The Instant Family
We are living in an age that seems to put a premium on immediacy. Instant coffee, instant credit, instant replay, and the ubiquitous fast food services are all part of of our “now culture”. It is not surprising that we would have the same expectations for a perfect instant family when a couple marries and at least one partner has children from a previous relationship.
While the parents say “I DO,” the children often say, “I DON’T.” The new spouse may say, “I take you as my “lawfully wedded spouse, but I’m not so sure about being a parent to your children”, or “I take you as my lawfully wedded spouse, and I really look forward to the challenge of serving as a stepparent to your children.” Whatever the hidden, or not-so-hidden agendas of the individuals involved, expectations play a major part in shaping the happily or not so happily ever after of the new family.
While remarriage is not a new phenomenon, the number of remarriages has increased rapidly in the last several decades. Today, step-families are more likely to be created by divorce than by a death of a spouse. It” estimated that 60% of children born today will spend part of their life in a single parent household and in one or more step relationships. Seventy million Americans are involved in some form of step relationship, whether remarried, dating, living with a partner or as an absent birth parent. It is predicted by the same, that three-quarter of all step- relationships will break up and that more people will be part of a second marriage than a first.
In my more “fascist” moments, I fantasize that stepparents should be certified or licensed as foster parents and adoptive parents are. Recognizing that is far from a possibility, I have chosen to spend part of my professional life alerting present and future step-families of the perils and challenges of “Getting and staying in step. Future articles will focus on issues that step-families face and will provide some suggestions for living a more satisfying step-life. Here are some helpful hints for avoiding the trap of buying the myth of an “instant family.”
- Whenever possible, it’s best to have future stepparents and stepchildren meet long before the marriage that legally unites them.
- Once the couple has achieved a degree of seriousness about one another, the children can be included gradually in activities. Then when the prospective members of the step-family are reasonably comfortable with one another, some time alone for the future stepparent and children is helpful. The relationship is more likely to develop successfully if the adult is seen simply as a friend, not as someone who is replacing the absent parent.
- Avoid buying into the myth that has tyrannized step-families, “instant love”. “Love me, love my children”. The belief that stepparents “should” or “must” love their stepchildren and the stepchildren “must” love them, (when they might not even like one another) contributes to a lot of resentment and guilt. All we can expect is that they treat one another kindly and respectfully as human beings. If love develops it is a bonus.
- As the adult in the new family it is important not to personalize the stepchild’s behavior. More often than not, they are either testing you, or their behavior has little to do with you. “Just for-today, I will not personalize my stepchild’s behavior”, perhaps is the best advice a stepparent could be given.
- Although most new step-families don’t like hearing this, it takes between two and four years to become a functional family unit. It’s important for remarried families to realize that the problems they face are usually developmental and not pathological and are indeed subject to resolution. Living in step can be a rewarding and challenging experience for both parents and children.
The title for this posting was stolen (like in baseball) from a classic poem I memorized in grammar school, Casey at the Bat [LINK] by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. He in turn stole (like in plagiarism) the line from an essay On Man by Alexander Pope. Just in case you can’t remember the poem, or sadly never heard of Mighty Casey, here is a brief summary. The baseball fans of Mudville, who were watching their team lose that day, were divided into two groups, the “struggling few (who) got up to go leaving there the rest” and the loyal fans who stayed because of their belief in the “hope that springs eternal within the human breast”; and they were counting on Mighty Casey to whack out a homerun and win the day for the Mudville Nine. If you want to know the outcome of the game, click on the link above.
It seems to me that in some ways, many of us are waiting for “a Mighty Casey like” person or movement to fulfill the hope that Vatican II inspired for reforms in the church. If we’re one of those, I think we need to listen to the wise sage Pogo, who said in a 1971 cartoon, “We have met the enemy and it is US!” [LINK] Pogo’s statement has become a universal truth that applies to most organizations, including the church. Like many others, I believe that the laity is the key to change. Having aired our grievances, and recognized that we are part of the problem, we need to keep hope alive. We all need to become change agents and not just “leave it up to George”. This commentary will focus on those who believe that “hope springs eternal…”, and are willing and able to follow Pogo’s challenge to be part of the solution. In my next blog I will focus on sources of hopelessness.
