Absurdities and Atrocities

PA Grand Jury victims

In August of 2018, a grand-jury in Pennsylvania published a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen in six dioceses in the state. (The other two PA dioceses had been covered by earlier reports.)

The report scandalized the world, as most of us remember.

Mr. Andrew Seidel, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote an essay about the grand-jury report. A clerical sex-abuse-survivor friend of mine recently shared that essay with me. I think we can gain some insight by considering some of Mr. Seidel’s points.

Seidel titled his essay, “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.” He writes:

If you stand by the Catholic Church, if you donate time and money to this organization, you are complicit. There is no way around it. You are complicit in the rape of children and its cover-up. If you think that is too harsh, start thinking about the victims instead.

wwjd braceletsThinking about the victims: that definitely counts as WWJD. Conscientious Catholics agree on that, anyway. So we need to pay attention here.

Seidel goes on to write:

The consistent theme underlying the PA Grand Jury’s analysis is authority. Unquestionable, unassailable authority. Divine authority.

The victims are taught that their tormentors are divine. They are representatives of god on earth. they are not to be questioned and certainly not disobeyed. Under Catholic canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church.

The abuse is so bad because it is a church. The evil is boundless because of the power of religion. Men who claim absolute, unquestionable power over others will abuse the power and the innocents under their sway.

The sheer brazenness of many of the assaults, as detailed in the report, is likewise probably attributable to the religious power structure.

Seidel offers us a helpful psychological insight here. I think we all have experienced the truth of his point, one way or another. Unbounded authority over other human beings produces moral monsters.

Trinity ShieldBut the question is: What precisely is the religious submission required of a Catholic? Has Seidel correctly identified it?

Seidel goes on to write:

The Church’s power structure and theology are also critical to the Church’s ability to cover up the vast abuse. Adherents are already primed to accept absurdities such as wine becoming blood or crackers becoming human flesh if a few choice words are recited, or that three is really one and one is really three.

The popular paraphrase of Voltaire is spot on: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ Atrocities such as succumbing to the idea that harming the public image of the Church is worse than destroying the innocence of a child.

Seidel makes important points here, points that will help us. But he misidentifies the “absurdities” that have caused the complicity that he rightly attacks.

As we know, we students of Book IV of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles: Our faith in the divine tri-unity and in the Real Presence is neither blind nor absurd.

st-thomas-aqRather, we start with Jesus Christ, and we take it from there.

Only a gift from heaven can help a human being believe that Jesus is true God, as well as being true man; no one can prove that He is God. But if you start with the premise that it’s true–that He is true God and true man, God incarnate–then the divine tri-unity and the mystery of the Holy Mass follow, with no inherent contradiction of any known facts.

Seidel writes as an avowed atheist. But there is certainly nothing more reasonable in atheism than there is in our basic human experience of our relationship with our Creator. This human experience of religion leads to our desire to know God, to love Him, and to live in friendship with Him. This requires submitting. To Him.

The always-greater mystery of the loving heavenly Father revealed by Jesus Christ: We submit to Him. In doing so, we find our true selves; we find true love; we find a path to lasting happiness.

Our complicity with sex abuse–for which Seidel rightly chastises us Catholics–it actually involves a failure of religion, rather than our Christian religion itself.

Every human society has to have an authority structure of some kind. The Church has a fundamental structure that Jesus Himself established.

But no true source of our religion teaches us that any given deacon, priest, bishop, or even pope will get everything right. No true teaching tells us that an ordained man simply cannot commit crimes for which he deserves jail time, or that successors of the Apostles cannot conspire in a criminal enterprise.

The “absurdity” is to think that the divinely-instituted structure of the Church means that the clerical hierarchy deserves to have unchecked authority over our human community. That does not, in fact, follow.

In Germany, some church officials responded to the clerical sex-abuse crisis by agreeing to examine this point. Unfortunately, that enterprise (the so-called ‘synodal path’) has largely been hijacked by agendas that have nothing to do with responding to victim-survivors of sexual abuse.

As one prominent priest-participant in the ‘synodal path’ put it:

Structures that encourage sexual abuse of children and young people must be eliminated, otherwise the church cannot have a future. However, one must question whether the themes on which the participants’ exchange is fixed [eg. women’s ordination or questions of sexual morality] are really causally and genuinely related to abuse.

One can get the impression that the abuse scandal is being instrumentalized by many actors in order to take up the well-known inner-church controversial topics anew.

