Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Do you have eyes and not see?" (Mark 8:18)

I recently finished a three month Peace Corps Response assignment in Ghana.  Being in Peace Corps required refraining from political commentary and this blog danced along a line regarding that stipulation so I suspended writing during my assignment.  However, I’m back. 

I actually began writing this article on the plane flying home, having just watched the movie “Spotlight” again.  This is the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism that blew the lid off the systemic nature of the church’s sex abuse scandal. 

After spending three months in a culture that has extensive unreported sexual exploitation issues largely facilitated by cultural taboos against pursuing legal action…much like those the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team exposed in the Archdiocese of Boston…I find myself even sadder for the Church than the first time I watched the movie.

The movie ends by listing 203 dioceses around the world that have had major sex abuse scandals exposed.  A few more have been exposed since the film’s September, 2015 release.  I believe there are probably many, many, many more dioceses that continue enabling abusive priests, especially those in regions with cultural taboos acting as accomplices like in Africa. 

Spotlight portrayed the privileged status Boston’s Catholic hierarchy enjoyed which permitted priests to abuse and bishops to cover it up.  Beyond even Boston priests’ privilege, many African priests enjoy outright demagogue status.  They are untouchable.  They are not to be questioned.  They are in prime positions to abuse without accountability.  I pray that somehow the lid gets blown off of any sex abuses occurring in African Catholic Churches. 

Before I re-watched that movie, I intended to write about attending Mass at the Papal Nuncio’s residence.  He opens his residence every Sunday to anyone who wants to attend Mass – a nice diplomatic touch.  The Mass was lovely, the people were friendly, and I was even asked to join the choir.  The Papal Nuncio is a Francis appointee and works the crowd greeting people and he even engaged in a meaningful discussion with me…more on that in a bit. 

However, he celebrates Mass on his outdoor patio and Mass goers sit staring at the glass patio doors of his residence, the Vatican Embassy.  Clergy abuse issues in every country filter through the Papal Nuncio’s office.  So, although friendliness floated in the air, I kept getting a sick feeling in my stomach wondering how many sexually abusive priests this man knowingly leaves in service in Ghana. I would hope that number is zero but I am skeptical.

Re-watching Spotlight, I was sad for my church that chooses to not see what it does not want to see.  It prevents us as individuals and an organization from achieving our full potential.

By the way, my discussion with the Papal Nuncio was about three points associated with the “Doubting Thomas” gospel reading. 
1.        I am very tired of people preaching about Thomas’ character flaws.  He was the only one not in the locked room paralyzed in fear.  He was brave enough to be out and about. 
2.       People say Thomas doubted because he did not see.  And yet, the reason those in the room believed was because they saw. They saw and believed; Thomas saw and believed – but - most homilies portray Thomas as the only one who had to see to believe.  Whom Thomas doubted was his fellow humans, not God.

I mentioned these two concepts to the Papal Nuncio and he initially said, “Yes, yes…of course” in a dismissive way that feigned interest. 

That was not the case when I mentioned point 3.
3.       In his homily he repeatedly referred to “the apostles” and “the guys.”  I held the gospel reading in front of him and pointed to it saying, “It actually says disciples not apostles; there were women there too.” 

I wish I had a camera for the stunned look on his face.  He laughed and said, “OH MY GOD!  I NEVER SAW THAT BEFORE! THAT IS FANTASTIC!”

His reaction pretty well sums up some issues in the church.  A passage that is used to justify marginalizing women from ordination clearly says disciples not apostles, but he did not read what it actually said.  He read what he wanted it to say.  Things that clearly exist in front of people are not seen because they do not want to see it – whether it is sexual abuse of children, reprehensible reshuffling of abusive clergy by bishops so they can abuse other children or unjust marginalization of women based on not seeing what is clearly written in scripture.  How do we fix willful blindness?

Side note: There were many women disciples.  Jesus breathed on the disciples present, told them to receive the Holy Spirit and if they loosed or held sins, they would be so loosed or held in heaven.  This is a pivotal scripture passage used to withhold ordination from women because hierarchy leaders read “apostle” of which they believe there were only 12 male ones.  This passage is considered instituting the sacrament of reconciliation, granting powers to absolve sins only to male apostles. 