SOURCES of HOPE
“Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy
I don’t intend to use “hope” in the biblical or theological sense, as in Faith, Hope and Charity, but in a more everyday way, as in “Hope is the belief in what is possible and the expectation of things to come.” Or as St. Augustine of Hippo described it, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Or if we think of hope as a movement, the Chinese author and Guru Lin Yutang described it as, “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.“
I realize that these “bumper sticker” type quotations might seem Pollyannaish, especially when we apply them to the Vatican. So, I’d first like to suggest a prototype of person who as a cardinal, had all the characteristic and values for providing a hopeful vision for leading the church forward, while at the same time would not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
In my last commentary in Catholica, [LINK]I included several references to Cardinal Carlo Martini’s death in which the articles mentioned examples of his progressive observations and convictions that the cardinal had about what the church needed to do to become relevant in the 21st century. The September 8, issue of The Tablet: The International Catholic Weekly had several post mortem articles under the overall title Cardinal Carlo Martini Remembered. The lead article on page 2, Prophet for Our Times [LINK] acknowledges some of the many contributions Cardinal Martini made to the church, and suggests how different the church might be now if he had succeeded Pope John Paul II.
The article also serves as an introduction to his last interview two weeks before he died, entitled, The Pope and Bishops Should Find 12 Unconventional People to Take on Leadership Roles (notice the title specifies people not clerics).That interview describes “…a papacy that never was, but might have been.” The interview is on pages 8 and 9 on the link immediately above. Additionally, in an article entitled Never Afraid on pages 6 and 7 under the same link, Cardinal Martini is remembered as “…the torch-bearer of liberal Catholicism”. I particularly appreciated the author’s describing Martini’s primary role as bishop being “a pastor of souls” rather than being limited “to that of ecclesiastical authority”. We are getting closer to a conclave to elect a new pope. Hopefully the next pope to sit in the chair of Peter will be someone like Cardinal Martini. If that were to happen, I think the hopes we had for Vatican II, and even beyond, could become a reality not just a dream.
Another source of hope for me was the celebration of the 50ieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s opening session. I’ve been encouraged by the many positive reactions to the celebration of that historical event. There have been a number of article that I’ve read in the past several months that I found hopeful,without ignoringwhat remains to be done, nor hesitating to point out how much of what we hoped for and thought would be accomplished had been sabotaged by the Vatican Curia, Pope John Paul II, and his handpicked successor. For me the articles brought back some of the same excitement and hope that I had as a newly ordained priest when I first heard about Pope John XXIII’s plans for the Council. In the words of the renowned philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà-vu all over again”.
One concept that was reinforced by several of the anniversary articles was collegiality, the fact that we are stakeholders in the church.You know that, and I know that, but the people in charge still don’t seem to “get it”. We’re all familiar with the sensus fidelium (the mind of the people). The term stakeholder is perhaps more in touch with current corporate lingo. It wasn’t around when sensus fidelium was first used by the early fathers of the church, but it’sexactly what collegiality is in current corporate lingo. As members of the People of God, we are stakeholders, and this is one of the issues that remain to be resolved in accord with the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, November21, 1964.
Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium is where collegiality is spelled out. [LINK] In an article by John Wilkins in Commonweal, p.16 in its October 2012 edition, the author describes the “fierce and protracted” debate between the minority of the conservative bishops, and their progressive opponents had over collegiality. Basically, the conservatives were concerned that if they budged an inch on collegiality, the church’s teaching on infallibility, defined by Vatican I in 1870 would be in jeopardy. The argument was between those who saw collegiality as community and those who saw it as a pyramid, with the “…pope at the apex.” In Roman Law a college (like in the College of Cardinals) is an association of equals, a concept that the traditionalists could not reconcile with a monarchial papacy.”  Although the progressives won in the end, in reality the “community” structure, as envisioned by Lumen Gentium was never operationalized, thanks to the long reigns of John Paul II and the present pope’s obsession with tradition.(See Jeff Mirus’ article Benedict’s Hermeneutic of Continuity).[LINK]I believe that the concept of collegiality is a priority for change and needs to be implemented according to the original promulgation of Vatican II.
