Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Hey, how’d this elephant get in my living room?

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

- Tommy Lee Jones, as “K” in the 1997 film “Men in Black”

We've all grown up with at least one of these, the “dirty little secret” in the family -- the aunt who never married, the uncle for whom we had to hide the booze when he came to the house, the older sibling who left home after high school and doesn't write much (something about a fight with Mom or Dad, but we were too young to remember). How these things are confronted, if at all, vary from one family to another, from one culture to another, but this aspect of the human condition is a common one. (We actually don't have any dirty little secrets in my family. At least that's what Mom and Dad told me the hundredth time I asked.)

My former in-laws had a truly unique approach to the whole thing. Theirs was a colorful folklore with crazy aunts, miscreant uncles, cousins who never moved out of the house, and old folks who argued in Slovak in the hopes that the kids would never get wise (although they eventually did). Paul's mother would spin yarns she had heard a as little girl, and they sounded as if they had happened only recently. For years after it all fell apart, I would visit my former mother-in-law in Cleveland from time to time. Nana passed away several years ago, and I miss her to this day. But the stories her generation left behind, remain in Paul's memory, and help to define his heritage, in a way that my side of the family is entirely too well-behaved to duplicate.

Alright, enough of this sentimental stuff. Let's get down to business.

In his book Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, author Leon J Podles goes into excruciating detail about clerical sexual abuse cases dating to the 1940s, long before either rock and roll or Vatican II could be blamed for anything, in places like Davenport, Iowa -- a part of the world where we smarty-pants sophisticates on the East Coast don't imagine anything too racy ever happening. But it did, and it does. And when it does, the first instinct of whomever is in charge, is to ignore the problem. After all, if you ignore the problem, it'll go away, right?

No, it doesn't. It gets worse, until you can no longer ignore it. Then you get to scratch your head and wonder how it ever got to this. But contrary to what a group of cake-eaters in suburban Boston will maintain, you don't have to be a celibate male to fall for that old trick.

I know a parish where a pastor was found to have squirreled away thousands of dollars from the Sunday collection, to invest in child pornography. He was eventually removed from the clerical state, and won't be getting anywhere near a Roman collar, or anybody's children, anytime soon. But I know the people of this parish where the deed was done, and some of them would welcome him back in a heartbeat -- not because of any ideological bent, not because he's "one of God's holy priests" or some such pious yakkity-yak. They'd welcome him back because they're idiots!*

No, not individually idiots. One person or another can use the sense God gave a duck, and not be concerned with how it looks to others. (After all, God didn't give a duck a whole lot of sense.) But get them together in a room, and watch them look around to see what someone else says or does first. What's more, this gang of idiots will include married idiots, even female idiots. So you can just scratch the old "let's ordain women and married people so this doesn't happen ever" canard.

All of this occurred to me after talking with a friend the other day, about my wildly phenomenal piece entitled “A Scandal in Suburbia” and the related story in the Washington Post. It was suggested that I might issue a clarification. So here it is.

The Washington Post is responsible for the story in the Washington Post. Sylvia Mulherin is responsible for the things that Sylvia Mulherin said and did. The degree to which the account in the Washington Post is a true account of what happened at the parish in question, is something I have been able to verify independently. I am responsible for the telling of my encounters with the parish in question, and none of those encounters are fabricated. I am also responsible for my opinion of what the Washington Post reported about what Sylvia Mulherin said and did while associated with the parish in question. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not know Sylvia Mulherin, nor do I presume to judge her intentions. (Hey, check out her Facebook page. Her favorite people include Sarah Palin. How bad can she be?) But I do presume to judge her actions.

And if you think I am being judgmental, then you are being judgmental as well, by your own definition. :-P

There, that's my clarification. Here's where you come in.

What my personal accounts have to do with what the Washington Post reported, is left to you, dear reader. Maybe they're related, maybe not. I happen to believe that they are, because I have a vivid imagination, and an irrepressible tendency to seek out the big picture -- you know, the one that's usually ignored by people in charge for the sake of expediency. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong, because if I am, that's good for everybody. But if anything like this should ever happen in your neck of the woods, and you should ever be in a position to do something about it, there is a bit of advice that you might wish to consider.

Ignore the problem. It'll go away.

* How do I know this? I watched how his parishioners reacted (or didn't react) to extremely inappropriate behavior while he was their pastor. The man deserved a boot up his @$$, and they thought he walked on water.

(IMAGE: Copyright Gary Martin, 1996, 2010. Used without permission or shame.)

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