10 Extremely Practical Suggestions to Improve Priestly Formation

Eamonn Clark

Due to recent events, priestly formation is on the brain of many Western Catholics. Everyone knows we should improve education, ascesis, accountability, etc., etc., ad infinitum. How do we do it?

While I am certainly not an expert, I do have relatively broad experience with priestly formation from a variety of perspectives. Here are 10 extremely practical suggestions, which could be put in practice in seminaries across the Western world, probably with some success.

  1. Un-Judaize the structure of the weekend. For autonomous seminaries, there is simply no excuse to follow the secular – and Jewish – logic of the Saturday-Sunday weekend. What this structure currently means is that seminarians party on Friday afternoons and evenings, when penance ought to be done. Saturday becomes the main day of rest. Sunday is the day to catch up on homework and other obligations. Not good. By shifting the weekend to Sunday-Monday, not only is the penance-rest paradigm fixed, but those with parish assignments during the year (especially deacons) are more able to engage with them. The current model often means jetting off from seminary to the parish Saturday afternoon, waiting around until the Vigil, and then helping Sunday morning masses and maybe some special event that evening. With a Sunday-Monday weekend, he can show up for the Vigil, be around all of Sunday, then be around for most of Monday, a normal day for the parish, its office, and its school if it has one.
  2. Have college seminarians do manual labor in a parish for one summer. “My hands were made for chalices, not callouses,” goes the sarcastic saying. Many young men who have generously offered their younger years to a formation program need a good experience of “real work” – and there is plenty of it to be done in every parish. Cutting grass, waxing floors, scraping gum off of desks in classrooms… The entitlement which can come with being a seminarian, especially at a young age, will be kicked in the gut. It will also give the young man a sense for what “normal people” do, and it will bestow an appreciation of the dignity of the work of all of his future employees. On the side he can help with some ministry, but his daily work is following around the maintenance crew or something similar.
  3. Put each seminarian in the cathedral or the curia for one summer. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for a diocesan bishop – especially a metropolitan – to meet with each of his seminarians maybe only once a year for a real talk. If this change were implemented, that sad reality would be much less of an issue. No longer will the bishop have an excuse for not being familiar with any of his men – he will have directly overseen them for at least a few weeks. Furthermore, the seminarian gets a perspective on that crucial part of the diocese, a definite advantage.
  4. As a condition for ordination, demand that each man make an oath that he has read at least once all of Sacred Scripture and every infallible declaration of the Ecumenical Councils and popes. How humiliating it is for a priest to have to confess to a parishioner that in fact he has not read the whole Bible – and yet, how tragically common this reality is. The laity may be less demanding with regard to the latter condition, but this is for a want of understanding of the seriousness of the matter, not a righteous sense of mercy. It is the business of the priest to know the Faith – how can he even pretend to be a Master in Israel until he can say with confidence that he has at least passed his eyes over these basic writings at least one time?
  5. Find families to “adopt” each seminarian in the house. In most locations, it is not hard to find an adequate number of pious and stable Catholic families who would be interested in such a ministry. The idea is for a family to get to know a particular man (or perhaps a few), to pray for him, and to have him come for a visit once a month or so. This keeps the local community invested in the success of the seminary, provides a special set of eyes for the sake of formation, gets the man out of the house and into a “normal” environment, and also provides the spiritual benefit of prayer. A little involvement in the life of a good Catholic family can be a very healthy experience for a seminarian, to keep him realistic about family life, to keep him “hungry” for ministry, and to keep him sane.
  6. Avoid assigning ministries or jobs which force a seminarian to “pretend to be a priest.” The reality is that seminarians are not priests, they are “laymen with an asterisk,” as it were. (This strange role-playing dynamic can also be confusing to others about the role of the priest.) There is a reason that Trent did away with the apprenticeship model of formation. Good mentors were not the problem – bad mentors were the problem, and no doubt many bad mentors simply let their apprentices try to stand in their places, either due to laziness or due to some misguided thought about having their men “try out.” Even the Catholic Encyclopedia article on seminaries, written in 1912, foresees only minimal pastoral work on the part of the seminarian. At least until immediate preparation for diaconate, the seminarian should almost exclusively be watching and being watched during serious pastoral work. He usually possesses neither the education nor the security to perform the duties which are more appropriate for priests, and he never possesses the grace of ordination.
  7. Have an extraordinary formator. This sounds strange until put next to its counterpart, which already exists in every seminary, namely, the extraordinary confessor. This is not a priest who is really, really good at hearing confessions; the extraordinary confessor is a priest who visits the seminary about once a month to hear confessions – and pretty much nothing else. He provides a safe opportunity to confess sins about, for example, cheating on a test, lying to the rector, or making some other mistake which would be difficult to confess to a faculty member, and difficult for a faculty member to hear. “Father, I cheated on your sacramental theology test – I actually don’t even know how many sacraments there are.” “Well, that’s awful, but I can’t do anything about it. You are still getting 100%.” Not ideal. Thus, the extraordinary confessor. However, perhaps this isn’t enough. Perhaps there is space for an extraordinary “formator” as well, like an auditor, who shows up once a month… Someone to complain to about, well, anything that is not appropriate to complain about to a normal faculty member. He would be half-way in the external forum, half-way in the internal forum. The identity of the seminarian is safe – he can say what is really on his mind without any fear of being found out, or, if there is such a fear, he can note it and let the extraordinary formator deal with it prudently. Whatever the case, this individual will have the dirt on every single man in the house, seminarian or formator, and it is up to him to manage it by regular meetings with the normal faculty and staff: but without ever revealing the names of any vulnerable seedlings, at least until absolutely necessary… like in court.
  8. Remove WiFi and Ethernet from residential halls. There are a number of advantages to this. Among them are the encouragement to gather together to discuss classwork and assignments, the need to go to a place dedicated solely to academic work to get things done, and the extra help to avoid misusing access to the internet in various ways. Of course, some will abuse the ability to connect with their cell phones, but the men who want the system to work will make it work; the ones who don’t will find a way pretty much no matter what is done.
  9. Incentivize more serious study by attaching it to room choice. In almost every house, the choice of one’s room is a big deal – near the chapel, away from the loud central A/C unit outside, on the bottom/middle/top floor, the window with the best view, etc., etc. Many places use a system of age, years spent in the house, lottery, and other “unearned” things. While some of these could factor in, why not also use GPA, at least for the top scorers? Then good grades are helped along by a friendly competition which has meaningful results.
  10. Once a month, the rector and head spiritual director choose together a special ascetical practice for the whole house. The hot water is turned off for the day. Lunch one Friday is bread and water. One Saturday night is a mandatory 3-hour vigil. These common experiences are good for the life of the brethren… When you suffer together, you grow together, and this develops unity, even if it comes partially through complaining!

