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My brother sent me an article about Mr. Rogers and his profound impact on a writer, Tim Madigan, who interviewed him and subsequently wrote a book called, I am Proud of You. My brother said that the second page of the article brought him to tears, and as soon as I read it I knew why.

For those of us with poor relationships with our fathers, it is deeply touching to learn how Mr. Rogers’ acceptance of, and un-self-interested affection for, another man could reach this man’s heart and help heal his father-wound. The secret? Mr. Rogers, an ordained Christian minister, saw his profession as a ministry, a way of bringing God’s grace into the lives of others. He imagined that as he looked at the camera he was giving his undivided love and attention to each child. And that is how he treated the writer who interviewed him–undivided attention, acceptance, and eventually a parental kind of affection.

“In the book we learn how intentional he was in his television show, understanding it as a ministry and lovingly using it to impart the values of the gospel that was so dear to him: grace, forgiveness, kindness, and trust in an Unconditional Love.”

The author of the article in Christianity Today, Jason Gray, continues,

I’m Proud of You is an understated and modest book, competently written. But within its pages you find the best kind of story—the kind of story that not only inspires you to be more human, live an ennobled kind of life, and to love better than you thought you could, but that also reveals the grace that makes these things possible.”

As Gray ponders the affect of the book on his own life, he asks a question which each of us needs to ponder,

 “What might my life look like if I better incarnated the grace of God? How would my wife’s life be different if this were true of me? My kids? My friends and those around me whom my life touches?

And he concludes with a statement of hope:

…in Mister Rogers I find a man, a broken sinner like me, set free to love and live the kind of life that Jesus points to. If Mister Rogers can find that kind of grace, maybe it’s available to me, too.”

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According to the Jesuit poet G.M. Hopkins, the “grandeur” of God flames out in the world and in nature.  Hopkins believed that, despite our destructive ways, humankind cannot destroy the presence of God’s grace in nature, renewed by the Holy Spirit each day at dawn. In a similar vein, I believe that the sins of the Catholic leaders cannot destroy the power of God’s grace being experienced today in the faith and hope of so many Catholics.

Thousands of Catholics are committed to a church in which the priestly vocations of women are treated with equal respect to the priestly vocations of men, and in which a life of celibacy is not a pre-requisite for a life of priestly ministry.

This is a time for renewal, a new dawn for our Church.  The momentum for change is building at the grass-roots level, the people of God.  All the disenfranchised need a voice; all the abused and betrayed deserve to be heard.  And the journey forward will not be easy.

But what about the abusers in our church? Can’t a priest be forgiven and receive the grace of God to overcome his compulsion to abuse children? As Elizabeth Dreyer eloquently expresses in Manifestations of Grace, grace has the power to transform, to bring life out of death, hope out of despair. I firmly believe in God’s grace and that I am alive only through the power of God’s grace. God’s grace is not in question. The issue, however, is not God’s grace, but the power of the human person to remain open and respond to that grace.

Repentance is not enough; reception of the sacraments is not enough. Neither personal repentance nor communal sacraments have the power to change a sexual disorder.  Our bishops made this assumption in the past with horrific results, But now it should be clear to them: credibly accused pedophile priests must be taken out of ministry, regardless of statutes of limitations.

As a survivor who still considers herself a Catholic, the most pressing issue right now is not how can I heal (I have learned what I need to do) but how can the church heal?I do believe, as Jesus himself modeled, that the greatest challenge for any Christian, any human being, is to turn evil into good. Great evil has been perpetrated against our children, and also against our whole church community through the deceptions and cover-ups that made the Catholics in the pews unwitting accomplices in a morally corrupt institutional structure. The pain of healing will be no less than the pain caused by that evil. Our journey to forgiveness and healing will be long.

I had a favorite pair of loafers. They weren’t fashionable … never had been. Time came when the stitching was rotted out and they were no longer waterproof, but they felt so comfortable. I could slip them on without socks and I immediately relaxed. My body knew some “outside time” was coming. Fresh air and gardening, or just sitting on the swing. They were comfortable, comforting and connected my whole self — body and soul — to good memories. But now they were falling apart and didn’t even keep my feet dry. Should I have them re-soled and re-stitched? Or was it time to invest in a whole new pair? Maybe even change my style of leisure shoe completely?

Catholic rituals like the Mass are for many people comfortable and comforting, connecting them to a lifetime of good memories – life-cycle events, holy days, Church rites of passage. In 2010, in the post cover-up era, as we deal with the evidence of rot in the highest levels of Vatican structure, should we attempt to re-soul our church? Or should we move on to another community of faith altogether?

The Vatican has never been a follower of moral fashion; even a re-souled version of the church is not going to fit everybody’s agendas. But what many of us love — a life in which joys and losses are celebrated in liturgical ritual; the ethical consistency of its moral theology, even when we don’t always agree with it; the willingness to change, albeit in a glacial, three steps forward two steps back fashion, at the best of times; the non-literal, non-fundamentalist approach to the scriptures (we don’t do as well with our approach to church doctrine) the world-wide social justice work of the many religious and lay organizations – all of this may be enough reason not to trade in our old “shoes” for a new pair. Maybe.

John Paley

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