Side note 2: Thomas, an apostle who was not present, did not get hit by this holy hot air yet is considered a full apostle and predecessor to priests and bishops.  However, the women disciples who were present?  The hierarchy evidently believes they had their Star Trek matter/anti-matter shields fully operational and deflected any such holy hot air from touching them. 

I was in Ghana working on girls’ education and empowerment.  As part of that I taught a session on “Finding Your Voice.”  It is a mini workshop I conduct to help people realize their ideas and opinions matter, and to help them cultivate their critical thinking and expression skills.  The Boston church found its voice.  I found my voice. How can we help others find their voices on children’s and women’s rights, especially in the church?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Living a myth...

I vividly remember “the talk” with my mom.  You know, “the talk…”   My older sister, tired of defending my unwavering belief in Santa, bullied me into asking the big question, “Is Santa real?”  My mom’s gentle explanation combined with my fervent desire to believe initially produced the opposite effect my sister intended.  Words are weak instruments to describe her reaction when I returned from that little chat triumphantly proclaiming, “I knew it!  Santa is real!”  However, I do remember her reaction did include grabbing my hand and dragging me back to our mom protesting, “Mom!  What did you tell her?!  She still believes!” 

My mom had taken me to a mirror and said, “Yes, Santa is real but he is not a fat, jolly guy in a red suit.  He can look just like the girl in the mirror when she gives a gift at the giving tree.”  I so much wanted to believe in the entirety of the Santa myth that I filtered out all words except “Santa is real.”  I’m happy to report that we did achieve mutual clarity within the span of about 15 minutes.  I was 8 years old and it was time to live with a different understanding of the myth.   My sister felt for her and my own physical and mental well-being, it was well past time but that’s a debate for another day.

I find myself reflecting upon that fervent desire to believe in a myth after watching the movie “Spotlight.”  This movie chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism that led to its January 6, 2002 bombshell story about the Catholic Church knowingly leaving numerous pedophile priests in active ministry for decades.  Though individual sex abuse stories had been published throughout previous decades, this story altered the conversation because it demonstrated that a sick, systemic culture involving hierarchy and laypeople enabled and helped perpetuate widespread abuse.  It revealed a culture pretending each abuse case was simply an individual, isolated, “whoopsie there” incident so as to perpetuate the myth of a perfect church.  People turned their heads for a myriad of reasons all stemming from scandal avoidance desires: “priests are good guys”, “just doing my job”, “the church does such good work in other places”, “my fellow parishioners bully whistle-blowers”, “Cardinal/bishop so-and-so says it is the best thing for the church”, etc… 

Why did the church hierarchy obsess on avoiding scandal?  Because it feared scandal would shake people’s faith and possibly inspire them to leave the church.  Yet, Holy Mother Church’s fervent desire to avoid scandal became a monumental, self-destructive scandal in itself.  Instead of Holy Mother Church, it’s more like Our Lady of Macbeth - externally presenting the mythical image of perfect hostess while plotting and scheming to manipulate and neutralize people seen as interfering with this burning ambition…eventually resulting in the opposite effect from the ambition. 

The church so desperately wanted to perpetuate a scandal-free myth that it caused huge, unimaginable scandal.  The movie’s ending flashing four multi-columned pages naming over a hundred Catholic dioceses where major clergy abuse scandals  and their even more scandalous cover-ups have been exposed to-date punctuates the scandal-based damage that arises when an entire system prioritizes myth perpetuation over truth and people’s lives.  With over 100 dioceses, over 100,000 abuse victims, and about 75% of Catholics leaving the church, it is well past time for the church to live with a different understanding of the myth.  Our mental and physical well-being requires it.

I believe the exodus occurred because too many still want so desperately to believe in the myth that they only begrudgingly implement superficial changes to address the issue and bully those who wish to live with a more mature understanding of the myth that includes real systemic change.  For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in anticipation of the movie’s release, prepared dioceses with talking points aimed at portraying the topic as a thing of the past – as if it’s all different now.  Yet, even the reports about filming the movie illuminate that it’s not all different now.  The New York Yankees declined being filmed for a scene at Fenway Park because they felt it wasn’t a topic with which the team should be associated and believed that the Red Sox shouldn’t be either.  Why would a sports organization that profits from attracting fans, many of whom are children, think it inappropriate to be associated with a movie about protecting children?  Do we smell New York Roman Catholic Cardinal Dolan’s breath in that statement?  The same old pattern certainly is there.

