Collect

Collect for Purity (said at the beginning of every Mass)

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Three Poems

I recently began working on a series of autobigraphical, free-verse poems, dealing with my Reformed, or Calvinist, upbringing. My plan is to write one for each of the five points of the famous TULIP acrostic (which represents the distinctively Reformed doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints; we won't stop to explore their meaning here, but this Wiki article gives a fairly good theological and historical summary), plus at least one introductory poem and at least one concluding poem. I don't have the whole thing mapped out, but I have the first three poems written, and I thought I'd share them here. I may still alter them further, I don't know.

It should be, but isn't, unnecessary to add that I'm writing about my personal experience of Reformed theology. I am not talking about anybody else in the world.

Trigger warning: spiritual and sexual abuse.

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The Garden

When I was a child I walked in the garden in the cool of the day.
The trees, gravid with fruit, hung branches low against the sky,
Offering, encouraging;
The flowers clustered close along the moss-soft paths,
Roses, lilies, clove blossoms, irises,
Nectar and incense over smooth stones.
There are footprints left on the path,
Mingled with strange, polished markings, curved or coiled,
And insubstantial or mutating shapes,
As if in imitation of those feet.
Keening, crying,
A cockerel calls the alarum.

Depraved

His feet among the tulips, his hands brush the roses and the lilies.
‘This is love,’ he says, laying his fingers on my throat,
Forcing me down to bow.
‘I know it hurts, I know it’s harsh,
I know it feels nothing like any loves you know,
But you have to trust me,’
As I writhe and gasp and my eyes blur:
‘This is what real love is.’
The thorns scrape on my skin
And I cannot feel my knees or my wrists.
‘This is love. Stop crying.’

Elect

I am fifteen and I know much of metaphysics.
I know the subtleties of Scripture, and there is nothing in Saint Paul
That for me is hard to be understood.
Hold a prism before the mystery’s light,
And I shall define the sevenfold color of being:
Sovereignty, holiness, truth, omniscience, justice, power, and mercy.
All things are in his will and are his will,
From the starlit glories of the galactic pillars,
To the dirty bathroom where someone tasted salt
On the head of a twenty-year-old cock.
It was not me
Because there is no me:

There is only the will of my God.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Confiteor

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee: 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.
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Generally, I put my blog posts on my Patreon for funding. I'm not doing that with this one, for reasons I expect will be clear once you've read it.

I've written several posts over the last month, criticizing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and individual members of it, together with the whole hierarchy. I've put out a number of tweets and some particularly forceful Facebook status updates (tremble, ye princes), expressing my own personal sense of betrayal and anger at the irresponsible, self-centered, corrupt prelates who would not or could not act to protect young victims of clerical abuse. I have fulminated, warned, and prophesied. And of course I knew very well that I'm not perfect, but consoled myself that at least I have no position of responsibility to shirk, the way they had been doing apparently for decades.

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking home, and I went past the bus stop near my house. Maybe thirty people were scattered along the sidewalk, one cluster at the bus stop and another a little way up the block. In between them, there was a little boy leaning against the railing outside the church—he couldn't have been more than five years old. I smiled at him.

A man came up who seemed to be the boy's father, and, seemingly apropos of nothing, started hitting him. The first time was weird and ugly, but of course some parents do use corporal discipline, and that's hardly my business (even if it did seem to be discipline for literally nothing). The second time was weirder and uglier. The third, still more so, especially since the boy wasn't reacting at all, as though this were perfectly normal. The fourth was a kick, which swept the little boy's legs out from under him, and at this he did begin to cry. The man yelled something, I don't know what, and took him by the arm and started marching him toward the bus stop.

I did nothing.

Oh, I said something like, 'Hey, whoa!' I was stunned that a person would just do this, in broad daylight and among all those people—and nobody said anything, I wondered whether I were just being a busybody but I knew I wasn't. It was child abuse.

But rather than follow up on anything, I just ... turned up the sidewalk, went to my door, and went inside. I didn't even think of calling the police until hours later, when it was utterly useless to do so.

If you admire or like me, and you're thinking of extenuating circumstances and reasons this isn't as bad as it sounds, or you want to reassure me because you think I'm torturing myself or something, then do me a favor and shove all that stuff where the sun don't shine. This is no better in me than it is in a Cardinal. The bystanders were no worse than I was—they just did what I did. We're all obligated to each other. My inaction was gross hypocrisy, and worse than that: it abandoned a child to violence. If I am going to publicly write one single word of moral judgment, and ask others to listen to it, then I need to own my own shit publicly too. That isn't heroic or impressive. That's the most elementary form of fairness and honesty that we all need to start with.

