Friday, 28 September 2018

Sex Abuse

Below are comments I made in the parish 28th September 2018 (updated 18th Oct 2018)

In August 2018 Pope Francis issued a letter to all Catholics in the wake of various revelations. 
The months previous to this saw two different types of sexual abuse exposed:  
  • The first concerned the abuse of adults, and brought a new evil to light   It manifested certain bishops sexually forcing themselves on clergy and seminarians under their care.  In the English-speaking world, this has led to ex-Cardinal McCarrick being defrocked.  The manifestation of the networks of deviancy involved in this is sickening. 
  • The second saw a public commission in Pennsylvania document hundreds of allegations of clerical abuse of minors with many truly perverse and disturbing accounts.  The Pennsylvania report is monumental in the time span and number of cases it covers.  Since the Pope's letter he has removed two Chilean bishops for abuse of minors.

The above revelations raise many concerns, but among the most immediate might be the question of how much of this is also true locally.  I would make three observations:
(1) The Local Situation
The revelations reported above, and the analysis below in Eberstadt's article, describe sections of the Church in the USA and some other places.  However, these horrific descriptions of networks of deviancy do not hold in every diocese and do not hold in every country.  While it seems, tragically, that every diocese has had some individual cases, only a few seem to have signs of networks of perverts.  Similarly, while some bishops have failed grievously, other bishops have responded effectively to abuse and acted to prevent it.  The statistics are much better in some dioceses than in others.  I would note, personally, that I've not seen signs of such networks in our own Diocese.  This might seem small consolation, but I think it gives us hope that the situation can be remedied: Promote the effective bishops and retire the failing ones.  

(2) Frequency/Infrequency of Abusers
How likely is it that a local priest is an abuser?  Media reports create the impression that abuse by priests is common.  However, while abuse by a priest is a great evil, coming from someone in a position of great trust, we should note:
In fact, a thorough study indicates that:
That's very different from the impression created by the media.  That said, most of us would have hoped for priests to be more than twice as safe as the general public, which makes the next point relevant (namely, that recent decades are an anomaly, not the norm, and that we can reasonably hope the future will be different from the recent past).

(3) The Past, and hope for a better Future
There are two, rather different, reasons to think that the future will not be a continuation of the recent past, one is generational and the other is a change of policies.  
In terms of policies, we might note that almost all of the reports of abuse concern events from past decades.  A major reason for this is that the safeguarding procedures that have been in place since the turn of the century would make it difficult for events such as those described in the Pennsylvania report to happen in the same way on the same scale still today.
But there is also the effect of a significant generational shift occurring within the clergy.  It might be noted that Cardinal McCarrick is an old man and the Pennsylvania reports almost entirely concern events some decades ago.  These horrors were largely a phenomenon within an older morally-confused generation influenced by the after-effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
This generation is dying out and the younger generation of priests coming forward manifest a very different dynamic: they are becoming priests because they want to be different from the society around us, because they are committing themselves to a chaste counter-cultural lifestyle -they don't want to belong to the secular sexually promiscuous culture.  There is, with this, a generation of young committed laity emerging too.

I have put together analyses from a few perceptive commentators below, along with the Pope’s recent letter.  A statement has also been made by our Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (which can be read here) and a letter from our Bishop (+Mark O'Toole, Plymouth, which can be read here).

You can read comments I have previously made on the topic of abuse here and here

I list below some noteworthy articles, most of them written in recent months:

The Elephant in the Sacristy, by Mary Eberstadt 
"this crisis involving minors --this ongoing institutionalized horror-- is almost entirely about man-boy sex"
Cardinal McCarrick's abuse of young men serves as a horrific example of the analysis that Eberstadt offered in 2002.  Her analysis remains definitive and is very different from the narrative fed to us by the secular media.
What makes the abuse crisis within the Catholic Church different from abuse in other organisations is the large number of homosexual predators involved, meaning homosexual-predator-priests living a deviant double life.  The key statistic in this regard is this: 80-90% of victims were teenage boys, rather than girls or young children.  This indicates that there is a specific issue within the Church that needs addressing: somehow a large number of actively homosexual men were ordained priests in the second half of the 20th century (Church law, since the time of Pope Benedict, now says that men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not be ordained, see here).
This crisis is unique to our moment in history, though sadly we are living through it.

"three related issues: abuse of power, homosexual abuse and the failure to observe celibacy, and the failure of the bishops to police themselves… the crisis of 2018 is exactly the same crisis as the 'long Lent' of 2002. The elephant in the sacristy, then and now, is the conflation of those three issues."

"The Church has been uncomfortably silent on matters of sexuality, family, and marriage because some in her leadership do not live these teachings themselves. ...In my experience, the priests and bishops who are comfortable talking about, defending, and promoting the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage are confident in their vocations."

“It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord”.

