Saturday, December 1, 2007

On Thanksgiving Day I received an e-mail from a very irate woman who had heard of Good Tidings and was incredulous about our 501 (c) 3 status from the government.  She could not understand how we could qualify as ministry.  She mentioned that she'd heard we encouraged these "so-called romantic relationships" between women and priests.  What got me most, I guess, was that she was "appalled" that we "seemed to encourage these women to have the children of priests rather than go for abortions."  After all, she wondered, who was paying for these children?  Why isn't the Church paying for them?  How dare we request money for this ministry!

I felt myself deal with some emotions as they stirred in me as I read her e-mail.    The Irish NYC street kid in me was not patient, and my immediate reaction was not printable.  But there was something else going on in me too.  I felt bad for this woman.  She signed her letter "abused by a priest" without any name.

That said it all!  The anger, the striking out, the sense of rage at what she thought was a support group which condones the sexual misconduct of priests with women.  My moment of annoyance came only from my own fatigue and I could feel this woman's rage in me too.

Unless one has suffered abuse it is very, very difficult to understand and relate to the rage that is hellbent on attacking everyone and everything that in any way at all jars the memory of abuse.  I could both understand and relate.  I knew this was not a personal attack.  It was an attack against whoever had hurt her, I was just in the way (or our e-mail address was).  I wrote back and asked her if she wanted answers to her questions or was she just venting.  The return e-mail said “answers…and dialogue.”  So, I explained Good Tidings and Holy Innocents and what we try to do. 

She objected to the use of the term “romantic relationships” as if that gave a positive spin to what happens between priests and women.  I wrote back and said that “romance” has nothing in itself to do with real love, or with abuse.  Romance is simply romance, and, in fact, most abusers are pros at using romance to lure those they intend to use for their own purposes.  They objectify a person, then use romance to mask that objectification and the victim then is none-the-wiser, but rather is somehow flattered, whether this person be a child or an unsuspecting adult.  The trick is to find vulnerable individuals, whatever the age. 


So many people have said that the women who get involved with priests are not victims because they are adults—as if being an adult is the same as invulnerable.  The problem is adults carry baggage, whether it is healthy or unhealthy.   Some have life-bags full of peace and joy and healthy memories, and so their past helps prepare them for a healthy present and future.  Others carry different life-bags and they are filled with experiences of being misused or abused, being hurt so deeply that their judgement is lacking when it comes to current relationships, and if someone or something does not help break that cycle, it repeats—for life. 


I’ve wondered about that.  I’ve read that about 2/3 of those who have been abused do NOT go on to abuse others.  What makes the difference, I’ve wondered.  Grace?  More good than bad in that bag full of experiences?  More love in one’s youth?  That’s some of what I’ve been told makes the difference.  But, some do seem to remain victims, rather than become abusive (other than to themselves in that sense).   Some of the women in Good Tidings have had bad marriages, gone to a priest for guidance, and found themselves allowing a priest to hurt them, all the while doing cartwheels to please the priest who “romances” them with flirtations and the works.  Like kids, or puppies, starved for a hug,  or some indication that they are lovable, the women may or may not recognize that they are being used, but allow it because it seems like the best thing in their lives (and sometimes it is).

Priests who do this?  Well, I’m guessing they are among the 1/3 of those abused who recycle the abuse themselves.  That’s not to say it’s an excuse, but it is one reason they do what they do.  Priests are in a system that allows the normal human need to have some control in life to be twisted by twisted clerics.  Abusive priests take that spiritual (and temporal) authority they have, which should be used as “power for” others and twist it into “power over” others.  Rather than the power of Love, the only real power in God’s world, they present themselves as gods who know nothing of Love, and they are generally known as—devils!  Yet, the Church has wisely taught that devils can disguise themselves as angels of Light, and that is what we are facing in the Church when priests use their office of service to abuse.  Anyone can abuse in this world, but the clerical system offers an even greater opportunity for those inclined to do so because we Catholics expect them to represent their Boss.  The trouble is—they do, but it has taken us a long time to realize whom they serve.

