Monday, October 08, 2007

Transcendent rational animals

On a lighter note than recent postings....

As most of you know, I currently have the Coolclan residing with me. It makes for many fun and interesting and sometimes strange moments, most of which I have been too busy to blog about. But here's one I couldn't let go by.

As I headed upstairs this morning, I heard the sounds of Handel's Hallelujah chorus echoing forth from the bathroom. The door was wide open so I risked a peek inside. There was young James (4 years old) sitting completely naked on the toilet, singing at the top of his lungs. The mood of the music was such that I had to ask the question "Are things going well in here?" I got his pretty typical joyful smile and the seemingly delighted claim "I'm pooping!" I said, "I figured that. But you seem so happy about it!" He added "I'm singing!" "I know, I heard you." He said--with no change in mood at all--"Did you know that people aren't supposed to see other people pooping?" I said, "I've heard that. Did you know that people ought to shut doors when they are pooping so that other people don't see them? I'll get it for you." I closed the door and walked away.

There is something so strange and beautiful about the whole thing. His innocent joy, which certainly had more to do with the echo-y quality of the bathroom than with nakedness or poop, was still just unabashed by my presence. And of course he merely sang Alleluia after Alleluia because he knew the words and the tune, not because he was trying to express that kind of joy, but it sure seemed like it. It seemed like he was celebrating the transcendent in the midst of this very animal human moment.

What a strange and beautiful ability children have to embody, more deeply than they can possibly know, the strange contradictions of being a trascendent rational animal.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Good news, bad news, and hope

If you haven't read my last blog entry, you probably should before you continue with this one. When last we left things, the provincial (let's call him Fr. D) had done a lot of listening and basically refused to respond, prefering to sit with what he had heard and come back about 10 days later for another meeting and respond then. That meeting happened Thursday, on the feast of St. Francis. The humble peacemaker seemed to have intervened for us, because the meeting could not have begun better.

Fr. D began by saying that he had heard a lot of pain and anger and disappointment, but also a love and care and concern for the parish. He admitted (more clearly than I imagine could be prudent from a legal point of view) that he made a mistake when he assigned the priest in question to the parish, and he was also mistaken not to come in person to talk to the parish about the law suit and about the settlement when each of those things occurred. He said that he listened to lawyers and all the concerns about what could not be said, when he should have listened to his own instincts about the importance of presence and all the things that could be said, without regard to the law. He said very clearly "I apologize for all this and I ask for your forgiveness." It seemed to be just about everything we could have hoped for.

He went on to talk about the new norms the Order has in place to review their personnel, and they seem, for the most part, to be the right things. He spoke of ensuring that the children of the parish get Safe Environment training and that outside professionals come to talk to children who had significant contact with the priest in question (especially them and their parents, but actually, this is extended to anyone for whom this has created or re-surfaced issues). This will include informational sessions on everything from working through anger issues to recognizing signs of abuse in your child. In addition, there will be counsellors available for those who have individual issues to talk about. I mean, really, this is all the right stuff, right?

He mentioned that he knew there were other issues in the parish and he is sending a trained facilitator to help the parish through some listening sessions and a visioning process for overall healing and renewal. Again, seems pretty great.

But apparently even St. Francis cannot hold evil at bay, because then, for some reason, perhaps in response to a question, he began to talk about the settlement, in which the Order paid a young man $1.2 million dollars related to his allegations of abuse by this priest that Fr. D had just apologized for assigning to our parish. It started pretty informationally: "By the way, although some alleged victims insist on such a clause, nothing in this settlement demands or includes or implies an admission of guilt." And then, the very clear statement: "I do not believe that this priest has ever molested a child."

Well, that's when the wheels began to come off. Now, I have read many but not all of the depositions and supporting evidence that we have and let me state this clearly: I do not see anything in all of that that makes me what I would call "absolutely certain" that this priest ever molested a child. But there are very clear descriptions of inappropriate behavior and there is testimony about concerns dating back to 1985, in four completely different locations. And there is this very clear allegation that was settled for over a million dollars. I am not absolutely certain that this priest ever abused anyone, but I cannot imagine any reasonable person claiming to be even relatively convinced that he did not.

So, the responses went in three basic directions. One set pointed toward specific information from the depositions: how can you know that blah blah blah and still believe that he is not a child molester? Easy answer, but deeply disturbing: I haven't read all that information. This led many to another disturbing question: why are many of us so interested in understanding what happened here that we stayed up late in the last two weeks reading this and you ... didn't? Do you just not care that much about us? About the truth? Direction #2 was simply but poignant: so then, the children who made these claims ... do you think they were lying? You must not understand much about children. And direction #3--perhaps this was simply where the first two directions rejoined, because everyone seemed to go here eventually: so, if you think he never molested any children, what exactly were you apologizing for at the beginning?

I actually felt quite bad for him. I really believe that he means well and that he really is doing all the right things. But another great saint of a friar used to insist (quoting Aristotle of course) that the virtuous man is the one who not only does the virtuous thing, but does it in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason, etc. Any defect is enough to make an action--even a mostly good action--evil. And it just began to seem to people, I think, that he was apologizing and changing the norms and attending to the needs of the parish not because his desires are rightly ordered and he truly sees the good of all these things, but because the legal and financial well-being of his Order demands it. One can be a prudent thief, Thomas says, but such an end distorts the virtue itself. I would suspect he would also argue that if the provincial is prudent qua CEO and not prudent qua friar, prudent qua priest, even prudent qua Christian, he is pretty distorted as well.

I remain deeply hopeful that this particular friar means to be putting his prudence at the service of charity, which is the right way around. I think he is open to hearing from us, his brothers and sisters, the ways he has allowed a disordered charity for his brother friars to become uncharitable both to them and to us, and, of course, especially to our children.

Please continue to pray for our parish, and for the victims, the perpetrators, and the unwitting abettors (lay, religious, and ordained) of clergy sexual abuse.