightly refocus the antiseptic light of Truth and Justice (what love looks like in public) on an institution that still needs to be reconciled with and to those abused and betrayed...all of us.

    If Francis and all his "brother" bishops were to sit in sack cloth and ashes on the steps of their cathedrals for a half hour one day in silent prayer, repenting ALL the sins of clerical sexual abuse and begged alms be given to the victims of these crimes, the Church could really begin to heal and live. Such a public apology and witness by the shepherds to the flock and the world are warranted and long-awaited.

    Peace and All Good, John Zemblidge, Phoenix

  11. How do you know when an author can't debate? When she only allows comments that she likes to appear on her releases. Sad.

    1. The rules for posting comments on this blog are no personal attacks, be respectful and take ownership of critical comments rather than hide behind anonymity as you have done.