Well, that’s it. Surely there are plenty more, but those are mine for now. Do you have any practical suggestions? Keep in mind that adding “one more thing” is always a big deal – the current programs of formation are already packed to the brim with “stuff.” Here I tried mostly to avoid adding more obligations and duties and mainly tried to suggest changes to the character of pre-existing realities. If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments – including if you disagree with any of my own proposals!

A final thought, somewhat related to formation, but a little outside… It could be worth investigating a split-model for diocesan vocation programs… Namely, a “vocation director” who gets men into the program, and then a “director of seminarians” who manages the men already in. A young guy deals with the rah-rah, come join us kind of stuff, and an older, more experienced, less vulnerable guy (even a “retired” priest) deals with the men already in. Some dioceses already do it, and basically every large religious order does something like this. Just a bonus thought.

Our Lady, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us!

Fake News, Real Vices: A Quick Take on CovCath

Eamonn Clark

On October 18th, 1925, Greece invaded Bulgaria. This event led to the death of nearly 200 people, including many civilians… But that’s not the whole story.

This November, the 100th anniversary will come of a treaty signed in my old neighborhood of Neuilly-sur-Seine, which attempted to resolve some geographical disputes in the Balkan region after World War I. Suffice to say that it remained a point of contention, and a dispute between Greece and Bulgaria over the control of Macedonia and Thrace carried on. About six years later, a young Greek soldier stationed near the edge of Bulgarian territory ran into a clearing in a little mountain pass, perhaps totally unaware that he had even crossed the border. He had no intention of attacking anyone or taking any land – he was chasing his dog, which had run away from him. Bulgarian sentinels quickly determined it was a Greek invasion and shot him dead. The aftermath was several days of open violent conflict around the border. Thus is the event called the “War of the Stray Dog.”