Donahue offers some noteworthy clarifications questioning the accuracy of many parts of the recent media coverage

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Childlike, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 9:30-37
Today I’d like us to reflect on what it is that the Lord Jesus meant by placing children before us as role models.
There are, in fact, multiple occasions when the Lord placed children before us:
The Lord “blessed” the little children that came to Him (Mk 10:16);
He said we must “change” and become like little children (Mt 18:3) saying we must “humble [ourselves] like little children”(ibid);
But it is probably here in this passage that the REASON to be like a child is clearest:
the question of greatness.

Greatness came a question in the Gospel text because the 12 apostles were arguing about which of them was the greatest.
Was it John -the Beloved, or Andrew -who brought the loaves and fishes to Jesus, or Philip who was trusted to calculate that it would take 100 denarii to feed the 5000, or James -who was related to Jesus, or Judas -who was in charge of the money?
We can imagine how the conversation might have gone.

It seems to me that there are two ways that we can think of ourselves as great, and children show us the opposite in each case.

The first is we can think of ourselves as great in terms of telling other people what to do.
Children, though they might frequently complain about it, children are used to being told what to do:
tidy your room, do your homework, eat your greens.
This, the Lord is saying, is an attitude WE need to have:
we need to expect others to tell us what to do, we need to be OK with being, as He put it, “last of all and SERVANT of all”(Mk 9:35)
-the servant is one who is told what to do.
In contrast, the “great’ man thinks he can tell everyone else what to do.

A second way we can think of ourselves as great:
having everything I need,
being self-sufficient and strong,
not needing anyone’s help.
Children, in contrast, know they are in need:
I want ice cream, I want that toy car, and want to be taken to the beach
-children know they are in need,
and they look to adults to fulfil their needs.
We, the Lord, the Lord is saying, we need something of this same attitude:
We need the humility to place ourselves before God and call on His help.

I need the Lord:
I need His strength, because often my weakness becomes apparent to me.
I need His guidance, because often my ignorance and stupidity are brutally put before me.
I need His forgiveness, for my sins, my many sins.

A child knows that he is in need;
A child knows he’s not in charge;
A child knows he is little.
We need to know the same.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Ephphatha, 23rd Sun Ord Time, Yr B

Mk 7:31-37; Isa 35:1-7
Today I want to explain why the passage we just heard “sums up Christ’s entire mission”, as Pope Benedict put in a 2012 Angelus address.

We just heard an obscure Aramaic word, “ephphatha” (Mk 7:34). Earlier this year you might recall I spoke about how there are less than a handful of words in the Gospels that the Early Church considered so precious that it kept not a Greek translation of the Lord’s words, but the actual words used by the Lord Jesus, in the original language He spoke in, namely, Aramaic
The Early Church treasured and kept this word, “ephphatha”, because she sensed that this word, “be opened”(Mk 7:34), applied not just to this individual deaf and dumb man, but actually applies to all of us.
In fact, we can see it as summing up the whole of Christ’s mission on earth.

One of the most basic human experiences concerns the difficulty of relating to God.
We all have an inner desire for something more, something transcendent and beyond, a desire for God -this desire gets smothered in many people, but it remains our most basic human experience:
We were created for God, and we yearn for Him.
The problem, however, is this:
We also experience the difficulty in communicating with Him.
Sometimes I feel unable to come to Him. Maybe I feel unworthy, or too feeble -something seems wrong at my end.
Sometimes, however, it can seem that something is CLOSED at God’s end. Scripturally, this is described in the book of Genesis in the account of the Fall: the Original Sin has left humanity sinful, stained, and shut out from heaven.
I am closed to God; and He is closed to me.
YET I need Him, and I yearn for Him.

But who can open earth to heaven and heaven to earth?
Only one who is both of heaven and of earth.
Only Jesus Christ who is both God and man.
Only the One of whom they said, as we heard at the end of that text, “He has done ALL things well”
Have YOU ever met someone who “did ALL things well”?

Thus the mission of Jesus Christ.
The Lord came among us to open us to God; and to open God to us.
My sins mean that the gates of heaven have been closed to me.
And so Jesus comes and dies for my sins, dies for me.
The symbolism in this regard concerns how, before healing the deaf and blind man, the Lord Jesus “looked up to heaven”(Mk 7: 34).
He looked up to heaven and said, “be opened”.
But, even though His death has satisfied justice,
even though the gates of heaven are opened to me,
even so, there is something IN ME that still closes me from God.
My laziness won’t look to Him,
My selfishness won’t give myself to Him,
My sensual desires close me on myself and my pleasures.
What I NEED is someone BEYOND me to OPEN me.

And the Lord Jesus said to the man who was deaf to hearing Him and blind to seeing Him,
“ ‘ephphatha’, that is, ‘be opened”.
And He says the same to you and to me.
Let us each, today, ask ourselves what is closing us to God.
Let us each, today, recognise that this can only be opened by a power, by someONE beyond me,
Let us each, today, bring that to the Lord, and hear Him say, “ ‘ephphatha’, ‘be opened”.