Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The devil's fingerprints

Though I have managed, on this feast of the Assumption, to keep my word and not read any of the PA grand jury document, details about what was done to some of the children have continued to filter out into the news media. A priest I know warned against getting too caught up in the media reports, and it's not an unfair thing to say--after all, not everyone is capable even of reading or hearing about crimes like these without being psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually harmed, and this is especially true of anyone who was a child victim of sex abuse or who has a close family member who was a victim. However, when a story of this magnitude breaks, it's almost impossible to avoid seeing and hearing more of the specifics, and we had all best be prepared for the reality that in the coming days the really awful stuff from this report will reach our eyes and ears, if it hasn't already done so.

One word keeps coming to my mind: diabolical. I'm not a fan of blaming everything bad that happens on the devil; that's giving him too much credit, I'm afraid. The world and the flesh conspire together to be the accessories to most of our sins. It doesn't take much in terms of weakness to get us to veer into casual gluttony or prideful snobbery. We don't need demonic temptations to lure us into wretched sins.

But when you read or hear of priests--men ordained to serve God in the ministerial priesthood, to administer the sacraments, to stand at the head of the parish as the spiritual father of all--committing violent, sadistic, and blasphemous acts against young victims, you can't help but wonder if the impetus for evil is really coming from the devil this time, and in cases like these. It's not that humanity isn't capable of coming up with these horrors; it's that priests and bishops could look into the faces of men whom they knew had committed acts of violent rape and abuse against children and have more sympathy for the priest-abuser than they every displayed for his victims.

And though I put that in the past tense, the reality is that it is still the case. There are still far too many bishops whose attitude toward the victims of clergy sex abuse is to promise them change and transparency just to make them go away, and then quietly ignore the reality that the predator is still serving in ministry. Even these, though, seem somewhat better than the cardinal who says that though he was former Cardinal McCarrick's roommate for a number of years he never saw anything and is shocked by the allegations, or the other cardinal who built a website to whitewash his reputation into that of a champion of victims instead of as a moral midget at best and a criminally negligent facilitator of clerical evil at worst.

When the devil's fingerprints are all over a thing, it's time to call in the exorcists. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

St. Michael, defend us in battle

The grand jury report from Pennsylvania is out, revealing allegations against more than 300 church leaders (mostly priests, but a handful of deacons or other leaders as well) for crimes against approximately a thousand children over a 70-year time period.

I have not read the report, and I don't plan to; it's important to know your limits, and as a Catholic and a mother I know I can't stomach all 900 pages worth of sickening detail, not when people used to investigating this stuff have said this report was almost too much for them.

A gentleman on Twitter has been investigating by the numbers:






To me, just looking at this, it looks like the problem of priest abusers increased significantly for priests born between 1916 and 1955, and/or ordained between 1941 and 1985. Granted, we may just not have data for some priests born before 1916, and also some of the ones born after 1955 and/or ordained after 1985 may simply not be showing up in the data because they are still too young for any allegations to be brought forward. Still, you can't help but wonder: was there something going on during that block of time that let so many damaged and perverse men join the priesthood?

Of course, there were many things: two World Wars, the rise of Communism, the sexual revolution and all the social damage it left in its wake, and so on. Clerical sexual abuse is not merely a twentieth-century problem; it can and does still happen in the twenty-first century, and it did during past ages, too. But it almost seems, by data like this, to have been a problem that came to a unique and dangerous level during the twentieth century.

And that brings us to this:
According to Kevin Symonds, author of Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael, the vision likely occurred between 1884 and 1886 and took place during the celebration of Mass. Several different reports relate that Pope Leo had a visible change come over his face during the vision and one claims that his face was “pale and fearful.”

A cardinal at the time who knew the pope’s private secretary explains that “Pope Leo XIII truly had a vision of demonic spirits, who were gathering on the Eternal City (Rome). From that experience … comes the prayer which he wanted the whole Church to recite.” [...]

Whatever happened during Pope Leo’s vision, it appears certain that he did have a vision and what he saw was not pleasant. It prompted him to quickly compose the Prayer to St. Michael, and to request its use at the end of Low Masses. The pope lived during particularly turbulent times, and he believed prayer was needed to dispel the darkness that hung over the world. A longer prayer to St. Michael, sometimes known as the exorcism prayer although it was not intended for use in actual exorcism rituals, was approved by the pope 3 years later in two versions, one for clergy and one for lay individual prayer.
Did Pope Leo XII see a vision of the Church in the very state she is in now? It's possible; nobody knows but Pope Leo XII. If His Holiness did see something of the state of the Church throughout the world in the aftermath of widespread clergy sex abuse, though, I am almost certain that what he saw involved the heartless, soulless, reckless conduct of so many bishops and diocesan leaders, who were more concerned about the image of the Church than the shattered lives of innocent children, and who actively participated in a gravely sinful cover-up that left victims damaged all over again and failed to help the perpetrators find not only true repentance, but the means to stop harming the innocent.