My personal problem with this is what happens to the Grace God offers along the way?  I’m 56 years old, and grew up in that mindset that priests loved God so much that they wanted to serve and love others.  I was sure of it.  Never doubted it, both for priests and religious.   They were the ones who understood how God worked, understood about Grace, God’s shared life, and so their response by becoming priests was a statement.  As priests or religious they were saying they understood and agreed.  How innocent I was.  How I presumed it was so.   This was a good part of what drew me to God too, being around so many others who loved God so much, starting with my family, but also the priests and sisters in our parish.  It never crossed my mind that a priest could do wrong, at least not deliberately.  I’d seen drunken priests…I knew about them, but even back then I was taught to look at alcoholism as a sickness, not a moral choice. 

As a youth I sadly discovered that not all religious were holy, but I made excuses and figured it was just that one I knew.  Surely she was the only one.  Only years later, after Joe and I began working with Good Tidings did I realize how wrong I was.  We started working with this because we figured that priests and women who were facing the fact that they loved one another really needed to have spiritual support.  We remembered how lonely it was for us while Joe went through his spiritual discernment with his director.  How lonely and difficult it was for me as he made his own spiritual journey regarding his priesthood, long before we ever knew there were other married priests “out there.”  We figured those were the priests and women we’d meet if we tried to make Good Tidings better known.

Well, we met wonderful priests, holy men I believe, who loved and wanted only to do the right thing before God.  Many of those priests are now in CORPUS!   What we never expected was to meet what David Rice later called in his book SHATTERED VOWS, “the shadow side of celibacy.”  And worse yet, when we did discover it, we never expected it was such a huge shadow.  In fact, we discovered a black cloud, a profound evil in the Church that went far beyond any individual abusive priest.  We found bishops and superiors condoning sexual misconduct and abuse, and frequently enough involved in it themselves.  We found women who were being threatened psychologically, financially and  physically beaten by the priests, abortions paid for, phones tapped,  women run off the road in their cars as threats to their lives when they pursued legal process.  We discovered women slandered, and dragged through depositions where they were made to look and feel like whores, while bishops sat at the table allowing it to happen.  Of course, we found bribes too.  Hush monies paid, and contracts signed so that the children of priests were supposedly silenced by their own mothers’ agreements.  That was bogus—but they knew not!  In short, we discovered evil in clerical garb.

I remember my Irish grandmother saying that if the road to hell was paved with good intentions, hell itself was lined with religious habits!  She told me of things in Ireland that today would be 100 years ago…that I found so hard to believe.  But after going to Ireland and talking with family there, I realized she spoke the truth.

I’ve often felt that although I personally have made choices for my life that are not in keeping with the Roman Catholic Church, our approach to Good Tidings and Holy Innocents has always been more “orthodox” than Rome itself!   I remember (before I got thicker skin) feeling so hurt years ago when a priest wrote some nasty things about me in a letter to the editor of NCR after they did a story on Good Tidings.  All I was hoping for was a holy Church.  Sure, I knew then and now that we are all sinners.  But I was hoping for more integrity from our leadership than we were finding.  My spiritual director helped me (after the shock wore off) when he said “Don’t look to Rome for your Faith, or you’ll lose it.”  How very right he was.  He told me to keep my eyes on Jesus and I would keep it all in perspective, even the sorrow and the evil.  He was right.

The angel announced Good Tidings of Great Joy!  That’s what I began clinging to years ago after Father told me not to look to Rome.  The Good Tidings was that God was with us, among us.  That’s what I still cling to when evil rattles our cage.  God is among us, closer than our own heartbeats.  God is with the women and priests who want to do the right thing.  God is with the abusers, if only they’d let that Life touch them.  God is with the abused too, and that is what we want to continue to help them experience.  I, and those associated with this ministry want them to experience the Good Tidings, ancient and ever new.  As Christmas approaches I'm reminded again that it is an honor to share such good news.

Blessings on you and those you love this Christmas.

Good Tidings...since 1983