And no, I don't need to make a dramatic confession on the internet every time I do anything wrong. But when I do something that is so intensely relevant to the very things I'm calling other people out for then I sure as hell need to call me out too.

Seriously, don't give me any comments about this being brave or whatever. I fucking mean it, I will not publish them, I don't want to hear them—this right here is penance, don't encourage my pride.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Testimony of Archbishop Carlo Viganò

In all places, Christ is only one, and on that account we cannot receive him against others or without others. Precisely because it is the whole Christ, the undivided and indivisible Christ, who gives himself in the Eucharist, for that very reason the Eucharist can be celebrated rightly only if it is celebrated with the whole Church. 
—Pope Benedict XVI, ‘A Church of All Times and Places,’ God Is Near Us

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The former Vatican nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, recently wrote an eleven-page letter on the scandal surrounding ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of sexual harassment and abuse. It names names among the Curia of those who covered up for the disgraced prelate, a list embracing even Pope Francis himself, and calls on a multitude of them, including His Holiness, to resign their offices.

Archbishop Viganò is a man of unimpeachable integrity, with full access to the information he claims to be testifying about, whose courageous publication is (as he says in the letter) an act of conscience, resorted to after a long series of failed attempts to get a slothful and corrupt Holy See to put a stop to McCarrick’s behavior. Or: Archbishop Viganò is noticeably partisan, gets certain verifiable facts wrong in his letter, has been implicated in abuse cover-ups of his own (involving John Nienstedt, who at the time was Archbishop of Minneapolis), is clearly hostile to the Pope, and certainly took his sweet time in getting conscientious enough to make this information public if he’s been trying to deal with McCarrick’s behavior since 2006. I've heard both accounts of the man and don't altogether know what to think of him.

But I have read His Excellency’s letter. At first I wasn’t going to, being weary of all the … everything, but I eventually decided that I needed to analyze it for myself, especially if I was going to write about it.

His Holiness specifically declined to reply to it, at least for now, inviting journalists to come to their own conclusions about it. This baffling response has been read as everything from a contemptuous sneer at the anguish of the Church, to a gentle confidence that the letter will collapse under its own distortions. I’ve been swept along in the firestorm that’s succeeded the publication, like everybody else on Catholic social media. Even if the Pope is as guilty as the Viganò letter implies, I wonder whether his response is not the wisest—not for him necessarily, but for people in general and to the situation in general.

But, being a loudmouth, I will make the following points. I will leave aside the allegations that have been made against the archbishop himself, since I don’t understand them very well and they have been disputed in any case.

A number of sources in the letter are, well, hearsay. Gabriel Montalvo and Pietro Sambi, the two apostolic nuncios before Viganò himself, are dead; a number of intermediary sources between Viganò and the assertions he makes are cited—Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Monsignor Jean-François Lantheaume, Cardinal Marc Ouellet—but this is precisely a statement that Archbishop Viganò himself was not an immediate witness to the matters he is discussing: there is every possibility of even quite innocent misunderstandings here. There is a constant refrain of ‘I do not know’ and ‘I believe that,’ ‘it is legitimate to think so’ and ‘as seems certain,’ ‘would anybody believe him’ and ‘as if he had already known.’ It all may be grounds justifying an investigation but it is certainly nothing more than that. Without investigation and the evidence that it turns up, what these phrases indicate is not testimony, but gossip and speculation.

Some quite subjective assertions are also put forward. Archbishop Viganò says of His Holiness Francis that he ‘assailed me in a tone of reproach,’ he ‘asked me in a deceitful way’ about then-Cardinal McCarrick, and so on. These things could be true. Or, without even saying that Viganò is lying, it’s also perfectly possible that he misread the Pope’s intentions. He says in so many words that it was his first time meeting the man; is it possible that he misinterpreted his affect? It is legitimate to think so.

