Note: A reminder for new readers of this blog. I pray the Daily Office every morning and when prompted by the Holy Spirit by a pause or a thought-like bubble, I reflect in writing, here. The reflections, thus, are spontaneous, sometimes requiring much more explanation than a daily reflection allows. Today’s reflection touches on only one small aspect of the current child abuse and cover-up scandal in the Roman Church that erupted on Monday. One aspect. One moment. One thought from the Holy Spirit. Maybe this is one way to begin to understand, ‘how,’ and help all God’s people find a way – the right way – forward.
Amid all the discussions, reports and justified rants, I’ve heard in the last few days since the Pennsylvania Attorney General released the grand jury report alleging decades of child abuse by hundreds of Catholic bishops and priests one question among the thousands loomed in the background – how? – how could this have continued and been covered up 16 years after the Boston Globe’s exposé of the egregious offenses in Massachusetts and a new pope that suggested zero tolerance and accountability?
Just last week before this shocking and appalling news came to light, I heard Christian History professor and theologian Diana Butler-Bass interviewed about her new book, Christianity after Religion: The End of the Church and the Beginning of a new Spiritual Awakening, in which she identifies five significant events at the turn of the century which catapulted the ‘spiritual but not religious’ generation away from the institutional church – likely forever. They each occurred within the first decade of the new century, sending shock waves through institutional Christianity – Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Protestants and Catholics alike – resulting in a loss of not just attendance, but also agency. At the top of the list, following The September 11 terrorist attacks was the Roman Church’s worldwide pedophilia scandal. According to Butler-Bass the fall out was at least as significant as the Reformation and possibly the greatest seismic shift in the Roman Church, ever.
Whether or not it was then, with this most recent news out of Pennsylvania, what would Butler-Bass say of the most recent events, now? Was 2002 simply a tremblor? Should we have seen or known it wasn’t the Big One?
One commentator at the press conference I heard said it would be remiss and blatantly ignorant of the country to assume that Pennsylvania is unique and not the norm – that we must assume that any other state that pursued the Roman church along these lines would uncover a similar sordid history of crimes and cover-ups. He added that the Pennsylvania report revealed nothing had changed in the Roman Church from the top down – charging that “…a cancer had a grip on the seminaries, religious houses, schools, and parishes.” He wasn’t alone advocating for radical chemotherapy killing all the ‘cells’ to restore health to the institution. If the church died in the process, so be it.
I understand the rage. I don’t disagree with the reporter or the Attorney General from Pennsylvania who pressed the public …” to eliminate the statute of limitations law that …keeps most of them (the Priests and Bishops) from ever seeing criminal charges.“ This may be one way to hold the offenders accountable simultaneously offering victims some sense of justice. But, will it change the mess inside the church? Even begin to? Hasn’t so far.
I tuned into the Catholic Radio channel to hear how my brothers and sisters of the Roman Church are talking about this and listened to a discussion between a former Franciscan, now therapist, and a Catholic Lay moderator. To the question of how the abuse and the insidious cover-ups have persisted through decades – the therapist suggested that the leadership within the communities is populated by men with personality disorders, namely Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That caught my attention as I’ve known and worked with a few such untreatable narcissists through the years. Such dysfunctional leadership strips away any hope of honesty and trust, stripping the biblical principle of obedience of its essence, virtue. Such leaders are toxic.
The discussion moved to the question of how celibacy, the prevention of marriage, and the barring of women from ordained ministry, had mis-shaped the body of Christ, – which for most of us outside the Roman church, seems obvious – and whether or not the church should and could maintain these non-biblical requirements for clergy.
I’m not here in today’s blog to reflect upon that huge issue. Rather, my question is how did these men of God, these men who were called to proclaim the gospel, to feed the poor, the comfort the orphan and widow, to bless the little children – how did these men get so distanced and detached from God? Generation after generation?
The verse from today’s psalm (Psalm 142) was where the Spirit paused me,
3 When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path;
The former Franciscan offered that the brotherhood in all its manifestations – Religious Orders, Diocesan priests, Bishops, Schools, Missions, Spiritual Directors, Charities – the community of brothers had let slip over the years the ancient practice of the Liturgy of the Hours. Prayer.
Perseverance in Prayer. The practice was to keep the men of God (and women who were part of a Holy Order) in constant – hourly – contact with the Lord, keeping the Lord near enough to ‘know my path,’ and thus amend thoughts and behaviors to align rightly with the Lord. He explained how easy it had been for monasteries and brotherhoods to just let that requirement go in favor of trusting the clergy had developed an individual prayer life that sustained them in their ministry. Spiritual Directors assumed and presumed and just stopped asking any longer for the priest or brother to describe their prayer life.
The ordained promise to their Bishops and the Church to keep the Liturgy of the Hours. And they don’t. And everyone from the Pope down to the local Spiritual Director allows.
Daily prayer – whether every five hours or not – is the essential practice of the Christian life. The psalm today cannot be uttered, let alone written, had the psalmist not had a healthy, robust prayer life with the Lord, one in which s/he has been before the Lord every single day of her/his life.
1 I cry to the Lord with my voice; *
to the Lord I make loud supplication.
2 I pour out my complaint before him *
and tell him all my trouble.
3 When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path;
in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me.
Daily Prayer is also a promise the ordained in The Episcopal Church make to their Bishop and the Church. Not specifically to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, though praying one from our version, the Daily Office (Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Compline) is my practice.
During the part of the ordination called The Examination, the Bishop asks,
|Bishop||Will you persevere in prayer, both in public and in
private, asking God’s grace, both for yourself and for
others, offering all your labors to God, through the
mediation of Jesus Christ, and in the sanctification
of the Holy Spirit?
Persevere in prayer. How could these men of God not? Their spirit languished but they were not before the Lord to be put on the right path.
For today, this little pause and whisper helps me begin to comprehend how this travesty against God’s church persisted while it was going on and after it was exposed. And the pause is before me – and you the reader, to ask about our own prayer lives. Is every day of your life beginning with God? In prayer? Every single day? God help us all that if not, it be so from this day forward.
Praise God to whom all supplications are prayed every single day of our lives and from whom all blessings flow.
 The events referred to here, “revealed the ugly side of organized religion, challenging even the faithful to wonder if defending religion is worth the effort, and creating an environment that can rightly be called a religious recession. (77):
2001: The September 11 terrorist attacks.
2002: The Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal.
2003: Protestant conflict over homosexuality. The Episcopal Church election of Gene Robinson to Bishop, right theology but wrong way, from top down forcing schism
2004: The religious Right wins the battle, but loses the war. …the real victory of the religious Right has been to alienate an entire generation of young people…conservative evangelical politics may have been the worst marketing campaign for the word “Christian” since the Salem witch trials. (81)
2007: The Great Religious Recession. As the Great Depression of the early twentieth century paralleled a religious depression, so too the Great Recession has twinned with a great religious recession. (82)