How did it come to this?

March 30, 2010

I was talking to a guy I’ve known for about 10 years. I haven’t known him as a friend but more as a colleague in a work-like situation.

Occasionally we grab a coffee and chew the fat. Sometimes he talks about his past. To describe his experiences as ‘colourful’ is a vast understatement, starting with his time at a ‘brother’s school’, moving on to a stint in the seminary and then onto the army and some very grim stories from his experience in Vietnam.

What held my attention this time was the way he spoke about the brothers.

Keep in mind that this guy would not think for one moment that he was abused or that he had some sort of legal claim against the brothers, but the way he describes that time is all the more compelling because of that.

He’s nearly 10 years older than me so his schooling would have been in the early 50s and 60s. I can relate to his experiences because I also went to a brother’s school (different order) and saw — and, on more than one occasion, experienced) — plenty of examples of brutality.

My experience of that time was that the way to get through was either to be very good at something the school valued, like sport or academia, or just keep your head down. I was able to employ the latter strategy most of the time.

My friend couldn’t do that though because he was rebellious, dyslexic and poor — fatal combinations for a brutal teaching staff.

It’s only now, nearly half a century later, that he sees how his spirit was broken and how that broken spirit lead him on a destructive path that would last for years.

Of course there are usual disclaimers about that being part of the culture then and that’s true. My friend experienced that brutality at home and other places too. It’s also important to recognise that many kids did well in those times and remember many good teachers and many wonderful experiences.

But how did the church … the church … come to this? How was it that so many church institutions were not only part of the brutal society around them, but excelled at it?

How many men, like my friend, are coming to a point in their lives where those dark times are coming back to, at worst, haunt their dreams or, at best, allow them to liberate themselves from spirits broken?

Is it any wonder that this was the generation that left the church in droves? Is it any wonder that this sort of culture produced the abuse that is bursting through now?

I could have done better

March 26, 2010

The pressure just seems to get greater each day on the Vatican regarding abuse.

The latest involves a very distressing case of a priest who abused up to 200 deaf children in Wisconsin.

You just have to Google it to find many, many stories.

One particular version caught my eye from the BBC: Vatican denies Pope failed to act on sex abuse claim. It’s a treatment that is more nuanced than some of the more extremist views of the issue which either say it’s all a ‘media and anti-Catholic plot’ or that Benedict should resign (or worse).

Secondly, the article features an audio interview with the bishop at the time, Rembert Weakland, and he gives an insight into the complexities of the case and the real, messy, human conflicts he had to deal with.

But what +Weakland also did was own up to his own response at the time, a response that was not good enough. He took personal responsibility for not acting sooner. The effect of that honesty undercuts the ‘sound bite’ and adversarial nature of the media who try to reduce complex issues to ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

I just wish there was more of it!

What’s in a blog?

March 25, 2010

Scott Bridges on The Drum gives a good overview of on-line forums and touches on the differences between Discussions Boards and Blogs. It rings true in my experience:

Online forums can be pretty nasty places. It’s an unwritten law of the Internet that any virtual gathering place will attract people who are rude, abusive, offensive and who express views that probably would not be expressed in polite company. Another unwritten law of the Internet is that the level of incivility and extremism will rise as the regulation of community discussion decreases and the degree of anonymisation increases. Turn the topic of conversation towards something divisive or contentious and you can sit back, relax and watch the fireworks explode.

Doubt me? Pick any story on The Drum, hold your nose, and have a go wading through the comments thread. Check out a climate change story if you’re feeling particularly brave.

But as dicey as discussion can get on The Drum, this site features only a one-sided conversation between readers with only extremely infrequent and superficial involvement of article authors, if there’s any at all. Blogs, on the other hand, are fundamentally an ongoing conversation between author(s) and reader, and the relationship between them is different to that at an opinion article + comments site like this; the relationship between blogger and readers develops over time as each influence the other.

If you’re a blogger, having a thriving readership is proof that you’re doing something right; you’re striking a chord with a lot of people and keeping them engaged. Building and maintaining a readership is not easy and it’s an achievement that any blogger should feel proud of. But managing the moderation of thousands and thousands of comments, and the way that those comments contribute heavily towards the tone and face of the blog, can be a massive headache.

If you’re a blogger, there are also advantages to having hundreds of active and devoted commenters, and one of the main advantages is that you can get them to say things for you that you might not want to necessarily come out and say yourself.

Read on …

It’s ironic because every time I find something of interest on The Drum and I’m moved to comment, the comment lines are closed. I guess offering limited time is a form of management too. Nevertheless there were plenty of responses to the article that illustrated the very point Bridges was making.