As stakeholders there are a number of change organizations that are available for us to join if we want to participate in taking our church back and beyond Vatican II. I suspect that most of you are familiar with the major lay organization in your own countries and around the world, so I’ll put their websites along with additional articles, at the end of this posting, so you can refresh your memories if you think it’s necessary. What all the lay organizations need is more of us stakeholders to join them in their missions.
A NEW GOVERNANCE MODEL
Besides the older lay organizations’ contributions, I see a source of hope in a lay group that was established in 2005, the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Governance (NLRCG). If you check their website [LINK] you’ll see a completely different type of organization with strong ties to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), with a membership that includes key lay leaders from organizations across the country. The “Target membership is approximately 225 individuals who are top leaders and key experts from the worlds of business, civic life, professional associations, foundations, universities, healthcare systems, vibrant parishes, and other organizations.” The board of directors is made up of seven lay women, seven laymen, and three clergymen. The Executive Director is a lay woman. I was very impressed with the credentials the members have and what they’ve accomplished in a short time. If you check their website, their annual reports for the last few years, along with their mission, strategic plans etc. are available.
One of their guiding principles of NLRCG is to provide:
“…an avenue for greater incorporation of the expertise of all the faithful, especially in the areas of church management, finance, and human resource development. By virtue of baptism, lay people have not only the right but also the duty to offer their gifts and talents in service of the church. See: Christifideles Laici – Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on The Vocation and The Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World, 1988, 29 and Code of Canon Law, Canon 222.1, 1983.
NLRCG’s goal is to build “… a Church that is stronger in areas of management, finance and human resources and more fully utilizes the talents and skills of the laity.” Their recommendations are presented to the USCCB and, as stated in an article in America, they become a, Blue Print for Change [LINK], “…a roadmap for strengthening the organizational, financial, and managerial structures of the church at three levels: national, diocesan, and parish.”
Given the fact that, “…the Catholic Church in the United States, with its more than one million employees and operating budget of nearly $100 billion, is comparable in size and scope to some of the nation’s largest corporations…” having management experts guide the bishops seems like an excellent idea. Especially, since most bishops do not have any professional credentials or experience in managing what is essentially a position for a CEO of a large “corporation”. At the very least it should promote a new transparency in the church, and strengthens the role of the laity in at least the governance of the church, and give them a foot in the door for being included in decisions on the church’s teachings. I believe that the clergy sexual abuse of children, would never have reached the proportions it did if the “managers”, i.e. bishops, were not able to cover up for the perpetrators. In the words of James Muller, “With lay people involved in the decision making, certainly no priest who had abused a child would have been transferred to another parish…parents would never have permitted it.”
To me, the fact that there is such an organization as NLRCGis encouraging. I often wondered how we could expect men with degrees in theology, canon law orscripture to have the knowledge that’s required to be a “CEO” in a “corporation” as large as a diocese.
SELECTING OUR BISHOPS
Here’s a major issue that NLRCG has already recommended to the bishops, “… improvements in the process by which bishops are selected. While recognizing the primacy of the Holy See, it suggested the process for choosing bishops be supplemented with help of human resource professionals…” The election of bishops is one of the goals that most of the lay groups have been advocating for years. Here’s an interesting paradox: despite the fact that the hierarchy usually invokes tradition and teachings of the fathers of the church as their rationale for their doctrinal positions, yet when it comes to the selection of bishops, the fact that bishops were chosen in the early centuries of the church by the laity, doesn’t register with them.