While this narrative is somewhat disputed, whatever the case, after the League of Nations intervened it was admitted by Bulgaria that the whole conflict had been caused by a misunderstanding.

We seem to have just finished our own version of the War of the Stray Dog today. There was political tension (Left vs. Right), a border crossed (perceived mistreatment of a member of an historically oppressed group), a uniform (MAGA hat), an innocent misunderstanding (trying not to be provoked), and a catastrophic aftermath (nation-wide condemnation, death threats, etc.).

Calling out moral failures in this hurricane of off-the-rails virtue-signaling is like shooting fish in a barrel. So I won’t bother – you’ve no doubt read the headlines about Lefty journalists and celebrities calling for violence against these kids, and about the bishops and dioceses who trusted the mainstream media’s narrative and piled on. I just want to point out a few things.

  1. It might not have been better if the kid had walked away. The optics could have even been worse – it might look even more racist to turn your back on a Native American, right? So there was no winning.
  2. High-school kids are not typically models of serenity and prudence. Period. Ask anyone who works in secondary education or has teenage kids. So even if there were excesses or missteps, it seems beyond unfair to hold 16-year-old kids to a standard of foresight and self-control more proper to a 4-star general.
  3. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you and yours. So look out.
  4. “Officially” condemning people is unwise unless it’s your job to do so. I am thinking especially of several ecclesiastical persons/institutions who had no direct business with either the kids or the March for Life. Why is it necessary to comment at all? Are there not problems in your own house to attend to without jumping on the virtue-signal bandwagon?
  5. Every year now, for some time, when the secular media begrudgingly mentions the March for Life in passing, they will not mention the staggering numbers (500k+), the positive atmosphere, or the salient points of main speakers… They will dig up old footage of a high school kid in a MAGA hat and a Native American with a drum and talk about “angry conservatives” and “Trumpian politics” and “counter protesters.” Thankfully, that’s a sign of desperation which I think most reasonable people on the fence will see through.

I think this incident may have popped the media balloon. Time will tell.

St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists, pray for us.

Seven False Messiahs – Which one do you believe in too much?

Eamonn Clark

The little writing I have been able to do outside of normal work has recently been quite fruitful. Allow me to share a schema which identifies seven false messianic paradigms (or expectations of what the Christ is supposed to be or do)… We all gravitate toward one or more of these, and it is the task of the Gift of Understanding to correct these errors (crushing our little mental idols of God), leading us toward the truth rather than imitations of it.

The Messiah is not primarily about any of the following things: politics, rubrics, therapeutics, economics, theatrics, academics, or aesthetics. He is concerned with each, but only halfheartedly, as it were. One can easily identify an “antichristic” figure who would fulfill each of the seven the way we are inclined to desire… But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Politics – This is the paradigm which dominates the Gospels, and its zenith is found in Peter. The Messiah will throw off Roman rule and usher in an age of peace in Israel, and there will be a big Jewish party in Jerusalem. When Peter tells Jesus he is ready to die for Him, he really means it: he will die for this cause which he has fallaciously projected onto Jesus. When he discovers in the Garden of Gethsemane that the political Messiah is not Jesus, his whole world of hopes and dreams collapses – this is not the Messiah Peter signed up for. It is also not a Messiah which can be legitimately invoked to sanction any prudential legislation which a state might have to produce. The things that are God’s are God’s, the things that are Caesar’s are Caesar’s. The Christ does not deign to sanction public policy which exceeds the boundaries of the Ten Commandments – it is beneath Him.

Rubrics – The Pharisees will immediately come to mind with this word, “rubrics.” This is correct, but it is not sufficient… The thought that the Messiah is supposed to keep everyone in line extends beyond the Torah, written and oral, and into normal human behavior as well. Why does God allow people to do evil things? How can grace come through wicked ministers? Isn’t this what the Messiah is supposed to fix? No, no it is not. The Messiah is not these people, after all, and His glory is behind the cloud.

