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Still Infallible in the Aftermath of the Murphy Commission

According to a three-page letter from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to his priests, Pope Benedict XVI, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority and in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, solemnly rejected the resignations of two Dublin auxiliary bishops which had been tendered on Christmas Eve 2009 following the reports of the investigations by the Murphy Commission into clerical child sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin over 29 years. After coming under intense pressure because they had served as bishops during part of this period, Pope Benedict XVI has willed that Bishop Raymond Field and Bishop Eamonn Walsh should be shepherds in His Church, even to the consummation of the world, available to administer Confirmation in any part of the diocese in the coming year.

In a November 2009 report, the independent Commission of Investigation headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy looked at the handling in the years 1975-2004 of 325 sex abuse claims in the Archdiocese of Dublin. This Murphy Commission was released in the aftermath of The Ryan Commission report in May 2009 which had cited 800 known abusers in over 200 Catholic institutions, over 35 years.

The Irish Times on December 8, 2009 had reported, per Vatican sources, the direct intervention from the Holy See, with an invitation extended on December 8, 2009 to Cardinal Sean Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to a December 11th meeting in Rome to discuss “the painful situation” in the Catholic Church in Ireland following the release of the report of the Murphy Commission. The pope would be urging Irish church leaders to find a definitive exit from the crisis, feeling the Irish clerical sex-abuse crisis has gone on far too long.

The conclusion of this Murphy Commission report was that during those years 1975-2004, rather than being concerned about the victims, Catholic leaders were more interested in “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church and the preservation of its assets.” With his own infallibility, feeling the Irish clerical sex-abuse crisis has gone on far too long, Pope Benedict had called the leading two bishops to Rome. In February 2010, all of the Roman Catholic bishops of Ireland came to Rome.

The Murphy Commission had investigated the 325 sex abuse claims in the Archdiocese of Dublin in the years 1975-2004. The bishops named in the Murphy report included the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, the Bishop of Galway, two Dublin auxiliary bishops, and the Bishop of Limerick. Monsignor Dolan, the vice chancellor in Dublin from 1980 to 1997, was also named; he later became chancellor in 1997.

“The church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis. As a sign of my deep concern,” Pope Benedict said in Rome on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, “I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation. I ask all of you to read it for yourselves, with an open heart and in a spirit of faith.”

The Lenten Letter of March 17, 2010 to the Irish people, the first papal document devoted exclusively to pedophilia, following the Murphy report, was the first clue as to how the pope viewed all the goings on. That pastoral letter talked a lot more about sin than crimes. Pope Benedict XVI hoped the letter would “help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal.”

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20100319_church-ireland_en.html. __Read THE ACTUAL LETTER__

The Father Brendan Smyth affair over a period of over 40 years in which the controversy surrounding his case had brought about the downfall of the government of Ireland in December 1994. Father Brendan Smyth of the the Norbertines Order had sexually abused and assaulted over 100 children, moving from parish to parish and between dioceses in Belfast, Dublin, and in Rhode Island as well as North Dakota in the United States. After his arrest in 1991, Father Brendan Smyth fled to the Republic of Ireland, where he spent the next three years on the run, with the poor handling of an extradition request from the Royal Ulster Constable of Northern Ireland by the Irish Attorney General Republic of Ireland. Understandable with the years of distrust and discrimination between the Orange Order and the Catholic minority of the North, who was going to believe in the justice system of the North of Ireland? Had you ever read of the anti-papist rhetoric of Ian Paisley, and experienced how Catholics were treated in the North? True dysfunction came out of such relationships.

The now deceased Cardinal Cahal Daly, Archbishop of Armagh (a previous Bishop of Down as well as Connor, in a diocese where some of the abuse took place), reportedly was privately furious at the Norbertine “incompetence” involving Father Brendan Smyth.

