Thursday, April 29, 2010

More Light on the Church

We are all well aware that anger, bitterness, and indignation have characterized much of the reporting and the commentaries around the scandal of sex abuse in the Church.

There remains a great deal of that, many months into the unfolding of the story.

It is becoming clear, however, that the anger has a focus, and it is not really the abuse itself any more. It is the not coming clean, the general lack of transparency, that is exasperating the observers of this moment in history.

Interestingly, a new phenomenon is unfolding out of this. A kind of concordance is happening between the messages of the secular commentators, and those of observers within the Church. There are many examples.

Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Here is a short selection from her article on April 6 of this year, titled The Church’s Judas Moment:

The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. We must reassess. Married priests and laypeople giving the sacraments are not going to destroy the church. Based on what we have seen the last 10 years, they would be a bargain. It is time to go back to the disciplines that the church was founded on and remind our seminaries and universities what they are.

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister and a prolific Catholic author. She has written some powerful books on spirituality that I have enjoyed very much. Here is an excerpt from a piece she wrote on March 17, 2010, titled Divided Loyalties: an Incredible Situation:

From where I stand, if there are any in whom we should be able to presume a strong conscience and an even stronger commitment to the public welfare, it is surely the priests and religious of the church. But if that is the case, then the church must also review its theology of obedience so that those of good heart can become real moral leaders rather than simply agents of the institution.
A bifurcation of loyalties that requires religious to put canon law above civil law and moral law puts us in a situation where the keepers of religion may themselves become one of the greatest dangers to the credibility -- and the morality -- of the church itself.

Strong words. Is there a theme in articles like these? I think so: the Church needs to find a new way to do business.

Perhaps a new Church is in the offing. Perhaps the priesthood of the laity (Vatican ll) will re-emerge. Father Paul Philbert, a Dominican, puts it this way, starting with a quote from the Council:

“The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all their Christian activities they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the marvels of him who has called them out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Lumen Gentium 10). In other words, the vocation that the church offers to the faithful is not a secondary role as clients of clerical ministries, but a Spirit-filled participation as pioneers in the church’s role as herald of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps an open, joyous transparency will emerge in this Church. People will come back to that kind of Church. Many have walked away from the secret, dismissive, set apart Church. The scandal locked the door for them.

The world we live in understands that perfection is not the minimum. But it will not tolerate being lied to and talked down to. That went out a long time ago. The Church needs to ‘read the signs of the times’ again, as Pope John XXIII said in calling that great gathering we fondly remember as Vatican II. I suspect a lot of reading is going on as we speak.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Darkness vanishes

The chirping of the birds is getting louder in the morning. They herald the new season. Activity is starting in the orchard, and even the groundhog paths are becoming visible through the grass.

The weather has been dark lately, and I do not just mean the rain and cold. I mean spiritual weather. It has not been good recently. The pastor and I have preached on the scandals in the Church two weeks in a row. At Easter. Imagine.

But the signs of spring and the Easter lilies remind me there is much more to the season than bad news. Indeed the season is all about the best News the world every had, the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection, our redemption, our second chance.

In its own way, this scandal-laden time is a reminder of how badly we truly need this redemption. Perhaps we have been ‘way to complacent, thinking that Easter was just a nice celebration of the glory of God. Dig a bit deeper, I am thinking.

It is the Deacon’s privilege to sing the Exultet at the Easter Vigil. For the past seventeen years that has been the high point of my Easter experience. I am thinking of it now, thinking of how powerful its message is, not as a moment of piety but as a moment to remember God’s response to our tremendous need. The Exultet is sung in a darkened church, with the light from the new Easter candle piercing that darkness. It announces Easter to the world. Here are a few phrases from the Exultet:

Rejoice O earth in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King… Darkness vanishes forever. Rejoice O Mother Church … the Risen Saviour shines upon you…….. Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God.

Christ is the light of the morning. A new day. He lets us start over and he leads. May we follow him, trust him, depend on him, and never again lose sight of him.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Of sausage and membership in the Church

I have heard about the Year of the Priest all this past year. But when the Bishop talked about it at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week, it hit me in a whole different way. What a time for the Year of the Priest! Right now you can take that phrase a few different ways - the year to remember the incredible abuses by priests..... the year to rally behind the priesthood itself ....... the year to point out that so many priests are and have been faithful to their ministry.

It is Easter Sunday today. The news of the past several months has focused on the scandal of abuse, but even more on the real scandal, that of cover-ups, moves, spin-doctoring, and denial. This past week the emphasis has been on what Church leaders have been saying. Some incredible gaffes are still happening, but today I detect a bit of a shift. Bishops around the world - Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Canada, the U.S. - are showing that they get it. Obfuscation is no longer the order of the day with those men. Honesty, admission, naming the problem, is now the order of the day. And the name of the problem, the one the world has really keyed in on, is not the abuse, as bad as that is. It is the lying and cover ups and denial. Hopefully, there is a tide sweeping through the Church that will continue the theme. Some clergy may feel like they are beating this to death, or that they are getting beat to death. Far from it, they are showing the world what it wanted to see from the beginning. Keep going until the world says it is satisfied.

In the meantime, the Church will survive. There are several terrific articles to that effect. The latest is in today's (April 4, 2010)Toronto Star, by Angelo Persichilli, 'Resilient church will overcome latest scandal.' Yesterday's Toronto Star had a great feature on Southdown, the treatment facility for clergy, located north of Toronto. The article contains really useful information that puts the problem of abuse in some perspective.

Long before the abuse scandal, I had this phrase that I would say to people (It's been so long, I don't know whether I was quoting someone, or made it up on my own): Being up close to Holy Mother Church is like watching sausage being made: you will never eat it again, unless you can live with messiness. The messiness I was initially referring to was the spectrum of personality quirks, politics, spirits of meanness, etc, that I had occasionally encountered in Church leaders. None of which shook my faith for even a moment. Messiness is the order of the day. If it weren't, the Cross and Resurrection - what we are celebrating right now - would have been useless jokes. They aren't jokes, they are needed very badly. What a great reminder all of this is. May its lesson not be lost. We need a purifying in the Church, we need transparency. And we need to be reminded that it is still the place to be. Jesus has not and will not withdraw his promise to us, to be the way, the truth, and the life. We've been acting as though we forgot that. Today is a day tinged by sadness for the victims of abuse, but it is also a day to remember that the Resurrection was for them too. Keep hope alive. Peace to all.