Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sickening Feeling

Over the last two weeks, I have watched with an increasing feeling of dread and disgust the unfolding of the most recent crisis related to sexual abuse of minors in Philadelphia. For excellent coverage and some of the emotional toll it has taken on its author, I encourage you to read Rocco Palmo's brilliant blog Whispers in the Loggia

Just today, an old friend of mine wrote to tell me that he was unable to consider himself Catholic. His anguish over what has been unfolding over these years has crept so far into his soul that he cannot see himself offering his heart any longer to the Roman Catholic Church. I understand his pain and I can appreciate his decision, even if I do not agree with it. He will be in my prayers, though, and I trust God will lead him where he needs to go. I trust God to lead our leaders, too, although I sometimes wonder if they don't put up more of a fight than many of the flock.

I take consolation in the words of the late Herbert McCabe. While a bit long, I encourage you to read this in its entirety. I lift this quote from dotCommonweal where, if you'd like read commentary on this piece, I send you gladly:

[W]e must look more closely at this phrase, ‘insitutional Church.’

Consider a few institutions: Spode House, the Newman Theology Groups, the Union of Catholic Students, the Young Christian Workers, University Chaplaincies, the Catholic press including even New Blackfriars. None of these are exclusively for Catholics but no sociologist would hesitate to describe them as Roman Catholic institutions. It is within institutions such as these that a great many Catholics nourish their Christian lives. It is not merely because the dynamic of their lives is not derived from sermons or ‘religious education’ that it therefore comes from outside the institutions of the Church. To think so would be to betray a clericalist view of what counts as a Catholic institution. If there is a group which is characteristically on the fringe of the institutions of the Church in this sense, and which largely ignores them, it is the Bishops. Nonetheless without the overall and relatively impersonal structure of the hierarchy these Roman Catholic institutions could not exist. Nobody in England expects to be guided and encouraged in his Christian life by pastoral letters — it is a matter for gratified astonishment when these have any theological content at all; this is not what we have come to expect of our Bishops. Perhaps in some more adequate Church we could ask for more, but at the present time in England they provide merely an administrative context within which the really vital and immediately relevant institutions can exist. That the established hierarchy is also a hindrance to these gorups is only too obvious and only to be expected. A dialectical tension between the framework of the Church and its points of growth seems to be a condition of Christian existence.

It is one thing, however, to talk of a dialectical tension implied in the very idea of an historical Church, and quite another to excuse the corruptions and follies that are peculiar to our own time and place. What does not need to be endured indefinitely is the special irrelevance of so much of the behaviour of Church officials. Alongside the actual agony of growth in the Church there seem to be these men playing a private game amongst themselves in which the moves are directives and prohibitions and the players score points for formally going through the motions of docility or of repeating the orders correctly. It seems to me that we should treat this game as we do the phantasies of adolescence of any of the other ways in which men escape from reality; we should combine a firm determination to get rid of it eventually with a certain tolerance of it while it is being played. While Church authorities are occupied with these domination games they are neglecting their true role. It would be quite unrealistic to expect them to be sources of enthusiasm and original thought but it is their basic task to be the link between such sources, the framework within which they are kept in balance. To maintain this balance they must, of course, speak with authority, the real authority that comes with understanding and concern and listening to others; the authority that sees itself not in terms of power but as a service to the community, the channel of communication by which each part of the community is kept in touch with the whole, a whole that extends through time as well as space.
So why stay at all? McCabe concludes:
It is because we believe that the hierarchical institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, with all their decadence, their corruption, and their silliness, do in fact link us to areas of Christian truth beyond our own particular experience and ultimately to truths beyond any experience, that we remain, and see our Christian lives in terms of remaining, members of this Church.

 For three years as an undergrad, I knelt at Mass with my friend. We shared laughs and coffee and baklava at the end of many Sunday night liturgies and, I can assure you, there will always be space next to me if he decides to return. In the meantime, these words give me a sense of hope and remind me that the problems of 2011 are not so different from things faced in 1967 or 1517 or 431 for that matter.

1 comment:

Rebecca Randall said...

You know, I really appreciate this post, especially as I, like your friend, no longer feel entirely at home as a Catholic. In fact, I've been worshipping at an Episcopal Church (was married there and actually chose to have my son baptized there) for several years now. There are friends of mine who, far too simplistically and somewhat misguidedly, think I made this decision because my husband is Episcopalian. A piece of the truth is that meeting him helped to bring into focus the many, many problems I had with "official" Roman Catholic teaching (and practice). I still consider myself a Catholic, but I feel much, much more at home at St. Bart's, an Episcopal Church in which I am now an active member but still have not been officially received. Anyway, someday I'd love to share more about the reasons for my decision--what matters here is that you are very open with your friend and respectful of his decision (recognizing, too, that it may not, ultimately, be a final decision). You have faith in your friend--that he is choosing as best and as authentically as he can. I hate to say it, but when I began to worship at St. Bart's, some of my Catholic friends were aghast and conveyed the sense that I was, in some way, a traitor (or, in some cases, thoughtless...carried away by wherever the wind blew, instead of thoughtful and reasoned and purposeful). Making the decision to join a Christian community other than that in which I was raised in form was, for me, one of the best and most painful decisions I've ever made. I am certain that you can see into the pain of your friend's decision, too....