Friday, April 16, 2010

The Abuse Crisis: Ten Life Lessons I'm Relearning Now

Times of crisis are always times to relearn lessons we thought we’d already learned.  Well, they work that way for me, at least.  People say that the Mandarin word for “crisis” means both “danger” and “opportunity.”

I have always suspected that the opportunity afforded by crisis is the opportunity to choose another, a more authentic and and functional, path for our lives at the crossroads with which a crisis presents us.  The opportunity that crisis brings us is to choose a path that doesn’t replicate the dysfunctional one we’ve chosen in the past.

Some lessons I’m relearning in the midst of the current abuse crisis:

1. When crisis arrives, people you thought were your friends sometimes turn out to be anything but friends.  Crises demand that we make choices and take sides.  And sometimes the choices others make—people you thought you knew prior to the crisis—reveal unexpected chasms you didn’t know existed, between you and someone else.  In times of crisis, the masks come off and we see each others’ real faces.

2. Members of boys’ clubs almost inevitably band together at moments of crisis and defend the club against all perceived threats—using any weapons at hand, even conspicuously unethical ones.  And even boys’ clubs that posture as holy are capable of using unholy weapons to defend the club.  More on this in a moment.

3. The clerical system in the Catholic church is a boys’ club and has long fostered a boys’-club mentality.  So it’s not surprising to find some clerics, including some who have previously spoken or acted as if they are critical of clericalism, reverting to the old atavistic defensive responses of male-exclusive societies at the moment of crisis—which is all about the harm done to the church by the clerical boys’ club.

4. Precisely because the clerical system is a male-exclusive club, quite a few men who are not themselves clerics but who have everything vested in preserving patriarchal structures will instinctively react to the perceived threat to this patriarchal club by joining in the atavistic defense.

5. On this blog, I refuse to play the game on which the boys’ club insists, if one wants to be taken seriously by the members of that club.  I refuse to accept the challenge of a club to which I don’t belong and don’t want to belong: to parse, joust, defend, beat data to death, when the truth has been staring us right in the face all along.  And when the parsing, jousting, defending, and beating data to death is all about avoiding that painful truth we have to face in this crisis, if we expect the reformation that we sorely need to take place.

6. I don’t write from that objective place that many members of boys’ clubs purport to occupy.  I write from the vantage point of commitments long since made, which energize everything I do and say on this blog.  Unlike the members of the boys’ club, I avow my commitments and own them.  I do not purport to have the superior vantage point of pristine and uncommitted objectivity.  I am down in the fray.  If I have a superior vantage point down in the fray, along with others struggling towards the truth, that vantage point is the vantage point of knowing myself and my penchants, commitments, and biases—something those who believe they are objective and beyond the fray (but who are deeply biased and committed nonetheless) don’t know.

7. The temptation, at times like this, is to try to adopt that pseudo-objective voice demanded by the boys’ club, in order to speak to the members of the club and gain credibility within the club.

8.  Whenever I have succumbed to that temptation in the past, I have lost my voice and gone astray.  It is only when we speak from our real place that our words carry power and meaning and can transform.  And we need transformation above all in this crisis.  We need transformation if the church is to have a viable future.

9. And so I cannot and will not waste valuable time and energy necessary for the much-needed process of transformation the church has to undergo now, by fighting enervating, useless, rear-guard battles about who said what when, about this set of figures vs. that set of figures.  About dicasteries and Latin dictionaries.  About pedophilia and ephebophilia and hebephilia.  Not when the truth is staring all of us in the face, above and beyond those enervating battles.

10. There’s a time and a place for such scholarly discussions.  I am a scholar by training and inclination, and I adore discussions about dicasteries and the shades of meaning of every Latin verb in Bubba’s letter to Hubba.  I understand and am intrinsically committed to the pursuit of truth in the process of collegial dialogue, no matter what the collegium happens to be.

But now is not the time and place for such discussions—not for me, at least.  I have committed my energies to the process of transformation and to facing the unavoidable truth staring us in the face in the church’s current crisis, beyond the parsing and the tallying of figures.

And that truth is, in the words of theologian Hans Küng, that “[t]here is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005).”

And all the parsing and all the spin, all the pushback and all the bullying tactics, will not make that truth go away now—not for the majority of people of goodwill who do not live inside the walls of a boys’ club, clerical or otherwise.  That recognition has to be the starting of our healing process, if we really want the church to be healed.