Others have noted certain difficulties with the factual claims made by Viganò, especially with respect to the sanctions allegedly imposed by Pope Benedict XVI on then-Cardinal McCarrick. Archbishop Viganò asserts that they were substantially the same as those that have since been imposed by Pope Francis. However, he doesn’t even profess to have learnt this from the Pope Emeritus, either at the time or since; he is repeating what he says Cardinal Re said to him (or at any rate, what he says he learned ‘through’ Re without further specification). Regardless, not only did McCarrick continue to live and work as though no sanctions had been imposed on him at all—which, to be sure, is not totally out of character for a man who so flagrantly violated his priestly and even his simply human obligations—yet he made multiple visits to Pope Benedict, during the time when the pontiff had allegedly banned him from traveling, and concelebrated Mass at the tomb of St Peter during the time when the Pope had allegedly banned him from public celebration entirely. Pope Emeritus Benedict’s personal secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, stated today that His Holiness has not (contrary to some reports) confirmed Viganò’s report in any way and will not publicly comment on his letter.

Moving forward, the archbishop does seem to indulge in several pretty boldly personal attacks. Of Cardinal Cupich, he writes that ‘one cannot fail to notice his ostentatious arrogance’; of Fr James Martin SJ that he is a ‘well-known activist who promotes the LGBT agenda, chosen to corrupt the young people who will soon gather in Dublin’; of Pope Francis, that he is ‘certainly not inspired by sound intentions and … love of the Church’ and that ‘It was only when he was forced … on the basis of media attention, that he took action [regarding McCarrick] to save his image’.

Not once is the possibility noted that His Holiness might have heard accusations but, for one reason or another, not believed them, or at least hesitated to believe them. St John Paul II was familiar with the accusations being leveled at Marcial Maciel Degollado, but he disbelieved them, because he was persuaded of Degollado’s sanctity, and took the accusations to be a smear campaign; is it so impossible that Pope Francis thought the same? And no, it doesn’t follow from this that Pope Francis was right—he clearly wasn’t—but Viganò’s apparent decision not to give him even the benefit of the doubt (despite his repeated ‘I do not know, we do not know, I do not know’) is not merely discourteous; it is unjust. It is not wisdom but rashness to leap to the ugliest explanation of someone’s actions.

Similarly, and although I am disgusted by Cardinal Wuerl’s conduct to date, I have to speak in his defense with respect to one of Viganò’s claims. The latter writes about ‘a morally unacceptable event authorized by the academic authorities of Georgetown University … The Cardinal told me that he knew nothing about it. … I subsequently learned that the event at Georgetown had taken place for seven years. But the Cardinal knew nothing about it!’ Well, for one thing, that is not actually so incredible; I imagine a lot of things take place in every diocese that the ordinary doesn’t follow closely, especially when they take place at institutions that, like Georgetown, are autonomous rather than governed by the Church. But all of that aside, we are never informed what this ‘morally unacceptable event’ was, and therefore cannot judge whether or to what extent Archbishop Viganò’s indignation is justified.

But the thing that struck me the most about this letter was how falsely it had been ‘advertised’ to me. Everything I had read said that it alluded to corroborating sources and gave verifying details. It has plenty of details, certainly, but of corroborating sources, I found little to none. A multitude of memos and personal letters are spoken about, but the archbishop never even says whether there are copies, let alone produces them or says where to find them. Dozens of accusations of corruption are made, but no court or ecclesiastical documents are produced in support of them; many charges of arrogance and lies are made, but no way of testing them is offered—except by bring the whole affair to trial, which is perfectly appropriate, but is not what Viganò has done. I dare say his letter could be used as a starting point for an investigation, but, as pure evidence, it’s lousy. Even if the archbishop is telling the truth as far as he knows it (which is perfectly possible; all of these difficulties could be the Rashomon Effect), would anybody believe that he is not motivated at least in part by a distrust of the Holy Father and a general hostility to gay priests, and that these enmities color his judgment?

None of this demonstrates that Pope Francis is innocent. But it is innocence, not guilt, which is presumed in a court of law. And there is every reason to cross-examine witnesses.

The more I look at this letter, the less confidence I have in it. Increasingly, I think that Pope Francis was right (and I find it odd, by the way, that the order of these sentences has been so frequently mixed up):
Read the document carefully and judge it for yourselves. I will not say one word on this. I think the document speaks for itself, and you have sufficient journalistic capacity to reach your own conclusions. It is an act of trust, when time will pass and you’ll draw the conclusions, maybe I will speak, but I’d like that you do this job in a professional way.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What Can We Do About Abuse?

