Monday, March 11

Finally caught up with last week's Peggy Noonan column. As usual, some beautiful thoughts, but a coupla clunkers, too.

She writes about the blood-weeping Padre Pio statue. Uh, sorry, Peg. As Kathy Shaidle of Relapsed Catholic points out, the bleeding was a hoax. Noonan also cites Kevin Orlin Johnson as a "great writer on Catholic mysticism." Feh. I've read Johnson's book, called Apparitions and interviewed him. While his book is rather exhaustive, it's absolutely non-critical and lacking in discernment. Johnson also maintains that the only Roman Catholics experience authentic (i.e. from God) mystical experiences - everything else, in every other religion is self-delusional or worse. Don't know if he extends that to prayer experiences, too. It reminds me of the conversation I had with a Catholic sex expert who maintained that God's grace isn't present (at all) in the marriages of couples who use artificial contraception.

Here's a photograph of the statue.

There. Got that done - an article for Catholic Parent about which I'd completely forgotten until I got a very polite note from the editor asking where it was, a week after the deadline. That doesn't happen often with me.

So now that leaves me with a week free of article deadlines, during which I plan to:

1) Get started on the Loyola Parables book and

2) Update the website with three or four columns and reviews that need to go up there and some new photos, and a bunch more links. Return early and often to see if it really actually happens, or if it will be like my daily resolve to vacuum the living room.

A NYTimes article about the reaction of Palm Beach churchgoers to their bishop's admission of crime . The only surprise is the 100 priests who've signed a letter, and planned to place an ad (it was pulled, for some reason) in support of the Bishop, reminding the people all about forgiveness.

Yeah. We know about that.

When a religious leader has committed a grave sin and a crime, are we required to be guilted into "forgiving" that religious leader and allowing life to go on as usual?

I don't think so. Here's why.

Forgiveness is one thing, and it is a thing that is absolutely required. The Church isn't a Church of saints - it's a church of forgiven sinners. Some of the greatest saints were great sinners - accessories to murder like Paul, self-defined sexual profligates like Augustine (I say self-defined because I don't want to imply that the popular notion of Augustine was true - that he was a lech. He wasn't really - he was in an extra-marital relationship, but it was monogomous, and his struggle was mostly internal, with his own desires.), gamblers and renegades like Camillus de Lellis, and ne'er do well rich guys like Francis of Assisi. But there is a difference between those cases and most of these current situations, especially those that involve bishops, either as perpetrators(O'Connell) or as accessories (Law, et.al).

The saints of which I spoke were profligate sinners before their conversions. Afterwards, they were still acutely aware of their sin, but were - ahem - quite saintly in their inner lives and behaviors. Sure, there are stories in church history of clerics who got off on the wrong track and got it back together later, and that's always possible. It is not our role to attempt to obscure of block the way of God's grace.

But does it have to be in the same position? Does everything have to continue on, unchanged? If I betray your trust, you can forgive me, and maybe you'll give me another chance, but really, no one would blame you if you decided to make life easier for all of us by getting me out of the situation in which I was so sorely tempted to betray your trust. Let me do something else.

Especially with these cases of sexual abuse. We can't have it both ways. We cannot excoriate Cardinal Law and others for being naive about the nature of sexual perversions, thinking that a few months of therapy would fix everything, and then, on the other hand, say of Bishop O'Connell and others "Oh. We forgive. Keep screening our seminarians. Keep dealing with priests with similar problems. Sure. You've asked for forgiveness. It's all okay now."

Forgiveness does not require that life go on as usual. Particularly when this there have been so many lies and deceptions so far. How do we know that the lies have stopped? Answer: we don't. With every new scandal, most of us have thought, "It can't get any worse. This must be it." But it's obviously not it. And if you want evidence of that, think once again over the question of how O'Connell came to appointed bishop when this settlement was a matter of Church record. Our first, innocent reaction may be, "Gee, what a royal screw-up." But upon further reflection, we might consider the possibility that it wasn't a screw-up. Maybe people knew, but didn't care, and I don't mean the Vatican. The Vatican does care, I think. But the next-to-final vetting for bishoprics doesn't happen in the Vatican. 99% of the decision-making takes place in the country where the diocesean see is located, among other bishops and Cardinals. As I said, maybe they did know. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe it's a small part of a bigger picture. Just wait, I say.

So for this reason, easy "forgiveness" isn't the question, and to those 100 Palm Beach priests, I say, "fie!" I ask why they're so anxious to keep O'Connell and avoid getting a new bishop who would, undoubtedly this time, be of a completely different stripe and perhaps would be coming with a broom in hand. More importantly, I say to those priests, and to weepy parishioners who want to "forgive" the luvable, huggable child predators in collars, listen to what Jesus says. Yeah. You think all Jesus talked about was forgiveness. To most of us, that's exactly what he talked about. But to religious leaders, his tone was a little different:

The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to carry, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not life a finger to move them.....

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocricy and evildoing. From Matthew 23.

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