Whatever the case may be, I propose that priests throughout the world immediately stop tacking on silly miscellaneous things to the end of the Mass (such as announcements, applause for those celebrating birthdays and/or anniversaries, greetings and welcoming to visitors, and other such things) and instead merely kneel at the foot of the altar for a minute or two before leading the congregation in the recitation of the St. Michael prayer. We have never needed it more than we do now, because we Catholics, both clergy and lay, who are actively seeking holiness instead of merely pretending to be holy, have the fight of our lives on our hands. The battle is not with mere earthly foes--and it is just getting started.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Succinct

This is a brief post; my husband and I just returned from a trip out of town. We attended the wedding of one of my brothers; now in my extended family, seven of us siblings are married, one is a nun, and only our youngest brother is still single. My parents will welcome their twenty-fourth grandchild later this year.

The wedding Mass was lovely and the reception was fun too; I try not to share too much personal family stuff in public, though, because not all of my relatives want to be blogged about. I do want to share a little about the Mass we attended on the Sunday though, and the homily we heard. After all my complaints about weak homilies it was amazing to hear a really good one; it did not surprise me that the priest was a former Baptist preacher. And when he preached about the death penalty and about how the development of doctrine in the direction away from it makes sense, he had the credibility of a man who (as he shared with us) worked for several years in prison ministry and had worked with men who would never be free again and accepted that they shouldn't be--but also had accepted the Lord, and were quietly trying to pursue holiness behind those bars.

I'm way too tired to do his whole homily justice, but I did want to share this one bit. Father talked about how divine justice is not like human justice; Christ said to turn the other cheek when someone hits us. But lots of Catholics think that Christ didn't say to turn the other cheek; He must have said something like, "Hit the guy back! Sock him in the jaw!" With a glint in his eye, Father said, "That's what happens when you mistake your grandfather for the Lord."

But divine justice, said Father, is in perfect harmony with divine mercy. Saint Faustina told us that Christ is drawn to the souls who most need His mercy; He is actually drawn to sinners, who don't even know they need Him. Father concluded with this pithy saying: Jesus loves us all to the point of dying for us, even the man on death row. So, Father said, he's trying to live by a new motto: "Jesus loves you! And I...am trying."

And if that's not a succinct way to sum up our duty to live in Christian charity with one another, I don't know what is.

:)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mustard seeds and mulberry trees

Brief post today; I've got a busy weekend ahead. Chances are you do too, what with back-to-school season in full force. I'm kidding, of course; in Retail Land it is already time for sweaters and candy corn. I'm not complaining about the candy corn, but I won't need a sweater until sometime in early 2019 at the rate we are going here in Texas.

In any case, this post is more of a reflection of sorts. I've written and posted a lot lately about Scandal 2.0, and I honestly do think that this is a time for shining the light, not for burying our heads in the sand and pretending that none of this is happening. Frankly, the Scandal is only one facet of a problem that has been impacting American Catholics for some time, and today I want to talk about that problem for a moment.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the one where Christ tells His apostles that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could...do mighty deeds? Overthrow evil men? Spread the Gospel to the whole world? No, He doesn't say any of that--He says that if their faith was the size of a teeny tiny mustard seed they could order a nearby mulberry tree to uproot itself and go plant itself in the sea, and the tree would obey them.

That passage always makes me smile, because it is so not like the kind of exhortations that charlatans and mountebanks and the religious desperadoes out there will use when they're trying to con somebody. You'll be told that if you just trust God, you'll be able to overcome cancer and mental illness and postpartum depression; you'll be told that when your faith is large your bank account will be too; you'll be assured that faith is just like the Fairy Godmother's magic wand, and all you need is a positive attitude and a bit of prayer (bibbity-bobbity-boo!) to overcome poverty, oppression, and a tragic lack of ballgowns and truly awesome footwear.

You'll be told, in other words, whatever you want to hear, whatever makes you feel good about yourself, whatever feeds your pride and strengthens your commitment to that most dangerous of all human beliefs, "I am not like other men." You will not only be arrogant about being one of the Inner Circle; you will look down in judgment on everybody else--and when the cracks begin to show, you will do anything in your power to protect the corrupt leaders and their snake oil, because without it you fear that you really are nothing special at all.

Contrast that to Christ's words about the mustard seed and the mulberry tree, and you see an immediate difference. Jesus isn't promising His disciples some kind of unlimited and magic power. He isn't telling them that they're wonderful and will do great things. No, He's telling them that they don't, as yet, have even the tiniest imaginable measure of faith, they who see Him and listen to Him and eat with Him every day; they don't even have enough faith to make a plant go uproot itself and transplant itself into the sea.

And later, He tells them that if they want to be considered the least important among all of God's servants, they will not only not try for great positions and earthly power, but will kneel in the mud to wash the feet of those they serve, like the lowliest of servants in the house of the Master. And He doesn't just tell them; He shows them.

