2002 15 September - 20 October, Catholic Pictorial, Answering the Priest crisis

Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 1
It could have been you
A too well-known American archdiocese paid out millions in out-of-court settlements of priest child-abuse cases. If approached by a victim of abuse and asked for help, the Archbishop had the police rung for and the petitioner removed. In a volte-face almost as disastrous as his first policy the Archbishop repented of this course of action and amongst other things, placed in the hands of the police, all the Archdiocesan folios on any of his priests, guilty or innocent, who had been accused of anything.
You will be innocent until proved guilty of murdering your mother and embezzling the funds of widows and orphans. But if you are a priest accused of child-abuse, you will be guilty until proved innocent - and, even then, you will be suspect for the rest of your priestly life.
It has been pointed out at Rome that priest abuse cases involve less than 0.02% of the clergy. Thank God. But that is still 0.02% too many
But what happened to the 0.02%? In their personal choices and in their seminary training, how did they approach a life of celibacy?

The price of freedom
That was how we reacted on the praying end of this tragedy. We are people who make chastity a vow. We chose it freely and we were trained to live it. We were not issued with handbooks full of negative prescriptions on how to shake hands at arms length, take a bath in a bathing costume and wear ankle-length skirts [though honesty compels me to say we do wear the ankle-length - North Wales is quite near the North Pole!] We were trained to focus our life on God, we set our love on him and were taught to let it flow into our relationships with others. We received an offer from God and did our poor best to respond. But we were made fully aware what it involved. Though no amount of training can compel you to make the right choices about your life, if you have, it is a great help.
All this has moved us to write a small book. It is called Fully alive - A HANDBOOK ON CHASTITY
It is a practical book on discovering who you are as a person and meeting God. It is not just for priests and nuns it is for everybody, single or married, who wants to become fully alive.
God has no use for the half dead.


Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 2
Dead without a Death Cert?

Death is not the same in every case. A few weeks ago we were praying for a child who was more than desperately ill. The doctors said to his father, “Look, as far as we are concerned he died last wednesday. We just don’t understand how he goes on living!”
Life is the gift of hope and hope can die. Perhaps that is at the heart of what the media calls the “Priest Scandal”.
Our first encounter with the “Priest Scandal” was through “Damian”, a middle aged lapsed Catholic who had been approached by the lawyer of a childhood friend. The friend proposed to prosecute a seventy year old priest, now in a wheelchair, for alleged offences against altar boys of thirty-five years ago. The lawyer explained that the more clients there were for prosecution, the more convincing the case would look, since hard evidence in abuse cases is always difficult to produce. And there would be very large dividends at the end. In America lawyers advertise for such cases, since through them a lot of money changes hands.
Damian was very tempted. To begin with, he was in debt and a one parent family with three children.
The prosecution went ahead, but without Damian. He had never been abused; he was not quite certain, given the circumstances, that any of the boys had. “What’s the use,” he said, “of having money for my kids if I can’t look them in the face?” Of the old priest he said, simply, “Yeah, well he was like that - but fifteen years paralysed, isn’t that enough?” Sin is inevitably its own most terrible punishment.
Being Alive
What sort of choices had the priest made? What sort of training had he received to prepare him for life in a parish on his own?
We have just written a very small book It is called Fully alive - A HANDBOOK ON CHASTITY. It is a practical book on discovering who you are as a person and meeting God. It is not just for priests and nuns it is for everybody, single or married, who wants to become fully alive. If you value yourself as God values you, you will not be rating yourself by your need to use or be used by others. The first thing you might like to do is find out who you are. And you could try the following exercise:

Who am I?
Set out with three blank sheets of paper in front of you.
You are making a journey to find yourself; firstly, by deducting from yourself the ways by which you are defined from the outside.
Take page one head it Heritage. List your parents, siblings, teachers and the people who tried to teach and form you.
Do you identify your short temper, red hair, patience and slight stammer as coming from your father? List it under your father’s name.
Did you acquire your affection for old movies and beer from your old English teacher? Name your teacher and list these things under his name.
Compile as accurate a list as you can find of the things inside you, good, bad and trivial, that came into you as gifts or inflictions from other people. Do not linger over these things. You are not unearthing them to brood over them or form moral judgments on yourself or others. You are piling them up to remove them temporarily.

