Francis has a lot of buffers.

The Catholic sex abuse scandal has two parts. The first part is the abuse itself. The second part is the institutional efforts to cover it up.

And now we are in the process of slowly, painfully uncovering these decades and centuries of crime.

This process is not part of the scandal.

The uncovering is dreadful. It is agonizing. It is, to use one of Francis’ favored words, messy. It’s always horrifying to witness the uncovering of hidden sin. But the uncovering is not part of the scandal. It is the remedy for the scandal, if there can be a remedy.

And yet Pope Francis, in his homily addressed to bishops today, said:

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

This was not plucked out of context by some uncharitable, click-farming rag. It was chosen for publication by the Vatican news service itself. It is the Pope’s message.

In the past week, it seemed that Francis was making an effort to preach in ways that could possibly be construed as general pious reflections on scripture. But in today’s homily, he’s clearly referring directly to the scandal — or, more accurately, to the investigation of the scandal. He does not speak of the need to be more transparent. He does not speak of the need to repent, nor for the need to reform the Church. He does not speak of the horror of sin. He does not speak of the victims. Instead, he casts the bishops themselves as the victims — and some of the nine who advise him are themselves accused of covering up abuse.

Has Pope Francis spoken out about the abuse? Sure. He was more than willing to agree that terrible things had been done, and that some people ought to be very sorry indeed — until those accusations were turned on him. Then we heard that silence was holy, and that those who uncover sin are Satan.

I’ll say it again: Francis sounds like an abuser.

I am praying for bishops, and I am praying for the Pope, as he asked us to do. I am praying especially for those bishops who have been struggling mightily to show their flock they, at least, understand the profound horror we’re uncovering day by day, and that they want it to be uncovered. There are some good bishops. Some have been doing public penance. Some have called for independent reviews of their dioceses’ past, opening up records to the public and to the law. Some have demanded that the magisterium stop acting like this is business as usual and treat this scandal like the emergency it is.

And some have accused him of being part of the cover-up.

Are Viganò’s claims credible? I have no idea. I hope to God he’s wrong. And if Viganò himself is guilty, then he, too, should be investigated and prosecuted. But I keep thinking back to the courtroom scene in The Godfather II, where Willie Chichi tells the investigative committee, “Yeah, the family had a lotta buffers.”  If Viganò was part of the crime family that fed so many children and seminarians into the furnace, then that means he’s the one who knows what went on and how it was hidden. That’s how you get these guys: You get them to turn each other in.

So don’t trust accusers blindly, but listen to them. Look at what they claim, and find out for yourself whether it’s true or not. Open yourself to investigation. Turn over files. Uncover sin. Let the light in. Maybe stop calling investigators “Satan,” I don’t know.

Instead, the family closes ranks, and we hear absurdly tone-deaf assurances that Francis’ nine Cardinal advisors are in “full solidarity” with the Pope. I bloody well bet they are. The man has a lot of buffers.

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Image by Long Thiên via Flicker (Public Domain)

The Bishops’ silence is a scandal in itself

I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true: I let myself believe we were past the worst of the sex abuse and cover-up scandal. But it turns out that whole thing in 2002 where we rent our garments and said “never again, never again”? There was a whole layer of garments underneath. There was a whole layer we were holding back, just in case we needed to do some more rending.

So I can’t bring myself to say “never again” this time, because I know there will be more. I know it. I say this not with despair, but just out of painful honesty. We’re not just dealing with the past, and we’re not even just dealing with ongoing problems. We’re looking to the future, and right now, the future does not look like it’s fixing to be any different.

I’ve talked to some laymen who have written to their pastors or to their bishops in the last few days, and these men are surprised to hear that the laity is so upset. Surprised! They are still so insulated, so separated from a normal human response to suffering, so utterly surrounded by like-minded peers dedicated to the cause of not rocking the boat, that they apparently think, “Well, the USCCB has put out a statement. Phew, now we can move on.”

This open letter from prominent young laymen calls for “an independent investigation of who knew what and when, a new intolerance of clerical abuse and sexual sin, and public acts of penance by Catholic bishops.”

It’s intolerable that none of this has happened yet. Intolerable.

As Dawn Eden points out,

the bishops have said they are sorry, but they have not said, as a body, that they were wrong. Without such acknowledgement, our penitential tradition insists, true contrition is not possible.

