There are two kinds of writing. Writing that talks about a thing, and writing that talks about talking about a thing.Writers begin writing thinking they are doing the the first, discover they are the really doing the second, and then stop caring about the distinction. This is wisdom.
And wisdom consists of two, equal parts. One part is not appearing foolish. The second part is doing good. Wisdom carries a moral component. Your grandparents may not necessarily be intellectually brilliant, but they are wise. They have learned not to do foolish things and when they do something, when they make that effort, or are called on to respond to a person's need, they do good. They do what is right.
These thoughts occur to me as I consider the movie "Spotlight," which concerns itself with the The Boston's Globe investigations and reporting on the pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church. I enjoyed the movie immensely. The human effort to reveal truth and injustice is exhilarating and inspiring. It is a story that never tires and must be told. Let's pray that our social/economic system continues to support meaningful journalism! And this was not a mere scandal, but a crime of immense proportions, involving systemic sexual abuse of children condoned by the very Church that holds the keys to heaven, and of which I am a member. Of course, the pedophilia story was not news to me. I considered closely these crimes before entering the Church, deciding that I would not let anything, however virulent, stand between me and my Savior. And I have seen first hand at least some of the safeguards now in place. Specifically, I have taken video training required for any person involved with children which helps one to identify and respond to instances of sexual abuse or evidence of possible abuse, and I take note of efforts the Church and safeguard organizations have made.
This of course is one thing the church needs to do, is to put in place safeguards, including endorsing third-party organizations, that ensure that pedophilia is treated like the crime it is. Any occasion of pedophilia should draw a swift response and be made public including reporting to the authorities. The second thing the church needs to do is be open to accountability, and this means suffering criminal and civil charges. Many instances of such accountability have been rendered, with one notable exception.
It is remarkable to me that Law fled Boston without being held to account for his part in overseeing the pedophilia crisis in Boston. He underwent trial in the papers, to be sure, but no charges were brought. Instead, he took up residence in Rome and served on several councils in the Vatican. Law became a mainstay conservative voice. He pushed, as one example, for censure of the American Women Religious, a colossal effort that ended with a mild rebuke, thank God. He attended the 2005 Papal Congress.
In other words, the orchestra leader of the Boston pedophilia crisis, who guided and endorsed moving abusive priests from one parish to another, who oversaw minor private settlements in lieu of criminal accountability, was subsequently allowed a voice in church affairs, including selecting a Pope
It does not make me happy to point these things out. Or I should say, there is a particular lack that makes me more concerned than anything else. I wouldn't expect the Vatican to "fire" a Cardinal over almost anything. I don't think they have a mechanism for that action, though Pope Francis is working I believe to put into place such measures for future reference. No, what bothers me is Law not holding himself accountable to the city of Boston. Cardinal Law, running away. Cardinal Law, not bearing on his back the Cross, but nimbly eluding it.
If I had Law's ear I would tell him that there remains one thing in his life that he must do, and that is to return to Boston to be held accountable. Fly to Boston. Confess your sins to the people. Cleanse your soul and represent your Church as Christ would, accepting punishment, though in this case for the sins you bear. Because that is what all this is about really. Being Christ. Righting the wrongs we do to each other and to ourselves. Cardinal Law's life in Rome is not the credit of the Catholic Church. He and perhaps only he can atone for that error, as for all the errors of his past.
This is true for Cardinal Law as it is true for each and every one of us.
Returning to my initial point, wisdom carries a moral component. His experience in Boston did not make Cardinal Law wise as he seems incapable of meeting a just moral standard. He is smarter, perhaps. Smart enough to protect himself if not others. It is concerning that he has taken on the role of church conservative too, this man who holds a justifiably strong reputation for his work in the 1960's in civil rights and for ecumenicism. The push toward ecumenicism, it should be recalled, was a component of the progressive effort to decentralize Vatican power and to move liturgical celebration to involve more of the laity, a change seen now by traditionally minded Catholics as disastrous for the sanctity of the Mass and the health and well being of the Church.
