Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Benedict, Priests, and Violence

Many are talking about Benedict's comments in his interview on his airplane. In some ways, they are pretty fascinating, especially what he has to say about the priesthood and immigration in the United States. His comments are worth looking at briefly and reflecting on. First, he offered a deeply compassionate apology for what has been the awful sex scandal in the U.S. Tomorrow I will discuss his comments on immigration.
We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future.
He offers three levels of healing:
I think we have to act on three levels.
The first is the level of justice, the juridical level. We now have also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia, [which] is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry, this is absolutely incompatible. And who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So the first level is, as we can do justice and help clearly the victims, because they are deeply touched. So [there are] two sides of justice, on the one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests; on the other hand, to help in all the possible ways to the victims.
Benedict, unlike many conservative groups in the United States, refuses to link the scandal to homosexuality. Even though the document on homosexuality in the priesthood stressed the affective deficiency of homosexual persons, he, along with most who have studied the reports from the scandal, acknowledges that homosexuality was a fringe issue amongst a much wider problem that included heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
The second level is the pastoral level, the level of healing and help of assistance and of reconciliation. This is a big pastoral engagement, and I know that the bishops and the priests and all the Catholic people in the United States will do all possible to help assist and to heal, and to help that in the future these things cannot happen.
This is a crucial step that Bishops in the United States have been woefully inadequate in doing. Just recently, for example, in a diocese where Bishop Sevilla, SJ had done an exemplary job of dealing with accusations of scandal, Yakima, WA, he was recently called out for hiring an ex-seminarian from Mount Angel Seminary who had been accused of having child pornography on his computer. This seminarian continues to be under investigation, though there is as yet no proof of his guilt. However, although Sevilla did not know that the FBI had a warrant out for his arrest, he did know that the man had a troubled history. He hired him nonetheless to work at a retreat center in Cowiche where he initially worked with adults and then began to work with children. A large scandal has ensued, and it is hard to blame those who are angry. Sevilla had been extremely careful, and this oversight - he has apologized profusely - could be a product of old age, but it is impossible to blame Dan Bartlett, a local father who some friends of mine know, whose children were taught by this guy, for being furious at the bishop. Bishops who want to heal pastorally the terrible insecurity that the scandal has caused in their flocks cannot afford such blatant carelessness.
The third point [is that] we have made a visitation in the seminaries to also do what is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep, spiritual, human and intellectual formation –with discernment so that only sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood, only persons with a deep personal love for Christ and a deep sacramental love, to exclude that this can happen [again]. I know that the bishops and the rectors of seminarians will do all that is possible so that we have a strong discernment, because it’s more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do, and we have done, and we will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.
Here Benedict comes back to what he is really interested in seminarians, and arguably the true point of the document on homosexual persons in the priesthood. Seminarians must be formed in deep spiritual, human, intellectual formation. With discernment. Without the gift of discernment, men cannot be good priests. Period. Ignatius recognized this from the beginning. Benedict mentions discernment here twice, and without it there is no possibility of healing either within the priesthood or between the priesthood and the laity.

There is a great divide right now between the priesthood and the laity. This is not simply a product of the sex scandal, but even more deeply of a fundamental lack of discernment in the priesthood over the last 40 years. The priesthood is not based upon rights. It has nothing to do with rights. It is a quasi-natural right, one could say, founded upon natural pre-dispositions vocationally graced as a call and confirmed by the Bishop and the community. One of these natural elements is masculinity. Why is this so? One theory about why the Catholic church understands Christ to have only chosen men for this ministry is because men have a quasi-natural affinity toward violence that their vocational calling as co-operators in Christ's sacrifice is intended to touch and to heal. Let me repeat this: men were not chosen by Christ to be priests because of anything positive they have, but because of a wound that they uniquely share that particularly suits them to share with Christ in the sacrificial healing process of the cross. There is nothing natural about being masculine that allows a man to better represent Christ at the altar.

There is something quasi-natural: men's affinity to violence, and to solve their problems by recourse to violence. For this reason, Christ became a man and took the form of a slave. Men are given the opportunity in the priesthood to also take the form of a slave, to become the sacrificial body that heals the wound of violence that is a part of their own unique concupiscence. Men have an ontological predisposition toward violence. For this reason, in the priesthood, men are ontologically reconfigured, in the ontological change of the sacrament, toward the non-violence of the Christ. I repeat: through the priesthood, men are offered by Christ an ontological participation in non-violence. Rene Giraud's theory is illuminative here. Men are offered the chance to experience the healing of their wound that is primordially theirs through original sin. They can become the innocent scape-goat uniquely in the place of Christ on the cross. It is out of this ontological relationship to non-violence that priests are called upon to exercise decisions. This is the cornerstone of their discernment.

And yet this is not taught in seminaries. Men somehow get the idea that they are called as men because of some positive gift or quality they have as men. And so the errors and scandals of the priesthood are founded upon a discernment that refuses to recognize the foundational ontological non-violence that they are invited to by Christ. The violence of the sex scandal is founded upon this fundamental violence at the heart of men's sinful nature that was never healed, remained wounded, and asserted itself in the domination of young boys. A priest cannot be a priest if his hand does not continually remain inserted, with Thomas, into the wounded side of Christ. That is his salvation and the salvation of his flock. This is the discernment required of him.
It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests.

Markel, SJ

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