And without such acknowledgement, we have zero reason to believe that they’re committed to any kind of real change. We’re faithful, not stupid.

It’s not just “our penitential tradition” that insists on acknowledging sin. A reporter once told me that, in states that run successful sex offender and domestic abuser rehabilitation programs, part of the mandatory process is that those convicted must say out loud what they did, every single day. Without this practice, there is no progress.

You can’t change if you don’t want to change, and you won’t want to change until you face the full horror of what you did. Not what someone else made you do, not what people misunderstood you to have done, not what you were unjustly accused of doing, but what you did. You, the guilty one. You, the one who must change.

Some sins are hard to admit. Some sins are horrible to own up to. Some sins will get you locked up or sued if you acknowledge them in public. I get it: This is hard.

But God have mercy, these are our bishops. These are men who hold shepherd’s staffs. What do they think those are for? What do they think their job is, if not to lead by example? Right now, they’re straggling behind the sheep, and that’s a scandal in itself.

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Image altered; from Nationalmuseet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Our personal apocalypse is the only one worth tracking

The only sins that matter for our personal salvation is the sins we personally commit. The only penitence we are responsible for is our own personal penitence. The only apocalypse that we should have our eye on is our own, personal apocalypse.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image: Last Angel by Nicholas Roerich,  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

THE KING OF THE SHATTERED GLASS is a great exploration of confession for kids

Like a dummy, I misplaced our copy of The King of the Shattered Glass (Marian Press, 2017; affiliate link), but I want to tell you about it now anyway. It would be a great book to read during Lent, and would make a nice Easter present, too.

It’s a picture book appropriate for ages six and up, written by Susan Joy Bellavance and illustrated by Sarah Tang. Basic story: An orphan girl named Marguerite works in the scullery of a medieval king’s castle, when glass is an astonishing novelty. It’s so valuable that the king insists that anyone who breaks his glass must gather up the pieces and bring them to him personally.

Marguerite, an orphan, is a pretty good kid, but on three occasions, she breaks the precious glass — as the blurb says, “through temper, the pride of a dare, and selfishness.” Each time, she has to gather her courage and own up to what she did. It’s not easy, because she’s ashamed, and because she’s afraid of punishment; and eventually, once she comes to actually know the king, and just feels bad that she broke his stuff.

Catholics, you can see where this is headed! The book is a thoughtful allegory for confession; but it works well as a satisfying little story, too.

Marguerite has some penance and growth to do, and eventually the king reveals that he is using all the glass she has shattered to make a gorgeous stained glass window showing himself putting a crown on Marguerite’s head. He then adopts her as his own daughter, and there is rejoicing.

The king, to my great relief, is truly appealing, gentle but strong, and the illustrations successfully suggest divinity (especially Christ as the source of Divine Mercy) without being too heavy-handed. Some of the pictures are more skillful than others, but all are lively and bright, some in black and white, some with deep, saturated colors.

You can download a free pdf of a teacher’s guide, which takes you through the book’s themes:

1. Relationship with God as Father, King and Friend
2. Conscience, a gift to be developed
3. Penance, which brings healing to ourselves and others
4. Jesus, who carries our burdens
5. Adoption and family life; Baptism and Reconciliation.

The King of the Shattered Glass is not the most polished book you will ever encounter in your life, but it works very well, and it’s full of heart and theologically tight as a drum.  Kids will find it memorable and appealing. Recommended!

Bellavance and Tang are collaborating on a second book, to be titled Will You Come to Mass?

 

When we’re mad at God because we’ve sinned

The other night, I was having a mild panic attack in the middle of the night, and I dealt with it this way: I breathed in while thinking, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” and then breathed out while thinking, “But I place my trust in Jesus.” I accepted my ignorance and my uncertainty, and I reclaimed my knowledge of the one true thing that will always be true, which is Jesus Himself.

It got me through that one bad night. But there has not been a single second in my life when that was not an appropriate prayer.

Read the rest of my latest from The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Max Pixel (Public Domain)

Give up your pride. Only God saves.

