How can they go and stand on the ground where their loved ones suffered and died?
But – how can they not, I suppose. Where else would they be? Where else could they be, but at these places in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, hoping, perhaps, to be touched by one last breath before the wall made of time descends.
Over the past year, I have, as is my inclination, thought most about the children. There were babies, there were toddlers, and on the Washington flight, there were some excited schoolchildren, heading off to California as a reward for winning a science fair. I think of how my own baby clings to me in surprise and mild fright when thunder rolls or sudden darkness descends. To think of the babies, the children on those flights is almost too much to bear, but necessary. For it is not just that they were there. It is that these men boarded those planes with their boxcutters and their plans, saw those little ones – and did not blink. If bringing terror and sudden death to a child does not faze or deter you, there is something not quite human about you, there is something cold and lost, something absent.
In keeping with the reluctant subtheme of this blog, now let me take you back to late January, when the Boston revelations started coming, to be followed all too quickly by the LA revelations, the Palm Beach revelations….the endless revelations. We were enraged, stunned and astonished, and let me remind you why, for it has something to do with September 11.
It was not just the fundamental scandal and sin of the thing. It was the timing. It was just a few months after the attacks, and we were at war, and we had just gotten through the tension of the new year, and we were still nervous.
It was a serious time, and we were immersed in its seriousness, still searching the Scriptures and the heavens for answers and assurance.
And then this.
The news we got, from all over the country, in bits and pieces and occasional torrents, was that far too many of our religious leaders, from the parish to the seminary to the chancery, were playing a vicious, wicked game with our resources, our trust and sometimes even our own children.
In a time in which we were looking to the Church for assurance of truth and the rock-solid presence of a loving God, we found bishops using our hard-earned funds to support pederast priests and to pay lawyers to intimidate victims of clerical sexual abuse. We found bishops paying off sexual harassment claims against their male communications directors and former students. We had bishops resigning for playing games with these students. We had priests using their positions of trust to satisfy their own dark desires, and everyone involved and aware living, not to bring light into the situation, but to cover it up, rationalize it, and minimize its seriousness.
We couldn’t help but get the clear sense that while we were out here, trying to take the Church’s teaching seriously, with all the sacrifice that entails, and while we were out here trying to spread the Gospel in a world that seemed, on the surface, hostile to it, but just might be turning a corner, prompted by tragedy – while we were trying – they were not. They were taking us for a ride, preaching at us from under their mitres, shaking their crosiers at us, writing long letters for us to read and begging for our money more or less constantly, they were, in reality, laughing at us from behind their thick chancery walls, writing grateful letters to those pederast priests and sending the lawyers out to squash another victim.
Five months after September 11, when so many wanted to look to the Church for hope, strength, integrity and truth, they were met with the sordid truth instead. These leaders did not seem to care about any of that. And that was the failure. And that was one of the prime sources for the outrage, for me at least.
There were, of course, countless Catholic leaders who gave succor, directly and indirectly to victims, families and the shocked and stunned observers that were the rest of us. But on a broader level - the level of a cultural conversation and social impact, the Catholic moment seemed lost.
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. Ezekiel 34:1-6