Yes, some things have changed since the Globe story broke yet much remains the same.  Because thousands of priests raped children, I had to be finger-printed and watch movies about protecting children.  It is as Mitchell Garabedian says in the movie, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”  Therefore, we must educate the village.  However, one constant is the existence of lay and ordained staunch defenders of the church who treat truthful criticism as an attack to which they must wage a counter-assault.  This attitude contributed to creating a penalty-free environment for abusive clergy and irresponsible bishops.  Until that fear-induced arrogant rejection of constructive criticism is replaced by humble sincere truth-seeking, there is no marked difference in the culture.   One need look no further than the sheep-like unquestioning obedience to Mass language changes to see that those in the pews largely still operate with a “Father knows best” deference to men wearing Roman collars.

Unfortunately, the staunch defenders actually have changed in that they have doubled-down on irrational defense of the church’s indefensible.  They have doubled-down on squeezing their eyes shut and stuffing their ears with earplugs to shut out reality.  They want the myth of a perfect church and will stop at nothing to retain living in their myth.  They are happy to chase away anyone who tries to bring them to a more mature understanding of the myth.

It is impossible for the vast majority of humans to consider the Catholic Church the penultimate “truth team” when its Canon Law and culture consider fact-based criticism to be “the enemy.”  Thus, it’s no surprise that active Catholics represent merely 4% of the world population.  (7 billion people, 1.2 billion Catholics, of whom only about 25% are active.)

If people truly love the church, they must welcome criticism of the organization.  Since sports form an informal pillar of the Catholic faith, I’ll try a sports analogy to describe the detrimental impact of ignoring institutional shortcomings.  It’s like a basketball team which commits many turnovers declaring this statistic as anti-them and refusing to work on turnovers.  It’s like the team and fans bullying anyone who mentions the statistic and asking them to leave the game and never come to another one.  It’s like a team with the highest turnover rate blaming the ball for its stubborn unwillingness to remain with the team.   

The turnover metaphor only speaks to the abuse scandal’s collateral damage - people's mass exodus from the church.  The most profound damage occurred to the 100,000s of people molested by priests.  I can only think of a parenting analogy for this.  It’s like a parent entrusting their children to a known pedophile as babysitter, and then when the child reports the abuse, recommending the pedophile babysitter to friends and neighbors.  Would you trust such a parent?  No, I wouldn’t either.  Not even after they said they were sorry or enacted a Dallas Charter creating great bureaucracy to guide them since they demonstrated a collective lack of common sense to do the decent thing.   Such a parent would be declared unfit.  The same is true for all bishops who shuffled abusive priests.

Is it time to behave like my unrelenting older sister, grasping hands of staunch believers in the myth and insisting they adopt a more mature understanding of the myth?  Don’t we owe the survivors at least this much?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Saudi Arabia 20, Vatican 0

Dear Pope Francis,

This will be short and sweet.  Saudi Arabia just elected 20 women, which is 20 more than ever in the Catholic Church.  So, I find myself in a position asking you and your brotherhood to consider learning something from the Saudis on sharing power with women.

Hope you are having a transformative Advent. 

Love and prayers as always,

The Ewe

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Which lives are you "pro?"

Truly, when I publish a blog article, I think it is my last one...until...something in the church cries out for commentary that does not seem to be getting expressed.

First, my last blog article about sexually active priests quickly catapulted to one of my most read articles.  I am always humbled that people invest their time reading my blog.  

But, I neglected to highlight one extremely important point in that article so I will do so now before delving into some recent comments Pope Francis made.  The one African priest discussing priests' sexual activity with me blurted out, almost as a defense for priests not honoring the implied chastity of their celibacy, that such sexually active priests do so in "secret."  What he saw as insignificantly dismissible, making priests' sexual activity permissible, to me exposes significant moral disconnect and systemic foundational rot in the church.