In March of 2010, the Primate of all Ireland, Seán Brady admitted that in 1975, as a 36-year-old priest with his doctorate in canon law since 1967, that he had attended two separate interviews in 1975 as part-time secretary to the then Bishop of Kilmore, Francis McKiernan. Joined by two other priest in the first interview, his role was to take notes. He had been alone with the child at the second interview, and had been responsible for conducting the inquiry, with his note taking. He had also witnessed the two teenage boys in 1975 sign the oaths of silence after testifying against Father Brendan Smyth. The oath read: “I will never directly or indirectly, by means of a nod, or of a word, by writing, or in any other way, and under whatever type of pretext, even for the most urgent and most serious cause (even) for the purpose of a greater good, commit anything against this fidelity to the secret, unless a…dispensation has been expressly given to me by the Supreme Pontiff.”

Secrecy and inertia. The maintenance of church secrecy was mentioned in the Murphy Commission report, as one reason the priest abuse was able to continue. When nothing happened. From November 2009 to August 2010, especially in the stagnation of August heat, there was even a lack of movement in the story after the release of the Murphy Commission report. In that Irish church that had known of all of these transgressions well before the release of the Murphy Commission report.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, the only recognized hero in all of this, wrote to his people in early December 2009: “The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a CRIME in civil law; it is and always was a crime [in] canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful.” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin wrote: “Efforts made to ‘protect the Church’ and to ‘avoid scandal’ have had the ironic result of bringing this horrendous scandal on the Church today.”

In 1994, Father Hegarty was removed as editor of Intercom after publishing an article challenging the bishops’ handling of clerical child sex abuse. In March 1994 auxiliary bishop of Dublin, Eamonn Walsh, who was investigated by the Murphy commission, was appointed to survey the Bishops’ Conference on their attitude to Intercom. In July 1994, Father Hegarty was appointed full-time curate at Shanaghy in west Mayo. “In the circumstances, I felt I had no choice but to let go of Intercom,” he said.

In a January 1995 letter to the Irish Times, Mary McAleese (then a university professor) wrote, “What is truly depressing about this episode, though, is the contrast between the energy and determination which went into sorting out a perceived problem with the editorial tone of Intercom , and the sheer breathtaking ineptitude of church handling of matters relating to child abuse by clergy….It is truly ironic that Father Kevin Hegarty raised the issue openly in Intercom long before the Father Brendan Smyth affair, and in so doing incurred the wrath of those so anxious now to reassure us of their clean hands and bona fides in this squalid business.”

Taking people’s jobs away, after a lifetime of service. Five years ago Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had no problem taking people’s job away. Under orders from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, American Jesuit Thomas Reese resigned on May 6, 2005 as editor of the Catholic magazine America because he had published articles critical of church positions, several Catholic officials in the United States told the New York Times. The order to dismiss the editor of America magazine was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in mid-March when the Vatican office of doctrinal enforcement was still headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. (Some have suggested it was the American bishops who got Father Reese removed, a story much like Father Kevin Hegarty’s dismissal.) Soon after Father Reese’s dismissal, Pope John Paul II died and Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI., with his new infallibility on both matters of faith and morals which came with his new job description.

Preserved from even the possibility of error since the First Vatican Council on July 18, 1870, Pope Benedict XVI has exercised his authority on matters of Faith and Morals. If not Rome, all of Ireland’s bishops knew of the environment of sexual abuse in their country. The environment where Cardinal Sean Brady had been the appointed leader. It was only the damn Murphy Commission, and the Ryan that had enlightened the public.

The two bishops, Bishop Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Raymond Field, who had been continuing in their normal duties pending the decision, would now remain as Auxiliary Bishops and are to be assigned revised responsibilities within the diocese. The decision not to accept the resignations of Bishop Eamonn Walsh and Bishop Raymond Field follows the decision of Cardinal Seán Brady last spring not to resign despite his involvement in an investigation 35 years ago of a case involving Brendan Smyth. Bishop Eamonn Walsh had been appointed auxiliary bishop in Dublin since April 1990. Bishop Raymond Field had been bishops since September 21st, 1997. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it was not policy to comment on resignations which had not been accepted. It was time to move on. These two bishops should be available to administer Confirmation even to the consummation of the world. This all was punishment enough. One Vatican source told the Irish Times that the Secretariat of State had recalled the excellent work done by Bishop Walsh in the role of apostolic administrator in the diocese of Ferns.