If we the laity, if our seminarians and deacons and priests and bishops, had even the smallest measure of faith--if we acted like we really believed in Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, if we made everything else less important than Him and did everything we could to serve Him in the lowliest person we encounter as a part of our vocations: the unborn child, the infant, the elderly person, the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the desperate, the person we ought to call "neighbor" who really annoys the nasal secretions right out of us--what could we do, in the Church and in the world, that we have not ever done before?

Look at our graying and emptying churches. Look at our dwindling schools. Look at our fading seminaries. Look at our shuttered institutions of charity. Look at our barren convents or monasteries. Look at our colleges and universities so many of which have nothing but the name "Catholic" to boast of--they have long ago abandoned even the slightest pretense of faith in Him. Look at the families where only the grandparents still attend Mass on a regular basis; look at the destruction of the family itself, the ruined chapels and crumbled altars of a once-thriving domestic church laid to waste by sin and selfishness.

How would it be different if we, all of us, really believed that Christ is who He says He is and that His Church is who He says She is as well?

Do we actually live that belief? Do I live that belief? Do you?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Invisible maternity and the public breastfeeding debate

You may have already seen this, but it's still pretty funny:
Melanie Dudley, a mother of three from Austin, Texas, was at a restaurant when she started to feed her 4-month-old baby. 
“I was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas with my entire family and a man asked me to cover myself,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’m usually discreet but we were seated in the back of the restaurant.” 
So Dudley asked her husband to hand her a cover and instead of covering her chest, she tossed it over her head.
The picture went viral, and you can see it here, along with the rest of the story, including the little details that it was 90 degrees and humid, the restaurant's dining area was outdoors, and the woman was with her family at the time that some total stranger decided it was his business to ask her to cover up.

Now, I saw this story shared by a local Texas news affiliate on Twitter. Sadly, the comments beneath the post were pretty discouraging. I thought about sharing them individually, but I'm not trying to hold specific people up to ridicule for their ignorance and lack of consideration toward nursing mothers. Still, it's 2018, and you'd think people would not say things like (and I'm just paraphrasing):

--it's rude to nurse in public.

--it's shameful not to cover yourself and the baby so nobody knows what you're doing.

--it's impossible for men not to look. They would notice somebody riding through the restaurant on a unicycle and they're going to notice a woman's uncovered breast, even if there's a baby attached to it.

--a four-month-old is way too old to be nursing and will be nursing forever. (Yes, this was said. In much cruder and more unkind terms. By a female commenter. One hopes she is elderly enough to be senile as well as childless, because otherwise there is no excuse.)

--breastfeeding may be natural, but so is having a bowel movement, and you wouldn't want to see someone doing that in a restaurant. (That old favorite comparison--sigh. I always want to ask, "So, if the person needing to answer nature's call wraps a towel around his waist so you can't see anything, it's okay for him to poop on the restaurant floor, then?" just to highlight how utterly stupid this comparison is.)

--tell people like me where this restaurant is so I won't go there, because civilized people don't eat at restaurants where women are allowed to breastfeed in public. (Um, check your state laws, dude; you're way behind the times on this one.)

--only sexual perverts want women to breastfeed openly in public. (One is tempted to ask how the gentleman knows this.)

--breastfeeding in public without draping oneself in a blanket is as inappropriate as wearing the wrong clothing for an occasion. (Do tell, Emily Post; what does one wear to a recreational mom-shaming?)

Sadly, some of my fellow Catholics (not all of them fellows) also get bent out of shape about women breastfeeding without a cover in public. No matter how many times a woman might explain that not all babies will nurse under a blanket, that some babies get to be really good at tearing the cover off anyway, that using a blanket over a sweaty baby when it's ninety degrees outside and humid is probably going to backfire badly, that there is nothing at all sexual about breastfeeding and that people need to let go of that idea that it is somehow "private" and "personal" and should never be seen by anyone but the nursing baby, her mom, and her dad--no matter how many times you deal with the complaint that it is somehow gross or rude or icky for women to feed their babies without essentially carrying a portable cabana in which to do so--you still get earnest Catholics trying to tell you that, no, really, it's imperative that a woman who is a mother with a baby tiny enough to need frequent nursing put the convenience, comfort, and preferences of any casual stranger within thirty feet of her vicinity way, way ahead of her infant's need to be fed in the most expeditious and least burdensome manner possible, because modesty. Also someone they knew nursed eight babies in a row without anybody ever even suspecting that she actually had the baby with her at the social event or Mass or public park in question because she was a total nursing ninja who successfully concealed not only the actual child but any hint of her past, present, or future fecundity, and all women should aspire to that.

