Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The first casualty of betrayal

I am not picking on noted canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters. Really. It's just that twice in the last two weeks he's posted something I want to comment about, and he doesn't have comments on his blog.

What I want to comment on today is a part of his most recent post; specifically, this part:

Speaking more generally, now, I often explain and defend in my blog legitimate exercises of ecclesiastical authority. I do this because we live in an age that distrusts exercises of authority in general and ecclesiastical authority in particular. Even within the Church, exercises of ecclesiastical authority are often suspect, nay guilty, till proven otherwise. Part of me understands that suspicion, at least when it arises from ‘the right’: I grew up with happy-clappy catechesis, suffered through clown Masses, watched the devastation wrought on religious life, mourned the closing of one Catholic school after another, etc, etc, etc. In short, I grew up waiting for somebody to do something besides, as Fr. Z so wonderfully put it, blowing more happy gas. And I was often disappointed.

But, by the grace of God, I never let my disappointment ossify into distrust. As a result, I do not cling to my opinions about how things should be done in the Church (however sound my views might be) in the face of legitimate ecclesiastical determinations otherwise. I know all about Canon 212 § 3. It’s Canon 223 I’m concerned with now.

Widespread, knee-jerk distrust of ecclesiastical authority is perhaps the most crippling legacy left to the John Paul II generation of Church leaders by the past. This distrust is, of course, unfair to that new generation—who have done nothing to deserve it—but it is also increasingly incongruous to them. They didn’t grow up with the wackiness that many of us remember, and so they don’t understand the animus that is often directed by some otherwise orthodox Catholics against Church leaders just because they happen to be, well, leaders in the Church. Occasionally, when I see a solid young priest or seminarian suffer such prejudice, I call him aside and explain what things were like back in the day, and why patience is called for in this case or that. He listens, nods his head, and says, “Yes, I see what you mean, it must have been terrible. Well, time to get over it.” These guys are great.

Now, I read the whole post, and you can too, but even if you don't read it I can assure you that it's missing one very important phrase. See if you can find it...I knew you could! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, the phrase this post is missing is:

The Scandal.

We can't--we just can't--talk about the widespread distrust Catholics have for ecclesial authorities in 2012, ten years after The Scandal first broke here in America, and just gloss over the fact that the reason for the pervasive distrust of bishops and chanceries stems not just from happy-clappy Masses, not just from systematic liturgical wreckovation, not just from the closing of parishes or schools, not just from poor catechesis, terrible music, and dodgy homilies. The reason many Catholics find it almost impossibly hard to trust their bishops or their diocesan chancery offices is because for a lengthy amount of time the main response of many noted Catholic bishops and chancery officials to serious and credible allegations of child sexual abuse was to move the offending priest somewhere else in the hopes that, no longer exposed to those particular bad children, the priest would live as a model of holiness, or something. Oh, and to chastise the victim, the parents, the concerned observers whether clergy or lay, etc. for bringing the matter up in the first place.

Carol at The Tenth Crusade (HT: Joe H. in the comments under the previous post), from the Boston epicenter of the Scandal earthquake, puts it this way:
This is what it was like before:

Catholics who called the Chancery to report corruption, crimes, were 'listened to'.

When the listening was over, that was the end of their actions on the matter. Naive people who are 'listened to' inside of the Catholic Church feel a tremendous sense of relief. They did the right thing. It is implied in the listening that the people they told will then 'do something' about it.

But, they don't. They only veil it or shuffle it.

Some whistleblowers returned to a Chancery to insist something be done about it.

That's when they did something.

They used money, 'obedience', a sob story, to get people of good will to be silent.

If the whisteblower wasn't satisfied with those offers, they would circle the wagons to slander him or her as a whackadoo. They were bullied, threatened, shunned.

The priest being reported was protected. Some of them honored with public statements from the Archdiocese saying what a swell guy he was. Sometimes, they roasted them with honors.

You know what has changed from the above?

Not a thing.

In my opinion, the whole dynamic is worse than it ever was.
She then goes on to make some rather good points about the recent revelations regarding the Bishop Zavala matter, points along the lines of how the heck does a Catholic bishop carry on the sort of affair with a woman that results in two children without anybody noticing? Sure, there are some married men who manage to do the same sort of thing, but within the Church this is supposed to be the age of accountability and transparency, right?

