RESPONSE TO "PRIEST OF INTEGRITY" AWARD
VOICE OF THE FAITHFUL CONVENTION
JULY 20, 2002, BOSTON, MA
Integrity does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it come from nowhere.
I am deeply grateful, humbled and, above all, encouraged today.
I am humbled by your generous award. But far more important is the
fact that being with you; seeing and hearing you, has given my faith
in God's church a boost that cannot be adequately quantified.
I would not be here were it not for the goodness, courage and faith
of the many, many victims and survivors whom I have met over the
many years that we have been chasing the demon of clergy sexual
abuse. The horrendous physical and spiritual damage they have suffered
and the courage and fighting spirit that has prompted them to forge
ahead has inspired me. When I was ready to throw in the towel so
many times, they were there for me. They pumped strength and integrity
into me when I needed it most.
I do not stand here alone. My integrity and my commitment continues
to be vivified by that of the victims and survivors who are, in
truth, the most important people in God's church because they are
the ones Christ Himself would be sitting with today.
I do not stand here alone. I must acknowledge the presence and
the spirit that is all around us, of others who traveled this road
and without whom this march towards a re-vivified church would not
be. The early victims, turned survivors, whose vision provided a
haven for thousands of others: Jeanne Miller, Barbara Blaine, David
Clohessy, Frank Fitzpatrick and Gary Hayes. The lawyers who listened
and believed and who fought the battles when some could not. There
are many, but some stand out: Jeff Anderson, Steve Rubino, Sylvia
Demarest, Mitch Garabedian, Bill Gordon and Eric MacLeish. And finally,
the independent and secular press: from Tom Fox's heroic breaking
coverage in the National Catholic Reporter to Jason Berry's
pioneer work in the Times of Acadiana and on to the revolutionary
continuing expose of the Boston Globe: to the hard-hitting
coverage of Brooks Egerton in the Dallas News .... and the
many, many other courageous members of the TV, radio and news media
who have done so much to force this terrible cancer to the surface.
The Manual. In the beginning there were three of us. Ray
Mouton is somewhere in Spain chasing bulls but his spirit and profound
impact on this struggle is certainly here. Father Mike Peterson
who, with Ray and I, started off on this crazy and often lonely
and painful road, never lived to see the results of his prophetic
work. Yet his courage and wisdom remained with us and is still a
part of where we all are heading.
There are two others who must be acknowledged. Richard Sipe has
been a steady source of wisdom and insight and a courageous voice
for justice. Finally, Fr. Tom Economus, who lived to see just the
beginning of this latest dramatic chapter, and whose fighting spirit
not only kept the Linkup alive, but kept many of us filled with
the desire for justice.
So, to Ray, Jeanne, Mike and Tom I say, thanks. I think we're going
to make it.
What we have experienced in our lifetime is a disaster the horror
and destruction of which is perhaps rivaled by the bloodshed of
the Inquisition, but which certainly makes the indulgence-selling
scam and related corruption of the Reformation pale by comparison.
For decades and even centuries, the rape and pillage of children,
adolescents, and young adults in our midst at the hands of the clergy
has been allowed to not only happen but to flourish. The physical
and emotional plunder has been intensified by the spiritual devastation
brought on by the aggressive refusal to face the truth.
Honest men and women, Catholic and not, have repeatedly asked,
Why? Since the first public explosion of abuse in our era in 1984,
people from all walks of contemporary life have been searching for
believable answers and have been met with continued frustration.
The despicable saga of clergy and religious sexual abuse is not
the essence of the problem. It is a symptom of a deeper, much more
pervasive and destructive disease that is nearly fatal in nature:
the fallacy of clericalism.
The primary symptom of this virus is the delusion that the clergy
are somehow above the laity, deserving of unquestioned privilege
and stature, the keepers of our salvation and the guarantors of
our favor with the Lord. The deadliest symptom, however, is the
unbridled addiction to power.
The horror of this sex abuse debacle cannot be adequately described,
nor its devastating effects accurately measured. No public apologies,
no new policy statements, no set of elaborate procedures, no widespread
purges of suspected or confirmed clergy abusers will ever come close
to repairing the immeasurable damage that has been done to the bodies,
emotions and souls of the victims, the survivors and indeed the
entire Christian community.
Yet out of this nightmare there has emerged a beacon of hope. It
is the realization that we must have a deep, probing and painful
scrutiny of the governmental system that has caused this to happen,
joined by a firm commitment to bring about a real change.
The reality of this hope is proven by all of you here today.
This widespread and deeply ingrained abuse of power by the hierarchical
leadership of our Church has been sustained and even encouraged
by the myth that what is good for that tiny minority, the clergy,
is identified with what is good for the Church. The Church, according
to this erroneous way of thinking, is the clergy and the hierarchy.
But they have lost sight of the Christ-given reality that the Church
is US. Its most vital and important members are not those who wear
the elaborate robes and sit on the thrones of power, but the marginalized,
the hurting, the rejected, and the abused.
