Katie van Schaijik

Where’s the wrath?

Aug. 2, 2009, at 4:03pm

A Zenit item about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ $660 million settlement with over 500 victims of sexual abuse is titled, “Spokesman: Church Saddened by Pedophelia”.

Father Lombardi spoke of the attitude the Church takes regarding the crime of sexual abuse.
He said: “Cardinal Mahony explained—as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said many times—that the Church is evidently and above all saddened by the suffering of the victims and their families, for the harm caused by the grave and inexcusable behavior of some of its members, and is firm in its resolve to avoid future vile acts of this kind.
“The agreement, and the sacrifice it involves, are also a sign of this resolve, of the decision to close a sorrowful chapter in history and to look forward in terms of prevention and the establishment of a secure environment for children and young people in all areas of the Church’s pastoral work.” [my emphasis]

I raise this question for discussion:  Is sadness the right response to wrongs of this kind?  What about wrath?

In a review of Leon Podles’ disturbing book, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, Adventist pastor, Bill Cork, argues that lack of due anger is part of the problem.

For Thomas Aquinas, anger is a necessary element of the virtue of fortitude—fortitude isn’t a matter of just putting up with evil, or of enduring sorrow, but includes actively resisting evil, bravery in the struggle, and anger at the evil which has led to sorrow. Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, Q. 123, Art. 10.

Leon Podles is angry, and wants us to be angry, too. He wants us to be angry at the sin of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. But more than that, he also wants us to be angry at the bishops and pope for not being angry at that same sin. That’s what irks him about this crisis more than anything else—never have the bishops or popes expressed any anger that priests molested kids or that other bishops covered it up and transferred the predators to new hunting grounds.

I tend to agree with him.  But I would love to know what others think.

Rhett Segall • Aug 3, 2009 - 9:24 am

Katie, it’s clear that acts of pedophilia, particularly by the clergy, are despicable and fall under the judgment of Jesus’ statement “If one of you causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it were better that a great mill stone be hung about his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea.” (Mark 9:42)

So I agree with you that sadness as a response to the situation is insufficient and that justified anger (wrath) is called for.

How is this anger to manifest itself? I believe that the Bishop of my diocese (Howard Hubbard, Albany, New York) is on target in making it clear that the clergy will have to bear the full weight of the legal system, financial and punitive, if they are accused in this area. In addition, where the evidence is credible, the accused will be prohibited from functioning as a priest.

Having said that, and giving all due concern for the victim, it is important that the Christian community remember that wrath is a volatile phenomena, capable of quickly becoming disordered. We must remind ourselves that there are false accusations in this area (remember Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and that Cardinal Bernadine was falsely accused. Our own Bishop has been falsely accused). So we must be careful not to rash judge.

In addition, without in anyway excusing the actions of the pedophile, the full level of his freedom is not always clear. In this regard I would recommend the film “The Woodsman”, staring Kevin Bacon. It is an extraordinary presentation of a man found guilty of pedophilia with a pre-pubescent girl. After spending about 8 years in prison, and truly wanting to be a responsible person in this area, he is none the less confronted with nearly overwhelming temptations. In addition, he is treated most cruelly by his fellow workers when they learn of his background. The film is a real journey in to the heart of an individual tormented by this particular demon

In this area, Bishops as representatives and leaders of the Christian Community must show total concern for the victims, financial and psychological. So far as the priest is concerned, the Bishops are called to unequivocally condemn the act, impose full penalization, canonical and civil, on the priest, and endeavor to help the pedophile find that strength that will enable him to repent and live out his baptismal vocation.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 3, 2009 - 12:53 pm

I haven’t seen any bishops expressing any anger.  And my sense is that the faithful who express it are treated as sub-virtuous.  The Church seems intent on modeling and preaching an anger-free response to evil.

Rhett Segall • Aug 3, 2009 - 1:15 pm

Katie, could you give an example of what you would like to see and hear the bishops say? The US bishops have established a 0 tolerance criterion for pedophilia.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 3, 2009 - 2:04 pm

The zero-tolerance policy enactment came across to me as PR crisis management, not holy wrath.  I thought the bishops sounded at the time more like professional spokesmen using corporate-image-consultant talking points than as Christian shepherds speaking the words of truth and life in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In any case, to enact policy is not to express anger.  How about a little fire and brimstone in the homilies and public statements?
How about less emphasis on “sorrow” and “forgiveness” and “moving on” and more on morality and uprightness and responsibility?

