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Friday, December 04, 2009

Paying attention




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 Man Person March" on the Vatican?

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.

15 comments:

Allie said...

This doesn't answer your question, but Rutgers New Brunswick - the largest state school in NJ, has a Humanist Chaplancy as well (which as far as I understand has more students that the Episcopal Campus ministry [although I have my own reasons for not being surprised at that]).

suzanne said...

Then there is the Bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington (DE), who filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying claim's made against them. what a slap in the face.

Erp said...

Harvard has had a Humanist chaplain for over 30 years so it isn't new.

Britain has Humanist chaplains working in hospitals and so on. Note that these chaplains are usually approved, after receiving appropriate training, by a Humanist group such as the American Humanist Association or the British Humanist Association or Ethical Culture and most of those groups in turn belong to the International Humanist and Ethical Union founded in 1952 though many individual Humanist groups date back to the late 1800s. I would no more put Humanist Chaplains in quotes than Episcopalian Chaplains (also atheist chaplains are not quite the same as Humanist chaplains since not all atheists are Humanists and some non-Humanist chaplains [e.g., some UU but possibly even some Episcopalians) are atheistic).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Erp - point well made and well taken. The quote marks are off.

Bill said...

There are many psychological issues at work here.

Loyalty Issue:
Many Roman Catholics take any criticism of their leadership as an attack upon the Faith. It’s the same as if a citizen of France slams somebody from the United States. Hey, wait a minute; I can say that but who the hell are you; “My country, right or wrong”. Or if somebody picked on my little brother (who is now 6 foot); I would have taken their heads off. We become very loyal and protective or our family however that family is defined and whatever a member of that family has done.
It has to be something really personal as in my case when they wanted to restrict my access to the sacrament of communion because of my homosexuality. That’s why I can relate so strongly to what they are doing to Patrick Kennedy.

Fear Issue:
Many catholic families just won’t rock the boat if their children are in catholic schools. If you don’t toe the line, the company line, you might find yourselves being asked to remove your children from the school. That may seem far-fetched but if the fear is there it doesn’t really matter; perception is reality.
The fear issue also comes into play should you question your faith or church policies. People brought up in the catholic faith are taught that theirs is the only true faith, the only way to heaven. Questioning that faith or even church policy is tantamount to committing sin and earning eternal damnation. Learned behavior is very hard to overcome.

Apathy Issue or Lack of Social Conscience.
If something doesn’t effect me directly, why should I get involved? If I’m straight, what do I give a damn about the gays? If I don’t have kids, why should I care about yours? It doesn’t dawn on many people that Yes, they are their brother’s keeper.

Of the three I mention, I believe that apathy is the one to overcome. People need to realize that life is not a spectator sport.

Anonymous said...

It's not just the conservative RCs. Read today's BradBlog.

Brian Forbes Colgate said...

Elizabeth, my only caveat to your post here is to suggest that it might be just a tad one-sided in its Rome bashing.

We have certainly our own crosses to bear with problem priests and choirmasters within the Episcopalian/Anglican world who have been shuffled about, and covered for, and lied about to protect, for decades as well ...

Glass houses and stones and all that ...

We are not so lily white as a denomination that we can throw stones with impunity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Not saying that it's "only" conservative RC's. Not sure what you mean.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brian, no church is completely free of sin. No, not one.

However, you have to admit that the sheer volume of evidence against the RC church is overwhelming. Disgustingly, appallingly, outrageously overwhelming.

To then "request" that a State Representative who is RC "refrain" from receiving Eucharist because his POV is in conflict with the RC party line, when you hold yourself as a 'moral compass' for the whole world on matters of Reproductive Choice which do not impact your life, when you fail to hold accountable those priests who have 'erred and strayed like lost sheep' and committed heinous crimes, and when that abuse continues two decades after they were first reported, well, you set yourself up for this kind of comment.

IT said...

I have written a piece about the Crisis of Conservative Catholic Bishops, which I conclude as follows:

Can the Institution be redeemed? From my perspective they are perpetrating a series of horrors, and the Catholics I know are horrified in return. Is there a way, within the structure of the institution, to regain the tradition of social justice and progressivism from the cynical neo-cons and cons who appear to wear the purple and scarlet? Or perhaps true Catholicism, in the person of its people, will have to rise, Phoenix like, from the ashes of a corrupt institution. After all, Christ did not live in a palace with gold chalices, negotiating with governors and ministers. He was an itinerant carpenter with a rag-tag group of hippy followers who tended to the common people.


