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A Mother – protecting her children (the membership) from historical truth and theological insight, and the responsibilities of independent thought. Trying desperately to keep her babes from leaving the nest.

A Lioness – protecting her cubs (the clergy) by hiding them from attack, redirecting attention away from them, retaliating against their attackers.

A “Uriah Heep” – whose only concern is to protect and gain control over the moneys taken in by the business. Motivated by greed, and putting on a face of insincere humility.

A model of the Church of “Bishop” Francis? – I remain hopeful.

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A history lesson the whole church should be given!

Another Voice

I thought I would take advantage of “sede vacante”……there NOT being a pope……to reflect on facts and fantasies about the papacy.

Concerned about the Catholic Church and the survival of the papacy, one of my pen-pals has been sending emails, reminding people that “Our Blessed Lord picked Saint Peter to be the first pope and he will surely take care of the church today by selecting a new one.”

An American archbishop wrote in his diocesan paper a few days ago that “Our Lord selected St. Peter to be the first pope, making him the rock on which the Catholic Church would be solidly built.”

There are facts, for sure. There are a lot of fantasies as well.

Let’s start from the very beginning……..

Peter was a young married man, probably around twenty years old. Most likely he had children but we don’t know for certain. He must have been…

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For reasons of health  and advanced age, Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28, 2013.

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What will they do? Will they elect a new King?

 

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And continue to close their eyes to their crimes?

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Or will they search for the light of the Holy spirit?

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And imagine a New Beginning, A New Creation?

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And what will the Church do? Because … they are not the Church; the People of God are the Church. And it’s time to stop waiting for Rome to change – or for the perfect Pope, the Council that best expresses your views, the best translation of the liturgy. Start being the Church you want the Church to be. Like the brave women and men who have recently received excommunication.

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It seems that I have fallen under the spell of magical thinking. Although clear about the nature of priestly ordination NOT making any kind of magical, ontological change in the persona of a priest, I apparently still harbored similar ideas about religious vows.

I have treated my brother James as if his capacity to bear the burdens of others was deeper and wider simply because he was a professed religious. It didn’t help that he was indeed more compassionate, gentle, patient and tender than most brothers, or Brothers. This in fact made it harder to recognise how we all in the family were taking advantage of him and expecting him to bear burdens beyond those of ordinary mortals or even ordinary friends or siblings.

The truth is he has borne those burdens, often juggling one parent’s or one sibling’s needs against another – often more than just one other in fact. And he has borne them alone. Unlike the rest of us – with husbands, wives, children, grandchildren – he has had no permanent presence in his life. No daily confidant or consoler. And he has lost many of his dearest friends in the last few years, reducing the number of support people in his life and increasing the pain and loss in his own relationships.

I have shared these reflections with my brother and our siblings, but I felt the topic was worthy of public comment also.

For those who are committed to going forward in the community of the Catholic faith it is vital that we reconsider our view of religious and priests, and most importantly our view of the vows that we have taken. Yes, all of us are under vows (solemn promises to perform an act, carry out an activity, or behave in a given way) taken for us by our parents at Infant Baptism, renewed by us at Confirmation, and reaffirmed by us every time we recite our creed and pray the Lord’s prayer. Implicit in these sacraments, faith statements and prayers is the promise to live by the beliefs expressed. We are not promising to support priests and religious as they live out their “calling,” we are acknowledging that we, too, are called, that we, too, are committing to live out this common calling, this shared vocation.

The Catholic faith community will not survive unless all Catholics accept their role, their burden, their joy of living a “vowed” life. The role of priests and religious should be seen as supporting us all in this life, not the other way around. This is a good time to reclaim  not the priesthood of the people but the people of the priesthood, or even better the people of Christ.

This excites me. This energizes me. How will this look?

