I’m Catholic. Now What Do I Do?

It’s been 16 years since the Boston Globe wrote about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. I think many of us Catholics hoped this event, painful as it was, would force us to confront this horrible reality and allow us to move forward. Unfortunately even today we continue to uncover this terrible cancer and recognize that we haven’t exposed the extent of the sin and the pain of the victims.

I’m Catholic and call it survivor’s guilt but the priests I knew as a child were good priests. I was an altar boy and that allowed me a “peek behind the curtain” to learn about the lives of these celibate men. Most Catholics looked at priests and nuns with a reverence that elevated them above the rest of us, and much of this rested on the belief that priests, brothers, and nuns were celibate. The idea that this group chose celibacy over marriage made them more pure gave us the belief that they were “above sexuality.” Virtually all Catholics mistakenly believed that priests and nuns didn’t have sexual feelings.

As a former seminarian and a former priest I can tell you that how this belief isn’t true. I’m an ex priest who left active ministry to get married.

When the Boston Globe and other outlets began to publish the now famous Spotlight articles I wasn’t surprised but I was deeply saddened. Much has been written about pedophile priests and the bishops who protected them and I have no need to rehash all of it here. Suffice it to say that on those occasions when someone reported a priest to the bishop, they were mostly ignored. When confronted the bishops would claim ignorance of the problem.

So what went wrong? Well, almost everything went wrong, but I’m going to write about these specific things:

  • Bishops Saw Pedophilia As a Sin, Not a Crime: When confronted by a priest who was abusing children they saw these as problems to be solved, not crimes to be reported. I knew of one priest who, after several parish transfers, was finally sent for treatment. When he told the psychologist about the abuse, the psychologist told him he was required to report this to the police. Baffled, the priest said that he came seeking help, not arrest. But the psychologist told him that he broke the law and someone had to protect the children he abused.
  • Pedophile Priests Saw Themselves As Above the Law: When asked why they didn’t come forward, many of the abused children told authorities the pedophile priest warned them against speaking out and even threatened them. These children were told that nobody would believe them and some were even told that speaking out would be a sin. Those who were confronted claimed to be offended and outraged. Partly they denied the charges, but there was also an undercurrent of “how dare you accuse me. Don’t you know who I am?”
  • The Church Dramatically Underestimated the Long Term Damage the Priests Caused to Children: I remember hearing that the way forward was to pay off the families and keep this secret “for the protection of the child.” They refused to believe that the abuse led directly to years of depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. While the Church was able to pretend this didn’t happen, the children didn’t.
  • The Process Where Priests Were Selected and Trained Was Flawed: When a man contacts a diocese or religious order to inquire about becoming a priest, it’s a long process. Until the 1970s it was not uncommon for a boy to enter the seminary in high school. Many of those who sought the priesthood were good men, but some never appeared to socialize well with their peer group. They were often aloof, quiet, and detached. Today many of us would see them as creepy but at the time they were thought to be pious. Once ordained, they often gravitated toward activities that allowed them access to children. Time and again we’ve heard stories of a priest who showered attention on a boy whose father was absent. Today we look to men who are mature, transparent, and serious about the work of ministry.

So where do we go from here? Because of the bravery of journalists and (more importantly) the bravery of those who were abused by priests, we have reason to hope. Important changes have been made.

We longer allow priests unfettered access to our children. We would never imagine allowing a child to spend time alone in the home of a bachelor neighbor but in generations past we thought nothing of a child being alone with a priest. In large part this results from the what we’ve learned.

The formation of priests has changed dramatically. When someone applies to seminary he undergoes a battery of psychological tests and I hope these tests can weed out potential pedophiles. In addition to that, those who were previously thought to be “pious” because of their inability to relate to other adults are now seen as red flags. I had a conversation with a vocation director who refused to recommend someone who wanted to be a priest. This candidate felt he was called by God to be a priest but showed virtually no proof of this. He had no spiritual director, the priests in his church didn’t know him, he participated in no ministries (e.g. he wasn’t a lector or a CCD teacher; he wasn’t a Eucharistic Minister or belonged to any organization in the church. In other words, nobody could vouch for him). His only response was that he felt God called him to be a priest. I think this vocation director served us well by not allowing him to apply to seminary. I’m not claiming this man was a pedophile but we can all agree that he would not have made a good priest.