Rhett Segall • Aug 3, 2009 - 3:23 pm

Katie, one could say that “fire and brimstone in the homilies and public statements” could also be “PR crisis management”. Remember when Jesus spoke to the woman caught in “the very act of adultery”? His response was “Go thy way and from now on sin no more.” He did not bring her case up in his parables!

A loud, voice is not the only way, nor necessarily the best way, to express “holy” wrath.
Remember the words of James:”...the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

Removial from priestly duties leaves many, perhaps most, priests without income. Public shame, and perhaps incarceration,express unequivocally the wrath of the community.

The final word for the Christian, however, must be forgiveness.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 3, 2009 - 6:43 pm

Jesus also said, “You snakes!” to the Pharisees.  “You vipers’ brood!”  And “I will spit you out of my mouth.”  St. Paul said, “You foolish Galatians!”  Peruse the prophets.  Or the fathers of the Church.  Skim St. Bernard, or countless others of the saints, who did not shrink from “crying aloud and sparing not.”
OF COURSE it is not the only way nor necessarily the best way to deal with each and every case of moral wrongdoing. 
My claim is rather that this normal and right response to aggressive evil has been virtually obliterated from Catholic usage and consciousness, to the extent that we tend to identify it with a “lack of virtue” and to be passive and supine in the face of wrong.

The public disgrace and punishment of priest abusers came only after the scandal was uncovered in the secular media.  Up until then, the practice was to smooth things over, placate the victims with assurances that “it was being taken care of,” charge them “not to cause scandal”, “get help” for the priests involved, urge forgiveness and “move on.”’

Hell is also a final word.

Scott Johnston • Aug 8, 2009 - 2:39 am

A few thoughts . . .

First, I agree with you Katie, there has been a disturbing lack of justifiable anger. But, please also realize that quite a number of the bishops who had been bishops during the worst period of abuse (the seventies) were retired or even deceased. Most of the abuse cases were old cases from the sixties and seventies. And so many of our present bishops, with exceptions (such as Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles), are not the bishops directly responsible for most of the quiet switching around of abusers that took place. This partly explains what may seem like an unacceptable lack of public outrage. Some bishops would be speaking about situations from the past which they had nothing to do with. I do not hereby mean in any way to excuse the lack of righteous anger that should have been more in evidence.

And second, I would not readily put the popes (JPII nor BXVI) in with those who lacked justifiable anger. We do not know what they have done in private with their bishops and cardinals. In fact, remember how, shortly after the scandal broke in the U.S., JPII called American Church leaders (if memory serves me—was it all U.S. cardinals?) to Rome on short notice for a private meeting? I recall hearing through Dominican religious connections to Rome that JPII was very heated and basically read them the riot act—in private. Cardinal Ratzinger, I had been told, every week on a regular basis at the CDF offices (on Fridays if I recall) dealt with priestly abuse cases that had been sent to Rome. He was deeply personally aware and very personally disturbed by the situation. Recall the reissuing and tweaking (by the CDF, under Ratzinger) of the requirements for admission to the priesthood? Recall the visitations, ordered and overseen by the Vatican, of every American seminary (which I personally experienced) to provide an outside assessment of the state of health of how they treat issues of sexuality (in theory and in practice)? Every seminarian had private time with an outside visitator. We could say anything to them. They asked about a variety of things, including about chastity and homosexuality. American seminaries now, and the priesthood as a group, I would say, is the single most thoroughly scrutinized and purified from sexual perversion of any group of people in the country. I don’t think, as a group, there is at present any collection of individuals less likely to sexually abuse anyone than American priests who have been ordained say within the last ten years.

