What Doesn’t Protect the Church

I’ve been writing about the allegations of sexual molestation against Cardinal McCarrick over at Patheos:

Soldiers for Christ Hiding Under the Bed is about the connection between covering up for sexual predators and the inability of the Church to be an effective witness to wider society.  Not a surprising connection, but one that needs to be made.

Promiscuous vs. Predatory: How to Tell the Difference is a response to the suggestion that McCarrick was guilty of simple sexual immaturity, not predatory molestation and sexual harassment.  It contains links to my growing collection of essays related to the topic of abuse in the Church.

Rod Dreher has been covering this topic as well, from the point of view of a journalist who investigated McCarrick in the past, but was unable to pull together a story he could break.  In Uncle Ted & The Grand Inquisitor, he shares a disturbing comment he received from a reader:

We MUST protect our brand, our shield, our faith!

I fully support Pope Francis and his softened tone, and even swipes at capitalism because the media love him. And image is everything.   Similarly with Cardinal Dolan, I will fight to the death to defend him, and would go to extreme lengths to protect him because he is so well liked in the leftist NYC media.

In short, we must handle these issues swiftly, legally, but privately!  As a successful advertising executive in NYC I am looked up like an alien because I am a weekly mass attender, and a conservative. I am respected by my liberal media friends because I loathe the Trump-Palin-Brietbart wing of my party, and trumpet my cause in a more Bill Buckley.

Image is everything, and when it comes to the One True Church we MUST protect her!

Dreher’s reader is wrong.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about fighting the Church’s enemies:

11 Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 13 Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. 14 So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, 15 and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:11-16

What are our weapons?  Truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God.

Covering up for sexual predators does not fit on that list.

If the allegations against Cardinal McCarrick are true, the man should have been removed from pastoral ministry decades ago.  By all means, when you see a priest, or anyone, doing what they ought not be doing, if no laws are being broken, begin by confronting the sinner privately.  We all sin.  Would that we were all given the chance to quietly confront our own failings and rectify them.

But when you have evidence of decades of predatory behavior, with untold hundreds of clerics at every level of the hierarchy complicit in silence and cover-up, and how many lives of young men ruined by the crimes inflicted upon them . . . there is no quietly cleaning this up.  “Discretion” does nothing to help the Church.  There is a time for genuine public penance, and now is that time.

Dreher’s reader is correct: the Church’s image matters. But when we hide behind some limp notion of “handling things privately,” the rot festers.  No one is fooled.  The public rightly views us as hypocrites of the worst sort.

So let us instead make the Bride of Christ holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before Christ.  That image, and that image alone, is the one for which we should strive.

File:Vincent van Gogh - The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet - Google Art Project.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Holy Week & Easter Indulgences – Do Something Useful for a Change!

Up the Register is a list of indulgences available to you this Holy Week & Easter.   You were probably going to do some of these things anyway.  Now with just a tiny bit of tweaking, your sorry self can get someone out of purgatory.

 

If the idea of indulgences makes you want to nail something to a door, Catholic Answers has all kinds of info here on why you don’t need to panic.

***

In other news, the Babylon Bee wins the Easter Myth-a-thon with “Confirmed: Resurrection Was Complex April Fool’s Day Joke That Got Disciples Tortured, Killed.”  Everyone’s just upside-down with laughter over that crazy where’s-the-body prank the disciples pulled.

Image by Caravaggio, Public Domain.

The Disconnect After You Realize Abuse is Happening

There are two extra torments after you realize you’ve been party to an abusive relationship:

  • You wonder why it took you so long to realize what was happening.
  • You wonder why other people can’t see what is now so obvious to you.

When you realize that you’d been duped for so long, you can end up blaming yourself.  Surely you should have seen the warning signs. Surely you should have been smarter than to get pulled along with all this.

When you experience the frustration of seeing so clearly what others are still denying, all sorts of other, complicated dynamics ensue.

You might second guess yourself: Are you the crazy one?  Are you blowing this out of proportion?  You’ll no doubt hear from others that yes, you’re just “being dramatic” or “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

You might feel betrayed by friends or family members who should be supporting you, but instead are loyal to the abuser and are denying anything significantly wrong has happened.

Unless your friends on the other side of the divide are truly magnanimous, you will probably lose friendships.  Even if you are still civil to each other, it won’t be the same as before.