I began this essay by talking about being Catholic and asking the question, “Now what do I do?” Let’s face it: it’s not easy being Catholic. And it’s even harder when we learn about institutional evil. But at the end of the day the Catholic Church that gave us pedophile priests also gave us St. Paul, St. Francis, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and my grandparents.

Let’s face it: we are living in a dark chapter in the Church’s history, but not its last. At the end of the day I’m still Catholic because, despite all that’s happened, we are stronger than pedophile priests and the bishops who covered for them. I’m still Catholic because I believe that God’s love and God’s willingness to forgive dwarfs our ability to sin.

Farewell Senator McCain, and Thank You

Five days ago we received the news we knew was coming but didn’t want to hear: Senator John S. McCain III died of brain cancer. By any account Senator McCain stood for the best of what our nation stood for.

He was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 because his father, John S. McCain Jr, served there in his career in the Navy.

Because both is father and grandfather graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland it was assumed he would attend there also. He graduated in 1958, placing nearly at the bottom of his class.

Nobody would expect Lt. McCain to have much of a military career but he did. In 1967 he flew a mission during the War in Vietnam and was shot down and taken prisoner. His captors soon learned he was the son of a 4 Star Naval General and offered to send him home as a tactic to appear humane. Lt. McCain, in a phenomenal act of courage, refused their offer unless all the POW’s were released. In the 5 1/2 years between that offer and the end of the war he was tortured beyond what most of us can imagine. Because of this torture he spent the rest of his life not being able to raise his arms above his shoulders. He couldn’t even comb his hair.

He came home in 1973. After all he had been through we all could have understood if he had spent the rest of his life seeing this torture as an excuse for avoiding responsibility and blaming others.

But John McCain chose a different path. He didn’t blame his government for sending him to Vietnam, he didn’t blame his captors for their torture, he didn’t blame his country for the horrible treatment Vietnam veterans endured when they returned.

Instead he ran for Congress. In 1982 the good people of the 1st District of Arizona sent him to the House of Representatives and in 1986 the state of Arizona chose him to replace Senator Barry Goldwater as a Senator. He ran for President in 2000 and 2008, losing to George W. Bush and Barach Obama.

Senator McCain was a Republican and held different views on many issues. But those of us who found a different path to American greatness nevertheless respected him even if we didn’t agree with him. Patriotism does not depend on agreement as it much as it depends on love for our nation.

Fair winds and following seas.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 31: Fifty Years Ago A Shot Rang Out In The Memphis Sky

I suspect we all sometimes think about the first national event we remember. For me it was the assissination of Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

At the time I was living in Woodbridge, Virginia, about 20 miles south of Washington D.C. I remember April 4, 1968 because of the riots that burned parts of the city. It was a scary time.

Dr. King spent his short life battling against discrimination. He was in Memphis that day to support sanitation workers who were treated horribly. They were virtually all African Americans and they struck against the city of Memphis after the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. On February 1, 1968 they sat on the back of a sanitation truck to find shelter from the rain. The truck malfunctioned and they were crushed to death. Their coworkers decided that they’d had enough and went on strike. Dr. King traveled there to support them.

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray (1928-1998) saw an opportunity to become a hero in the White community. He learned that Dr. King was staying at the Lorraine Motel and rented a room that gave him a clear shot at Dr. King. At 6:01 PM Mr. Ray aimed a rifle at Dr. King and killed him.

I lived briefly in Memphis and walked to the Lorraine Motel several times. It’s now a museum that educates future generations on discrimination.

We may never eliminate discrimination in our nation but let us all take a moment to honor Dr. King.

How Low Will They Go? At This Point We Still Don’t Know

As I write this it’s been six weeks since fourteen children and three adults were murdered at Stoneman Douglas High School; you can see a list of them here.

This week is Holy Week in the Christian tradition and Spring Break for many students. This past weekend many survivors of the massacre traveled to Washington D.C. to call for an end to gun violence in schools (President Trump, meanwhile, spent the weekend at Mar a Lago).

I was proud of the job they did. Most teenagers fear public speaking but we heard voices that make us hopeful of the future. Well, not all of us.

