Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is It Lay Passivity Or A Self Imposed Evacuation Zone?

Not exactly what I had in mind for alternative church services in the parking lot.

There have been a ton of topics I could have written about, but unfortunately I didn't seem to have any time to do much about it last week.  Things have settled down somewhat, at least for me, and here I am back at it.  Of all the articles I did manage to read in the last week, the one that stayed with me was one written by Jamie Manson for the NCR.  Actually, there were a number of very good articles posted in the NCR last week, like Eugene Kennedy's latest, but Jamie's really stuck in my head.  It may be because although Jamie was writing specifically about the passivity of the Catholic laity, I could see some of the same phenomenon operating in the faces of the Japanese people, especially the disassociation.

The following is the part of her article which really resonated with me:

 ...."The sexual abuse crisis is not an issue like women’s ordination, married clergy, or the inclusion of gay and lesbian Catholics. Those concerns are critically important issues of justice.

But the sex abuse crisis is much deeper and darker. It’s about the rape, sodomy, and psychological abuse of children and adolescents by priests. It’s about church authorities going to great lengths to cover-up and to protect predators. The hierarchy cannot use the Bible, Canon Law, or tradition to defend themselves against these crimes.

The comment sections of the NCR columns on the Philadelphia scandal offer some great suggestions for protesting the offending hierarchs. Many agree that the only way to get the church to respond in a decent and decisive manner is for the laity to withhold its money.

Much as I agree that such a tactic would work, am I the only one sickened by the fact that depriving the church of financial support is the only way to shock them into acting with integrity?  (No, I am way with Jamie on this one.  The fact we laity think money is the only voice we have is a statement in itself about what we really think about our leadership.)

Again, I ask, how is the church still surviving amid such a legacy of sexualized violence? What other institution in the U.S. would still persist amid corruption of this nature? What is it that keeps all Catholics from calling the hierarchy to accountability for the crimes that they have committed against children and adolescents over many decades?

Perhaps it is the passivity that characterizes Catholic inculcation that keeps us from believing that we have a voice, and that we, as baptized faithful, have a right to demand integrity from the church that we support and fund.

Or perhaps we’re suffering with garden-variety self-centeredness. If it didn’t happen to our child or in our parish, we don’t really have a stake in the issue. Often we continue our relationships with unjust or harmful institutions when the injustice or harm does not affect us directly. We separate our parish community from the wrongdoings of our overarching authority. (Or saving our own souls is more important to us than the fact our 'saviors' are destroying the souls of others.)

Or, perhaps, there is an even deeper psychological reaction at play here.

At the recent conference “Lost? Twenty-Somethings and the Church,” Dr. Lisa Cataldo, assistant professor of pastoral counseling at Fordham University, spoke of the role of dissociation in the responses of the clergy and the laity to the sexual abuse crisis. Cataldo explained that when parts of our worldview are threatened too much, they have to split off from our consciousness so that we can avoid dealing with them.

Dissociation usually occurs in response to trauma, and allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too difficult to process. Is it this psychological safeguard that has allowed the laity, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to continue to enable the hierarchy by attending liturgies and financially supporting the church?
Even if the reasons behind the laity’s continued involvement with the church are psychologically complex, Cataldo believes that we would be remiss if we did not recognize that the church’s crimes have had an indelible impact on young adult Catholics.

The evidence presented at the “Lost?” conference suggests that these repercussions have been sadly underestimated. Most young adult Catholics interviewed for the conference cited the sex abuse crisis as most damaging to their relationship with their church. Twenty-something panelist, Patrick Landry, summed up the thoughts of many when he reflected:

Children are the most precious gift we have. Not only was this abuse happening, but other priests -- and bishops possibly -- knew. It’s confusing for us who are in our twenties … what could have happened to this church that we grew up with such a strong connection to?

It shook our faith in the church as an institution. This is an organization that seeks to define how you should live -- and then you find out all these terrible things [are] going on in their houses.............

............If young adults cannot find much to respect about the institutional church, older adult Catholics should at least give them a reason to respect the laity. If we have felt unaffected enough by the crisis to keep silent, the wounds of young Catholics -- both past and present -- should inspire us to raise our voices.

If we truly believe that the Eucharist we receive is the body of Jesus, we must find the courage to oppose the religious leaders who continue to inflict harm on the body of Christ.

So often we lament the lack of integrity in church authorities. But if we continue to remain immobilized by denial, weariness, or complacency, we may leave the next generations asking, where was the integrity of the laity?


The comments to this article were disheartening to read because so many of them betrayed the very passivity Jamie describes.  Too many asked "what can we do".  Obviously there won't be any 'no fly zone' just as there won't be any international tribunal looking into issues of a global criminal conspiracy or a UN Security Council declaration of crimes against humanity---although the last two have actually happened in the case of far fewer victims.  There doesn't seem to be any higher authority to intervene unless the occasional secular legal authority chooses to do so, as happened in Philadelphia.  So what's a lay or concerned religious person to do? 

Lots of us have left or are in the discernment stage leading to leaving, and lots of us have stayed, and stayed mostly sullen and silent.  This isn't all that different from most families who experience abuse from one or both parents.  It is really really hard to deal with this kind of betrayal from the authority figures of our childhood.  In the case of Catholic priests, that authority was confused with divine authority and that makes it even more fear inspiring.  Disassociating is a very real solution for a divine problem.

