Goodbye, Benedict

I’m not a hater, although I wasn’t a fan.

I think it was wise and generous for him to resign.   We need not always stay in roles that we have taekn on.  Sometimes if we stay to long the office becomes the person and vice versa.  There is wisdom in avoiding that, if only to let our organizations reorganize and find ways to change.

I do believe Benedict was misinterpreted.  Sometimes his arguments, I suspect, were much more nuanced than could be articulated in the media.  Still, I share the sentiments of plenty of Episcopalians, Anglicans and Catholics that the institutional response of the church toward clerical abuse was inadequate, and it points to a larger tone-deafness of a hierarchy that seems far too distant from the concerns of the people.

I remain fascinated.  In my mind, the Roman Catholic church remains the only institution with the capabilities to challenge the onslaught of market forces internationally.  It is the main international organization that engages regularly with the most wretched of the earth.  By and large, it is controlled locally, rather than by the many aid organizations populated with prosperous Americans from Ivy League Schools participating in charity tourism.

Although many people have noted that John Paul II and Benedict have appointed all the current cardinals, I think it is too strong to assume that the individual bishops do not think independently.  Oscar Romero was a bishop who was considered conservative and meek – and he became one of the greatest proponents of liberation theology.  We do not know where the spirit will take the church.  We can still hope for openness.

Granted, in my darker moments I share the view of the reformers that the Roman church is a nest of vipers and finally beholden to the anti-Christ.  But then I remember that it is also a human body; and however imperfect it has many parts and many roles.  It has hospitals and schools all over the globe; and although it is run by men, it has schools for girls and women in places where there had been none.  It does its own work, without armies, across nations.  And I believe it has also formed plenty of faithful Episcopalians.

I still consider myself a catholic, in its reformed and humanist tradition, and wish the best for the Roman tree, and for Benedict.  I had hoped for more, but bless him in his quiet days.

The Clergy Abuse Scandal

Andrew Sullivan has a couple blog entries about how the Episcopal Church handles sex abuse cases.  It was not always like this – and Episcopal clergy have transgressed other boundaries – but I’ve seen the zero tolerance policy in action.

A few times a year I get a letter from the Bishop that I’m supposed to read aloud for the vestry.  It will have the name of a priest that has been inhibited, defrocked, or left the priesthood.  It’s yearly reminder of our humanity.

When I was studying for my doctorate, I did some research into the history of my parish.  I learned that in the early-mid 40’s a popular young priest had exposed himself to a couple young boys.

The parish was divided.  The vestry, it seemed, liked the priest.  They didn’t want him severely punished.   The wardens interceded on the priest’s behalf.  The bishop’s response was electric:  What would you do if it were your son?

The case went to court.  The bishop waited until the verdict came down, after which the priest was defrocked and banned.    In the letter to the priest, the bishop’s held him responsible for his actions, spelling out the damaging effects of his actions, while also expressing empathy in the midst of sadness and disappointment.   Bishop Manning, God Bless You.

I recognize this did not happen all the time.  But especially since women have been ordained, the Episcopal Church has slowly adopted a zero tolerance view toward abusers.

The current divisions in our communion may have some unintended consequences.  Bishops will hold gay clergy to the same standards as straight clergy.   Suspected Episcopal priest predators who should the correct pieties may leave to join the spinoff Anglican communities.  I think some of the partners of gay clergy might not be that happy to be required to marry; and I’ve heard plenty of rumors of dodgy traditionalist clergy.

To me, our current situation reveals how the bishop’s role can protect the victims. The episcopacy should challenge Congregations that protect the friendly clergy who’ve charmed them.   It may require protecting clergy who may be innocent.   But immediate attention and decisiveness are crucial in these situations.   And even bishops themselves shall be held up for scrutiny.

I am proud of my church.  Granted, in part we have taken the zero-tolerance rule precisely because we’ve seen what has happened in our sister church.  I believe What makes us truly different is not really Roman teaching.  I personally believe in the efficacy of the sacraments; the visible church; the communion of saints; and the witness of the Holy Father.   What may make us different is something completely different.  We’ve allowed our institution to change in order to make better decisions.  In the realm of sex abuse we’ve learned to listen to the laity.   We trust them.  If only we could rebuild our church.