Over 125,000 priests have fallen in love and done the honorable and healthy thing for themselves, their lovers and their relationships...they married.  And as a reward for their honest, healthy relationships, these men were expelled from the priesthood.  

Instead, we are left with the cowardly, selfish priests who engage in sexual relationships that they hide as though their lovers are some sort of embarrassing sin whom they publicly pretend do not exist so that they may continue in their prestigious role, deluding themselves that they serve some higher purpose as a priest, and therefore it's ok to stuff their lovers in closets...for the greater good of humanity.  These insidious men, who number 50% of the priesthood, are the ones we are stuck with...playing some perverted charade that they, who are fundamentally dishonest about their relationships and sexuality, provide the most astute moral guidance to lay people about human relationships and sexuality.  Is my mind the only one numbed by the painful realities this demonstrates about the clergy's moral fiber and the resulting systemic societal impact of revering categorically dishonest men as ultimate guardians of truth?

Continuing in the category of mind numbing moral pain inflicted by clergy, let us turn our attention to Pope Francis' recent statements about condom usage to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.  A reporter posed this moral question to him and the pope replied that he did not need to consider that question until African food and water security issues were solved.  He rather dismissed HIV/AIDS as some obscure insignificant threat to life.  Yet, if we read reports from the World Health Organization, we see this disease as a front-runner astride malaria as a leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Francis, what gives?  Truly, that ranks among the most callous statements dismissing human lives that you've ever said.

Even if it were true to portray sub-Saharan Africa's 60% hold on all HIV/AIDS cases worldwide as insignificant...and it is not say we should not concern ourselves with easily, I repeat, EASILY saving those lives until other concerns are addressed is like saying we should not treat prostate cancer to prevent the annual 27,540 deaths attributable to it until we first eliminate lung, breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer because they all account for WAY more deaths.  "Sorry guys with prostate cancer, but we can't be morally concerned about preventing your deaths until we eliminate the cool kids' types of cancer?"

I find myself wondering how often the pope listens to what he says or reflects upon what he said and thinks, "Yowsers!  Jet lag struck again!  Senior moment!  Stupid, callous thing to say!"  But, words are a little like toothpaste squeezed out of the tube...difficult and messy to undo.

But both topics leave me wondering, "which lives are you 'pro'?"  Evidently not lives whose acknowledgement would require humble honesty about clergy sexuality and relationships, nor ones which saving would require humble reclassification of a tool as "good" that they have invested years demonizing due to their twisted understanding about what it means to have healthy sexual relationships open to life.  

Maybe it is time to right the barque of Peter and resume allowing clergy to have honest sexual relationships...reinstating the honest clergy who married their partners, re-permitting clergy to marry, and at the same time, ridding church leadership of the 50% of clergy with dishonest sexual relationships.  

Pope Francis, you could do much for the church's and your personal credibility if you did two things: 1) re-instate a married clergy and 2) publicly correct your callous statement dismissing the lives of 36.1 million people with HIV/AIDS.  Really, truly, those 36.1 million lives matter and it is immoral to not prevent the preventable to save them. Absolutely, infallibly, immoral.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Having the wrong discussion...

Before and now during the much heralded Synod on the Family, I have heard and continue to hear a great hullabaloo about whether or not to allow communion for divorcees who remarry without first having their previous marriages annulled.  I find this fixation odd because I think it represents misplaced focus, reeking of hypocrisy.

At the risk of expressing myself in an inefficient manner, allow me to share some recent inter-personal exchanges with you.

Last week I was in Africa for a large diocesan event.  Consequently I found myself in the company of many African priests.  Our conversations often turned to the Synod.  While in the company of four African priests I mentioned that some American media outlets reported that the African bishops were trying to block certain discussions.  One of the four replied that he thought he knew which topics African bishops would try to block and then proceeded to speculate they were LGBT issues and communion for "'separated' and remarried Catholics...because there is no such thing as 'divorce' in the eyes of God."

We had a spirited dialogue following his comment that went something like this:

Me: Why are you focusing on lay Catholics rather than the priests who break the same commandment?

Him: (deer in headlights look....)

