We’ve just added a new layer of complexity to the already abhorrent scandal of abuse, which has plagued the Catholic Church for decades. We’ve learned about abuses which have spanned over seven decades in Pennsylvania and carry a pain which cannot be realized for the victims of those predators, or even an understanding of the desire to cover up what was wrong. In many publications, I’ve read, there is finger pointing from everyone going everywhere. Our initial reaction is to right the wrongs which were perpetrated on the victims, and the quickest way we know to do this is to vilify that which we don’t fully understand. This has bothered me greatly, it’s analogous to those arguments of absolutism which hope to grasp an all-encompassing ideology or at the very least turn of phrase for everything which is wrong. For example, some people might say, “the Catholic Church is evil”, but as I would hope many people out there understand, lumping everything into such an ignorant statement is neither helpful nor truthful. So, back to square one, how do we fix what is broken, and how do we make right what others have seemed to make so wrong?
I don’t know about anyone, but for me, nothing can really be said to allay the emotions and raw anger which is brought about by such evil inclinations. So, I don’t attempt to say anything regarding the actions of others. Instead, it is more a reflection of my own behaviors and by extension and understanding the behaviors of others in response to my decisions. I would hope this applies to all when really reflecting upon ourselves and all those situations which require more than a simple explanation or the scapegoating we all desire as a kneejerk reaction. Ok, to begin, McCarrick and those religious named in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, are in need of prayer. They’ve allow those suggestions by the Devil, to take root in their behavior and by their wills have perpetrated evil acts upon the innocent. If the capability and the evidence is shown for criminal behavior, then they must face the music, and serve a societal penance for their actions. If they are no longer with us, then prayers must be said for them, that they repented of their behaviors before leaving this world, for even Cain was beloved by God. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen 4:9.
Cain was sent to the “Land of Nod” Nod meaning to wander, he was set to wander with a mark set upon him that no one was to do him harm. Even knowing the awful acts which he perpetrated upon his own brother, God still loved Cain, and wanted to see no harm come to him. In this we find the root of our understanding on multiple levels of our behavior as it relates to the scandals which have broken out, but more importantly on how we choose to understand ourselves and those who would wish to do us harm.
We are often given and impression of the Devil as being something of a literary myth used to describe in almost a philosophical sense of understanding, about an inability to explain what we know to be evil. This of course has more to do with an inordinate amount of philosophers and psychologists looking beyond their interpretation of myth for a more scientific answer. In doing so, they cast aside perceptions which can’t be explained in pursuit of what they perceive can be explained. Let me be clear, to utilize an answer of, “the devil made me do it” might on some level be correct, but isn’t effective when it comes to our own souls or acceptance of fault. When we search for a scapegoat, using the devil defense as your go to, is the mother of all cop-outs and should never, on the basis of legitimate repentance, be used as a decent explanation. We are bound to the discipline needed to look within ourselves and accept, although we have nothing to do with what happened, is our indirect inaction to play a part in the events which unfold around us. Take the scandal for instance, although the bishops and cardinals had nothing, in some cases, to do with the criminal behaviors, they still didn’t do anything to prevent more victims, and this is tantamount to pimping the violator out to another victim and being subject to the same moral culpability. Evil, isn’t just a psychopath running around the woods in a leotard and knife, it is also the inability to do what is just when we know by our inactivity the unjust will act.
The Devil is very real, very smart, and more powerful than we can imagine. Although, the devil has no direct act upon us, an intelligent suggestion by means more cunning than we can fathom, has the potential to derail our every understanding. We see this every day, families ripped apart by selfish actions, never intended to bring about the results finally realized, but in their maturation have done just this and burned every imaginable bridge. The devil delights in this, and just knowing the root of the term “diabolic” which means to rip apart, we find, we are more weak and useless when we intend to do it alone. When we intend to get out of just treatment in our behaviors, we leave others alone to face whatever emotive traps await them and the subjective environment can be most unpleasant. I’m not saying, repentance and even a societal punishment should be pleasant, but one where we accept our behaviors and agree to the punishment is a society where ownership is taught from the earliest age. A perception of evil, always trying to disrupt and destroy, is at the forefront of our minds, and we would rather behave in a manner of love and accountability than one of selfish indignation.
