The Paradox of the Church

This was intended to be a fire and brimstone post critical of Mother Church, but something changed over the weekend.


Here are two items that were in the news last week. Both indicate that the Church is still way out of touch with its modern Congregation.


First, The Catholic League, a civil rights organization set up to promote antidefamation against Catholics, placed a provocative full page ad in the New York Times. It's purpose was to set the record straight on sexual abuse in the Church.


Here's one particularly lawyerly, and offensive passage, from the ad:


"The refrain that child rape is a reality in the Church is twice wrong: let's get it straight–they weren't children and they weren't raped. We know from the John Jay study that most of the victims have been adolescents, and that the most common abuse has been inappropriate touching (inexcusable though it is, it is not rape.)"


The full page, an approximately $120,000 ad buy, goes on to inform us that the John Jay report says "more than three-quarters of the victims were post pubescent, meaning abuse did not meet the clinical definition of pedophilia."


"Why," the Catholic League asks, "are priests being singled out when the sexual abuse of minors among other segments of the population is on-going today?"


The ad goes on to blame the problem on the media and "the real damage done by the therapeutic approach" to reassigning priests.


That the moral authority of the Christian world, through an advocacy group, would take such an approach to winning back public support for its priests, is further evidence that the horror of sexual abuse in the Church is exacorbated by the attempt to normalize it.


Let's move along to Item Two.


Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a Fordham university professor, was accused of violating Church doctrine, because she questions how "cultural bias among biblical scribes may have led to women's diminished roles in Western religious traditions, especially the Roman Catholic Church." (New York Times, April 12, 2011)


Gender in the Church is a growing issue. Sister Johnson, true to the spirit of Vatican II, has sought to overcome "every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion."


Her crime, it appears, is to suggest that feminine as well as masculine imagery be used in prayers referring to God.


Terrence W. Tilley, the chairman of the Theology department at Fordham, defended Sister Johnson. He is quoted by the Times as saying: "What the bishops have done is to reject 50 years of contemporary theology. Sister Johnson has been attempting to push Catholic thinking along new paths. And the bishops have made it clear–this is something they stand against."


Sister Johnson, author of two best sellers and standard texbooks in theological studies, has promised to use the bishop's rebuke to "delve more deeply" into her thinking.


So, here I was, ready to use this post to rail at the Church's myopia and reactionary conservativism.


Then I went to the movies.


The best contemporary depiction of agape and the spirtual life is the French film "Of Gods And Men." This is a moving and revealing true story of eight Trappists Monks living in a small Algerian village. The monks and their Muslim neighbors live in close community, despite the growing corruption of the local government and the rise of radical Muslim fundametalism.


The monk's struggle to choose between their own personal safety and living in fraternity with the villagers, who are also targets of the radicals, is an incredible depiction of humanity and spirituality. It reminded me of all that is still good in the tenents of religious life.


Despite the growing threat, the Trappists commit to serve the community, to live simply and put service to their beliefs ahead of threat of terrorism and death.


The film, directed by Xavier Beauvois, won the Grand Prix at Cannes this past year. It was certainly deserving.


The film closes with this letter from one of the monks:


“Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.


The Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion.


I’ve lived enough to know that I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder.


I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who called me naïve, or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them.


This thank-you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing.


Yes, to you as well I address this thank-you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.”


Like everything else, I guess, the Church is also a place of paradox. I am glad I was reminded of that before I got on my high horse.


© Patrick O’Neill 2011. All rights reserved.

Posted on April 17, 2011 and filed under Uncategorized.