In the meantime, the contrast between the PB's statement, and the RC cardinal who says GLBT people won't be in heaven, couldn't be more striking.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. As a former RC and now an atheist, your words carry a certain weight.

Paul (A.) said...

Not widely reported is the recent Council of Catholic Bishops directive that requires Catholic hospitals to override patients' advance directives in order to administer artificial means (hydration and feeding tubes) to prolong life even if the patient and the patient's family have directed otherwise.

See story here, text changes here.

This needs to be more widely known. My family now knows to avoid Catholic hospitals in all events. Not everyone will have that choice.

David said...

Living in Quebec where the Roman Catholic Church was an overwhelming power for too long it's not hard to find people living lives haunted or wounded by their upbringing and exposure to the Roman Catholicism machine.

So I sent out an invitation for ideas and suggestions, and one of the longest, one of the most toughtful came from a Francophone academic, who also ended up calling me.

Before anything else, he asked me to thank you for even asking, and had read your blog before calling me.

His and several other folks first suggestion was that our Church needs to be more visibly engaging. Here in Montreal he said it's just too easy to see 'another Church' or 'ah les Protestants,' and keep walking.

He suggesed that our engagement would require ome 'sophistication' and media savy. Being visible outside the usual liturgical context.

One example we worked up would be priests speaking out in the media on issues other than sexual abuse, or religious belief, but with the individual identifying as an individual priest. This guy teaches communications and media, and we explored a number of possibilities- editorials written by our priests on issues not obviously religious, self-identified priests calling in to worthwhile 'call-in' discussions on the radio, priests wearing the collar when they serve on boards, march in anti-war protests.

A number of respondants, all from Roman Catholic backgrounds told me they don't even know the differences between Rome and Anglicans, except we don't have what more than one referred as le grand crapeau sur tes visages i.e. the pope.

Communicating with a couple I know to be victims of pedophile priests, I asked about the resources they have to deal with the ongoing effects in their lives. And as one told me, unless there's a self-organized group by victims sueing the Church, it's usually nothing but' the usual twelve-step programs' or paying a psychiatrist yourself. As one of them told me, 'if you're not an alcoholic, or a drug user there's really nothing.' One of my respondants spoke of going to a support group for vistims of sexual abuse and he was the only male in the room. 'Everyone looked at me as if I was an abuser myself, and no one clues into the fact that it was a priest- a priest who did this to me, in the Church, in the rectory.'

One of my respondants wrote of how physically difficult it is for him, to find himself in a Church even as an adult- and this was really heartbreaking to hear. The academic cited above also spoke of being unable to even sit through his own mother's funeral.

And I couldn't help but wonder if there might not be something really powerful here. A calling for our Church, starting in areas where the reign of pedophile priests was the greatest- our Church simply being there to listen- starting fellowship & support groups for these people.

Here in Montreal, the Anglican Church has very real problems- with itself and its culture. And yes the suggestions are very much within the Quebecois experience of an immense Roman Catholic establishment historically, but I did ask, and I'll be getting together with two of my respondants for coffee- you've opened up a whole new opportunity for conversation for them.

David@Montreal

Anonymous said...

I meant that RC leadership in the US is very conservative and although it's just my take, I think the majority of RCs are to the left of them. How the average person in the pew deals with that I don't know. In my own experience, first you get passive-agressive, then you get out. BTW I was not RC, but an Episcopalian in a breakaway diocese. It was a profoundly depressing experience.

Bill said...

Brian Forbes Colgate said...
Elizabeth, my only caveat to your
post here is to suggest that it might be just a tad one-sided in its Rome bashing."

The thing is, is that many of us including Elizabeth and myself are former RCs. It's not that we criticize them out of hate, but rather out of love. The Church could have been so much more, but was found wanting. I would have liked nothing better than to have remained RC, but it was not meant to be. My pokes at their expense are more akin to picking on members of my family. I pick on my brother relentlessly because he never picks up a book. I pick on the RC church because of their inflexibility.