Third, I wonder if the too-placid behavior of the older generation of bishops in response to the scandal is part of a larger overall cultural process of wimpification of men that is a factor for all American men, not just bishops. How often do American men, in general (compared to the past), quickly come to the aid or stick up for others who are being harmed? I am not certain about this, but I have a hunch that generally speaking, men of the baby boomer generation and younger are less willing to put themselves on the line in calling out other men when they see or suspect some abuse going on. How many teachers, for example, aware (or suspicious) of sexual abuse being done by another teacher, says anything to authorities? And (not the same but related in my opinion), how many fathers say anything to their daughters about clothing they know is ridiculously immodest? It is part of a larger phenomenon, I suspect, of not taking on the role of spiritually safeguarding others. (And, in my opinion, radical feminism, along with other things, has played a role in neutering men’s traditional embrace of the guardian role)

But, I must conclude by firmly proclaiming that despite the failings of the past the younger and newer generation of bishops are men of a different cloth. Of this I am sure. We should not get so dragged down by past sins that we can’t see the very substantial reform and progress that is well underway and all around us as we speak! The seminarians, priests, and bishops of the 21st century do not suffer the same sort of sexual confusion and lousy formation of those from the 60’s and 70’s. I have seen this first hand and there is great hope for the future!

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 8, 2009 - 9:03 am

I tend to agree with you on the wimpification thing, Scott.  I’m sure radical feminism has played in.  So has, I suspect, a strain of Rousseauianism (if that’s the word I want) that romanticizes the “natural man” and sees social forces as the source of wrong and evil in the world.  Needless to say this is a very unfinished thought.

Scott Johnston • Aug 8, 2009 - 3:07 pm

So has, I suspect, a strain of Rousseauianism . . . that romanticizes the “natural man” and sees social forces as the source of wrong and evil in the world.

Indeed, this is a valid point I think. I once heard Peter Kreeft give a talk at Steubenville on Rousseau’s influence over modern education. It was eye-opening. A deficient anthropology like this exerts damaging influences over broad sectors of society, education being a big one.

Perhaps some of the prior belief (and which underlay advice given to bishops) that a child sexual abuser could be cured by removing him from his usual environment and doing psychotherapy stems from this. Now the professional counseling world says that hardly ever can pedophiles truly be cured of their abusive inclinations.

Bill Drennen • Aug 11, 2009 - 5:19 pm

Scott, Were the seminaries really transformed as much as you say here? What about homosexuality in seminaries? How was it addressed and rooted out? Is screening now in place? I have heard much to the contrary from first hand accounts.

Have you read “The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church” which is George Weigel’s recommendations? He really seems to address head on the failure of bishops authority, seminary formation and culture of homosexuality.

Scott Johnston • Aug 11, 2009 - 7:34 pm

I haven’t read that book by Weigel. Is his analysis of seminaries more applicable to historical problems, or are they presented as currently unresolved problems?

Well, things aren’t perfect, of course. But, compared to a description of a priest friend of mine who was in seminary in the 70’s, things are vastly better. In the Dominican House of Studies in DC, which is also the seminary for the Eastern province Dominicans, I can honestly say in my almost four years there I don’t think I encountered a single fellow clerical student who had serious issues of homosexual tendencies. For sure, no one was anywhere close to acting out at all in this regard. Not in the least.

Some seminaries probably still have a few faculty members (from a previous era) who are perhaps more “friendly” toward a homosexual lifestyle than they should be. But in my experience of seminarians—the students who are the ones being ordained now and in years to come, I truly have not seen anything that made me alarmed about the sexual attitudes of our future priests. Sure, there are less-than-wholesome influences hanging on in faculty positions here and there. But they are fading into irrelevance. The younger generation is just not open to this influence and mostly just ignore it when it is still present.

This is anecdotal, but seems consistent with the experience of other seminarians whenever the issue comes up (which is not very much, because it just doesn’t occupy the spiritual energies of seminarians today; they would rather talk about being good priests and theology and spirituality, etc.)

I have to say, truly, the subject of homosexual problems in seminaries seems to be much more of an issue of discussion among some laymen than among current seminarians. This is not, in my experience, because seminarians want to ignore problems under their noses, but because it simply isn’t a problem that they encounter in their daily lives. If the Bubonic plague does not happen in the United States it is not surprising that American doctors don’t talk about it, for it’s just not relevant for them.

