Monday, February 12, 2007

Should Religious Personnel Wear Distinctive Garb?

One sunny Sunday morning I routinely announced to a crowded Church that nuns would be collecting money after Mass for the Foreign Missions, a rather common pious practice among Catholics. I also announced, whether through innocence or unconscious intent, that they would be wearing religious habits. There was an instant, spontaneous, huge applause which I immediately judged to be linked to my mention of how the Nuns were dressed. After Mass, an irate woman, somewhat elderly but stylishly dressed, charged me with belligerent flashing eyes and a fierce challenge. “Religious habits don’t make the nun!” She declared energetically that she, too, was a nun, just as sincerely dedicated to God and good works as these “habited” Collectors. And couldn’t I see the little cross pinned to the lapel of her designer jacket, indicating her total self donation? Once she brought my attention to it, I was able to see it as a religious symbol.

Of course, I meekly suggested that the applause probably meant that Catholic laity liked seeing their religious leaders in distinctive garb but that I was sure that this angry lady was a very good and effective person. But her reaction does cause one to ponder on such a situation. What does one make of it? Clearly, the wearing of distinctive and immediately recognizable religious garb has fallen into considerable disfavor. Priests rarely wear clerical collars, partly because of the social stress of the homosexual priest scandal and partly for personal secular motivation.[1] Religious Brothers, of my world, have almost entirely forsaken religious garb even in the classroom. Nuns who wear traditional habits are viewed in some quarters as obscurantist and throwbacks. Recently one such Nun told me of some city workers called into the convent to correct a water defect. The workers asked the sisters: “Why are you dressed like that’?” “No one dresses like that anymore.”…..and on and on.

What does all this mean? Does it correlate with other unhappy Catholic experiences? Perhaps not at all! Yet many social commentators say that there could be a partial link (or meaning) between the discarding of religious garb and the collapse of Catholic vigor. Is moving to secular garb merely a symptom indicating something far deeper? Is it just an effect hinting at a more corrosive cause? Does the secular move to discard religious garb by Catholic leaders influence the Catholic laity to cut religious “corners” of the Catholic Faith? It deserves investigation.

I suggest that there are some assessments we can safely accept. Let me give one example which can possibly be extrapolated into a wider context. Shortly after the 9/11 horror of 2001, there was a call for national prayer by which the American people would call upon the help of the Almighty. In fact, Churches were crammed with people seeking some kind of consolation and understanding by huddling together before God. At our own church of St. Paul the Apostle, the priests stood at the Church doors and were almost mobbed by people needing to verbalize their fears and puzzlements to someone they considered to be close to the Lord. However, one of the priests who believes that priests should dress in secular garb stood alone at the door----I think somewhat forlornly. He hungered to be consulted as a priest but no one approached him. He wore a classy business suit believing this would make him more approachable as a priest. But sadly for him, the people saw him as one of them. In times like 9/11,they wanted someone not like them. His idea that his secular dress would make him more accessible and attractive to laity worked exactly in the opposite direction. They ignored him. Not intentionally but only because they had no way of knowing that he was a priest!

It was almost laughable (at least comedic) that at the next Mass that day our secular minded priest shows up—not in the business suit—but in a traditional black suit with clerical collar. Is he now being pragmatic, ruthlessly forsaking his beloved New Age kind of style? Or is it humility? Or hypocrisy? Or what? All we do know is that the laity (at that time) wanted their priests dressed as priests not as bankers or sports heroes. But perhaps the more salient factor to be probed is the possible link between discarding religious garb and the contemporary spiritual malaise.

I have visited “convents” where the “nuns” wore short shorts, tight T-shirts, smoked, drank Martinis and spoke droolingly of how edenic sex must be! This type of modern (though graying) nun is usually of the Ultra Feminist coloration who often expresses cautious and ambiguous support of artificial contraception and same sex “marriage.” She is strikingly anti-clerical and highly critical even of Pope John Paul II. She puzzles and dismays me. It is also interesting that Religious orders such as these are dying “on the vine” from a lack of recruits. Many of the single Catholic young women of my world who are daily Communicants and who have great love of the Lord show utterly no interest in joining these “liberated” religious groups. One mentioned to me that these “religious” live no differently than does she. Why should she join such worldly, jaded groups? Ironically, this may ultimately prove to be a blessing rather than a tragedy because there is surfacing a most fascinating religious or cultural phenomenon which well may mean a true revival of religious life. We are seeing the “new” Nun.