In his book, Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose It’s Leaders, Joseph F. O’Callaghan, points out that “The terrible moral failure of the American Bishops in handling the crisis of priestly sexual abuse has focused intense attention on the office of the bishop.”  He believes that bishops are often perceived as branch managers or subordinates to the pope in their own dioceses, with administrative responsibilities over subdivisions of multinational corporations with their headquarters in Rome. This goes back to our conversation on collegiality.
I also recommend Robert Mc Clory’s book, As it Was in the Beginning: The Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church. As the title suggests, the author goes back to the beginning of the early church, which obviously not like the present church, and shows what needs to reclaimed and rejuvenated. He makes a good case for laypeople: having a sanctioned place at the table, along with the clergy; provides many historical examples of laity playing significant roles in assisting the institutional church in adapting to the 20ieth and 21st centuries. His answer to the question “is anyone listening?“, often asked about the hierarchies’ negative responses to the “…energy expended by all these Catholic reform groups…”, is very positive. He lists a number of achievements that he sees as hopeful signs, and in his final chapter “The Vision Presses on to Fulfillment”, he provides a number of scenarios for the Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church.
WHERE SELDOM IS HEARD A DISCOURAING WORD…
As an octogenarian and card carrying member of several catholic organizations whose foci are on reform in the church, I obviously don’t have the same energy that I had fifty years ago, and my involvements with these groups ain’t what it used to be: no more driving at night to meetings, no more taking leadership positions, no more demonstrations, no more lectures, but thanks to the modern technology I can still actively participate on-line. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get a half a dozen petitions to sign, or “change causes” to support. Thankfully, I am still able to take advantage of connecting with the virtual world out there in cyberspace with my computer. To paraphrase Descartes, “Scripto ergo sum” (I write therefore I am). What I’m suggesting is we don’t have to sit on the sidelines if we still have a glimmer of hope.
In my next blog, I will consider the other side of hope, the hopelessness that the hierarchy “will never get it” despite all our efforts to reform the church.
1) Wilkins, J. (2012) “Bishops or Branch Managers?” Commonweal, October 12, p.18.
2) O’Callaghan, J.F., (2007). Electing our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose Its Leaders. New York: Sheedp. 3.
The Second Vatican Council has Already Made Us FreeArticle by Robert Blair Kaiser, National Catholic Reporter, August 7, 2012.
Opening the Church to the World Op-ed, New York Times, by John W. O’Malley, S.,J., October 10, 2012,
The Promise of Vatican II to the People of God National Catholic Reporter, Editorial, October 11, 2012
Map for the Journey of Faith From the Editor’s Desk, The Tablet, October 6, 2012.
Catholicism at the Cross RoadsReview of Paul Lakeland’s book, by Frank Dechant, Future Church.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
- American Catholic Council
- Australian Website, Catholica
- Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church
- Bishop Accountability
- Call to Action
- Commonweal Magazine
- Future Church
- The National Catholic Reporter
- The 21st Century American Catholic
- The Progressive Catholic Voice
- Voice of the Faithful
I’d like to share some anecdotal information that I personally experienced both as a seminarian and priest, who became part of the clerical culture. There certainly were “benefits” but there was also a price to pay for being put on a pedestal by parishioners as well as people outside the Catholic Church, who had some unrealistic images of anyone who wore a Roman collar. I’m not suggesting that my experiences represent the majority of those who were ordained in pre-Vatican II, but I think my experiences can resonate with others who were ordained during that period of time, and for those who are interested, they can vicariously identify with the dynamics of becoming part of the clerical culture.
In my next commentary, I will move from my personal experiences as a former “cleric”, and consider the concept of the clerical culture from an institutional, sociological, and psychological perspective. I will first examine the abuse of—and—and addiction to power in the Catholic Church, from the Vatican on down. Second, how the perpetuation of clerical culture has contributed to the sexual abuse of children. Finally, I will propose how I believe that we, the people of God can begin to change this elitist culture of clericalism.
