Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Matthew Rindge on the Abuse Crisis: Jesus's Command to Create Sanctuary for the Vulnerable

It has proven difficult to post regularly in the last several days.  All kinds of reasons for that.  The moon has waxed and is now on the wane, and as with the moon, so with my creative energy. 

More to the point, it’s that week or so of transition when a semester ends and summer activities haven’t yet begun.  For my nephews, that is.  Colin came home from school this weekend—for good.  He’s finished, except for a summer stint studying Arabic and Moorish culture in Morocco, for which he’ll leave in a few weeks.

Patrick is working feverishly to finish exams this week, before he goes to Mexico for more Spanish study.  And Luke is reconsidering whether, with his master’s in south Asian studies, spending more time managing his father’s restaurants is a wise investment of his energies.

As a result, I’m playing host: successive visits of teams of nephews and their friends, bottomless glasses of iced tea with snacks, conversation about Arabic and Spanish courses and the value of a degree focusing on Indian history and culture.  Hard to gather my thoughts and blog amidst it all, while thinking, too, of my niece Kate, who set her cap for and recently landed a competitive new job in Manhattan, and who has moved at the same time.  My brother is with her now, helping her set up the new apartment.

What I think I’ll do today is gather some news articles and commentary on the current crisis in the Catholic church that has struck me as important in the past several days.  I’ll offer these pieces to readers with observations about each.

I’d like first to take note of Matthew S. Rindge’s stellar commentary, “Molestation, Matthew 18, and Magnolia,” at Huffington Post today.

As I did in my posting last Thursday about arguments and counter-arguments re: the moral assessment of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics, Rindge notes that church is the one place children should be safe. And so the discovery that church is one of the least safe places for minors in many societies rightly grieves sane and morally sound people.

Rindge grounds his argument with an analysis of Jesus’s references to children in Matthew 18.  He notes that the betrayal of Jesus’s call to his followers to protect children is not merely a pastoral or moral failure: it’s sacrilege.  The failure of church leaders to protect children—indeed, the penchant of church leaders to “[provide} sexual vultures with a steady supply of young flesh”—is a betrayal of Jesus’s command to his followers in Matthew 18 to build a world safe for minors.

Rindge states,

Why the focus on children? In Jesus' day, children occupied the lowest rung on the socioeconomic ladder. (In descending order, this ladder looked something like this: wealthy men, men, slaves, women, children.) Children were the least powerful; they had no public voice, and they could not advocate for themselves. They were consequently the most vulnerable to violence and abuse. So Jesus charges his disciples to provide for children what they themselves cannot: protection from abuse.

Jesus envisions Church as the one place where children should be safe, as a refuge where leaders defend the defenseless. The Vatican has inverted this vision; male leaders protect themselves at all costs, even when the casualties are the destroyed and dismissed lives of little ones. Envisioned as a sanctuary for the vulnerable, the Church has instead become a den of molesters where children are left to fend off predators.

And I agree.  As I also agree with Rindge’s conclusion, citing Erik Erikson, that we have yet to create a society (and a church) in which the mutilation of children’s spirits is taken with anywhere nearly the seriousness that this moral abomination demands.

The graphic is German artist Käthe Kollwitz's 1921 pen and bush drawing "The Mothers."  It's one of several works Kollwitz did showing mothers trying to shelter their children by gathering in groups and circling their arms around the children.  To my mind, this is an image of what the church could and should be--and a reminder of how differently we would do business if women's voices counted in the church.