Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Flinging Wide the Pub Doors: Opening the Catholic Conversation in the Midst of Crisis

Though I realize that continued talk about the abuse crisis in the Catholic church is, for many of us, painful, I also think that we have no choice except to go on talking.  For all kinds of reasons . . . .

The church finds itself at its present point of crisis precisely because the “pub” (to borrow Fr. Joseph O’Leary’s image from Grant Gallicho’s recent Commonweal thread about Bertone and Benedict) in which ecclesial issues have been discussed has long had a sign outside forbidding entrance to everyone except clerics.

We wouldn’t be where we are now if the catholic pub had been what it professes to be: catholic, open to all voices, and not limited merely to the voices of the clergy.  Though Joseph O’Leary disdains the “pubtalk” that occurs on blogs, particularly those now discussing church issues—a disdain that he undercuts just a tad by venting it on a blog in whose pub he continues to talk away—in my view, the conversation occurring on blogs about matters Catholic these days is healthy. 

If painful, in the same way that a wound being lanced throbs painfully . . . .

The suppression of open discussion of the abuse crisis and the hue and cry to leave the discussion to the (male) experts who purportedly know more about these issues than the rest of us do plays into the hands of those who have brought the crisis to us: those who want to hide, dissimulate, and resist the insights of Catholics whose inclusion in the conversation is absolutely essential, if the church is to find its way beyond the current crisis.

The pub has to be open now.  And women, in particular, have to have a place in the pub and its chatter, if the crisis is to be addressed effectively (and if the Catholic church is ever going to reclaim its right to call itself catholic).  As one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers notes yesterday, grim as the situation now appears to be, it’s also ironically an unprecedented occasion for voices such as hers to be heard in her church.  She sees the Spirit at work in this process of flinging the pub doors open.

As I’ve also noted repeatedly on this blog, one of the glaring holes in our conversation about the abuse situation—the least defensible of all on moral grounds and if we truly want to heal the church—is that the voices of survivors of abuse themselves are not being heard.  Not anywhere nearly so much as they need to be heard.

I’ve also noted that the voices of women survivors, in particular, are often overlooked in the pubtalk about the abuse crisis.

And so I want to recommend today this first-hand testimony from Becky Ianni of SNAP’s northern Virginia chapter.  We need to hear voices like this much more often.  They are there to be heard, if we make it our business to find them.

And as I make this recommendation, I’d like once again to encourage readers to support survivors of clerical sexual abuse in any way possible.  If, for instance, you’re withholding contributions from your parish until the church’s problems are addressed honestly, please consider giving those contributions to groups like SNAP instead.

And please consider assisting a survivor of clerical sexual abuse in a direct and personal way.  People struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault by a trusted religious authority figure can spend years dealing with life problems that have their roots in that childhood trauma.

These brothers and sisters need and deserve any support we can give them.  And they have much to teach us about what it means to be authentically spiritual in the world in which we live today.