Law was a Church progressive, as a component of social progress. Now he is a Church conservative. Why the change?
It is somewhat beyond the scope of this column to opine on the rightness of this or that form of the Mass, except to point out one must trust where one has traveled if you want to get anywhere new. But clearly it is not to the credit of Church conservatives that Law is counted among them. Through Cardinal Law, conservatism, or traditionalism, will be read as comprising or at least endorsing self-aggrandizement. It is fine I think - it is right and just - for members of the Church to promote traditional forms of the Liturgy, but there is no reason to believe that Cardinal Law really cares about any of that. Cardinal Law cares about staying away from the city of Boston. Cardinal Law cares about not being held accountable for his role in a culture that allowed the rape of children. This is true, I believe, of Cardinal Law, who appears to have taken on the role of traditionalist as a form of personal protection.
Let's look at the conservative/traditionalist and progressive dynamic a bit for more background.
One sees in social conservatives a tendency to protect what is right as being ultimately good, where as social liberals promote what is immediately good as ultimately right. The conservative and liberal therefore it would seem cross paths at a certain point in the moral compass even as they forever try to pull each other toward their line of thinking. We see this dynamic in politics, obviously, and in the Church. It is a polarizing, bi-lateral dynamic that suits politics but to my mind does not suit the Church. I have experience with new and old forms of the liturgy and have spent a good deal of time with both progressive and traditional laity and priests. In my opinion, a traditional approach is best, but only if one can assume the tenets of tradition in humble, ongoing fashion.
The traditionalist who is confident about the ultimate truth of the Church and the Magisterium, who confesses, who observes the Law, and yet can be open and loving toward all persons, regardless of their opinions or orientation toward the Church or anything, socially or politically, holds much greater distinction than the progressive who, viewing the Church through the lens of social truths, is always holding back their full commitment. It is a curious thing, that Church progressives often appear more restrained, emotionally, intellectually, than Church traditionalists. The reason is that the progressive is a skeptic of, ultimately, God. Skepticism of God's power as witnessed by the Catholic Church in its teachings via the Magisterium is written into the progressive viewpoint. Therefore, a progressive is always having to ask themselves, Is what I am doing right? This is a fine question to ask ourselves politically and socially, but religiously...how do I put this. The horse is well out of the barn and down the road of what is right and what is not.
For a traditionalist the question is not What is right, but Am I capable of doing what is right? The answer is, I am not, except by the power of God. By this formula, rendered in so many ways, the traditionalist prays for help and gets it, from God, where the progressive relies on the strength of their good intentions, which may or may not (A) be right in the first place, and (B) succeed in rendering ultimate good.
Lest I be accused of oversimplifying these distinctions, let me point out that, to my mind, neither traditional or progressive orientation is compatible with conservative social politics, at least the brand of social conservatism practiced in the current time. However one addresses God, progressively or traditionally, the only place you can get to, through Christ, is one of mercy toward all. God is the judge. My role is to preach and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These two points ground the central dynamic of Christian life. I have found a position of anti-liberalism to be antithetical to an open heart, a heart of flesh. I say this having viewed the world from the perspective of Church progressives and traditionalists. First comes humility, then action (or opinions). Assuming action (or an opinion) is warranted at that point.
First comes humility.
First, by admission, and last, at death. Let our final breath not be our first humble utterance! As I stated, Cardinal Law has chosen, so it seems to me, a personal conservatism as a self-protecting shield against God's truth. We are warned against this kind of "empty show,"and it is a fine thing to identify one's own habits and tendencies toward self-protection and then to willingly, consciously, lay aside the shield, to put aside doubt and to open oneself to the mercy of God. In lieu of politics and opinions in the Church I would love to see more humility, more faith, more openness, and a whole lot less hostility toward the world. That is what I ask for from Cardinal Law. That is what I ask from you, my reader. That is what I pray for in myself.
Thank you for reading.