Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Heart-Broken Priest

Check out this open letter from a priest who's tried to fight the good fight: Leave of Absence Letter. Parts of it broke my heart. Part of it infuriated me (extra credit for those who guess that part). But mostly, I'm just worn out.

I have my issues with Voice of the Faithful. I'm close to the most anti-clerical Catholic I've ever known. It's not pretty or laudable, but there it is. And yet, I'm still moved by his letter -at least a little bit. I have more thinking to do on this subject, clearly. And I will, just as soon as I get back from a meeting. Hold me to it, please.

In the meantime, I just wanted to get this letter "out there" a little more. Let me know what you think.

Okay, I'm back. I don't know anything at all about this priest -the author of the letter- except for the clear fact that the hierarchy and its dissembling (to put it charitably, which they have NOT earned) re: the sex-abuse scandals have worn him to the bone. For that, he has earned some charity from me. I don't know how the good priests manage the day-to-day grind of their work environment.

And supporting those good priests is explicitly part of the mission of Voice of the Faithful. One might think that I'd be knocking down their doors. Their motto is "Keep the Faith. Change the Church". They want nothing spectacular -just a church that lives out its mission and where the priests don't prey on small children. Surely that's not threatening. And of course bishops are prohibiting them from meeting on church property. You'd think I'd be a member for that reason alone ;)

But I'm not a member, and I think, in part, it's because they would be satisfied with so little. Here's what I want, and I think I'm in good company.

A gospel that does not unsettle,
A word of God that does not get under anyone's skin,
A word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed.
What gospel is that?

- Archbishop Oscar Romero, April 16, 1978

Moreover, and here's where this gets controversial and I'm a little uncomfortable with my own argument.... I see no reason why even a church reform movement has to be priest-centered. Can't we think outside THAT box for just a tiny minute?

For a little while, I was willing to go into this crisis in the church with banners waving. I was willing to do what they taught me, to name injustice where I saw it and to work to change it. But this is far from the first time that I've tussled with the institutional church, and I've never won. Someone else is going to have to be the standard bearer on this one.

I don't feel defeated exactly -just unsurprised at this scandal and a little disturbed by the fact that other people are surprised. I'm certainly not bored with or indifferent to the suffering of individuals. But I'm a little indifferent towards the political machinations of the bureaucracy and the corresponding actions of the people hopeful of change. They (the hierarchs) have the church they worked for. This is the structure they worked to build and preserve. Until they're working to build and preserve something different, I guess they still want this one.

Even the good priests benefit from all the power and privileges that we allow priests -and which we, in large measure, pay for, by the way. So the good guys are out there, being pastoral and gentle, working for justice in third world countries and building homes with Habitat for Humanity, and occasionally remembering that women are part of God's creation and that feminine pronouns aren't swear words or heretical.... If only such a cleric would show up in my life.

And yet, what is he doing about changing the hierarchical church, which has allowed, condoned, winked at so much evil? When I see a little more of that -and this priest/author is at least giving it a shot- then perhaps I'll be a slightly less anti-clerical Catholic. And my hope in the unsettling Gospel that they preach will increase.

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