Again, I don’t claim problems don’t exist anywhere. Nor do I claim there is no such thing as a homosexual seminarian anywhere—there probably is. But, contrasted with the past, I am quite confident that things are vastly improved.

Here is one example of a diocesan seminary being massively transformed for the better. When bishop Chaput took the reins of the Denver archdiocese, he closed the diocesan seminary (that way, all the faculty goes away in one swoop). Then, a year (or two?) later, he opened a new seminary under a different name (in the same buildings) but completely under his control—with his own hand-picked faculty members. Vocations instantly went up and Denver now has an excellent seminary with an excellent student body and excellent faculty. Chaput actually moved where he lived to the grounds of the seminary, so he could be near his men. He interacts with them often and gets to know them personally as they are going through formation.

Now, Chaput is one of the best of our current bishops, and he is not (yet) a typical example of American episcopal leadership. But, the younger, newly consecrated bishops are more likely to want to be like this, than not. Seminarians today look up to men like JPII, Benedict XVI and Chaput and Dolan (the new Archbishop of NY—an excellent choice for NY). They aspire to be leaders like them.

Here are a few names of current bishops who have exhibited very good leadership (in addition to Chaput and Dolan), at least on some very significant fronts:

O’Brien (Baltimore)
Finn (Kansas City)
Carlson (St. Louis)

Bishop Sample (Marquette) was fairly recently consecrated and I think has great promise as a leader of his flock (and in my opinion is more characteristic of the men we will continue to see made bishops in the future).

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 11, 2009 - 10:12 pm

While we’re speaking so highly of the Archdiocese of Denver, a few fun factoids:
Fr. Jim Crisman, FUS class of ‘90 and Vocations Director in Denver, is my cousin. :)
Fr. Mike Glenn, Rector of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary there, was a senior at FUS my freshman year, which would make him class of ‘85.  We used to have lunch together often, and liked each other a lot in that totally innocent, non-romantic, happy, carefree way of college students—at least FUS students—conscious of grace and eager for life.
Anthony Lilles, Academic Dean and Theology Professor at same, was my freshman orientation leader.  FUS class of ‘86, I think.  I remember his asking me to dance in a touchingly chivalrous way the very first weekend of college and then visiting us with a friend (now a priest) from Rome when they were studying there and Jules and I were studying in Liechtenstein.  (I’ll never forget how they confounded a drunken ranter at the bus station in Vaduz by giving him a Miraculous Medal.)
This spring I learned that Anthony’s daughter’s godmother goes to our parish here in West Chester. 
God is good and faithful.  And “the world shrinks as the Kingdom advances.”

Scott Johnston • Aug 11, 2009 - 11:53 pm

Wow, Katie! You have a lot of connections to St. John Vianney seminary! Neat.

Bill Drennen • Aug 12, 2009 - 10:13 am

The book is 5 years old and problems are presented as present. In your example in Denver, the seminary was just closed in 1999. This is all very recent. Encouraging as your comments are, I think you are overly optimistic in your view of things currently.

Teresa Manidis • Aug 4, 2009 - 1:11 am


I agree with you that this has been ‘handled,’ but handled more like a messy PR ‘situation’ than the atrocity that it really is.  Although (I hope) all the precautions set in place help prevent future crimes, I also feel there has been a dumbed-down, almost a numbed reaction by the laity. 

For example, there was a home school play group that met at a local Roman Catholic social hall (most of the moms belonged to that parish).  This was an established group, which had been meeting for years; just mothers and small children.  It was also a totally controlled environment - mothers were with their own children the entire time, they remained in the same room for the duration, and no outsiders (of any gender) could enter the secure premises.  I was personally outraged when, because of the clergy scandal, because of what these criminals (and they are criminals) did to children, these mothers were told to either submit to the three-hour diocesan ‘Safe Environment’ (molestation prevention/identification) program, or leave the church property, permanently.  I was with these women when the pastor himself came in, smiling,  explaining how no one was singling them out, it was just a new ‘safety’ policy everyone had to go through, even himself, which was in ‘everyone’s best interest.’  And most of these women just nodded their heads, submissively, as if this was normal, acceptable; as if mothers, and not priests, had been the ones who had necessitated these programs in the first place.  I admit I felt a little holy wrath myself at the time, and am not ashamed that I did. 