Naïve and Immature
I have a section in my memoir entitled My Calling. It describes a casual conversation I had with Father Harry Hinds. He was the director of the Catholic Youth Program (CYO) for the diocese of Albany, NY. I worked in his office as his assistant during my last year in high school. One day while we were working on the spring baseball schedule, he asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. I told him I was thinking of going to Siena College to study social work. He asked if I ever thought about becoming a priest. I told him I thought about it, but I didn’t think I had a calling. The next thing I knew, he was on the phone talking to the Chancellor of the Diocese telling him he had a young man in his office who was thinking about a vocation to the priesthood. By the end of his phone call, he had made an appointment for me to talk to Monsignor Rooney about my vocation. I was a little surprised to say the least, but part of me was flattered that he thought I was worthy enough to join their club. I was also more than a little naïve and immature. To make a long story short, the next September, I was off to St. Thomas’ a minor Seminary in Connecticut to become part of the clerical culture. My parents never questioned or pushed my decision, but being “good Catholics”, I sensed that they were pleased with my “choice”.
I took to the seminary like the proverbial “duck to water”. The sports, the camaraderie, the feeling that I would have a purpose in life that would not only bring me closer to God, but would give me an opportunity to help others to know and serve God. In my puerile mind, I imagined myself as being like Bing Crosby in the two movies Going My Way, and The Bells of St. Mary’s, where he playedFather Chuck O’Malley. For me, being a seminarian was like being a member of a Fraternity. We even had our own song, Ecce quam Bonum, the first line from Psalm 133, “Behold how good and how joyful it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”. That was also our chosen class song at the major seminary, St. Mary’s Seminary and Pontifical University.
The Hot House
During the eight years I was in the seminary, we were required to spend eight weeks of our summer “vacation” at Camp Gibbons, the diocesan camp for seminarians on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. The schedule was much more relaxed than the seminary’s. In the morning they bussed in children from parishes in several towns near the camp for religious instructions. It was a chance for us to teach catechism. The rest of the day was time for swimming, playing tennis, sun bathing, and living a life of luxury. Our colleague from other dioceses accused us of being put in a “hot house” for the summer to maintain our chastity by not being open to the temptations of the outside world. Looking back, I suspect that they were right. Especially, since we were under the watchful eye of our bishop, who spent his summer with us in what he called “his Villa”. At the time I thought it was just another opportunity to bond with your brother seminarians, after all they would be my major support group after ordination.
When I was getting close to ordination, one of our neighbors, a non-catholic woman wrote a poem that she dedicated to me. The title was, He Walks with the Hand of God. I just remember the first line or two, a little corny but it was her perception. “Not long ago a boy I met, who my kind of life did not covet, for he walked with the hand of God. His air was so proud, and he so perfect, for he walked with the hand of God.” You see what I mean about it being a little corny? Thinking about it now, it’s a little scary—me, perfect?—years later I used to do a workshop entitled Be Ye Perfect: Mission Impossible! I must have intuitively known before my ordination that perfectionism was not achievable, at least for me.
Here’s another example of the perfection that was expected of me. One of the meditations that I often used in the seminary was written by a Dominican priest, Father Jean Baptist-Lacordaire, who lived in the nineteenth century:
Thou Art a Priest Forever
To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasure; to be a member of every family, yet not belong to none; to share all sufferings; to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds; to go daily from men to God to offer Him their homage and petitions; to return from God to men to bring them His pardon and hope; to have a fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to bless and be blessed forever. O God, what a life and it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!
At the time it seemed like a very quixotic role to play. But even then, I used to wonder, why me? There were so many guys in my high school class who were: smarter than I, holier than I, more popular than I, why was I the chosen one? Looking back, Father Lacordarie’s description of the role and responsibilities of a priest was indeed a “mission impossible”. The expectations seem overwhelming. When I expressed my doubts to my seminary confessor, he told me they were just goals and that no one could meet them all the time, and that no one is perfect, we just do the best we can. When I told him about my concern about having “a heart of bronze for chastity”, andthat I was struggling with impure thoughts and temptations, he reassured me that once I was ordained, God would give me the grace that I needed to overcome those temptations.