Therapeutics – The encounter with the rich young man is one example of a search for a Therapist-Messiah. Those who merely want the Christ to affirm them rather than challenge them are falling prey to this trap. The Messiah has not come to bring peace, but a sword. The world of discipleship is not a “safe space,” it is a continual high-stakes battle against sin and self-confrontation for the sake of deeper conversion of heart. “Spiritual but not religious” is the apex of this calamitous paradigm.

Economics – The crowds are like the Devil… They want the Messiah to turn stones into bread. The feeding of the 5,000 prompted the crowd to try to take Jesus away to make Him their king (John 6: 15). They are hoping for an endless Divine buffet, not of the Bread from Heaven, but of literal bread. It turns out that the Divine medical clinic was not in the cards either, though such arrangements would certainly have improved the temporal quality of life of, well, everyone. But civic works, as nice as they are, are not what the Christ has come for.

Theatrics – We’ve had the bread, so what about the circuses? Again like the Devil, the crowds always want a show. They want signs… meaning spectacular outward manifestations of Divine power. But this didn’t work for their forefathers in the Desert, and it will not work for them either, for miracles not only aren’t the point of the Messiah, they do not even of themselves suffice to create faith.

Academics – Those who regularly pray the Office of Readings might recall St. Francis Xavier’s scathing critique of the scholars in Paris… Surely, to turn the Christ into a mere object of study and intrigue is a deadly error. We might think of Herod as a prototype, who loved to listen to John the Baptist, but would not repent, and who longed to see Jesus for some time out of curiosity (which plugs into theatrics as well). The Messiah has not come simply to be an interesting point of debate, He has come for something greater. To reduce faith to study and learning is, therefore, a colossal error. Faith is the result of grace.

Aesthetics – Finally, we have a kind of catch-all error. In general, the Messiah has not come to create a certain kind of experience of God. “Stop holding on to me,” the Risen Lord tells the Magdalene… The Kingdom is not of this world, it is of eternity and consists in grace – it is a silent and invisible reality, at least for now. No fire or storm or earthquake is necessary. While we might point to some ancient errors and movements as examples of aesthetic errors, surely we can acknowledge some in our own day, such as certain attitudes which can surround the liturgy (with both libs and trads) or spiritual growth in general, such as I have discussed elsewhere. The Messiah is not about creating certain feelings or experiences, nice as those may be.

More false paradigms could possibly be added, though these will suffice for today. It is also a worthy endeavor to explore various combinations of these errors to see what kind of behavior and mindset they cause when working in tandem, such as with so-called “moralistic therapeutic deism“… But I will leave that to you the reader to do for yourself.

What, then, is the Messiah really about? In what does “messianics” really consist? Well, it is partially concerned with the 7 things above… But only indirectly. Christ is concerned with economics, for example, but it is not the primary mission. He is really concerned with how people relate with laws and protocol, but again, that is not the fundamental point.

The Messiah is Revelator and Redeemer. He gives us doctrine ordered to salvation, and then He actually offers us that salvation through Himself. All other activities of the Christ center around and are ordered to revelation and redemption – showing the way to God, or helping us to walk it. That road is narrow, but its gatekeeper is the real Christ… The wide road has a different gatekeeper, who also is concerned with politics, economics, and so on, albeit in a direct and fundamental way – it is the Devil, or the antichrist, wherein we see fine temporal “leadership,” but a terrible eternal friend.

The New Battle for Canaan

Eamonn Clark

About 3,300 years ago, Moses died on Mount Nebo, as a symbolic punishment. I have been to the spot and looked out at the land of Israel from afar, just what Moses would have seen. (A picture I took is above.) It was a hazy day, making it difficult to see everything.

The death of Moses occasioned the rise of his disciple Joshua (Hebrew “Yeshua”) who was commissioned to lead the Jews finally into this mysterious land of Canaan beyond the Jordan, their inheritance by Divine right. Joshua leads a ruthless campaign against the pagan occupiers of the land. (Here is where many of those “difficult” passages of Scripture are found…) The point of the violence is to drive out idolatry from the new home of God’s Chosen People, lest they be tempted to go after other gods. The First Commandment is first for a reason: it is the most important. If you do not worship the one true God, your natural virtue comes to nothing – the fundamental orientation of your life is wrong. To safeguard from such egregious sin, Joshua is given this task of purification.