The liberal magazine Time featured an article (Nov. 20, 2006), Today’s Nun Has a Veil, on the surprising growth of new and more orthodox religious orders appearing throughout this country. The sub-title “More young women are entering convents. How they are changing the sisterhood” implies a great deal. These women are mostly in their 20’s and 30’s usually career types seeking more meaning in their lives (and are sometimes empty nest moms). Most of them have not been blighted by the wild adolescent binges we saw in the Post Vatican II period but have been invigorated by the charismatic appeal of Pope John Paul II and his interpretation of modern feminism as a way for women to express Christian values. This is the JP2 generation.

It is most interesting to note that these enthusiastic, vigorous, educated young women want a structured life centering around the Eucharist and community prayer. They value the daily Mass. They respect the priesthood (even knowing that some priests are rebels, nerds or unfaithful). They are loyal to the Teaching of the Church which is called the Magisterium. They are sincere about the Evangelical counsels. They profess their primary commitment to Jesus through vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. And they mean it! They truly believe that they are making a Radical statement cutting through the murky disorientation which confuses our “today” society. Their Counter culture Announcement is embodied by the wearing of the veil. One young nun, quoted in the Time article, says “It’s a trend with younger women wanting to wear the veil now.” And, besides, they laugh a lot, exude an unmistakable joyful spirit, roller blade and ride bikes through traffic and parks! It is also noteworthy that these new communities usually wear full habits, ankle length.

It has been my unbelievable good fortune to have been the Confessor for a convent of the Sisters of life for 5 years. I have met the new Nun close up. She is a talented, normal, vibrant young woman who makes a choice, even if culturally radical, to give her life to Jesus Christ. She is not the mythical broken-hearted damsel or the one who can’t do anything else. She is a Doctor, former Air Force nurse (Captain), psychologist, computer programmer, geologic engineer, teacher, former Marine, ex-professional opera singer, political scientist, blogger. This particular group, Sisters of Life, is a relative newcomer with a mere 15 years of existence. Yet it numbers over 50 members with prospects of many more. Its apostolate is specific. It deals with young women who reject abortion in favor of life and with any kind of attack on the sacredness of human life. Other similar groups throughout this country are experiencing even more rapid growth such as the Dominican sisters of Mary (in Ann Arbor), which, founded in 1997, already has 73 members. Their average age, incidentally, is 24! So, I tentatively suggest that there is a correlation between religious garb and active, lively Catholicism (exemplified as entering religious life), regardless of the furious insistence that the relaxed lifestyle of the dying communities is in sync with a vigorous Religious Life.. Somehow, once the Religious casts off the habit or the collar, irreligious behavior often follows. The hypothetical correlation needs to be deeply studied for some kind of objective understanding of what has happened in the last 40 years.[2]

It is further grist for the correlation mill that male Communities are experiencing the same kind of phenomenon. The most striking one in my experience is that founded approximately 20 years ago by the brilliant and saintly Fr Benedict Groeschel and his eight companions who left a very large Order because of serious differences on fundamentals[3]. These New Religious, called the CFRs, wear a distinctive, gray Friar’s habit complete with cowl, sandals and beard. They sleep on the floor, cook all their meals, do all their own housework and live a true community life. They wear their habits on the street, on airplanes, subways, busses, anywhere they go. They are highly visible. They insist that they make public statements by their manner of dress, namely that they believe in Catholicism. On entering any chapel or Church wherein the Blessed Eucharist is reserved, they unapologetically kneel and kiss the floor as a public act of Faith. They are fiercely loyal to Jesus, their Church and the Magisterium.

Is it surprising that their recruit numbers are astonishingly high in this alienation/ Me-first era? They are beginning to get 15 to 20 young people each year, attracted by the clarity of dedication and the holiness of the Friars. Their retention rate is good and they now number over 100 members. Like the young nun candidates, these potential Friars are looking for some sense of meaning to their lives and seem to be attracted to a life which challenges limits of their generosity. One might list the religious order known as the Legionaries of Christ to further this point. This group also has astonishingly large numbers of young men seeking admission with very large Ordination classes each year, usually at St. Peter’s in Rome. They are all dressed in black suits, have clear group identity and express explicit loyalty to the Holy Father and the Church. With a less successful rate of retention than the CFRs, they, nevertheless, do have a significant religious population.

There is a hypothesis here which, while needing research and considerable analyzable data, can be stated in research terms. Does the wearing of a habit coupled with a focused apostolate correlate positively with high recruitment? Does secular garb coupled with diffuse apostolates correlate negatively with low recruitment?

