Further Thoughts on The Letter

Having had half a day more to think about the letter, there are a few other things that are sitting with me.

I find there is some weird nostalgia regarding olden times. In with the nostalgia is authentic need to go back to some traditions and practices that were lost in the mid-1900s, so it’s hard to just flatline say that we can’t go back to the way it was. There are layers to that statement, the first obviously that we are different that we were then, so we actually can’t go back. Secondly, just because it was prior to Vatican II/sexual revolution does not mean it wasn’t a broken system/church. I feel that Pope Emeritus Benedict inadvertently indicates that prior to this time sexual abuse was not in the church. I would heartily disagree with this. I do not think he intended to say it as such, but he also did not acknowledge it, so it is hard to say. Thirdly, I do believe that we are greatly lacking authentic relationships with Jesus and so in our sinfulness it’s hard to see the sin and to turn back to God. But I don’t believe this is necessarily only a problem that has occurred in the 20th century. I think this challenge has been here since the start of Christianity. It’s just taken a very distinctive embodiment in the 20th century.

Pope Emeritus Benedict comments a lot on how ‘the west’ has lost its place for God. But it is not only the west that is beset with sexual abuse problems. Most notably, India has been in the public eye for one of its bishops raping a nun continuously and blaming her for it, while a priest who would have stood witness against him is suspiciously murdered. (I am still terribly upset over this situation and the lack of commentary). I’ve just read that the church in Japan is now investigating sexual abuse cases up to 20 years ago. Pedophilia and abuse of power have been around far longer than the sexual revolution.

The problem of sexual abuse spans far wider than just the west. The thing that determines whether it is public or not is how much of a hush hush culture there is bringing this sin to light. It depends on the culture’s understanding of honour and how that is applied in cases such as minors or vulnerable peoples and powerful, authority figures.

The problem is the culture. Everywhere. The problem is ordained ministers not taking their vows seriously. The problem is that there is little accountability for cover ups.

Do these things stem from not having one’s relationship to Christ central to their lives? Absolutely. From being banned from having God in the public sphere? In part, but I don’t believe on the whole.

In his discussion on the current problem with canon law and pedophile priests, he does not mention once the protection of the victims. He speaks of the problem of the accused in law, wherein it is hard to convict them at all. And he speaks of the need for canon law to “also protect the Faith, which is also an important legal asset.” But nowhere does he mention those who were wronged. Those who have been damaged by the action of ordained ministers. It is a great loss to neglect them in this.

I think he tried, and he said some insightful things. But as someone who has been abused, this is not a letter in which I find terribly much comfort in. I want to know that my church wants to protect me and bring me into relationship with Christ while respecting my God-given dignity. In so many ways, so far, our universal church’s response has been, ‘Meh, you’ll get over it. Let’s not stir the pot too much here.”

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Pope Emeritus Benedict’s Letter

Earlier today it was published that Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote a letter, a strong message, as he calls it. This is my very limited but relevant commentary.

He writes this message in three parts, first giving history to how such scandal could come about, the effects it has had on formation for the priesthood, and then finally what he sees as a proper response to the crisis.

Part I: History

I am grateful for more historical context. I don’t think I will ever be wary of trying to understand better where faults come from and hearing about things that are antidote to them. I am pleased he has written this part as a way to understand some rudimentary beginnings of this collapse of morality within our church.

Part II: Seminary Formation

He then proceeds to part two which speaks of this impact on formation of seminarians and the culture of seminaries following the promulgation of relative morality. He speaks of a specific situation at one seminary in the second paragraph, but gives little to no real explanation of what was lacking. At this seminary, apparently seminarians and “candidates for the lay ministry of the pastoral specialist lived together. At the common meals, seminarians and pastoral specialists ate together, the married among the laymen sometimes accompanied by their wives and children, and on occasion by their girlfriends. The climate in this seminary could not provide support for preparation to the priestly vocation.”

Guys, I have questions. There is no reference point for this, no extra notes. It’s a very odd and strange set up, but I want to know what is inherently lacking in sharing community with married and single people. The problem with this part (and I’ll grant it’s a very small part of the document) is that it holds this example up to shame it without telling us exactly the points to why it is shameful. And it’s not that I don’t see that there are less than ideal areas in it, but the part that is sticking with me is that the community meals were also held up for shame. Without defining exactly what is meant by this, the example may as well have been left out for all it’s intent and purpose.

So there was that.

He then outlines more specific incidents of very very poor moral judgement of seminaries. Which wholeheartedly can be endorsed as skewed morality, at best.