The truth is that some people would prefer for all evidence of maternity to be invisible, and it's weird, because the secular people and the Catholic people who converge on this idea have almost nothing else in common. Which leads me to suspect that at least in America it may be our shared Puritan roots, with their dislike and distrust of anything to do with the fleshly aspects of humanity, that is the main barrier to peaceful public nursing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A good homily is hard to find

This is pretty interesting:
Among Catholic respondents who rarely attend religious services, 47 percent said they practice their faith in other ways. Under 20 percent said they rarely attended because they haven’t found a church they like, they don’t like the sermons, or they don’t feel welcome. Similarly, under 20 percent said they lacked time, had poor health or problems with mobility, or lacked a church in their area.

About 12 percent of self-described Catholics who rarely attend religious services said they didn’t attend because they aren’t believers.
And while Protestant Christian churchgoers find sermons really important, Catholics seem to have given up on the idea of a good homily as part of a regular Mass experience:
Pew said that Catholics who attend Mass regularly are “significantly less likely” than other Christian churchgoers to say that the sermons they hear are what keeps them coming back. Among regular churchgoers, Protestants are about twice as likely as Catholics to say valuable sermons are a very important reason they attend services.
As a lifelong Catholic, I think I can confirm that most of us Catholics see a good homily as an exception, rather than the rule. Rarely do you hear someone say that what keeps them going to Mass on Sundays is the homily. Granted, the homily does not have the same importance at a Catholic Mass that the sermon has in many Protestant traditions, but it is still a bit embarrassing that so few of our priests and deacons seem to be skilled at the art of crafting a good homily. I know that for some priests and deacons a lot of work and preparation goes into writing and/or preparing a homily, and even those who ordinarily prepare ahead of time may be called upon to preach extemporaneously on occasion. To some of these good men it may seem as though Catholics in the pews are always grumbling and complaining about something most lay people would rather die than have to do (that is, get up and speak in front of the congregation on a weekly or near-weekly basis). That is a fair point.

At the same time though, good advice on how to write and give homilies is not exactly absent within the Church. When Pope Francis said that homilies should last no more than ten minutes, some people were outraged by that idea, pointing to the lengthy homilies and talks given by saintly priests of the past, among other things. And yet, the charism to give a thirty-minute homily that is gripping and memorable and productive of good spiritual results in the hearts of listeners is, alas, not give to the multitudes. My former parish priest who said "The mind won't hear what the seat won't endure," and gave really good, highly memorable homilies that probably averaged seven minutes at best was one of the best homilists I've ever encountered. Another former pastor, a scholar and a convert, also gave really good homilies, but because they were rather long for the average Sunday Mass (perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes at a guess) and because our children were quite young at the time, I probably missed a good bit of most of them, and even when the children were able to remain in the church for the whole of Mass--well, you parents of young ones tell me: how much of a twenty-minute homily will you hear and remember while waiting for your own little mini-volcanoes in human form to erupt? The lesson here is, to me, simple: the passionate, erudite, deeply scholarly homily that lasts thirty minutes will still be beat out most of the time by the immediate, direct, pointed seven-minute bit of spiritual instruction that your parishioners (or at least one of them) can still remember nearly twenty years later.

The Pew survey I quoted above does mention that bad homilies don't really drive Catholics away from the faith; there are other factors that do that. But homilies that can directly and succinctly connect the readings and Gospel to the kinds of sin, temptation, and obstacles to holiness will sometimes, I think, encourage the seeker to keep coming back.

A good homily may be hard to find. But it's not impossible, and it shouldn't be seen as some sort of unobtainable dream by the average Mass-going Catholic, either.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

It's time to get real about this

Cardinal Cupich's recent interview in America is...well, you might read it yourself and decide. Here's a sample:
When asked if the church needed new structures to report sexual misconduct not involving children, Cardinal Cupich said, “Yes, I believe that’s the case.” 
“If there was a misstep in this, so that people did not have the means by which they could put forward a complaint with objectivity and security, [knowing] that it would be acted on, then we need to put [that] in place,” Cardinal Cupich said. 
But, he said, there is no need to “invent any new machinery” in order to adopt policies for reporting such allegations. 
“An H.R. department would know how to help us do that, and we should learn from those best practices,” the cardinal said.
And, of course, Scandal 2.0 has nothing whatsoever to do with a secretive and hidden network of sexually active homosexual men in the clergy; no, it's just clericalism:
In the weeks since allegations were made against Archbishop McCarrick, some commentators and clergy have suggested that allowing gay men to be priests has created a culture ripe for the kind of abuse Archbishop McCarrick is alleged to have committed. 
But Cardinal Cupich said he “would be very careful” in accepting that conclusion, noting that similar claims made during the height of the child sexual abuse crisis in the 2000s were refuted by an independent 2011 report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 
“I really believe that the issue here is more about a culture of clericalism in which some who are ordained feel they are privileged and therefore protected so that they can do what they want,” Cardinal Cupich said. 
“People, whether heterosexual or homosexual, need to live by the Gospel,” he said, adding that he “would not want to reduce this simply to the fact that there are some priests who are homosexual.” 
“I think that is a diversion that gets away from the clericalism that’s much deeper as a part of this problem,” he said.
Excuse me a moment; I think I'm getting dizzy from all the spinning.

