“What does it look like to treat others in a way that contributes to their health and well-being? It looks like honoring their dignity”.
These words are taken from a book entitled Dignity by Donna Hicks, Ph.D. Many of our Sisters have read this book as part of their committee work or study groups. Dr. Hicks defines dignity as “an internal state of peace that comes with the recognition and acceptance of the value and vulnerability of all living things.”
Those are some good words to reflect upon but now I can put a face to the truth that they speak.
Down here at the Peace Center we are often able to take our folks on field trips; we believe that this is good use of the generous grants that we have received from organizations such as Catholic Health Initiatives. One such trip was to the World War II museum with our adults. Many of the men had been in the service; all of them had “war” stories; so they enjoyed the outing.
We were able to end the trip by having lunch at the great restaurant there called the American Sector. As we sat at the tables, and menus were distributed, one fellow (I will call Joe) asked if he could order a salad. “Sure,” I replied. “Could I order soup, too?” he asked. “Of course.” “Well, could I order soup and salad?” “Absolutely! Order whatever you would like to eat, even dessert.”
When we returned home and were getting off the bus, Joe and a couple of the other folks came over and thanked us profusely for such a great experience and Joe said, “It was so awesome to be able to order from the menu.”
That is what honoring their dignity looks like. The value and vulnerability of another human being was found in being able to simply choose anything from the menu.
People have asked me: what is our position on the horrendous news we’ve been hearing about the cover-up of US bishops in the sexual abuse scandal, particularly after the Attorney General‘s report in Pennsylvania? Keep in mind that the Leadership Team of the Dominican Sisters of Peace are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. That means we stand with the LCWR statement completely, because we are members — it speaks for us. I invite you to read our very comprehensive and fearless statement below.
For me, however, there is so much more that needs to be done. I’ve been pondering what I’d like to see happen and am very aware of our Dominican charism to speak the truth – so a few thoughts:
In spite of the good work of most priests and the integrity of many bishops, the hierarchy as a whole has lost moral credibility. This is the most damaging aspect to me. How can the bishops make public statements about immigration, family values, or any other issue when their own house is corrupt? Can they correct themselves and restore the confidence of Catholics — let alone the general public? I do not think so – not by themselves anyway. Before bishops can speak of healing for victims, they need to address the root causes of this very public sin. Otherwise, the wrong people are putting a bandage on a cancer.
The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People did not stop Rev. Kevin Lonergan, a 30-year-old priest from Pottsville, PA, who was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors after being accused of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old girl and sending nude images of himself to her. He was ordained just 4 years ago. Where is the oversight even now?
Some have called for women to serve in positions of oversight. This is half true to me. I suggest that the USCCB recognize that independent and objective oversight, by both professional lay men and women, who are qualified to serve, is absolutely necessary. It would take enormous courage and humility to submit to such an investigation. But who would appoint and to whom would they report? This question lies at the feet of Pope Francis and I hope he can demonstrate the kind of fearless resolve that we need for the People of God at this time. We need no less than a Reformation of the priesthood. That is just a beginning.
So I look to Pope Francis who certainly as the power to call for a deep cleansing and reform of the priesthood. Vatican bureaucracy has successfully derailed his efforts so far. What will he do now?
Next time, I’d like to share a few more thoughts, but for now, here is the LCWR statement:
LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy
August 23, 2018
[Silver Spring, MD]The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.
Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.
We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis. We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.
We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.
Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.
“Sisters, we live in parlous times.”* Those times were the later 1960s, and the speaker was Mother Eileen of the Akron Dominican congregation. Her pronouncement endures.
Parlous times indeed. The connection of these times and troubles with the times and troubles of the early Christian believers couldn’t be clearer than in the gospel story we heard recently about the beheading of John the Baptist. He was a clarion voice for the truth, unafraid to speak to the corruption and power of his day. He paid with his life.
Truth in a Tangle
Today we live in a knotty tangled world where truth and lies, good and evil, service and selfishness are so intertwined that we can barely separate the fibers. There is great difficulty in truth-finding, and there is great peril in truth-telling.