He then describes the issues Rome had with altering canon law to address the concerns of pedophilia and priests. He says they were reluctant to change and properly address the situation, and from what I read and would estimate, likely in part due to lack of proper education regarding pedophilia. I would hazard a guess – as it became viewed more as a disease – that the church in Rome was slow to incorporate that knowledge into its understanding of how to properly address these situations.

But he also states that there has been and alludes to there continuing to be large problems of guarantorism within stated law. Now, this is not an English-based word. It is a translation from German. I do not know what he intends with this word and I am ill prepared to figure it out. An informant (*coughcough*Fr.Harrison*coughcough*) tells me that it might mean, “that while there is a legal process, no severe canonical penalty would be applied.” This has been problematic. And he also alludes to collusion surrounding such cases where there have been trials. Also quite problematic.

He mentions that there have been some reforms but does not seem to indicate that they are adequate quite yet. He does not explicitly say this, but indicates that proper addressing of the issues of pedophile priests has not been satisfactorily covered under existing Congregations at the Vatican, which is why Pope Francis has “undertaken further reforms.”

Part 3: the proper response

This is the part that sounded like it should have been most encouraging. I had higher hopes; they kind of fell flat. He speaks to our hope in Christ Jesus, incarnate. Which is not misplaced by any means. He means well, and his words are exceptionally true. However, given his starting criticism of the way the Church dabbled in relative morality, I expected more. I expected that we would be encouraged to call out the wrong so that the light might shine forth more clearly. Encouraged to continue the fight for right judgement. All things he alludes to in his previous parts of the message.

I expected more. I don’t know if I have much more to say except that the last section was a bit of a disappointment. If concrete steps were taken (albeit slowly) in the 90s to address the issues, surely could we not also be encouraged to find a way to make sure that the little ones do not stumble in their faith due to the actions of evil? I don’t think it would have been too much to ask, but I also am not constrained by saying too much or too little on a subject and possibly stepping outside of the boundaries of my episcopate.

I suppose to err on the side of saying too little won’t stir the pot. But too little said has been the standard for so long. I yearn for a change in this.

 

To read the whole of his letter, you can find it in English at the Catholic News Agency.

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Daily Gospel: Crowd, I get it

Today’s gospel: John 8:31-42

I struggle with the gospel of John.

I love the imagery that he uses, I love the signs. I don’t love how I read it and constantly think, “Crowd, I get it. I totally get where your coming from. This guy’s speaking is nuts. Can’t he just answer a question?!”

I am the crowd. I am the pharisees. Even in retrospect of the gospels and our church and tradition, I look at what that crowd was told and I understand why they were so confused so much of the time. I mean, is it too much to ask Jesus to use a bit of logic in his responses?! Joking. Sort of. This is quite particular to John’s gospel.

And yet that very point that I find so frustrating I also find reassuring. I don’t have to get it. I don’t have to understand completely. It is okay that I am still learning. At this point, the majority of my learning I expect to take place in prayer, not necessarily academics.

But I’m just saying to the crowd in John’s gospel: you’re not wrong. But can you keep the questions and keep your faith long enough for Jesus to fill you? That’s the question. That’s the challenge.

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Jesus, Carry Me. Mary, Hold My Heart.

These past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions.

Yesterday mid-afternoon I walked into St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral, already full of anxious anticipation. A woman named Anne introduced herself to me. Bishop Mark, she said, had asked her to come sit in on this meeting with me. He felt it was important that another woman be present to support me. I learned a little later that she is also a trauma counselor.

We were led to a meeting room and chit chatted before Fr. Tim arrived, the man I had been in contact with since September. The one who had flown in, by his bishop’s request, to listen to my abuse story and to create a picture of what happened so that the Calgary diocese would know how to proceed. A report, in essence.

The meeting lasted just shy of two hours. A remarkable time frame, given that what I went through in two hours had previously taken me six months. Six months. Six months of every-other-week therapy (and occasionally weekly) so that I could start to feel functional again (spoiler: I’m not there yet). Six months to get to a point where I might not become so overwhelmed that I couldn’t continue with the story.

Prior to this meeting I had come to a point where I wouldn’t randomly become overwhelmed with emotions, all connected to my abuse and triggered by some source. It varied, what would trigger it. Oftentimes it was due to not being busy, so being busy helped to control that which felt uncontrollable. Every time I went in to therapy, though, it felt like a safe space where it didn’t matter if I lost control. It didn’t matter my feelings of inadequacy or shame or confusion rattled around the room, bouncing off the walls. Here, they could be set loose and understood. And slowly, I continued to understand.