To live in a country when nothing happened. To live in a country where its young no longer wanted to be confirmed, because of the sins of its Fathers. These two bishops should be available to administer Confirmation, but in a country where, based upon news stories, its young no longer wanted to be confirmed.

Crime and punishment. Catholic moral teaching states capital punishment is wrong. Based upon the papal response, Catholic moral teaching must be that cover ups of sexual abuse are okay. Actions speak louder than encyclicals, for the institution church which has lacked so much transparency on issues of cover ups of sexual abuse, over so many years.

Crime and punishment. What if a pope had grown up in a time, in a place, when crimes were an every day part of your life. When nothing happened to the perpetrators? And what if you then had to live in the aftermath? When you were a young man? When no one really was ever punished. When no one ever talked about what had happened? When life just seemed to go on, with a great deal of inertia. Would it affect your own way of thought? About Central America during the late 1970s into the early 1990s, in another age of terror in the southern hemisphere, as the United States supported the Salvadoran government armed forces throughout their civil war, with ongoing persecution of clergy and repression of movements for social change, would it affect your outlook? And what if you then had to live in the aftermath? When life just seemed to go on, with a great deal of inertia.

Crime and Punishment not all so dissimilar to what had happened to those Irish bankers who had led Ireland into a concurrent crisis. As the Irish-German 10-year yield spread widened to 2.64 per cent, the most since July 23rd. Standard and Poor’s said yesterday that it would be, with its BBB ranking for the bank debt, keeping its ratings on the Anglo Irish Bank on credit watch with negative implications. Anglo Irish Bank carried Standard and Poor’s second-lowest investment grade. And all the same leaders continued in their places? When nothing ever happened?

Pope Benedict already had written, as “a sign of my deep concern,” on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, “a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation.” To live in a country where its young no longer wanted a part in that way of thinking. Because of the sins of its Fathers.

Last autumn in the United States, Cardinal Francis George came out with the statement about Catholic journalists who should “tow the line,” with his statement that Catholic universities, media outlets and other affiliated organizations are “less than fully Catholic” that insist on independence from the church hierarchy. His underlying sentiment seemed to suggest the need for Catholic journalists and academics to go about their jobs of Truth telling with a need for the same kind of oaths seeking “dispensations expressly given by the Supreme Pontiff.” When writing about cover ups. After all, all bishops took these kind of oaths to the pope every five years. (ED NOTE: In the way of full disclosure, in the midst of the Watergate investigation, I attended as an undergraduate, a Jesuit university where Francis Cardinal George was assigned, at the same time. Though I did walk by him talking to my sociology professor before a twice a week class, I do not know him, but respect him highly.)

Before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was quoted in the Jesuit Magazine America, in the days of Rev. Thomas Reese, as writing that the church needs to get smaller so that it can become purer. Because, maybe the Church could not keep going on the way it had been. Maybe his dream about pruning finally has started this summer, based upon the article in the National Catholic Reporter in August 2010, which raises again the question where is the goodness in institution church?

In a related story on December 8, 2009, The Irish Times reported that in 1991 Father Kevin Hegarty was appointed editor of the Irish Bishops’ Conference-sponsored magazine Intercom, published under the aegis of the Bishops’ Commission on Communications. In its December 1993 issue an article titled “Twenty Questions for the Bishops” challenged their handling of clerical child sex abuse. “Will they eschew silence as the preferred legal and moral strategy in the face of future allegations?” it asked.

In 1993, just before the reign of Seán Brady, with his doctorate in canon law since 1967, the Irish bishops criticized an Intercom article on women priests published in the magazine and written by the current Irish President Mary McAleese (then a university professor). On December 13, 1994, Seán Brady was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh by John Paul II, taking over upon Cardinal Cahal Daly’s retirement on October 1, 1996.

