An Uncomfortable Night at the Pub
The last two days, I was away in Baltimore for the Mid-Atlantic Congress, “The MAC.” Were any of you there? What a great annual event to share ideas about religious education and ministry! And what a wonderful opportunity to meet and re-connect with so many workers in the vineyard! Thank you for all the good work you do for love of Christ, often with little financial reward or fanfare, but with plenty of frustration and, fortunately, even more faith, fidelity, and fun!
Now that our spirits are sufficiently lifted so that you can handle the cross (always a Transfiguration before the Passion), I want to share the worst incident of the weekend for me. It happened soon after I arrived late Thursday night. After checking into my hotel and dropping my bags off in the room, I ventured out to a local pub where I heard they serve a late-night menu. I was so hungry after my flight! (Remember when airlines served a meal onboard? I got peanuts. Literally.) Anyway, the pub was indeed still open and serving a full menu. It was also peacefully vacant for the most part, except for a few young women who were quietly conversing among themselves. The tranquil atmosphere was as necessary as the food for rejuvenating a weary traveler.
And then, only minutes after breathing in the silence, my peaceful experience abruptly came to an end. Two young men boisterously entered the bar, not with the frivolity of a fun time but with the unmistakeable tumult of trouble. I decided to eat quickly and make my exit before any problems arose. The air itself had transformed from tranquility to tension. I wanted nothing more than the quiet of my hotel room.
Before I could escape, though, the two men sat down at the bar near the young ladies. One of the men began engaging the women, loudly and obnoxiously, but apparently, effectively. A little banter went back and forth, the young man trying to show off his superior knowledge of all things, and in particular, baseball. One young woman accepted the implicit challenge and repeatedly demonstrated to any sober eavesdroppers (is it eavesdropping when the volume is ridiculously loud?) that she held the superior knowledge and understanding of the game. And then, she turned the tables on him. She asked him a question, a simple yes or no question about the sport.
Up until this point, everything was fairly typical of encounters that happen in pubs all the time. But then came the worst moment of my weekend. Instead of answering a simple, “Yes,” my obnoxious co-imbiber replied with three questions of his own, all designed to be witty ways of answering her question in the affirmative. First, he asked (and I’ll clean up the language), “Does a bear poop in the woods?” Then, he asked, “Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?” And finally, he dropped the biggest weapon in his arsenal, designed to win her affection by getting a laugh: “Does the pope like to touch little boys?”
The answer to the last question is a definitive No! Yet the fact that it could be included in this line of questioning says volumes. Anyone who thinks we have moved beyond the sex abuse crisis is out of their mind. Anyone who advises us to stop talking about it and just move on is not living in reality. We are not beyond it, nor should we be. Some priests and some bishops did real harm to our young people, directly or indirectly, many of whom live with scars that I imagine are exascerbated by any insinuation that we should all just move on. That is the primary scandal. The secondary scandal is the harm that was done to the faithful, to good priests and bishops (the overwhelming majority), and to the credibility of the Church as a witness to the Gospel. This secondary scandal was exemplified by the mocking question the young man asked about the pope. The image of the Church in popular culture has been deeply damaged. I would think this was tragic if not for the primary scandal, which alone deserves that designation.
The Gospel reading this weekend calls us to love our enemy. How can a Christian love his/her enemy when that criminal, who was revered and expected to be like Christ among us, exploited their youthful trust in order to abuse them? I don’t know the answer. I don’t even have a right to attempt an answer. Those who suffer from clergy abuse have sometimes (maybe often) been re-victimized by imposed silence and shame endured for years and even decades, by disbelief and scorn from others who didn’t want to accept the truth, and contempt and cynicism directed at them by other Catholics who suspected their motives. In “defense” of the Church, some Catholics abhorred the secondary scandal without acknowledging the primary scandal, seemingly unaware of the implications of St. Paul’s words in today’s second reading: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” They alone, those who suffer from this primary scandal, they alone have the right, by the grace of God, to figure out how and whether to forgive, how to fulfill the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
It is for the rest of us, I think, to hold them in prayer and compassion, and to make sure it never happens again. That means, at very least, doing the same thing that young man in the pub did (in his own warped way). Remembering.