F for wryday (2)

March 25, 2010

Can Men be Ordained? (by Rosemary Ruether )

A synod of bishops from the four corners of the earth and a full panoply of Mother Superiors recently converged on the Holy See of Rome, to consider the vexed question of the ordination of men. The Holy See had received many heartfelt appeals from the cruder sex claiming to have a call to the priesthood from God Herself.

Her Holiness firmly replied to these appeals that the call must have been a wrong number. Our Holy Mother in heaven would never call to the ministry those so obviously disqualified by reason of gender.

But the men refused to take no for an answer. Throwing down their picks and shovels, they declared they would do no more maintenance to the church roof until they had equal rights with women. They sent petitions to the Holy See, filled with arguments in support of the ordination of men. Although they could find no example from Jesus Himself, the Incarnation of holy wisdom, since he had ordained no men to the priesthood (or women either …)

Finally Her Holiness decided to gather the Holy Mothers of the Church together, with a number of the best-qualified scholars, who had spent a lifetime studying the odd characteristics of the male gender (from a safe distance, of course). They hoped to come up with a definitive argument, once and for all, against the ordination of men.

After long and careful study, a final decree was drawn up defining the reasons why men could not be ordained. The decree was proclaimed by Her Holiness and the Holy Mothers departed home to their respective seats of wisdom, feeling very pleased with themselves. The decree Ad Hominem stated to their satisfaction, and, they hoped, for all time, the weighty reasons for their gut prejudices.

The first part of the decree deduced a good many reasons from men’s biological and psychological natures that disqualified them from the priesthood.

It was said, first of all, that men were too violent and emotional to be priests. Anyone who has watched groups of men at football or cricket matches, not to mention political conferences, has seen their trigger-happy tempers, their taste for solving conflicts with fisticuffs. To ordain such creatures would be to risk disgraceful brawls at the altar. The male proneness to violence surely disqualifies them from representing Christ, who incarnates graciousness and peace.

Secondly, the cruder, heavier frame of the male clearly marks him out for the physical tasks of society, digging ditches, mending roofs and the like. The finer, more spiritual tasks of society are intended by Our Mother in Heaven for the more refined spirits and bodies of women. This separation of roles is clearly evident in scripture, where the males are said to have been created from dirt, while women were created last, clearly marking them out as the crown of God’s Creation. It was even suggested by one Mother Superior that Adam was a rough draft, Eve being the more refined and complete version of human nature. The Mothers had a good many laughs at that one, and some decided to have it made into a bumper sticker.

On the practical level, it was felt that men were needed for military defence. A man’s place is in the army, declared one wise scholar, and all the Holy Mothers nodded in agreement. Besides, men would look silly in red dresses and lace. The sacred garb is clearly intended for women.

And on it goes …

Different worlds

March 24, 2010

Reading so much information lately about the abuse issue coming out of Europe, it’s like there are two different worlds. One world is open to the notion that even the Pope and senior leadership of the church don’t ‘get it’ and until they do the issue will fester and continue to erode the moral integrity of the church. The other view is that it’s a ‘few bad apples’ problem and the upper leadership of the church — which is protected by a Vatican wall — is sorting it and we can trust them.

An example of the latter is ‘Anti-Popes and Dangers of a Parallel Magisterium’ by Monsignor Giampaolo Crepaldi, posted by Jules on TrueCatholic and sourced from Zenit. The subject heading was ‘We here on True Catholic also wish to express our deep admiration and support for Pope Benedict XVI’. We? I wondered what that meant? In response I posted, with no other comment, the famous story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. My post dissappeared in quick time. That’s what ‘we’ meant!

Anyhow, a sample of Mons Crepaldi’a words of wisdom

To the persecutions against many Christians, crucified in the literal sense in many parts of the world, to the many attempts to uproot Christianity in previously Christian societies with a devastating violence on the legislative and educational plane, and to customs that cannot be explained by good common sense, has been added for some time a fury against this Pope, whose providential greatness is before everyone’s eyes.

And, perhaps echoing the theme of this post:

The situation is serious, because the gap between the faithful who listen to the Pope and those who do not is spreading everywhere, even in diocesan seminaries and Institutes of Religious Sciences, and animates two pastoral programs that are very different in themselves, so that they almost no longer understand one another, as if they were the expression of two different Churches, causing insecurity and error in many faithful.

The ‘other’ church, the ones who are genuinely furious with how this issue has been handled could be well summed up by a post from our old friend Alex on CathPews. From the title, ‘Arrogant, corrupt, secretive – the Catholic church failed to tackle evil’, it’s clear that no punches are pulled. The author, Fintan O’Toole (some name that!), is assistant editor of the Irish Times and this article appeared in The Guardian. Some samples:

The cover-up of child sexual abuse by the Catholic church is not about sex and it is not about Catholicism. It is not, as Pope Benedict rightly argued in yesterday’s distressingly bland pastoral letter, about priestly celibacy. It is about power.

