Sunday, April 14

Over the past week, there's been a storm in Omaha about an abuse case there.

You can read about it here , here and here.

In the last article, which detailed the responses at the priest's former parishes, I was struck by the following:

Benedictine priests from Mount Michael Abbey held weekend Masses as scheduled as they filled in for the Rev. Thomas Sellentin, whom Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss removed last Sunday.

Abuse allegations have arisen at five parishes around the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha. The archdiocese said Sellentin has acknowledged abusing children.

In North Bend, parish families were asked to keep Sellentin in their prayers. A substitute pastor in Snyder mentioned a Wednesday meeting at which parishioners could discuss the situation

In Sellentin's absence, the bulletin said, parishioners can bring questions to any of 12 parish council members. Both churches are accepting cards for Sellentin.

Add those nuggets to your "How could this happen?" file: Parish families asked to keep the priest in their prayers....and the victims????. Both churches are accepting cards for Sellentin.

It's all about the priest. Always. Even to too many lay people. It's all about the priests, infantilized by their coddling parishes, and somehow never about the victims.

If you know anything about Catholic Scandals, past and present, you know about the Diocese of Dallas, home to the notorious Rudy Kos. Given the damage that case did, one can understand the Diocese taking a strict line. One would hope they would.

But I don't know.....

In the past few weeks, two pastors have been reassigned because they've failed to implement some aspect of the diocese's requirement that any and all church workers, paid and volunteer, undergo a criminal background check. The most recent is described in this article:

Father Bierschenk said he met with diocese officials March 19 and learned that an independent auditor had discovered that the parish was "out of compliance" with diocese policies requiring criminal background checks of employees and of volunteers who work with children or adults who are elderly or disabled.

Father Bierschenk said he had understood that if the parish came into compliance within 30 days, he would be allowed to remain as pastor.

But he was summoned to a meeting Friday with Bishop Galante and was told he would be moved.

Bishop Galante said church leaders had intended to give Father Bierschenk 30 days to comply. But they decided to reassign him after they learned that the pastor had been wrong when he told them he thought the parish's religious education volunteers – including the parish youth minister – had been checked.

Father Bierschenk said he had not known that all of the workers – even those with little or no contact with children – had needed to be checked.

"It's not that I disagreed with the policy or didn't want to enforce it," he said. "I agree with it."

First, don't scoff at this policy as being just too much. My only almost-direct experience with these kinds of things was related to a youth ministry volunteer who had been accused of inappropriate activity with a minor at a tennis camp in another state, and I think was charged....this kind of policy would have prevented him becoming involved in youth ministry at our parish.

But I think a little more tolerance, and compliance with the diocese's own 30-day policy would have been in order, here.

I was alerted to this story by a parishioner who says, you'll not be surprised to know, that there is probably more to the story - that the bishop and the pastor of this "thriving, orthodox parish" have less-than-cordial relations anyway.

Policies are important and vital. But beware that sometimes policies can be used to forward one's own agenda, rather than serve the good of all.

More from St. Catherine's Dialogue, in regard to Church appointments:

Those who make appointments to high offices do not investigate the lives of those they appoint, to see whether they are good or bad. Or if they do look into anything, they are questioning and asking information of those who are as evil as they are themselves, and these would not give anything but good testimony because they are guilty of the same sin. They are concerned about noghting but the grandeur of rank and nobility and wealth, about knowing polished rhetoric; and worse, they will recommend their candidate by saying he is good looking! Despicable, devilish things! Those who ought to be looking for the beautiful adornment of virtue are concerned about physical beauty! Thye ought to be searching out the humble poor folk who in their humility avoid high office, but instead they pick those who in their bloated pride go seeking promotions.

I also like this passage very much, not just because of any relation to the Present Situation, but because of its beauty and truth:

He bows his head to greet you, wears the crown [of thorns] to adorn you, stretches out his arms to embrace you, lets his feet be nailed that he may stand with you. And you, miserable wretch, you who were made the steward of such generosity and humiliy, ought to embrace the cross. But you flee from it and embrace evil impure creatures. You ought to stand firm and unwavering in your following of my Truth's teaching, nailing your heart and mind to him. But you flit about like a leaf in the wind; every little thing sets you flying.....

And finally, this:

O sweetest daughter! What keeps the ground from swallowing up such ministers? What keeps my power from turning them into solid immobile statues before all the people to confound them? My mercy. I restrain myself, that is, I restrain my divine justice with mercy in an effort to conquer them by the strength of mercy. But they, obstinate demons that they are, neither see nor recognize my mercy. It is as if they believed that what they have from me is their due, because pride has blinded them and they do not see that what they have is theirs only by grace and not because it is their due.