It was not until I read A.W.Richard Sipe’s book, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, published in 1990, I realized just how many other priests were struggling and often losing their battle to have a “heart of bronze for chastity.” Sipe is a former priest, and now is a psychotherapist, who has been engaged in research on the institution of the church and priestly celibacy for over thirty years. The research for this book presented empirical evidence of sexual activity by almost 50% of the Roman Catholic priests. I wonderedif my seminary confessor knew that there were that many priests who were ordained and did not ipso facto receive the grace of celibacy. And if he did, would he have given me different advice.
At my first mass there was a line of over 200 people waiting to receive my blessing. I realized that it was not Don Fausel they were waiting for, but Father Fausel—but it was still a rather spine-tingling feeling to have everyone from my long lost relatives to Erastus Corning II, the mayor of Albany kneeling at my feet as I pronounced in Latin, “May the blessing of Almighty God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, descend upon you and remain forever.”
After I finished blessing everyone, my boyhood friend, Muggsy McGraw, pulled me aside, and brought me down to earth in his own inimical way, “Look Fausel, you got your butt in a tub of butter, three squares a day and no heavy lifting, don’t screw it up! You got instant status, instant security, and a job for life. Yesterday you were nobody and today you’re Father Fausel. Ya get my drift? ” How right he was!
But I was elevated again when I got to my first parish. Like most parishes in those days, there was an older lady that acted as cook and housekeeper for the priests. We ate at a formal table with a white table cloth, the pastor sitting at the head carving the roast; solid silver eating utensils, expensive China dinnerware, and a little bell to summon the cook for dessert or coffee. I’d come a long way from the kitchen table where my family ate our meals and where I thought my mother ate the neck and wings of the chicken because she liked them.
I remember one morning I went into the kitchen after Mass to let the housekeeper know I was ready for breakfast. I noticed a note scotch taped to the wall that said, “Father Fausel, turned over easy.” My immediate thought was someone had been monitoring my sleeping habits, until she told me the note was a reminder of how I wanted my eggs. Sitting at that table alone for breakfast, I always felt like the “poor little rich boy.”
Then there was Mamma Leone’s Italian restaurant on West 48th Street off Eighth Avenue, one of the most popular eating places in New York City. When I was a student at Columbia, occasionally several of us cleric types would go there for dinner dressed in our clerical clothes. We’d be standing outside in a long line, when a Maitre D’ would spot us and rush out to say loud enough so others could hear him, “Fathers your reservations are ready”, and then usher us into the restaurant, leaving dozens of dinners waiting behind . Of course we didn’t have reservations. As I became more accustomed to similar privileged treatment, it was easy to assume it was an entitlement.
In my memoir I recalled an incident about the pastor of the church I was assigned to in the Schenectady, NY. It was in the early sixties, I was on duty at the rectory, when I received a phone call from the captain of a police precinct in New York City. He introduced himself and asked if we had a Father Mac (factious name) stationed at our parish. He went on to tell me that they picked him up at a local hotel down near the Bowery and he was “drunk as a skunk” and didn’t have money to pay for the hotel room. He told me they wouldn’t press charges, and asked if we could pick him up. I told him I’d be down the next day and thanked him. Before hanging up he sheepishly gave me some advice, “Look Father, this poor guy needs some professional help. Our records show that this ain’t the first time we picked him up. You know what I mean?” The next day I was off to NYC to pick up our pastor. It was a sad one hundred and fifty mile drive back to Schenectady. Father Mac was either apologizing profusely or crying, or both.
This episode demonstrates several things about the clerical culture: the deference the police captain had for priesthood, and the willingness he had to cover up for a drunken priest. Plus my congenital condition of being an enabler and coming to Fr. Mac’s rescue, so he wouldn’t be embarrassed for having been charged with a crime and the parishioners wouldn’t be scandalized by his behavior. The good news is that the other associate pastor in the parish and I arranged a quasi-intervention to persuade Father Mac to get professional help. Which he did!
