Saturday, November 17, 2012

Alex Gibney's "Mea Maxima Culpa" and Defrocking of Catholic Hierarchy

I linked yesterday to Andrew O'Hehir's review of Alex Gibney's HBO documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa" without commenting on the documentary itself.  I can't comment on it, since I haven't yet seen it.  But I can definitely comment on some of the statements now being made about "Mea Maxima Culpa" after it was released yesterday.

In addition to the Andrew O'Hehir essay to which I linked yesterday, I've now read an article about the documentary by Andrea Burzynski for Reuters, A.S. Scott's review in the New York Times, Andrew Sullivan's reflection at his Daily Dish site, and Eric Bugyis's posting at Commonweal about the parallel Catholic church in which many of us are now forced to live, which keys off Andrew Sullivan's statement.  Sullivan and Bugyis also reflect on the story about which I blogged yesterday from Barnesville, Minnesota, in which 17-year-old Lennon Cihak has been denied confirmation by his parish priest, Father Gary LaMoine, after he posted a pro-marriage equality picture on his Facebook page.

"Mea Maxima Culpa" focuses on the story of Father Lawrence Murphy, who is thought (with substantial evidence for this conclusion) to have abused some 200 deaf boys over a period of many years at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin.  As Laurie Goodstein demonstrated conclusively when this story first broke, the ongoing cover-up in Murphy's case goes right to the top of the Vatican, to the current pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had demanded that all abuse cases be delegated directly to him, and who knew what was going on with Murphy.  Benedict resisted requests to have the priest defrocked.

As Burzynski's review suggests, it's now the hierarchy itself that is being defrocked by Gibney's powerful documentary.  He exposes the cover-up clearly and decisively, and he's doing so in a venue that will bring this information in a graphic way to millions of television viewers around the world.  The story is not and cannot be confined to in-house Catholic venues, that is to say.

The recognition that the Catholic hierarchy has now completely forfeited the right to teach moral principles in any kind of compelling way, and has therefore lost the ability to gain a hearing for its moral principles in the public square, is leading commentators like Andrew Sullivan (and I'd suggest he speaks for many other Catholics, including me) to two conclusions:

1. We lay Catholics are now at a dead end with our pastoral leaders.

2. And this leaves us living in a parallel church in which we have to find ways to nurture our faith and practice it not merely apart from our morally bankrupt leaders, but in direct repudiation of them and their moral bankruptcy.

Sullivan writes:

One feature of this last election was the complete failure of the Vatican hierarchs to dictate the vote to the flock. American Catholics voted for Obama over Romney. The docile fools in dresses - from Dolan to Chaput - were ignored as they now routinely are, and should be. They actually think they still have moral authority. But moral authority has to be earned with each generation, and the corruption in the Vatican is so deep and so rotten and so incapable of self-reflection it has effectively created two Catholic churches in America: those few in the pews who still listen to the bishops and those who exist almost in a parallel church, focused on their own parish, their own priest, and their own faith, which remains, for many of us, undimmed.

And Bugyis agrees that this is an apt description of where many of us Catholics now find ourselves:

I have also found the idea of inhabiting a parallel Catholic Church to be one way of sustaining my own faith through the dark time of scandal, pastoral malfeasance, and political cynicism that continues to undermine the hierarchical Church. 

And this is what I meant yesterday when I wrote that the bishops of the Catholic church in the U.S. have absolutely and decisively lost their ability to represent Catholic social teaching in the public square, and to the extent that they have lost this ability, they have lost their ability to be credible moral teachers about any issues at all.  And that if the Catholic church is going to continue to have anything meaningful to offer to the American public square at this point in its history (and, indeed, if it's to continue to form meaningful Catholic communities), the Catholic laity (and religious women) are going to have to nourish and keep Catholic community and authentic Catholic teaching alive.  

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