There's lots more, and it's worth a read for some good historical and spiritual perspective on these sad times. What did I learn from it?

Catherine of Siena, an uneducated laywoman, brought healing to her troubled Church because she responded to God's call to do so, and was, in essence, a woman of prayer. Her focus was on Christ, and on the need for the Church to be what it is: Christ on earth. Throughout the Dialogue Catherine is urged to maintain reverence for the Church's ministers, despite their corruption. This may strike us as strange and unnecessary, but I think the point is this: we should keep our eyes and hearts focused on the Christ who works through the Church's ministers, and not lose faith in that reality, which is there, no matter how veiled it might seem. Perhaps the vision Catherine might have for us today is something like this:

Faithful lay people refuse to be driven from their faith by faithless ministers. Faithful lay people cleave even more to Christ in the sacraments, filling churches with vigorous praise and thanks for all of God's blessings, which never stop coming. Faithful lay people sharing the power and the presence of Christ in their lives with all they meet. Faithful lay people undeterred by clerical failure, sharing the reality of God's love and mercy with their children. Faithful lay people, refusing to let this moment be about anything else than a recognition of how our Church has, in too many ways, become countersigns rather than signs of Christ's love, and recovering it - without endless meetings, convocations or any other distracting blather, but through intense prayer. Wiser lay people, guarding their children with care, enforcing boundaries between children and adults and firm when those with ill intent attempt to violate those boundaries. Wiser lay people, careful with their money, using their blessings to help the poor rather than build up empty and self-referential church buildings and programs. Wiser lay people, courageously and humbly pointing out clerical sin when it appears and refusing to take "It will be okay" or "let us take care of it" for an answer.

My husband's right. This moments threatens to be hijacked in one political direction or the other. That can be avoided if a) Voices of conscience and real faith in the hierarchy takes the situation seriously and call the entire Church, from top to bottom, back to holiness and b) Lay people refuse to be discouraged and use this moment as an opportunity to deepen our faith in Christ.

Turning to St. Catherine and her bold example might be a good place to start....

Another good walk. For some reason, after great initial enthusiasm, Joseph has decided he doesn't like the swing at all. Not even for a second. The slide seems to be his thing. As well as the zillions of dogs we see on our walk. He points at each one and says "Wuh - wuh!"
Weakland under fire

Weakland is the most liberal bishop in the country. Law is among the most conservative. But I don't see any difference between them," said Peter Isley, a Milwaukee psychotherapist who was abused by a priest as a teenager. "Liberal or conservative doesn't seem to really matter when it comes to the church covering up these crimes."

According to the unsealed documents, Weakland received a second allegation of child molestation by Effinger around the same time. The priest was sent away for psychological evaluation and treatment. But in the fall of 1979, Weakland appointed Effinger associate pastor of Holy Name Parish in Sheboygan, Wis., where he had daily contact with children at a parochial school. Weakland did not tell the pastor, any of the parishioners or the police that Effinger had committed child abuse in the past....

In some interviews, Weakland has made a distinction between pedophiles -- who, he said, are compulsively attracted to children before puberty and are difficult to treat -- and men who have "affairs" with teenagers and are more susceptible to therapy.

Weakland has also appeared to suggest that the teenagers sometimes share the blame.

"What happens so often in those cases is that they go on for a few years and then the boy gets a little older and the perpetrator loses interest. Then is when the squealing comes in and you have to deal with it," he told the Milwaukee Journal in 1994....

Documents in another lawsuit, filed by the archdiocese against its insurance companies when they refused to pay claims arising from sexual abuse by priests, were shredded with Judge Hansher's permission in 1999. The archdiocese wanted to destroy those papers because they showed how much money it had spent on treatment, litigation and settlements related to sex abuse, Hansher said.

One more thing. When I was teaching theology in Catholic high schools, I also liked teaching what no else liked, and I hated teaching what everyone else in the department enjoyed. So it all worked out. Specifically, what I didn't like teaching was morality. Why? Because I found dealing with the deeply-ingrained relativism of my students profoundly depressing. What I did like was Old Testament and Church History. Good, solid stuff that was a challenge to teach, because the kids were so predisposed to hate it themselves.

Anyway, when I did teach morality - and even in the other subjects, since morality came up all the time - I always got very tired of the constant student refrain, "Why should we (fill in the blank)? Why be honest? Why wait until marriage? Why be pro-life? Why care about the poor?

