MOURNING THE DEATH OF INNOCENCE, ROBBED CHILDHOODS, STOLEN FUTURES, DESTROYED FAITH AND CRIMES AGAINST BOTH GOD AND HUMANITY
Greetings, SBT Readers:
As humans, we have selective hearing, listening to those things which reinforce our world view while tuning out anything which challenges our assumptions, beliefs and expectations. Even when the evidence proving we are wrong is right before our eyes, we still refuse to listen because it is easier to persist in ignorance. Simply put, we would rather not know and so we neither see nor hear nor understand. This is true in our own lives; it is true in society; and it is certainly true in our church.
Truth-seeking and truth-speaking take courage -- something our religious leaders have clearly lacked. To protect clerical mystique and privilege, some of the Catholic hierarchy have failed to hear the anguished cries of their flock and have chosen instead to protect sexual predators. Of these, the worst, of course, are those who abuse children, but clerical sexual abuse also includes the abuse of women and men. Whenever someone who "holds the power" (as mentor, confessor, religious superior, pastor etc.) enters into a sexual relationship with someone of lesser status, that is
a relationship between consenting adults. Pedophilia dominates the news today, but chilling stories of abuse in seminaries, convents and parishes have also surfaced in recent years, especially regarding the rape of nuns by priests in African nations,Latin America, India, Italy, Ireland, the Philippines and the U.S.
So what is the message that we, the church, are meant to hear? Or rather, what is God saying to us? I don't believe there is any great mystery here, nor any need for a long discernment process; while I do not profess to speak for God, to me, the data is clear:
- For decades, the church has been a feeding ground for sexual predators, protecting the perpetrators and silencing the victims.
- Clerical sexual abuse has led to a mass exodus of the faithful, the closing of churches to finance lawsuits, and the stigmatizing of faithful priests, religious and laity.
- Because the church has functioned as a corrupt corporation, engaging in the same nefarious practices as its secular counterparts, it has lost its voice as a moral authority in the world.
- Everyone is hurting -- the survivors of abuse whose lives have been forever altered, and all those who are "shell-shocked" by the sordid revelations.
- A model of church based on an all-male celibate clergy is not working; nor is a church in which priesthood has been reduced to a career path.
- All vestiges of clerical elitism and entitlement must go. Instead of be-jeweled, lace-clad Princes of the Church, we need humble servant-leaders.
- The church must learn to embrace the feminine-- not just the Virgin Mary but women from all walks of life whose gifts are presently hidden under bushel baskets imposed by patriarchy.
- Religious formation must take into account the relationship between spirituality and sexuality, promoting a spirituality that is holistic and life-affirming rather than repressive.
- As a church, we need to leave behind the corporate model of ministry and return to the person-centered approach modeled by the Gospel Jesus.
- The laity need to assume responsibility for their own spiritual formation, becoming educated in religious "basics" such as prayer, scripture, liturgy, theology etc.
- Every diocese in the world needs to have its own grand jury investigation to bring to light all instances of pedophilia. Only then can the work of healing begin.
And what would YOU add to this list?
"Well did Isaiah prophesy about you
hypocrites, as it is written:
These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God's commandments
but cling to human traditions."
All our texts for the
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
have to do with living with integrity: in our first reading, Moses urges the people to "hear" the statutes and decrees which will help them keep God's life-giving commandments; Psalm 15 promises that "the one who does justice" will live in God's presence; our second reading instructs us to "be doers of the word, not hearers only"
; and the Gospel distinguishes between mere tradition and the spiritual path. Collectively, these texts provide a lens through which to examine
what it means to be "religious" in a spiritual sense rather than "religious" in external matters only.
Recently, I went into a church for a few minutes of quiet and found myself stepping into all the pomp and pageantry of institutional Catholicism. It was the
Feast of the Assumption
and the liturgy in progress was dazzling: gold-vested clergy concelebrated behind a cloud of incense while angelic voices soared heavenwards in Latin chant. The church was packed, and it was with difficulty that I found a spot towards the exit from where I could watch, listen and muse. I was a spectator rather than a participant and the more I beheld, the more the liturgy seemed out of touch with all that was happening in the real world. The gold vessels gleamed on the altar, candles burned brightly and the fragrance of roses filled the church; however, I could not pray. The disconnect between lavish ritual and what was happening locally, nationally and globally was too much. The homily focused on the dogma of Mary's Assumption into heaven, but did not address the ways human flesh is being exploited, trafficked, abused or neglected. I left feeling as though I had attended a magnificent concert, but was more in need of quiet than when I had opened the church door in the first place.
True, the liturgy was honoring Mary, but its very magnificence created a mirage of "all being well" with the church. All is not well. As a church, we are reeling under the scope of the sexual abuse scandal, stunned by the vast number of victims (not all have been "survivors") and by the involvement of top clerics. Ironically, we have lengthy and complex documents on the liturgy which regulate everything from the types of chalices to be used at Communion to how they should be purified, yet in many parishes little is being done to create a liturgical experience that is engaging or transformational, or that addresses the day-to-day concerns of the faithful. Now, more than ever, we need liturgies which are relevant, spiritually-uplifting and heart-changing. Catholics from all walks of life are shell-shocked, and in need of
intervention! How can liturgy connect the assembly vertically (with God) or horizontally (with community) if it is reduced to "Sunday obligation" or to a flawless ritual performance?
Hearing God's word for both the institutional church and for its members is a matter of listening with the heart, not merely with one's ears. We need to stop and listen. This involves being still and making the time to reflect -- on what is going well and on what could be going better. It means taking an honest self-inventory (aka examination of conscience) to see whether we (both people and church) are walking as disciples of Jesus or whether we have taken a different path, perhaps off route altogether! In our listening, if we are
still and if we
want to hear, we
hear God's voice -- a voice that invites, encourages, directs, comforts and forgives.This voice -- speaking in the depths of our hearts -- calls us to life, calls us to justice, calls us to integrity. Ultimately, it is the only voice to which we should listen.