When the victimized faithful say, “Enough” Homily thoughts & Discussion on what we read in “Whistle.”

Mary Magdala Community

This morning we had a Eucharist Prayer for and with victims of sexual abuse by priests and others who horrifically used (use) their power over innocent victims.  What a sharing we had – an open, deeply emotional and spiritual, offering to each other.  Discussing this horror within worship, I believe, acknowledges its place in the core of our identity as church.  Such a discussion may solve nothing but it opens us to the pastoral, therapeutic, and eucharistic reality of people who need Prophets to reclaim God’s Word among us.  The Prophet Amos spoke for God who despised the shallow and unconscionable worship of institutional religion in his day.  He spoke of gangs of priests who commit hideous crimes (American Bible edition).  Well, rarely do we find Prophets among Priests.  Thank God whose prophetic voice is now among the people, among victims and families who say, “Enough.”

Here is a review, of sorts, of Robert Kaiser’s book, “Whistle” the story of Tom Doyle’s prophetic witness on behalf of victims of sexual abuse by American catholic priests.  You can obtain a copy of the book (and e-book) on Amazon.

“Whistle: Tom Doyle’s Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse” by Robert Blair Kaiser ©

A review by Rev. Jim Ryan, jimryan6885@gmail.com

I read this book in less than a week. Although published in July this is not reading for the beach. The author, the late Robert Blair Kaiser, has accomplished what, it seems, he set out to do which is to tell a story that reaches down inside of the reader and discomforts that reader into action. This book details the record of institutional shame and clerical/ hierarchical self-preservation which is only one of the issues that mark the tragic tale of the molestation of children by priests in the United States and the bishops who hid them. Kaiser has given us a focused, generous use of paper and printer’s ink (334 pages). He has also given us reason to explode in anger, to weep for innocent victims, and to rage at cynical and bold-face careerism in one institutional expression of the church of Jesus, the Servant. And by doing so Kaiser gives us reason to ask, yet again, “Where is God?”

Tom Doyle, this witness for the innocents and the silenced ones, says he has lost faith in a personal God. Due to experiences along his own life’s journey he has become a practitioner of the 12 Step Way. He, along with lifelong friends and colleagues, was a canary in the mineshaft. Mineshaft being an appropriate image for this crowd of rats-in-the-hole who were (are?) the first ones to hide under the seamless robe of the Master as they continually transferred child molesting priests to one parish after another and failed to report them to legal authorities. They along with their cohorts: the Agents of Insurance Companies, the Lawyers with open cash drawers, and ecclestiastical lackeys of the clerical climbing sort are shown in this book to be pond scum not worthy to live in the bayous and tidal places of Louisiana where this story begins with the molester, Gilbert Gauthe. At least that was the first time Tom Doyle went into action over a reported case of sexual molestation gone awry. Gone awry, in the institutional Church’s view, because one family finally said, “Enough!” They obtained the services of their own lawyer and set about suing the Diocese of Lafayette and its Bishop Gerard Frey.

Important here, for your approach to the book, is to know that this book names Names and gives details – while doing its best to protect the innocent. Not that we have not known Names before. As the book relates in a subtext that runs throughout its pages many have named Names before, have already documented crimes and linked fully informed bishops to the priests they hid, supported, transferred, and shipped off to other dioceses. And, of course, there is the case of Bernard Law, the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston, who fled to Rome just days ahead of a raft of subpoenas with (so it is reputed) $17 million dollars of archdiocesan funds to buy his way into a plum job at the Vatican. Apparently there really is no honor among thieves and lawbreaking bishops.

What makes Tom Doyle’s witness worthy of its own book is that he answers the question, “Who will reach out to the victims, the children (mostly boys, though girls are the glaring missing group of victims here), and to their families?” Many of these families made cash settlements to get it behind them and kept their silence imposed by enabling Bishops and chancery bureaucrats. Doyle reached out because he knew for certain in 1984 – 31 years ago – that when a child is molested, sexually abused, raped you start addressing the savagery by going first to the victim – the innocent one. You go with care and not hush money.

Read this book because it is a revelation. Read it because our focus must be always, always on the innocent ones. Read it because it tells of crimes, lies, and shame in places of power – ecclesial and hierarchical places that thrive on the misguided faith and trust of those who have been kept in the dark, or worse, have chosen to look away. But also read it so that you too may be counted among those who say, “Enough!”

Two points that Kaiser raises are ones at which I would like to take a closer look. I do so in the hope that it may contribute to the ongoing discussion that addresses the question, “Where to go from here?”

First, how to wrap arms around and assist the victims of clerical sexual abuse. Tom Doyle’s experience, first, last and always, when it came to the victims was (and continues) to see that they were isolated, shamed, silenced, and abandoned by their own church. Lately, we have been told that the Roman Church has established effective programs and controls to prevent such crimes in the future. The word is that enforcement is at an all-time high. Yet, just last month the Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, John Clayton Nienstedt, resigned for, among other things, not enforcing the program for filtering out potential/real perps. (It’s called VIRTUS, a catchy acronym). This leaves open the questions about real oversight.

The trauma experienced by the victims is clearly depicted in this book. These traumatized persons require attention, care, ongoing support. The treatment for such individuals has grown in scope and effectiveness, sadly, because of the increase in this population. In a recent article that focused partly on this treatment, Tamsin Jones (Journal of Religion, 2014, #2), wrote of caring for those who have experienced unbidden and life-disintegrating trauma.

