Friday, May 13, 2011

Roots of the Reformation X: More Danger Signs of Future Reformations

well he looks like a nice kid
let's just hope its halloween
Well in the last posting I said I would write about the clerical culture in this entry.  As I had mentioned yesterday, at a conference on the sex abuse crisis at Marquette University in Milwuakee Archbishop Diarimud Martin of Dublin and Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane had spoken about the negative impact that a “clerical culture” has had on the Church and it is a point well worth investigating.
Just this morning I ran into a friend of mine in the library who has spent years as a seminary professor, who is a member of a religious community that has houses throughout the United States, and who has published extensively on the situation of the American Church.  In an exchange of stories and reflections, she described Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington as “a persona.”  I asked her what she meant.  She has known the Archbishop since his days in Seattle when he was sent to “axe” Archbishop Hunthausen who had fallen into the grave disfavor of the Reagan administration which in turn had implored the Holy See to remove him.  (The immediate conflict with the White House was the Archbishop’s outspoken opposition to Reagan’s Nuclear Weapons policy and his dramatic threat that he would default on his Federal Income Tax as a witness to the immorality of the Reagan policy.)  The Holy See did not removed him, of course, but as the revised ostpolitik of John Paul required collaboration with the White House in their joint (and successful) effort to topple Marxism in Eastern Europe, Hunthausen’s credibility as a spokesperson for Catholic moral principles was seriously undermined.  Archbishop (later Cardinal) Hickey of Washington DC was appointed by Rome as “Apostolic Visitator” of the Seattle Archdiocese to investigate Hunthausen’s administration of the Archdiocese.   When the visitation was concluded Donald Wuerl was appointed as auxiliary bishop and assigned by Rome to many of the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop, relieving him of much of his authority.  This was a public sign that Rome lacked confidence in Hunthausen and undermined his credibility in the eyes of those who believe moral authority is in the gift of the Holy See.  Fortunately many American Catholics know that while power is in the gift of the Holy See, Authority, at least in the New Testament sense, is a charism that is only able to be bestowed by the Holy Spirit and respect for Hunthausen only grew.  Donald Wuerl, for his part, went on to become first bishop of Pittsburgh and now is the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington D.C.—where, by the way, he seems to be doing a very credible job.  He had to fill Cardinal McCarrick’s buskins and that was no easy task, but Wuerl is well thought of and capable by the Washington faithful.  But I am digressing. 
This Sister friend of mine referred to Cardinal Wuerl as a “persona.”  What is a persona?   A persona is a role, a stereotype, a well defined public identity.  Cardinal Wuerl, she implied, was always just that—His Eminence, Donald, Cardinal Wuerl.  There is no “Don” inside the His Eminence, Donald, Cardinal Wuerl.  There is only the six-hundred dollar black suit, the clerical vest over the white-shirt with cufflinks and pontiff collar, the perfectly shined black shoes and black over-the-calf men’s stockings.  Inside there is a ghostly shadow of what could have been a human being.   Everything this spectre does is exactly what a Cardinal should do.  At night, his secretary removes his battery for charging, rolls him into a closet, and turns out light.  We should pity people who are personae (plural of persona for you Latin lovers).   What profiteth a man should he gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process?
Let me say again, from what I hear from Washington Catholics—clergy and laity alike—they are well enough satisfied with the Cardinal as their Archbishop.  He is not a bad man in any sense, just an empty sort of cardboard man.  He is a man who has allowed himself to be defined not by grace but by the Institution to which he is sincerely devoted.  Alas, His Eminence is not the only persona in the Church.  The hierarchy is filled with them.  These days being an empty cassock is almost a requirement, at least in the United States,  for Episcopal Ordination (what we used to refer to as Consecration of a Bishop, not ordination in the Episcopal Church). 
Twenty years ago Father George Aschenbrenner, the famous Jesuit author and Spiritual Director, gave a day of recollection at the Pontifical North American College.  It was his swansong at that institution.  I don’t know if it was his swansong because of the talk he gave or, knowing he was leaving, he decided to “go for the gold.”  Now I was not there for Father Aschenbrenner’s talk.  I was living in Rome at the time and the talk was a sensation in the city when word got out.  As it was reported in a hundred cafes and several hundred seminary and monastery dining halls, Father Aschenbrener said that the biggest problem in the North American Church was clericalism and the reason for clericalism was psycho-sexual immaturity of so many of the clergy.  What does that mean? 
When individuals do not come to terms with who they are on the deeper levels of their own psyche, they need to find or to create an identity for themselves.  When people do not know who they are, they need to “invent” an identity.  The clergy offers one a ready-made identity (or persona) in place of the identity in which one has grown up.  The clergy offers a sharply defined “ready to wear” life style that will tell the world who you are.  You are “Father.”  You wear black with a little white collar.  You drive a somewhat anonymous looking car in a dull color—black or gunmetal if you have aspirations to higher posts.  You say prayers—both privately and publicly.     You can play golf.  You can’t play softball, football, or go horseback riding. Until you are 35 you can play the occasional pick-up game of basketball, however.  You drink Scotch.  If you drink beer, it must be from a glass (except after a pick-up game of basketball and you are under 35).  You drink wine with your dinner but it is too effeminate at other times and you don’t want to do anything effeminate, never! Never! Never!  Unless, of course, you are putting on one of lacy negligee style surplices or albs. 
And this is the problem.  You never get to know who you are.  You are a priest, first and foremost.  There is nothing else about you that is important.  You conform yourself to the model of “priest.”  And why is this bad?  Mostly because it is dangerous.  You are a powder keg that could explode at any moment because you, yourself, the safety-guard of your anger, your ambition, your sexual desires, your greed, your sloth, whatever else are components of each and every human person—you don’t know yourself well enough to know not only what your are capable of but what your hidden agendas are.  You only know the parts of your soul (your psyche) that fit the clerical persona, and those areas which can be problematic: you live in denial. 
I have seen this lack of authentic self-knowledge in far too many priests.  One moment Father is walking up and down in his cassock and biretta saying his office and the next he is slugging the deacon, or fondling some kid, or passed out drunk on the rectory floor.    Catholic Tradition says that grace builds on nature.  Priestly ministry and identity must be rooted in the individual and proceed from within his innermost core.  It cannot be something that the priest puts on—like his cassock or his vestments.  We have too many empty cassocks walking around—and frightenly a disproportionately high number of them are purple.  We need people to serve in the priesthood who know who they are and are comfortable with whom they are.  We need people who have successful and happy peer relationships with a wide variety of people—not only other clergy but men and women of a variety of ages, economic status, and (very importantly) religious beliefs and disbeliefs.  The clergy must be no refuge for people who suffer from arrested emotional development.  It is a recipe for disaster as we have seen these past twenty years. 

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