It is quite likely that you who have called out the abuse, or who have merely refused to cooperate with it, are suddenly under attack.

***

All these things are the fallout of the nature of abusive relationships.

By definition, the abuser has sought to normalize his or her behavior.  The only way abuse gets perpetrated in the first place is by the abuser somehow convincing people the behavior is acceptable.  One of the reasons we don’t recognize abuse when it happens is that the abuser has done his or her best to make sure we don’t recognize it.

Another reason is that abusive behavior falls on a continuum.  Just how far over the line someone has strayed is not always easy to discern.  It can be hard to judge where on the continuum you’re sitting.  We all sin. We all have our weaknesses.  We have to live with one another, and it’s normal to show mercy and give the benefit of the doubt.

And finally, false accusations do happen.  We who are honest rightly want to avoid jumping to conclusions and criminalizing imperfect but not predatory behavior.  Those who are dishonest will in turn exploit every weak spot to cultivate doubt about the seriousness of the abusive behavior, and to cast the critics in the worst possible light.

Oh and then there’s the fact that those who have recognized the abusive behavior are themselves flawed persons who don’t necessarily know the best way to handle the situation.

***

So all this stuff happens.

It is horrible.

But it’s not something you can blame yourself for.  It’s just part of wrestling with the beast.

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Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Which of Your Friends are Going to Hell?

Someone both lovable and known-to-be-sinful died recently, and a friend posed this question: What does the Church teach about so-and-so?  Is this person now in hell?

This was my answer:

The Church will very occasionally confirm that someone is in heaven, but never makes a judgement on who is in hell.

We can know that certain sins will mortally wound the life of the soul if they are freely chosen by someone who understands their gravity. We cannot know the inner life of another person, and therefore cannot know how culpable they are for a given sin, nor whether they repented (if necessary).

Heck, we barely scratch the surface on our *own* inner lives.

We can, in contrast, appreciate all that is true, good & beautiful in the people around us.

***

On that note . . . I wrote a long rambly post back in August on the complicated lives of us sinners.  There was a relevant section to my friend’s question, so I’ll share that again:

Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side! We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving. God can see those parts though. The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be. The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

Happy Advent, everyone!

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Detail of a Cross of St. Longinus.  If there’s hope for him, there’s hope for you.  Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Longinuskreuz_1.JPG CC 3.0

One Weird Trick for Understanding Homeless People

Over Thanksgiving the topic of services for the homeless came up at dinner, and last night the subject again resurfaced.  In my experience, there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless person, because people are complex and their stories are unique.  You can speak of common factors among this or that sub-group (mental illness, lack of a personal social net, etc.) but the intricacies don’t satisfy.  People want to “understand homelessness” as if it were a tricky lock in need of the right key and combination.

Finally I told my husband that if he wanted to understand why someone would be persistently homeless, despite the many social services available in our area (which help!), here’s what you do:

Think about something that you, personally, absolutely stink at.  The part of your life where you just can’t seem to get your act together.  Other people manage to do this thing just fine, but you don’t.

[In my husband’s case: Keeping the garage clean.  We could say the same about my desk and my inbox and let’s not even talk about the state of my refrigerator.  Other people might struggle with family relationships, or road rage, or over-eating, anorexia, compulsive shopping . . . whatever.]

You persistently, year after year, struggle with this thing that ought to be simple.  Sometimes you make progress, and other times you fall back into the pit.

Other people who have this problem are sympathetic; those who don’t have this problem wonder why you can’t get your act together in this area.  You’ve got so much else going for you — what’s the big deal?

Think about that problem.  Think about all the things that contribute to that problem.

Some of things might be outside your control: Your health, your work schedule, your family dynamics.  Some of the things that contribute to your problem are just your own personal collection of weaknesses and foibles.  Many things are a combination — your circumstances work against you, and you work against you, too.

Be really honest about acknowledging your problem and all the many things that make it so persistent.

***

And that’s it.   Now you know.

 

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Artwork via Wikimedia, public domain.

Four Ways to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic

Up at the Register this morning, I’m talking about ways to not become a person you hate being, in the aftermath of other Catholics being truly horrid:

Bitterness isn’t born ex nihilo. Bitterness is the festering of a spiritual wound, and many Catholics are infected by bitterness because they have suffered real, penetrating, stinging wounds at the hands of their fellows.

