Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Under the Ruins

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while. I've been trying to do other sorts of writing. Which are coming along ... slowly.

I know some of you have been concerned about life in my parish. That's what the disturbing statuses on Facebook have been about. Quick reminder of some old news can be had here. For the past month, I've been going to Mass across town, but also meeting with some folks who want to save the parish. A little research and a few phone calls, and the lawyer for the alleged victim in the case emailed us all the depositions of everyone involved.

Now, let me acknowledge a couple of things, which still astound me when I think about it. Having read most of these depositions, I now have more information available to me about the alleged abuser's history than the relevant responsible parties had available to them in 2003 when they assigned him to the parish. I also want to acknowledge that I have read what is basically the alleged victim's case (his lawyer deposing the alleged perpetrator, who took the fifth on everything, and a bunch of other witnesses; the exhibits and supporting evidence that they filed etc). But it's pretty clear to me that there were a TON of red flags on this guy and he could have reasonably been denied access to children as early as 1985, but by the mid-90s it was getting increasingly unreasonable not to deny him access. And, at this point, it looks like so many people in his religious community could have easily decided to look a little deeper, but instead, they looked away.

So, here's this horrible, horrible situation, right. And a bunch of us wrote letters to the priest in charge of the Province, who made the assignment, and more or less demanded that he come up here and meet with us regarding the whole thing. He actually agreed, and came, and we had the meeting last night. So here was the train-wreck waiting to happen: some of us having read all these depositions, convinced this guy was really the best face of the sex abuse crisis since Cardinal Law; him and his entourage, who seemed likely, from his initial email responses to some of us, to dismiss our concerns; plus, many people in parish leadership who had no clue about any of this, and thought we were simply going to talk about 1 abusive priest and had no idea that there was even a hint of anyone else's complicity in the thing.

But the funny thing is, the wreck didn't exactly happen. First, the priest involved was very reconciliatory and, by my read, humble. (Others mentioned that they found his silent nodding offensively condescending.) He did NOT defend his actions in assigning the priest here. That was somewhat disappointing, as I would still love to hear what he possibly could have been thinking. Basically, he let us beat him up for about an hour. Then he responded a little and we beat him up a little more.

By the way, he told us what penances he was doing related to clergy sex abuse and volunteered to do more if we didn't think it was enough. He didn't quite give us the satisfaction of the truth, nor did he give us platitudinous affirmations. He did apologize.

Many people spoke of the pain of this assignment, of the fear that struck them and the news came out and they began to wonder which of their sons or their friends' sons might have been victimized. They also spoke of a long pattern of poor communication and pastoral neglect that the order as a whole has shown the parish, and how this assignment was not an abnormality but the straw that has broken the camel's back. But they also spoke of how much the community has meant, how much life it has given them, how much of their own lives they have given it. And then the message, loud and clear. Never said quite like this, though close: we are the Church, Father, and we will be the Church with or without you. We don't exactly trust you anymore, but we'll give you another chance. Help us rebuild this place. Help us nurture a place where our kids can learn the faith and be safe. Or get out of the way.

I really was inspired, and I'm still not sure why. It is certainly too much to say that forgiveness and reconciliation have been accomplished. Perhaps I'm astounded that everyone hung in the conversation as long as they did. It feels a bit like a miracle, a bit like Christ's promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against us might be true.

I'm so hopeful, and so afraid to hope. And I've only been here about a year. A strange gift to discover a community I think I might value so much in the basement under the ruins of the nearly-empty church that has been killing my soul all year.