It is not a coincidence that the cover-up worked in the same way throughout the church’s vast domain. It was a fully thought-through system with a clear set of goals, defined by last year’s devastating Murphy report on the Dublin archdiocese as “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets”.

To cut out the source of the corruption, the church would have to attack its own authoritarian culture. Had Benedict done so in his pastoral letter, it would have been the most dramatic moment in the history of Christianity since Paul fell off his horse on the road to Damascus.

So, Benedict tried to show the Irish that he had ‘new clothes’ but it would appear that they, along with much of the Western church are either not looking any more or see right through them.

Long past time

March 22, 2010

The discussion in reaction to Benedict’s pastoral letter to Ireland has been raging over at Catholica and to a much lesser extent at CathPews and, showing his usual restraint, Fr Sledge on True Catholic.

I was very dissapointed in the letter, but I found it hard to ‘find my spot’ in the discussion. In a sense it reflects, albeit on a much bigger stage, how +Ratzinger reacted to the case of Fr H in his own diocese all those years ago. It’s not that he did any major thing wrong, at least on the face of it, but he could have done so, so much better.

I did break into the discussion eventually though. I clicked the link to the podcast of Monsignor Maurice Dooley talking to a radio host last Wednesday (17 March). The link to the 30 minute MP3 file is here. Listening to this guy was more than I could stand. So I let fly.

For a more sober, but also highly critical, view from one who’s had the runs on the board it would be hard to go past Dr Michelle Mulvihill who, according to her bio notes at the end of her article, ‘has been working with sexual abuse victims and church leaders in the Catholic Church in Australia and New Zealand for the past 12 years’.

Her response is on the ABC’s newsite called The Drum and here is a taste:

Wait for four more years and Ratzinger mutates into Benedict and makes his first move towards meeting victims of abuse, in 2006 in New York. Likewise in 2008, in Sydney, he meets victims in the dark, in the backyard of St Mary’s Cathedral, during World Youth Day Celebrations. No meetings with the next level, those Bishops who mis-handled, hid, silenced and protected guilty priests and religious in their own Dioceses. No leadership for those Bishops and leaders of religious congregations who were really doing it tough, trying to respond properly to victims. No “one strike and you’re out” rule, which the American Bishops pushed for. Nothing. Just silence.

Benedict now decides to write a Pastoral Letter to Irish Catholics, in the face of serious public disquiet. The Pastoral letter was published yesterday and read at Sunday masses in every Catholic Church in Ireland. The Pastoral Letter to the Irish focuses the blame on the way in which Irish Bishops failed in their duty. It stops short of taking a much more stringent line on accountabilities of Bishops. Perhaps because they were following his orders exactly…remain silent, protect the church, and pray.

Is it not time for Pope Benedict XVI himself to acknowledge his share of responsibility, instead of projecting it onto others and complaining about a campaign against his person?

Long past time Dr Mulvihill!

F for wryday

March 19, 2010

Many virtual years ago I was one of the keenest participants in TGIF on the old CathNews DB (I think I may have even started it, but memory’s a … funny thing). TGIF is, of course, Thank God It’s Friday and no matter how heated discussions were during the week, there’d be at least one post on a Friday dedicated to that most mysterious of human characteristics (besides curling), humour.

I’m also a dead-set sucker for a good pun … well, in truth, it doesn’t even have to be that good. You might even say I’m a glutton for punishment:

> She was only a whiskey maker … but he loved her still.
>The algebra teacher confiscated a student’s rubber-band pistol … on the grounds that it was a weapon of maths disruption.
> The butcher backed into a meat grinder … and got a little behind in his work.
> No matter how much you push the envelope … it’ll still be stationery.
> A dog gave birth to puppies in a public park … and was cited for littering.
> Two silk worm had a race … they ended in a tie.
> A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall … police are looking into it.
> Two hats were hanging on a hat rack. One hat said to the other, ‘You hang out here, I’ll go on ahead’.
> I wondered why the basketball kept getting bigger … then it hit me.
> A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to hospital … when his grandmother called to find out how he was, the nurse said, ‘No change yet’.
> The old soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray … is now a seasoned veteran.
> Don’t join dangerous cults … practice safe sects.
> Atheism … a non-prophet organisation.

Must be a blue moon

March 19, 2010

I never thought the day would come, but let it be known that I’m thanking The Padre for posting a link to an article on NCR.

For my money it really is one of the best, most comprehensive summaries of what Benedict faces right now in terms of the cancerous abuse crisis. It’s a crisis that just will not go away and now it’s lapping at the toes of Benedict, not only because the latest scandal (so soon after trying to come to terms with Ireland) is at home but because it calls into question his own actions when he was an Archbishop.