Tragically, we have seen before those who have experienced unspeakable things perpetrated by trusted others and/or those in authority. The last century provides evidence enough of just such inhumanity as that which is similarly documented by Kaiser as related to him by Doyle. When victims of sexual abuse by priests and of silencing abuse by bishops effectively deal with their trauma, and hopefully emerge as whole as possible, one hopes that theirs will be a return to wholeness shared by other survivors of the past.

Jones writes that among the treatments that are supportive of trauma victims therapists report 1) the victim works with a caring and consistently present professional in order to both confront the event(s) of abuse and to integrate him/herself into a world that has been made completely different due to this trauma; 2) the victim must understand that speaking about this trauma and processing it within a life’s framework means that the former self has been destroyed, one may even say killed, even for those of very young age; 3) the victim needs a “plurality of witnesses” that is, other survivors and supporters, to do the interpretive work necessary as well as the bodily activities that contribute to a renewal of body, mind, and spirit. Dioceses report they have put in place some of these recommendations. Obviously, more needs to be done, particularly in seeing to it that a “plurality of witnesses” are, in fact, available to wrap arms around victims. As the book points out, this open arms and quite public approach has been consistently avoided, even demeaned, by a church and its higher-ups whose first commitment is to the institution and not its members. When a bishop, for example, tells a victim to just bury it and move on, otherwise it appears that the victim is out for revenge, how can anyone believe that this diocesan chief officer has any priestly – let alone human – understanding of the victim’s ordeal?

Second, a disturbing question raised in the book may seem to some too philosophical but it actually goes to the heart of the identity of the Roman Catholic Church. Kaiser often raises the point that the Catholic Church teaches that the Priest, by the very fact of being ordained has undergone ontological change. Kaiser refers to this as “the ontological difference.” The ordained priest is separate and apart, “configured to Christ” as John Paul II liked to say. The question is, “What the heck does ontological difference mean anyway?” Here’s why this is an important question.

Priest-molesters, rapists, ravagers hide behind – and their bishops with them – this notion that a man (and of course in the Roman Church it’s only a man) who is ordained undergoes a “down-to-one’s-being” shift of one’s real life. That is, a man who stands apart from the maelstrom of life, from your normal run-of-the-mill baptized person is now a priest and different from all other members of the church who are only “just” baptized. The metaphysical shift of one’s ultimate ontological reality is now a restructuring of one’s being, never to be “just” another person again. Kaiser often notes ­­­this mark of the ordained man in the Catholic Church that is used by Bishops as somehow a defensible argument on behalf of church clerics. And in support of this philosophical notion of ontological difference clericalist structures are in place to support priests and bishops who break our laws, for example, claims that clerics, particularly bishops, are first bound by Church law before any connection to criminal and civil law may be applied. This may work as a general principle for running a church, but hardly applies when criminal and civil laws are so clearly broken.

Well, this whole notion is based upon an understanding of Being – also a philosophical concept. Except that today’s philosophers, with their postmodern views, aren’t so sure that Being is about restructuring one’s being, nor is it about establishing supportive structures, or is it about permanent ontological shifts of one’s substance. Being, according to the likes of Richard Kearney, Merold Westphal, Jean-Luc Marion and others in the camp of Continental Philosophy, has become untethered (as if it was ever really tethered at all) to some kind of substance. Book titles, such as The God Who May Be (Kearney), The God Who Will Be (Westphal), and God Without Being (Marion) testify to this understanding of Being as spirit that is always forming and not some object to be enthroned.  Almost 100 years ago Martin Heidegger alarmed the world by saying that Being is not about substance. Being is about the Gift that gives. As Richard Kearney says, with a nod to the 17th Century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, God reveals to us in the Possible. This is the “God Who May Be” who is not about creating some special class of human beings.

So, one’s being is not about substance, at least in the sense of some special category. Rather, Being is about who I/we may be into the future. So when is a priest not a priest? When a man is responsible for destroying the possibility of a full life for a young person because that man is a molester, a rapist, one who preys on the innocent ones among us — can that man be called a priest? And, by extension, when a man disregards such crimes and appoints these molesters to a succession of parishes or worse, doesn’t report him — can this man be called a bishop? This is no time to hide behind ontological difference.

This book has the effect of contributing to the view that the days of “Priestly Ontological Difference” are past (as in, dead and gone!) Priesthood is about service, about sacrificial love, about building community, about visioning the possible and making the possible a community-based reality. It is not likely anytime soon that the institution will change these structures that privilege the few. For now, let’s­ suggest that the Roman Catholic Church needs Priests and Bishops who have position without careerist power, who have office without classist ornamentation. In other words this particular church needs servants of the Holy One whose focus is on the innocent ones; the Servant who says “Let the children come to me” and means it for the benefit of the children and not the benefit of the predator.

So, read this book. And after the outrage consider what’s possible and do it.  Consider that position and power, office and trappings of office are terrible things to endow under the title of something called “ontological difference.” Consider that we, the baptized, are the one and only holy priesthood – not set apart but set up for service. And finally, consider what a church would look, feel, and taste like when the innocent victims re-discover possibility and we gather with them in community to worship our God who is always, freeingly possible. The God Who May Be.

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