It felt jarring when during that meeting, new emotions that had not previously been loud came forth. Trapped. I had not encountered this one in therapy yet. Trapped with no where to go, no one who could understand the complexity, no one who could come and save me without drawing judgement, being trapped in a room with him and being sick to my stomach at what was taking place. This emotion sucked my breath from me and only later did I realise how my hands were shaking.

A break, Anne called for. A break. Let’s reset. Look around the room, change your sensory input, drink some water, let’s walk a bit. A break. And then, I continued on. My strategy changed when I encountered betrayal. And I continued forward until there was nothing left. 

It’s All About Brokenness

I took time at a church after the meeting. First, I drove around for awhile before realising it was probably not a terribly safe way to drive, with all these emotions still running around in my head. So I went to a church and sat in front of Jesus. I prayed the Sorrowful mysteries, which seemed most appropriate. And I felt the agony in the garden. I felt my suffering and agony as close to Christ as it could be. I know Mother Teresa tells me that these feelings, when they are such, mean that I come so close to Jesus that he could kiss me. And I felt his companionship in the agony. The thorns were the sins committed piercing his flesh, bringing forth heated drops of blood. I did not feel the thorns as he does, but felt his companionship continuing through.

My pencil slipped out of my bag with a notebook. I was intending to write down my thoughts, my emotions, all that felt chaotic. But instead, I wrote suffering. I wrote praise. I wrote gratitude. For in my own suffering, Christ suffers with me. And even though he is suffering, he embraces me, he catches me, he ensures I do not crash to the ground. He carries my own sinful self amidst his own suffering because he is my shepherd and he will not lose his sheep.

From here

The steps from this point are unsure. The report will be discussed with bishop McGrattan, and he will no doubt wish to discern. Fr. Tim was kind and genuine; I felt he desired to see that I receive healing out of this, which I have no doubt will be a part of that discussion.

I am still recovering out of having to relive in detail the events of my abuse. I have more work to unpack all of this. I am being triggered more often, which makes it hard to feel confident leaving my house. The anxiety of having shared this publicly, of knowing that people are concerned, and yet not being in a safe place and cannot necessarily relieve concerns.

Healing will come to me, but it will take time. I may have more set backs in front of me still, but all I know is the here and now. I know the strength of Jesus, who can carry me while also carrying his cross. And I have given my heart to Mary, whose own heart is inflamed with compassion and a mother’s love. She carries my heart with resolute tenacity. I could be in no better company than these.

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O Sapientia

We’re well into the O Antiphons already, but I can’t help to reflect on the first of the Antiphons, my most favourite of all:

O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge.

For nearly as long as I remember, I have always associated Wisdom with the Holy Spirit. I know, these O Antiphons are technically names in the Old Testament for the Messiah, but it doesn’t matter terribly to me. Perhaps another odd thing is that I’ve always associated Wisdom/Holy Spirit as female. Wisdom is feminine in form while the Holy Spirit is in male form in Scripture. I have no explanation except that the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life has always been distinctly feminine.

When I hear this Antiphon every year, I marvel at the Oneness of God. Our experience of God is in trinitarian form: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. But God is one. My experience of Wisdom as Holy Spirit and as Jesus has this dimension that God cannot fit into our normal expectations all the time. God is revealed in Scripture a certain way, but God continues to work in our lives and be revealed to us today.

Surprise!

This is only magnified in the Incarnation, when God became human. The Jewish people had their tradition, their normal understanding of how God worked in their relationship – their covenant. And then Jesus came. A baby. Not born in riches, not born into renown.  He was decidedly unlike how they expected him to be. They had studied what the prophets said. They had been as faithful as they could in understanding God’s covenant and God’s promises. Jesus did not fit. And so he was accused throughout his public ministry and unto his death.

This baby – how could he be Mighty God,

be Wisdom,

be Leader of the House of Israel,

be Root of Jesse’s stem,

be Key of David,

be Radiant Dawn,

be King of all nations and keystone of the Church,

how could this little, vulnerable baby be Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law?

No swords. No fire and brimstone. No angels with flaming swords defending the King. No army. Just human. and divine. In one little, tiny parcel, wrapped in rags, and laid in a manger. Snuggled with his mother, his father protectively close by.

Our God is the God of surprises. Do not forsake what you know of God from his own revelation, but be prepared to be surprised. She will not disappoint.

O Sapientia,
quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

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