What we see happening around us are the initial death throes of
the medieval monarchical model of the church. This was and is an
institutional Church that was based on the belief that a small,
select minority of the educated, the privileged, and the powerful
was called by Almighty God to manage the temporal and spiritual
lives of the faceless masses, on the presumption that their unlettered
and squalid state meant that they were ignorant and incapable of
discerning their spiritual destiny. This is 2002 and not 1302, and
that model is based on a myth that is long dead, if in fact it was
ever remotely grounded in a sliver of reality.
We are often told that this model is based on God's will, grounded
in an interpretation of Christ's action in giving the "Keys to the
Kingdom" to St. Peter. Rather than depend totally on this statement
as the rationale for the hierarchical system which was later invested
with all of the trappings of monarchy, there is another statement
of Christ that is a more accurate reflection of His vision for human
government. We find it in Mark's Gospel:
You know that in the world the recognized rulers lord it over
their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of
authority. This is not the way with you; among you, whoever wants
to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be the first
must be the willing slave of all. (Mark 10: 42-43)
For centuries, the only form of government most people knew was
monarchy. Even today there are countries throughout the world that
are either monarchies or dictatorships. But the Church is not any
ordinary society. Although its temporal leadership could perhaps
conceive of no other form than monarchy it is entirely possible
that God's vision was more expansive. If we listen to the words
of Christ and especially learn from his actions, we see looming
up that word that strikes fear and trembling in churchmen .... democracy!
Why? Because it surely is evident that this was the reality
that Christ lived by in his ministry. Why the fear and trepidation?
Because to accept democracy means to shed the deep seated misconception
that to serve means to control.
This terrible disaster that we are living though has proven beyond
any doubt the need for all Catholics and indeed all Christians to
abandon the magical thinking about the hierarchy and clergy that
sustains the medieval paradigm. We must accept the great risk involved
in accepting Christ's challenge to lead by serving. The hierarchical
system appears to have lost its ability to do this. You, we, must
take up the challenge.
The strength, credibility and effectiveness of true church leadership
does not need to be fortified by way of multi-million dollar public
relations firms. It does not need to ally itself with high priced
lawyers as a backup or even a front line. It does not need to control
through pathological secrecy, fear or myth. We not only want but
demand a leadership that does what Christ would have done.
We live in the hope that we will see a church that is a Christ-centered
community of equal believers first, and a political structure second.
This hope is within our grasp and within our vision.
Is clericalism and its co-dependent spouse, a monarchical hierarchy,
part of the Divine Plan? Hardly! We need only look to the unequivocal
words and actions of Christ. We need to try Christ's radical egalitarianism.
Where do we begin?
We need to recognize that the lay and clerical resistance to Voice
of the Faithful and similar expression now and in the past, is grounded
in a fear that the loss of the traditional monarchical model will
mean the loss of spiritual security. But we must all accept the
responsibility for our own spiritual growth. It is painful to grow
from religious infancy to spiritual adulthood but we must accept
this pain to someday rejoice in the freedom the Lord promised. We
can no longer depend on a magical notion of the sacraments and the
priests and bishops who administer them. By sustaining the erroneous
magical thinking about the sacraments we also sustain the false
notion of the power that clerics hold over the believers.
We must stop enabling, through our continued financial support,
the very power structures and office holders who have been largely
responsible for the horrific consequences of the cover-up of widespread
sexual abuse. Rather we must, in truth and in charity, do our utmost
to help free them from these terrible chains of addiction to power
We must challenge ourselves and everyone who is part of the church
to abandon the notion that the Church is a kingdom made up of a
series of fiefdoms called dioceses. There is no longer any justification
for timidity and deference to the very structures and leaders who
have betrayed us. Our Church has been hijacked and we want it back!
We must challenge any deacon, priest or bishop who voices his support
for the victims and survivors and who hopes for a re-vivified church
to not simply talk, but act!
We must keep this wonderful, hopeful spirit alive. The pope, the
cardinals and the bishops and indeed millions have been praying
for relief from this crisis .... praying for a new dawn. We believe
that our prayers are being answered and the new dawn is breaking,
and a sure sign of it is here today. The Spirit of God is really
alive and well and staying involved! It is here and it is moving
through all of you.
We cannot stifle or short-circuit this Spirit by factionalism,
narrowness or power struggles.
For years, this sex abuse nightmare has caused so many of us to
question everything we knew and believed about our Church, and to
even to wonder if the Lord cared. Being here this weekend, bound
up in faith and hope with the survivors and with all of you, has
been for me and for so many, an indescribable moment. God is alive
and thriving in His Church and you are the proof. Your response
to the victims, to the survivors and indeed to the whole Catholic
community as we painfully live through this tragedy, is a response
to God's promptings. It is the most eloquent and convincing proof
that our Lord is with us and He Cares.