Now, within the offices of various dioceses, within the chanceries, among the bishops I think it's fair to say that there's a certain feeling of frustration with people like Carol. The Scandal--well, that was ten years ago! And it's been adequately addressed! By making lay Catholics attend endless classes proving they're not criminals and can be trusted around children! And priests have to take similar classes! So what more does the laity, who can never seem to be satisfied anymore, want???

The problem with this attitude, as any parent knows, is that just because someone apologizes for his or her egregious offenses, reforms, and promises to live a blameless life forevermore, it takes a good bit of time to restore the broken trust that is the first casualty of betrayal. Ten years is a blink of the eye in Church years, and I would say that until the "Circle the wagons!" first response of Church officials and employees stops being the knee-jerk reaction to any sort of criticism, we've still got a very long way to go.

It's like the teenager who, caught violating his curfew in order to drink stolen beer at a friend's house before driving home under the influence, complains bitterly to his friends that his parents still don't trust him. "Come on!" he rants. "That was a whole month ago!" (since a month in teenager years is not unlike ten years in Church years). The parents still love their son, despite the disappointment, and they really do wish the best for him as time goes on. But the time to hand him the car keys, let alone leave him in charge of the house while they go away for a weekend, is very, very far off.


Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Erin, the problem with clerical sex-abuse is nothing new. St. Peter Damian wrote about it in 1049 in "Liber Gommorahianus" ("The Book of Gommorah"). What is new is the fact that Catholics have access to more different and immeidate forms of communication than ever before...and that Catholics have such a healthier sense of personal self-respect that they don't have to feel guilty about challenging their priests' and bishops' behavior.

What remains, however, is the fundamental sense of entitlement that the clerics feel...which, in turn, comes from the institutional arrogance that the Church transmits to these men. Combine both elements, and you have the ultimate refusal to be accountable.

Why do you think it took civil lawsuits and criminal proceedings in the developed world, especially in the United States, for Rome finally even to begin addressing the situation?

A lot of American Catholics want to curse the United States for its individualistic, "Protestant" culture. I, for one, thank God for that culture, for it enabled Catholics in Boston (and elsewhere) to fight for the innocent when the Church that is supposed to care for them would rather protect its finances, secular influence and institutional prerogatives.

Word verification: lited

It's about time, frankly!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Well, just about ALL of this (starting with Peters) is why I have never offered obedience to any hierarchy.

I hear almost as much about "obedience" in Pentecostal preaching as I do in Roman Catholic canon. And yes, there is another correlation. No denomination is totally free of abuses, but Pentecostals rank right up there with the Catholic bishops for flagrant public examples, and attempting to hush it all up in the Name of Jesus.

Human beings being the structurally unsound creatures we are, I view ecclesiastical authority with the same careful consideration as I do government authority of any other nature.

Dr. Edward Peters said...

"I am not picking on noted canon lawyer Dr. Ed Peters. Really."

Sure you are. Really. But I don't mind.

Msgr. Charles Pope just quoted the same paragraphs from my blog as you did, but he reads them, shall we say, differently than do you. Your readers might enjoy the contrast:

Best, edp.

Anonymous said...

I refuse to characterize the last twenty or twenty-five years of American Catholicism of the pious few practicing their faith among a vast wilderness and hinterlands of those so self-preoccupied as to stand on a happy-clappy tangential limb.

Admittedly, I pretty much 'dropped out' of the scene when the parish priest at the college Newman Center took up an alternative lifestyle involving paid young men. This action did not endear Catholic teaching to my non-western religious spouse, as it appeared just 'more of the same' when considering the desert religions (Judaism, Islamism, Christian).

What was lacking, from my standpoint was broad, acknowledgment that preying on others from an institutional view of trust was personal failure, and crime, by the priests involved and it would not be tolerated in the priesthood, immediate ejection at the least, not re-assignation.

The result detracted from the benefit of an organized morally religious upbringing of the children.

It had nothing to do with soon-to-be St. John Paul II, but it had to do with smugness, and trust. The trust in humans is something that comes and goes, much as in the Churchs' extensive history. Fortunately, our Lord is invulnerable to that.

What is extremely irritating is the s.m.u.g.n.e.s.s. by those disparaging the Church body, members whether ordained or not, as if we were led by pied pipers in the past, and now, no longer continue to be so in the new zeal for anachronism.

