Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Novena of Grace - Day Four

Yesterday was the first day of the second trilogy of days of the Novena of Grace at St. Aloysius Parish here in Spokane and at Gonzaga University. I am in a pattern now of healing, or so I believe. It was physical healing I sought when I stepped into the church last Saturday, the first of the nine days. It is spiritual healing that confronts me as the week wears on.

I do love the smell of incense. I have forgotten about that this week until towards the end of the service each day, when they wave burning incense into the air and, like magic, I can smell its sweet scent as though it is burning next to me.

I am less verklempt now (to throw in a Yiddish word in the midst of a Catholic process) than I was on that first day about my role, and the priests' roles, and about my internal conflict of wanting to participate in this ritual while still standing firm against priest sexual abuse and those who might have allowed it. It has helped these past few days that the words of the priests leading the ritual have been thought-provoking and self-reflective. And it has helped because I believe that this is where I am supposed to be. At this Novena, this week. For whatever may come.

In one of the Novena services this week, one of the priests told a story of a governor who wanted to pardon the innocent at a prison, yet all the prisoners stated they were innocent. So he gathered all the inmates together and asked if there was anyone - anyone - in that room that was guilty of the crime that he was in prison for. Finally one man in the back of the room raised his hand. This was the man that the governor pardoned; he could not, the governor said, leave this guilty man in this prison to put in danger all the innocent men that were there! Funny.

The story triggered a memory for me, of the one bishop who participated in the cover-up of the sex abuse by priests who actually has come forward and apologized. I know of just the one. In his apology, he said he was "deeply sorry that the way we handled cases [in Orange County] allowed children to be victimized by permitting some priests to remain in ministry, for not disclosing their behavior to those who might be at risk, and for not monitoring their actions more closely." Yes, there was a reason for the apology, as old documents were getting ready to be released that showed his involvement in that lack of oversight and proper decisionmaking. But this was a real apology. A real admission of guilt and responsibility. It was not a tap dance, like all the other "apologies" I have seen. I called his office that day back in 2005, when I first saw the apology, and told his secretary to tell him that I said thank you. I was not anyone he would know, I told her, but tell him thank you just the same. I know a lot of people are still angry at this bishop. And I think he has not had clean hands since then. But it was the only time I saw something remotely resembling bold.

In today's Novena service, the talk was laden with words about peace and justice and humility. They were good words, strong words, right words, that recognized how far we have drifted - how far church leaders have drifted - from remembering how to stay humble. And then, at one point, there was a quote from Pope John Paul II, something he said back in the early 2000s: That if you want peace, you must work for justice. And that there is no justice without forgiveness. Apparently it is the phrase the Church uses now, in its reconciliation program.

But there needs to be truth, too.

People have asked me why not forgiveness and have used, as an example, that Pope John Paul II went to prison to meet with the man who shot at him and forgave him there. If the pope can forgive his perpetrator, why won't abused Catholics forgive their Church? I have been asked.

Well, let's look at it. First, the guy was in prison. So there already were consequences for his actions. The pope did not have that to worry about that. All that was before him was whether to forgive the man. Also, this guy was not the authority. The government was. Frankly, I am more forgiving of the pedophiles - who labor under a compulsion - than I will ever be of the hierarchy, who systematically put the interests of the Church ahead of children. In the pope's case, the authority - the government - had taken proper action by arresting and convicting the perpetrator and holding him jail where he could not harm others in the future. This is completely the opposite of what the Catholic Church's hierarchy did in this country. For decades. And still. I do not know of a single bishop in the United States - other than Cardinal Law from Boston - who was removed from his post in spite of the fact that we had decades of bad oversight from essentially all of them. And Cardinal Law from Boston was actually promoted. To Rome. He has a highfalutin title now. Without accountability, without a cleansing of the house and the system and the process - without even a "mea culpa" parting from the lips of the leaders in a real, substantial way - then there is no truth. We need truth.

So I have enjoyed the sermons. But they are not quite doing it for me, in terms of helping me come to a place of permanent peace.

Keep in mind, I'm a lawyer. I have represented victims of sexual abuse. It was my job to protect. And I have too much knowledge. I know that the system is not fixed. I believe, for example, that the system of protection in the Spokane Diocese is inadequate because of my own dealings with the layperson review board here these last couple of years. And I'm very aware that a more active lay review board in the Seattle Archdiocese was fired after making stringent efforts to make real change in the Church there to protect kids in the future. I remain quite concerned that the Church has yet to create a system that, as a practical matter, protects children first. So forgiveness could be a good thing. But there still needs to be consequences to actions. Without new, purer action, there can be no new consequence. It is how the conscience works.

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