For further input of data, I offer the following. I have been further blessed to have been Professor of Human Sexuality and Counseling at two major seminaries for a total of 31 years. Over the years I have noted the clear movement toward a more traditional approach to priesthood in the Catholic Church. There seems to be a more open expression of piety and rejection of the semi-diluted theological climate of the late 20th century. It strikes me that young priests who are clerically attired, are praying more than their middle-aged, somewhat angst-driven confreres who like to dress in Levis and sport shirts. Further, it is becoming a common observation in the priest Community that the young priests are markedly more open in their loyalty to the Holy Father and less likely to have the theological hang-ups of their predecessors. Is there some kind of link here? Does wearing “clericals” indicate a more, if unconscious, commitment to priesthood?

In my last teaching years at Dunwoodie Seminary of Yonkers, a group of students began meeting quietly each afternoon at Five for an Hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The numbers increased until almost the whole student body was present at this optional devotion. A salient point of this observation is that all the students were dressed either in soutanes (cassocks) or in clerical collar. A further point is the obvious and pervasive devotion to the Catholic ethos in that theologate. Again, is there some kind of link here?

So many Catholic lay persons have expressed their pleasure at seeing their religious leaders dressed like Catholic religious Leaders. They know that the Religious habit or collar almost shrieks out in the secular Market place that God matters. So does the average Religious who has probably experienced the hostile stare or obscene remark from those who are rebuked by the Religious garb. But he also knows the friendly smile and friendly support from so many more. Beyond the effect on others, wearing religious garb reminds the religious himself/herself of the commitment one has made to God. Unbelievably, this is easy to overlook in this very secular environment. Wearing religious garb is a protection as well as a Proclamation. Let us hope that the trend continues and that it might even break through the distortions of the stiff necked earlier generation!!!! (And I am eighty-five!)

[1] Wearing turtle neck type garb allows priests to get “out from under” the social expectation of Catholic laypersons. It allows the priest to be “one of the boys” more easily. Some few priests feel the guilt of the pressure of priesthood and find relief in pretending to be laymen.
[2] In my years of teaching Graduate students (nuns brothers and priests), I was amazed at the common rationalization for sexual “acting out”. So often it was called natural behavior or necessary human development. Nowhere was there mention of the commitment of the Vows. I was told either that mortal sin was very difficult ever to commit or that our new insights of morality made such behavior “understandable.”
[3] Tolerance of homosexuals within the Order and departure from “care of the “Poor”were the alleged reasons to split and form a new Community.

Fr. John Harvey: A Model for Modern Apostles - AMEN!

He is a priest, short, quite bald, and elderly. He is a recognized international scholar with a score of high level books and author of innumerable articles in professional journals. He laughs at good jokes and enjoys a steaming dish of tasty pasta. He likes people, is heavy with compassion and is non-judgmental. He has spent his life helping others and enlightening young minds in college classrooms. He likes to pray and believes in a loving God. He is a fervent loyalist to the Catholic Church and fearlessly defends the Magisterium against the attacks of modern secularism and hedonism. He believes in honest disagreement and never takes what Media call the “cheap shot.”

Prima facie, on the face of it, one would surmise that this priest, Father John Harvey, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of Moral Theology and trained counselor in the world of psychology, would be universally appreciated and even acclaimed. (With essential differences noted) one might make similar observations about Jesus Who was goodness itself and Who should have been welcomed and loved without condition. Obviously, the Lord was treated brutally, viciously and was hardly welcomed with open arms.

Father Harvey has been called a “bastard” by a fellow priest who suffers from SSA[1] and who almost violently disagrees with the Church’s teaching on the problem of homosexuality. Recently, at a parish where Fr. Harvey preaches on Sundays, a Politically Correct Catholic couple informed Father after Mass that they would never attend this Church as long as he was there. They informed him that they were ashamed of him even though they deeply appreciated the members of his Order who were more modern and “with it.” Typically, Father offered them his priestly blessing as they huffed away in deep indignation.

Many Catholic priests and a few Bishops have attempted to “blackball” him and possibly to silence his powerful Traditional Catholic message. He has been widely insulted and demeaned even though Pope John Paul II personally encouraged and approved his ministry and even though Cardinal Trujillo, of the Vatican Family Life office, officially praised his work. Further, Cardinal John O’Connor publicly announced that Courage, (the movement which Father Harvey, in fact, founded) was the only Official Ministry to SSA persons in the Archdiocese of New York. And, in fact, his movement, Courage, is now International with chapters in Australia, Poland, Ireland, England, Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Singapore, New Zealand, in addition to the many ones in the United States. There are constant petitions from all over the world for assistance in starting the Courage units. The Movement, founded only in 1980, has helped literally hundreds of good men and women recover from the insanity and drabness of the homosexual lifestyle.

