A Thought... or Three
Before all else, the past couple days have really brought to the fore for me a question which millions of American Catholics have been wrestling with these last three years.
As one of our bishops once said, the personality type of the serially-abusive cleric was "not the kind of person you'd pull your child away from in the grocery store line." How disgustingly true that is. The worst of the predator priests got away with what they did by being suave, seductive and charismatic, in effect by drawing people to them and building a personality cult. As always, it wasn't the good, honest and distinctly un-flashy types who brought this scourge down upon the church. But, as always, it is they who will have to bear the burden of it.
Think about it, hard though it may be: as these criminals were the guys who did everything in their parishes, the popular and beloved ones who everyone wanted to witness their weddings, baptize their babies, bless their homes and be part of the joys and sadnesses of their lives, many of us have been faced with the question of what happens when someone who has had a public record of memorably good work is discovered to be the diametric opposite in his perversions? Does it negate the good? Does it mean it was all a sham? Does it mean that the faith they inspired in travels was in vain, no good, that we never should've gone down the path their "witness" called us to embark on to begin with?
This is such a wrenching question to think through, but like it or not -- and again, it's not the popular position, but the true one -- the brutality uncovered down the line often involved a priest who had a sterling reputation and brought many people into a closer relationship with God and the church, often moreso than the good, honest and distinctly un-flashy types And if every good work or life affected by those priests who ran a severely depraved streak behind closed doors were nullified by their criminal predations, what would that mean? Where would we be?
In recent years, I came across two guys who had been accused of abuse and were removed. Each encounter made my blood boil.
Before the first guy imploded in a sea of clericalist arrogance, he was possibly the best preacher I had ever seen in my life -- he might still, even now, be the best I've ever seen in the pulpit. I hate saying it, but it's the truth.
He got in touch after he had been removed, yet while his laicization was still pending. I knew the story; he didn't know I knew, but I did, and I tried to get past my revulsion. But there came a point when I had to ask about it, because he seemed to live in some kind of parallel universe where, apparently, nothing bad ever happened and the decision to leave priesthood was portrayed to be one of his own accord.
He showed no remorse, no sense of the consequences, and even said, "So you really wanna be that obnoxious, eh?"
I hung up the phone, nauseated. I really wished to be able to find him and crack his skull for all the people he let down, even the embarrassment and heartbreak he brought to his own family, who were and are incredibly good people and to his mentor who had a nervous breakdown over it. I'm enraged still thinking about that guy's trail of destruction right now, and his lack of regret stuns the hope out of me still.
Around the same time, I was working a side job to make ends meet when I wasn't in class. One night, the gig entailed a wedding group. Clear as day, I could see that the celebrant entering in full clerics was the man who was described by another priest in the recent report as being "one of the sickest people [he] ever met." For a moment, I wasn't sure if I was seeing straight -- mind you, this was in the Fall of 2002, three months after the zero-tolerance statutes of Dallas were approved by the USCCB.
I had long known the story of this guy's depravity in its totality. So I found a moment to find him and pull him aside, just to ask some things. Nothing confrontational, just to sate my extreme curiosity as to what the hell he was doing vested and in ministry.
"Oh, well, you know" he started to say, "I was in a car accident a long time ago and I've been out ever since."
Forgive me for saying it: "Bull. Fucking. Shit."
Of course, I couldn't start a brawl and go off, because it meant that I would've lost my job. But, again, the sight of a smiling face concealing a despicable truth -- a string of 'em -- behind the collar was a bit much to bear, and it stuck with me for a good while.
The wedding family absolutely adored the guy. But remember, these sickos are invariably the beloved ones who can talk their way out of anything. Weeds in the wheat... but what of the good work?
You can see this is all a bit much to handle.
Lastly, I got a very poignant e.mail the other day where I was asked "what bishops/diocese have been particularly good about dealing with abuse in a timely fashion and going back well before 2002?"
Contrary to the "Cyber-Magisterium of Faithful Conservative Catholics" as our good friend Mr Shea calls it, there were bishops who "got religion" on sex abuse early on. Thing is, they're hated on St Blog's and seen as something less than Catholic, less than orthodox -- because they didn't have to ban gays to get the job done.
All the while, their beloved Bruskewicz still won't let the Review Board anywhere near Lincoln.
But still, as I replied to the e.mail, "I could reel off several examples, but one of the most sterling ones in my eyes is Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh -- who, it must be noted, is no favorite of most of the St. Blog's crowd. He "got religion" on abuse not long after taking the reins in Pittsburgh in 1988, and when his appeals to have a predator priest laicized were meeting friction in Rome, he took on the Apostolic Signatura (the highest appellate tribunal of the Church) and won. This was in 1994, the former priest's name is Anthony Cipolla.
"Another example is Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, who restored much trust there after being sent to clean up an abuse mess in 1994. Another is Wilton Gregory, himself, (again, no favorite of much of St. Blog's) sent to Belleville to stop the bleeding after a "sex-ring" of priests was exposed and 10% of the presbyterate were suspended. And, of course, Sean O'Malley -- who restored trust and credibility in Fall River, Palm Beach and is working extremely hard in Boston.
"Cardinal McCarrick is another who got the job done. Bishop Joe Galante is another. There are many -- but, again, as they're not the bellicose, judgmental and divisive types favored in the Blogosphere, they've quickly been swept under the rug by those who should be praising and thanking them. Yet it was the gentle, pastoral qualities -- humility, graciousness, lack of scripting, lack of ideology and a conciliatory, human character -- which enabled each of the guys in the first group to be seen as the saviors of the Church."
Wanna be serious about the issue, people? Give the praise where it's due. I know the USCCB aren't the most popular people out there these days, but they can't all be painted with one jarringly broad brush.
To do so doesn't serve the church, but the Golden Calf of ideology. And of all issues, this is the last where a response that claims to be "Catholic" should be par for the course.