The link to the article is here and I posted some excerpts in my response to The Padre who, amazingly, posted it in defence of Benedict! I think Allen does express some cautious optimism about what Benedict might do now, but it would take a considerable leap of imagination to describe it as an article that defends the church’s response to abuse in general and Benedict’s role in particular.

So here it is: Thank you Padre!

A small taste:

The question now is whether Ratzinger’s past may trump Benedict’s present. What weighs more heavily: Benedict’s willingness to weed out abusers and to acknowledge the damage they left behind, or the church’s inability to enforce similar accountability for bishops who failed to act — a failure possibly reflected in the pope’s own stint as a diocesan leader three decades ago?

That question is certain to put Benedict XVI’s entire record on the sexual abuse issue, stretching over more than three decades of leadership in the Catholic church, under new scrutiny.

Prayer and action

March 14, 2010

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. Frederick Douglas, escaped slave.

Prayer as we know it and talk about it can be very seductive. ‘Pray that Grandpa get well,’ we tell a child — all the time knowing that the grandfather’s time is already measured. ‘Pray for a nice day tomorrow,’ we say casually, as if the local meteorologist doesn’t already know whether tomorrow it will rain or snow. ‘Dear God, please make Tom call, or the letter come, or the red light on the next corner turn green,’ we recite with a kind of Christian piety that smacks more of our own desire to run the world than it does to trust the God who entrusted it to us.

Too often, we use prayer to forgive ourselves for being less than we are meant to be. Too often ‘I’m praying for it’ means that I don’t intend to anything else but pray that someone else should do for us what we should be doing for ourselves.

But the situation is obvious. There is nothing done by human that humans cannot undo. There is no reason to deny our own responsibility to get it done by foisting it on God. We must get up and do it ourselves.

Or we make prayer a child’s game, one step beyond magic or fantasy or folly. When we don’t get what we ‘prayed’ for, we break the connection with the Spirit and call the rupture between us a new level of spiritual maturity.

It isn’t that God cannot, has not, or will not intervene in nature. There are simply too many things that cannot be explained by nature as we know it to argue for God’s indifference to the world. But God does not need to twist the natural law to do it. Once when thunder and lightning came, a more primitive people of another age argued that these thing were the voice of an angry god and developed rituals of human sacrifice to appease them. It isn’t that thunder and lightning were not real signs of God’s presence in the world but, we learned later, not an unnatural one.

The truth is that we must pray for the strength to do what we are meant to do. We must pray for the courage to meet the challenges of life. We must pray for the endurance it will take to go on even when nothing changes. We must pray that the Spirit of God is with us as we do what must be done whether we succeed in the process or not.

The ancients talked about four purposes of prayer: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. Supplication, what we beg from God, reminds us of our dependence on God. Adoration contrition and thanksgiving are simply logical extensions of the sense of dependence that reminds us that this God is our beginning and our end – not a magic act in the sky.

MANTRA: God, give me the qualities of character I need to do what you have put me here to do in your name.

Jesus went on a little further and fell prostrate in payer: ‘Abba, if is possible, let this cup pass my by. But not what I want – what you want’. Matthew 26:39

From The Breath of the Soul – Reflections on Prayer. Joan Chittester 2009.

On Joseph

March 12, 2010

Let the conversation begin????? Okay. I’m not particularly clear on the difference between a db and a blog, but Tony I’d love to “converse” here from time to time. So here goes: From the Sacred Space website’s prayer reflection this week: (I’ve been mulling this over). Got any thoughts?

Next week the church remembers St Joseph, husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus. Sartre, in his Christmas play Barjona, tries to picture Joseph in the stable at Bethlehem. “I would not paint Joseph. I would show no more than a shadow at the back of the stable, and two shining eyes. For I do not know what to say about Joseph, and Joseph does not know what to say about himself. He adores, and is happy to adore, and he feels himself slightly out of it. I believe he suffers without admitting it. He suffers because he sees how much this woman whom he loves resembles God; how she is already at the side of God. For God has burst like a bomb into the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated forever by this explosion of light. And I imagine that all through his life Joseph will be learning to accept this.”

I don’t “get” the last three sentences, but I can’t quite work out why. Apart from the Mary portrayed as almost quasi-divine, which worries me no end as one who wants her as a very human role model, it’s probably also the first time I’ve seen the reverse of treating women as second-class citizens. This seems to be putting Joseph into the role of inferior being. And what’s this stuff about “learning to accept this”?.

With due respect to the unknown author of this reflection, you reckon he is drawing a long bow? I’m posting this here because I would love a nice but not too intellectual chat about it with some gospel-centred sort of bloke I can relate to, who might also have some thoughts about the human psychology behind this “take” on the story. If this isn’t what blogs are about – sorry, and I promise I won’t do it again.

Or, of course you could start up another category…