What that Jay report found was that, in the incidents of abuse that went back to the sixties and seventies (and even earlier), it was the availability of male children, not the sexual orientation of the priests involved, that led to boys being abused in greater numbers. Whether you accept that report's conclusions or not, the situation is obviously not analogous to someone like McCarrick, who engaged in exclusively male sexual contact both with his child victims and the adult seminarians who visited his beach house.

In other words, if you want to argue that the Scandal, circa 2000, and revealing past cases of abuse that went back to the 1950s in some reports and allegations, was not overwhelmingly a problem involving homosexual priests, you can do so if you like; but anybody who suggests that today, that newer allegations, that allegations involving clergy abusing boys or teens or people who were technically adults (such as seminarians) but over whom they had both actual and spiritual authority, has nothing whatsoever to do with the infiltration of Holy Orders by sexually active gay priests, is clearly not paying attention.

Because Scandal 2.0 is all about the gay priesthood. It's all about the lavender mafia. It's all about the "don't ask, don't tell, but visit my dorm room after dark" environment in the seminaries. It's all about the blackmail and threats used to keep the would-be whistleblowers in line. It's all about the widespread acceptance among Catholic seminarians, deacons and priests of the idea that gay sex isn't really sinful and that gays ought to be permitted Catholic weddings and open lifestyles. It's all about the idea, really, that Christ's teachings on most things are just fine and dandy but His teachings on sexual morality were really just hold-overs from an ancient world that had weird hang-ups about the idea of sexual pleasure and sexual fulfillment, and that the sooner the Church jettisons those teachings the sooner the really cool party invitations will, at last arrive.

Don't be fooled. Some men who had sick and perverse habits may have molested altar boys in the past because they couldn't gain access as easily to girls. But that world has been over for a long time, and no clergyman today fondles adult seminarians because women are just too inaccessible. This really is a homosexual Scandal.

Not that heterosexuals are blameless in this, of course. McCarrick couldn't have gotten away with what he did to so many for so long if people who were heterosexual didn't turn a deliberately blind eye to his predatory behaviors. Nobody has clean hands in this.

But Cupich's ideas of using HR policies and blaming clericalism are so...2001. It's time to get real about this. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Episcopal echo chambers and the Scandal 2.0

This past weekend at Mass, our pastor (as instructed) read out loud Bishop Michael Olson's recent letter regarding the newest outbreak of the Scandal as involving Cardinal McCarrick. It's an excellent letter; do read the whole thing.

As more news of new scandals come out, though--and amid a couple of courageous bishops saying and proposing the right sort of remedies--there has been a rather tiresome wave of some bishops and cardinals saying and proposing the usual sort of muck. We need "policies" and "procedures." We need (get this) panels of bishops to act as some kind of oversight committee. We need, according to the cast of characters at the USCCB, more of the same nonsense that got us into this mess in the first place.

Elizabeth Scalia rightly lets Cardinal Wuerl (who proposed the bishops' panel) have it with both barrels:
There is an old Roman saying, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards?) In a sense that needs to be asked, now. The suggestion that the laity and the priests who trusted the bishops to do the right thing before — and have been amply burned for it — should just trust the bishops to do the right thing again would be farcical if it were not so insulting. 
Wuerl’s remarks suggest that he really has no idea how catastrophic the revelations about Theodore McCarrick’s long-standing abuses (about which too many Cardinals and Bishops profess themselves “Shocked, shocked” as they slouch toward Eternity via Casablanca) have been to the trust of the laity. Let me spell it out: That trust has been shattered. It no longer exists. 
The McCarrick story, joined to other tales now emerging about mistreatment of seminarians and lay folk, have effectively worn us out. We look at stories coming out of the United States, out of Chile, Honduras, and Australia, and we are finally — as perhaps never before — understanding the worldwide nature of the corruption that has taken holdwithin the depths of the Church, and we’re saying no more.
It seems to me, from the vantage point of an ordinary Catholic laywoman, that what the bishops are really hoping is that Scandal 2.0 will quickly burn itself out. The laity will go back to supporting whatever the bishops are collecting money for, 80% of self-described Catholics will pretty much never go to Mass and will just live lives indecipherable from those of modern secularists in terms of living in sin and not really caring about Christ or the Gospel, the remaining 20% will show up on Sundays, stand mute or mumble with embarrassment through the endless dreck of "All Are Welcome" or "Gather Us In," not to mention the horrible Mass settings that might as well be called "Mass: The Musical" and be done with it (an aside, but IS there an uglier, more horrible, more banal, more trite, less sacred Mass setting than Bob Hurd and Ken Canedo's so-called "Mass of Glory?" If there is, I don't want to know), and the bishops can go smugly and quietly back to their ordinary habits, even the unsavory ones (bishops and habits, that is). I suspect, perhaps uncharitably, that many bishops see the Scandal even as involving McCarrick as typical harmless sexual behavior, and while some of them may even recognize it as sinful they don't really seem to see why anybody is getting all bent out of shape about it.

