Friday, August 24, 2018

Hope or hopelessness? Updated

In the wake of last week's flurry of bad news, once again, I decided to do make some dramatic changes concerning my use of social media. After five years, I decided to delete my Facebook account and start over. I did this in 2013 after about 4 years of being on Facebook. In the past I have had a Tumblr and Instagram accounts but I deleted those. I still use Twitter and G+, albeit much less.

What prompted this was posting an article on a speech given by the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, to The Meeting in Rimini, Italy. The Meeting is an international gathering held each year in Rimini. It is hosted by Communion and Liberation, an ecclesial group of which I am formally a member but, for the past several years, not a very good one. Here is what I posted above the link to the article:
I met Pierre briefly last year. It was a nice encounter.

"The 'encounter with Christ happens in and through the church,' the archbishop said. 'There is an ecclesial dimension to the encounter. The pope calls the whole church to accept its responsibility for facilitating this personal experience of Jesus, who fills life with joy'
With almost no pause, certainly not one long enough to read the article, one "friend" chimed in asserting that Archbishop Pierre's speech was nothing more than "damage control." Not missing a beat, another "friend" went on a diatribe asserting the Church has not done enough. I readily grant that the latter point is accurate enough. The trouble with making that point in this context is that neither Archbishop Pierre nor I had said or implied any such thing. In fact, quite to the contrary. Keeping in mind his speech was directed to Roman Catholics, the most provocative thing Pierre is reported to have said, at least on my reading of the article (a quote I was first tempted to post on FB is conjunction with posting the article, but I thought it might be too provocative and so did not), was: "We must never stand outside the church to judge her; we are the church. We all are responsible for the church, including when there are problems in the church." To my mind, judging from within looks very different than judging from without.

"Friend" one had been pushing all week for some inchoate but very radical reformation of the Church. Making an attempt to engage on this, I employed a reductio ad absurdum:
here's an idea. We can remove all bishops, laicize the rest of the clergy, sell all assets, and divvy up what remains after setting debts proportionally among contributing members. We can meet up at local sound stage, sing Hillsong United songs, listen to a 30 minute talk loosely based on the Bible. It could be our post-modern version of the Scottish Reformation. I am just kidding, of course, and trying to inject a bit of sarcastic humor
My point was, this is not the route of reform the Church should take. In fairness, I readily admit to liking some Hillsong United songs. I even used one as a Friday traditio a few years back (see "And there I find You in the mystery").

Arriving at my point, this is where "friend" two told me he was offended by my reductio ad absurdum concerning Church reform. He made it very clear that he thought I didn't take abuse seriously and strongly implied that my comment about Church reform somehow made light of clerical sexual abuse. Here is the second of my two-part final comment on that thread:
When I converted and became Catholic at 24 I risked a lot and lost a good deal. I love the Church and am deeply grieved by what we are going through right now. This is not a mere emotion. As a permanent deacon I serve the Church with as much creativity, intelligence and energy as I can muster while also working full-time, being married and being a Dad. Granted I am not that creative and probably not all that intelligent. I am okay recognizing my limits. I do it all essentially without any remuneration. I felt I needed to put that out there and let it sit before taking a social media break and completely re-calibrate my engagement on this platform. I am pretty thick-skinned but everyone has limits
An overreaction? Perhaps. But it is really the culmination of something that has been building up for awhile based on these kinds of things happening not just on a regular basis and not just to me but with increasing frequency on many threads. Frankly, I don't want to be in that kind of milieu if I don't have to be. I certainly don't have to be on FB.

What bothers me the most is that was the reaction to posting something hopeful. Archbishop Pierre, who was likely asked to speak at The Meeting many months ago, addressed the issue. He said that, given his position, he had to speak discreetly at present. What he said was not offensive nor was it dismissive of victims or the grave harm done to them by the abuse to which they were subjected. He did not seek to evade or avoid responsibility for the abuse, the subsequent cover-ups, re-assignments, etc. While I can understand the anger, disappointment, grief, perhaps even a touch of despair concerning the release last week of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, coming as it did on the heels of revelation of McCarrick's abusive behavior, which took place over many years, I refuse to believe there is no hope for the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, I think the Church needs further reform.

