Check Yourself

Last night at prayer group we were all talking about how in the face of these clerical abuse scandals we mostly feel numb, or worse, cynical.

We, women my age, passed through high school as the first wave of priestly misconduct scandals were coming to light. (Haley speaks beautifully on this.) It’s not really a surprise to us. Humans mess up, on a grand scale. It’s awful, but not unfamiliar.

But news came today that the priest who married us a decade ago is leaving his church (which isn’t Catholic — remember, I’m a revert). He’s admitted to alcohol abuse, anger issues and harassment. This story doesn’t have the further compounding horrors of organizational coverup or sexual abuse, thank God, but it’s really brought the crisis home to me in a new way.

The calls for greater hierarchical transparency, clerical training, accountability, discernment in seminary — these are all correct and good. We need to shine light into the dark places of our church.

And I agree strongly with those who have written we must double down our efforts toward personal sanctity, our commitment to raising our children. Prayer and fasting, yes! These things have been said better than I could say them elsewhere.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know the full story with this new scandal close to my heart. I guess mostly that story belongs to the priest’s family, and to his parishioners. But I know who he was when he married us, and the good he’s done in the intervening years.

It is not that he hasn’t crossed lines — after all, he confirmed the accusations and voluntarily resigned. It honestly sounds like stepping down and seeking treatment are justified moves for him. But I am saying that these things can happen to good people. And not just clergy.

I’m looking at you, and at me. This implosion in our churches can be a message to us: shine light into your own dark secrets. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. If you’re under tremendous pressure and taking the edge off with alcohol, or losing your temper routinely, or crushing your family under the weight of your perfectionism, do something. Pray, obviously, but then get some concrete help, too.

I do not want to downplay the role of real, deliberate evil in many of these scandals. I cannot course the many intervening steps between feeling lonely or lost or frustrated and then raping someone under your spiritual care. I honestly don’t even want to imagine it. But for every one of those monstrous sins, there are others, I believe, in which good men went down slippery slopes, or, to use a metaphor I often use for myself, found themselves frogs in the frying pan, unaware of the increasing heat until it was too late. Or how about one more cliched expression to make my point? The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and there are no doubt priests who now stand accused who can point to the noble goals they pursued while their anger and missteps mounted. I can track that course, sure enough — it’s one I struggle daily to pull myself from.

This whole catastrophe has strengthened my commitment to getting my own anger and irritability under control, to finding new and better ways to manage the pressures of family life. Because let me make this clear: This is not simply a clerical problem. This is, as my friend pointed out, a fallen human problem. Realize if you need help and get it before lasting harm is done. Your domestic church — and the health of the Church universal — depend upon it.

7 thoughts on “Check Yourself

  1. When this news first broke, I was…whatever the opposite of shocked is. And how easy to expect something, then accept it, then use it justify our own sins…little by little.

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  2. As always, your posts are so insightful. Thanks.

    “or crushing your family under the weight of your perfectionism”…wow. yes.

    “Your domestic church — and the health of the Church universal — depend upon it.” So good.

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