In the light of the above, the casual observer obviously would legitimately ask “why?” Why would such a good and well intentioned priest who literally defends his Church’s teaching against any attacker or attack be so maligned and disliked? Why should he be so victimized for the good he has done over the years? It is interesting that he is attacked personally more than the Catholic teaching he upholds! One wonders is the venom selective, sensing that he is the easier target---with the hope that destroying him might mean destroying the Teaching?

The Catholic Church in obedience to the Will of the Master teaches that human sexuality is reserved exclusively for men and women who are married. Any usage of the sexual faculty outside marriage is inherently wrong and contrary to the Plan of God. The Church teaches that containment of the powerful sexual drive is mandatory and possible (with the help of God’s Grace). Cardinal George of Chicago in an address to a group of homosexual activists insisted that any one who disbelieves in the possibility of chastity, in effect, does not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. As one might expect, at the conclusion of his address he got perfunctory applause, at best. This is not what the gay population wants to hear.

The control of libidinous desires is seen, in Catholic circles, as chastity and God’s Will, a requirement for every one, married and unmarried. The chaste married person rightfully has a full, passionate and healthy sex life with the spouse but only with the spouse. The chaste, unmarried person (technically celibate, temporary or permanent) refrains from sexual activity until marriage.

Catholicism sees chastity as freedom for the growth of oneself as a person. It is not perceived as repression or corrosion of a person. Contrary wise, the result of chastity is the integration of energies which might otherwise swing off into wild and toxic tangents. Chastity as taught by the Catholic Church (and clearly then by Courage) brings an inner peace and sense of inner cleanliness which allows the person to understand and practice the meaning of real love. This interiority is constantly reported by members of Courage who in their various pasts[2] had been enveloped in the homosexual “Lifestyle”. In effect, chastity is totally in one’s self interest, not the opposite.

Interestingly, this very interiority ultimately swings outward to the “other” who is beheld rather than possessed. It is Catholic belief that persons are loved and beheld by God with an implacable love—as His own adopted children. No human being can be legitimately possessed or owned.. That belongs only to God. This makes for the fundamental factor in identity. Creature of God. The Wall Street Journal published a signal article entitled Morality and Homosexuality written by an Ecumenical Symposium (Feb. 24, 1994) which articulated the bottom line. It is degrading to be exclusively defined in sexual terms. “Man” is far more than gonads and sexual urges. It is a non-equation to say “I am homosexual” since the person is far more than his sexual dimension, as important as it is.

The Catholic Church likewise teaches that a tendency to unnatural and unrestrained sex does not constitute the whole of the person. It is a tendency which is surely within the person but it is only a tendency. This is also Fr. Harvey’s concept of Same Sex Attraction (SSA). It is far more accurate and respectful than the Gay “lens” term which consumes the whole of the person reducing him to the level of drives and desires. Chastity also believes that one can not only survive living chastely, but one is thereby freed for the glory of true love of God and human beings. It is one of the basic pillars of Courage that liberation from the homosexual trap includes friendship of the type described by C.S. Lewis in his book Four Loves. Not only is chaste friendship possible but it is basically necessary. All human beings yearn for and require intimacy. To love and to be loved is healthy, normal and blessed. Yet, these goals are to be pursued appropriately—God’s way. Unhappily, such yearnings are capable of enormous distortion and subtle deception.

For example the term “relationship” in gay circles, when stripped of festoonery, clearly means sexual involvement. According to the testimonies of Courage members liberated from the trap of same sex behavior, it also has a given. Namely, Gay couples are implicitly allowed to “fool around” sexually with others. Sexual exclusivity is not a basic requirement of gay coupling. Only emotional fidelity is a must for SSA unions. Heartache, suffering, loss of self esteem and a multitude of human unhappinesses follow such naiveté.

When Fr. Harvey, with a background of extensive experience and knowledge, works and prays to bring people to human happiness, eternal salvation and the pleasure of God, he is maltreated as described above. Is it because people simply do not believe in God’s grace, that chastity is not possible? Is it that, as I have heard from activist homosexuals that Courage people are either lying or sick when they reveal their chastity? Is the vicious attack coming from uninformed persons? Or persons with false tolerance and misplaced compassion? Or from persons with secret, sexual “skeletons” in their own closets? Is Fr. Harvey’s stance (i.e. the Catholic Church) a rebuke to others? Does he make some one feel guilty? One cannot know the motivational dynamics demeaning a holy old priest whose personal motivation is to do God’s Holy Will. However, what we do know is the teaching the Master, Jesus.

