Friday, January 12, 2007

Ignore the problem, and it'll go away, right?

Another installment in our occasional "Catholics are stupid!" series.

I lived in the parish twenty years ago, before my first wife ran out on me and the marriage tanked.

Father Francis (not his real name) left no doubt as to who was in charge. If pro-life activists left leaflets on cars around election time, he'd call the police and have them arrested for trespassing. No problem, though; the parish down the road had the same leaflet for a bulletin insert. The liturgy was to be done "the way the Church expects us to do it." In his universe, that meant if there were only four readings before the Gospel called for with the Easter Vigil (usually before sundown), then by golly, that's all that was read. The place was locked tighter than a drum on Sunday afternoon before the last car pulled out of the lot. And the lay readers were expected to read some dumb-@$$ invitation to shake hands with the person next to you before Mass.

That was before I showed up.

As a young husband and father in my thirties, I was a brash and opinionated sort of young man, not wise and discreet in speech and manner (ahem!) like I am now. I called him on the phone and told him this sort of behavior before the start of Mass was completely inappropriate, and suggested we discuss it. He was absolutely aghast at the suggestion, coming from a mere layman. That's when I insisted we discuss it. Still in a state of shock from my audacity, he relented. That's when I contemplated a more eloquent compromise of an introduction, which I read to him during the meeting. He liked it much better. But he also felt the need to remind me: "It's my parish." So I reminded him: "It's my parish too, Father, and I have a stake in what happens here."

When the meeting ended, I knew who wore the red stripe, and he knew he wasn't dealing with an idiot. The dumb-@$$ invitation was soon dropped from the program. And he never treated me that way again.

I wish I could say the same for others. One evening I attended a meeting of the liturgy committee (a phenomenon which, in most of my experience, is an excuse for untrained people with time on their hands). It was presided over by a kind, elderly woman, who appeared oblivious to the pastor over her shoulder, shifting in his seat, yawning, and making no effort to hide his sheer boredom at the whole affair. The Pod People in attendance didn't seem to notice either. Of course, the chance to attend the parish council meeting was the big time! According to the parish secretary, you had to get "Father's permission" to grace its presence. Oh, give me a break! So I called His Majesty, who confessed: "Well, it's not that you need my permission; it's just that I don't know why anyone would want to attend." It was one occasion where I took his word for it.

He could be strangely inappropriate at times, in a way that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what you missed. Once a high-ranking prelate came to celebrate Mass, and Father was the master of ceremonies. He escorted the prelate to the ambo for the Gospel and homily as would have been called for, then proceeded right past him to head out the door, where he remained for the duration of the homily. But he and I got along fine, I suspect because I only got involved up to a point. He held several important positions in the diocese -- "I like to be kept busy," he used to say -- and he was also known for uncommon generosity, especially in helping his brother priests.

Once I got a little note from him, praising my liturgical role: "Would that all were as well prepared as you." This from a man who had little regard for the trappings of ecclesiastical ceremony.

Eventually, my son was eligible for kindergarten, and I wanted him in a Catholic school. So I transferred to a parish outside my area of domicile that had one -- with the kind written approval of my soon-to-be-former pastor.

In the years that followed, Father was transferred to a parish closer to town himself. The story goes that one day a man approached him, claiming that he was molested by the Father as a young boy, and that the news was about to go public. The Father didn't take it too well. In fact, he was already suffering from frequent bouts of melancholy. This revelation only made matters worse. A leave of absence, and the attempts at intervention by family members, all were not enough to prevent the poor man from buying a gun, and putting an end to his misery.

I still have the little note. I'm also still unpacking from the move. Eventually I'll find it, and put it in a frame. I have no idea whether or not he was guilty of the misdeeds of which he was accused. There are probably people out there who know something I don't, but I can't vouch for them, and the central figure in all this is too busy standing before a Higher Court to be overly concerned. As to life in this world, it is a strange sort of justice to drive a man to the point beyond human hope. I don't just mean this guy; I also mean whomever he hurt. Beyond that, I don't have a lot of answers here.

But I wonder sometimes, to this very day, what would have happened, had the Pod People in that committee meeting acted with the true definition of charity, and politely corrected the priest on the spot. Maybe such attempts had been tried and found wanting, maybe not, I don't know. Maybe they were just too damn chicken! Either way, in the entire magnum opus of Catholic teaching and tradition, there is no aspect of the priestly office that requires anyone to endure, much less ignore, the objectionable behavior of any man, just because of the way he wears his collar.

I don't know much, but I know that.


Anonymous said...

David, I just came across your site from Crescat. One comment that may or may not pertain in your pastor's case. Years ago we had a priest who was around 40 as our pastor. His behavior became somewhat erratic - making jokes during the middle of Mass at the altar, as an example. After several months of this strangeness, he discovered that he was diabetic. His jokes had been a way to cover up that he didn't know where he was during Mass. I would say in charity that his judgement was very clouded. After he received medical help, the problem never occurred again. Before we knew, though, he had been quite the subject of talk around the parish.

David L Alexander said...


Thank you for taking the time to write. This post was written well over a year ago. I am available through my e-mail address, which is manwithblackhat at yahoo dot com.