While Joshua destroys most of the idol cults, he does not succeed fully. A remnant of paganism remains, and this remnant will lead many Jews astray. The predominant goal of the Prophets is precisely to condemn this idolatrous activity, especially on the part of the Kings. Eventually, Israel’s unfaithfulness is so bad that the Temple is destroyed and they are kicked out of the land of Canaan, exiled to Babylon – a wake up call if there ever was one.

What does this have to do with Advent and Christmas?

With the end of the Old Covenants, the Old Law, and the prophetic tradition, characterized by the figure of Moses, there comes a New Joshua – Jesus. In fact, the name Jesus is actually just a different appropriation of the same name, Yeshua. The fierce battle cry of the mighty Joshua is no match for the gentle coos of the little Christ child. The pagan warriors of Canaan may have trembled at the one, but the demons trembled at the other.

When the mythological tradition of the Ancient Near East is recalling the death of the gods (winter), the God of Israel is being truly born. (Yes, I do think that December 25th is the correct date of the historical Nativity, just like Benedict XVI.) The one true God will later die in the spring while the pagan gods are rising, but He will rise too. He has conquered them. But sin continues… There is still a war to fight.

The ongoing battle of the new Joshua is not the exterior Canaan, it is the interior one. The Christ comes into our mysterious hearts and seeks to purify them of idols that lead us into sin and worldly attachment, even at the expense of our suffering. This war is fought with grace and love rather than swords and arrows, and if we do not surrender we will win a battle that condemns us to dwell on the Nebo of the hereafter, always looking at the real Promised Land, longing for it, and never being able to enter.

However, if we welcome the New Joshua to be born into the Canaan of our souls, and if we let Him do the painful work of purification, we will see the New Jerusalem clearly and enter in.

And that’s what Christmas is all about.

St. John of the Cross, pray for us.

Prophets in Israel

Eamonn Clark

A little prophetic history to mull over on your Monday…

When Israel entered Egypt, it took them 430 years to escape and get to Canaan. Solomon’s Temple is around for about 430 years. After the Exile, Malachi is the last of the prophets, for… about 430 years, up until John the Baptist (or arguably the ones giving us any of the Lucan canticles – but really John is the culmination of the prophetic tradition).

What does this mean? At least 3 things…

1 – God has a plan, and it involves patterns. Numerology is not necessarily “superstitious,” and it deserves serious consideration in the study of salvation history. God knows that we like patterns and that we are inclined to look for them and understand things by them, so it stands to reason that He would use them, just like other natural inclinations (like mythic archetypes, bodily communion, etc.)

2 – These ages are mirrors of each other in some way. I leave that for your own reflection… Deserts, places of prayer, spiritual patronage… and those things’ beginnings and ends.

3 – You can’t fake being a prophet in Israel. One would think that if you could, it would have happened at some point in 430 years. But it didn’t. Prophets were truly extraordinary teachers and preachers with the grace of God ensuring the success or at least the authority of their prophetic career.

Lessons for the Church from the Kavanaugh Debacle

Eamonn Clark

In the past few years, it has become evident that a vast number of people, including some average pew-sitting Catholics, do not understand the value of jurisprudence – that is, the principled examination and judgment on some matter of justice by a legitimately authorized party. The show-trial of Justice Kavanaugh is a wonderful case-study.

By now, there is a mountain of both negative and positive evidence against the claims of the main accuser. (The other accusers have all but been entirely discredited at this point.) To date, there is not a single significant piece of corroboration or verification, and if there were more holes in her story it wouldn’t even exist. (To me it seems like a jumble of “recovered” memories, but I digress.) But somehow this seems not to be enough for 49 U.S. senators, millions of Americans, and many foreign onlookers. To which I say: why?

“It’s not a trial, it’s a job interview – it has higher standards.” This is the claim. Well, fair enough… But we would never want our father, our son, our brother, our friend to be treated in such a way for any reason. We would want for them the presumption of innocence. In this particular case, there is not even probable suspicion (enough for warrants or subpoenas), to make no mention of a preponderance of the evidence, the step below what is necessary for conviction (“beyond a reasonable doubt”).