In 1994, Father Hegarty was removed as editor of Intercom after publishing an article challenging the bishops’ handling of clerical child sex abuse. The Irish Times on December 8, 2009 reported about what happened when a priest had not towed the line. “We live in a dysfunctional church, which happens when deafness becomes deadly,” Father Hegarty. The Murphy report, he said, “showed that church leaders placed most premium on loyalty, regardless of the truth.”

Not so unlike the dysfunction of Irish bishops over the course of the years 1975-2004 , in Madison, Wisconsin, in his public witness is to the fullness of the Catholic faith, Bishop Robert Morlino has lent his support to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, with his participation on their board of what was formerly known as United States Army School of the Americas. In the view of Rome, there is punishment administered where there is no loyalty to Rome. In the way of background, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois was now excommunicated for publicly supporting women’s ordination, within the past eighteen months. A Maryknoll statement dated May 24th which was made public on July 22, 2010 after SOA Watch announced a fundraising drive to replace the $17,000 grant, given former Maryknoll priest Roy “Bourgeois’ central role as the founder and public face of the SOA Watch, [Maryknoll] society leadership has determined that it cannot continue its financial support of that organization without giving the impression that it also supports the actions of its leader concerning the issue of women’s ordination. The American missionary order Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers has discontinued a longstanding annual grant to the anti-military campaign group School of Americas Watch because the organization’s founder, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois (now excommunicated) publicly supports women’s ordination. Within a week, the SOA Watch fund drive had raised nearly $10,000.”

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation was not protesting violations of human rights as much as aiming a spotlight on outright killing. Military juntas and dictators in the 20th century attempting, maybe too much like Bishop Robert Morlino, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, and Archbishop Seán Brady, to maintain power. Like military juntas and dictators with their air of infallibility, backed up by armies.

About the search for Truth and towing the line, when you had a hierarchy like this, with all of the falsehoods. Towing the line. In law? With academic freedom? When this church hierarchy desired a world with everyone praying in Latin? When this church hierarchy desired a world of archaic translations in the liturgy? When this church hierarchy, which has lacked so much transparency, desired a world of Kaiser Wilhelm, or Franz Joseph, where people had no powerful sense of identity of their own God above the temporal world. When all the calls for social justice, a True concern for social justice, was just hypocrisy?

If you had come from Poland or if you had come from Germany, what could you know of real “process of repentance, healing and renewal?” Mary McAleese had gotten it wrong, writing about the sheer breathtaking ineptitude of church. Ireland somehow had been neutral during the war. During the days of Hitler, when a child had to just shut his mouth and just deal with ‘this painful situation.” When life had just gone on. With people in power who seem to think they are above human and divine law. When you lived in the days of Adolph Hitler, with nowhere for the people to go, when there had never been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Joseph Ratzinger had already lived a life a lot like those victims of sex abuse. With nowhere for the people to go, except within. When Latin had become a language of escape. From military juntas and dictators. And when you thought that all you could say was “I am sorry.” De Delictis Gravioribus (about serious crimes). From age to age. From east to west.

And now preserved from the possibility of error, on matters of faith and Morals, Pope Benedict already has lived in a Europe where its young no longer wanted to be confirmed.

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Those Quiet Carbon Imprints

Before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was quoted in America Magazine as stating that the church needs to get smaller so that it can become purer. And the plans seemed to well be underway. Actually the comments were based upon Salt of the Earth, a full-length interview to a secular journalist, as well the 1985 The Ratzinger Report, a best-selling book/interview. In an article in 2005, Notre Dame professor R. Scott Appleby was quoted: “If it’s true Pope Benedict XVI prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church as he has spoken of before,” said Notre Dame professor R. Scott Appleby, “we could see a withering of certain Catholic institutions because they’re not considered fully Catholic. This might include Catholic colleges, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions.”

