MANY THANKS: Amy Wellborn has graciously cited me on her In Between Naps Blog. She has also helped me fix my e-mail link. Also, Amy is 125 percent correct that Bill Donahue of the Catholic League has gone off the deep end in his condemnation of an advertisement that supports breast-feeding. Repeat after me Bill: BREAST IS BEST!
FR. RON ROCKS: Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, has another excellent column in his series on the meaning of the cross. Regular readers will quickly discover that I am a big Fr. Ron fan. You can check out his past columns and order his books at this website.
DEATH PENALTY: Almost two millennia ago, Jesus was executed after a unfair trial riddled with procedural errors. Things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. If you believe its time to stop the madness, check out Sister Helen’s Moratorium Campaign website.
One of the Holy Thursday traditions is to have the presider at mass wash the feet of a few members of the congregation. This reenacts Christ’s action in the Gospel reading where he washes the feet of his disciples. Given the emotions that people are feeling about the abuse scandal, I think this may be a powerful moment in many parishes tonight.
My parish has made a slight modification to the traditional ritual. It begins the same way, but after the presider has washed the feet of a small number of parishioners, those parishioners then offer to wash the feet of other members of the congregation who have lined up at the washbasins. In this we carry out the Lord’s command at the end of the Gospel: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” I have found this to be a very moving experience that reinforces our collective call to discipleship.
Alas, I will not be in attendance this evening. My wife and I are using our babysitting budget to hire a sitter for the Easter Vigil. She gets to do Holy Thursday this year while I stay home and put the kids to bed and we'll reverse the process on Good Friday. I suspect the last thing my fellow parishioners want at these evening services is a couple of overtired pre-schoolers disturbing the proceedings.
HOLY WEEK READING: The Commonweal web site has an interesting set of articles on Christology: What It Is and Why It's Important. It’s a nice effort to summarize some recent theological debates in this area. The National Catholic Register has a symposium on the death penalty, with a focus on the recent remarks by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on the subject. Those interested in the latest handicapping on Pope John Paul II’s successor should check out John Allen’s column at the National Catholic Reporter web site. Okay, this sort of thing is a little morbid, but don’t pretend you’re not interested.
IS CELIBACY THE ISSUE?: Anna Quindlen, writing in Newsweek, certainly thinks so. Andrew Sullivan seems to be leaning in this direction lately. On the other hand, Jesuit Father James Martin disagrees. Those of you who have not read Fr. Martin’s delightful autobiography can purchase it by clicking here.
Personally, I’m not convinced. Quindlen’s piece is a rant, but (as far as I can make out) the core of her argument is that the process of seminary formation turns otherwise normal individuals into abusers. I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that this is the case. The vast majority of priests who become abusers almost certainly were at high risk of becoming abusers before they entered the seminary. It’s true that some potential abusers are attracted to the priesthood because they believe that celibacy will solve their problem. It doesn’t, of course, but that is not the fault of celibacy.
There may be good reasons to end the celibacy requirement for Latin-rite Catholic priests (I’ll leave that topic to another time), but the need to protect the Church from sexually abusive priests is not one of them. What we do need are better procedures to identify potential abusers while they are still in seminary and, most importantly, to permanently remove abusive priests from active ministry once credible evidence of their abuse has come to light. In the diocese where I live, policies like this have been in place for years and while we have had cases of abuse, people are not feeling the kind of rage at the institution that Boston Catholics are clearly feeling.
Once again, comments can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The link still doesn’t work. Give me time.
You can e-mail me at email@example.com. As I grow in proficiency as a Blogger, I’ll convert that into an e-mail link, but for now you can just cut and paste it into your e-mail program.
“SURELY IT IS NOT I, LORD?” Today’s gospel reading is from Matthew and describes how Judas negotiates with the chief priests to hand Jesus over to them, and then returns to eat the Last Supper with Jesus. He says “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Of course they all deny it saying “Surely it is not I, Lord?” In the end, of course, Matthew makes clear that Jesus knows who his betrayer will be.
What struck me in reading this today was how the other disciples fell over themselves in assuring Jesus that they would not betray him. But in a few hours, of course, they would. Perhaps not in the way that Judas did. But each in their own way, they betrayed him. They cowered in the Upper Room and did not even come to stand by the man they called “Lord” and “Rabbi” as he was nailed to a cross and died in horrible agony. Traitors and cowards. That’s how our Church got its start, my friends. We’re a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.
OBLIGATORY SCANDAL POST: I’m not sure there is much more to say on this issue that hasn’t been said elsewhere. As this editorial in the National Catholic Reporter makes clear, this problem has been brewing for some time. One thing I think we do have to insist on is that this is not merely the failure of individual priests. It’s too easy to blame this on a few "weirdos and sickos” in the words of one Washington, DC priest. Because of the nature of the job, the priesthood is always going to attract a small number of individuals who are at risk to become abusers. It is the responsibility of the Bishops to ensure that such individuals are not ordained in the first place and, if their condition comes to light after ordination, to remove them from active ministry. It’s that simple.
But while angry at the current situation, I wouldn’t say that my faith has been shaken. Perhaps this is because I am a post-Vatican II Catholic (age 35) and did not grow up with the kind of exalted views of priests and bishops held by previous generations. I am not shocked to learn that the Church is a flawed institution run by flawed individuals. Indeed, that is the only thing it can ever be. The mystical Church may be the “Spotless Bride of Christ,” but here on earth she’s six months pregnant before she gets to the altar.
What I would like to see, particularly on the part of someone like Cardinal Law, is a greater spirit of personal contrition. Even Bill Clinton managed to say (eventually) “I have sinned.” Perhaps he could take a leave of absence to clean bedpans in a Catholic hospital in Jamaica, or a similarly demanding penance. I say this not out of a desire to humiliate the man but out of a sincere concern for his soul. I realize such a course of action would be deeply embarrassing, but do we think Jesus was joking when he said his disciples must be willing to take up their cross and follow Him? Something to think about this Holy Week.