It is different with Kavanaugh because, despite his (appropriately) evasive answers regarding the matter, he is obviously not a champion of the pro-choice cause. It is this unwelcome ideology which primarily motivated the grossly unjust and immature tactics that are clear to all who don’t have a devotion to Roe and the DNC platform in general.

What does this have to do with the Church?

There are many, many bishops and clergy who have unwelcome opinions (whether heterodox or not). Some of them are very powerful and enjoy great public respect, and nonetheless they have been accused of allowing or covering up bad things (like… sexual abuse), or they have been accused of such things themselves. (Frankly, it is surprising that nobody tried to tie Kavanaugh to McCarrick, given that the former has been a prominent Catholic in D.C. for many years. Maybe that would have come eventually: “He knew someone who knew what McCarrick had done, therefore he was guilty of helping to conceal abuse! We must investigate!” Etc.) We are watching our own investigative debacle unfold with the Viganò accusations (and beyond) about similar issues… And we are facing a litany of coming grand jury reports in the USA.

Some accused clerics are guilty. Some of them are not. We all know this. What is challenging is some principles of jurisprudence, especially when applying them outside the courtroom. So perhaps this is a good moment for the Church to reflect on what we all just watched happen in the USA. There are many lessons to take from the Kavanaugh debacle.

Lesson #1: Truth is not the only value in investigations

We’ve heard that “if finding the truth is all matters” then the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh would have been open-ended (viz., endless, thus destroying or at least severely limiting his chances of confirmation). The problem is, prescinding from any partisan desires about what the truth is or when and how it should be found, finding the truth is not all that matters. Fairness matters as well, given that the truth must be found through a process. Sometimes, what must be done to find the truth, or to get as close as possible, involves unfairness. This is why, for example, evidence obtained by unlawful search and seizure is inadmissible in court, even if it could demonstrate the defendant’s guilt. Even though everyone knows the defendant is guilty, it’s impossible to convict him, because if that’s done, then the entire set of principles of search and seizure laws falls apart. But sometimes an unfair process is used against a person who is innocent.

All well and good for criminal convictions, but one can’t unsee incriminating evidence. However, a weaker version of the principle of the presumption of innocence should pervade the formation of our opinions of those accused of terrible crimes. We should, in fact, usually suspend judgment until sufficient evidence comes forward and/or the accused has a chance to speak. In the meantime, we don’t get to ruin someone’s life, either by publicizing our ill-formed premature judgments in favor of the accuser or by digging into every crevice of the accused’s personal life, especially if we are putting it on public display.

This includes priests and bishops and other church officials… Investigations need to follow a reasonable path of questioning which, at some point, needs to be terminated. The goal should not be to find corroboration/substantiation – because if there is no such evidence, the investigation will never finish…

Lesson #2: Reputation is extremely valuable

St. Thomas puts the value of a good name under the value of life and over the value of physical possessions. (By the way, his Question on Unjust Accusations is also relevant – and it is really dynamite.) Once taken away, a good name normally can’t be regained except with extreme difficulty.

I’ve linked to this article from Homiletic and Pastoral Review before, but here is a quick summary:

Publishing the names of clerics who have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse is pointless, arbitrary, harmful to morale among the clergy, and, depending the standard used, egregiously sinful.

To take a diocese named in the HPR article, a current statement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore exemplifies the lamentable sort of tendency to put “accountability” above basic norms of jurisprudence. A document produced in response to a recent “listening session” in the Archdiocese lists several gravely problematic items, such as:

“Since 2002, the Archdiocese has disclosed the names of credibly accused priests at the time the allegations became known. Their names have been updated to the original list, which is posted on the archdiocese’s website.”

The central problem here is this: who decides what “credible” means, why is it that person or persons, and how do they determine that credibility? It is a mystery. I won’t go through the entire argument which the HPR article presents (it is really worth reading for yourself), but suffice it to say that this is a fatal flaw. It is especially absurd to say that the allegations are published as soon as they become known – taken at face value, this means that a judgment is made instantly about the credibility of an accusation, supposedly meaning that it meets the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, without even hearing the accused give any kind of defense or seriously weighing the available evidence before possibly helping to ruin a person’s good name unnecessarily. Perhaps Baltimore has a very thick and subtle manual of how to determine “credibility” which is meticulously followed and they are here overstating or poorly stating their approach, but no such manual is referenced. (This same document does mention a “lay independent review board,” but it is unclear about its role in determining “credibility.”) It leaves the impression that their process is astonishingly imprudent and grossly unjust. Beyond that, it is not even clear what good publishing these names actually accomplishes, which is in part why basically no company, anywhere, ever, has had such a policy for their employees.