Me: I've seen statistics that about 50% of Catholic priests are sexually active.  There are 4 priests here now.  Statistically speaking, that means 2 of you are probably sexually active.  According to moral theology, you two break the same commandment as divorced and remarried people.  However, not only do you get to receive communion, you get to consecrate the hosts!

Him: But such priests do this in secret!!!!

Me: Which is more reprehensible!  Secrecy gave us the abuse scandal, didn't it?  Besides, it's not a secret.  People tend to know.

Him: (a more frightened deer in headlights look...)

Me:  Tell me truthfully, do you know multiple priests who are currently sexually active?

Him: (stunned look)

Me: So, you'd be lying if you told me "no" wouldn't you?  And, thus, it's not a secret is it?

Him: (chuckling in a very sheepish rather than shepherd-ish way) Welllllllll......

Me: Well nothing.  They're sexually active... they break the same commandment as divorcees.  Commandment number 6 covers all sex-related sins.  Same commandment.  Same sin.  But nobody is talking about refusing communion to all these sexually active priests.

Him: But married people take a vow; their marriage is a sacrament - a sacramental promise.  Or don't you consider marriage sacramental?  Do you just want to dismiss it as something trivial?

Me: (With look of disbelief at his seeming disconnect from his own priestly sacramental situation...) And......wasn't your ordination a sacrament?  Didn't your sacramental promises include celibacy with implied chastity?  Or don't you consider your ordination as a sacrament?  Was it just something trivial?  By the way, you know what my bishop calls sexually active priests?  He says they have "celibacy lapses"...  Lapses!  Like it's as insignificant as forgetting to take out the trash.  Maybe that's all divorced and remarried people are having too..."lapses."

Him: But....

Me: But, don't you think we should hold church leaders to a higher standard than the laity?

Him: Ummmmm.....

Me:  Isn't this a special category of hypocrisy where the clerics fuss and sputter about the splinter in others' eyes rather than worrying about the big, huge, honking log in their own eyes?

Him:  Ummmmmmmmmm......

Me:  Yes, "um."  We will be attending a diocesan Mass this weekend and there will be at least 100 clergy present; so likely 50 of them will be sexually active, breaking their sacramental promises, violating the 6th commandment.  But they will all get to receive communion without question and even con-celebrate consecrating the hosts.

Him:  But should the church not have any laws or rules?

Me: Well, I think we should stop using communion as a doggie treat to reward good behavior and instead use it as a balm to heal the wounded.  Did or did not Jesus give communion to Judas?

Him: Um, yeah he did.

Me: I'm o.k. with laws but I think they should hold leaders to higher standards.  So, how about this law?  No communion for sexually active priests. And definitely no consecrating the Eucharist for them.

Him: But....but.....but

Me:  Why not?  Same commandment; same infraction; you guys should be up for at least the same consequences...  If you were credible leaders, you'd want more severe punishments for yourselves than for the laity.

Different priest:  But, I'm a man 24x7 and I have the feelings of a man all day every day.  I have needs and urges.

Me: (Thinking to myself, "Methinks before me is one of those sexually active priests...")  And divorced laypeople do not have these same needs and urges?  And did you or did you not get ordained with full awareness of the celibate state and its....

Same different priest: (finishing my sentence and sounding a bit dejected that the light-bulb in his brain turned on) Its implied chastity...

Me: Bingo!

I continue to be amazed at grown men whose reasoning powers yield logic akin to when my kids were little and they thought I could not see them if they covered their eyes with a blanket.  I tell such priests as I would tell my kids, "I seeeeeee you..."

But I am utterly disgusted that the hierarchy continues to reward people who operate in secrecy, delusionally thinking no one sees their shortcomings...while punishing people who live their lives honestly in the open.  You are not credible guardians of truth if you cannot tell it or live it.

So, my dear church hierarchy, I don't want to hear any more about trying to justify withholding communion from divorced and remarried Catholics until after sexually active clergy are wholesale banned from receiving and consecrating the Eucharist.  Plain and simple: until you are willing to treat sexually active clergy the same as divorced and remarried laypeople, this is a non-issue.  Communion for everyone!  Full stop.

How about you concentrate on substantive issues like including women as voting members of your gathering, empowering women since they are 70% of people in poverty, or re-instating married clergy and the ordination of women as deacons?