I’ll come home when:

— I see a bishop or cardinal or abbot prosecuted instead of promoted for harboring and reassigning priests who have admitted to sexually abusing minors

— I see accusations of abuse handed over to the criminal justice system and not filed away in secret personnel records

— I can send my grandchildren to Catholic grammar schools trusting that they will NEVER come into contact with a priest who has uninvestigated accusations of criminal abuse of children in his records in any diocese in any country in which he has formerly served

— I can overcome my anger and regenerate my trust

— AND I can receive the sacraments from women deacons and women priests, and sadly this is probably the most unlikely of all.

“The Catholic church preaches sexual morality to the world, so to say that the rate of sexual abuse by priests is no worse than other institutions is a bit like saying the number of arsonists in the Fire Department is no greater than in the general public. Most people will not find that terribly reassuring.”
National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org), Sep. 19, 2010, 
John L. Allen Jr.

John Allen’s comparison is brilliant! Asking why Belgium didn’t see their recent sex abuse scandal coming and defuse the crisis before it exploded, Allen provides two answers:  firstly, bishops often believe the Catholic church is being unfairly smeared by the media because other institutions and religions have similar statistics of abusive leaders and so are disinclined to mount their own investigation unless specific scandals emerge; and secondly the Catholic church is not prepared to handle a global crisis and has to rely on the local bishops to handle their own dioceses, and some dioceses are internally dysfunctional and incapable of an effective response that will contain the damage.

These may both be very valid reasons for the lack of pro-action in Catholic dioceses even after so many national scandals, and his response to the first is spot on. Arsonist fire-department officers indeed! The second reason is not very reassuring but also, it seems, accurate:  there is no system of oversight among the bishops themselves, and only the pope can censure individual bishops.

It is time for a specific Vatican policy of handing over to independent authorities all personnel information on any member of the Catholic clergy – not just priests – against whom accusations have been made. And I mean any accusations, not just those whom church officials have deemed “credible.”  Is there any other institution that is allowed to decide what criminal accusations are to be handed over to the legal authorities? Maybe the military. But they have their own system of punishment and they don’t give convicted officers a new assignment and hide their criminal offenses from the public, or retire guilty officers to a villa in Spain and hand them a pension.

In order for this policy of handing over all accusations to be enforced, national conferences of bishops need to be given more authority over and more responsibility for their own bishops, and for the implementation of policy in individual dioceses.  The Catholic Church needs a sort of Internal Affairs organization in each national conference, made up of clergy, but we also need non-catholic legal professionals to keep the clergy honest and to avoid any appearance of moral or spiritual blackmail. Bishops need to be fired if they are not doing a good job of implementing policy, or of “policing” their own personnel. And they need to be punished — sent to inner city schools as a chaplain, or sent to a rural diocese with little to no income. I also believe that any false accusations should be processed in criminal court using established criminal precedent.

For those found guilty, I think there should be excommunication as well as prison terms, because these are men (and women) who have used their position of authority in the church, and the trust of their community, to gain access to the most vulnerable — our children – in order to manipulate, abuse and intimidate, molest, rape and sodomize.  Excommunication is reversible but it should be a hard earned grace.  And there should be real prison time not some special mental institution/retreat center for the spiritually corrupt.

But wait! All of this presumes that we have the legal power to proceed against these criminals and in most cases that are coming to light – typically decades after the childhood abuse, when the child now adult has found the courage and support to come forward – we don’t. That is why all of this discussion is moot, it has no metal, unless we remove the statute of limitations from sex crimes against children. There is no statute of limitation for murder; there should be no statute of limitations for the murder of a child’s innocence, hope, joy, religious faith, and trust in an all-loving God.

Will innocent people get accused? Probably so, but the onus in a court of law is on proving guilt not innocence, so the passage of time will work in favor of the accused not the accuser. And if we have penalties for false accusations, which courts of law do have, then justice can be served.

