Princes and Thrones: On the feast of the Assumption and the Pennsylvania grand jury

There’s kind of a lot for a somewhat vocal Catholic convert to react to today. I’m still processing the news of yesterday’s Pennsylvania grand jury report documenting graphic allegations by more than 1,000 victims over 70 years against more than 300 priests in six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses. I feel the need to say something, if only because silence has been the hallmark of a complicit Church over decades of unconscionably heinous crimes. What’s different about this report, which seems to indicate that the changes in policy implemented by the Church in 2002 may have improved things to some degree, is that it outlines how bishops and priests routinely, systematically squelched, hid, covered up abuse, including rape, of young children and teens by priests. And while that may have changed in 2002, many of the same men are in charge of the Church now who were party to those coverups.

I flipped around the radio a few times today, between the local Catholic station (which, when I listened, focused on music), EWTN (which focused it’s “open line” on emails about doctrine and discussion of the Feast of the Assumption), and the Sirius Catholic Channel (on which several hosts, including some I don’t care for, engaged in serious, honest soul-searching with their callers and guests and looked for ways that lay people can be part of the solution to this issue). I have much greater respect for the Catholic Channel than I did before. I am happy that my own bishop (one of recent vintage, incidentally) was quick to put out a statement. It seems to me that Catholics, from Pope Francis down, need to  affirm that, not only are crimes against vulnerable children totally contrary to the Gospel, but silence is complicity and complicity should disqualify people from leadership roles in the Church.

Today is the Feast day of the Assumption, which celebrates one of the three final barriers I had to becoming Catholic. It celebrates the dogma that Mary was assumed directly to heaven at the end of her life and did not experience earthly death, and while it was a part of Church tradition since the sixth century, it wasn’t made an official part of Church dogma until 1950. Like the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (that Mary was born without original sin), it was proclaimed by a pope invoking the doctrine of papal infallibility; in fact, those are the only two instances in which a pope has invoked the infallibility of his office to proclaim a dogma.

Those three things – papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary – were the things I really couldn’t buy into about Catholicism, and when I did join the Church almost 25 years ago, it was not out of conversion on those doctrines but humility. I still have serious doubts about them, but I am just humble enough to know I might be wrong about those doubts.

On the one hand, you could argue that the revelations of the grand jury underscore the fallibility of human leaders of the Church and call those doctrines even further into question.

On the other hand, because of the Assumption, Catholics were obliged to celebrate together as a community and hear these words, spoken by Mary in Luke 1:

He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

At yet another crossroads on the scandal of abuse by leaders of the Church, it is perhaps God’s working that we hear that Gospel proclaimed and ask ourselves, in this time, whether we side with the proud, might and rich or with the lowly and hungry. Especially when it can seem as though our leaders are motivated primarily by protecting the name and holdings of the institutions they lead.

Anyway, Mary was really clear about which side God was on. Maybe she’s worth paying attention to after all.

3 responses to “Princes and Thrones: On the feast of the Assumption and the Pennsylvania grand jury”

  1. Separating Church, from the men of the church has always been hard, and is the true test of faith that many are experiencing today.

    One of the best indicators that there REALLY is a Holy Spirit is that somehow, this dysfunctional organization servives, even when its “leaders” fail so miserably as they have done dealing with this inexcusable behavior.

    The puzzling concept that (some) church leaders have embedded in then, protect the church at all cost, has been handed down to them for centuries. It’s a learned behavior. It’s a behavior that is difficult to understand. It’s a behavior that has destroyed lives, it’s a behavior that has to be eradicated. It’s the grossly human element that fails us at a time when we need leadership, to be leaders.

    Rooted in scripture, sacraments and service, feeding the poor, attending to the sick, is when the local Church is at it’s best. When we get glismps of the corporate church, like we have this week, our faith is in the raw. No theologian or philosopher can rightly explain the behavior.

    This is the right recipe to help foster change..
    …”Anyway, Mary was really clear about which side God was on. Maybe she’s worth paying attention to after all.”

    Thank you for your words of wisdom and beautifully written words on a most difficult topic.

  2. Beth Schwarzmueller Avatar
    Beth Schwarzmueller

    Spent more time trying to process…..I believe many of us would like to believe there is no evil in the world, especially in our family, friends, and clergy….so, when confronted with despicable behavior, it is easier to say….”this is a probably an exaggeration, it cannot be true……There can not be that many instances of domestic violence, sexual harassment, or even pedophilia behavior.” So, we ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen, and unless it happened to us, an immediate family member or friend, we put it behind us. So yes, I can be accused justly of denial. At the same time, I have seen accusations made against priests after their death or their confinement to a nursing home, after they are no longer able to defend their reputation. Too often the accusers appear to be after money, though for true victims, I am sure they are most interested in healing. So, I am distrustful of accusations made against individuals from things that happened 20 or more years ago. I am not saying they didn’t happen, but I am not going to blame my current leadership for not cracking down on those events. Most dioceses put in place a zero tolerance policy 15 years ago. Is that too hard on priests, probably, but necessary. Many seminaries exclude homosexuals from entering….while a celibate homosexual should be equally welcome as a celibate heterosexual, the seminary environment has had to discriminate to protect the institution. Do I believe there are people using this crisis for their own benefit, definitely. Do I think there are some, like myself, who would like to put their head in the sand….definitely. But we can’t..we must stand by our honorable priests everyday. I remember during the 15 years ago revelations, a local seminary professor describing the chore of deciding what to wear when going out for a quick cup of coffee….The clerical collar is a very visible, but important symbol….one that needs to be supported when honorable and immediately removed when the sacred trust us broken. Again, thanks for forcing me to get my head out of the sand.

  3. […] that the news from the Pennsylvania grand jury and former Cardinal McCarrick made me pause. So I wrote a little about that instead, and then I kind of stewed in the aftermath of statements by various bishops and, eventually, the […]

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