It has to be obvious that I am whelmed by the horror of the hierarch. It is obvious that I do not speak in the measured, detached tones of the appellate lawyer before the five justices of our New Hampshire Supreme Court, as was done so many times over 40 years of immersion in the river of jurisprudence. Professionals rarely emote. Jurisprudence itself is a discipline that cannot feel, but knows and finds clarity out of obfuscation.
Not too long ago, though, jurisprudence began to feel, when it stared at the crime of sexual abuse in which the perpetrator was a 30 year old man wearing a Roman collar and the female victim was a six year old child, wearing nothing, her First Communion dress crumpled by her side. I knew emotion then, racking, raging, enormous, whelming. Our only granddaughter, Alayna, was 12. During the ensuing six years, my knowledge grew as did my emotions. Alayna is 18, saved, perhaps, because her father became an Evangelical Christian. Our new grandchildren are Seanna, 5 ½ years old, and her brother Ryan, 3. As modern Catholic parents, since January 2002, their vigilance is constant, steady – well what better word? -- vigilant.
Keith, their father, is still a parishioner at St. Catherine Church, Manchester, NH, where he was baptized in 1962. He does not approve of my being whelmed and would rather see his father as the detached, professional litigator he used to be. But, he has never once said, "Look, Pop, I'm their father. You're just a grandfather." Others have. And wished they hadn't. One pastor in Maine said to me, "Why so angry? It's not just priests, not just clergymen from other religions. It's pedophilia and is widespread. You are way over the top. Stop beating up on the Church. Looks like you've lost the Faith and are trying to cover up your own fault." I wrestled with that one for a long time. Cannot agree with him. It's impossible to deny my traditions, without which I am nothing.
In January of 2002, the secrecy of sexual abuse of minors was rent like the curtain of the temple when Jesus was crucified. Those of us who knew about it for decades – I was abused by a parish priest in my mid-teens, fended off advances made by a theol during villa – came to realize in the glare of salacious publicity that the secret was now out and in the open. Stunned into a roaring, raging silence, men like me, celibate for years as a seminarian, married for far more years with four children as emblems of our love, saw with a clarity that could rival private revelation that the issue was not sex. It was power. And we rose to take on the leaders of our Church.
The issues we raised were not biology, ephebophilia, pedophilia, a hankering for boys rather than girls, the curse of celibacy overwhelming its blessings, the "official teachings of the Church" on sex, not even the natural law and sexual morality. We saw, as the excrement of absolute power, three issues:
- Absence of accountability
We spoke out. We were for the most part ignored by Cardinals and Bishops, who were themselves vowed as it were in sacred silence and quite content to hang onto the absolutism of their power. A few clobbered back: banning, barring, locking parish hall doors, denouncing from the pulpit, thundering with judgmental judgments of mortal sins of disobedience, lack of respect, dissidence, heresy, and the worst of them all, refusal to bow down before their authority. Some were aghast. Most were terrified. And still are. Make no mistake. They are not incompetent opponents, nor are they weak, frightened men. They are afraid, yes, but for the horror of losing their power and perks, and not for loss of the Church.
Roman Catholic Hierarchs, approximately 4,850 total, do not really care whether they rule absolutely over 1,200,000,000 people of God all over the world. They do care that those they rule over are absolutely subservient silently unto them, even if there are only a couple of hundred thousand Roman Catholics, and could probably be satisfied with a few ten thousand or so. I don't know the average size of a diocese, but Portland ME, our last diocese is listed at 198,296
The Boston Archdiocese lists its population as of 2004, at 2,079,730. Denver, in which I sit at this moment, is 407,500, while the good, old USA ranges from 67,515,016 to 76,900,000.
I think there are 195 dioceses with either a cardinal, archbishop or bishop as the Ordinary. There are a lot more retired, yes, but all they do is hang around. They have absolute power, but are powerless. It is safe to say that 193 Ordinaries claim absolute power over approximately 77,000,000 Catholic human beings in America. It is the power that feeds the lust, not the numbers of people who bow down. As a college football fan – a son coaches – the numbers amaze me. There are only 193 hierarchs to confront in the good, old U.S. of A. A mere handful. If 50 of us oldtimers yelled "BOO!!" they'd scatter in a second. For a chancery or a basilica. Then again, maybe they wouldn't. They do seem impervious to insults, and Tom Engelhardt who prompted this piece uses a marvelous phrase for politicians, which we could easily borrow for our own leaders, filled with an "unbounded sense of imperial impunity."
That "imperial impunity" was haughtily clear in the excommunications of late, that ancient relic of a battle axe, which usually brought entire empires to their knees rather quickly. A few of us, who had been through the formation of the holiest of men – so they told us – as celibate seminarians, were waiting with eager anticipation for an Interdict, a much wielded weapon of papal primacy, not as terminable as excommunication, but as vicious and effective. And then we were ready for the Great Guffaw in honor of the finest laical triumph in ecclesiology. We imagined whole dioceses snubbing Rome with, "So what. Go away."
[Aside: my sainted mother – three Rosaries per day, Stations every Friday -- would have been aghast: "Could this monster be my son?" Her supreme joy: the day I left for the Jesuits. Her deepest tragedy: the day I left the Jesuits.]