Several “adults” in our nation used this event to bully these courageous Americans. Emma Gonzalez has come under particular criticism. For reasons she need not explain she wears her hair short. Two weeks ago she was called a skinhead lesbian by a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives in Maine. In fairness, this candidate withdrew from the race.

During her speech on Saturday Emma ripped up a paper target. But a conservative website photoshopped it and replaced the target with a copy of the Constitution, implying that she was un-American.

Emma was born here but her father was born in Cuba and the jacket she wore had a Cuban flag sown on her shirt. Republican Steve King of Iowa said this: “This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense.” Mr. King ignored her trauma, her determination, her travel, and her words. Instead he focused on a patch on her shirt that honored her ancestors.

For what it’s worth the Cuban flag was designed in 1848 or 1849 and adopted as the official flag in 1902. It bears no connection with Communism or Fidel Castro. Let me draw an analogy: My maternal grandfather was born in Boston, Massachusetts but his parents were born in Ireland. Like many Americans I’m proud of my heritage and while I don’t wear an Irish flag on my sleeve, I know I can. But if I did and someone saw my patch and accused me of supporting the Irish Republican Army I would not answer well. I’d accuse that person of caring not at all for me or those I love. I’d accuse that person of lying to silence me.

That’s what Emma’s bullies have done. While she speaks truth or power, they speak power to truth. They hope that their power will so intimidate her that she will cower into the shadows.

I haven’t met Emma, but I pray her truth will win out. I see her as a brave young woman who did not choose this path, but when confronted with her role, she grabbed it. I feel certain that while this weekend showed us our first glimpse of a young woman who makes us proud, it won’t be our last.

Yosemite 2018

As readers of this blog know, Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park every winter.  We began this in 2000 when we stumbled on what was called then “Chef’s Holidays” but is now called Taste of Yosemite.

It’s a magical time as we avoid the gridlock that happens most of the year but it’s also terrific for Nancy who attends several cooking demonstrations (and Tom who gets to eat the recipes she brings home).

We also enjoy hiking the valley floor and taking pictures of what we see.  But several of the last few years we’ve been concerned over the effect of climate change and this year was no exception.

I recognize that many of you who read this blog live in areas that would love warmer temperatures in the winter but that misses the point.  Yosemite thrives on a weather pattern that is not affected by human interference.  This year we heard the sound of chainsaws and learned that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of trees were cut down as a result of drought and infestation of bark beetles.

Climate change harms all of us, but not right away and not all at once.  We who love Yosemite and other national parks fear that the things that make these places magical are in danger.  In addition to drought and beetle infestation, Yosemite has also endured fires that scar it for decades.

We pray that 2019 is more like 2017.

Celebrating Our Ordination

On the morning of May 14, 1994 I was ordained a Catholic priest as a member of the Paulist Fathers along with Fr. Paul Reynolds, Fr. Don Andrie, and Fr. Jerry Tully. By the way, if you click on Jerry’s page he talks about his ministry in Tennessee but he’s now assigned to St. Paul the Apostle in Los Angeles.

Alas, a little over three years after my ordination I fell in love and left the Paulist Fathers to get married. But I still celebrate my ordination and still think of myself as a priest. As a hospice chaplain I’ve celebrated the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing when a local priest was not available.

I don’t regret my seminary formation, and Nancy and I continue to support the Paulist Fathers financially. I don’t know how the Paulists view me, but I continue to keep in touch with several of those I met as a Paulist. I hope they celebrate with me.

Thoughts On the End of 2016

The end of the year always causes us to think back on the past and look forward to the next. And on any given year there are some who celebrate because it’s been a hard year they’re ready to see it go.

My worst day of 2016 was August 4th when I learned of the death of my friend Fr. Henry Rodriguez. He died much too suddenly and much too soon.

My 2nd worst day was election day, November 4th. For weeks I advised everyone not to worry about Donald Trump because there was no way he would win. I was wrong.

And so as I say goodbye to 2016 I have to confess concern for 2017. Typically we look toward the new year with optimism. But twenty days into 2017 we will inaugurate someone that most of us didn’t vote for. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon to bash the Electoral College but our nation will be led by a man who didn’t win the popular vote, who likely won the electoral vote because a foreign nation successfully steered the vote in his direction. And yet he claims he won on a landslide.