“The Archdiocese hosts a public meeting when a priest or other minister of the Church in active ministry is credibly accused of abuse.”

Why? So that anyone with an interest in harming that person or the Church in general has a chance to capitalize on an allegation? (This is exactly what we saw happen with Kavanaugh… Publicity can encourage a dog pile if it’s the right person being accused. Wicked people see that this is their chance to get some money, hurt a cause, forward an agenda, draw attention to themselves, etc.) It seems outlandish to do anything other than launch a discrete formal inquiry among trustworthy people who might have relevant information and who can keep their mouths shut about the investigation.

“There is zero tolerance for anyone found to be credibly accused of abuse. Anyone who is credibly accused of child sexual abuse is permanently removed from ministry.”

Leaving aside the weirdness of switching from the extremely vague word “abuse” to the still vague phrase “child sexual abuse,” we return to the central question: who decides what “credible” means? And what if it comes out that the accuser was wrong? Surely, it would not mean a “permanent” removal then, right? If there is a process of appeal and reinstatement, why use such threatening language? It reads like a juvenile smokescreen at best, and a draconian strong-arm at worst.

Much like secular liberals’ use of the words “tolerance” and “equality,” so do some dioceses use words like “accountability” and “transparency” – if you are on the “wrong side” of someone’s desires or opinions, you will be made to pay dearly. There is then “zero tolerance” for you. But no mention will be made of “zero tolerance” for false accusers, or unfair investigative practices, or unnecessary publicity. St. Thomas’ take on false accusations is worth explaining briefly: basically, if an accuser is unable to prove what he says, he should be sentenced just as the defendant would have been if found guilty. Now, perhaps it should be subject to a slightly lower standard than a conviction (such as preponderance-of-the-evidence), but this is a serious suggestion from a serious thinker which seems entirely forgotten. It would deter frivolous accusations and opportunists.

At any rate, the approach of dioceses like Baltimore is more akin to Lady MacBeth washing her hands than to balanced self-policing. And I have seen this intemperate attitude cause serious harm. The righteous intention to protect the vulnerable is achieved by adopting a strategy which is something between ritual purity and a witch-hunt. And given that scandal-plagued Maryland is now facing a Grand Jury investigation, this is all the more relevant for poor Baltimore.

Note too, by the way, that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in fact did not attempt to give us a list of priests found guilty of sexual abuse, except indirectly. (Nor will any other similar report in the future.) It gave us a list of “church personnel” who were accused of “sexual abuse” (a vague term) in a way the investigators thought credible enough to include in their investigative report. That is quite a different thing. Consider, for example, the report’s inclusion of an allegation against Fr. Ganter, who was born in the 1800’s… The incident supposedly happened some 80 years ago. And yet his name is among those “credibly accused,” even though he’d been falsely accused in the 40’s by three kids who later admitted they had lied. Perhaps the Grand Jury conflated “realistic” with “credible” – an easy but disastrous mistake.

Lesson #3: The opinions of survivors are not sacrosanct

As I pointed out in another post, experience is not the same as wisdom, and this error is pervasive in the Left. (Experience is especially not partial-omniscience – as if being a survivor of sexual assault means you know what happened 36 years ago in an unknown house in suburban D.C.) Having been through some experience simply does not make a person an expert on the objective causes and effects of that kind of event. A child who grows up in a war may indeed be able to describe what it feels like to be afraid of bombs every night, but he might not be a wise counselor to a General fighting a war. In fact, his own experience might blind him to the broader picture. For example, he may be so empathetic to kids like him that his advice to forego an attack with a moderate risk of collateral damage would occasion the enemy’s victory, resulting in far more damage than what was avoided.

As we saw with the unending barrage of feminist activists in the news, this is not so popular a doctrine. Especially remarkable was the encounter with Sen. Flake and some women who accosted him in an elevator, which occasioned the supplementary FBI investigation. I suppose the argument is, “I was abused by someone once, therefore Kavanaugh is guilty of abusing this other person.”