His Reverence is tired from preaching
To the halt, and the lame, and the blind.
Their spiritual needs are unsubtle,
Their notions of God unrefined.

The Lord washed the feet of his servants.
‘The first shall be last,’ he advised.
The Archbishop’s edition of Matthew
Has that troublesome passage revised.

In the crypt of the limestone cathderal
A friar recopies St. Mark,
A nun serves stew to a novice,
A choirboy sobs in the dark.

—Dana Gioia, The Archbishop

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The devastating contents of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on Catholic sexual abuse concealment have elicited a collective roar of wrath from the laity. The response from high-ranking bishops like Wuerl, Lori, and DiNardo has been tepid, and most of the reactions that I’ve seen have been angry and contemptuous of them. Cardinal Wuerl in particular, a former Bishop of Pittsburgh, was named in the report more than two hundred times. Calls for his resignation, or failing that his degradation, have been pouring out from every source.

What is less forthcoming, though by no means entirely absent, is active compassion for the victims. There are a few possible reasons for this. One quite cynical reason could be that it’s more fun to be angry and demand that somebody else be punished—‘It is always agreeable to hold someone responsible,’ as Charles Williams pointed out in his history of witchcraft—than it is to do the work of intelligent, active compassion toward those who are suffering the aftermath of abuse. But even those whose intentions are of the best don’t necessarily know how to support victims. I’m a survivor of molestation myself (though not at the hands of a priest or minister), and, aside from a listening ear, I wasn’t sure what else to offer fellow victims—particularly those whose experiences had been more traumatic than mine. Based on a conversation with a friend who was abused by a clergyman, I put forward the following.

1. Listen to those who report abuse.

One of the biggest barriers to dealing with abuse well is that victims are so frequently dismissed and disbelieved. This trend is improving, but it’s still uphill work. The cowardly motive (namely, that white people tend to believe there is literally nothing worse than Making A Scene) and the self-interested motive (usually phrased as ‘the desire not to give scandal’ in polite Catholic circles) are factors in this. So too is the fact that, yes, sometimes children make things up to get attention; but this is a reason to investigate, not to ignore. Better to exonerate an innocent man the hard way than to condemn a child to continued predation.

Listening can be extraordinarily hard. What you have to listen to may be terribly ugly; it may make you feel sick, enraged, helpless. And certainly, most cases of abuse call for the services of a qualified psychotherapist at the very least. But this doesn’t eliminate the need for the victim to be able to talk about it with family and friends: the abused person needs to know by experience that their loved ones cherish them-as-abuse-victim, because that’s part of their story now.

We may also be inclined to dismiss a story because it doesn’t fit the abuse narratives we are accustomed to (dear God, what an awful sentence). For example, a lot of Catholics have been calling for the expulsion of all gay or same-sex attracted men from the priesthood, and a rigorous application of Pope Benedict XVI’s canon that established ‘deep seated homosexual tendencies’ as an impediment to ordination. A number of female abuse victims have, rightly, complained that this shutters their experiences, which if anything can be even more horrific, like that of the girl who was not only raped and impregnated by a priest, but forced to get an abortion. Similarly, we are in the habit of thinking of abuse and pædophilia as nearly synonymous; but ephebophilia (attraction to adolescents) and sexual harassment of adults by adults (such as McCarrick’s ‘career’ seems principally to have consisted in) are major factors here too. Hearing what is there, as distinct from what we expect, can require deliberate and sustained attention.

Note: listen to, not talk to. We often want to find the perfect words that will make this better. There aren’t any. What we generally fall into instead are clichés, which are either pathetic or monstrous in this context. And we rarely want to admit ignorance, because it feels like defeat, for them and for us. But one thing that survivors frequently need the most is somebody who will tell the truth. Abuse almost invariably depends on manipulation, gaslighting, and lies; a person who will say ‘I don’t know’ just because it’s true can be incredibly healing.

2. Realize that abuse can affect your loved ones.

I’m not recommending paranoia here. But there are parents who won’t or can’t believe that their child could ever be targeted, whether because of the normal human irrationality that thinks of that as something that only happens to other people, or due to a clericalist attitude toward their own priests. Anxiety, that is, worrying over things simply because they could happen, isn’t helpful or productive; attentiveness to things that do happen is. (I’ll talk about spotting abuse a little later on.)

