Brian D. Scanlan’s forthright account (11/1) of wholesome boyhood experiences in the company of an aging priest was a welcome relief from the depressing lore we have painfully endured regarding boy-priest relationships these past years. His memories do not clamor for healing. Yet his otherwise laudable essay betrays an angst, I fear, that is all too common among Catholics still reeling from the pain and shock of the priest sex-abuse scandal. His uncompromising demand that the abusers must be driven out of the priesthood disturbs me greatly. Although I certainly agree that the guilty should pay for their crimes and I deeply commiserate with the young victims of this frightful tragedy, I winced when I read his claim. A new and sad fact is that some priests who have suffered the allegation of sexual abuse have now themselves become victims in this horrific saga.
Despite the feverish rhetoric that frequently frames this explosive issue, it needs to be admitted that not all accused priests have a history akin to that of John Geoghan or Paul Shanley, and they should not be ostracized or exiled as if they did. They are not all serial predators. Neither are they beyond the pale. Yet all of them, even those with a solitary allegation against them often years in the past, are now tarred with the same broad, all-embracing, unforgiving strokes, despite the fact that prior to the Dallas charter some of these priests had ministered effectively, if not admirably, for years in settings without children and with no accusation of impropriety. Now they’re gone; and given their record of restoration and service, there are still those who would drum them out of the priesthood altogether. Did somebody say justice?
Faced with wrenching decisions, people sometimes ask, What would Jesus do? Some fathers of the church judged Peter’s denial of the Lord a crime without parallel. But Jesus did not drive him out of the apostolic college. He not only forgave him; he reinstated him. The fallen, restored Peter retained his leadership of the church. Is this just a pious story to make us feel good during Holy Week, or should Jesus’ action be a paradigm for our own conduct in these anguished, traumatic times?
Perhaps the bishops will revisit this issue when they gather again in 2005 to ponder the norms of the Dallas charter. In the meantime, less harsh and strident language by all participants in the conversation might be not only a blessing but a welcome advance.
(Rev.) William T. Cullen
Those Who Suffered
The Nov. 8 issue contains a thought-provoking letter from Archbishop Francis Hurley. In it he discusses the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. He carefully states some of the objections that a number of people, including several bishops, have made about the charter. His concern is about the requirement that all priest abusers be dismissed from active ministry. Is zero tolerance too harsh an action?
I am moved by Archishop Hurley’s well-stated concerns for the priests involved. I am also concerned about the changes that he proposes. It is true that the charter was voted on rapidly, but it is a mistake to forget the context in which the deliberation occurred. Many of us laypeople were scandalized by the repeated failure of the church hierarchy to take appropriate action when this problem came to their attention. This was not only a crime of sexual abuse. It was also a failure of leadership.
The requirement that past offenders be dismissed from active ministry, even for abuse in the distant past, is a complex and difficult policy. Archbishop Hurley asks, Do not the bishops believe in forgiveness, conversion of soul and reconciliation? Several thoughts come to mind.
First of all, pedophilia is an illness, a compulsion. It is a mistake to assume that conversion of soul can change this personality defect.
Second, forgiveness does not negate the effects of a crime. If a teacher or a coach abuses, that person is fired from his or her job as well as arrested. They would never again be able to work in their former professions.
Yes, we must forgive. Nothing less is expected of us. But return them to active ministry? Do we hold priests to a different standard than the laity?
People who were abused have to live with the effects of this for the rest of their lives. Many will live extremely dysfunctional lives. Suicide is not unheard of. People who were abused can sometimes forgive the abusers and yet still be overwhelmed by their suffering. Let us not confuse forgiveness with forgetting the consequences of this crime.
Archbishop Hurley’s letter makes some very good points about priests who are accused of a single act of abuse, often in the distant past. Several bishops have publicly stated their grief over how harsh the charter is in this area. Unfortunately, the same letter does not make any reference to those who suffered. This is an unfortunate oversight.
Breezy Point, N.Y.
Survivors of Combat
Thank you for your piece Hidden Costs of War (Of Other Things, 11/8). The author spoke the truth, as any combat soldier knows only too well. In my own case, it took me some 35 years full of nightmares, weeping and shivering through many nights before I could even talk about it. A Houston police officer stopped me as I walked in my sleep on a public street in my underwear, gently woke me and took me home. It was grace that sent him to me. He was a Vietnam veteran and had experienced much the same trauma. He got me into a veteran’s group at the local V.A. hospital, and I slowly became better as I talked about the trauma.