Take page two and head it Relationships. List those with whom you live, work, and interact. Narrow down what these relationships draw out of you or force you to take on. Again, you are not taking these things out to dwell on them, but to see what you have got left when they are not there.

Take page three, head it Gifts. List your talents; the inward abilities with which you are equipped. You may be a wonderful listener, a striking amateur artist or a professional poet. Your talent may be to help others to laugh, you may be a born friend or an able accountant. But though you may express and reveal yourself through these gifts, they are gifts, they are not you.

Lay these pieces (or piles) of paper in front of you. They represent realities with which you are deeply involved but they are not you. You may be very surprised how much of you is still left, and how very little in reality others do influence you. Now take what you have left and place it in God’s hands!

Real and true love
Some men are born eunuchs, some are made so by others and some choose to become eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven [Matt 19.12]. This comes over dramatically, possibly because there is no word for “chaste person” in Aramaic or New Testament Greek. The promotion of sexuality in our culture is also dramatic. But unfortunately, it is none the less compulsive from having become a bore.
The globalisation of a sex-oriented culture is a sign of the times, and the increase in child-abuse is an inevitable side product. If sex is presented as an absolute good, it will manipulate all human relationships. And the larger and more impersonal our back garden becomes, the more desperately will we need something to demonstrate, to others and to ourselves, our worth. Sexual possession of others - which is the crudest form of ownership - is probably the fastest single inflator of the ego.
Though the secular press enjoy a vultures meal on the carcasses of the fallen 0.02% of priests, the fact still remains that the majority of abusers are ‘married’ men, generally nearly related to the child in question. Ending celibacy amongst the clergy would have no direct effect upon the problem.
Like all behaviour, good and bad, repetition forms habit. If you were to acquire the habit of abuse, you would find it as hard to break as any other compulsive behaviour. No compulsive behaviour is incurable - it is merely hell to kill it. If there is a one-off direct answer, it is to prevent it.
At the root of all exploitation of others is insecurity and an absence of self-worth. The only person who can really and finally give you self worth is God.

Who am I ?
If I remove the scaffolding of human relationships, with their rights, duties and privileges in my life, what have I got left? What is there to define me?
God. God who creates me. God who loves me. God who empowers me with gifts.
Twenty centuries of living in the light of revelation, in the pattern of the faith received, have shown us that before all “human” endowing is the Creator, the Lover, the Life-giver: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
God is before all things. The human heritage is a reflection of the divine heritage. The human loves are a shadow of the divine loves, and the gifts you have received are indication of the Gift that is waiting for you.
Hold this a moment and ponder on it. Immerse yourself in this new reality. Allow yourself to receive what is being offered to you. It is the beginning of a new life, a life in which you are uniquely valued for your very self, a life in which you are being affirmed by the one who knows everything about you and still loves you, a life in which you are the object of a passionate, total and unconditional love, body and soul, mind and heart, spirit and psyche. A new love: God’s love.


Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 4
Private and personal

The sexual revolution, as Gloria Steinem once said, was not our revolution. She was talking about her fellow females. It also applies to some others in the human race.
What is a revolution? It’s a turnover. Well, if a human being turns over, that human has changed the side it presents to the public; a gesture that may be antisocial and vulnerable.
Curiously enough, the clergy used to say Mass with their back to the public, not to express revolt but to express the fact that they were part of the congregation. And setting the fancy dress aside, they were anonymous - faceless. Anonymity may also be antisocial, but it has positive dimensions. And priests have always been vulnerable.
Like most of my community, I have never seen Mass in the old rite, and I do not want to. I am not making a liturgical point. I am suggesting that the back view of the chasuble, and the grille in the confessional had a two way effect. They gave both the people and the Priest a certain degree of privacy at a desperately vulnerable point.
Few human beings survive long if you remove their privacy. If a person has no place in time or space to be himself, he shrivels up and dies. We need each other. We need human companionship. But we also need areas of solitude. We are enclosed contemplative nuns, but all humans need an element of personal enclosure to stay sane.