I think the lack of (justified) anger again goes back to an earlier post on the Linde (Truth as inter-personal breathing space, July 7), which we both commented on; a discussion about the distinction between ‘niceness’ and ‘goodness,’ ‘forgiveness’ and justice, an excerpt of which follows.

‘Without Truth, Love degenerates into sentimentality’ . . . I agree that there is a disturbing movement (which I have come up against, time after time) in which the Truth is discredited as uncomfortably ‘harsh,’ and somehow ‘at odds’ with a saccharinly sweet ‘charity;’ a movement in which rightness is set aside in favor of a blind obsession for ‘unity,’ small c ‘charity,’ and ‘peace,’ at all costs . . . [the person feels he is] being ‘uncharitable’ when he is only responding to his innate desire for justice.’ 

I have close friends, college classmates, who are now priests in their mid-thrirties, and they have little sympathy for the concessions made to pedophiles. Every time some mother picks up her child, and hurries into the next aisle when she sees them out grocery shopping, believe me, my friends feel a ‘holy wrath’ towards those men who not only betrayed the laity, but betrayed them as well.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 4, 2009 - 9:34 am

The new youth minister at our parish asked for volunteers to work with him.  I went to a meeting, at which we were handed background check forms that had to be filled out and signed.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I was too appalled and indignant.  To me the policy comes across as designed not so much to protect youth from abuse as to protect the diocese from liability.  It’s as if bishops are taking cues from lawyers rather than from God.

When I objected to the principle of the thing—to the implication that more bureaucratic control were what was needed to prevent further abuses—another woman, whose husband works in juvenile law enforcement, said she appreciated the policy.  I couldn’t argue with her.  How could I?  How could I deny that predators often find their victims by volunteering to work with youth and that such a policy might be a helpful preventative measure?
Still, inwardly, I revolted.  Elaborate policies are no substitute for the kind of personal presence, moral seriousness, wisdom and judgment that the Church MUST exercise in its dealings with souls.

Teresa, if I had been in your situation, I, too, would have been full of wrath—at the offensiveness of the request and at the passivity of the other women in its face.  And you are right to link the matter to the point about truth.

Scott Johnston • Aug 8, 2009 - 1:23 am

Katie, this is now the completely standard, universal practice in every parish in the country. It has been for some years now.

In today’s society, the parish has to be able to guarantee to parents that anyone working with kids on behalf of the parish (including other parents—many molesters are themselves parents, abusing friends of their own children) does not have a history of any sort of abuse. In today’s climate it is downright crazy for a parish not to do this.

Nowadays, every religious and every seminarian and priest goes through extensive background checks. About my second year as a Dominican, the province did an extensive criminal record check on every member of the province. I got a copy back of the results, and I’ll tell you it was very thorough—checking every place I had lived in my life.

Every parish employee, as a matter of routine, has to do the same thing. Every teacher in a parish school, and, every volunteer who will have contact with kids on any sort of regular basis. In order not to get into a mess of discriminating who should and should not be tested (a hornet’s nest of controversy, guaranteed) it is simply a practical necessity for parishes to require anyone working with kids to go through this. Otherwise, they must explain why some volunteers aren’t checked (such as the mothers working with other people’s children as well as their own) and some are—and that, I can assure you—is a nightmare no pastor wants anything to do with.

Please believe me when I say that this issue is so sensitive (understandably) and such a potential powder keg for any parish, that there is no reasonable way for a pastor to say that some volunteers don’t have to be checked and others do. As a matter of fact, almost for sure, this policy of universal background checks is not even set by the pastor. The parish is not making these requirements. These policies are commonly set by the diocese, and every parish is required to comply. And it is stressed heavily as a big deal. I know this from direct experience.