On November 18, 2009, RACHEL ZOLL (AP) wrote the following:

BALTIMORE — Fallout continues from the summer controversy over the University of Notre Dame awarding an honorary degree to President Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went behind closed doors at their fall meeting Wednesday to discuss, among other issues, what action they should take to increase oversight of the nation’s more than 200 Roman Catholic colleges and universities. Chicago Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops’ conference, revealed this week that he had formed a task force charged with reviewing the issue. Its research included a look at what church law says about bishops’ authority over the schools. The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities has planned a similar discussion of canon law and bishops’ authority at the group’s annual meeting, set to begin Jan. 30 in Washington.

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Do Black Patent-Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?

Last night I went to sleep reading Company, a Jesuit magazine.  In the current issue of Company, Martin McHugh quotes Mark Twain about the use of language, teaching the use of the right word.  He never mentioned how much youth hate to look up the meaning of a word.  He never mentions the wrestling match youth have in the search for meaning at all.

Moved by hunger and appetites.  It was what got us out of bed in the morning.  We are all moved by hunger and appetite each day.  I was moved out of bed, mostly to work, sometimes to play.


Moved by ideology. Ideology was the wrestling match since the twentieth century.  Presidents and presidential candidates got caught up in it.  Popes did too.  It was a result of a focus on law and order.  Orthodoxy.  Rules.  The conservatives have ruled the era for those who have come of age.  And youth for the most part eventually rebelled over too much rigidity.  My view of the generation in their twenties in the United States was that there was a palpable sense of rebellion.  These kids had been walked to the bus stop all of their lives.  Their parents had attended all of their soccer games.  Life had never been like that for kids before.  There was some underlying desire for revenge, an expression of grievance over too much attention which was seen by adults as only a reflection of love.  And the world had never seen so many voluntary body piercings, tattoos, markings, on so many people. 

 Of the rigid, the pope is seen as the most stiff.  Orthodoxy.  Rules.  Papal duties were all about rigidity for all ages.  And consistency.  Rigidity and consistency for all ages. 

 The Jesuits focus on the young.  They are thought of, at least by this graduate of a Jesuit university, as less rigid.  They do not really preach, at least in the fire and brimstone sense.  Their job is to teach, and primarily to teach the young to know God.  Moved by ideology?  Their tip is to look for God in all things.  It is more than a blessing when you started to connect God to your everyday life.  In one sense it fulfills that Michigan poet’s definition of poetry as connecting what seems unconnected.  (Thomas Lynch is a also a mortician whose book, Booking Passage, looks for the Irish in all things and is my book selection of the decade if you are an Irish-American.)   

Moved by ideology?  I am currently reading The Years of Extermination by Saul Friedlander, the middle book of his trilogy.    He discusses “the centrality of ideological-cultural factors in moving of Nazi policies.”  He talked about the period from the end of the 19th Century to after World War I as the age of ideology.  The world was in upheaval that eventually would involve every home in the world.  The period involved the identity of women and women’s rights and women suffrage.  The period involved communism and liberalism.  The period involved education.  And in this, Friedlander writes, liberalism was caught between the Bolshevism of Russia, communism in the rest of the world, and the revolutionary right in Italy and in Germany.  Identified with liberalism and the revolutionary brand of socialism, targeted, instigators, carriers, Jews became the scapegoat as representatives of world views.  Friedlander’s thesis was that the battle over ideology between the left and right was not just restricted to Germany and Italy.  

 The age of ideology never really took a vacation.  Most visible through the ongoing war of Islamic fundamentalism with the secular world, which filled the void when the ideology of communism seemed to burn out, historians will continue to write of the age of ideology and its affects on humanity. Ironically, McHugh quotes Mark Twain in Company, “Get your facts first and then you can distort them.”   In what also could have been a comment on ideology, McHugh quotes Mark Twain one final time:  “I was born modest.  Not all over.  But in spots.”  Twain might have been commenting on the political campaigns of the past 28 years. 