When they revile you and treat you unrighteously, when they say all manner of evil things about you, when they mistreat you because of My Name’s sake, then blessed are you. You shall have the Kingdom of heaven. Those of us who know Fr. John Harvey personally can only say Amen!!!

[1] SSA is shorthand for Same Sex Attraction and is considered to be more respectful than the pejorative “homosexual” or the activist “Gay” word. Gay usually means political and pervasive and includes the whole of the personality. SSA does not.

[2]Courage members include physicians, lawyers, psychotherapists, teachers, street prostitutes, retailers, audio experts, investment bankers, doormen , office workers, men, women, young, old, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, religious, unbelievers—Caucasians, Hispanics, African Americans, Indians----the cross section of American life.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Accused Priest: Victimizer or Victim?

Of all the groups in public life, accusations against the Catholic priest get heavier media attention, wider public discussion and immediate rush to judgment of guilt, than any comparable group in the United States. Public school teachers who are accused ten times more often of sexual molestation than, for example, priests of the Archdiocese of New York, politicians who abet crime, commit adultery and dip into the public till, “celebrities of the entertainment world who flaunt basic indecencies, almost trade in illicit drugs, all, for the most part, are excused with benign, bemused, understanding slaps on the wrist. The big liberal newspapers and television outlets do note these indiscretions but situate them in a relatively obscure spot in the dissemination of the “news.” Non-priest negatives are allowed to dissipate while priests’ failings, actual or otherwise, are quickly, almost gleefully, fuelled.

One can wonder whether or not the eagerness to destroy a priest is really an intent to destroy the Catholic Church. The most pivotal point of the Catholic Church is the priesthood and hence can become the target area for non-objective and agenda driven reporting. One notes that clergymen of other denominations who, though married, have proportionally equal sexual failure rates, are not highlighted the way Catholic priests are. Why is this? Is it that these priests, as special and public articulators of God’s holiness, should be held to a higher moral standard than politicians, teachers, rock singers and even other clergymen? Perhaps, so! But is that the whole story?

Is all this true? Is this some kind of paranoia on the part of Catholics? Is this mere hypersensitivity? Dr. Philip Jenkins of Penn State University wrote a formidable book THE NEW ANTI-CATHOLICISM, The last Acceptable Prejudice, exposing the reality of the powerful prejudice behind the movement to discredit Catholicism. Tammy Bruce, a fair-minded, lesbian author and media personality, exposes much of the force in back of what we are calling unfairness in her unsettling book, The Death of Right and Wrong. Why is this? Why is there such a volcanic reaction to alleged misconduct of a priest? There are surely many possible motivational dynamics in back of the attacks on priests. Some have more cogency and truth than others but all should be examined.

First of all, the allegations might be true. If this is so, then, we congratulate the media. It is crucial that not only our children but our youth be protected from vicious destructive adults of any and all professions. We enthuse that a wayward priest is immediately dismissed and punished like any other criminal. The Church benefits from such a move as do all Catholic members and most especially do the male teen age members who will then be protected from that priest with his (statistically probable) same sex compulsions.[1] It is alleged that “All the Media is doing is to contribute to a healthier and more honest society…” While this sounds plausible (and probably is, in the case of unfaithful priests), the implied universal judgment of guilt and suspicion applied to all priests is clearly unfair and untrue. It simply isn’t so. All studies rate the sexual failure rate in the priesthood, as an average around 3%. Over 60 years this becomes devastating but it must be seen in perspective. (cf Applewhite; below).

Unless one wears intellectual blinders of ignorance or prejudice, there is clear and authenticated evidence of anti-Catholic animus. Bluntly stated, sheer prejudice and dislike of the Catholic Church may be driving editors, publishers, journalists, anchor persons and educators to such unmitigated slanted reporting. Clearly, there is always the possibility that these “driven” zealots might be (only) unconsciously bigoted. They, when challenged, indignantly insist that they are only telling the public what the public needs[2] to know with all the frills one learns in the liberal Columbia School of J. However, we have witnessed somewhat startling revelations from courageous reporters who tell the truth about the Media from the inside. Bernie Goldberg, a long time reporter from CBS wrote two shocking books about what really happens in Newsrooms. In his #1 New York Times bestseller, Bias, he created a national firestorm when he exposed the biases of the mainstream media. His second book, Arrogance, tells of the assumptions of Media which lead to biased reporting and slanted news. Objective news reporting seems far away from today’s reality. One must consider the agenda which begin to become obvious.

