From the poet W. B. Yeats:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
the falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned.
Grant Gallicho, a reporter for Commonweal, reported July 1st that Archbishop John Nienstedt is "being investigated for 'multiple allegations' of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men." It should be noted immediately that this accusation does not involve minors. Nevertheless, the fact that Archbishop Nienstedt has been a vocal opponent of gay-marriage and, in 2012, reportedly committed $650,000 to support an amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. This effort, as Gallicho notes in his piece, failed to pass.
Not surprisingly, the accusation against Nienstedt has elicited the expected tongue-clucks: he is now labeled a "hypocrite" and his criticism of gay-marriage and Brokeback Mountain are affirm that "the Archbishop doth protest too much." There is, sadly, among many blogs and Tweets a sense of glee that the Archbishop seems to be caught in an ever-widening gyre, or spiral. In the midst of this accusation and its publicity, things are indeed falling apart for him.
That there is an element of schadenfreude, or glee at the misfortune of another, is to be expected: the Archbishop's public stances on controversial issues certainly attracted a great deal of attention. And, for those who disagreed with his position, there is a sense of delight at his being exposed as a fraud and hypocrite.
Yet rather than relishing what may be a man's calamitous fall, I should hope his critics - especially fellow Catholics - find it within them to show mercy, not judgment. If the accusations against him are true, he deserves mercy for never feeling at home enough with himself, never accepting himself, and for feeling the need to lash out against others. If the accusations are false, as he insists, then we should sorrow that a man has been wrongly libeled and his reputation has been tarnished forever. Regardless of the reality, the truth remains: the stain of this accusation will remain with him for the rest of his life.
Social media gives each of us a ringside seat to watch these proceedings unfold. We will either succumb to baser instinct and delight in a man's very public flogging or we will find it within ourselves to look beyond our disagreements and see a fellow sinner, a brother by baptism, and offer him mercy and compassion. This will, without question, be far harder than deriving joy at his misfortune...especially if this accusation succeeds in exposing hypocrisy. Still, in trying to find the strength to have hearts open to a brother with whom we disagree profoundly, we have an opportunity to grow in grace.
For my fellow Catholics, this episode may be a corporate opportunity in spiritual exercises. Will we follow sensationalized media where the tagline "If it bleeds, it leads" controls what we see and hear or will we act as your followers, as those who desire to see others as you see us, with love, forgiveness, and mercy? Will we practice the stance of hospitality and welcome, of love and mercy, or will we cross our hands over our chest and reject our brother? This time of spiritual exercise may be yet another, albeit difficult, opportunity for us to cease warring over who controls the Gospel and to begin living out, in our very selves and actions, the Good News.