There is a member of my congregation who takes it upon himself to be my personal "clipping service". Every Sunday, he brings in an envelope with clippings from various newspapers - some things about LGBT issues, but mostly always about religion.
All religions. I'm kept informed of what's going on with the Mormons, the Jews, the Roman Catholics and, of course, The Episcopal Church. I never fail to be grateful.
This past Sunday, the envelope was much thicker than usual. I brought it with me, as is my custom, to breakfast after church. Ms. Conroy and I can usually be found at The Nautilus Diner in Madison (lovingly referred to as "The Nauseous"). We've been going there for years.
We usually sit at the counter, because it's easier to get seating on Sunday, but sometimes we're in a booth. We don't talk much. We read.
Sometimes, a parishioner or two will be there. Most often, they wave and smile and then leave us alone. We are thankful.
Some of the wait staff come by to say hello, share a hug and a smooch, tease each other about the Yankees vs. BoSox, complain about the weather, report on the latest family drama.
Like that. Diner talk. North Jersey style.
Last Sunday, however, the news clippings took up most of our attention and conversation. There were articles from various sources citing an increase on college campuses in Evangelical organizations and another reporting a sharp increase in atheist student organizations - Secular Student Alliance - most recently at Harvard and Iowa State University, both of which now have Humanist Chaplains.
We wadded through various op-ed pieces opining and prognosticating about the upcoming votes on Marriage Equality in New York and New Jersey, an article about the killing of a gay man in Turkey, a report of a new book that calls Jewish people "an invention," a story about the banning of religious Christmas songs in the Maplewood-South Orange, NJ schools, and the growing controversy about the authorship of "The Serenity Prayer."
Amazing what you can learn about what's going on in the world by reading the newspapers, right?
There were no less than nine articles on the Roman Catholic church. The first one was entitled "Benedict Woos Artists, Urging 'Quest for Beauty'" which read, in part:
"And so in an effort to improve the Catholic Church's engagement with a contemporary artists - and perhaps put a gentler face on a contentious papacy - the Vatican invited more than 250 artists, architects, musicians, directors, writers and composers for an audience. . . with Pope Benedict XVI."
A 'gentler face', eh? What's that quote about 'lipstick on a pig'?
The other eight articles were enough to make the heart - and stomach - sick.
"In Dublin, 700 pages on the Church's Sins".
"The report details examples of priests who were blatant, notorious abusers, but who were allowed to continue without punishment or censure. One priest admitted to abusing more than 100 children. Another said he had abused, on average, a child every two weeks for 25 years.
One parish priest whose case was examined in the report, the Rev. James McNamee, was locally infamous for his behavior over more than 30 years. Early in Father McNamee's career, an altar boy said he had seen the priest "bathing with naked adolescent boys and placing the boys on his shoulders"; a parishioner said he had seen the priest exercising in the nude with boys in his backyard."
"Diocese Says It Recorded 32 Accusations of Abuse."
"The (CT) diocese made the admission last week in contesting a lawsuit filed by the estate of Michael Powel, who died last year. Mr. Powel had claimed that he was sexually abused at St. Theresa's Parish in Trumbull (CT) between 1968, when he was 9 and 1972, when he was 13.
The diocese is asking the court to allow it to withhold records on all allegations made after 1973, saying they are irrelevant to Mr. Powel's lawsuit. In its filing, the diocese said it should not have to spend thousands of dollars to review the documents 'simply because Michael Powel alleges he was abused one time for one minute in the winter of 1971'."
Oh, it gets worse.
"Diocese pays $325,00 in sex case."
"Jenni Franz, who was (Rev. Ron) Becker's niece, says Becker (who died in January) molested her more than 100 times from when she was five until she was 11. "Her mother would go shopping, and Father Becker would say, 'Don't worry, I'd love to babysit. Jenny.' And he would sexually molest her."
And then, just in case that wasn't enough and you thought it was only about pedophilia, there was this:
"Woman, 72, sues cleric for trauma and distress."
"On November 15, 2007, the 72 year old parishioner and 39-year old priest (Rev. Edson Fernando Costa, an assistant pastor at St. Anne's Church, Fair Lawn, NJ) were in a church hallway area when he embraced her, then took her hand and forced her to touch him, the complaint reads. "The plaintiff, shocked, horrified, humiliated and embarrassed, told the defendant, 'If you have any respect for me at all, then please me alone,' according to the lawsuit.
Four days later, she told the pastor, the Rev. Joseph C. Doyle. . . "Fr. Doyle did not contact the Archdiocese of Newark, nor any law enforcement agencies to advise them of the criminal conduct of the defendant. . . and as a result, the plaintiff has suffered damages."