When you see someone being rabidly ugly, that didn’t come from nowhere.

When it’s you being rabidly ugly, it often feels like “righteous anger.”

Hmmn.  Are you filled with a sense of peace? Do people generally agree that the way you speak and act is gentle and life-giving?  Do even some of your opponents speak of you respectfully, because your are well-known as someone who is rational, calm, and has good sound reasons for your beliefs?

Or is it maybe possible that, fault of the hurt you’ve endured at the hands of people who had no right to treat you that way, you’ve started to get a little bitter?

Maybe a lot bitter.

It isn’t easy, but there are some things you can do to help yourself heal.  These are some of the things.

And then there were ducks . . .

FYI it’s my editor Kevin Knight at NCR who wins the award for my favorite photo caption ever.  That’s his genius, not mine, concerning the ducks.  But he is so, so, right.  Ducks, guys.  Make that #5.

Related:  Do you you know Catholics who have grown parish-shy? This fine cat photo was my illustration for Taming the Feral Faithful: How to Lure Serious Catholics Back to Your Parish.  You can find an index with this and many other articles about discipleship and evangelization at my D&E index over at the Conspiracy.

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Photo: w:User:Stavrolo [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In Search of the “Real America”

There’s a meme going around right now about what “real Americans” are like.  We see pictures of heroic rescues in the Texas floods contrasted with recent racist or fascist violence.  The “real America” is the good one.  The real America is where people pull together, act bravely, and give everything to help their neighbor, no matter who that neighbor might be.

I don’t disagree.  America really is that, and we have the pictures to prove it.

The difficult bit is that we aren’t only that.

***

I have some assorted friends whom I profoundly love and respect, and to whom I owe a perpetual debt of gratitude for the goodness they have brought into my life.

These friends are like me, though, in that they are noticeably flawed.   (Like me in kind, not degree – evidence is I’m more flawed than they are.)

I don’t want to hear about that.  Even if I do sometimes notice their weaknesses, I want everyone else to shut their mouths.  What I see in them, what I want everyone to notice, is the beauty and goodness and truth they bring to this world.   I want to shout: Do you not understand what they did for me? For you?!

***

This instinct to see the good in our friends is how we get to an All Dogs Go To Heaven theology.  It’s a good instinct.  We can see that our friends are made in the image and likeness of God, inherently lovable and worth loving.  That’s an accurate view of who they are.  The thought of such a person going to Hell is unthinkable.  We’re not alone there.  God Himself has been quite explicit about His desire to save the world rather than condemn it.

***
Mercy is the thing that makes us see the part of our friends that must at all costs be saved.

Yes, yes, we know about the immense weaknesses and deplorable lapses and insufferable habits — but we know the other side!  We have seen selflessness to make your mouth gape, and virtues so indelibly marked on our friends’ souls that they track in purity and joy on their shoes even when they try their hardest to wipe their goodness off at the door.

***

Some people get so despicable that it’s hard to see the parts worth saving.   God can see those parts though.  The question of salvation isn’t how much nastiness needs to be removed to get down to the person you were created to be.  The question of salvation is: Are you willing to be saved?

***

We aren’t supposed to like nastiness.  It isn’t supposed to be easy and comfortable to live with horrid people.  We should want to be surrounded by peaceful, loving, generous folk who fully live out the commandments.  (Never ever forgetting Proverbs 27:14, but of course there are others as well).

So it’s understandable that we have low patience for certain sins.

***

What is lost in our national discourse is the appreciation of the complexity of other humans.  Someone can be terribly wrong in some ways and entirely right in others.  Someone can both commit serious sins and carry out marvelous good works.  (I’ve got the first part down, thanks.)

You can be a racist nationalist who risks your own life rescuing total strangers.

You can give away your fortune aiding the poor, and also devote yourself to killing the unborn.

You can be a notorious philanderer and also an unshakable civil rights martyr.

The combinations are unlimited, and Americans seem, collectively, to be trying out all of them.

***

Where our national discourse goes wrong is in trying to mount the opposite of the ad hominen attack — call it the ad hominen defense.  If my side is right, my men must be perfect.  An attack on my ideas is an attack on me and mine.

