Worried & Weary

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This has been quite the week for the Catholic Church in the media. The frenzy over the sexual abuse scandal has become both worrisome and wearisome.

It is worrisome due to what seems to be a continued defensiveness on the part of some our church’s leadership regarding this situation. There seems to be a lack of understanding that the era of silence in order to avoid scandal is far past. Transparency and immediacy in communication is critical. Some days the Holy See is better at this than others.  The lack of clear and complete information leads the media to half-truths and distortions.  There are enough media experts in the Church,  including our own Archdiocese of Toronto and Salt+Light TV, that surely the Holy See could learn something. My hunch, though, is that the Press Office is not at fault. Rather some of the bureaucrats in the Vatican don’t understand why they should have to answer for their actions.

I am also worried that rather than continue on the path of promoting healthy living, integrity and transparency in leadership and among the clergy there will be a reaction. Just this past week, there was an article in the National Post by Fr. Raymond deSouza.  In what is either the worst expression of arrogance I have seen in a young priest or a frightening disconnect with reality, Fr. deSouza directs the blame of this whole mess at the Second Vatican Council and the model of  Church that followed:

In the 1960s, like much of society and after the Second Vatican Council, the Church simply abandoned her disciplinary life. Doctrinal dissent was not corrected, but often celebrated. Liturgical abuses, both minor and outrageously sacrilegious, were tolerated. Bishops simply stopped inquiring into priestly asceticism, prayer and holiness of life. Non-Catholics often have an image of the Catholic Church as a ruthlessly efficient organization with a chain of command that would make the armed forces jealous. The reality for most of the 1960s to 1980s was the opposite. A priest could preach heresy, profane the Holy Mass, destroy the piety of his people and face no consequences. The overseers decided to overlook everything. It is any surprise, then, that when accusations of criminal immorality emerged they too were dealt with inadequately, if at all?

Really? There was no abuse prior to Vatican II? It’s precisely the Church’s restoration of right relationships between laity, clerics and religious that brought about the climate where these abuses of trust could finally be made public; abuses which took place mostly by men “formed” before the Council.

The Church has come a long way and needs to continue the path that was proposed in the Canadian Bishops’ From Pain to Hope. This is especially true regarding the formation of priests.  Again my fear is that rather than help men become both holy and whole, faithful to the Church and to themselves, there will be once more an era of repression in the area of affectivity, sexuality, intimacy and healthy interpersonal relationships.  The other area that is critical is the discussion of the exercise of power in the Church.  Again, seminaries, in an effort to rightly promote and focus on priestly identity, seem to be doing a less than stellar job of helping young priests see themselves as members of the People of God and collaborators with the laity.

The encouragement of the fetish attachment to 2 inch pontifical roman collars and the lace of the Tridentine Liturgy does little to form mature men able to minister with the men and women of our Church.  It replaces true spirituality with piety and external observance of rubrics. The priest of today needs to be a person whose heart, mind, spirit and body is given to the Lord. You can’t give what you don’t know, own and love.  I hope some of our young Franciscan Friars in formation and seminarians look closely to their families, friends and parishioners. It is in true relationships that they can learn about life and discover much about themselves. It is also in friendship with the down-to-earth, pastoral and faithful priests around them that they can learn how to be real.  To the young priests and seminarians of Toronto, I would say: look closely to your archbishop. Look at his clothes, his shoes, his way of moving about among people. Toronto is blessed with a shepherd who walks the walk. Focus on being real.

These days are also wearisome because every Tom, Dick and Sally can jump on the bandwagon of anti-Catholicism and use these painful moments to promote their agenda.  The nasty article by Christopher Hitchens in the National Post (I won’t bother with a link) is just one example of this.  (And thank God Rex Murphy is around.) There is even a desperate attempt to tie Pope Benedict to the scandal. Talk about barking up the wrong tree; the very man who is actually trying to do something about this mess. I am tired of seeing these stories all over the papers, all over CNN and the internet. I ‘m just sick and tired of all this.

Thank God it’s Holy Week. This is my favourite time of the year. Today’s celebration of the Passion is a good way of putting it all in perspective. Here’s my homily from this morning. I hope it makes sense to you as it helped me face the coming days.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

When I was young I often heard the expression “offer up your sufferings” or “join your sufferings to those of Christ on the Cross”. Later in life I was introduced to a Franciscan perspective on the Cross; one of God’s solidarity with us.

Christ on the Cross suffers in solidarity with our suffering.

Christ is pinned to the cross by false accusations, torture and nails and stands there in solidarity with all those who are pinned down in life.

Christ on the Cross is in solidarity with the man, pinned down by the block of concrete in the rubble of Haiti.

Christ on the Cross is in solidarity with the woman pinned down by her unemployment and poverty in Toronto.

Christ on the Cross is in solidarity with Matthew Shepard pinned down to a fence in Wyoming and beaten to death because he is gay.

Christ on the Cross is in solidarity with Cheryl Araujo pinned down to a pool table in New Bedford, Massachusetts and raped by a gang of thugs.

Christ on the Cross is in solidarity with all children who suffer abuse at the hands of their parents, their relatives, coaches, friends and sometimes even their priests.

Christ on the Cross is in solidarity with you who suffer the embarrassment caused by the clergy who commit hideous crimes and by others who cover-up for them.

Christ continues to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, through people like you and me… people like Archbishop Oscar Romero who stood in solidarity with the poor of El Salvador and 30 years ago this week was pinned down by an assassin’s bullet.

But Christ does more than suffer.  This week which begins with the Passion story ends with the Paschal Mystery.

The victim becomes the Victor.