Monday, May 21, 2012

Shepherds, Sheep, Listening, Caring: More on the Santa Clara Conference on Catholic Abuse

And as a companion piece to what I just posted about Richard Sipe's presentation to the Santa Clara conference on sexual abuse in the Catholic church: at National Catholic Reporter last week, Joshua McElwee provides an overview of the event and what its primary speakers said.  As McElwee notes, Father Tom Reese defined the core theme of the conference through the following trenchant observation:

"A shepherd is supposed to lay down his life for his sheep," Reese continued. "These men [i.e., bishops proven to have shielded clerics abusing minors] were unwilling to lay down their croziers for the good of the church."

As I noted in a previous posting about Reese's keynote address at the conference, Reese also stressed that the only viable (and gospel-grounded) way out of the mess in which the church now finds itself as a result of the abuse crisis is via a preferential option for survivors of clerical sexual abuse.  As a bare minimum, Reese insists, this preferential option demands that every seminarian, priest, bishop, "all the way up" be  expected to sit down with and listen to those who experienced childhood abuse by clerics and other Catholic authority figures.  Reese says,

I don't think we're going to get out of this and make real progress until we see real faces, real people, and shed tears with those people.

To which a reader of McElwee's article, C. Lewis, responds beautifully:

'Listening' is not a faculty which the official Institutional Church employs these days unless what they expect to hear will be pristine orthodoxy. 'Listening' implies that others who have not been ordained, consecrated, elevated nor elected have a real role in the Body of Christ. 'Listening' requires some measure of openness, a smidgen of humility, a modicum of compassion and empathy...all of which adjectives seem tragically lacking in our by-the-canon hierarchy. 
Our Bishops and Princes and Monarch listen to victims and their families? Our Bishops subject to oversight and accountability? I'll never live that long. 
How ironic it seems to me that Rome is 'listening' to SSPX but won't even acknowledge, except for damning comments, the huge numbers of former Cathoics in America, which is reported to be our second largest "denomination." 
Maybe a little 'listening' would solve more than one problem we struggle with.

"I'll never live that long."  I should live so long.

I agree with C. Lewis on that point.  As I've said a number of times before on this blog, for me, my dealings with the bishop of Charlotte, North Carolina, following my unjust firing at Belmont Abbey College in 1993 was a moment of dark kairos in which I began to understand just who many of the current bishops of the church are and what they are about.

Because being terminated for no stated reason, when I had (so the college's administrators told me) done outstanding work, radically upended my life, Steve's and that of my mother, who had moved into severe dementia and needed our support, and because all of this severely challenged my faith, I asked repeatedly to talk to Bishop William Curlin.  About how these events were causing me to lose faith. 

About the serious damage they did to me, to Steve, to my mother.  About my heart and soul.

Bishop Curlin did not even respond to those repeated requests.  Not until I sent him a letter telling him that I doubted he would treat a rich and powerful man as he was treating me.  Then and only then, I received a communication from his young priest-secretary telling me I had been disrespectful to say such a thing to a bishop.

Bishop Curlin never saw my face.  Not once, before we had no choice except to move elsewhere and look for jobs where we had prospects of finding them.

He refused to do so.  He refused to see the human face of the human being and brother in Christ whose life was disrupted and career destroyed for no stated reason by a Catholic institution in his diocese, with his complicity as bishop.

And as I've said before, when survivors of clerical sexual abuse began to report, one after another, from 2002 forward, that they had experienced the very same thing from bishop after bishop when they asked to talk with bishops about the pain they experienced due to their abuse and how it shook the foundations of their faith, I knew they were speaking the truth.  Because I myself had been there.

And I found it simple to stand with those survivors of abuse because I know what it feels like to be treated this way by a man who claims to stand in the place of Jesus the good shepherd within the church.  Jesus the good shepherd who leaves the 99 who are safe to hunt the one who has strayed and is need of saving.

Whose face I now find it exceedingly difficult to see in the faces of the men who claim to stand in the place of Jesus in church and world, when they will not look in the eye, face to face, those they have wounded by their imperious and unjust abuse of power.

Addendum, later in the day: my apologies that in my first draft of this statement earlier in the day I conflated the bishop who headed the Charlotte diocese when I received my terminal contract from Belmont Abbey College--John Donoghue--with the bishop who then succeeded him just after my termination--William Curlin.  It was the latter to whom I addressed my letters, since Donoghue had moved to Atlanta.

The graphic is a photograph by Susana Vera of Reuters of a Spanish shepherd carrying one of her lambs in October 2011.

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