Relations between those martinet Ordinaries and what had been a placable people looked like the playground squabbles of elementary school years when the game was King of the Hill. A cardinal and a couple of bishops were pushed off the top of the hill by us kids. After being toppled, some fled to the safety and sanctuary of Roman Basilicas, where they have an allowance for keeping the floors clean and conducting grand tours for tourists, who like them, believe the Church isn't now what it used to be then. Supreme. Just a relic of the glory of the past. A museum of sorts. Architecture monstrous. Paintings magnificent. Sculpture statuesque. Gore, lots of it, heretics obliterated, crusades endless. Power is awesome. Absolute Power is the ultimate in corruption.
Recently, a Cardinal turned on a Bishop. Roger Mahony of Los Angeles ordered Geoffrey Robinson of Sidney, Australia, not to set foot on his cardinalatial fiefdom, to shut up, stop writing books, go home and enter a monastic order, maybe, do penance for life, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Some sycophant Bishops follow the Cardinal slavishly and issued similar orders of Coventry-like banishment, lamenting the sorry state of public affairs in this 21st century, where they are denied the dungeon and the rack, the stake and the fire, not to mention disembowelment, or the ultimate entertainment for the masses of a dissident being drawn and quartered.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a quiet, humble, learned man, a servant of the servants of God, is not cowed. No authentic man of God can be cowed by a dandy of a hierarch, particularly when he is a hierarch himself, without the dandy. His tour of America is quite successful. He speaks. People of God listen and say, "Yes." We feel sorry for the Mahonys and the Browns and the Chaputs and all the other little martinets who must have been bullies back in the first grade, too. More to be pitied after censured, as a new saying might go.
And yet. And yet. I speak and write, taking my inspiration from commentators of our political scene, be they left, right or in the middle, avoiding the extremes of neocons and fascists. One of them, just one, there are others, is Tom Engelhardt, who appears in Truthout, a daily website of observations of our world: http://www.truthout.org . His piece today is the best I've read over the years, because it is a history of what he has been about and what his new book will be about. He writes sentences I wish I could imitate but know I cannot. For example:
In these last years, the Bush administration's unbounded sense of imperial impunity, and an older American belief that this country possesses a moral code exceptional among nations, have proven a lethal geopolitical cocktail. This curious perspective has led our administration to commit acts of horror in our name, while absolving us from thinking about how others might look on those acts -- and by extension, how they think about us.
Listen up now. Go back to that quote and
- Substitute "the Vatican administration" for "the Bush Administration."
- Turn "an older American belief" into "an older Roman Catholic belief."
And you will see as clearly as do I, that the issues some of us old men are raising to the Roman Church are political not dogmatic, disciplinary not doctrinal. We, and I, believe that there is indeed a Catholic Church. We, and I, do not believe that it is a Roman Catholic Church. No need for qualifying adjectives of limitation, when the word "Catholic" means "Universal." The Roman Catholic Church is limited, narrow, reserved for hierarchs and their toadies, and can never ever be Catholic, unless it changes, or we change, its governmental structure.
And that, as far and as clearly as I can see, is politics, pure and simple, though brutal and possibly lethal, as far and as clearly as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – include, please, George W. Bush -- have demonstrated. Such men are followed obediently, without question, by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Bishop Todd Brown and eight others who demand that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson shut up and go home to Australia.
He won't. Neither will we. Why do we persist against such absolutely powerful odds? Go to Tom Engelhardt again, where he wrote:
Because, for years, so little on these, and similar, subjects made it into print or onto the TV news, there has been a special need and place for online political websites. We started - and maintained - discussions that only slowly seeped into the mainstream, even as readers from that world increasingly fled on-line. At the height of the Bush administration's power and narcissism, what TomDispatch and other sites like it represented was perhaps a simple urge not to let them set an agenda for all of America, and for the planet. This, it turns out, they were incapable of doing - and for that, perhaps, we should be modestly thankful. When the first histories of our desperate times are finally written, historians will have to turn to the record created by the world of the Internet, or their histories will be as incomplete, the dots as unconnected as they were in the mainstream in these sorry years.
Intuition tells me that you readers are ahead of me, but being a doubting Thomas most of my life – he's my favorite Apostle – I have to make sure.
- Change "the Bush administration's power and narcissism" to – you know what – "the Vatican administration's power and narcissism."
- Change the black font to red for "We started – and maintained – discussions that only slowly seeped into the mainstream ,. . . "
- Do the same for "it represented was perhaps a simple urge not to let them set an agenda for all of Catholicism, and for the planet."
Bullets have a way of making the point. These are ours, not lethal, but filled with faith and hope and love.
- We do what we do now, to stop the tyranny.
- We seek tolerance, justice, accountability.
- If we do not succeed now, those who come after us will, simply and only because we began this opposition to absolute power.
- We will never go away.
- Nor will we fall back into the servitude that the Roman Catholic Church demands.
- We are the Catholic Church.
- We are taking back our Church.
The entire article, which prompted this piece is a long one, entitled: " 'E' for Expeditionary: One Man's Online Journey Through Bush's Alphabet Soup." Written by: Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com, on Tuesday 10 June 2008. This article should be read by those whose eyes are open, ears are open, and minds are, therefore, just as open, to see the similarity between institutions, which lust for absolute power, with "an unbounded sense of imperial impunity." And which cause such irremediable harm.
Please note the editor's explanation at the end of the article:
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site, has just been published. Focusing on what the mainstream media didn't cover, it is functionally an alternative history of the mad Bush years. This essay is adapted from that book's introduction. A brief video in which Engelhardt discusses the book and the American mega-bases in Iraq can be viewed by clicking here.
If clicking here didn't work from here, it would have been: http://www.tomdispatch.com/p/tdvideo/engelhardt06092008