There are lots of reasons why so many of the bishops may be in denial about the seriousness of the present situation or what it says about the health of the Church in America in general. I think one of the biggest ones is that bishops tend to live in a bit of an echo chamber. Many of them rarely hear negative news from their staffs, and especially from the (usually underpaid) lay men and women who work in the chancery and who quite literally cannot afford to risk their jobs by letting His Excellency know that all is not well among the peasants. It can be extremely hard to get in touch directly with a bishop; emails may be read by others, social media accounts may be managed by others, phone calls go to a secretary, and when bishops are present in person at various liturgical events they are not always approachable and are often busy and rushed as they head to the next obligation.

None of this excuses in the least the unseriousness with which some bishops are addressing the present reality of Scandal 2.0. But I think it does explain it. The bishops who do know, and who know quite well, that some of their priests and deacons are openly living gay lifestyles and promoting LGBT agenda items in the diocese, are surrounded by people who assure them that all of this is fine, and that the Vatican will be moving to bless gay unions any day (at which point the red hats will belong to those who anticipated the changes and were supportive of it). The bishops who themselves are secretly living lives of sin (heterosexual, homosexual, or not sexual at all--just theft) are going to tend to surround themselves with people who think all of this is okay. Meanwhile other bishops who have reputations for theological orthodoxy and have the most to lose if it comes out that in their dioceses crimes by priests against children or adults under their authorities are rampant will surround themselves with people who reassure them that it's "for the good of the Church" to move Father Feely McGropyhands to a quiet rural parish "for his health" rather than admit that the priest has a serious problem as a sexual abuser or harasser (whether of children, adult men, or adult women).

So, right now, the Episcopal Echo Chamber is reassuring most bishops that all is well, or will be soon. This will all quiet down, and anyway most of the reports and allegations don't involve children, and we can't get too caught up in the drama when a seminarian accuses a priest of improper activity because, you know, the seminarian probably wore a seductive cassock and had a "come-hither" look during the Sign of Peace at Mass, so it's not entirely Father's fault, especially since they were all adult males. The bishops may have to pull stern faces in front of the camera and promise new policies and procedures, but in the end, what's really going on here but a bit of relationship drama?

This is where my redheaded self would like to shake a few episcopal shoulders and ask, "What about Christ? Do you remember Him? Do you remember promising to serve Him and His Church to the point of death? Do you remember your childhood catechism about how one single unrepented mortal sin can lead to a person spending eternity in Hell, and do you not care in the least that priests under your care think nothing of a bit of gay cruising, while a couple of them have taken it much further than that and have assaulted the unwilling? Does any of this mean anything to Your Excellencies? Can you even hear us asking these questions?"

But in the echo chamber, the shouts of the faithful dwindle into silence, as some bright lad comes up with yet another new program for finding a policy for initiating a procedure...

Friday, August 3, 2018

Et tu, Lincoln diocese?

If you haven't been reading Rod Dreher's posts about allegations concerning the Lincoln diocese's late vocations director Monsignor Leonard Kalin, you really should. I've linked to them below chronologically:

Msgr Kalin & #MeToo Conservatives

The Lesson Of Lincoln For Conservatives

Wan’s Letter: Yes, Monsignor Abused Me

These three posts, as well as many of the comments made below each one (some of them apparently made by priests in Lincoln who are posting anonymously), reveal a story that is sadly familiar: a trusted, apparently orthodox priest who seemed to many people to be faithful and in pursuit only of holiness, but who, to a secret group, was known to be an abuser, taking advantage of his position of spiritual authority and of the secrets he knew about the students and seminarians around him to harass and abuse them.

Not only that, but the remedy on the part of former Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz when he found out this was going on, was only to order at least two people to accompany the (by-then) aging and retired monsignor on his walks in the evening and when he needed assistance (because when only one person was with him, Msgr. Kalin allegedly manipulated that person into showering with him to "assist" him, and after that took other sorts of advantages).

The requests for "assistance" that morphed into sexual assaults, the excuse made by Msgr. Kalin that the medications he was taking for Parkinson's disease increased his libido and made him act out in this way, the subtle threats to reveal the secrets and sins of those who were tricked into engaging with him, and, most of all, the pressure from the monsignor to keep silent because to speak would be to destroy the pious, holy, orthodox, pure image of the Lincoln diocese--where have we seen these tactics before?

Ah, yes. In a religious order called the Legion of Christ, founded by a sexual molester and con artist named Maciel. The details are startlingly similar: the abuse of people asked to "assist," the excuse of a health condition that made the sex contact understandable if not excusable, the blackmail, the burden carried by the victim that to speak would be to let the "enemies of the Church" win...it's all there, isn't it?

Et tu, Lincoln diocese?

