Tom McMahon has been watching a bit of television over the Easter break — as well as doing a bit of volunteer work around his community. This commentary is essentially about communication and communication gaps. How do we communicate across generational gaps — and between bishops and people? He wonders if there might be any Australian bishops who might be courageous enough to set up a genuine dialogue with those who have stopped listening to what bishops and the institution have to say?
Another television program on sexual abuse...
Last night I returned from my five hour stint as a volunteer Amtrak train station host just in time to watch a program on clerical sexual abuse among Alaskan Eskimo tribes. VOTF had sent: WATCH TONIGHT: Frontline covers clergy abuse in Alaska. [You can watch the program right here on Catholica for a short time. ...editor]
Next morning at our Senior History Club Jewish people asked me for my take on the program. I replied saying I was willing to discuss the issue while offering a mini bio of who the Jesuits are and their mission of education, as well as my personal interest in the worldwide debacle. They know well my background in Roman priesthood for 26 years. I told them I had previous knowledge of these Alaskan tragic events and in no way would I deny the criminality involved. I offered that it was known that religious authorities had at times sent wayward priests to missionary territory to get them out of the way and that there was little or no supervision or accountability. I told them I had been aware of the world-wide clerical abuse scandal for nearly thirty years, having two large boxes of news clippings and a handful of personal encounters. I lamented the way the interview was handled, a bishop who personally knew nothing of the priests involved and who offered no meaningful input as well as persons who while being interviewed seems to offer only emotional memories. As a clinician I find such exchanges meaningless, especially with the bishop sitting behind a desk in an office-like setting.
I admitted I was past the stage of anger and felt helpless, wondering what more was to come. I stated that there is a desperate need for dialogue that especially includes women. Our intelligent band of 25 gray hairs has studied together for nearly a dozen years and they know the transition connection I make between the Roman Church of the Middle Ages and Vatican Two I left them with a puzzlement over the desperate need for dialogue. I offered no solution. I will send to them my paper ON TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS which I ask Brian to include here as an addendum to today's commentary (see breakout image below).
A different perspective from another direction...
Today a partial answer to my puzzlement came with two words spoken by Hilary Rodham Clinton, United States Secretary of State as she was interviewed along with Henry Kissinger by Charlie Rose (April 21st). In a refreshing and intelligent discussion of American foreign policy concerning worldwide change Secretary Clinton offered two words for study "Parallel Evolution". I admired Madame Secretary for her patience as she spoke of "listening to the other side of the story" in Arabic countries and the Far East. Problems may seem to be the same but appreciation of the problem differs from country to country. I thought of the standoff between the Roman bishops led by Benedict and the people, neither side knowing of the others position and both unwilling and/or unable to sit down and talk as human beings in a desperate situation.
Women — have the courage to speak up!
As one who got the boot in 1980 for being a married priest (which we all know will be changed in short time) I am prohibited in participating in this much-needed dialogue even though I am well qualified as a licensed mental health therapist, self-educated historian, and good parish priest for 26 years. I admit to frustrating despair with the American bishops who continue to stick their mitered heads in the sand yet I hope that Australian bishops might have the integrity to realize the tsunami-like effects clerical abuse is having on the faith of the Roman Catholic people. Perhaps if one Australian bishop reads Catholica he might encourage other prelates to open dialogue with the people with special consideration for involvement with ordinary women. As much as I respect virginal nuns and female academics I would suggest we need to hear more from women of courage who have had children and who can share and listen as well as speaking truth from their hearts. Start small and meet in homes, not at the chancery office which I will dare to say is a graveyard of truth ... meet once a week, have a cup of tea, take no notes and everyone listen up for no more than two hours max. Come with no agenda and bishops don't waste everyone's time apologizing. Open and worthwhile communication will take time and nothing may happen in the first few weeks. In six months a bishop could have a treasure house of knowledge and realistically be able to stem the hemorrhage of people leaving the roman institution. Bishops can't you see the people don't trust you anymore and they are speaking up with their feet, walking away?
In A.J.Cronin's KEYS OF THE KINGDOM (1941) I recall Rome becoming worried about the missionary priest having dinner with the Protestant minister and his wife and the bishop sending an academic clergyman to investigate, a fellow who knows nothing of the overall situation and reports back to his superiors what they already have determined to hear. Cronin, whose brother was an Irish priest, wrote about how Rome works close to one hundred years ago — same old same old.
Bishops need courage too — to represent their people, not head office...
Any bishop who reads this if you are afraid of what Rome may say don't bother to get involved. You'll be safe. You may end up loyal to Rome with empty churches throughout your diocese. Clerical abuse is bankrupting the Roman system along with other issues of vital interest. The ecclesia needs a King Arthur Round Table without a special place for the king.
As I read over the above I was rather proud of myself, the little kid from 15th street, San Francisco, with some good ideas, the intelligent priest who got booted and silenced and who is not angry — the human being that knows the work of Jesus is worth saving for the good of humankind; the therapist who offers healing with a hope of understanding "Parallel Evolution". I would be of a mind to pay my own way back to Australia so as to help get some dialogue underway, as long as I have a bed to sleep in at night and a bite to eat. Brian, Catholica is a wonderful communication tool and we have God and truth on our side.
I could not and will not add to this commentary. I will get back to reform, revolution, and evolution next week as well as the American bishops condemnation of Elizabeth Johnson's QUEST FOR THE LIVING GOD.
Tom McMahon in San Jose, who at 82 dreads the idea of a long trip to Australia and time away from home yet feels the hard work ahead needs all the help the people can get 25Apr2011
PS: I watched THE TEN COMMANDMENTS on Good Friday night. Wow! What a massacre of truth and history Cecil did on that monstrosity — hardly a bit of truth in the whole and yet millions will see it as the word of God.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?