Wednesday, May 5, 2010

05-09-2010: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2,22-29 / Psalm 67 / Revelation 21:10-14,22-23 / John 14:23-29
A cultural trait that seems universal in practice is the taboo of talking about sex and motherhood at the same time, even though (up until quite recently) there couldn’t be the latter without the former. The taboo carries over when (up until quite recently) the conversation turns to sex and the Church which, as metaphor would have it, is often called our mother. This Mother’s Day that taboo will be discarded, to a degree, as the revelations of sex abuse and cover-up continue to emerge from beneath the very tight lid imposed by that taboo, through the imposition of secrecy, on the recent history of Holy Mother Church.

The story of the founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel, which has now been corroborated beyond dispute, is perhaps the most illustrative of how secrecy motivated by shame produces a far worse scandal than that which sought to be avoided in the first place. Father Maciel sexually abused underage seminarians for decades. He also fathered several children by different women and used his Order’s financial resources (some say the Legion has more than one hundred billion dollars in assets although its actual worth remains a secret as well) to support those families in Europe and Latin America. Father Maciel escaped being brought to task for decades because of his tremendous influence (read: financial) over high Vatican officials, including the former Secretary of State and current Dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Cardinal Sodano. It was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, however, who pressed for action against Maciel but was prevented, as has been alleged, by the intervention of Pope John Paul II himself. When Ratzinger ascended to the papacy, one of the first acts of his pontificate was to formally remove Maciel from any active ministry and consign him to a monastery. But secrecy, no doubt born of shame, continued to dominate the agenda right up until last week when the accusations against Maciel were finally acknowledged. One of the damaging effects of secrecy in this particular case was bringing into question the reputations and the veracity of those who brought the accusations. These priests and professional men had brought their concerns to the proper authorities decades ago, but their petitions to Rome, as well as the petitions of the bishops through whom they were brought, went unanswered - save for vehement denials and the slander against them made by members of the Legion of Christ. One might understandably ask why the good reputation of many were sacrificed – through the practice of secrecy - to protect the criminal behavior of one man now acknowledged as guilty of even more than of what he was initially accused.

Simone Weil may offer an insight: “Secrecy,” she wrote, “is everywhere the soul of bureaucracy. It is the condition of all privilege and of all oppression.”

A few years ago I earned the ire of our diocesan bishop by publishing an op-ed piece making an analogy between the secrecy employed by bishops in their handling of priest sex abusers and the secrecy employed by bishops as they falsified baptismal records of adopted persons. In both situations illicit sex resulted in a perceived shame which, if exposed, would result in scandal. Secrecy, it was thought, would save the birthmother the stigma of shame and the child the stigma of illegitimacy; while, in the case of sex abuse, secrecy would save holy mother church the shame of acknowledging the criminal sex committed by some priests and would thus prevent the loss of faith on the part of many. But secrecy always, without exception, necessitates the telling of lies and ultimately destroys the trust on which families, both nuclear and ecclesial, need to be based.

The right to truth should trump the need to avoid scandal. Certainly there is a need and a right to confidentiality: birth mothers have the right to privacy from strangers, but they do not have the right to privacy from the children they bore. Likewise confidentiality regarding accusers and accused should be employed at every opportunity but that right does not trump the right of innocent children to be protected from those already accused of sex abuse.

When my mother became pregnant with me in 1952 she told no one but came to a maternity home here in New York City where she gave birth and relinquished me to adoption with the guarantee of secrecy. The taboo about illicit sex and motherhood was at its peak back then. Sex and shame comingled and found a solution to the problem under the umbrella of secrecy. The need for secrecy, then as now, was confused with the right to confidentiality resulting in the rather offensive belief that a mother has a right to privacy from her own child and that right trumps the right of the child to know his/her own parents. The Church was, and remains, complicit in this deception in so far as bishops continue to permit falsified baptismal certificates to be issued. In fairness, bishops now insist that baptisms cannot be performed until adoptions are finalized so the certificate can reflect the legal reality if not the biological one. Yet it seems another scandal is looming if the Vatican eventually agrees with some bishops who insist that even after adoptions are finalized the adopted parents may not be placed on the baptismal certificate - if they are gay or lesbian. Wait till that gets out!

Secrecy is everywhere the soul of bureaucracy…the condition of all privilege and of all oppression. The desire to avoid what is perceived to be scandalous at the expense of truth seems inevitably to lead down a path that dead-ends in far greater scandal. The imposition of secrecy always, without exception, results in the telling of lies. And the telling of lies, according to St. Thomas, is nothing less than an act of violence committed toward the person about whom the lie is told.

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