Pick any point on the globe on any day. Evils and terrors, rebellions, barbed wire and refugees from persecution, so many forgotten ones. There is the vast gap between the “justice” accorded to the privileged and the “justice” meted out to the disadvantaged. (A recent Time Magazine reported that a study of the top 350 corporations in the U.S. revealed a CEO-to-worker ratio of compensation as 312 to 1.) There is false news and “alternative truth,” and at our doorsteps, indefensible poverty and racism. Truth and falsehood tangle together in every newscast, every soundbite, every “tweet.”
Truth: Noble and Naked
Two weeks ago, in an ironic political drama, we heard the tributes to Senator John McCain, the ornery maverick, the worthy opponent, who spoke his truth, a civil servant who reached “across the aisles” to achieve not what he personally wanted, but what he thought was best for the country. Tributes to him contained a critique of present government, along with our palpable yearning for more public figures like him. Two days later, back to political deadlock.
Then there is our church, open now to public view of the protective treachery of leaders who have been entrusted with the shepherding of God’s people. They have failed us. No wonder they walk away, the wounded and broken-hearted, and their children see faith and/or religious practice as irrelevant to their lives. What a disappointment to Vatican II Catholics, still hanging on, still wanting to believe in their call to a holy priesthood with a full share of the Spirit by their Baptism; and how sad for the faithful women who do 80% of the ministry.
So of course we are asked: How can you stay? Your church has betrayed you–how can you remain faithful to Roman Catholicism?
First, I stay because I am not alone, but always a part of “We.” God’s Holy Church is not “It” or “They.” So WE stay believing that the “parlous times” of today are still actively addressed by the Gospel, because we still stand in the courts of Herod and Pilate, and under the cross, and before the empty tomb, and we mourn the malignancy of evil, and our own poor witness. Because we are God’s church by God’s choice and God’s faithfulness–not our own. Because Jesus is Risen and his Spirit never leaves us.
Because by our daily dose of the Scriptures, we are formed by the Word into Living Words of Christ who, as Catherine of Siena reminded God, is “Your Truth.” Because the Trinity in love overflowing serves us a banquet overflowing, and with it, the energy for loving service and prophetic hope and stubborn perseverance and mercy and forgiveness. Because held and entwined in such grace, how can we keep from searching for and speaking out Gospel Truth—even in these tangled “parlous times?”
* Sister Eileen Pentecost had family roots in the South.
On a first reading of Sunday’s Gospel a person could get caught up in details – washing hands, washing cups, jugs, etc. These were the things the Pharisees did for ritual purification. The ordinary people didn’t follow all the details of ritual cleaning. But the Pharisees thought that Jesus and his followers should.
What does that have to do with us today? After reflecting on the gospel and the other two reading for this coming Sunday, the question seemed to arise; what is at the heart of rules, of commandments? Why do we do what we do? Surely we have moved on from the days of detailed rubrics that our founding congregations once observed.
But what are the statues of our day? How can we be as James writes, “doers of the word and not hearers only”? Why do what we do.
For the most part we are probably pretty obedient to the rules of our community, the laws of our country, the commandments of God. We probably don’t stop and think why we do what we do. Periodically it’s good to take some time to reflect where our heart is. We might say we do what we do because we desire to love God and love our neighbor. But upon deeper reflection we might realize that we visit that homebound person more because we like her and enjoy being with her. But we don’t spend much time with another person because we disagree on politics. Or what about my good intention to write to my congress people about that issue OPPeace suggested. I might say I’ll do it tomorrow – and tomorrow never comes for that project.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend about her earlier civil disobedience experience. She described that what they did was in the midst of prayer and a promise of non-violence. What struck me about her sharing was she felt that the experience was “Gospel Motivated”.
Now, I don’t feel called to things like civil disobedience. Most of what we do is not momentous. Our lives are mostly made up of daily, seemingly inconsequential, tasks and responsibilities. It might be good to stop before we head out for our daily ministry and remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing – whether momentous or routine. The more we remind ourselves that we are called to be “Gospel motivated”, the better we will be able to serve those we meet.
God had an inspiration one day. It was you. You were divinely inspired by God. Go look in the mirror. What do you see? Did you just laugh because when you looked you saw gray hair and wrinkled skin? Did you just smile because you saw long dark shiny hair, and soft skin? Did you see hair that was relaxed or natural and skin like chocolate? Did you wince because you saw scars, or things you wish you could change? Whatever you saw, it was inspired by God.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what God was really thinking that day. What inspired God to think of me? Do you ever wonder?