The central problem the fellow was grappling with wasn’t lust, it was pride. There’s no such thing as protecting your wife by sinning. The only way out of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” conundrum is to take yourself out of the center altogether, to admit defeat, to seek personal repentance, and to let God work out how to bring salvation out of that humility. The fellow couldn’t make any progress with his sexual compulsions because he was trying very hard to make sure he was still in charge — not only of his own behavior and his own soul, but his wife’s soul, as well.

Read the rest of my latest from The Catholic Weekly.
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Image: Daniel R. Blume via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Stealing is stealing, even when it’s digital

It’s time for a little review: Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong. Even when the thing you stole is digital.

I’ve had online material copied and distributed without permission and plagiarized many times. You know: stolen. Many of my creative friends have had their work stolen, too. That doesn’t surprise me. The amazing part is how hard it is to convince people it’s wrong.

The argument seems to be: What difference could it possibly make? It’s just . . . particles of ether, or something. It’s not like stealing something real!

But whether the stolen item is physical or digital, it always makes a difference in the soul of the person doing the stealing. Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong. And more often than you may realize, it makes a difference to the creator, and to the rest of the world, too.

I’ll beat you to the punch: here’s a hilarious spoof commercial covering this very topic:

Note that “But they made a joke about it on British TV!” is not an actual moral defense.

Here are a few of the arguments defending stealing that I’ve heard from people who ought to know better:

No, I didn’t pay you when I used your stuff, but I have a huge platform! You should be grateful for the exposure.

No, people die of exposure. People are grateful for being paid for their work. (They shouldn’t be grateful; they should just accept it as just. But most creative people will tell you, it makes us all misty-eyed when someone willingly pays us what our work is actually worth.)

No one expects construction workers or IT guys or landlords to turn over their goods or services in exchange for exposure, so there’s no reason writers, photographers, graphic designers, or musicians should do it. Or maybe they will! It’s possible. But it’s their choice to decide whether it’s a good trade. Not yours. Just like the goods and services are theirs, not yours.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

But I used your work to spread the word of God! Why would you even think of charging for such a thing? Isn’t that simony or something?

No, it’s the laborer being worthy of his wages. Because even Catholics doing work for Catholics have to eat. They can choose to volunteer, but they are not required to volunteer, and it may not be possible for them to volunteer (See above: Catholics have to eat).

Imagine a world where everything Catholic is done by volunteers. Good stuff, right? You want the official catechism to be written up by the nice lady who sets out the donuts at the 10:15 Mass, yes? And you’d like for your pastor’s vestments to be sewn by the third grade catechism class as their service project. Eh? These things are important, and you’d rather have them done by skilled professionals? Then you’ll want to find someone who’s devoted years and years to honing their craft. And to occasionally eating.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

But it’s not an actual, physical thing. It’s not like there’s less of it in the world, once I’ve downloaded my copy.

Every time you take something that’s not yours to take, and you don’t pay for it, two things happen:

One is that you sin. I know I keep saying it, but it’s true, and important.

Second is that you make things that much harder for people who have very small businesses or who are just starting out. When we allow ourselves and our children to feel entitled to free stuff, it puts newbies straight out of business. We should be grateful if something is free, but never angry our outraged when something actually costs money. With that attitude, there really will be less of everything in the world, because the little guys won’t be able to afford to produce anything.

I had no idea it was illegal or immoral. It’s just so easy to grab things that are online.

Plausible. But now you do know, so cut it out.

It can be complicated. The laws in place are not always obvious or even consistent. When in doubt, ask. Ask the person whose work it is, ask someone who has experience using intellectual property, ask a lawyer friend. But don’t just assume that anything you can download is free.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

 

But I took the watermark off before I used it, so. 

Are you freaking kidding me? How’s this: “But I cut the security tag off, so this leather jacket is now mine.”

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

But I’d never be able to afford the price she’s charging.

That is so sad! But you could say the same about a Mediterranean vacation, an ivy league education, or a lovely lobster dinner. If a thing costs money, and you don’t have the money, then you probably can’t have the thing. You can ask the seller if he’d like to donate it, or you can ask other people to give you money to buy it, or you can find some way of raising the money to buy it. But you can’t just take the thing.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

I’d never steal from small business owners or artisans. But this is a huge business, and they’ll never even feel it.

When you steal from a giant corporation, it’s almost certainly true that the CEO won’t feel it. Instead, his employees earning minimum wage will feel it. And your fellow consumers will feel it. So that’s who you’re sticking it to. Classy!

