In the not too distant past it was a value to “not air one’s dirty laundry in public.” Families would keep information about family members caught in legal issues, unwanted pregnancies, alcoholism, mental health issues and the like confidential out of fear of the embarrassment to one’s family. That value was also at work in the Church as news of improprieties were dealt with by bishops secretly and quietly so as not to cause scandal among the faithful. However, this very act of protectionism and secrecy was fertile ground for further maladies. We are now in a different age where transparency is now the norm. This is a double edged sword. It is true that mistakes of the past need to be admitted, accepted, and dealt with justly in order to begin healing. Biblically we hear the warning of Jesus Himself, “For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light” Mark 4:22. One negative fall out of this “openness” value is that it gives fuel to the many “inquiring minds (who just) want to know.” These admissions become an impetus for promotion of any number of personal attacks upon the institutional Church and/or the promotion of one’s own agenda. Currently we are in the thick of this dilemma. It is not only an issue for the Diocese of Buffalo, New York State, Pennsylvania, or the District of Columbia but of Rome and the Universal Church itself. The darkness of secrecy meant to protect becomes infected with sinfulness itself. The role of the “overseer” or Bishop is most complicated. Like any manager, the Bishop has a direct responsibility to God to lead the people of God sincerely and faithfully as well as protect and defend the Church. He also has the role of mentor, manager, and motivator of his team; the priests, deacons, and lay professionals who work day in and day out in the ministry field, the Diocese. The currently serving Bishop has to accept responsibility for issues that happened before his time and deal with these matters compassionately, justly, and fairly to all parties involved. This is a most slippery slope. While coming to the aid of those who have been abused and fiercely providing for opportunities of healing and compensation the bishop has the dual responsibility of caring for and not appearing to abandon members of his ministry team. This balance is most difficult and very seldom attainable. Our Church is being rocked by this internal and now external battle.
The question arises, “how did we get to this point?” The following are just some of my thoughts on the subject. If one studies Church history and get to know the sins of our past it is a wonder the Church has survived until this point at all. Our current dilemma has to be seen in its cultural context. In the 60’s and 70’s culturally in the USA we experienced a sexual revolution with a new openness to wild experiences of free and unbridled sexual practices. Within the Church we were embracing the newness of the second Vatican Council and waiting word of a relaxation of clerical celibacy and the openness to a married clergy. In some environments of priestly formation many were reading texts like “The Sexual Celibate” and entertaining discussions as to what it means to be a sensual person yet celibate in such a permissive culture. In other seminary environments intensive prayers, novenas and “repression” practices rather than dealing with sexual urges was touted as somehow being a more “holy” way of dealing with issues. Commonly among seminarians many were being counseled to just “say what people wanted to hear and just get ordained.” For those who were “lifers,” those who entered into priestly formation in high school years, repressive tactics often led to sensual and sexual immaturity that unfortunately found its way to light by dangerous practices with some of the most vulnerable, our youth. I truly believe that is why we are dealing with many of these issues today. When we have clergy who have not dealt with these issues who then become Bishops the issues remain unresolved and even more dangerous. How can one deal with the issues of one’s clergy if he has not thus dealt with his own issues or those of his ecclesial colleagues. In this culture of secrecy both in family and in the church no one ever considered the ill effects such behaviors was having upon youthful victims. Many young just buried their issues or were told by peers to just get over it.
“Where do we go from here” many ask? The issues of apparent betrayal by certain clergy members cause some of our faithful to lose faith in the Catholic Church and other religious affiliations. For others it may cause them to “take some time off” and leave organized religion all together. For us in the clergy each and every news story is yet another arrow of pain for us as we hear news of the administrative suspension of some of our mentors, brothers and personal friends not to mention the extreme pain that such actions caused to innocent victims. The question Jesus asked his disciples in this weekend’s Gospel of John could be asked of each one of us in this crisis of our Church. “Do you also want to leave? Simon Peter answered Him, Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We are a Church of sinners. We are not called upon to follow each other or even our Deacons, Priests and Lay Leaders. We are called upon to follow the Lord. Lord to whom shall we go?
(Personal Views and Reflections Part 1)