I think there are many important takeaways from all of this, but one of the most important is this: conservative and orthodox Catholics have got to stop thinking that the Scandal is a liberal problem. People who abuse other people sexually are quite willing to "play the system" whatever the system may be. Whether a diocese is liberal or conservative, whether the order is orthodox or heterodox, whether the abuser is a strong, stern dictator or a smiling and genial monster--no place, no institution, no situation, and no person exists about whom it may be said, "Oh, that is impossible!"

Conservative, orthodox Catholics are in some ways at particular risk of getting caught up in this sort of thing. Parents may approve of their sons attending seminaries know as bulwarks of orthodoxy, or joining religious orders that have strict rules and traditional habits. That's not bad in itself, but what is bad is when red flags start to pop up all over the landscape and not only the parents but the seminarian himself says, "Oh, nonsense. That sort of thing does not happen here. It never has, and it never will!" because that sort of pride, and especially the sort that prefers a reputation for holiness to increasing evidence that something just isn't right, is the most dangerous thing a vulnerable young person can possibly take with him into the seminary.

Clergy sex abuse really can happen anywhere. We must not let ourselves get tricked into thinking that it can't happen in our favorite orders, in our favorite dioceses, or even in our favorite parishes.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Keep calm and just don't kill anybody

I've been watching a slow-rolling freakout today over Pope Francis' word changes to the Catechism's description of the death penalty.

For those who don't know, this is what the Catechism used to say:
2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.NT
And this is what it will say now:
“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.” 
“Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.” 
“Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,’ [1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Now, let's look at the first one. What, exactly, were the requirements?

--the guilty party's identity AND responsibility had to be fully determined;
--the Church's teaching doesn't absolutely prohibit recourse to the death penalty in those cases (and those cases ONLY) IF and only IF this is the only possible way to protect society;
--IF nonlethal means are possible, they WILL be used.

And the new part of the Catechism?

--Death penalty long considered appropriate way for legitimate authority to protect common good.
--Today the dignity of the person, the concerns about the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the State, and the wide availability of more effective means of incarceration make the death penalty inadmissible.

So: no teaching has changed. Nope, not one. States had in the past the legitimate authority to execute the guilty if their guilt was fully established and there was no other way to protect the common good. What has changed is not the State's legitimate authority, but the conditions necessary for a just application of the death penalty. In other words, our recognition of the dignity of the individual human person which is not destroyed by his guilt, our awareness of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state, and the availability of modern prisons makes the death penalty no longer necessary.

All that has changed is that popes going back at least to St. John Paul II (and possibly even back further than that) have warned that the conditions which make the death penalty necessary were disappearing. Not only that, but as the popes of the recent past had seen the use of the death penalty in ways that were wicked and wrong both by Nazi Germany and by the Soviet Union and other Communist nations, and have also seen the anti-life attitudes adopted by many modern nations in the areas of abortion and euthanasia, is it any wonder that they are essentially telling the faithful that arguments in favor of the death penalty should be considered inadmissible at this point?

In practical terms, the number of innocents executed worldwide amounts to a horrifyingly high total. And even in cases where people who are executed are guilty of the crimes they are executed for, we know that the representation on Death Row of the poor is disproportionate. Two men may commit nearly identical murders, but whether they live or die has less to do with the legitimate authority of the State and more to do with which of them had a public defender (and I mean no disrespect to public defenders, who are hugely overworked and poorly paid for their efforts). I have wondered at times if the surest way to get Americans to see the injustices in our own nation's use of the death penalty would be to forbid private defense attorneys altogether--if everyone had to use lawyers from the same "pool" of public defenders, would anyone really defend the death penalty?

The truth is that modern incarceration methods are more than sufficient to keep aggressors away from society when properly used. Failures in the prison system or the court system do not justify killing a set number of prisoners; such an idea ought to be abhorrent. It seems to me that the principle at work here is this: when the death penalty is no longer necessary for the protection of society, then it is by definition no longer just.

The Fifth Commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," has always allowed for expressions of defense of self and society, including the death penalty and just war. But I think all of us agree that if modern methods of warfare were to advance us to the point when no just war, saving the most specific types of defensive actions, was even possible (some argue that we are already there), then it would be fine for a future pope to point that out in the Catechism. This is really the same thing. The pope isn't changing Church teaching; he's telling the legitimate authorities who have the duty in the law to protect and foster human life that when they must decide what to do with a prisoner, the first principle should be to keep calm and just don't kill anybody. That's not such a terrible principle upon which to base a criminal justice system, after all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We all know what the problem is