3. Pray for all victims.

There are far more victims than any one person could hope to meet, let alone minister to, even if they were all still alive. Given the time scale involved, some have passed away; others, sadly, have committed suicide. And then there are the legions who even now do not feel able to come forward. Speaking up about abuse can be horribly painful and frightening.

What we can do is pray for the living and the dead. It is difficult for most of us to feel like we’re doing anything important by praying: it’s so easy (even though somehow we rarely get around to it). And of course, the trite, lazy I’ll pray for you that means I want to escape this discussion but look more spiritual than you while doing so is justly pilloried, but it’s easy to slide into the opposite error of scorning prayer altogether.

Prayer is very subtle; it is also very simple. Its simplicity is that, as his children and heirs, we ask God to do something and (provided it isn’t bad for us or wouldn’t spoil something else he has for us) he does it. Its subtlety is that we don’t know the mind of God, nor can we plumb the total operations of cause and effect—even the physical world that the sciences study largely eludes our comprehension, and examining the spiritual is a more delicate work still. But one of the things that sincere prayer does is prepare us to act and to be still. We are all responsible for one another; all of us are limited, both by our finitude and by preëxisting obligations; thus, knowing how to act, and when, and for whom, can be challenging. Prayer illuminates us because in it we turn ourselves deliberately to the God who is light and who exists in trinitarian relationship, and so we receive the light of relationship to guide us. The problem with I’ll pray for you as described above, is that there is no authentic opening of the self: the point of that phrase is to close oneself to others.

4. Hold the perpetrators, and those who enable them, responsible.

I’ve seen a good deal of scapegoating over the last week or so. The scandal is the fault of clerical celibacy, or homosexuals, or the male-only priesthood, or American cultural license, or Satan. Any or all of those explanations may have some weight, but all of them (with the probable exception of the last) are in my view negligible. Whatever else is true, and whatever the cultural context in which the offenses took place, this is true: the deacons, priests, and bishops who abused either adults or children are responsible for their behavior, and the clerics who concealed it are responsible for both that behavior and its concealment. While exceptions could conceivably be made (though I certainly can’t think of any that should be), these individuals should be degraded or laicized, handed over to civil authorities for legal penalties, and—if they will not confess, repent, and do penance—excommunicated.

Holding the perpetrators responsible is not a substitute for confronting the cultural and systemic problems in the Catholic Church that made these decades of open-secret abuse possible. The abuse certainly did not happen in a vacuum: the last several years have been an avalanche of disclosures about sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, in politics, in college and professional athletics, everywhere. But every system is composed of individual people, and holding them responsible for their actions is accordingly the starting point for systemic reform.

It may be a difficult task for lay Catholics to hold our clerics responsible. Demonstrations on the sidewalks of cathedrals, while possibly a good thing, are only a token. A radical restructuring of ecclesiastical governance may be needed. A lot of long-term measures, like imposing poverty on bishops (to help curb the image-consciousness that fosters silence), or having diocesan priests formed in monastic institutions (which statistically have a much lower rate of abuse than diocesans do, according to the John Jay Report),* may be prudent or even necessary. But the place to start—though not to remain—is in confronting the specific people responsible for the specific offenses under consideration. Go general too quickly, and the trees will be lost in the forest.

*EDIT: I'm given to understand that, due partly to the practice of taking a new name when entering a religious institute, abuse by religious priests may go even more seriously underreported than abuse by diocesan priests. To the extent that that's the case, obviously there would be no benefit to training diocesan clergy in religious houses.

5. Educate yourself on the nature, effects, and symptoms of abuse.

This is not a comprehensive list of those things by any means, but I want to hit on some important aspects of the problem.

Since most people, thank God, don’t experience sexual abuse, most people don’t necessarily understand it very well. The archetype most of us have from the Very Special Episode—in which a stranger with sunglasses and a greased smile appears from nowhere, holding something forbidden in arms posed like a mantis and addressing Our Hero as ‘Hey kid! Wanna see something cool?’—has approximately no relation to reality. Most victims are abused by someone they know, not infrequently by a relative or a friend of the family. And abusers themselves show a variety of psychological profiles. Some act out as a response to stress combined with personality problems or affective immaturity, and tend to resort to whomever is available; others are premeditating predators who are specifically fixated on a particular type of victim, and for whom the power dynamic or sadism is a key aspect.