 In reading Company, I read an article about being moved on a pilgrimage.  The current issue of Company, fall 2008, includes a story by Briana Colton about her World Youth Day experience in Australia, in search of clarity and perspective in her life.  Ms. Colton was a graduate from Marquette University three years before and hers was the struggle of all 25-year olds, of “becoming” after all this formation.  What to do after “becoming”?  There will be a syllabus for a class offered next semester, featuring the John R. Powers’ coming of age story novel, The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice-cream God.  (Powers’ more popular book, Do Black Patent-Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, reflected an era for American Catholics educated in parochial schools, when both all politics as well as all religion was local.  I am not sure many people like Briana Colton identified with that in the changing Catholic world.  Yet the search for God in all things, in all lives, never changed.) Ms. Colton described what I always thought of as the mundane things in a day.  She walked, she listened, she sang in the course of her days in Sydney.  At the end of the trip, she reflected and she prayed.  Ms. Colton did not figure out in a matter of days, or so she says, who she was or who God wanted her to be.  But she did discover the importance of her Catholicism and experiencing the Eucharist (going to Mass) in the ongoing formation process of her life.  In a sense she seems to still be moved by hunger, looking for her own passion about life, to experience more things Catholic. 

 If I was the writer of a Gospel, and I am named after a Gospel writer, I would have included a directive from God to His son.  “You have nothing else to do.  Go change the world.” 

His request does not seem much different from the directive that applies in the life of any 22-year old after completing their education.  The trouble was coming to the understanding that the change would be through what looked to be some fairly mundane things in everyday life.  

 

The invisible wrestling match of youth, in the search for meaning in all, beyond ideology, was daily.  Moved by God…Out of bed…In the fairly mundane things…the search for whom God wanted us to be, in search of the next chapter of the New Testament. 


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Acts of Contrition

“I don’t want you remembering my sins,” I told my friend who was a priest. And it struck me, that God did not want to remember them either.

Words about a relationship: movement, waiting, change, patience. Old age.

I realized at the age of 23 and ever since, that I always was having difficulty with the things closest to me —from trying to address a business concern in Arthur, North Dakota when I lived in Fargo, to seeing them but not getting to the things so close. It would be so easier tomorrow. I would get around to it.

Patience: God waiting for a response. A girl I had thoughts of marrying once. Until I was moved inside. So here I was, born incomplete, imperfect, in need of something. Bored, restless.

I was headed into my cave this weekend to go on retreat. It was odd that when it came to civilization, that history did not view the cave man as advanced. Yet all men still were cavemen, in need of reflection about the important relationships in their lives. Cave men, old men, young men.

To find fullness, I had to realize my own need to be healed. A shaman was a healer who had God-like powers, when the doctor takes on the role of priest in the Amazon. And with healing as either a priest or a doctor, a miracle was happening. Or was it just hocus-pocus? To view it in others, using magic potions made from the bark of trees, or to see it in the relationships of my life, is to be moved, to change.

So there I was, distracted, having difficulty with the things closest to me. I was distracted from my God, always having difficulty with the things closest to me—The penitent who forgot what was important, seeing things, even these sins, a part of me I was not proud of, avoiding getting at the truth about me. Distracted from my God –a good definition of sin.

So this forgiveness: Was it just another hocus-pocus? In the words of the Creighton Jesuit, Andy Alexander:

“Jesus was here reshaping what the Chosen People thought about God, taking people into a deeper sense of who God is and therefore, who they are called to be. And in comes the transformation of the sense of what kind of relationship God wants to have with them. IN comes the sacrament of Reconciliation. “You have heard it said … but, I say to you …”

I saw it in the growth last year of trees that had been planted here in what seemed 2003. Those trees, their bark. The shaman was at work, even on me. What really had changed was that I had learned to pray here. And I was beginning to see God in all things, like I had never seen before. Even with the things closest to me.

Jesus continued after the Resurrection this reshaping what the people had heard and what they had learned. After the Resurrection, in the garden, hearing the same words of Jesus that he had asked of the apostles when he met them, only this time to Mary as he wiped away her tears: WHO IS IT THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?

When I started going on retreat, I used to approach sacrament of Reconciliation with reluctance. It was a vanity. It was called arrogance in men, visible with age. I had once said to a priest, a friend: “I don’t want you remembering my sins.” And it struck me that God did not want to remember them either. That was the part about me that has changed.


