Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reader Writes: "So Easy and Convenient to Automatically Assume that the Problem Is Not Local, That It Doesn't Happen Here, Wherever 'Here' Is"

In what follows, I'd like to point you to some noteworthy comments readers have left here in the past several days. First, I'm struck by Annika's valuable comment noting her response to the film "Spotlight" (which, by the way, won the Screen Actors' Guild ensemble cast top award last evening):

I finally saw Spotlight about a week ago, and what struck me the most was my own reaction to it. Throughout the movie, I constantly found myself thinking things like, "Well, this is Boston. Of course Boston would be more corrupt than Detroit—the Church is probably a bigger part of the structures of power in the city." After watching it, I went to SNAP's Bishop Accountability website and found, of course, that the diocese of Detroit also has a disturbingly and disgustingly long list of abuse cases. I like to think of myself as a person who does not close their eyes to reality, no matter how gruesome it is, but it is still so easy and convenient to automatically assume that the problem is not local, that it doesn't happen here, wherever "here" is.

And, as Mary Q points out, see Jennifer Haselberger's remarks to the Call to Action conference last November, as reported on Haselberger's blog:

What made finding the Porter files significant for me was that it made it absolutely, unquestionably and undeniably clear that at every stage of Porter's tragic history, people- both clergy and laity — who were aware of Porter's history made decisions not to warn or inform those who would be most impacted by having him living in their midst, and then lied about their knowledge when they were finally being held to account. The people who remained silent included bishops, priests, lawyers, Chancery staffers, and lay members of the various communities, but for me they were something more. They weren't just names or titles, they were people I knew and worked with every day. More importantly, they weren't disgraced and exiled prelates like Cardinal Law. In many cases, these were the people that were still calling the shots.  . . . 
More than two years ago I called upon these former colleagues of mine to engage in a process of self-reflection, to ask and answer the same questions that I have just posed to you. I invited them to join me in an old-fashioned Catholic examination of conscience, in the hopes that we might honestly consider and offer amends for our individual roles in the sexual abuse crisis.  It was and is my belief that such a process — if undertaken honestly — would be an uncomfortable one for us all.  For, it is all too easy for each of us to point a finger at the priests or deacons (or religious men and women for that matter) who have committed acts of sexual abuse and say, 'There, there is the perpetrator, the one who has caused this harm'. However, in my opinion, if we each reflected honestly on our individual situations, we would be required to expand our understanding of the nature of the violations that have been committed to acknowledge not only who committed what acts, but also who benefited from them, and we would be called on to identify those structures and practices that facilitated the abuse — our acts and omissions — and to acknowledge our accountability. A moral examination need not confine itself to legally verifiable actions or omissions. It can also speak to a community's moral responsibility.  

And, of course, these valuable moral insights have implications for us and for our lives in areas beyond the abuse crisis in religious institutions. They point us to the need for ongoing self-examination about our complicity in all sorts of structural evil.

They force us to ask uncomfortable questions about why we remain so unconcerned and silent about the fact that a 12-year-old boy carrying a toy gun is shot dead by police in an American city, and those who shot him are exonerated of any responsibility for what they've done — because his pigmentation is dark? They cause us to wonder why we can be so unconcerned and silent about the poisoning of the water supply of an American city with a large African-American population, when we would, I like to imagine, be up in arms if an affluent white section of an American city found its water supply was being poisoned.

Self-righteous condemnation of those evil folks over there is simply too easy, morally speaking, no matter what the institutional evil we're discussing happens to be. As is the strange American myth of the self-made individual, which assumes I can somehow stand apart from all of the rest of you in my self-righteous splendor, and that who I am does not owe everything to you, too, and that I have no responsibility to the rest of you . . . .

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