Leave it to complicit Catholics to eclipse the victim survivors with self-serving nonsense yet again! It happens over and over–this endless, pointless feud among ‘professional Catholics’–with the mitered mafia gleefully looking on, secure in their abuses of power.

memento-mori

Let’s try to start from here. Every Christian participates in the communal life of the Church from this point-of-view: I owe God a death. Let me go to that death with a clear conscience, with the help of Christ’s grace.

We do not belong to the Catholic Church because She has brave and big-hearted officials at this point in history. She pretty clearly does not. Our human community has been run like a criminal enterprise for at least a couple generations, if not much longer. There is no need to deny that rather-evident fact.

Rather, we belong to our Church because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ.

And–because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ–we stand with the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in our Church. We thank them. They have suffered with Christ, and they have proclaimed the Gospel to us by living to tell the tale.

The Pope, Oberon, Titania, etc.

…A limerick that may or not have been written by Cardinal McIntyre in St. Peter’s, during one of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council:

We are two thousand Patres in Session
Who feel a great weight of oppression
What with Cardinals talking
And lesser lights squawking,
Thank goodness, the bar’s so refreshing.

…The idea that ill deeds can wreak havoc with ‘the environment’ has been around awhile:

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck’d up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch’d his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain’d a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion* flock; [killed by disease]
The nine men’s morris* is fill’d up with mud, [a board game]
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’* thin and icy crown [winter]
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II, Scene 1)

Last week our Holy Father spoke to the German parliament.

He gave the “green movement” credit for re-discovering the natural law:

Positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, being no longer willing to obtain light and air from God’s wide world…The windows must be flung open again; we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this…The ecological movement realized that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of it own and that we must follow its directives.

The Pope went on to add:

The importance of ecology is no longer disputed…Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will…Man does not create himself.

At this point in the Pope’s speech, the Parliament burst into applause.

…Pass the Rebel Yell, please.

This evening, I intend to suspend my ferocious contempt of ACC football and root like mad for the HOKIES!!!

The Pope and Martin Luther

“How do I receive the grace of God?”

Last week our Holy Father Pope Benedict visited the monastery where Martin Luther studied for the priesthood and was ordained.

The Pope spoke with admiration about the depth of Luther’s desire for God:

‘How do I receive the grace of God?’ The fact that this question was the driving force behind Luther’s whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me.

The Holy Father went on to outline how different we are now. The contemporary attitude effectively declares: ‘God doesn’t care about my foibles. If He actually does judge me, He magnanimously overlooks all my small failings.’

But, the Pope asked, are our failings really so small? “Is not the world laid waste by the corruption of great and small alike? No, evil is no small matter.”

The Pope went on to say:

We need God; we were created to have a relationship with Him. The more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in the hubris of his power, in his emptiness of heart and his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life.

Luther asked himself, “Where do I stand before God?” We must ask ourselves the same question. And when we do, Scripture provides us with the perfect prayer to make:

Justice is with the Lord, our God, and we are filled with shame…
We have been only too ready to disregard the Lord’s voice…
and each of us went after the desires of his own wicked heart.

Luther found himself paralyzed by his own inadequacy before the glory of God. But we need not so find ourselves. We believe in the forgiveness of sins ministered by the Church. God has plans for us involving happiness and not woe. A perfectly fresh start is never more than a good Confession away.

Herod and the Germans

Who is this, about whom I hear that his apostles heal the sick and announce the kingdom of God?

So wondered Herod the tetrarch, when the Church militant began to march. Herod became the first secular ruler under whose jurisdiction Christ’s apostles operated. Countless more such rulers have followed.

Herod feared the moral truth. He ruled Galilee and Perea with some skill. But he knew that he had been a faithless husband to his first wife. He had schemed maliciously against his brothers.

In other words, he was a bad Jew, a ‘lapsed’ Jew. He was depraved. But he was not so far gone that he did not know he was depraved. He hated the truth which accused him of his faults, but at the same time he longed to see the holy man.

Today our Holy Father arrived for a visit to his native Germany. In his first speech, he said, “I am here to speak of God.” Crowds of his countrymen welcomed the Pope. A few others protested his public presence.

Like St. Peter before him, Pope Benedict proposes the Gospel. Therefore, he both repels and attracts. Living in the truth poses challenges and difficulties. Often we sinners fail to measure up to reasonable rules of conduct.

It can be very tempting to blame the messenger. But when someone invites me to the truth, I have a difficult time getting that message out of my head.