As I walked up to the subway this morning I passed a young Tamil-Canadian family crossing the street from St. James Town to attend Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church – so a confession is in order. I have received Communion from Jesuits there which, as a Protestant, I am not permitted to do. A Basilian father or two has also served me the sacraments up at their now-closed retreat centre on beautiful Strawberry Island on Lake Simcoe. I seem to have genuflected convincingly.
At Lourdes the occasions for my being there were monthly healing masses for anyone affected by HIV/AIDS. I don’t know if they’re still going on but in their early days I attended semi-regularly with many others willing to at least pay lip service to just about anything offering hope. (I’ll try to refrain from further use of the term lip service in a Roman Catholic context.) Filipino-Canadian drag queens would attend, their resemblance to their mothers always quite striking. It did not surprise me that one of the priests at the mass was someone I would occasionally see in dimly lit establishments known for sexual activity – and he was not there to hear confessions.
My blood has been at a rolling boil this week as more and more revelations of sexual abuse, and the Vatican’s handling of these tragic cases, have been reported almost daily.
I came out of the closet in the early 1980s during heated public debates over the basic civil rights of gays and lesbians in the Ontario Human Rights Code. One of the canards thrown at us by opponents was the equating of homosexuality with pedophilia. It was always a shocking, and infuriating, charge. I, therefore, have a great deal of empathy for Roman Catholic priests who do not happen to be molesters of their juvenile parishioners. They must feel betrayed by their brothers who are guilty of such crimes. I hope they have the strength to call them out on these matters.
The official Roman Catholic Church, from Pope Benedict (formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and “God’s Rottweiler”) down through the defensive male hierarchy of the Church, has unsuccessfully tried to do the impossible – saving its face and its ass at the same time. The influence it once held in western society long lost, the Church still carries on as if we all believe everything that comes out of the Holy See, down to the bishops and the pawns.
I know a few Roman Catholics who cling to their faith as the way they know to experience the Mystery and, more importantly, to act out their faith through such entities as The Catholic Worker Movement. I know them to be good, loving people who believe in gay rights, for example, and other things which would not get an endorsement from the balcony at St. Peter’s Square. My heart aches for them as they see their Church being yanked from one priests’ scandal to another.
This jars memories of ‘Hawaiian Tropic’ Secret, a story I put into words and read for the first time in 1990 during an “AIDS Mastery” workshop. In writing, without judgment or self-censorship, I saw the plain fact that what I had carried as guilt for my behaviour was, in fact, the abuse of a minor (me) by a much older man. (I have no reason to believe the abuser was a priest but I do empathize with the Church – whose condemnations regarding morality over the years are coming back to bite it to the point where its outward-pointing fingers of yesterday are increasingly pointing inward today.)
Unfortunately The Church seems to be better at demeaning the sexual life force of lowly parishioners than dealing with the inexcusable sexual violence visited upon young people by priests who claim to hold such incredible moral authority over their charges.
The flock needs to revolt against the shepherds.