We are unable to admit the possibility of human weakness and complexity, nor to properly rank the seriousness of our failures.  Thus we end up in bizarre situations both divisive and falsely “unifying.”

Sometimes, out of fear of hurting somebody’s feelings or overlooking their virtues, we’re afraid to condemn their serious sins.  Better to get along and smooth things over for a day that never comes when somehow we’ll dialog our way past the impasse without ever opening our mouths.

Other times, out of fear of seeming to approve a vice or a poorly-formed conscience, we feel compelled to commit a course of Total Condemnation — economic, political, and personal.

***

Let me show you a video of the way of peace.  This is South Carolina removing the Confederate flag from the state house grounds.

It came down because of decades and decades of peaceful protest. Did it take too long? Yes.  The remedy for sin always takes too long.  Do people suffer injustice in the course of the long, slow path of peaceful protest? Yes.  But people suffer injustice from violent protest, calumny, and vicious personal attacks.  There’s not an option for waving the Fix Everything Wand and presto-change-o the world is magically better.

Peacefully refusing to accept injustice works.  It has worked marvels of healing and change in a place where you would never have said fifty years ago that all this would come to pass.  It worked in a place where people are still fallen.  Sinful people who do wretched things made that flag come down.  Gracious people doing their best to make the image of God shine in the darkness made that flag come down.  They were the same people.

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U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle: “Soldiers, fire fighters, paramedics and neighbors ensured more than 1,000 people and hundreds of dogs and cats were safe, evacuating them to dry ground and local shelters.”  Courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

Anti-Racist Jesus Visits Canaan

Today the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman came around in the readings again.  I once heard a deacon preach that this incident just shows that Jesus was “human” like the rest of us, where “human” is code for “sinful.”

I don’t think so, sir.

Back in 2014, I wrote a bit of Gospel fan fiction, taking the words of Scripture verbatim, but filling out the details Scripture doesn’t supply.  Everyone does this when they read, and sometimes our fill-in-the-blanks interpretations are justified and sometimes they are not.  I wrote a follow-up post on why I hold with the Jesus is Not a Jerk Thesis.  I still hold with that reasoning:

Thus when the infamous quote comes around full circle in conversation with the Canaanite woman and his disciples, we have a Jesus who:

  • Is master of the Law, not slave of it.
  • Has praised the faith of pagans.
  • Has spoken of the redemption of the very region they are now standing in.
  • Has willingly and freely healed non-Jews.
  • And has said that perseverance in prayer is desirable.

And then He pulls out a pun in his dialog, turning the meaning of the expression on its head.

Were I writing that same story today, I wouldn’t write it the way I wrote it back then.   Today my mind is on the idea of racism, and for the reasons I summarize above (see the original post for more details), I tend to view this encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman as the counterpart to what today we would call an anti-racist moment.  Jesus has been attempting, through word and action, to teach his disciples that salvation is for the whole world.

They will eventually get that message (“neither Jew nor Greek”), but they haven’t got it yet.

Here they are being asked to heal someone’s daughter of a demon.  A demon, guys!  This is serious, serious trouble, and it’s the kind of trouble that elite religious healing-commando people ought to be on the job taking care of.  Instead they say: Send her away. She’s bugging us.

What exactly do you do with people whose hearts are so hardened?

Give them another talk?   You can only give so many talks.

Our Lord, being fully God, had the ability to know this Canaanite woman.  He had the ability to know how she would react under pressure, and what sorts of things would wound her and which would not.

People are cured of their bigotry only when they get to see the world through the eyes of the person they’ve pushed off and objectified.  The disciples would have happily dismissed the woman as some noisy, intrusive, undeserving gentile.  Jesus says what needs to be said — he verbalizes what they are thinking — so they can see how unjust it is, and they can see in her response how deserving of their respect she is.

 

File:Folio 164r - The Canaanite Woman.jpg

Artwork: The Canaanite Woman, via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

 

Ushers of Divine Mercy

Saturday afternoon found me in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and in need of a trip to the confessional.  (No, I’m not scrupulous.  Just wretched.)   Holy Cross Catholic Church is about the size of a large convenience store, done in the style of 1970’s Neo-Traditional with a vigorous nod to Appalachian folk art.  Like the town itself, it is everything lovely and nuts and comfortable and joyful about American popular culture, Southern style.