Bottom line, then: No policy will be sufficient, no apology will be heartfelt enough, without the legal ability to prosecute the offenders.  Challenge your legislators now. Get a Representative with the metal appendages necessary to sponsor legislation to remove or at least extend the statute of limitation in your state.  Press for a window of opportunity for the presentation of accusations that are currently outside the legal statute.  

The removal of statutes of limitation was successful in Florida. Check out http://www.sol-reform.com/index.html  for all current legislative efforts.

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.

Healing the Church has to involve a re-evaluation of the theology of the priesthood. We can no longer sustain the theology of the priest as “Christ among us” without a serious credibility problem. What are witnessing in our Church is that the activity of the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of God’s Truth has not been evident among the clergy or hierarchy, with very few exceptions. Instead the Truth has been spoken by the “anawim” the oppressed minority, those whom the Church has rejected: the victims of abuse and their family members and supporters. And the champion of God’s Truth has not been the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” but the secular press, The Boston Globe.  

The credibility of the Catholic priesthood as an organ of Christ’s Truth, Justice, and Compassion has been profoundly compromised. Revisiting the theology of the “Priesthood of the People” is one way to redeem that credibility. Discernment of the work of the Holy Spirit is a responsibility of the whole Church which is together the “Body of Christ.”   
              From Hurt To Healing, 2004 (edited)

Where is the Holy Spirit discernible today in our Church?  Is it in Rome? Is it in the keepers of the secret clergy files? Is it present at the table when the bishops and their lawyers discuss strategies to hide money from the courts?

The Holy Spirit is breathing courage and hope into those in the Church who challenge the status quo, who advocate justice, who support victims and priests of integrity. And she is a Mighty Force.

In his homily on April 15, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need for penance as a response to the abuse crisis:
“The pain of penance, that is to say of purification and of transformation, this pain is grace….”

I have to wonder how many thousands of times priests and religious participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and admitted to the crime of child sexual abuse and then were given absolution. It cheapens the notion of grace when these criminals were not required by their confessor to report to the authorities before receiving absolution. How else could they show true repentance? How else could they express a commitment to accepting responsibility for real personal change and the avoidance of future sins of abuse?

 Certain bishops, such as Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, have recommended not offering the Eucharist to those who have a public record of supporting abortion rights. Has anyone ever suggested not offering the sacrament of Reconciliation to those who have a public record of child abuse? Or to those who have privately confessed the crime of child abuse on multiple occasions but have refused to take public responsibility for these crimes? God’s grace is not the magical removal of guilt and responsibility, and the born should be offered at least the same protection as the unborn. Such selective imposition of restriction to a sacrament cheapens the idea of God’s grace, reducing it to a political weapon.

 To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before … Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Up until now the abusive priests, bishops and religious have been offered and have relied upon only a cheapened notion of grace. There has been no transformation. It is time for them to pay the cost; it is time to pluck out from our church those that have caused it to stumble.

Every April, spring comes to the earth. No matter how bleak things have been through the winter, no matter that all our grass died in the hardest cold spell in decades, all is greening once again.

Catholics should draw hope from this. There has to be a death for there to be a resurrection. If we can experience the death of clericalism, misogyny, and financial and moral corruption in the very governing structures of our church, then there is the chance of a Catholic “spring.”

Imagine a new church. What would it be like?

I dream of a future church where gender is not a qualifying factor in the discernment of vocation. A future church where celibacy is not a pre-requisite to priesthood. A future church where authority is decentralized from Rome to national bishops conferences, where the “power” of the papacy is that of spiritual leadership.

Imagine if, instead of palaces, the pope lived in monastic simplicity and prayer was the currency of favors. We wouldn’t need cardinals. The position of pope could be voted on by the bishops conferences in conjunction with the national leaders of all the religious orders. The pope would not have to be multi-lingual, professorial, or even male. The primary quality would be holiness. And there could be a limited term, just as there is for provincials of religious orders. I can’t help it, these dreams give me a flicker of hope.

John Paley

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