So before we send our young men to fight in war, the situation had better be very serious. In addition, the government must become much more responsive to these hidden wounds, which can last a lifetime and need careful tending and professional help. We owe more to these servicemen than a discharge and some muster pay.
Peter J. Riga
Always Room for Hope
I read with great interest the article by Drew Christiansen, S.J., about Christians of the Middle East, Shrouded in Mystery (7/5). America is to be praised for drawing the attention of readers to the plight of their Middle Eastern brethren.
I agree in general with the description given by Father Christiansen. But I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the readers and add a note of caution. I speak from a dual perspective. As a U.S. citizen, I am concerned about the American involvement in the Middle East. As a native Lebanese Christian and an alumnus of two Jesuit institutions in Lebanon, I am even more concerned about the fate of the Lebanese Christians. The overall picture drawn by Father Christiansen is of the declining numbers and presence of Christians, and nowhere is this decline more significant than in Lebanon, the only Arab country where Christians had a word to say about their destiny.
In the article we are told that Lebanon was established by the French as a Christian foothold in the Middle East. An uninformed reader might wrongly conclude that this was probably an artificial creation. Anybody who has lived for an extended period of time in the region will quickly realize that Lebanese people (Christians and Muslims) share traits with the Arab heartland but also other common features with their Mediterranean neighbors (Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, etc.). This unique blend of East and West can be preserved only if Lebanon is allowed to regain its real sovereignty and independence from neighboring Syria.
Elsewhere we read that some Christian Lebanese political factions continue to nurture antagonism toward their Muslim compatriots. I disagree with this assessment. First, I think it is more appropriate to describe the present attitude of these political factions as cautious and defensive. Second, assuming that they were indeed hostile, a reader might conclude that the Christians are probably responsible for their own demise and that a more compromising attitude would help.
But in order for compromise to work between two parties, each has to make a step in the other’s direction. It is sad to admit that this has not been the case for the Muslim community. Let us not hide behind the facade of political correctness. Islam as a religion has many strengths, but tolerance is not one of them. If the past is any teacher, skeptics are invited to visit in Lebanon the caves and humble dwellings where Maronite patriarchs had to hide from various Muslim onslaughts. For those who will consider only the present, this article provides many examples of various hardships suffered by Middle Eastern Christians today. The most glaring is that of Palestinian Christians who have been strong supporters of the Palestinian cause and yet have endured extortion, theft, kidnaping and killing at the hands of their countrymen. And what about the genocide of the Christian population in Sudan?
Now a note of caution. Yes, Christians of the Middle East face troubled times. Is the situation hopeless? No, for there is always room for hope in a Christian’s heart. Yes, Christ asks us to forgive our enemies and go the extra mile.
But Christ does not want us to be trampled by our enemies or disappear from the region, for we are the salt of the earth. The current defensive position of the Lebanese Christians is fully warranted. I hope it will be vindicated by history. I know from previous conversations that my point of view is shared by many who have been ministering to the Lebanese people for years.
Maroun Karam, M.D.
Restore Some Meaning
I was struck by the photo on page six of the Nov. 29 issue of America. It shows Bishop Wilton Gregory presiding at the Eucharist during the recent bishops’ meeting. What astounds me is that there are 30 chalices on the altar! Has it really come to this? Whatever happened to one bread, one cup? Is it now one bread, 30 cups?
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has it correct in the letter he published in the diocesan newspaper, The Tidings, on Sept. 10, on the implementation of Redemptionis Sacramentum, in which he grants an exception to that encyclical’s No. 106 when the altar is too small to accommodate the chalices or where the number of chalices is so large that they would visibly detract from the important sign of one bread and one cup. The bishops would have done well to chat with Cardinal Mahony before this Mass began (and this picture was taken).
Thank goodness Bishop Donald W. Trautman was elected to chair the U.S.C.C.B.’s Liturgy Committee. Maybe, just maybe, we can restore some meaning to the eucharistic gathering. One can only hope.
James Friedel, O.S.A.
Olympia Fields, Ill.