The article in America (Sept.25, 2006) by Monica Applewhite of Praesidium, Inc. called “Putting Abuse in Context” gives an interesting perspective. The problem of sexual abuse occurs in a much wider context than one can glean from the standard press reports. It occurs far more frequently than the homosexual Catholic priest scandal. She presents tested data through which guidelines for dealing with sexual offenders have been clearly articulated. However, these guidelines are presented for every situation—not only the Catholic Church. Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, YMCA, the Episcopal Church among others have all acted appropriately in incorporating guidelines into their structures. Percentage wise, there is not a great deal of difference relative to failure rates. However, all should be treated equally and there ought to be a level playing field here! Why accent one over any other?

One possibility for the “agenda” focusing on Catholic priests might stem from the contemporary insistence on what is called “sexual rights.” This insistence usually means that the modern wishes to separate sexual activity from the possibility of procreating a child. This position is fairly obvious when one dialogues with that segment of our society jocosely called “the Second Avenue bar crowd” where boy meets girl after a hard day’s work with implication of “fun and games.”. The Witness of Chastity in Catholic priests and religious is largely maintained as advertised but does evoke criticism from the “moderns” who loudly proclaim that chastity (or celibacy as they see it) is impossible to achieve. Therefore those who live allegedly chaste lives are either lying or are very sick.[3] So when an accusation against a priest is made, shouts of triumph and exaltation make the headlines. It is as if sexual weakness in the homosexual priest validates the free life style of the critics. This point simply suggests that the chastity of priests is a rebuke to the champions of the New Way of Life!

There is always the possibility that the critics were offended by some arrogant Pastor of their childhood and they have never gotten over it! But who of us was not slighted or pushed around or belted by a parochial school teacher? Is destroying a religious life by calumny[4] justified?[5] It is for no small reason that the eighth Commandment FROM GOD states “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In effect, this is what the Church labels a mortal sin objectively greasing the slide into an eternal Hell.

A case in point is a recent situation where an elderly priest, suffering from cancer, has been accused by “some one” that this priest molested him[6] almost 50 years ago. The priest was notified that he cannot function as a priest publicly unless and until the charge is fully examined. The priest was given no further information. The priest, totally stunned, thought this was a “practical joke.” He asked when did this allegedly happen? The reply” “We are not sure.” He asked where did this allegedly happen? The reply: “We are not sure.” He asked how often did this allegedly happen? The reply” “We are not sure.” He asked what was the nature of the alleged offense? The reply: “We are not sure.” Who is the accuser? Reply: Some one.

In effect, without any proof, authorities acted completely on the word of someone, who suddenly surfaces to defame a priest with an honorable career in the priesthood. The priest, well known by many colleagues (including this writer for 50 years), has no inclination or interest in homosexual matters, has clear devotion to the Lord and Our Lady and has been rightfully trusted by anyone who has crossed his priestly path. One must ask again the hard questions. Why would anyone engage in such despicable, unrighteous behavior?

For the streetwise, of course, the first thought is money. In my own experience of serving for five years on a Diocesan committee for reviewing clerical sexual misconduct, I have seen several flimsy allegations from money seeking people. Unwisely, sometimes Church authorities tried to buy off” accusers with what really amounted to Hush Money. The obvious occurred. The accuser asked for (or pleaded for) more money in the light of the rising cost of living (or “unanticipated expenses”). Interestingly, in the initial stage of accusation, the accuser would often pointedly state that “I am not interested in money—only in justice and protection of others from this priest…” However, in a surprisingly short period of time, somehow, the matter of money crept into the investigation. Subtly, quietly, suddenly we are talking about significant sums of money.

One lawyer, interested in this sphere of practice, noted during the height of the scandal that a “lot money can be made off the Church.” Another, in the state of New Jersey, who specializes in suing the Catholic Church notes that he needs only one or two such cases per year to live very comfortably. One person who was molested by both a priest and a public school teacher said that he would sue the priest over the teacher because there was more money to be made from the Church than the Board of Ed. One cannot easily dismiss this factor in probing for the truth of this whole problem. However, it is not the only or even dominant factor involved.

It is also most interesting that when an American Bishop announced that his Diocese would not “dole” out large cash palliatives to persons allegedly molested by priests. Henceforth, he said that all accusations will go to trial. No concessions. No settlements. Court trials only! How does one then explain the sudden plummeting and decline of accusations--- after his announcement. Is it cynical or realistic to note that Dollar signs are flashing in greedy eyes?

