Thursday, April 15, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Feeling Their Pain

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Someone asked me recently if I would comment on the recent troubles in the Roman Catholic Church. The troubles I refer to are, of course, the scandals surrounding pedophile priests and alleged claims of cover-up –that could include the pope himself.

My response: How stupid do I look?

First of all, it’s not my denomination, and although this is more than merely a denominational tiff, it seems the discussion of how to reconcile things belongs within the denomination itself.

What’s more, the structure of the Roman Catholic Church is not the same as that of my church, so the mechanisms they use to deal with crimes and other misconduct are not known to me.

Am I covering my tail? Certainly. In a small town, you want to measure your words carefully.

And yet, I have enough Roman Catholic friends who have shared some of their pain with me that I feel I can at least reach out a hand of comfort and say, in the words of one of our past presidents, “I feel your pain.”

What I have heard mostly are words of disappointment and uncertainty. Some have wondered if they can trust their leaders or if the institution exists merely to perpetuate itself rather than share the love of Christ.

I’ve heard it all before – in my own denomination.

In fact, I would also bet nearly every denomination has experienced the shock and heartbreak of realizing that their chosen leaders have not always lived the life they so piously proclaimed. You don’t have to go too far back in church history to see other examples: Bureau of Indian Affair schools run by our church that took children away from their families and forced them to give up their cultural heritage spring to mind.

More currently, we see the fights over ordination of women and gays. Those are still raising hackles around the world.

And, of course, it’s a good bet that every denomination has had plenty of sexual scandals. Even if we can’t relate to what has been going on in the hierarchy of Rome, most of us can recognize the pain, frustration, and yes, embarrassment of the parishioners

I’ve been on the listening end of the line with my mother enough times when the church – our church – has upset her to know that when the leadership messes up, it’s often the laity who have to do all the explaining to their friends and colleagues. They also often have to sort out the difference between faith and institution – theology and misconduct.

Just so I’m clear on this, pedophilia is bad. Making excuses or covering it up is bad. They cannot be ignored, and I suspect Roman Catholic leaders understand they must address the past even as they review their current policies and practices.

But as I said, that’s between them and – to whatever degree is required – the legal system. And of course, it's always between them and God.

I think it’s important for everyone else to remember that in some way, shape or form, we’ve all been there, and it’s no fun. Maybe this is a good time to just be a friend with a willing ear to those who want to unload some of their pain. Actually, when you come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to approach life most of the time.