Flavin’s Corner May 2002

Men of Soiled Cloth

Because of the great harm done by some priests and religious, the church herself is viewed with distrust, and many are offended at the way in which the church's leaders are perceived to have acted in this matter. The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God. To the victims and their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II, April 23, 2002, from a letter read before Cardinals from the United States, the leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and officials of the Holy See on the subject of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

I had other things to do.
His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston, April 25, 2002, response to reporters when asked why he didn't attend a news conference the day before.

Last week in Rome, twelve cardinals and a couple of bishops from America met with His Holiness Pope John Paul II and senior Vatican officials to discuss potential policy changes in the Church due to ongoing sexual abuse scandals.  Most lay Catholics and clergy were somewhat encouraged by the meeting, though many remain disappointed that the action appears more the result of media coverage and bad publicity than concern for victims and bringing the guilty to justice.  The cynical equate the men of the soiled cloth with Clinton and Lewinsky, Enron and Anderson, and McDonalds’ fries coated with beef juices and vegetarian claims.  It’s a shame regret and action happened after months of front-page newspaper coverage and not before.  It’s about leadership or, in this case, the lack thereof. 

Ostensibly concerned with the molestation of children, concomitant issues of celibacy, homosexuals in the clergy, and the obligation of the Church to cooperate with secular governments in criminal matters, were likewise addressed at the meeting.  It’s often said as a popular aphorism, that people only change their behavior when it truly becomes unbearable for them.  Clinton, Enron, McDonalds, and the Roman Catholic Church got caught, modified this and that, and continue on their way.  It’s still bearable for them.

Similar recent high-profile scandals in Austria, France, Germany. Ireland, Poland, and Britain didn’t necessitate a Vatican summit, but toward an acknowledgment of the importance of American Catholics in the Church, Pope John Paul II convened a meeting lest matters get real ugly.  Too little and too late?  The answer is ultimately for tomorrow, but for today ...it doesn’t look good.

In much the same way as first there was Coca-Cola, then Coke II (nee New Coke ), and followed by Coca-Cola Classic (with cost-saving changes to the recipe), so it is with Catholicism.  The early followers of the teachings of Jesus and apostolic traditions gave rise to what became the Roman Catholic Church, as well as various Eastern Churches.  In 1024, a major separation occurred between the Eastern Churches and the Roman Catholics.  Then came printing and a consumer-based economy with Luther, Calvin, and others who rejected apostolic traditions and kept the offerings of the collection plates for themselves.  The Eastern Churches and the so-called Protestants have often tried to reach an understanding, sometimes with suggestions of doctrinal change, but usually with nothing more than anti-Catholic rhetoric advanced as their shared position.  Okay, I’ve never really liked Coca-Cola, I prefer RC (or Pepsi, when RC is unavailable), however I regret that I’ll probably never taste the original formula Coca-Cola again.  So it is with Catholicism.

I......M......doe trulie and sincerely acknowledge. professe testifie and declare in my Conscience before God & the world, That our Soveraigne Lord King James ys lawfull and rightful King of Great Britaine and of the Colony of Virginia, and of all other his Majesties Dominions and Countries. And that ye pope neither of himselfe, nor by any Authoretie of the Church or See of Rome, or by any other meanes (with any other) hath any power or authoritie to depose the King or to dispose any of his Majesties Dominions, or to authorise any forreine prince, to invade or anoy him in his Countries, or to discharge any of his subjectes of ther Allegeance and obedience to his Majesty or to give licence or leave to any of them to beare armes, raise, tumult, or to offer any violence, or hurt to his Majesties royall person,
state, Goverment, or to any of his Majesties subjectes within his Majesties Dominions.
From an oath taken by the colonists of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.

Religion, from the Latin religare (to bind or link together), is arguably both a personal matter and one of public concern.  What an individual chooses or not to believe in, though most often in modern times protected under secular law, usually invites criticism when addressed in a public forum.  The Roman Catholic and Eastern churches, despite the separation of 1024, have apostolic traditions and the linking back to the early followers of Jesus, while today’s self-styled fundamentalist Christians do not. [Note: The blanket term “Protestant” is, of course, applied to any anti-Catholic Christian movement, though the Episcopalians have been properly described as Anglo-Catholics with supervisory issues.  The CIA World Factbook 2001 lists America’s religious affiliations as Protestant 56%, Roman Catholic 28%, Jewish 2%, other 4%, and those with no religious preference at 10%.]  These so-called Christians (Protestants) are ridiculously removed from the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin beginnings of the Christian movement in the Mediterranean, and seem more concerned with fund-raising, politics, and music lyrics than the binding or linking to of the advice of a teacher and philosopher from 2000 years ago.  Charismatic personality cults run by half-educated moral tyrants who’ll likely be forgotten in a few generations or less?  Ask a “Christian” preacher about sin and you’ll hear about the evils of drugs, homosexuality, and a few slurs against the Democrats.  Ask a Catholic priest (or His Holiness Pope John Paul II) and you should hear an explanation of an ancient Greek term used in archery meaning to miss one’s mark.  Should.  Hey, it’s not a perfect world!  Besides, America has never been a perfect nation.  Nor, a Christian nation for that matter.