The infamous Tiwana Brawley case of some years ago was a glaring example of calumny and its heart breaking consequences for so many persons falsely accused. Broken marriages, bankruptcies, emotional breakdowns, came on the heels of an absurd charge which was encouraged and supported by prominent persons. At present (Jan. 2007) there is possibly another glaring case of false accusation in the Duke University lacrosse situation wherein several young men have been accused of sexual molestation. These young men may be innocent but have suffered enormous losses of time, money and reputation. These are not examples of persecuting the Catholic Church but they do illustrate the evil of false accusations.

In the Catholic experience there is the notorious case of Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago in which a homosexual man claimed through the dubious mode of dream recall[7] that he was molested by Bernadin years before. The man recanted his claim and the Cardinal was totally exonerated. His Eminence, however, did publicly reveal the suffering he endured from this falsehood as he was dying from cancer. Was this man’s accusation for the hope of money? Was it to embarrass the Catholics for the Church’s stance on the evil of homosexual behavior? Was he encouraged by activist Gay groups in their campaign to break down basic morals, as has been suggested?

Is it possible that the accuser mis-identifies? Is he a psychotic ranting against some demon in his fantasy-life which torments his psyche? Is he just hopping on the Catholic bashing band wagon? Any of these possibilities is preferable to the sheer evil of a deliberate false accusation. Whatever the reality, the innocent priest is a Victim. The guilty priest is obviously another story. Telling the Truth wherever it may lead is still the “way to go.” The Scriptures clearly teach that the Truth does make one free. However, Lies and calumnies have a way of catching up. Beware, ye ones who wish evil on innocents!
[1] The priest scandal largely involved homosexual behaviors, not pederastic ones. The media continues to refer to the problem as if it were about pre-pubescent children,. It was largely about teen aged males, not females and not children of either sex. Homosexual priests were responsible for approximately 4 out of every 5 cases of molestation reported over a period of 60 years. This, in itself is non-objective reporting.
[2] “needs” are defined by the superior intelligence of Media.
[3] There are certain radical groups within the Catholic Church, including some “with it” priests and religious who, finding chaste celibacy too difficult, lobby for sexual “rights”
[4] calumny means outright lies about another human being thereby ruining that person’s good name and possibly career.
[5] Obviously, this is in reference to FALSE charges. Homosexual (or otherwise) priests who molest others are liable themselves before God.
[6] One can use the masculine gender in al most every case since there have been, up to now Zero allegations of priests molesting, for example, altar girls who are now serving at the altar for about 12 years. The clear inference is that priest molesters are usually not interested in females.
[7] Dream recall is highly criticized for its unscientific and unreliable procedure. Cf APA position on this matter.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

How Can I Be to Blame? It’s Not MY Fault!

Judith Regan, one of the chief architects of the revolting plan to air OJ Simpson’s “theoretical” confession, revealed, during the fracas following her PR announcement, that part of her life’s problem stemmed from her Catholic background. By some kind of weird convolution, she blamed her experience in what she called the “spooky” confessional Box to justify her intent to publish a book and do a Television interview. This intent was so involuntarily disgusting that a huge public ground swell forced cancellation. Obviously, the meaning and purpose of the television presentation and book publishing can be crudely reduced to a bottom line called Money. But Regan, a collapsed Catholic, offered weak justification that her intent was not to make dinero but to force male molesters (in her residual Catholic language) to confession, penance and a firm purpose of amendment of life! This is clearly an example of the very human escape mechanism, called rationalization[i]. But perhaps more repulsive was her immature displacement of responsibility. By using the mechanism of displacement, she could hope that the following implicit claim might be made. If there was any distortion in her plan, one must blame, at least in part, the Catholic Church, not Regan.[ii]

Such displacement is as old as Genesis wherein we read that Adam, when confronted by the Lord for his disobedience, immediately replies that the woman made him do it. It was not his fault. Some one else made him do it. The some one else called Eve when confronted likewise by the Lord, rejects any kind of personal responsibility and claims someone else, the serpent, made her do it. It was not her fault. Don’t blame her. Like the theme of the popular Television show featuring Flip Wilson, the way out is to say “The devil made me do it.” Such a practice is as old as the aboriginal calamity (original sin) whereby the human being has tried (for eons and eons) to avert personal responsibility when faced with the painful consequences of his own making. Blame someone else.