The woman also names as defendants the St. Anne's pastor who supervised Costa, the church, the Archdiocese of Newark and Archbishop of Newark in the lawsuit filed November 10."
Well, as you might imagine, by the time I got to the last three clippings, I was in a pretty foul mood.
You already know the saga of the Bishop and the State Representative, so I'll just file them by title:
"Patrick Kennedy Says His Politics Led to Communion Ban"
"Bishop admits barring Kennedy from sacrament"
"Kennedy Not Welcome to Receive Communion"
I know. Almost unbelievable, right?
Thomas Tobin, Catholic bishop of RI where Kennedy lives and is a State Representative, is quoted as saying, "He (Kennedy) attacks the church. He attacked the position of the church on health care, on abortion, on funding. And that required that I respond. I don't go out looking for these guys. I don't go out picking fights."
After I read that paragraph aloud, Ms. Conroy looked over at me, her face aghast. She shook her head in disgust, threw the clippings she had in her hand down on the counter and said, "Who the hell are these guys to hold themselves up as the 'moral compass' of society?"
See? The good bishop was just minding his own business. Doing his father's work. Patrick Kennedy, on the other hand, an elected official who is supposed to have an opinion or two on important matters of public policy, was not doing his job. No! He was 'attacking' the church."
Here's the quote that sent Ms. Conroy over the edge:
"The bishop's attempt to publicly shame Kennedy comes just a few months after the death of his father, Sen. Edward Kennedy. Tobin told the Associated Press in an interview . . . . ... that he's praying for the younger Kennedy, who has been in and out of treatment for substance abuse, and said Kennedy has been acting 'erratically'.
I mean, really!
Using prayer as a way to further shame Kennedy by bringing up his addiction.
And, claiming that someone's behavior is erratic - or, hysterical - as a way to discredit their position is an ancient ploy. Why, it's as old as the church.
Bishop Tobin have you no shame? At long last, sir, have you no shame at all?
All was not lost. Here's a little something I learned in the NY Times 'Letters to the Editor' section, which was also attached at the end of all the clippings.
Representative Patrick J. Kennedy is on stronger theological ground than Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. A legislator may support the legalization of a practice that he or she personally deems immoral.
Thus, SS. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas thought prostitution immoral but supported the legalization of prostitution on the grounds that greater evils would ensue if this outlet for aberrant sexual energy were outlawed. Aquinas even said that in doing this the "wise legislator" would be imitating God, who tolerates certain evils lest greater evils ensue.
So a Catholic legislator who thinks all abortions are immoral could still vote to keep it legal because of the evils that would ensue, especially for poor women."
The letter was was written by Daniel C. Macguire of Millwaukee, a professor of moral theology at Marquette University dated Nov. 23, 2009.
Whoever said, "Ignorance is bliss" wasn't just kidding.
It's also very, very dangerous. Because, for one thing, enforced institutional ignorance has always been a handy-dandy little tool of corrupt institutions.
I could have done without most of the information in that packet of clippings. It made me sick to my stomach. I am outraged.
At least I'm paying attention.
Apparently, so are many, many others. I suspect the story about the influx of Evangelicals on college campuses may well be former Roman Catholics who like structure in their religion but not corruption.
For those Roman Catholics who have been completely devastated by the behavior of the prelates of their church, I suppose there's the 'Secular Student Alliance'. I'm thinking those Humanist Chaplains are getting an earful.
Someone the other day commented on this blog on another post that outrage was the easy part. He wanted to know what, if anything, we're going to do about it.
Well, I heard that. Loud and clear. And, I've made a decision: it starts here. I'm reprinting this stuff to help us think about what it is we might do about all this.
I'm asking a serious question: How can we help our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers, those courageous and tenacious Christians who have stayed in the church to work for change from within?
What course of action might help them most? Would protest marches outside the homes of individual Roman Catholic bishops or diocesan administrative offices help? Would letter writing campaigns be of any help? A coordinated night of Prayer Vigil outside every major cathedral in every major RC archdiocese? The equivalent of a "Million
I'd like everyone who reads this post to ask one of your RC friends (and we all have at least one RC friend) what might be the most helpful thing we could do to help bring an end to the arrogance and corruption that has so infested this part of the Body of Christ.
Maybe, together, we might be able to come up with an effective plan to let every deacon, priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal who has ever looked the other way and not reported these abominations in the site of the Lord - and worked for them to end - to know that others are paying attention.
You think about that for a while. Meanwhile, I'm going to take that clipping of the story of the Pope's 'quest for beauty', along with all these other clippings, and send them to the Holy Father with a note suggesting that perhaps his quest should be for the beauty of Truth and Decency.
You know. Just to let him know that someone is paying attention.