One of the comments I found intriguing mentioned that out of a reported 1.1 million Philadelphia Catholics, a whopping 50 showed up for Cardinal Rigali's official mea culpa ceremony.  I wonder how many might have shown up if an alternative 'unofficial' ceremony would have been held by a priest of known integrity in the parking lot. Most of the Catholics I know who have left, have not rejected the Eucharistic aspect of Catholicism.  They have rejected the authority structure.  They have rejected what passes for Episcopal authority because it's bankrupt in it's integrity, and unaccountable for any of it's acts.  The stench inside the doors is too much. It covers up that which is hidden with in the doors.  The only Catholics who seem oblivious to this are either somehow above it all, or whose fear of hell keeps them solidly in denial.  The rest of us are stuck somewhere out in the parking lot.  Sort of in our own evacuation zone outside the toxic spiritual pollution.  If that's the case, maybe we should just have Mass out in the parking lot, celebrated by priests who feel the same way.  I'm sure the collections would be large enough to support the priests out there with the rest of us and there would be one other side benefit.  We wouldn't have to use the new Mass translation.  

In the meantime the desperate true believers and their unaccountable leadership could continue to desperately try to save a clerical system which is beyond salvation until they see they have to bury it for their own good.  Kind of like another situation that readily comes to mind.



  1. Well said. I have to admit I find myself torn. I believe myself obligated to give something so that the church can pay the electrical and heating bills, as well as for coffee & doughnuts after Mass. We heard a CD recording of the local archbishop (Schnurr) asking for money for the diocesan appeal, but since they took our money and used it to fight gay marriage, I'm not feeling inclined to contribute to the appeal.

  2. One other parting thought, Jamie Manson and Eugene Kennedy both expressed themselves well on this topic, and various trolls came out and manifested themselves on the NCR pages. I think Mary Frawley O'Dea also hit the nail on the head in asking where American Catholics' Tahrir Square was. I tend to want to avoid confrontation, and usually my attendance at Mass and rehearsal doesn't facilitate it. We don't hear much, if any, overt politicking in the pulpit, but the new young guys hound about abortion because they think it is the topic du jour, even though the sexual abuse and its mishandling have been the real problems the Church faces. Mass attendance has fallen over the 12 years I've been in the parish, and it doesn't appear to be improving.

  3. We have stopped giving money because we don't know what else to do. Those who make the meekest protestation are removed from ministry. In fact, no one can join a ministry these days without being vetted by the pastor.
    I know the time our group spends with the inmates brings hope to them and we are aware that a 20+ years ministry can be shut down at any moment for "insubordination." At that point it would be time to walk because there is nothing left to lose.
    Homebound and those in nursing homes have been left without visits or communion because ministers were not approved.
    Yet our young JPII priest teaches that disobedience is the "only" sin-defined by him as not obeying the teachings of "Holy Mother Church".

  4. Archbishop Dolan's interview with Marley Safer on 60 Minutes this past weekend was quite enlightening. In the Archbishop's mind there are only true believers completely obedient to the magisterium OR there are "visitors" who ask questions that disturb him. He made it clear that he is quite relieved when the "visitors" (which include Safer and thinking catholics) LEAVE!

  5. I agree that the only thing these clowns will understand is empty coffers, but I think the vast majority of Catholics are okay with their local clergy, so they contribute on Sunday believing that all the money is going for electrical bills and the doughnuts. Every diocese I know taxes Sunday collections. In Chicago, it's around 10%. I think if Catholics knew this, their giving would decrease dramatically. I also noted how in the recent Chicago Archdiocesan Appeal, the pitch was how much the poor are helped. I'm almost sure, though, that those funds are also used to pay for anti-gay marriage propaganda. Dioceses bundle these things and then don't talk about the parts they know are not popular. Most critically, however, it's the (again) lack of transparency that's most insidious.

  6. One clever solution to the conundrum of collections I've come across is pooling resources--maybe in the parking lot:)--and directly pay the operating costs of the parish. That way diocesan taxes are avoided. Cash is as cash does so to speak.

    I kind of wonder if enough Catholics opted for the parking lot parallel church kind of thing if that wouldn't have a major effect on the authorities in a way the passive don't donate thing does. Real meaningful rebellion always makes an understandable visual statement.

  7. It strikes me that the article contains a tad bit of victim-blaming. Because the vast majority of the laity has been victimized by the clergy and the culture. Maybe not sexually in most cases. But certainly spiritually. Most of the laity don't realize it. Much like abused children, they have no experience of a healthy relationship to either the clergy or to God.

    Sure, some of the people stand up and say no more. They are nearly heroic in nature. In order to do so, each individual must almost completely reorganize his/her own worldview. If those individuals, having gone through this process continue to facilitate the clergy, those people might be somewhat accountable in terms of facilitating the abusers.

    But the Church almost from the beginning starts individuals down the road to Fear of God and loss/damnation of his/her own eternal soul. The article mentions this, but IMHO it dismisses the enormity of the issue. Yes, the Church charms with the good news that God love you. But try to step outside a certain boundary and they are right back to excommunication leading directly to damnation no questions asked.

    I sometimes feel like an ill-literate Catholic because I've not read much of the writings of the greats like Augustine. I tried to read one of his books. I just could not stomach the constant 'I'm so worthless and evil; God is so pure and holy there is no possible reason why God would love me'. It sounded too much like what my annulled spouse used to tell me constantly when I was in that relationship... To hear Augustine honored as a doctor of the church is akin to an abuser being held up to society has a good example of a near-perfect human being. Even the heroes held up by the church seem to be there to enforce the cycle of abuse.

    The parallels are there, over and over again.

    Sure, we all should know better than to accept abuse. Women should know better than to go back to an abusive spouse. Abused children who go on to have their own children should know better than to abuse their children. But when we don't know better, when we don't have a healthy model to lean upon, it is hard to create something from scratch.