Humility through Humiliation!

Light of truth

“We are in… a country in which there is great economic distress and still greater spiritual distress… Do you not think that this divorce between a spirituality which retires into contemplation and a mass of people dominated by animal instincts is a source of all our ills? Do you not think that every living creature ought to live and struggle among his fellow creatures rather than shut himself up in an ivory tower?” This is not a remark on Indian Church but a statement of Ignazio Silone, the great Italian thinker who wrote The God That Failed on Marxism. Silone implies we have to overcome “individual egoism, family egoism, caste egoism, does not shut himself in a cloister or build himself an ivory tower, or make cleavage between his way of acting and his way of thinking … In a society like ours a spiritual life can only be a revolutionary life.” Do we recognize the sex scandal that pains and humiliates all of us arose from what is called a “crisis of authority”? Religion is what you do with your own solitariness; it is not a communal task or class war affair. We quote two responses made to the observations made by Archbishop Bharanikulangara at a convention. The first is of an IAS officer in Delhi: “Thank you very much for the apt message. It had boosted the morale of laity tremendously during this troublesome period. Happy and proud of you for the bold stand. As the news spread even from my home parish (Kerala) I got 2 calls, appreciating your stand. Thank you once again for being the good Shepherd.” The second is of senior government official in Delhi: “It gives a great sense of relief to see that finally someone responsible has come out with a statement echoing the sentiments of the great majority of conscientious faithful, in contrast to the insensitive church leaders who have given an impression that they are with the culprit …”

A new volume of the journal Concilium entitled The Structural Betrayal of Trust does look systematically at the crisis and the models of authority at its roots. Theologians and other scholars examine the present crisis not simply as a phenomenon in the West, but rather as a universal crisis within the entire Catholic Church. Andrew Greeley also echoes that contrary to pundits, priests are happy, but he adds that they are oblivious to the laity’s dissatisfaction with their actual exercise of ministry: “priests are surprisingly insensitive to their laity. Very few priests seem to sense that the laity are massively dissatisfied with the quality of priestly ministry (which indeed they are).”

Neutrality among us is a way of talking. It is a fighting word. Only neuters can be neutral in ethics. It is not the only way; nor even the way that does justice to the full complexity of each person’s search for meaning and fulfilment. We can speak neutrally to one another when we find we have nothing better to say. It is a way escaping from a moral situation.

Thinkers and theologians in the church attribute to clericalism a causative role in the scandal. We can describe how clerical culture rebuffs openness. Greeley in his work Priests agrees: “The problems in the priesthood come from neither celibacy nor homosexuality. The problems come rather from the iron law of denial and silence that clerical culture imposes on priests.” That pedestal is not only for Catholic clerics, it is there also within Protestant African American churches. When some dare to criticize these authorities out of love of the Church and always in communion with it, they are threatened and condemned, accused of joining anti-church activists and tarnishing the church. Often bishops, clergy, the religious learn a lot about how to govern others, but not about what pertains to themselves. Even the very conservative American theologian George Weigel wrote: “A bishop whose lawyers advise him not to meet with a victim of sexual abuse or with the victim’s family because of possible legal implications needs new lawyers – lawyers who understand what a bishop is…” In the light of this fact, canonists and moralists claim that the crisis in the Church results not only from abusive priests, clericalism, and inept administrative structures that exclude the laity and ignore accountability, but also from the lack of critical course work that addresses the canonical and professional ethical formation of church ministers. The CBCI approved protocol on sexual harassment still sleeps in the lumber room. We are forced to conclude with the observation: “humility is only painfully gained through humiliation.”

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