Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crisis Management

Whispers in the Loggia came up with a startling title: "Boston Reborn": In Philadelphia, The "Inferno" Continues. Certainly right across the U.S. the findings of the 2nd grand jury in Philadelphia and the steps taken by the archdiocese which substantially confirm suspicions of a "post-Dallas Charter" coverup have had an unsettling effect on many people. Obviously the archdiocese of Philadelphia has its work cut out. However, does it make sense from here that we rush immediately to a low Sunday pew count, parish school closings and parish closings, as if the abuse "domino" was the one which set off the chain reaction? No doubt this will be a dark chapter in Church history when it is someday written up. I think people should be more discerning however in commenting on the state of the life of the Church and remember that we are still suffering the consequences of the fall of another domino decades ago: contraception. Its implication for not only Catholic demographics, but also for marriage and family, not to mention people's basic approach to life, have yes been catastrophic. Urban decay has little to do with the faith and would seem to justify parish and school closings in neighborhoods very different in their composition than they were mid-20th Century.

The domino theory is not acceptable to describe our present malaise. "Straw that broke the camel's back"? I'm not so sure that is an apt description of the impact of the clergy abuse thing either. At this point I'd be willing to go with "Achilles' heel" and as potentially fatal to the life and work of the Church.

On a recent visit to French Guiana I was among those treated to a guided tour of the archeological investigations going on at Loyola, the site of the premier Jesuit plantation which thrived in the French colony up until the edict of France suppressing the Society of Jesus was also executed there in 1763. The authors of the archaelogical catalogue of the site, which I am reading now at my leisure, characterize the suppression of the Jesuits in one country after another in Europe as signaling the death knell of the Ancien Régime on the continent. The French Revolution would soon follow the suppression of the Jesuits with devastating implications for all of Europe's monarchs, petty or otherwise. Frankly, I had only reflected on the personal drama of the suppression and its implications, principally of a moral sort, for the life of the Church. That this series of acts might be interpreted as a last volley against the forces of change and progress by a sclerotic old political system had never crossed my mind.

The authors of this catalogue point to a cause célèbre in Martinique of a Jesuit (Fr. de Lavalette) running their operation on that island who was indeed a crook and had run up an immense debt. The confiscation and sale of Jesuit properties in Martinique alone would have sufficed to pay the debt. The orderly and productive nature of the successful Jesuit enterprise in Guiana could have been spared, had it not been for a mix of jealousy and rancor of foreign import.

I interject this little episode into my reflection on the "Achilles' heel" of the Catholic Church and especially in the light of a news item about the Minnesota abuse lawyer Anderson taking out TV spots to invite people to come forward and seek compensation, to express the suspicion that we have more at stake here than bad priests, however many they may be in number.  The leadership crisis in diocesan chancery offices would also seem to be patent, but I am wondering what else might really be at stake. As long as the rule of law remains intact in the U.S. I guess all we have to fear are bankruptcies. What is troubling is not only the rise of a bitter and unreasoning anticlericalism, but  the thought of  us all, clergy, lay or religious, becoming pariah as Catholics in the U.S. or in other parts of the world outcasts simply as Christians. Not only in Muslim countries are our brothers and sisters in Christ often now "fair game". It's hard in the West generally not to see a certain disaffection with truth, value and standard as not working to our disadvantage in a world which could care less about others (carpe diem).

There's not much left at Remire of Loyola. The heat, abundant tropical rains and time have reclaimed all but the stone foundations of the buildings and a few pieces of broken porcelain. Overnight everyone turned their backs on the Jesuits and they had to disappear into the woodwork, if you will. The Jesuits of Guiana had worked well on their plantation, had defended the Amerindian people of the region from slavery better than most, had set up the first parishes in the region, but from today to tomorrow had no one to take their part. My puzzling thought is whether like the Church in Ireland at the hands of the English or the Church in North Africa, time and again, until barbarism finally claimed it once and for all, whether we don't have to start making provision for sharing the Gospel with future generations. These days I'm praying for monastic reform and renewal to face a new sort of barbarism. May we be spared and granted judicious civil rulers ready to stand up for genuine and enduring human values, ready despite non-establishment clauses to foster the good, true and beautiful as held and taught by the Catholic Church. 

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