Specifically, I think the Church needs reforms with regard to the accountability of bishops. With many others, I think any bishop who was involved in covering up abuse, silencing the victims of abuse, and/or reassigning abusers, thus endangering others, should resign or, failing that, be removed. I think this should happen even if such complicity occurred before the man became a bishop, especially if he was serving in a senior leadership role, like Vicar General or Vicar for Clergy. Just a such a resignation took place in Australia recently. Archbishop Philip Wilson resigned as archbishop of Adelaide because he failed to report or act on abuse he knew about as a young priest some 40 or so ago (see "Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson resigns after covering up child abuse").

I will push matters even farther. I hope every diocese is transparent enough to welcome an investigation of the kind conducted in the six Pennsylvania dioceses. Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis has invited the Missouri Attorney General to review his diocese's files (see "St. Louis archdiocese agrees to open files to AG’s office"- in light of the fact the archbishop basically asked for the review, this headline is a bit misleading). While we're facing up to the truth, let's face the fact that the sexual abuse of children and young people is society-wide scourge. This goes back a long way, at least the 70 years covered in the Pennsylvania probe. Of course, pointing this out excuses the Church of nothing. What happened by way of abuse and cover-up is inexcusable (NB: only that which is inexcusable requires forgiveness).

At least in the U.S., I doubt there's any other institution that serves children that has looked into itself (many dioceses conducted the mandated 50 year review in 2002 and publicly released the results in an honest and forthright manner) or been looked into more than the Roman Catholic Church. Far from being a criticism, I am grateful that this comprehensive looking into continues to take place. I hope it continues until all that has been kept in darkness is brought into the light. As we learn more, we need to begin to reckon with what needs to change in the Church. What needs to change in the Church runs deep and is very fundamental as it concerns our humanity. To give you some idea of what I am talking about, I will point again to Fr. James Alison's writing on this issue, prompted by the revelations concerning Theodore McCarrick. While the articles appeared in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, they were helpfully posted together on his website under the title "We're in for a rough ride." You can even download them as a .pdf. Serious enough for you? I still don't think the Church's divine constitution should be chucked out the window.

Our Friday traditio is Charlie Peacock singing "Now Is the Time for Tears" off a wonderful album he did with a number of other contemporary Christian artists in 1992, Coram Deo- In the Presence of God. As you might've guessed from the album's subtitle, Coram Deo means "in God's presence." In Christian theology, the phrase has typically been used to explain that Christians, even now, because of Christ's death and resurrection, live in God's presence.

Our traditio is dedicated to all victims of sexual abuse. I can only imagine how all of the news of the past week or so must be triggering for so many people. At the expense of being self-referential, I am going to re-state something I said in my homily last Sunday: "Here’s the truth: Jesus is always on the side of victims." With that, I am giving FB a break and, barring any more ghastly revelations or worthwhile developments, like resignations or removals, I am giving blogging about clerical sexual abuse a break, even as I continue to fast and pray for abuse victims and for the Church, which is the entire People of God, not just its hierarchy.

While there's still a long row to hoe, I choose hope. With Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Holy Father (see his Letter to the People of God), and I am sure many others, I see the Gospel, the Good News that is Jesus Christ crucified and risen, as the answer to sin and hopelessness. The Good News is, indeed, communicated by and through the Church. Hence, in the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, we have the remedy for ails humankind. What ails humankind is sin unto death.

On this penitential Friday, it bears repeating this passage from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: "While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled (Heb 7:26) knew nothing of sin (2 Cor 5:21), but came to expiate only the sins of the people (Heb 2:17), the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal" (sec. 8).

In spirit of the Holy Father's letter and as Catholics should each Friday, I urge you to make today a day of penance. Abstain from meat and maybe forego some other good things, perhaps no Friday beer, wine, or cocktail. I encourage you to pray more and more fervently today, especially for victims of child sexual abuse. Finally, find a way to serve someone else selflessly. Prayer is linked with faith, hope is tied to fasting, and love is shown in service (i.e., alms-giving). These things, my friends, form the basis of any spirituality that can be considered Christian. I certainly dispense any victim of sexual abuse from these penitential acts.

As for me, I will also try to exercise the Spiritual Work of Mercy that bids me, as a follower of Christ and in imitation of him, to bear perceived wrongs with greater patience.

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