Thoughts on the McCarrick Scandal

I apologize for the super-long post, but it’s been simmering in my head for a while. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard in the news about (former) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned from his high post in the Catholic hierarchy because he allegedly abused seminarians. When the sordid news came to light (again), it didn’t surprise me, but I was once again disappointed and disgusted by the abuse of power.

Obviously, something is wrong in the hierarchy if this kind of thing keeps happening over and over. I guess it is difficult for those in power to hold others in power accountable because they all have power, and as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’ve read several articles saying that we, the lay Catholics, need to be the ones to hold our leaders accountable, which is difficult when there isn’t much transparency. It’s even more difficult when most lay Catholics are Catholic in name only or go to church only on Christmas and Easter, so they don’t seem to have much of an opinion on what goes on in the Church as a whole. In the end, if the laypeople do succeed in overturning this corruption, it will be a victory by the few, the proud, and the extremely devout.

This whole business makes me distrust church authorities. My diocese recently got a new bishop, so I know very little about him beyond what was said in the press releases when he was installed. I don’t know if he is a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in this. The author of another article I read stated that he would no longer be contributing to the annual bishop’s appeal in his diocese, but I’m not sure I agree with that because a lot of that money supposedly goes to charities, Catholic schools, and practical causes, not to line the pockets of the bishop himself. But again, there is little transparency, and for all we know, the money could go somewhere else entirely. I know for a fact that my particular parish does not contribute anywhere near the “suggested” amount for the annual appeal anyway because we’re not particularly “wealthy.” It is ridiculously hard to get people to donate money to a church/religious organization nowadays, and most of the time, appeals to donate more money only lead to a withdrawal of even the small amount the people had already been donating.

At this rate, the only authorities I really follow in terms of the Church are God, Mary, the saints, and my parish priest, whom I know fairly well and who is not a diocesan priest but a missionary from the Philippines.* To be honest, I don’t follow what Pope Francis does unless he makes an ex cathedra statement. Sometimes I feel like he crafts his words to be applicable and relevant to the majority of people everywhere and to keep up with the times, whether it is in agreement with Church teaching or not, and Jesus surely didn’t do that. I don’t pay that much attention to what the bishop does unless it’s going to affect me directly. Sure, that probably makes me a “bad Catholic” to some degree.

But I didn’t join or stay in the Church for the pope, the bishops, or a particular priest. The pope, bishops, or priests won’t make me leave the Church either. I don’t join their cults of personality. We typically get a new priest in our parish every 10 years or so, and I have never wanted to stop going to church because my favorite priest is now being transferred to Arlington or wherever. I don’t even stay for typical sentimental reasons like “this is the Church I grew up in” or “my entire family was Catholic.” I stay in the Church because of the truths it stands for and still seeks to uphold, even in the midst of all this earthly drama and corruption.

The role of the Church hierarchy has never changed in all the 2,000 years the Church has been around. It is ultimately to enforce and share the teachings of the Church as laid out in Scripture and the catechism. That is a hard task in today’s world, especially when it seems like hardly anyone goes to church anymore. Many of them sit back in glee and rub their hands together. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Those rules were so ludicrously difficult to follow that not even the bishops and archbishops can be chaste! Why should lay people bother?”

Nevertheless, the Church has had a great deal of influence in the world over the years (and still does), and it is a grave error to underestimate that influence. When the last objective standard of truth goes, we’ll all be cast into confusion with no real authority to look to. How can God possibly be an authority to guide people as a whole when anyone can interpret “God” however they like? Maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because we are all so “diverse” that what applies to you has no relevance at all to me. Or maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because scandalous stuff happens when great power is abused. But overall, we are social animals, “no man is an island” and all that, so we do need some kind of binding force, and what better force than the natural law as laid out by God himself? No human being is exempt from natural law, although we often try to convince ourselves otherwise.

These are truths that are being diluted in the eyes of the faithful (and even those who don’t trust the Church but hold the same kind of beliefs nonetheless) because of the sins of a comparative few. So the real question is… how do we excise these poisonous roots from the hierarchy once and for all? Honestly, I believe at this rate, the answer lies with the faithful laity.

As for the punishment of these crooked cardinals, bishops, and so on, I don’t agree with the typical approach: reassign them to other unsuspecting parishes and/or send them to retreat facilities to be “rehabilitated.” They did criminal deeds and should be treated as criminals, so if that means time in prison, then so be it. If you choose to abuse your power and act like a lowlife, then a punishment fitting a lowlife is your lot.

*I’m sure that doesn’t mean anything, as the scandal is not restricted to just diocesan officials. And sadly, I don’t believe I would allow my child to spend time alone with any priest beyond, of course, the confessional.

Aftermath of Lent

This year for Lent, I gave up music as I usually do. I also gave up excessive Internet use, which was fairly easy because I’ve been so disgusted with almost everything online these days. I also picked an unusual goal: giving up complaining, because I realized that I complain almost all the time about almost everything,* even if it’s not really a serious gripe.

I failed miserably.

As a matter of fact, I think I complained even more during Lent than I usually do outside of Lent. Or maybe I just grew more aware of how much I complained when I was actively trying to reduce the amount of complaining.