Priests Need Priests
There were number of us relatively newly minted priests stationed in Schenectady. A few of us decided we’d like to get together on a regular basis to go out for lunch. The group grew to about eight or ten. We would meet at different restaurant each week, have lunch and chat mostly about what was going on in our parishes, complain about our pastors, gossip about who might be made a pastor, etc. Some of us would play golf together, maybe go to an occasional movie, or go to NYC for a Broadway musical, and several of us when to Cape Cod for a week’s vacation. Our mantra was Priests need Priests. There’s certainly no question about that, who else were we going to relax with or enjoy our free time with? It only occurred to me recently, even though we might talk occasionally about theological issues or the up-coming Vatican Council, it was always on an intellectual level. Even if we discussed mandatory celibacy it was not about our getting married if they changed the rules, it was as if we depersonalized it. As I remember we never talked about feeling or personal problems that we might be struggling with. At least that I was struggling with. Being able to share feelings should have been one of the major reasons the Priests need Priests group were meeting for.
Fast Forward to 2002
On June 12, 2002, my friend John Rusnak and I boarded a plane to Dallas Texas to attend the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). We were not invited quests of the bishops but where members of Call to Action (CTA). John was the president of the Arizona Chapter and I was a card carrying member. We had been reading the news papers accounts about the out- break of the scandal of pedophile priests in the Boston Globe, and we were a tad cynical that the bishops would have the integrity to put the best interests of the victims and their families ahead of their history of secrecy of protecting the church. As we buckled ourselves into our seats and the cabin door slammed shut, I looked at John and said, “What the hell are we doing going to Dallas?” Neither of us had a rational answer, but our plane was taxing down the runway as we both shrugged our shoulders as if to say—beats me!
Well, here we are ten years later! Little did we think that the sexual abuse of minors would be worldwide. In the United States most catholics are still not satisfied with the bishops’ negligible response to the clerical sexual abuse debacle, or with the fact that the bishops refuse to acknowledge, and take responsibility for their part in covering up for the perpetrators.
So contrast those experiences I described above, when I was wearing a Roman collar to about forty some years later to the USCCB 2002 meeting in Dallas. In addition to attending some very stimulating workshops, one of the other activities our CTA group participated in was a protest march from a local parish to the luxurious Freemont Hotel where the bishops were holding their meetings. The closest we could get to their hotel was across the street, where we set up our signs of protest and peacefully demonstrated. At one point I had to go to the men’s room. When I tried to cross the yellow tape police markers, I was informed by a policeman, that I wasn’t allowed in the hotel unless I was a guest. When I explained my urgency, he accompanied me into the hotel, turned me over to another officer who told me I would have to give him my driver’s license before I could take care of business. The men’s room that I used was not even close to the room where the bishops were holding their meeting. I guess they weren’t taking any chances. Since the media was out in full force, the thought briefly went through my mind to make a scene, but nature’s call prevailed.
The few experiences I described about my life as a seminarian and priest (I have a million of them) might seem rather trivial, but they’re typical of the unearned deference and distinction made between priests and “ordinary folks” that underlies clericalism. It’s the same distance that the Occupy Wall Street movement brought to our attention when they pointed out the disparity of the 1% of the top of the economy to the 99% at the bottom. As priests we definitely were part of a privileged class, not just in those little acts of reverence we were given, but more significant Father was always right. After all, at that time priests had more education than most of our parishioners. We had spent four years after college studying theology; we had the power to administer all the sacraments; we were always in a place of honor at any parish event. The only ones in the Church that were above us were the bishops and the pope.
Remember as priests we were at the bottom rung of the clerical latter. Although there was often a gap between priests and people, I don’t believe that gap was the same for every priest, or that most priests had ambitions to climb up that latter. Nor do I believe that every bishop is equally addicted to the power that corrupts to the point that he loses sight of the children he is suppose to protect from predator priests, or the disenfranchise in society, and puts his own or the church’s interest first. But given the structure of governance of the church, its current culture, its process of how clerics are groomed, and given the psychosocial up-bringing that many clerics bring to the table, major changes are essential for the future of the Church. Please join me on my next blog, where I will discuss solutions to these issues.