For all that the parish embodies Americana, Holy Cross has something I’ve almost never seen in any of the many parishes I’ve visited: A greeter at the door during the hour for Confessions.

It makes sense of course.  If you know you’re likely to have visitors, it’s logical that you’d want to be ready for them.  I showed up, and the usher, with name tag and friendly welcome suited to his post, pointed out where the confessional was and where the line was forming and generally made sure I was all set.

Pigeon Forge is a small town in a rural county, and on any given Saturday the bulk of the Catholics on the ground are probably not parishioners.  I don’t think people usually come to Pigeon Forge for the purpose of confessing, though if you wanted to make the trip for that purpose, I can vouch for the place in that regard.  I do know that a lot of people come to Pigeon Forge for other reasons, and every single one of those visitors is a dreadful sinner just like the rest of us.  A few of them perhaps want to give the soul a good sprucing up after a visit to the Nike Clearance Store (or whatever else it is people do in town — evidence is I did that).

I suspect the parish has a particular charism for the Sacrament of Penance and for Divine Mercy.  In addition to the artwork in the nave and sanctuary, on the Lighthouse Media display rack in the lobby, there were exactly two talks on CD available for you to take home: Scott Hahn’s “The Healing Power of Confession” and a Spanish-language version of Scott Hahn’s “The Healing Power of Confession.”  Somebody wants you to be good and forgiven.

CD cover art courtesy of Lighthouse Talks / Augustine Institute.

FYI if you dislike face-to-face confession, be assured that as you step into the combination classroom / office / confessional / room-with-a-view, there’s a solid screen with a kneeler so you have the option of confessing anonymously if you so desire.  If you’ve ever sat in line at the parish, you know why I’m making that assurance. Don’t panic when you see people sitting in the window. You have other options.

The Wet Pants of Poverty

This week down at the laundry-shower place, a guy named Phil pees on himself.*

Oh, crazy street people, you say.

Nah, I don’t think so.  When you meet Phil, one of the things that stands out is that he almost certainly has miserable health problems.  A lot of the clients have that look.  From the way Phil has trouble walking, you might guess, for example, that he’s got a spinal injury or something.

Something else you notice after spending a little time in the same room, and getting to wash his clothes and to observe the care he puts into straightening himself up at the shaving sink, is that this is a guy who cares about his appearance.  He knows odds are against him, and he’s making the effort.  He doesn’t want to be that unkempt crazy street person.

No one who comes into the shower-laundry does.  That’s why they come.

So today from my post at the machines I notice the odd whiff of urine-fresh-scent, and it seems to pick up when Phil walks by, and sure enough when I glance over at him sitting waiting his turn for a shower, evidence is he either dropped a cup of water in his lap or he’s the guy.

He does what any sane person would do in his position: He stays cool and pretends it didn’t happen.  Maybe no one will notice.  Maybe people will think he spilled his ice water.

What else is he going to do?  In a minute he’s going to be able to shower and put his clothes in the wash and take care of the situation, but until then he’s stuck.  And I’m telling you: Phil is not a guy who wants to be sitting there with wet pants.  He just isn’t.  He hates it as much as you would.

***

Here are two things about being homeless:

  • You have to scratch together every bit of help from seven different places.
  • Poverty doesn’t wait until you’re ready for it.

When people with good stiff bootstraps visualize homelessness, they visualize a weekend with the Boy Scouts.  Be hard-working and resourceful!  No-match fires and a foraged meal?  Sure!  Except of course that if the Scouts went on a camping trip but you were in no condition to go, your mother made you stay home.

Poverty doesn’t check to see if you’re feeling well.

If you are homeless or nearly, depending on your area there may well be help for you with food and clothing, with shelter if you can get along in a group, and sporadically with medical care and so forth.  I’m not aware of any programs that stock incontinence supplies.  I checked our supply shelves — we don’t.  You have to have cash to cover that one.

That stuff’s expensive.   Price it yourself — everyone pays out of pocket, not just homeless people.   There’s a lot of help to be had for homeless people, but none of it involves handing out cash.  So if the problem’s new or infrequent, financially the calculus may well lean heavily towards hoping that if you have an accident it happens right before you go in to get your weekly shower.

 

*Heck no, I’m not telling you people’s private business.  All names and identifying info are totally changed.

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Artwork: The Dressing Table, 1879, Gribkov.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].