Jesus Christ's mission does not change. People essentially do not change. Things that people do reflect the prevailing times in general.

As a child in a mission community, we were fortunate to be assigned a priest for longer periods of time, so there was parish consistency. When Fr. Peter came in the late '60s, early '70s, as a teen I attempted to dissect his homily ('active listening') in order to remember it throughout the week, even to discuss it on the way home from Mass. I soon noticed it was difficult to organize for recall until figured out the theme he always preached, on Christ's Love.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that last was from 'Zircon'.

Anonymous said...

I will add another factor adding to the distrust, in least here (NY/NJ/CT metro).....The mass closings of diocesan Catholic schools. Now the numbers are real and so is the collapse. No doubt.

But the way I see this handled just leaves so much to be desired. There will be no communication with the people as these "commissions" are drawing up their report, which you could probably just write out on a cocktail napkin just as easy without paying these well-connected consultants. Then the diocese will just drop the news like a ton of bricks. Then, there is little to no pastoral care for the families and children affected. And then, and this is not without merit, there are wonders about whether it is a land grab, and not really about sustainability at all, as real estate is one of the Church's most valuable assets, especially here in the Northeast. Suspicions will develop that there has been a calculation made by the diocese or pastor that a sale or rental of a building is more profitable than keeping the parish school open. Particularly if the financial numbers for a school show that it is indeed supporting itself. Add on top the payouts to sex abuse victims and you can see how this is perfect storm. You can see this disaster unfolding right now in the Arch of Philly.

I predict that the collapse of Catholicism is just beginning here in the Northeast. Wait until all these schools close.

But anyway, back to the point, I think the child abuse scandal shook people to their core, but most managed to re-attach themselves, to their parish, their priest, their school. But to their bishop? Not so much.

~ Ann Marie

Nicole Stallworth said...

With the caveats that the scandal was the first thing I thought of but, too, never read in your excerpt of Dr. Peters' post, and that I am far from any epicenter of it, I would venture to suggest that it's not quite the same thing as a teenager whose keys were taken away. It's more like a parent who has committed a crime and now must worry about how to care for his children. How can he assert authority without alienating? What legal issues threaten his custody of or relationship with them?

More to my point of this admittedly flawed analogy: what about the taint on the innocent parent? I'm not talking simply about guilt-by-association: the very important, missing phrase that at least deserves a nod in any commentary about distrust and the Church is "falsely accused priests." It's well-documented, and surely such priests are casualties of betrayal too.

I'm grateful for clerics like Abshp. Dolan, who seems to be able to say--and mean--mea culpa as often as the world needs to hear it, and still defend and care for the priests under his authority; and my own pastor, who has been a model of transparency for the sake of both the parishioners and the priests. I don't argue that any of what you discuss is true, and perhaps the subject of innocent, persecuted priests is outside the scope of your post. But I couldn't help but think that, along accusation fatigue, the injustice of calumny deserves a mention, even if you want to dismiss it as an inadequate excuse.

Red Cardigan said...

Nicole, you're right that innocent priests and good bishops don't deserve automatic suspicion. But--and here's where I think some of the problem lies--innocent lay Catholics who are not troublemakers or kooks or pot-stirrers don't deserve to be treated automatically as such every time they bring up some serious matter to the chancery.

As I wrote at Msgr. Pope's (thanks for the link to that discussion, Dr. Peters!) it's all very well to counsel people to write letters to the bishop, but I think we have to recognize that an actual and targeted response from the bishop himself is, in most dioceses, more rare than a blue moon. Most of the time, a canned letter from a chancery official skilled at the art of saying nothing will be the best one can hope for (and, like many Catholics, I speak from experience).

freddy said...

One problem, and I'm not sure if it's particularly an American problem or a human problem, is that we tend to have an automatic distrust of authority, coupled with a desire for hero-worship.

We often see leaders either as heros or villains, and forget that they, too, are fallen human beings in need of prayer and guidance. To be fair, so sometimes too do they!

Ecclesiastical authorities have to earn the trust of the people they serve, through interaction and catechesis, and understand they will never "please all of the people all of the time."

Lay people have to be willing to "trust, but verify."

Both have to pray, and follow Christ.