Friday, November 27, 2009

And Now, Ireland: More News of Sexual Abuse in the Church

Living in Boston when news of the Catholic abuse scandals was on every day, one wonders how news of Ireland’s Murphy Commission Report could make it sound worse.

Here’s how: Not only did the Archdiocese of Dublin continually cover up reports of abuse, but Irish police and prosecutors were also complicit in those actions.

Fortunately, Ireland's government and national police force are already responding to these reports, promising swift action. And from the news reports I'm hearing and reading, it sounds like Irish voters will not soon forget those promises by the time elections roll around again.

Unfortunately, I’m sure we’ll also see so-called “Catholic loyalists” complaining that media reports of this are signs of “anti-Catholic bigotry” by the secular media. Yes, they will say, sexual abuse of children is horrible, but why single out the Catholic church?

First: Yes, other groups have sexual predators in their midst. Even my own Unitarian Universalist Association has seen such cases. But the question is how such institutions respond to reports and evidence of such abuse. Do you cover it up, or find the truth? Do you shuffle the abusers around, or remove them permanently? Do you try to silence the victims, or help them to heal? And, most important, do you merely hope that it doesn’t happen again, or take respond with proactive measures to protect those under your care?

Second: Yes, other groups have done atrocious jobs of handling sexual abuse allegations. Two which I can think of are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Boy Scouts. But when this happens with an institution as large and influential as the Roman Catholic Church, how can you expect the media to cover it any differently? It’s like having two companies going under due to fraudulent practices – a local business worth a hundred thousand dollars, and an international powerhouse with political connections worth a hundred billion – and the bigger company complains that the media is paying too much attention to them.

This brings me to my final point, directed at those within the church who complain about the media: If you are truly loyal to the church – to all of its people, not just those at the top, and to its essential core values as expressed in the Gospels – then why don’t you hold your leaders accountable, just as Jesus did to the religious leaders of his day? Yes, they have called conferences and put forward documents outlining changes. But it would help if you joined those who keep at the bishops to make sure they follow through. So, instead of complaining about the media for holding the church hierarchy accountable, I suggest that you focus your energies on taking on that job yourself.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Moralistic Extremes: The Rock, the Hard Place, and What Lies In Between

Sometimes I wonder which is more exasperating - responding to the moralistic ravings of the Religious Right, or trying to engage in conversation with extremists in the "sexual freedom" camp.

I've often labeled the former as legalists for their penchant of creating rules to regulate people's sexuality. It's easy to do that, to post a ready-made list and convince people that everything will be all right if they just do what they're told and don't question why. Until reality happens.

Well, there's also an opposite extreme. The theological term is antinomianism - the belief that moral rules do not apply to you, so long as you have reached some sufficient level of salvation or enlightenment. And I've grown weary of those who seem to respond to the sexual legalists with the very caricature which those legalists use to describe all of us.

How ironic that my brand of radicalism is now caught in the middle between these two extremes - one which seeks to constrain people to a spiritual death, and the others which could toss too many to the wolves.

Freedom to me does not mean amoralism. It means making choices. With freedom comes responsibility, and responsibility requires knowledge and discernment.

So I'm all for comprehensive sex education ... as long as its accurate and helps young people to think critically and set limits for themselves.

I'm all for abortion ... in consort with other measures to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I'm all for decriminalizing and destigmatizing prostitution ... as a starting point for empowering sex workers to create better lives for themselves and their families.

I'm all for openly discussing polyamory and BDSM with monogamous and vanilla folks ... so that they can see how seriously we take responsibility, and so we can all learn to share one another's gifts with joy and meaning.

Mother Theresa is famous for saying that she would never join an anti-war rally, but would join a rally for peace. In a sense I find both extremes of legalism and antinomianism to be reactive and negative - and moralistic, in that each reduces morality and ethics to a highly simplistic formula. For the legalists, that formula is purity. For the antinomians, it is defiance. And both seem tinged with a sense of self-righteousness towards those with whom they disagree - including, and especially, those of us caught in the crossfire.

Above all else, both of these extremes seem devoid of communication. Each side comes across more as a lecture than a discourse. When we act on our sexuality, we are involving another, and that essential reality means we need to connect and communicate in the fullest sense - to listen as well as talk, to be open to learning and sharing, and to do so with beauty and joy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Not Every Battle Has a Headline

Bad enough to wake up this morning, hearing that 53 percent of Maine voters decided their gay and lesbian neighbors don't deserve equal marriage rights. But then...

A friend of mine was having surgery, so I went to visit him at the hospital. In the lounge, I saw a young couple, the mother holding an infant. I couldn't help but smile and say: "Beautiful baby."

They looked up at me, the father giving a soft thank you. Then, the mother exploded into tears, and he turned his attention to comforting her. After a few minutes, he went over to me and explained.

One of the first things every new parent wants to know is: boy or girl? For a small percentage of births, the answer isn't always that clear. And the debate about assigning gender to intersex babies -- up to and including surgery -- still goes on. After discussing their case with the doctors, these parents decided the best course was a "wait and see" approach. Give the child a gender-neutral name, and patiently watch and listen. A brave decision, especially since it might take years. But, as deeply spiritual people, these loving parents believed that it was best to leave this in God's hands.

Unfortunately, the minister of their church disagreed. After telling him about their child and their decision, he replied that he could not "in good conscience" agreed to perform a christening. In his mind, God would never create a child who was not clearly male or female. Either the doctors were all wrong, or this was the Devil's work -- and the parents were letting themselves be deceived.

He was mad. "Royally pissed" would be a better term. And he was conflicted -- tied by deep faith and family roots to his church community, yet enraged by this arrogant and inhumane minister.

So I listened. I affirmed his right to be angry, to want what was best for the beautiful child in his wife's arms. And I did what I could to help, writing down his email address so I could look for another minister to perform the christening.

They thanked me, both for understanding and for the offer. I've just finished calling and emailing, finding some ministers who would be willing to help, emailing the info to the young couple. Such battles for justice rarely make the headlines, but that doesn't make them any less worth the fight.

Before I left them, there were a few more tears. Only now, they came with smiles.