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THE DROUGHT & THE SHORTAGE OF SPIRITUAL FOOD

Rule number one in life, if you are good in your profession, people will seek you out. Until now when the parish priest was going to be worked to death.  There had been no leveraged buy-out, following by lay-offs of personnel.  There was just no support from above to the work load, and little support in the way of young men signing up for a new profession.  It was a job with little financial reward and no family life of your own.     

 

Thirty, forty and fifty years ago, this country was coming out of a Great Depression and World War II.  And that generation saw something maybe in a guy who had grown up in the same neighborhood, who had once been at a parish.   And parents and children identified with the priest as normal.  That did not happen so much any more.   Especially when the archbishops came from far away. One hundred year-old churches were given new names, without any appreciation of history in this community. The archbishop did not seem to care. They say all politics was really local.  So the church…..or it used to be.  Now it seemed indifferent, with leaders in Rome suggesting that it was the masses were indifferent.  The masses were menu selectors, spoiled.

 

To Be Professed in a Profession.  There were only 4 professions.  Medicine, Law, Teaching.  The Clergy.  What happens when you cannot keep your vows? Judas seemed to be the first who failed to come to grips with his own failure.  It was as if he left in the 7th inning of that playoff game in 1951 between the Giants and the Dodgers, with no idea of the ultimate outcome.  He missed the excitement of the death and Resurrection.  What happens today to a Catholic priest when he finds he no longer can be celibate?  When he really cannot be normal as every other man?  When it was your “profession” to the public?  Does it mean complete failure?  What happens when this career based upon your relationship with God comes in conflict with the required vow to be celibate?  When the vow seemed historically artificial?  What happens when a man faces professional failure, even when the priest’s desire to marry was what was usually considered the normal development of a man?  Why was this church law, which had not existed in the first millennium, considered paramount to priesthood, especially in lieu of every man, every woman’s struggle against loneliness?  Why was this church law considered to be just?

 

In baseball, when the supply did not equal the demand, you grew your own.  You developed a farm system.   You went to the Domincan.  In families you had kids.  When something was not working in the business world, managers were held accountable to find out why.  Otherwise people were going to quit coming out.  And then those managers would be looking for new work.  And now these rules were stacked against the home team.  It had not always been so.  Priest had been allowed to marry throughout the first millennium, although the folks in Vatican City did not want the people to know that.  The people in Vatican City seemed indifferent to church closings.  No consideration was being given to changes of the rules.  Nothing visible was being done to examine why men had quit signing up.  In South Africa they had a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to address wrongs of the past.  Government had to find a way to unite a fractured people.  When men and women long ago quit signing up, no one in Rome had sought to find out the truth about why.  Rather than playing the blame game, rather than close churches throughout the wold, it was time to show some authentic collegiality to break a communication problem that comes out of a dysfunction family that acts solely on issue of authority.  On the ultimate matters of faith, and sharing that faith through the Eucharist, the seat of Rome had failed to communicate with great honestly.  It was a failure to listen to the people, to respond in some way for at least 25 years, which would put the availability of the Eucharist at risk.    

 

The masses had never been better educated.  Especially by priests and nuns.  But not any more. The cost of parochial schools was eating into the financial statement of parishes.  And that dried up the reservoir from where many a vocation had come. Experience showed that it was hard to lead an educated group of people, and especially if you were not considered as one of them.  The new archbishop here was going to learn that lesson.

 

How do you minister to a church of one billion with a diminished priesthood? Pope Benedict had called the question in the modern era of what exactly Catholic identity was if it was not practiced in every day life.  The modern Catholic had become like the American Protestant who lived down the street 40 years ago.  They went to church maybe 4 times a year. In a sense, this frequency of worship casts doubt on the intensity of worship.   Pope Benedict had called the question in his recent travels to New York and Washington.  We now wait for his answer to the real crisis in the church as to how a true Catholic identity which desired the availability of the traditional Eucharist would be served by priesthood over the next 25 years? 

