Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday, Easter, and the Political Implications of Discipleship: Continuing the Conversation about Clerical Abuse of Children

It seems not everyone may have gotten Michael Sean Winters’ Good Friday memo at America’s “In All Things” blog yesterday—pronouncing that “Good Friday is too solemn a day for blogging, especially about something as ephemeral as politics.”  Because important conversations continued happening on Catholic blog sites around the world yesterday, and overtly political conversations continued to take place right in Catholic churches yesterday.

Including the Vatican itself, where the papal preacher Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa compared the suffering of the pope and the Catholic church at this time of “violent and concentric attacks” (by whom, one wonders) to the historic suffering of the Jews.  This on the heels of his recent homily, about which I blogged yesterday, in which Rev. Cantalamessa preached that priests are suffering in an unparalleled way today, due to the ongoing revelations about abuse of children and the church’s cover-up of such abuse.

The pope as alter Christus, bound to the pillar and scourged, and the clergy as the suffering, messianic people of God bearing the pain of everything for the rest of us.  Something seems completely wrong-headed about the picture being painted for us by Catholic apologists right now, doesn’t it, when one looks outside the church door at the long line of real victims of abuse, carrying real suffering—suffering inflicted by those very men we’re being told to regard as Christ, and therefore as beyond reproach and criticism.

The assumption that Good Friday is somehow off-limits for blogging or political commentary strikes me as exceptionally strange—as theologically strange—since it’s a day of remembrance of a savior who was executed by the state on charges of sedition, because he called on his followers to walk with him along a path of discipleship towards the reign of God.  And in doing that, he was rightly understood by the powers that be as seditious in a uniquely threatening way, because the reign of God towards which he walked and asked others to walk turned the normal expectations of his world—and of all social worlds—upside down.

It put the poor first and the rich last.  It gave women a voice and asked men for once—for one precious moment—to stop talking and listen.  To despised women. 

It spoke of children as models of faith and of millstones to be tied around the necks of those who shatter the souls of children.

It told us to call no man father.

It invited every voice into the conversation and gave a privileged place to those traditionally excluded by the power structures of the world.

And it led, this vision of a world turned upside down by a new perspective of faith, to Jesus’s capital punishment at the hands of Roman authorities on the charge that he had incited sedition among the Jewish people. 

There is no walking in the path Jesus sets before his followers without political discourse, political discernment, political action.  Without taking sides and avowing commitments.  Because faith and discipleship are inherently political.  They have political implications even when we do not intend to involve ourselves directly in political movements.

As the saintly Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara once said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist.”

It would seem, too, that Good Friday and the Sacred Triduum would be an entirely appropriate time to continue the politically significant conversation about the abuse crisis in the Catholic church for two other reasons.  One of those is obvious: revelations about the cover-up of clerical abuse of children continue to pour forth, even at this holy season.  And these ought to preoccupy the attention of all Catholics, and to receive immediate responses.

When people have been hurt, have had their lives shattered, action is an appropriate response.  Action now.  And action includes conversation—inclusive conversation in which voices that may make us itchy and uncomfortable finally have a hearing.  Because our healing, and the authenticity of our faith commitment, may depend on whether or not we choose to let those voices into the conversation, and once we have done so, to let them count.

I mean voices like the voices of those who have been abused, for instance, and whom we have found it possible to shut out year after year, as we walk into our churches to kiss the wood of the cross on which our savior was crucified.

Another reason that this conversation appears entirely appropriate for the weekend that begins with Good Friday and ends with Easter is one about which Michael Sean Winters himself wrote two years ago, when he observed in an essay at Slate that Benedict denounced the “filth” in the church in his Good Friday homily in 2005 weeks before his election to the papacy.  Benedict’s statement about filth was and continues to be heard as his commentary on priests who abuse minors.

With Benedict setting this example, it seems not only appropriate but imperative that we continue the discussion of the abuse crisis and its cover-up through Good Friday and Easter—and on those holy days themselves—and on into Eastertide.

Because we still have much to talk about.  And because many voices that ought to have reverberated through those holy celebrations in the past have not had a hearing, even as we talk on and on about crucifixion, discipleship, holy living, and being church in the world today.

Voices absolutely necessary to our conversation, if any of that talk is to mean anything more than empty words.

(As an aside, did anyone other than me notice that a posting of Rev. Jim Martin’s about the abuse crisis yesterday at the America “In All Things” blog disappeared from the site during the day?  I remember posting a note of appreciation in response and seeing that note upload to the site.

And then the entire posting disappeared, though I believe that Winters’s posting came along after it—and replaced it?  What’s happening with America these days?)

The graphic for this posting is a depiction of the crucifixion by Chinese artist He Qi, which Jim Rigby used last Easter to illustrate a posting at his Rag Blog about the political implications of Easter.