A week ago at church we heard that terrific passage from 1 Peter 3:15 suggesting we should always be ready to give reason for our hope. Yesterday at church I experienced reason for great hope in the most unimaginable way – Father Dale matter-of-factly referred to rape in his homily. It felt like fresh Spring air reviving the church.
Regulars here will remember that I am beyond exasperation with clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church. As with the vast majority of rank and file Catholics my outrage transcends those who committed acts of sexual exploitation. Collective outrage correctly rests with a culture of clericalism – like fish, the ordained are typically unaware of the water in which they swim!
For the record, I believe Archbishop John Nienstedt should resign. My reasons are not based in anger or revenge, though I freely admit my anger and belief he must bear the consequences of his malfeasance. He should resign because he has squandered authority and lost the trust of the people. No one can provide moral leadership from such a position of deficit.
He is not likely to resign. Such is the culture of clericalism – ordination is often misconstrued as divine right, direct delegation from God Almighty! He appears to me as one who remains blithely unaware of the water in which he swims. Clerics are too often preoccupied with fulfilling “their” vocations, their individual “call” from God. It’s tied up in power!
If Archbishop Nienstedt were a Good Shepherd he would recognize that it’s not about him! Neither is it about public anger, revenge, power or even legitimate authority. It’s about the church, the People of God. The eight years to Nienstedt’s mandatory retirement age of 75 is simply too long for this Archdiocese to wait for the leadership it deserves and desires.
But neither is my point ultimately about an Archbishop. It’s about hope, fresh air, speaking the truth, proclaiming a Word recognized as the Truth! It’s about what’s happening in parishes in this Archdiocese and across this country. It’s about priests like Father Dale who know the water in which they swim, who love the communities they shepherd, and about mature Christians who recognize and require truth be spoken.
Yesterday Dale introduced his homily, masterfully focused on the Ascension of the Lord, with a passing reference to the death of Maya Angelou and her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In that context he mentioned that she had been raped at age seven and lived for the next ten years not speaking. Rape. Seven-years old. In church, out loud!
This never would have happened in the church of my childhood. Such topics were verboten, unspeakable, mentioned only in the privacy of Confession. That too was an ocean in which we swam unaware of the toxicity of our waters.
Today churches, schools and civic organizations have “safe child” trainings, policies guiding the actions of supervising adults, and a heightened sensitivity to good-touch/bad-touch. This is as it must be. This all is necessary to transform our culture and heal our communities.
But something more was in the air yesterday at church – freedom, truth, openness. It feels like a genuinely safe and transparent community when rape of a child can be factually admitted and publicly grieved. It went far beyond training, policies or supervision!
This was not the point of Dale’s Ascension homily – and that is my point. No more cover-ups. No more denial. No more lies. Truth vivified the air. What a healthy community in which to raise a child. What a truly safe church we really are becoming.
At the Ascension Jesus promised to send us the Spirit. We have good reason for deep and abiding hope!