Aequum Est

It had been a morning of black bananas at my home when I entered St. Agnes. And I did not look really look forward either to what was inside this church, in the fortnight or less before another papal plane landed.  St. Agnes for me represented the side that had won the war within the church over the last 50 years.  As I did not expect much from a black banana in the way of taste, from what was inside, which might explain the lack of appeal of the Catholic Church to the generation after me. 

 

I had always thought of St. Agnes a lot like I did the Klu Klux Klan, a thing of the past, a relic of a bye-gone era that I could not quite grasp.  This was a place for people who were trying to hold onto something from history, a people out of touch with the present day.  And in one sense, it all seemed there initially:  priests turning their backs on the laity with the resulting refusal to recognize the voices, a refusal to recognize the authenticity of the female spiritual relationship with the divine, with the ensuing lack of institutional recognition of their work, their ministry.  This was the patriarchal interpretation of Salvation History.

 

Now I was at least 12 minutes late, after making a stop at the airport but I still had not missed the first reading.  This was one slow method of prayer.  In downtown Minneapolis, there was a monthly African Mass, reflecting a culture that had more time to celebrate on Sunday.  Americans were busier people.  Once inside, looking around, I was amazed at what I saw.  I never expected the splendor of the colors within this church in this part of town.  And as the Mass continued, I was amazed at the prayers the congregation knew that I did not.  And I had been schooled in Catholic institutions from the age of 5 through 22. 

 

I was amazed at the response of the congregation to the Latin, as a 4-year Latin student myself, as the last class of altar boys of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass.  The worshipers were mostly younger than 50, working class people.  And somewhere there had been the preparation in a community, as in all communities to continue a tradition, how to teach prayer and how to pass the intangibles on.

       

The liturgy on this Sunday was about changed perception, recognizing Jesus in all things. And I was changed by what I saw.  Kneeling at the communion, in the days of old, did bring a renewed respect for what was happening. 

 

AND THE MUSIC of Mozart: that was why I had been invited.  Music reflected in the battle of traditional Christian churches, with an academic base, the factions within Christianity, in which something was created which happened over time, with various transitions, a symphony with very different movements.  Growth, acquisitions, transitions, with some attrition, yet still aiming at unity someday. Music was an art aiming at unity, and it was Mozart who showed any listener that it was right to give thanks and praise to this God.  I had heard a bit of Vivaldi’s Mass, Gloria in D Major, in the days since Easter.  Vivaldi witness vibrated the heart when the same music was used for the Gloria as for the Sanctus.  But for me Mozart brought a re-birth to what was going on.  AND IN THE MUSIC OF MOZART, what a performance.  Of people who live somewhere scattered among us.   

 

When I was a freshman in high school, I was taught a class by Bill Ozark with the name ”Salvation History.”  Of late, especially at Easter, I think often of that course. For me, there was an ever visible theme to world history.  And “Salvation History” seemed to include the infinite time when God lived alone in the heavens with His creative impulses.  And all along he kept trying.  When he formed man in his image and likeness, men and women kept trying.  And again and again, people failed.   

 

Resurrection consequentially is about forgiveness.  Resurrection was God’s divine way to demonstrate that all of history was about the attempt to keep trying.  Woman, Man, generation after generation of people.  People I have met and people I never knew, some related to me, have kept trying.  People of Ireland who tried to form a nation once again, on Easter.  People whose DNA I shared.  People who forgave and started over, with the resolve to try to do good.  Because we were divine, from age to age, from east to west, and we all were here to keep trying.   

 

Salvation History was that story about God, demonstrated in the tradition of Abraham who really had lived.  Moses was a true person.  David had actually ruled as king.  And Jesus had really lived and died.  I believed his story was not about how he was put to death, not another story about man’s inhumanity to man, but His life’s purpose was about the meaning of all history. On a morning that had started with black bananas, it seemed fitting and proper to hear this Latin of a different time, to hear Mozart in commemorating Dr. Sullivan, to recall people who had lived and died, to recall Bill Ozark, and to look at the next generation of Sullivans, in this Easter season of re-birth, resurrection. 

 

As they say at St. Agnes, Aequum est….to keep trying.