By Charlie Johnston
The Internet has been rocked by stories that Salesian Priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil is being tortured By ISIS and will be crucified on Good Friday. Fr. Tom has, indeed, been kidnapped. But there is no information yet about who kidnapped him or what his plans are. The crucifixion story just appeared as a rumor on Facebook with no attribution or evidentiary basis. The current status of the situation is explained here. Fr. Tom definitely needs our prayers – and very intently. Also pray that whoever started this rumor did not give Fr. Tom’s kidnappers a horrible idea.
We are still dealing with the fallout from the sexual scandal that was revealed around the turn of the millennium. It was a terrible betrayal. Sadly, the fallout also caused a divide to open up between the multitude of wonderful Priests who take their vocation seriously and a suspicious flock. It deprives those good Priests of the honor they are due and it deprives us of much of the leadership we need, just as we need it most. It was one of the satan’s more toxic and successful gambits. It is time to move past it.
There have been betrayers since Judas. But this was a widespread failure. Many clerics traded, for a time, the rock of the Gospel and the Magisterium for the transient shifting sands of trendy cultural and pseudo-cultural enthusiasm. We traded a culture of faith for a culture of therapy – and we are all the worse for it. I remember in the late 70’s watching a daytime TV talk show (Phil Donahue, I think). I was shocked when a psychologist or therapist – a woman – berated a Priest for suppressing people’s “natural sexuality.” That was not the shocking part; the shocking part was that she spoke of the “sexual needs of children” and that the Church was creating neuroses by not recognizing those. The even more shocking part was that the Priest was just awkwardly silent, unable or unwilling to mount any defense of the faith. I was not Catholic then, but thought in my shock what a faithless gimp that Priest was. He had been caught up in the trendy culture of therapy – and was too intimidated to defend what was obvious and unchanging. Many clerics lost themselves and their faith in the cultural upheaval.
I once wrote a blistering letter to a high Church official that “zero-tolerance” policies weren’t going to solve a thing; that the answer was to recover the lost faith – that had we always proclaimed the fundamentals of the faith, the True Presence in the Eucharist, the Culture of Life, boldly and with conviction, there never would have been a crisis in the first place. The worst among us were filled with a passionate resolve for ever-deepening disorder which was partly enabled by a clericalism run amok. Meantime, the best were intimidated, indecisive, afraid to speak boldly for fear of being dismissed as archaic, not enlightened with the times.
You know I don’t quail from offering criticism of religious authorities when I think it warranted, but I confine that criticism to the specific ones who I think have warranted it. The mindless practice of some of never speaking critically of a Priest helped enable the malefactors. The collar is a noble, divinely-inspired vocation; the abuse of it is a great betrayal – and a collar is not a license to do harm to others. But when we let the criticism go beyond the malefactors to a whole class, we do damage to the very noble souls who want to live the faith well and minister to their flocks. We lose on both ends.
We will not solve this by turning our heads away from those who have offended rather than holding them to account. But we will not solve it by putting good clergymen to a star chamber and quenching their commitment to their vocation. I am now in contact with literally hundreds of Priests and Deacons – and there is a great spirit moving across the land. They are ready to step up to the plate, filled with the hope that if they speak boldly and live their vocation truly, people will stand with them, not disdain them. It is one of the reasons why I am so focused on Eucharistic and Marian Processions. If we live that, spark a real movement, it will empower the very best of the spiritual leaders among us, filling them with new confidence and joy in their vocation, while raising us all up. Get that started and that will be where things happen with vigor. It will raise a climate that is unhospitable to those who are mere careerists. The people of the kingdom and the flock will rise together even as the careerists slink away or sulk.
I have little sympathy for malefactors and when they are found, they need to be weeded out, but I have never made them my focus. To do so has very limited value. In all things, I have focused on empowering the noble, inspiring them and filling them with resolve to create a real movement. That builds something – and chokes off the cynical careerists, while filling many of the lukewarm with a joyful new resolve. Change the culture and you change the world…and it starts with little steps that build trust. How have you heartened those Priests that believe, that believe with fervor? Do that and we will have a vibrant culture of life and of faith once more. How I long to leave the culture the 60’s and 70’s bequeathed to us behind, to rise again in faith with our true spiritual leaders. That is what I believe in and am committed to this year. I can’t change what has happened, but I can do my little part to rebuild, for the kingdom to rise. I hope you will make the same commitment even as you grieve over the terrible offenses that have marred us.
If you have had contact with a Pastor or Priest who betrayed his God, his flock and his collar, I know it can be hard to let go. But if you shy away from all Priests, you let the betrayers besmirch the noble, and the satan doubly wins. I call on you to join hands with your Priests and Bishops anew, walking together in proclaiming the faith and hope that is in Christ. If you encounter one that merely wants to proclaim a culture of therapy, move on and find one who proclaims Christ. But by all means, reach out. We need each other if we are to navigate these stormy waters.