Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ecclesia semper reformans, semper reformanda: The Church, always reforming--always in need of reform

Yesterday a woman at church said to me “I am so at the end of my rope with the Church—this sex abuse issue, the coverup.  I resent the fact that a criminal can be a priest, but a woman can’t be.”  I had never heard it put quite that way.   We are in the midst of a mess in the Church these days.  The sex abuse and the cover-up are part of it—a huge part of it.  We are seeing hypocrisy when the “The Church” is taking such a harsh line not only on the political hot-potato of “gay marriage” but of appropriate pastoral care of gay people.  Indeed it seems that “The Church” has defined for itself the most rigid of codes of sexual morals when it is clear that many of bishops and clergy who make up “The Church” are living a double standard, sitting in the chair of Moses, as it were, but not practicing the morals they preach.  In the last few entries to this blog we have seen this is nothing new.  The blog has looked at gay popes and cardinals and bishops and we have looked at bishops and cardinals and popes with multiple illegitimate children.  We have seen prelates who have accumulated vast amounts of wealth for themselves and been interested in their own aggrandizement rather than the pastoral good of the souls entrusted to them.  We have seen abuses of power and resorting to violence to achieve one’s ambitions in the Church.   
Somewhat coincidentally I have been reading A Tale of Two Cities or, more precisely, listening to it on an audio book.  I last read it as a sophomore in High School but it has always remained among my favorite books.  Last evening, on my way home from church, I had been listening to the scene where Monsieur the Marquis’s carriage runs over and kills the child of Gaspard.  One could not help but be appalled at the Marquis’s apathetic contempt for the ordinary citizen.  Here is a man who lives in a universe where he thinks the “vulgar masses” were created solely to provide him with his indolent lifestyle.  And you know, I hate to say it, but in so many ways I see “The Church” reflected there.  In many ways it was the Church of the Renaissance and the ancien regime that Dickens was writing of—quite explicitly.  He does not leave that to your imagination when he speaks of the French ecclesiastics.    “The Church” was complicit in the evil that left so many people in dire poverty and squalor in those centuries when some think the Church was so glorious.  Those Basilicas and palaces of Renaissance Rome were built on the backs of the poor.  Not only Italy, but all Europe was being drained dry by the Medici, Della Rovere, Piccolomini, Borgia, Farnese, et al popes and their sycophant cardinals  and bishops and pezzi grossi prelates who were building their palaces and screwing their pages and poisoning their enemies while God’s poor starved.  I am not being anti-Catholic in saying any of this.  I am just reporting the facts.  And when I say that today we have prelates in Rome and prelates here parading around in silk gowns with trains longer than Kate Middleton’s upcoming dress and pontificating about sincere people who are trying to figure out how to balance their need for giving and receiving love, their same-sex attraction, and their devotion to Christ I am not sure how much has changed.  And when I hear sermons that tell me the priest is from cloud la-la land and has no idea how parents of families with four and five kids are trying to make ends meet without the mother having to work outside the home, or hear priests say that they have a life of sacrifice when a maid plops their three course dinner down before them on a table set with linen, china, and crystal I think that there is a need for change in “The Church.”  When I hear priests disparage women or hear of a Bishop who has instructed his pastors that when he visits, no woman is to be invited to dinner I cannot but think of Monsieur the Marquis and his contempt for the people who carried him with all his comfort on their backs and with the sweat of their brows.
But that is not the whole story, nor even half of it.

Also last evening I was at Tenebrae.  The Cathedral was packed.  The Liturgy was moving.  As I listened to the ancient readings and saw how the scriptures were arranged in the various antiphons and responsaries to tell the ancient story of our fall and our redemption—our fall in the disobedience of one man and our redemption in the obedience of another—I was moved to think of those countless thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of monks and nuns who through the centuries created this prayer, wove these texts together out of their meditations.   In the ever-darkening shadows of the Cathedral as the service progressed, I was reminded of faithful pastors, the holy priests, the humble men and women who, while the false shepherds were making a mockery of the Cross, were on their knees, lost in the mystery of God’s love made manifest in a naked and bloodied thorn-crowned man from Galilee whose faithful obedience set right all the sin in human history.  I looked around me at the Cathedral.  Connecticut Avenue lawyers in their three piece suits.  Mothers with strollers.  A smattering of the DC street people.  Some same-sex partners from the Dupont Circle area.  Senior citizens who live in the neighborhood.  Yuppies and DINKs (Double Income No Kids).  African Americans. Asian Americans.  White bread.  Hispanics.  That’s what it means to be Catholic.  Y’all come.  Everybody’s welcome.  And this is what The Church is.  The hierarchy is not the Church. The Pope is not the Church.  Michael Voris and his “Real Catholic TV” is not the Church (despite what he pretends).   The Church is the whole kit and kaboodle.    We all belong. Even those popes with kids and those popes with pages, even the Borgias with their special mushroom casseroles and Sixtus IV with his pretty-boy Cardinals.  Saints and sinners, wheat and tares, Christ died for all and if you or I are one of the lucky ones who remember that it is about Christ dying for us—and for all—and not about capes and swords and tall bejeweled mitres, just be thankful that your eyes have been opened and pray for those who are still so blinded by the glory of “The Church”  that they can’t see the true glory, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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