A common thread in the experience of nearly all victims is secrecy. The number of the abused who report the abuse within a year of its occurring (or beginning) is relatively small; it’s quite common for victims to wait years, even decades, before disclosing their experiences, and for them to deny the truth if asked directly. This is true for a number of reasons. Many victims, and especially children, are dismissed by the people they confide in as making things up, even reprimanded or punished. Many children, who are often cannier than we give them credit for, can anticipate that they won’t be believed if they do speak up. Many abusers groom and manipulate their victims emotionally in a variety of ways: forming a rewarding attachment to the abuser, persuading the victim that they wanted or even initiated the abuse, and threatening the victim or the victim’s loved ones are all standard tactics. This is why, although we certainly should enact the best policies we can in safeguarding children and teens and in dealing with sexual misconduct among adults, it’s hard to tell whether current policies are working. The fact that a lot of current accusations pertain to offenses from decades ago has no relevance; we probably aren’t going to have useful data on whether, e.g., the Dallas Charter is doing its job for another twenty years—one of the many reasons why it is indecent to rehearse how well the Church is supposedly doing now, or that the bulk of the accusations are old.

Because of this long-term secrecy, detecting abuse can be difficult. It’s typical for abused children and adults to exhibit symptoms of PTSD, such as feelings of worthlessness, nightmares, depression, disturbed sleeping patterns, aversion to church, poor body image, self-harm, self-isolation, and anxiety. Though I don’t want to encourage armchair psychiatry in the least, the appearance of symptoms like this—the more so the more there are, and especially if they emerge suddenly or in uncharacteristic ways—justifies gently approaching someone and asking them if something has happened or if they need help.

The first thing a survivor of abuse needs is to both be safe, and feel safe. If these conditions aren’t both meet, it is exceedingly unlikely that they will ever process or recover from their experience. Accordingly, the first necessity for each of us in supporting victims is patient receptivity. Patient, because you cannot extract the truth without committing another boundary violation against the victim, one less heinous but possibly worse in its effects, since it’s apt to make the victim less willing and less able to trust those who would help him or her to recover; receptivity, because so many victims, especially children, are disbelieved and dismissed. No claim of having been abused should be discounted without looking into it.

Encouraging and validating survivors is vital as well: their sense of self-worth has been damaged by someone else, and, while there are probably people who can restore that sense of self-worth without much direct help from others, they are vanishingly rare. We were made to understand both others and ourselves in terms of relationships.

Lastly, a word on sex education. Explaining to young children that their bodies are their own, that certain parts of their bodies are special and private, and that not everything authority figures like priests, teachers, or babysitters say has to be obeyed, is a crucial task; so too is both telling them they can speak up and be believed if something should happen, and following through on that promise. I don’t envy the parents who have to figure out how to explain these things to a child without coming to pieces. But sex education of this kind cannot be shirked. Many parents worry that the more they explain to their child, the more curious the child will be about such matters, and thus the more prone to sin. That concern has some weight, but not much: it’s a little like thinking that it is kinder not to evangelize, because people who are less informed about God will be judged more gently. Curiosity and sinfulness are going to emerge anyway, and children are not known for their discretion in sharing information with each other. Better to be sure they get healthy, age-appropriate information from you than to leave them to their own guesses and schoolyard gossip.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Cardinal Wuerl

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To Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington.

Your Eminence: peace be with you.

I’m Gabriel Blanchard, and I entered the Catholic faith under the ægis of your archdiocese, though I've since transferred into the Ordinariate under Bishop Lopes. I have a lot to say and none of it is likely to be very pleasant reading. I hope and ask that you read it anyway, prayerfully, because it is deeply important. I am not an ideal person to write this; I have some seriously ugly skeletons in my closet. I am not meaningfully different from a prostitute, speaking to a prince of the Church. But given the role of the blessed Magdalene on Easter morning, I am bold to write anyway.