Here’s the thing, especially in entertainment: If I download a pirated movie instead of renting or buying, it won’t make a difference to the CEO of Warner Bros. He doesn’t need a crumb of my $11.99, and neither does the billionaire movie star. But the gal who wrote the script, and the guy who did the walk-on part, and a bunch of other people whose names zip by in the credits? They probably don’t have 9-5 jobs, and they really do need every crumb. They may very well be getting through dry spells by living off royalties and residuals from past work. But if everyone is watching a pirated version of the movie they helped make, they can’t live.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

Anyway, this company supports gay marriage, while I’m here raising a Godly family [or: Anyway, this company opposes gay marriage, while I’m here raising a tolerant family.] This is my little way of sticking it to the man.

Even if it did hurt the bigwigs to steal from their corporation, we’re still not permitted to return evil for evil, and we’re not permitted to do evil so that good may come of it. A CEO who allows his corporation to do evil is responsible for the evil he has done. An individual consumer who does evil is responsible for the evil he has done. You’re not scoring points for your side by stealing from someone you consider evil. You’re just putting more evil into the world.

Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

It’s not really stealing to violate the terms and conditions I agreed to, because it’s just legal mumbo jumbo, and who reads that stuff? If they really wanted to restrict how I use this, they should have locked it down better.

So you really want to live in a world where your word means nothing, and only brute force is binding? Remember this next time you sign a contract to buy a car, and you make your payments on time, but the dealership owns a very big tow truck, so they go ahead and get their car back. Because if you really wanted to keep it, you should have locked it down better.

The fourth commandment requires us to abide by just laws, even if those just laws are written in teeny tiny script that you didn’t feel like reading before you agreed.

To sum up:
Stealing is stealing, and stealing is wrong.

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Image: A fellow who just wasn’t grateful for all the exposure he got. Photo By Joadl (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I forget I’m a Christian.

We went to confession on Saturday. I popped in with my five-year-old, thinking partly about the gallons of ice cream melting in the car, partly about the colors they chose to repaint the narthex, and partly about how soon I’d need to get home in order to get lasagna baked before it was too late in the evening, Oh, and I thought about my sins.

I Willard Mitt* that I silently groaned when I saw which priest was suiting up for the confessional. There’s nothing wrong with him; I just don’t like him, and sometimes I feel like he misunderstands what I confess (although believe me, it’s not complicated or interesting). I brusquely reminded myself that, whichever man heard my confession, it was Jesus’ presence that counted. Hoop de doo, off we go.

So I bleated out my lame, cruddy little list, which was more or less the same as the lame, cruddy list I bleated out the last eleven times I went (including two weeks ago. The exact. Same. List). When the priest spoke, he said something I’ve strangely never heard before. He told me to pray to the Father to help me realize when I’m about to sin, so I can pray for help to resist.

I don’t know if it was just his advice of the day, or if he meant it specifically for me, but Christ definitely meant it specifically for me.

The other day, shaking my head in disgust and amazement, I told my husband, “Sometimes I forget I’m a christian!” And it’s true. It’s not that I do a bad job; I just plain forget. I say my prayers in the morning, and then the first challenge that comes up, I buckle like a damp saltine. It doesn’t even occur to me to put up a fight; and it’s only later, as I go to bed, that I realize how badly I lost the battle. I lost because I didn’t even realize there was a battle.

What a very excellent reminder (and, to my thinking, yet another form of Catholic mindfulness) that priest gave me: Ask God to help you notice the choice. Do I choose to be a christian right now, in this very second, or do I choose not to be? Because there is a choice, whether I acknowledge one or not. Hell doesn’t care if you run in with eyes open or slide in half asleep, as long as you pass over that threshold.

Scrupulous people don’t need this advice; but most of us are not scrupulous. Most of us need a reminder to open our eyes.

*this is a joke with no point at all.

Is Vatican II to blame for the sex abuse scandal?

The Catholic Herald UK reports

Mgr Peter Smith, former chancellor of Glasgow archdiocese, said the Church accepted conventional wisdom of the 1970s that it was “better to repair the [abuser], to fix them or to redeem them”, than punish them. In that era priests accused of abuse could be sent for therapy rather than face criminal charges.

