Friday, September 16, 2011

NCR on Chaput's Installation in Philadelphia: Pleas for Healing Met with "Fog of Pieties"

I highly recommend National Catholic Reporter's latest editorial, on the installation of Archbishop Charles Chaput as the new Catholic primate of Philadelphia.  The editorial argues that what the Catholic people of the Philadelphia archdiocese want from their pastoral leaders as one report after another emerges of the rape and molestation of their children by priests is this: the "boundless compassion" that Jesus exhibited by healing a woman with an issue of blood, by saving a little girl's life at the pleading of her mother, by raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.

What they got, instead, in Chaput's inaugural homily was a "fog of pieties"  that "obscured any humanity or sense of understanding of how seriously the church of Philadelphia has been battered."  Instead of the healing, compassionate touch of Jesus, they received blowsy metaphors about arranged marriages and self-aggrandizing statements about how the will of God works mysteriously and has mysteriously brought Archbishop Chaput to the archdiocese to deal with its unspecified "challenges," "failures," and "problems."

What the Catholic people of Philadelphia sorely need and want--compassion and healing--is not what their new archbishop's first homily to them signals that they will be receiving from him.  As Mark Silk incisively observes at his Spiritual Politics blog, Chaput "did not exactly fall all over himself to pledge that he would clean up the disgraceful mess that his three predecessors had created by covering up sexual abuse by priests, even unto the present year."

Instead, he sought in a roundabout way to obliterate the record of the past--of the very recent past--and to suggest that only what happens now in Philadelphia, after he's been installed as the diocesan shepherd, will count for the record.  Chaput told his audience that the church is not defined by its failures.

But as Silk notes, Jesus himself proclaims (Matthew 7) that we'll know whether those ministering in his name are actually representing him, when we look at the fruits borne by their ministry.  For followers of Jesus, the process of discernment doesn't allow us to discount the bad fruits and focus only on the good ones.

Healing a situation of such exorbitant pain as we find in the archdiocese of Philadelphia requires a clear-eyed determination to face the record of the past, and of the very recent past in the case of this diocese.  Misleading pious rhetoric that refuses even to name that record for what it is--the sexual abuse of children as Catholic pastoral leaders look the other way--is not going to get the church far down the road of healing.

To continue with (but shift) the biblical metaphors: throughout the world, starving Catholics continue to ask Rome to provide them bread through the pastoral appointments the Vatican makes.  And Rome continues to respond by offering the Catholic people stones.  There has been a monumental betrayal of pastoral leadership in the Catholic church at this point in its history.  And the performance given by the new archbishop of Philadelphia in his inaugural address to his people does not portend, for many Catholics observing the official church's response to the abuse crisis, a perceptible shift from stones to bread.

The graphic is the new coat of arms of the Archbishop of Chaput, featuring the inscription, "As Christ loved the Church."

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