Here is a (partial) transcript of an interview you gave just a few days ago for the convention of the Knights of Columbus.
Fr. Rosica: You’re playing a very important role right now … It’s a moment of crisis, but it’s also a moment of new beginning. Tell me how you’re coping with the situation—your predecessor, we’re well aware of it in Canada, and the message of hope that you’re giving to your people, to your priests, your seminarians, but also to the American Church.
Card. Wuerl: Well, it is a moment of new beginning. Remember, when we had the first crisis of the realization that clergy were being abused by priests, back in 2002, we took a very strong stand. We created a charter, the Holy See provided for us the essential norms. Let me just say, it’s working. Right now, when you hear of abuse, when you hear of a case of abuse, when you hear of—they’re talking about things that happened decades ago, for the most part. So, the charter worked. Now what we’re realizing is, we need to have something that would also be a mechanism for when a bishop isn’t as faithful as he needs to be, even if the charge goes back forty, fifty years. So, what I’m suggesting, what I have proposed to our conference of bishops, is, we already have that statement of commitment we all did back in 2002. Let’s put some practical measures to it, to make it work. What I’m suggesting is, we already have a National Review Board made up of laypeople. Why don’t we take from our conference a number of bishops from different committees, to work with it, invite the National Review Board to join them, so now we have a permanent body; and if someone has an accusation they want to bring, they can bring it there. We now have two things at work.
Fr. Rosica: Well, what you’re dealing—you’re talking about the nature of the Church. That the Church is not only clerical, only laypeople, it’s this unity. Your diocese is a perfect example of that. Some of the most competent laypeople I’ve met in my life are in the leadership positions in your diocese. You’ve done that.
Card. Wuerl: But isn’t this what Pope Francis is saying. Pope Francis has been saying, we’re all missionary disciples … It doesn’t make sense: a shepherd without a flock, and a flock without a shepherd. They’re co-relative terms, they go together. This is what we’re saying needs to be done today, when we have—I don’t think this is some massive, massive crisis. It was a terrible disappointment.
Fr. Rosica: For all of us. For you, for me. He was a friend to us.
Card. Wuerl: So, we’re saying now, well, what do we do in the future to see there’s a mechanism so if somebody wants to say something about a bishop, they have a place to go.
Here is a selection of a story from the Boston Globe that ran in April of 2002:
Over the last several days and weeks, prominent church opinionmakers, including two cardinals, have suggested that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is a relatively minor phenomenon that is being turned into a major scandal by the media and others with an ax to grind.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, for example, told The Washington Post this week that some newspapers are having a ‘heyday’ with the issue.
‘Elements in our society who are very opposed to the Church’s stand on life, the Church’s stand on family, the Church’s stand on education … see in this an opportunity to destroy the credibility of the Church,’ he said. ‘And they’re really working on it—and somewhat successfully.’
Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore made a similar point … saying, ‘It’s really the news media of the United States that has made this an American problem. We’re in this feeding-frenzy situation right now, where the coverage of cases of 20, 30 years ago is being plastered in the headlines.’
This is not a good look for you.

It does not look bad because of a merely accidental resemblance between sentiments you’ve expressed, and the blame-shifting lies of a then popular and respected pedophile. I dare say that the resemblance really is accidental; but the echo of your predecessor is the thing least wrong with what you said.

Beginning with the optimistic sales pitch ‘This is a moment of new beginning’ is beyond crass and tasteless. It is the first smack in the face to the abuse victims whom you almost entirely ignore here. I say the first, because there are more, such as the assertion that this is not a massive crisis. Speaking as a survivor of molestation, any number of victims greater than zero should not be spoken of in a tone of dismissal. And for an abuse victim, I was fortunate. I was never whipped or made the subject of child pornography, and I could not be impregnated or forced to get an abortion. You can read about more than a thousand less fortunate victims of over three hundred priests in this sickening report just released by a Pennsylvanian grand jury; and that is only about Pennsylvania. This is absolutely a massive, massive crisis.

Your description of ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior as ‘disappointing’ is an appalling understatement. He was not a disappointment; he was not just not as faithful as he should have been. He was a liar, a vow-breaker, a hypocrite, and a rapist, who manipulated men and boys for sexual release and destroyed the faith, hearts, and lives of an untold number of them. As a shepherd, it is your job to say that, in those words. Acknowledging the truth straightforwardly is your duty to them and to God. Euphemism, minimizing, and indirectness are harmful to the flock. Those who are recovering from the trauma of sexual and spiritual abuse need that trauma to be honestly acknowledged by Catholic authorities. Polite dining room language does not make the Church look better, and even if it did that would not make her be better: at best such language scandalously appears to, and at worst it really does, exacerbate the atmosphere of denial that was so largely responsible for these abuses going unpunished in the first place.