Where are you Lord?
If you want joy, if you want life, if you seek freedom - pray. Let the Lord give you his life. Open your hands. Place them palm to palm with your thumbs crossed in the traditional gesture of praying hands. Feel the pressure of your finger tips and the slight tautness in the knuckles.
Look at your hands; they are pointing outward and slightly upwards. They are like the prow of a ship, like the growth-spear of a sapling.
They form a symbol of your desire to penetrate into God.
In the earlier ages, if you had been a serf you would have extended your hands just like this and your lord would have clasped them with his own, accepting your oath of allegiance.
Allow God to place his hands around yours, clasping your two hands firmly together, accepting you; offering you a covenant. This covenant says: I will be your God and you shall be my people (Jer 32:38). I will take out of your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh instead (Ezek 36::27) - and: This is my body and blood, the blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. {Mt 26.26-29)
Unfold your hands and place one under the other to form them into a cup - as if you expected a present. In the covenant of his body and blood your hands have been transformed into the Lord’s hands. The blood in your veins is his blood.
You hold your hands now like a child to whom it has been said, “Open your hands and close your eyes....” It is the position in which you extend your hands when you go forward to receive communion at Holy Mass. Allow God to give you his love. Let him choose you, let him give you the value you have in his eyes - you will never be tempted to exploit another person again, and you will have infinitely more to give to others.


Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 5
Minding your own babies

Celibates don’t have babies. At least, that is the principle. Babies are the ordinary teaching tool for human holiness among non-celibates. Have a baby and discover unselfishness! Discover something that won’t shut up until it is fed and cleaned.(And possibly not even then). Discover something that can offer no immediate return in growth or gratitude. Babies take their parents by the scruff of the neck and force them to grow up; compelling them constantly to make choices against their inclinations.
Such circumstances are good for humans. That is why God causes them to occur with such amazing frequency.
Parents of course, sometimes fail. Instead of becoming unselfish servants they become neglecters and even exploiters of the weakness at their mercy. Some become infanticides of one sort or another. Some are too wary of demands to even to trouble to have children.
But a celibate is not a celibate because he or she is too wary to have babies. Celibates need all the virtues of parents without any of their advantages, and they need these virtues in overtime mode. Celibacy is like having triplets that scream all day and most of the night - even after you respond to their demands. You can of course, become a celibate infanticide. You can leave your responsibilities to starve. You can avoid them. But if you feel like that, there are less expensive ways of living than being a priest or a religious.
Love is at the centre of universe, it is before the beginning of time and at the end. We were created in love and love is what God constantly offers us. St Irenaeus said the glory of God is the human being who is really alive. This is an invitation to come alive.
Look into this mirror
To most of us a mirror is a sheet of glass, with silver backing, into which we gaze to see if our hair is straight and our cosmetics and front view are suitably adjusted. We do not look to see what is right, we look to see what is wrong. And there generally is something wrong.
I cannot answer for the other half of humanity, but women generally look in a mirror in order to depress themselves with the unloveliness of their faces. Personally, I live in a convent; it has no mirrors. But that doesn’t stop even the holy from craving for that ultimate accolade: to see yourself reflected in the admiring eyes of someone else. Our negative view of ourselves is usually converted quite rapidly by a positive external reaction.
Give your self time to pray. Sit quietly in a room that is not brightly lit, and place before yourself any picture or icon of the face of Jesus which attracts you.

Look at this face
Jesus is the mirror in which you see yourself reflected. He is the fairest of the children of men (Ps:45.2). He is the master craftsman at his Father’s side (Prov 8:30). You are made in his image and in his likeness.
Behold his face
When you “look” at a thing or remember an event you have a subtle tendency not to see the picture, but what you feel about the picture. Begin now by looking simply, and without analysis: behold his face.
Hold this face
Who are you, Lord? What do I know of you? What does your face tell me? We are before each other. You, Lord, hold your hands out to me, and I take them. There is something in me like a gentle fountain, a quiet but insistent pressure; an uninvasive voice drawing me to you.
Enfold this face
I hold out my hands to you, Lord, and you take them. I love you. You take my hands and let me touch your face. I am afraid, but my longing for you is greater than my fear. I love you. I can stay here as long as I wish. You Lord are my life. You can give me others to love, but I do not have to own another person, you, Lord are more than enough.


Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 6
Love and the available options

Christianity is a religion that ceases to exist if you do not obey God, witness to your dependance on him and know, with secure joy, that you belong firstly and finally to him.
It is obvious that if you avoid knowing God (and you can avoid it if you work strenuously at it) and avoid encountering yourself, there will, inevitable as the rising of the sun, appear in your life patterns of unreasonable, compulsive and destructive behaviour in regard to other men, women and children.

Being married
Considering the space that the partnering-up of humans occupies amongst the majority of the living, the Gospels have very little to say about it. Asked directly about who belongs to whom (Mt 22. 24-31) Jesus said, in a way not admitting of interpretation, that marriage is for this earth and does not pertain in the kingdom of heaven. Indeed the Good News - which is the perfect human formation - concentrates solidly on building a relationship in which the human individual becomes the Father’s beloved son or daughter in the beloved Son.
However, if the Gospels have little to say about marriage (and a lot to say about chastity and God-centred living) and if Saint Paul’s intimations can sometimes be difficult to unravel, the Church, especially in the last one hundred and twenty years, has had much to say on the married state. If you are married, find it and read it.

Unmarriedness as a preparatory state
Many cultures and most religions have favoured the chastity of those who are not yet married, in some cases preferring the virginity of women over the virginity of men.
For the act of mutual self surrender of marriage to be a reality, there must be a self to surrender; a real person who can really give himself or herself to the other. To be a real adult one must have been allowed to be a real child. To grow, one must be given emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual space in which to grow. The production in our culture, and at this time, of destructive, sexual experimentation in teenagers, and even in pre-pubertal teenagers is an assault on the dignity and sacredness of the human person. Its results are self-evident. If you exposes the victim to the repeated dramatisation of sexual tragedy at home and on the media and depopulate the world of God, with only a little effort you will produce a neurotic by fourteen, and a one parent family by seventeen.
Singleness as a secular choice
Some avocations; teaching for example, have in the past sometimes led to people becoming so committed to those they served that they never got round to marrying. A doctor (who was married!) once told us that in his opinion, no doctor should ever marry and that he was tormented by the conviction that every time he took the family to Tenerife, a patient died! God is still in this choice of secular singleness. It is possible for you to be wedded to the truth and for your children to be those you have taught or healed, or succoured - or for your “children” to be the work of your hands, mind and heart.
It is obvious from the statistics of divorce and of serial relationships that far too many people try marriage who have not the shadow of a vocation to live with other people, nor the maturity and objective commitment to sustain a family. Acquiring a partner has become in our society, the minimum basic for success and acceptability. And being sexually active is how you demonstrate that you are an adult in touch with reality and worth having.
This is simply not true! You have value in yourself, in your dignity as a human person; not because you are owned by another human person.!

Consecrated Chastity
It is a somewhat well kept secret, but the abilities and qualifications needed for a life of consecrated chastity are the same as those required for a successful marriage. The chaste man or woman needs a greater capacity to surrender in love to God than two humans in a consecrated marriage will need to surrender to each other.
The chaste man or woman needs to be a nurturer: one who cares for others; one who puts others first; one prepared to waste his or her life for love with more assiduity than a mother and father with newborn triplets who scream all night.
Neither in consecrated chastity nor in consecrated matrimony is there any lasting place for people who are cold, hard, embittered, frigid, rigidly disobedient to the prompting of the Spirit, self-righteous or destructively critical. In both of these expressions of God’s life there are only places for people willing to change. The standard is the same. Place yourself before God and he will transform you into his image and likeness.
If you meet a person who cannot settle, who moves like a hunter from relationship to relationship, or one who lives a profligate life of compulsive sexuality, it is most often, in truth, the appalling shadow of a lost religious vocation. And if, in the disguise of religious dress, you meet someone who is both conceited and frightened, one for whom nothing is right, one who basically is always at odds with those who manifest the authority of Christ in their life, one who, above all, tells you that prayer is torture and their soul has never been anything but dry (though they will probably try to tell you that to suffer this is their special gift and superior privilege) you may have seen the terrible shadow of a self-deluded candidate for the humble sanctities of marriage.
There are no vocations that are more holy in the terrestrial sense. There is only the choice of God. Let him be free to choose.
Say yes to what God, who is truth, may speak in your heart, and you will shed more tears of true sorrow and laugh with more unalloyed joy than the heart can imagine; on earth as it is in heaven.