Parishes are an amazing flurry of constant activity. There is no way a pastor (or the other clergy, or lay staff, for that matter) could possibly have a personal relationship—enough to grant the sort of trust needed for working with kids at the parish based solely on that relationship—with every volunteer who works with kids. In order to be able to represent to parishioners that every single person who has contact with kids at the parish does not have a history of abuse, there has to be a standard and universally applied policy. There really is just no other sane and equitable way to do this. And by requiring everyone to do it—including parents—the system is thus assured to include all people equitably with no favoritism and no one falling through the cracks.

Believe me, the diocese checks the parish records as part of parish audits, to be sure that any named volunteer who works with kids also has the appropriate background checks.

And usually, from what I have seen in other places around the country, a background check is not sufficient. The diocese also usually requires that you must be fingerprinted, and, go through an accredited training program for people who work with kids. A very commonly used training program (usually just one night for about two hours) is VIRTUS. I myself have been through this a couple of times. The Washington, DC, Archdiocese and the Cincinnati diocese both require this training for any and all people involved with youth. No exceptions.

The VIRTUS training, in my opinion, is actually pretty good. It is designed to focus on helping adults recognize certain patterns or danger signs of possible abuse. In other words, it does not treat you as a potential abuser, but helps you to be more knowledgeable about recognizing an abuser in your midst. It includes riveting video testimony from convicted child abusers about how they would go about approaching a child and how they singled out and developed relationships with kids in the midst of other adults. Truly, it is quite worthwhile in helping the community become more skilled as a whole at protecting children from potential abusers in their midst.

Whatever personal reaction you might have to such things, I can assure you that if you want to have anything to do with kids in any parish in this country you must go through this. Otherwise you won’t be permitted to work with kids. This is now ironclad everywhere.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 8, 2009 - 9:26 am

I grant that it’s become necessary and unavoidable.  But would you agree that it’s a stop gap measure necessitated by a grand-scale failure, and also that it entails a terrible loss?
Bureaucratic policies and procedure, be they ever so elaborate, cannot compensate for a lack of personal knowledge, judgment and responsibility.  And they do hinder the recovery of those things.  The more dioceses and parishes rely on bureaucratic measures, the more it will look to bureaucratic types for leadership.  And those types have an inexorable tendency to enact more policies…
It’s a vicious cycle in my opinion.

Scott Johnston • Aug 8, 2009 - 2:25 pm

I mostly agree Katie. Turning to bureaucratic solutions to problems that ideally should be handled in a more humane, personal way, is a growing feature of contemporary society on many fronts. There is also the pressure of defensive attitudes driving policies (e.g. in medicine, physicians ordering unnecessary tests to put up a defensive hedge against lawsuits). And it probably is correct to say there was a grand-scale failure. But, as I mentioned, I think it is essential to acknowledge as well that a great deal has indeed been done to correct that failure—with much success in my observation. While sexual abuse cannot be totally eradicated without eradicating original sin, I believe it is extremely unlikely that the American church would see anything resembling the level of abuse that took place in the 60’s and 70’s at least for the foreseeable future. And this is very good news. It may be hard to sense this from the point of view of one’s own local parish which perhaps seems about the same as it has for many years. But from the point of view of someone who has been in seminary for several years and seen a variety of parish settings up close from the inside, the sense one has is extremely hopeful and positive.

I would also say, however, that the nature of parish communities has changed in such a way that taking a mainly personal, local approach to certain problems is much harder. People move much more often than was typical until around the mid-20th century. Parish communities used to be much more stable, most people remaining the same with a relatively small number moving in or out of the parish over the years. Nowadays, families and individuals move into and out of the parish in much larger numbers and greater frequency so that at any given time a sizable percentage of parishioners are unknown to the priests. This is a reality of present day demographics. Yes, with effort the priests can do things to get to know better those who are new. But the situation is quite different than years ago when father would look out into the pews on Sunday and see mostly all the same faces he had been seeing for the last ten years.

Personal mobility (the car and public transportation) is a big factor also. A vibrant parish known for good preaching and catechetics will attract people for certain events from outside their usual community. It has got to be far more common now than in the 50’s to see people present at a parish only for a particular event who are not seen again (e.g. a lecture; retreat; vacation Bible school). In other words, the flow of people relatively unknown to the parish priests and staff into and out of the parish is a significant factor of contemporary parish life and this restricts the pastor and his staff from being able to handle certain things on a more individual, personal level, even though they might prefer to do so if they could. Today’s parish life is a much more fluid and chameleon-like entity than not so long ago. I think in some ways the Church is still at the early stages of figuring out the best approach to handling this difficult reality.