I understand (from personal experience) that Shakespeare is not immediately beautiful and instructive and that usually he takes work. Yet, what can justify such work is the idea that some great thing awaits the one who does it successfully. If one were to glean only one relevant thought from this genius, it would be invaluable. One of my own favorite mantras, based on his work, is from Julius Caesar wherein the lead character verbalizes a fundamental truth of life: “The fault, my dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves…” This message of the Bard is apparently epiphanic to some people. Namely, not only does one waste valuable energy by shifting responsibility from self to others but one stultifies personal growth and character expansion. To place the blame for my failures or unhappiness on my parents or my teachers or my Church or the Government or the environment is to shriek that I am unbelievably immature. Why not blame George Bush for Katrina? That would take a lot of people “off the hook.” Human history is loaded with examples of shifting blame onto others. We all can recall Nero with his fiddle and his cry that the Christians did it! On the contrary, the adult takes personal responsibility for his own life.

It is not sufficiently justifying to say “I was drunk.” Or “I was sick”. Or “It was my other self. I have multiple personalities” “It was not my fault. You can’t blame me.” It is adult and Christian to say “I did it. It was my fault. It was I, no one else.” When he can say: “I take the responsibility for my life. I accept the consequences of my own behavior”, he is growing up. This is more maturational than learning how to blow one’s own nose without Mama’s help!

Even the great Dante in his Divine Comedy reserves some of the lowest forms of Hell for “blamers” by situating them in such a way that they have no one to blame! Imagine that for all eternity they have to take the blame themselves! In the December issue of First Things, Joseph Bottum notes how feverishly New Yorkers (especially at Christmas time) work to avoid taking any kind of responsibility for the sorrow and evil right under their noses in the supreme City of Man. He notes the ever present cell-phone talkers who speak loudly, blotting out all presence around them. He notes the deliberately unfocused stare of the smoker who comes out into the cold for the fix, seeing no one, caring for no one.

It is the same stare one meets invariably on the New York subway. There is no one really around them. They don’t want to see anything unpleasant. For them there is no loneliness or hunger or sadness. Blamers would rather not see the hollowed-eyed, toothless, dirty “man of the street” who despairingly shakes his crummy paper cup in one’s face. Why should he have to notice, he asks, the muggings and the cheating and incivilities and the vulgarities of the City? He is not responsible, he says, for the violence and the drugs and the booze and the porno and the like! He believes since it is someone else’s fault, the ugliness of human despair should be blunted for him! He didn’t cause it! It was not his fault! He has a right to “look the other way.” “That’s just the way things are; there’s nothing I can do; I wasn’t the one who started the fight; it’s not my fault.” In effect, this is self-centeredness and probably nascent narcissism.

However, on other levels, he is right. It was not his fault that Pogroms brutalized Jews in Eastern Europe. It was not his fault that Nazis murdered priests, Gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, Poles. It was not his fault that wealthy Plantation owners in Virginia and South Carolina bought human beings as if they were cattle, enslaved them and at the same time ostentatiously carried Bibles to their Sunday morning services. It was not his fault that authorities trampled on the Catholic Faith in the Inquisition. It was not his fault that crazed fanatics terrified our country on 9/11.

Yet, I wonder how John Donne’s phrase “No man is an island” would factor in here?

If we are all called to help make Christ’s Kingdom come, are we not “blamable” if we do nothing? If we turn away our faces and have cold hearts? Did not St. James castigate those who ignore the needs of others, needs which are not only food and clothing but which also beg for encouragement and acknowledgment and forgiveness and compassion? Wasn’t it he who said “Faith without good works is dead”? It is clear that within the Catholic spiritual system there is no real spiritual life without the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Talk is cheap. I must do something for some one. Some how. Some where. The old Bert Williams song of vaudeville “I ain’t gonna’ do nothin’ for nobody ‘cause nobody does nothin’ for me” belongs on the stage. It has no place in a sophisticated Catholic spiritual life.

Don’t we have enough experience now with distortion and unhappiness to understand the old dictum: “All evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing”?

In the words of the street, let’s get to the bottom line! That line is simple. “Whenever you did for one of these, my least brethren, you did it to Me” Perhaps I am to blame if I can’t see the Lord in all the crummy unpleasant things around me. Perhaps I am to blame for being too self involved. Perhaps I am to blame because I failed to pray for the tawdry dimensions of my City. Perhaps I could smile at the angry man mentioned on Bottum’s article. Perhaps I could hail the cab for that tired looking girl with all the packages. Perhaps I could drop a few bob into that guy’s paper cup as he sprawls on the sidewalk. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps, if I can remember the words of my Master even if it is all not my fault. “You did it to me……..”

[i] The imputation of a noble motive to an ignoble action is the core of rationalization.
[ii] Laura Ingram, Constitutional lawyer and Media personality, was mystified, as a Catholic of 3 or more years, at the notion of “spooky”. She experienced no such reaction from her own confessional life.