The paper is reporting Mgr Smith’s words with the strong insinuation that Vatican II is to blame for the scandal. I’m not sure if that’s what he really meant, or if his comments might be taken out of context. But I have most certainly heard other Catholics say outright that we can pin the sex abuse scandal on the laxness, the sloppiness, and the psychological sentimentality of the 70’s and Vatican II’s implementation. Vatican II, at least the way it played out in many places, was all about letting go of mean old rules and regulations, and doing what felt good, they argue. Of course we had abusers.

But they are forgetting one thing: Almost 70% of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970. They weren’t formed in feel-good Vatican II seminaries. These were old school guys. They are the ones who were molesting kids, and their world was the world that allowed it to happen.

The sex abuse scandal has three components:

1. Priests abusing kids;
2. The Church knowing about it, and letting it continue; and
3. Various people either not believing kids or parents who reported abuse, or being too in awe of priests to do anything about it, or blaming the kids for the abuse.

This third one has absolutely zero to do with any touchy-feely spirit of Vatican II, and everything to do with what Vatican II set out to change in the Church, because it needed changing.

Priests did not suddenly begin to abuse kids in the early 70’s (although the reports of alleged abuse peaked then; which is not to say that there was necessarily more abuse, but only that more people reported it). Many of the victims who came forward to report childhood abuse, after the Boston Globe‘s work started to gather steam, were children in the 1950’s. At that time, it was unthinkable to criticize a priest, unthinkable to believe that Father could do wrong, unthinkable to go over a priest’s head. There simply wasn’t any precedent for doing such a thing, other than, like, Martin Luther.

Sex abuse by clergy wasn’t a problem of loosey-goosey, post-sexual-revolutionary perverts infiltrating an institution that had heretofore been utterly chaste and holy. This was a problem of a horrible marriage between two deadly trends in the Church and in the country as a whole: the nascent sexual perversions that pervaded 1950’s American culture, and the institutional perverted understanding of authority and respect.

Where do you suppose the sexual revolution came from? Out of nowhere? It never could have happened if things weren’t already rotten underground; and it was just as true in the Church as it was everywhere else in the country. It’s a lie that things were wholesome and pure in the 50’s. But that grotesque artifice of happy, shiny exteriors worked exceedingly well together with the “Father knows best,” mentality. If Doris Day had to smile and have perfect hair no matter what, good Catholic families had to be respectful and obedient to their pastor no matter what. There was no room for going off script, even when lives were at stake.

Children who were molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who knew their kids were being molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who reported abuse were not believed, because it was Father.
Kids were rightly afraid that no one would believe them. Parents were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Parishes were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Bishops were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. And so this horrible carapace of silence was formed to cover up and cover up and cover up, shift the blame, shift the responsibility, and never look at the person at the heart of the problem.

And yes, the errors of the 70’s perpetuated the problem. It is very true that in the 70’s, the 80’s, and beyond, the Church and the rest of the country believed that one could simply see a therapist, attend a few classes, and not be a real danger to kids anymore. That was horrible. But it was no worse than the attitude it replaced, which was that Such Things Never Happened, and if they did, we Simply Don’t Talk About Them.

Of course, dreadful to say, the abuse scandal almost certainly goes back further than the 1950’s — centuries further — but those victims aren’t alive to give their testimony. But at very least, we can put to rest the idea that this hideous stain on our history came about by means of the Vatican II-style “Church of Nice.”

It’s always tempting, when we see gross behavior, to blame it on those who speak of mercy, of forgiveness, of healing. It’s tempting to think, “If we just clamped down and got tough, like we did back in the old days when everyone wore hats, then we’d have none of this nonsense!”

But the real lesson here isn’t that mercy is an error. The real lesson is that mercy and forgiveness can be abused just like innocence can be abused, and that evil is endlessly adaptable. It will grab hold of whatever weakness, foolishness, and wickedness is popular in any age, and it will put it in the service of sin.

Hell is overjoyed when we learn all the wrong lessons from suffering. Violation of innocents was horrible enough. Let’s not compound the outrage by trying to root true mercy, true forgiveness, and true compassion out of the heart of our Church.

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Photo by Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, faithful Catholics, why are YOU here?

This plea goes for sinners whose souls are heavy with old-fashioned sins of the flesh, and also for sinners whose souls are heavy with the even older sins of pride and presumption.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly here.