For too many, being anti-Catholic is a binding or linking together with traditions as old as the Church herself.  The emergence of the Roman Catholic church was a slow, tortuous process with poor behavior often exercised by all parties concerned.  After the Church came into her own and despite a claim of infallibility, pettiness and moral deficiencies seemed prevalent among the diakonoi, presbuteroi, and episcopoi, rather than magnificence and moral decency as expected from deacons, priests, and bishops.  Those struggles are the dark history of the Church that contributed to Protestantism.  And, even after the Reformation, the darkness continued as with the failed 1605 “Gunpowder Plot” by Catholics to blow up the British Parliament and assassinate the King of England, the head of the Episcopalian (Anglo-Catholic) Church.  I’m unsure if the horror that ensued has stopped.

In 1607, two years after the “Gunpowder Plot,” all of the colonists of the Jamestown Island, Virginia settlement were required to take an oath which was explicitly anti-Catholic (see above quote).  Some have suggested murderous intrigue and argue for the arsenic poisoning of many of the settlers, perhaps by Spanish (Catholic) spies.  To the north, in Massachusetts, the so-called Puritans of Plymouth Colony frowned upon the celebration of holidays, though they did tolerate the lighting of a bonfire to mark “Gunpowder Treason Day,” later known as “Guy Fawkes’ Day,” “Pope’s Day,” or “Bonfire Day.”  In 1623, several homes were accidently destroyed at Plymouth Plantation after a bonfire got out of control.  Such public anti-Catholic demonstrations, as well as accidents and deaths, would become part of Colonial America and continue for a hundred  and fifty years.  It’s difficult to imagine 18th century crowds from the North End and South End of Boston competing to see which could burn the best effigy of a pope.  Well, maybe not that difficult.

Through such tolerance as that shown by Gen. George Washington in 1775, who wrote against the “ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope,” the bonfires passed out of fashion, but not the basic anti-Catholic sentiment in America which inspired them.  Founded on pseudo-patriotic Nativism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, the anti-Catholic secret society, "The Order of the Star-Spangled Banner," was formed in New York City in 1849.  The society eventually became known as the “Know-Nothings” from their usual response of “I know nothing” to non-members.  Abe Lincoln wrote in 1855, “As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’" Despite the bias, paranoia, and hatred directed against them, Catholics survived and prospered in America.  So too did anti-Catholicism.  John F. Kennedy spoke out against anti-Catholicism in 1960, saying, “Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”  It's even been suggested that Kennedy’s assassination was an anti-Catholic act.

National Guard jeeps in front of the stage and altar erected for
the Papal Visitation of His Holiness Pope John Paul II and the
Papal Mass celebrating the Feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus,
Boston Common, October 1, 1979 (picture taken the night before). RDF.

Anti-Catholicism is as American as apple pie a la mode, chocolate malts, Diet Pepsi and silly nostalgia at the beginning of the baseball season.
From "Scandal brings out the bigots," by Andrew Greeley, Chicago Sun-Times, April 12, 2002.

The current threat of a resurgence of anti-Catholicism in America stems from an ongoing scandal involving the molestation of male Catholic children by Catholic priests in the Boston area, and the shoddy (if not illegal) manner in which the priests were reassigned to avoid prosecution and publicity.  To complicate matters, dioceses in Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cleveland, New York City, California, and others have come forward with their own cases of abuse by priests (though some of these involve women and girls).  It’s a mess. [Note: The overly used expression "pedophile priests," is often incorrect and misleading.  Ephebophile priests would be more accurate.] 

In the Boston area, reminiscent of a previous revolution, a group of Catholics have formed to “Keep the Faith, Change the Church.”  The Voice of the Faithful is a rapidly growing group of disgruntled Catholics whose declared goals are to: 1) support those who have been abused, 2) support priests of integrity, and 3) shape structural change within the Church.  They debate such topics as homosexuality, celibacy, abortion, contraception, and other important issues confronting today’s Church.  Open and publicized discussions about the possibility of donated monies being used to settle child-abuse lawsuits have caused a tragic drop in donations which would benefit Catholic charities.  It’s a revolution, there are other groups involved, and it’s wrong.

There are several major problems with this revolution, not the least of which is personal agenda motivation.  The Roman Catholic Church is not subject to the whims of the disgruntled.  Change occurs, as with Vatican II and unbaptised kids not being sent to limbo, and more recently with His Holiness Pope John Paul II speaking out about Hell (or Hades) as a myth and allegory, seemingly indifferent to lay expectations.  Perhaps one day the Church will allow married priests and the use of contraception, but it’s doubtful such changes will be the result of harassment or blackmail.  Such behavior hurts the Church and makes victims of those who depend upon her.  Besides, this “scandal” is supposed to be about the actions and inactions of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with child-abuse allegations.  A no-brainer -- crimes have been committed and it’s a matter for the law, not for His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law.  Reassignment?  Defrocking?  The monsters, the men of soiled cloth, and all who've committed crimes belong in jail.

Hoping for that shot poured 'round the world,

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