CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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Making sense of the scandals in the Church today

A time to hold fast to Christ, our Lord, and to the Church, his bride Part 1
 
The wave of scandals
I am aware of the pain of many of my friends who follow the news of the scandals in the Church that are held on trial in public through channel discussions and social media. The verdict is dictated on the accused from the judgement throne of the undeclared tribunal of the media. The condemnation is repeatedly affirmed by the number of likes and comments posted by the viewers.
 
Pope Francis himself is dragged to this tribunal by one of his archbishops (Carlo Maria Vigano) on an alleged cover up of old Archbishop Theodore (former cardinal) McCarrick’s past sins. The second letter of Vigano shows that he is not going to give up on the pontiff. 
 
The ecclesiastic earthquake in Chile in the wake of scandal of massive clerical abuses in the country and the resignation of all its bishops is just calming down. Now, a number of bishops in many countries are on trial in public with the allegation of cover-ups of clergy abuse in their past.
 
In the state of Kerala in India, the news and television channel discussions have been pursuing and persuading the investigation and arrest of Bishop Franco for his alleged 13-fold rape of a nun.  They have even drowned the aftermath of a devastating flood in Kerala in the avalanche of media coverage of the case. All anti-Church forces rallied with the demonstrating five impatient nuns to speed up his arrest. The bishop, who is in police custody, still asserts his innocence firmly.
 
Celibacy the problem?
The voice heard loud from the screen and the writings on the digital walls are of sarcasm, ridicule, hatred of the clergy and condemnation of the “abusive” structure of the Church. Some prescribed castration for priests, others prescribed marriage. A few asked for social action to release the nuns from the prison of convents. It was a time when something supressed in the psyche of all those who had an axe to grind with the Church exploded into humiliating gestures and comments against the authorities of the Church. 
 
Uncritical people in front of the screen may suspect the Church to be a cauldron of clerical abuses. Certainly, it is naïve to take the Catholic Church for a pack of cards that could be knocked down by the real or alleged sins of a Franco, a McCarrick and a few others. 
 
There seems to be concerted effort to show that the celibate ministers of the Church are fused bombs of suppressed sexual urges waiting to explode on children and vulnerable adults.  If it were to be so, humanity is at a serious risk. There are more than 5,304 bishops (super passionate bombs!) and 415,656 priests (love bombs!) and 54,229 lay brothers (landmines of love!) in the Catholic Church. 
 
Are the 670,330 women religious in the convents and 22,859 consecrated women of lay institutes an unhappy lot waiting to be released from their prison of hypocritical vows and servitude to the clergy? 
 
Indeed, the ideal they stand for and strive to live is an explosive against the forces that distribute the God-given resources and organise the co-habitation of God’s children on our planet.
About 500 years ago, during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther attempted to empty convents with a similar intent. 
 
Many confused nuns left their convents in search of a promised paradise outside to find there the debris of their own charred dreams. 
 
Once again, convents began to be filled on the Catholic side, though it took time for Protestants to allow space for nuns.
 
Humanity and its wounds
Indeed, clergy and religious are as human as everyone else.  They reach different levels of personal growth and integration. The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s took a toll on the unprepared clergy too in the West. Most of the abuse stories come from that era (cf. Pennsylvania report). 
 
In the past, people covered up abuses at home, when an uncle abused a niece or a dad molested his son. Certainly, cultural silence does not justify a crime. 
 
Pope Francis rightly pointed out that we should understand a historic event with the hermeneutic of the period in which it took place and not with the hermeneutic of our time. 
 
When the Church opened her eyes to the issue, she boldly addressed them with grief and took measures to prevent it in her institutions. There are clear guidelines to deal with a case of abuse in the Church in case it occurs.
 
I am aware of how the scandals and their resonance in the public affect those around me and myself. There is sadness, anger, humiliation, shame, and confusion about what the truth is in these cases. I seek to know why the Church herself is targeted and not the individual. 
 
A case of infidelity in marriage is not seen against the institution of marriage. Sexual abuse by an officer of United Nations or the sexual misconduct of an employee of a company or of a government is not held against the organisation or the form of government. 
 
Similar abuses in the temples, mosques and protestant Churches do not evoke such reaction and resentment in the people. I wonder why?
 
Church the spotless bride of Christ?
Could it be a positive affirmation of what is special about the Church? The Catholic Church stands unique in the world with no parallels. People, both friends and enemies, want her to be the pure bride of Christ. The collective psyche of humans seems to long for and loves its beloved to the depths of its being, for Christ has embraced humanity in his incarnation. 
 
The Church is the face of Christ in the world. Not even the devil would like to see the face of Christ tarnished! The sins of her sons and daughters, even such allegations, are detested when they are seen to take the life of the sheep rather than laying down their lives for them like the Good Shepherd (John 10:15).
 
The scandals in the Church challenge me to wake up from slumber and anchor my life and ministries in the Lord of my life. They invite me to gaze upon him constantly to learn to die to myself and live my life loving. I know how precious his face is, and I would never want to throw mud at him.
 
I know well that the reality inside priestly and religious life is far from the depictions about it in the media. I have lived within it for several decades now. This is why, deep down in me, I am at peace in front of the humiliating portrayal of religious life. 
 
Some of the finest humans I have met in life are from this group. I have been touched by hundreds of priests and religious in my life. In the place of several of these scandals, there are hundreds of luminous men and women of the Church who inspire me: Mother Teresa, Alphonsa, Claret, Chavara Kuriakose, John Bosco, Ignatius Loyola, Theresa of Avila, Damien, Vincent De Paul, Catherine of Siena… to mention a few. 
 
Treasures in earthen vessels
Certainly, priests and nuns are also fragile earthen vessels containing God’s treasures. I have come across a handful of them struggling with their wounded sexual selves. Often these persons were abused by adults in their own homes. 
 
Most priests and nuns whom I have closely accompanied had moments of affective crisis in the process integrating their sexual and affective needs to their consecrated life. They go through periods of infatuation, falling in love, masturbatory behaviours and crushes including physical expressions as part of their journey into the mystery of God’s love. 
 
With appropriate help, a good number of them grow to enjoy the freedom of consecrated life and become radiant channels of God’s love for others. Some remain arrested at a lower level of growth while a few suffer regressions during stressful situations.
 
Even with insufficiently integrated sexuality, there is still lot of room within the person to be filled with God’s love and the joy of self-giving service. When a person is centred in the Lord, their personal wounds could become openings to God’s mercy and the breakthrough of their false self (ego) to glimpse their true self (divine image). 
 
Paradoxically, a wounded person may be more available to God’s grace than an unbroken person who may remain like the seed that refuses to die and therefore does not sprout. 
Jesus knew the stony hearts of those who hold stones to throw at a sinner, and placed a challenge, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). With the loss of the sense of sin in our times, grave sins committed by people in authority and responsibity (clergy and public servants) abound, and the number of spectators desiring to throw stones is increasing. 
 
 
Mathew Vattamattam CMF
Claretian Missionary
30 September 2018