One final thought on this to throw out here: while a more personal, individualistic touch might be desirable in the ideal for some matters, this also places these things more directly at the mercy (for better or worse) of the particular personality, gifts, faults, quirks, etc., of the pastor. In an age when people are especially sensitive to clericalism, such a way of doing things makes the parish more susceptible to this. Bureaucratic processes, even with their faults, do have the benefit of decreasing the likelihood of excessive clericalism. There is a trade off. If we have a very saintly and self-giving man as pastor, we prefer that he have more direct control over things and resent bureaucratic impositions. But, if our pastor is perhaps a bit rough around the edges and not the best manager, we are glad for certain bureaucratic requirements.

I have been acquainted with a couple Dominican priests (canonists) who have worked in the Vatican, and they have some memorable stories about the odd way some things are done there. This is because compared to America, they are (Italian culture I understand) much less focused on procedure and standardization. This can make things greatly susceptible to and influenced by the whims and eccentricities of the boss. And this is not always a good thing.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 10, 2009 - 12:29 pm

“Turning to bureaucratic solutions to problems that ideally should be handled in a more humane, personal way, is a growing feature of contemporary society on many fronts.”

Even more than that, I’m thinking that a properly personal way of living the faith in our parishes would mostly prevent such problems from developing in the first place.  But I agree with you that the fault is society-wide, not just in the Church.

“while a more personal, individualistic touch might be desirable in the ideal for some matters, this also places these things more directly at the mercy (for better or worse) of the particular personality, gifts, faults, quirks, etc., of the pastor.”

Well, I don’t know.  I tend to think that the laity have yet to take up their proper role in the Church.  We have tended to be much too passive vis a vis the hierarchy.  I think bureaucracy increases the problem of clericalism because it stifles initiative and creativity not just on the part of the pastor, but on the part of the congregation.

Bill Drennen • Aug 12, 2009 - 10:29 am

“Well, I don’t know.  I tend to think that the laity have yet to take up their proper role in the Church”

I can see this but I also see that the priest and bishop has abdicated their responsibility to the laity in a completely wrong way leading to failure of good pastoral leadership. Nothing I dread more then the lay committees in most parishes these days and I applaud pastors who are not afraid to clean house!

In the same way spiritual leadership has been replaced by secular expert advise on every subject. The laity need empowerment but without the clergy losing their proper authority.

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 12, 2009 - 10:52 am

Yes.  There certainly is a kind of role confusion problem.  I don’t want the laity to take on roles that belong to the priest; I want them to take on the role that belongs to THEM.  Not easy to discern in the concrete, I grant. 
I think a lot more clarity is needed about what exactly the proper authority of the clergy is and what it isn’t.

I recently heard a story of a lay theologian who stood up in the middle of a homily at a Sunday Mass and told the priest and the congregation that what he was saying was false.  I like him for it.

Bill Drennen • Aug 11, 2009 - 5:30 pm

Katie, I think you are right on with the failure of our Bishops to act as Shepard’s, Rather then listening to the lawyers, psychology experts and worried about media exposure.

I like to believe Scott’s report about the new crop but then I continue to hear about Bishops who don’t seem to have this courage like your bishop in NH. I would not mind the lack of volume so much if the sheparding was more firm.

Scott Johnston • Aug 11, 2009 - 8:10 pm

It is helpful, I think, to realize that the ongoing positive transformation of the American episcopacy can only happen one bishop at a time. It is a gradual process. Each local Catholic only experiences the renewal on his own level when his own diocese gets a new bishop cut from the new cloth. So, people in dioceses with lackluster bishops who still have ten years to go do not feel like much is happening. But gradually, in the overall picture, it is.

I think whenever discussions involving the past problems of the American church come up, it is easy to speak of them against a perfect ideal, and overlook too quickly the massively huge societal change that the entire American society went through in the postwar era (the greatest turmoil probably being the late 60’s/early 70’s). The large exodus of people from religious life (especially women) and the priesthood is an indication of the overall confusion the whole country was going through.