Even though it’s the Easter season now and I can technically start complaining again, I’m still trying to quit. What I learned about the whole matter is that I have to actively try to think positive. Find the humor in something that went wrong. Instead of complaining, find something to be grateful for. It’s OK if something’s not perfect or doesn’t go my way. Even my personal journal tends to be a bunch of bitchery and self-pitying melodrama, so I have been trying to write about positive things only, or put a positive spin on what I perceive to be negative things. At first, it felt unnatural, like I wasn’t being realistic or honest with myself, or like I was trying to be a happy, bubbly, super-enthusiastic person who’s all “Happy Monday!” and uses fifty million exclamation points at the end of every sentence.

Later on, the happiness started to sink in and my journal felt less fake. I remembered the old mantra that goes something like “You may not be able to control the situation, but you can control your reaction to it.” So I have tried to react more positively to things, or at least not immediately launch into Bitch Mode™. The most helpful thing has been to actively put in place what I should have learned in elementary school: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. (Or at least wait until you’re calm to say something. Don’t just say the first impulsive thing that comes into your head.)

Anyway, here’s to an Easter season full of happiness!!!! (Ugh, I still hate multiple exclamation points.) 🙂

*Maybe it’s an inherited thing. Or a New York thing. I’m not really sure. Doesn’t matter where it came from; all that matters is that it needs to be stopped.

A Complicated Issue

One of the biggest issues the Catholic Church is facing recently is how to approach the topic of gay marriage and how to minister to gay people. Many think that the Church hates gay people, but that isn’t true because the Church is, by its catholic nature, inclusive. This misconception probably comes from these passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which could be misconstrued as harsh and forbidding:

CCC 2357: Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

CCC 2358: The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

CCC 2359: Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

The people are not disordered; the act and the inclination are. A lot of people today (and I’m referring to people in general, not just gay people) have fallen victims to the culture and mistakenly believe that their sexuality is all that they are. They give it more weight than it ought to have. You are more than your reproductive organs, and you are more than your sexual urges. Many other inclinations besides sexual ones are disordered; a person may have an inclination to steal or to be lazy or compulsively lie or look at pornography. This person may have “owned” her inclinations and defend them as being an intrinsic part of who she is, but it doesn’t make them right. Every single person on this planet has inclinations to do things that are wrong or bad or sinful. No one is exempt.

Straight people are also called to chastity, whether they are married or single. Many members and clergy in the Catholic Church today focus too much on the sin of “gay” acts and not enough on the sins that befall straight couples, like using pornography, engaging in polygamous relationships (or infidelity), and using artificial contraceptives. How does someone know that a straight married couple is using birth control? How does someone know that a gay person is “engaging in homosexual acts”? If gay people are judged harshly, then why are straight people not held to that same standard? It is hypocritical. Everyone, married, single, gay, straight, and so on, is called to be chaste and pure and to treat his or her body with respect.

Straight couples, by the nature of their bodies, can reproduce. Gay couples cannot. That is simple biology. It is the way we were created as human beings. We are attempting to use science to subvert the natural order in the name of “fairness” and “equality” (e.g., re-configuring a man’s body so that he can give birth). The natural order is now seen as something cruel and unjust. Why should straight couples be able to have children while gay couples cannot? The “cruel” response is: Because that is how God made our bodies. That is how nature is. Deal with it. The “equal” and “fair” response is: God gave us brains, free will, and reason, and it is perfectly within bounds to scientifically manipulate our bodies so we can have what we want. If God didn’t want us to do that, he certainly wouldn’t have given us the wherewithal to do so, right? 

That’s where it gets complicated, and that’s where interpretation of the CCC and God’s word get skewed and where that nebulous concept of “conscience” comes into play. As Catholics, we are supposed to form our consciences by learning about God and about His word and His will for us, but how does one know when his or her conscience is well formed? How can we form an intelligent conscience when we are exposed to so much nonsense in the news and on social media and when the Catholic Church hardly discusses these important issues at the local level (e.g., in homilies)? Most people’s consciences are formed by their upbringing and their social environment, which often give false impressions of what God’s teachings are because parents and the society at large know very little about their faith (bad catechesis, which is a whole ‘nother post) and thus pass on misinformation to their children.

The bottom line (or tl;dr): The Catholic Church should give parish priests a refresher course on these contentious parts of the CCC, so they can address these issues of chastity and sexuality at the local level, during homilies and perhaps in parish or diocesan retreats or seminars. I don’t believe I have ever heard sexuality or gay marriage discussed in a homily. These topics, and other difficult moral issues, need to be talked about so that parents can teach their children and everyone can be held accountable to the same standard.

Yes, on some level, these issues are being discussed. Books like Fr. James Martin’s Building a Bridge and Fr. Michael Schmitz’s Made for Love attempt to tackle different sides of the issue. Pope Francis addressed it in Amoris laetitia,  where he exhorts people to use their conscience to discern issues of marriage and divorce. But all of this needs to be done in a place where there is a “captive” audience: the Sunday Mass. Only then will those who are lost and confused by the world find themselves a place apart from the world: the arms of the Lord.