A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
This is a tough one to write.
On this web site appears an article about an ex-priest convicted of sexually assaulting two young boys. The trauma of such an event inflicted upon those lives is so deep; the level of betrayal from a source that should have stood for all that is good and noble is so profound. What do we say in the face of such horror? Our hearts can only grieve for the victims as we mutely consider the irretrievable value of a lost and ruptured childhood, and the enduring emotional pain.
I have no animosity towards the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic but left the Church nearly forty years ago. Despite this I recognize its importance and remain convinced that John Paul II was one of the great world leaders of the last fifty years. I believe that had the magnitude of the Church's problem surfaced when he was in a state of physical health and mental vigor, the halls of the Vatican would have vibrated with anger and action. A man who in his youth repeatedly put his life at risk to stand up to Hitler and Stalin would not have blanched from the task of cleaning his own house.
But this problem is bigger than the Catholic Church, and ALL OF US, regardless of our espoused faith, should be concerned about it. And that is why I take up this painful issue.
At a time in our nation when so many firmaments are crumbling, we need to learn afresh the critical and irreplacable role that major institutions play in our lives, in our society, and in our culture. Institutions are the instruments through which our cultural music is played and our collective experience enjoyed. When institutions that have played such recognizable and beneficial roles in the fabric of that collective experience are weakend, we all suffer. And when the space they once occupied is vacated - vacuums occur. Nature abhors all vacuums, be they physical or cultural. And the debilitation of once great institutions creates cultural vacuums. In my lifetime we have seen all manner of odious things move into those vacuums, and therein lies the nature of our collective concern.
We need to affirm and rebuild institutions that have demonstrated the capacity to promulgate and sustain themes of continuity and value. Whatever its faults (and ALL Churches have them), the Catholic Church has been such a societal building block. It has been a force for good as demonstrated by its work in education, health care, music, scholarship, arts, culture, and of course, ecclesiastic and spiritual life. When an institution responsible for such developments is so deeply wounded, so too are we all. And most particularly so at this delicate juncture of history, when our young people look around and seek some semblance of order and sustained authority. The landscape of societal institutions that stood so firmly in my youth is now roiled by the turmoil of failure and disgrace. And make no mistake - this notion of cultural vacuums is a significant factor in the disaffection of an entire generation.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is such an institution, and it harbors a carcinogen that can only be removed by the surgery of leadership. Max DePree told us that, "the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality". Archibishop Jerome Listecki is by definition of his office, a leader, and based on what little I know of him, I am impressed. I respectfully suggest that he reflect upon DePree's definition, and what implications it may have for his office.
The reality is that Rembert Weakland and his actions have been an unmitigated disaster for the Catholic Church - financially, morally, ethically, and spiritually. Its new leader should consider decisive steps such that all in Southeastern Wisconsin will stand in clear understanding that the insidious effects of Weakland's atrocitities will not stand, and have no place in the life of the Church. I submit that this can only be achieved by removing that tired and confused man from the public eye.
Weakland's presence at ostensibly formal functions of the Church confers an air of legitimacy upon him. And the creation and placement of costly replicas in houses of the Church bestow a legitimacy upon his administration. This is an ethical disaster, and a debilitating insult to the Church's existing ecclesiastic and lay leaders, nearly all of whom serve with selfless comittment and honor.
Now here is where the argument gets difficult. My views are not founded on notions of personal punishment or forgiveness. It is not my place to judge the heart of this man; he did me no personal wrong, and I strive to be mindful of Christ's admonishment not to "cast the first stone". But this is so much larger than a question of forgiveness or compassion. It is a matter of the terrible responsibility of leadership to chart a course implicit in the understanding that such horrific episodes shall not occur, and that those who perpetrated them have no standing of authority or legitimacy in the life of the Church. It is about the responsibility of caring for and affirming a great institution.
I do not suggest a course of persecution or humiliation for Weakland. I believe he should be cared for gently but firmly, in a place of quiet contemplation, permanently removed from the life and proceedings of the Church. A place where he can reflect upon the past, and give thought towards the fashioning of a redemptive life. I once hoped he would do the honorable thing and reach this obvious conclusion of his own accord. Sadly he has not, and thus it falls upon current leadership to make it so.
Institutions stand or fall upon the foundation of their moral purpose. They survive and flourish only under the service of leaders who not only understand that reality, but possess and demonstrate that clarity of purpose. This clarity cannot be maintained when the presence of those who have so horribly sullied it is allowed to continue, even if such allowance is founded on a well-intentioned sense of compassion.
Insitutions are like people - they need care.
It is time to care for this one.