This is not to excuse poor episcopal leadership. But, frankly, the less-than-exemplary leadership of many men formed in the 60’s and 70’s should not surprise us.

This older generation had a lot going against them in the combination of (generally speaking) lousy seminary formation and the mixed up American culture at the time.

Basically, I would like to encourage everyone, first to patience, for the older generation of bishops is very unlikely to change much. Yes, we should have appropriate anger when it is called for. But a bishop who has been a poor leader for 20 years is going continue to be a poor leader, with very few exceptions. The change will come when he is replaced by a new generation of bishop.

In the meantime, it’s good to not loose sight of the fact that there is a great deal that an individual lay Catholic can do to grow in holiness and to serve others and to be a leaven in the dough regardless of how excellent or poor his own bishop happens to be.

I say this because (I presume this does not apply to contributors here) I have seen too many instances of lay Catholics who become so preoccupied (and even consumed with anger and bitterness) over the failings (real and imagined) of priests and bishops that they seem to completely lose sight of their own personal calling to grow in Christ.

That being said, the reprehensible phenomenon of sexual abuse certainly calls for close scrutiny and laymen holding bishops to accountability. But realize as well that the number of credible new accusations is far fewer (and of course one is too many) than was happening 30 and 40 years ago.

Anger • Aug 6, 2009 - 9:41 am

Greetings personalists,

I am a disciple of Dietrich Von Hildebrand,a professor of philosophy at Holy Apostles Seminary and author of many books including one on anger entitled Taming the Lion Within: Five Steps from Anger to Peace.
I would like to share a few key points about anger that might be helpful:

First we need to distinguish hot anger, expressed in screaming, throwing things,etc,and cold anger characterized by inner resentment, withdrawal, etc.
Then there is just and unjust anger. Just anger is directed to real injustices directed against us or others. Unjust anger comes when we are furious without cause, for example when rightly upbraided for bad behavior (the pouting child in the corner for example).
Self-righteous anger can be just or unjust. In any case, according to Thomas Aquinas, even if anger is just, it should never be disproportionate, out of control, unforgiving, or vengegul!
Dietrich Von Hildebrand analyzes Pharisaic anger as involving enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations at others. Even if we are justly angry we should be deeply grieved by the sins of others vs. enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations.

I have been involved in a great self-help group called Recovery, International (not 12 step). The founder, a psychiatrist Abraham Low, coined an expression that is greatly helpful to me.

It is symbolic victory. We like to feel strong. In many things in life we are weak or inferior to others in talents or virtues or just in ability to overcome adversaries. To compensate for our feelings of weakness we indulge in hot or cold anger because anger makes us feel, to use Biblical imagery, like lions instead of weak lambs.

Examples I give to illustrate this: a driver is speeding dangerously. We are weak. Even if we called 911 it could be too late for avoid an accident killing us or our loved ones. Some compensate for this unbearable feeling of weakness by screaming at the driver through his or her CLOSED window. This is a symbolic victory. The curses don’t actually hurt the dangerous driver who can’t even hear them, but they give the lawful driver a feeling of being a raging lion instead of a lamb ready for the slaughter.

Take any example of anger if your own life or in controversies you read about such as handing of pedophilia by the Bishops and check to see - even if my wrath is justified, is it disproportionate, unjustifiably sarcastic, unforgiving, vengeful in the sense of indulging in symbolic victory in my head as I wish the bishops disaster and maybe gloat over the millions that are being paid out in law suits.

How should I deal with it instead? It is right to be angry at cover-ups. I should pray much more for the victims, the pedophiles and the bishops than I do. I don’t think that I am okay if I say a one line prayer for each of these groups after 2 hours of vitriolic sarcastic hurling of denundiations from the throne of truth.

Dr. Ronda Chervin (for more about my work on anger see

Katie van Schaijik • Aug 6, 2009 - 10:14 am

Dear Ronda,
How great to have you join us here!  This post is too good and substantive to leave in a comments thread.  I shall move it to Linde main.

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