First of all, just read these words:
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a 1.8 million dollar study, popularly known as the “John Jay study,” to uncover the patterns and causes of the sex abuse crisis since 1950. The National Review Board—the entity designated to implement the study—gave the first John Jay report in 2004. In this report, which describes the “Nature and Scope” of clergy sexual abuse, the board pointed out that more than 80 percent of the victims were teenage boys and young men. 
This conclusion, in itself, should have been a solid roadmap for truly correcting the sex abuse problem. [...] 
This statistic paints a vivid picture: the sex abuse crisis was the overwhelming work of a very small number of clergy targeting young males as their victims. This fact suggests one reform that has yet to be addressed: the Church must screen out clergy candidates with same-sex attractions. 
At first, this reform appeared to be on the radar. In 2004, the National Review Board stated that while the sex abuse crisis had no single cause, “an understanding of the crisis is not possible” without reference to “the presence of homosexually oriented priests.” The board cited the data: “eighty percent of the abuse at issue was of a homosexual nature.” 
Dr. Paul McHugh, a former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a member of the National Review Board, put it more strongly. Quoted in an August 25, 2006 National Catholic Register editorial, he observed that the John Jay study had revealed a crisis of “homosexual predation on American Catholic youth.” 
But that warning soon disappeared from the public perception. The John Jay conclusions began to be explained as an “environment” problem. This new interpretation was made official in a 2011 John Jay report, “Causes and Context.” [...] 
The question is: will objective data, like the John Jay study, be interpreted by Church standards, or by other standards? 
So far, the answer is unsettled. Unfortunately, what should be the Church’s primary concern seems to be currently off the table. Instead, the study’s new direction and warning about “access to boys,” carries a subtle, but troubling, challenge to the Christian formation of young men—including the male-only priesthood. 
When it comes to “access to boys,” the Church should have only one goal: to protect every young man who has discerned a call to religious life, and any male who sees, in priests and deacons, worthy role models of Christian values. For now, this vast demographic of human souls is still vulnerable to sexual targeting within the very walls of the Church. 
We must face facts. The data overwhelmingly identifies the main victims of the sex abuse crisis as young men. Furthermore, what critics call “access to boys” is a natural consequence of Church life, and the male priesthood. Therefore, true reform should not be to question “access to boys,” but to reconsider, with compassion and wisdom, whether clergy roles are appropriate for any man who finds “access to boys” a sexual temptation. 
Until this human problem is addressed, we cannot expect a complete solution to sexual predation within the Church.

Why?

Because it was written by Father Regis Scanlon, OFMCAP, in August of 2012.

2012.

Six years ago.
I think it's important to note that there have been same-sex attracted men who have served the Church faithfully in the past among the clergy, and there will likely be such men again in the future. But in our present cultural condition, where many in the Church have apparently embraced the idea that "homophobia" is somehow a greater sin than actual acts of sodomy, it may simply be the case that it is extremely unwise, even wicked, to put men who are struggling with same-sex attraction and trying to live according to the demands of celibacy into an organization which has shown that it cannot be trusted to foster their maturity, safeguard their purity, or help them grown closer to Christ and away fro the temptation to commit grave sins with other men. I speak of the priesthood in general, though in specific I speak of the priesthood as it is lived in twenty-first century America; and it should go without saying that only the most careless, heartless, and soulless person would put a same-sex attracted man into the office of bishops in the United States, when it is blindingly obvious post-McCarrick that an active homosexual bishop will not only receive no rebuke whatsoever, but will be openly facilitated in his wicked sexual conduct by other bishops who for whatever reason are willing to participate in the cover-up.

How many bishops have signed on to the most blatantly pro-LGBT agenda items in their dioceses? How many turn a blind eye to priests and deacons and parish representatives marching in gay pride parades--or, worse, tacitly encourage them to do so? How many have fostered and supported programs to be "welcoming" and "inclusive" not merely of individuals seeking truth whose personal lives are a bit of a mess but who are willing to learn and attempt to live by Church teaching (which would be one thing) but of the very ideology that seeks to dismantle the Catholic Church's serious moral prohibitions against same-sex relationships and sexual conduct? How many faithless Catholic bishops in the United States have already decided in their hearts that gay sex really isn't sinful, and that therefore it isn't any bigger deal when Father Thusandso or Bishop Whatshisface has a string of gay lovers than it would be for the average Catholic parishioner to have just as many (particularly the parishioner who is well-off and happily supports diocesan fundraising appeals in exchange for that "welcoming" and "inclusive" environment into which he can introduce his gay "spouse" and the children they have exploited some reproductive Handmaid into growing in her womb and selling to them)?

And how many bishops, while living lives of more-or-less celibacy themselves, have so abandoned their roles as shepherds of souls and become instead faithless promoters of the most trendy political causes, left or right, which they can espouse, choosing to trample the salvation of the faithful underfoot on their way to issue another milquetoast statement which nobody reads and frequently showing themselves to be a house so divided that they seem no longer even to remember what their mission actually is?

We all know what the problem is, why the Scandal keeps rearing new heads like the indestructible hydra it appears to be. We all know that it stems from infidelity--sexual and otherwise--among the bishops at the very heart of the Church in the United States, and that this is a problem that has been slowly festering for a long, long time.