And then one day, I shot back another question in response to theirs:

Why not?

And ever since, it's become my handiest moral decision-making tool, for myself and to share. Try it. Think of your most pressing current moral dilemma or even spiritual growth issues and apply that question. And see if the only answers you come up with don't make you feel like the biggest snake in the grass ever, and move you a couple of feet closer to doing the right thing.

Why not give more to the poor?

Why not tell the truth?

Why not address your children with a little more patience?

Why not apologize?

Why not go to Mass this morning?

Why not pray tonight?

Honestly - aren't the answers coming into your head along the lines of, Because I want more stuff. Because I'll be embarrassed. Because I don't want to make the effort. Because it will wound my pride. Because I don't feel like it. Because I'd rather watch television. Because I'm afraid of what I'll lose.

Sheesh. Can I feel any more selfish? Can I be any more convinced of my need for God's grace to overcome these stupid reasons not to act out of love?

A bit on St. Catherine. I probably won't get too far, because I'm pretty tired (miserable night yesterday - I think teeth #5 and #6 must be imminent), but I'll get started.

What I'm doing is reflecting with you on parts of St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue because it just seemed pertinent to our Catholic times (scroll down for why). In case you don't know, the Dialogues were mostly dictated by St. Catherine to associates who wrote her words as faithfully as they could. St. Catherine herself had no formal education had learned to write a little bit later in her life - there is evidence that she edited much of the material in the Dialogue herself. It is essentially the fruit of her mystical experience and is one of the classics of Catholic spiritual writing. Here, I just want to share with you some of what's said about sinful clerics.

It's in the section entitled (in the translation we have) The Mystic Body of Holy Church, and there are a couple of fundamental points being made:

First, priests are called to role of unique dignity, since they are the ministers of Word and Sacrament, particularly Eucharist. It's through them that Christ shares Himself with His people. In fact, throughout the work, God refers to priests as "my christs." Anointed.

But. There's trouble in River City. Or at least in the 14th-century Italy that was Catherine's home. Big trouble. Priests doing all sorts of bad things about which the Dialogue minces no words.

The sins of God's ministers has a dire effect, not only on their own souls, but on the souls in their care, for, as we can all imagine, those who are accepting sin in their own lives are in no great hurry to call those to whom they're ministering to greater holiness:

Thus they commit injustice against their subjects and neighbors, and do not correct them for their sins. Indeed, as if they were blind and did not know, because of their perverse fear of incurring others' displeaasure, they let them lie asleep in their sickness...Sometimes they administer correction as if to cloak themselves in this little bit of justice. But they will never correct persons of any importance, even though they may be guilty of greater sin than more lowly people, for fear that these might retaliate by standing in their way or deprive them of rank and their way of living. They will, however, correct the little people, because they are sure these cannot harm them or deprive them of their rank. Such injustice comes from their wretched selfish love for themselves. (section 122)

I like this as well. In a section which begins with an expression of one of the stronger themes of this work - the soul's essential freedom when it cleaves to God alone, Catherine relates God as saying:

Every person receives this grace, but these whom I have anointed I have freed from the world's service and appointed them to serve me alone, God eternal, by being stewards of the sacraments of holy Church.

...And do you know, dearest daughter, what thanks they give me for such a gift? This is their thanks: They hound me constantly with so many villainous sins that your tongue could never describe them, and you would faint if you heard them.

And then in the following section, a good reminder of how moral authority is lost:

How can those who are so sinful bring their subjects to justice and reproach them for their sins? They cannot, for their own sins have left them bereft of any enthusiasm or zeal for holy justice. If they do sometimes attempt it, they make their subjects...say, "Doctor, treat yourself first; then treat me, and I will take the medicine you give me. Your sin is greater than mine, yet you condemn me!" (124)It's good to consider this wisdom in light of our current Church Troubles. It's also good to consider them in light of our own lives. What makes us reluctant to speak the truth about right and wrong? Lots of things, but one of the most powerful silencers is our own sin. Of course, none of us are perfect, or will we ever be, and that fact always lends humility as we are committed to tending to the beams in our own eyes first, and never, ever presenting ourselves as better or less in need of forgiveness and grace than anyone else.

But that reality needn't paralyze us, either. Despite the fact that we are sinners, we still have an obligation to speak the truth about sin. And when we don't want to, what we might be encountering is a confrontation with our own sin. Am I silent because of a false humility? Or am I silent because I don't want to see myself condemned by my own words? So what's the good solution to this vexation - continue to be silent, or face that sin and ask God's help in rooting it out?


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