But then, where, in this interview, are the victims? You mention ‘clergy being abused by priests’ early on—I take it this is a reference to the fact that many or most of the victims revealed in the scandals of 2002 and later had served as altar boys and were thus, in the older and broader sense of the word, clergy. This is the only direct allusion you make to the boys and girls who were manipulated, coërced, lied to, molested, threatened, gaslit. All by people whom they’d been taught to hold in the highest esteem as the instruments of God. But you and Fr Rosica do find a moment to pity yourselves about how sad this was for you, having a friend engulfed in scandal.

This suggests a myopia that may explain why you see no problem with putting a group of bishops effectively in charge of an investigation into a habit of concealment among bishops. For of course, if you combine a group of bishops with a group of laymen on any ecclesiastical task, the latter will be expected (by everybody concerned) to defer to the former; and we know from the horrible history of your predecessor’s two careers, the public and the private, that bishops show a pattern of covering for their priests and for each other. We know it, too, from the Church’s disgraceful treatment of Frank Keating, the first head of the National Review Board, whose severe words about the American bishops led to his being pressured into resigning—which he did, but without once apologizing for or modifying his remarks for the last fifteen years. A bureaucratic, episcopally overseen approach to this problem is obviously useless.

But even from a purely practical viewpoint—is there any reason the National Review Board could not be made a permanent institution with competence to examine cases about bishops? The original draft of the Dallas Charter applied to ‘clerics,’ but was altered to say ‘priests and deacons’ in order to exclude bishops; why? Your Eminence speaks, rightly enough, of the need for fraternal care for one another among bishops. But that is not enough. Absolution without confession and indulgence without penance are acts of corruption, not mercy, and they rob the victims of evil shepherds of any scrap of justice. 

Additionally, I do not share your confidence that you ‘took a very strong stand’ and ‘it’s working.’ For one thing, the prominent role played by Theodore McCarrick in drafting the policies for dealing with abuse casts quite a shadow over this ‘strong stand.’ What confidence can the laity possibly have in a document designed to deal with predatory priests, which was drafted by a predatory bishop?

Moreover, yes, the cases of abuse that are coming out of the woodwork are decades old; that’s normal. Victims of abuse frequently take a long time to report the abuse, for a wide variety of reasons. Abuse nearly always involves a power dynamic, in which the abuser has some kind of control over the victim, so that reporting it is a very dangerous thing to do. The abuser may also have power over other people the victim cares about, and can thus emotionally blackmail them. Many victims are groomed and manipulated into believing that the experience is consensual, or that it is primarily their own fault, or both, so that talking about it seems like exposing oneself rather than the abuser: they may be so conditioned that they simply don’t recognize what’s happening as abusive. Victims are frequently disbelieved or ignored, especially when the abuser has any kind of public stature, like a successful coach, a popular comedian, a respected politician, or a prestigious Christian minister. A given victim might be subject to any number of these inhibitions; that so many victims do manage to speak up forty or fifty years later is itself a mercy and an act of courage. We will not really be able to know how well the Dallas Charter is working for decades yet.

As a shepherd yourself, this is information about abuse you ought to know already. It is Your Eminence's duty as a spiritual father, and to ignore or neglect it is sin.

But above all: words, words, words. Beloved, let us not love with words or tongue, but with deeds and in truth. It’s fine to talk about charters and propose committees and so forth, fine and easy and worthless. The words that matter most right now are not ‘We’re implementing a mechanism for anyone who wants to bring a formal accusation against a bishop,’ spoken to the public in general. The words that matter most right now, properly addressed first to the victims and then to the Church and the world as a whole, are these. ‘We as a body, and I as a member of it, have committed terrible sins. I am sorry. I hope you can forgive me for the part I have played in this; and that you can forgive all of us for our neglect and betrayal of the trust that you, and God, placed in us. As a Christian and especially as a prelate, I will do whatever I can to make amends to you for the horrible agony you’ve suffered.’ Public penance from the whole college of bishops is called for, and public apology, and whatever reparations can be made (whether the apologies are accepted or not). Literal sackcloth and ashes would not be an excessive beginning.

This is not a time to rehearse how much better we’re doing, if there ever is such a time. It is a time to confess and do penance. For the kingdom of heaven is, as ever, at hand. Innocence, compassion, and the truth will prevail, in this life or the next, and if you do not surrender yourself to them then you will experience them as judgment.
The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the widow and the fatherless, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts. For I am the Lord, I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. —Malachi 3.1-6
I shall pray for you. I ask that you also pray for me.

The peace of the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, be with you.

Gabriel Ian Matthew Blanchard
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