This post is tagged in the “praying” category for a reason.

John Glen Was a True American Hero. Do You Know Who Was His Hero?

In the last few days many of us read about the death of John Glenn (1921-2016). His life embodied the best of the 20th Century. As a young man he joined the Marines and flew F-4U planes. He flew 59 combat missions in World War II. A few years later he flew an additional 63 missions in Korea.

He was also the first American to orbit the earth in space. He was the last surviving member of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, the first Americans in space. If you haven’t read Thomas Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff you should.

After his career with NASA ended he served his home state of Ohio as a U.S. Senator from 1975 to 1999.

By any measure he was an American hero. But his hero was his wife Anne.

You see, Anne lived much of her life with a stutter. Many of us learned about this from the brilliant movie The King’s Speech about King George VI.

Anne’s stutter was so severe that she could barely speak in front of others. You can read an excellent article from 2012 here. When taking a cab she would write the address on a piece of paper; at restaurants she would point to what she wanted on the menu. Time and again she sought treatments, but nothing worked until she found a doctor in Roanoke, Virginia.

For three weeks in 1973 she worked harder than I can imagine. And it worked. At the end of the program she called her husband. Hearing her speak he cried. And he dropped to his knees to thank God.

In the years since she has become a public speaker. She advocates not only for our brothers and sisters who stutter, but for all those who live with disabilities.

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved speaking in public and the fear of looking at a group of people and feeling paralyzed eludes me. That said, I can only imagine fearing the stare of a restaurant server and needing to point to my choice on the menu.

She’s my hero too.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 1: It's Time to Turn the Page

As I write this it’s been a week since President Elect Donald Trump won the Electoral College 290 to 232.

Many of us, including myself, have spent the last seventeen months telling ourselves and everyone else that this day would never happen. We believed that in the second decade of the 21st Century the American people would never support someone who was racist, misogynist and a xenophobe. Further we would never elect someone with no experience in governing.

We were wrong. We failed to recognize that a scary large percentage of our population had grown so angry at their perception that government doesn’t work for them that they would vote for Donald Trump. We fear that he will attempt to keep his promises and build a wall between the United States and Mexico, deport millions of immigrants, and ban Muslims from entering the United States.

And so what do we do? Many cities, including my own San Diego have seen protests. Much as I sympathize with the feelings of the protesters, I don’t see the point. Nothing anyone can do will change the fact that he will lead our nation from January 20, 2017 until January 20, 2021. Much as we disagree with the election result, we need to accept it.

But that doesn’t condemn us to our silence. This past May James Fallows, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, decided to chronicle Donald Trumps’s campaign. An admitted Democrat he decided that history would benefit from a “time capsule,” a diary of his campaign. He felt that when history is written about this time, historians will benefit from this type of diary.

I propose to do the same. I’ve been writing this blog since November 6, 2004 and it’s taken many paths. I’ve lived through (and voted for) several presidents. I’ve voted for both winners and losers. But I think this election is different. I think Donald Trump is bad for America and bad for our planet. I’ve created a new category, the “Trump Chronicles” where I propose to keep him honest. For the next four years I commit to regularly blog on his promises vs. his results. I don’t do this because I believe he cares about me and those like me, but because he can’t deny a simple fact: those who didn’t vote for him are still Americans and he is accountable to us too.

Stay tuned.

The Election Chronicles, Volume 39: What Happened?

Several of you noticed that after promising a long night of blogging last week, I stopped after 8PM.

This shouldn’t be a surprise but when the tide turned toward President Elect Trump I just couldn’t keep watching. I went to bed praying for a miracle that didn’t happen. Between then and now I’ve just not been able to sit down and write about it.

I know my experience isn’t unique, but I spent the days and weeks before the election convincing my friends and family that Don would never be elected and that the future looked bright. The fact that I’m joined by politicians, pollsters, and analysts gives me no comfort.

I find comfort in only this: The next four years are going to be difficult and painful for our country, but they are going to be particularly painful for Don. He’s going to find, to his horror, that he can’t fire Congress when they get in his way and that much of what he advocates will cost us dearly (both financially and morally). And he’ll have no one to blame but himself.