Here is where I’m at with everything, for too long, the Catholic Church sought to deride a just construct because they employed the “devil made me do it” mentality when it came to those who embraced evil. This is and was unacceptable, failure to make the priest or bishop own their behavior did more to allow evil to flourish than any one thing imaginable. The need for priests outweighed the need for justice, and what’s worse was those in charge failed to put their trust in the Lord, and in their own desire to be esteemed and honored, they became hypocrites set to do the work of the devil. Time and again, when we see societies, unwilling to place blame in its proper place and context, we see evil spread like a wildfire, consuming anything in its path. The citizens of Germany, during the 1930’s and early 1940’s were as culpable of the holocaust as were the perpetrators. If we are unwilling, even to the punishment of death, to stand on the side of justice, then we are as guilty in one manner or another of the evils the devil pushes to perpetrate on all of us.
As a father of three and a husband, accepting my faults hasn’t been easy. I could have been inclined to explain away poor behavior or bad circumstances with any number of vacillations or contextual realities (i.e. “when in Rome”), but this never assumes an ownership of behavior or result as matter of ownership. Instead, this gives me a sense of superiority, allowing me to take credit for what I want to take credit for, and push off consequences I don’t see as being fair or at the very least what I want to deal with. Pretty nice paradigm, right? Always being the good guy, never dealing with negativity, unless it’s drama I seek, but even then I control the level the drama sits at. I did this for a time, and it’s exhausting, I lost myself through deceit and embracing of my decision to sin. I failed to own my behavior and I failed to own my decisions which would lead down a selfish path always ending in heartache. I hated myself, and in the process, everyone else who represented the life I truly wanted, the life to be with God through my decision to own every action and thought I have. It’s my free will of course, and where would any of us be if we didn’t own our own behavior, active or passive? We wouldn’t have free will is the answer, and our lives would be infinitely more destructive and worse than we could imagine without the ability to exercise free will.
God’s gift of free will, gives us the chance to grow, without our ability to accept ownership and learning from our numerous mistakes, an expectation of growth becomes unrealistic. This applies in everything. The Catholic Church, in the moral ground with which it stands is still a matter of man’s pursuit towards the light of God. In this pursuit, there will be shortfalls, evil, willful ignorance, and lack of ownership in the general behavior of the church. However, this living body of Christ, is always doing the work of God, and is always led by the Holy Spirit, and in the process of failure is always learning as the world moves on, to correct its mistakes. In other words, to own its poor behavior.
If I had any recommendation for the Church, do like you would do with so many others, allow them to face the laws of the land (Rom 13:2), and at the same time, pray for their souls and they may have the strength to own their behaviors and right the wrong in every way possible. There is also the prayers needed for the victims to forgive, to stop being victims and move forward in their lives, and to embrace life as this bridge to a more beautiful existence with God. Pain is a circle we will continue to walk with our heads down, failing to see we continue to walk a path of pain constantly. Only when we lift our heads do we realize we must stop walking in this circle of pain and begin to move forward in our lives.
Ownership for me, was the hardest, most liberating experience of my life. It was tangible, and it was something I could finally work with, something where I could envision God handing me the tools and telling me “make something beautiful my son”. Just like any work, it requires revision and rework, it demands others to look upon this work, and give their thoughts, and it needs our loving attention at all times. Men, this is where we can shine the most, own everything you do, right or wrong. People may not always be a fan of this, but it is never about them, it is about our search for the truth, our search for our path, the search for God and the reflective light which will expose the darkest corners of our soul and allow us the ability for compassion and love to everyone. If there are those people in your life, who have wronged you in some way, look into yourself and search out how you may have wronged them, search for a common ground and be willing to stand there first and wait for them, forgive them, pray for them, love them. If you’ve done no wrong, then you must remember, even though they’ve decided to walk an evil path, you must still choose to walk the path of the righteous. This means everyone is precious in the eyes of God, so we must all remember if we want God’s compassion, even in time of our own strife we must be willing to give the compassion at the highest cost. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!
Painting by: Thomas Blackshear