It is surely important to give a forum for survivors to speak their mind, to tell their stories, and generally to feel heard and consoled. However, one need not have survived a sexual assault to know how to investigate an accusation of sexual assault. And sometimes people further removed from an experience of abuse have a clearer mind on the issue, as there is no projection of one’s own experience onto other cases which might be quite different in nature.

Lesson #4: We are not so holy

As I recall the story, one day, an elderly St. Francis of Assisi was praised by a man for being a living saint. His reply: “I could still father many children,” implying not that he still just might get married one day and have a big happy family, but rather that he still just might become a monster. The moral is twofold – don’t definitively praise a man’s virtue until he’s dead, and don’t presume that you are beyond stooping to any level of sin. A corollary would be to see another’s failings in light of one’s own experience of sin… (There was one senator in particular who was troubling in this regard, as he has admitted to groping a girl in high school while she was intoxicated.)

To expect absolute moral perfection from anyone other than God or the saints in Heaven is stupid. It is especially stupid, hypocritical, and sinful to find as many flaws as possible in a person’s distant past to smear his or her character. This is becoming more and more relevant – consider that there might be some young man right now saying dumb things on Facebook who will one day be elected Bishop of Rome.

Frankly, watching the Senate proceedings reminded me of Christ arguing with the Pharisees and scribes – trick questions, a clear ideological agenda, a double-standard, feigned or unjustified outrage, hypocrisy, the bastardization of the fundamental text at issue… But we could all become like that. And all of us would without God’s special grace.

Lesson #5: Tribalism is bad in rational discourse

If one were to remove the letters after the names of the senators involved in the investigations and hearings, and a nameless president had nominated an opinion-less judge, what sense could possibly be made of this whole affair? None, I suggest. Epistemic vice became moral error. An observer to such a politically neutral hypothetical fiasco following the outline of the Kavanaugh debacle would be astounded by some senators’ fanatical commitment displayed to investigating seriously dubious allegations, obsession over drinking habits and notes in a high school yearbook, deep concern about judicial temperament over mild expressions of frustration at being accused of running a gang rape/drug ring and raging alcoholism in front of millions of people without any corroborative evidence, etc.

Targeted anger, imbalanced presumptions, motivated reasoning, double-standards… It’s all very bad, and it’s all very easy to fall into, due in no small part to the fact that fights can be fun and give us a sense of meaning and belonging. We have to avoid it – for the Church, the party lines might be “conservatives” and “liberals,” or “laity” and “clergy,” or “bishops” and “everyone else,” or “my diocese” and “the Vatican.” Well, as it turns out, people are complicated, and so too is human conflict. Tribalism deadens the senses to this reality.

Advocacy groups are a good thing. Lawyers are a good thing. (Incredible, but true.) But mobs are bad. And when advocacy groups or lawyers are indistinguishable from the mob, that’s when you have trouble. There are certainly predatory clerics around, and they have been concealed by other clerics. For sure. But this calls for the use of scalpels rather than hammers – let alone torches and pitchforks.

Lesson #6: Abortion is worth everything to the Left

They are willing to weaponize practically baseless accusations to run a man’s good name into the ground and then some. (This might also include the accuser, who apparently wanted to remain anonymous to the public.) And anyone who does not realize that the whole thing was about Roe v. Wade needs a serious wake-up call. SCOTUS is now a majority pro-life bench… The Leftists are terrified, they are wounded, and therefore they are extremely dangerous. Whom will they come for next to safeguard the great sacrament of the Canaanites? Me? You? Your parish priest? Your bishop? The pope? Be on your guard.

Lesson #7: Sometimes it’s just not worth it

“Reception is according to the mode of the receiver,” goes the old adage. The screaming banshees near the senate gallery, the protesters pathetically clawing at the 13-ton doors of the Supreme Court, or even the folks chanting trite little poems out on the street, are not going to be convinced by reason anytime soon. (Although, to be fair, some of them turned out to be paid to protest, so maybe they could be reached.) They feel like such-and-such is true, and that’s enough for them. Or it’s politically convenient for such-and-such to be true, and that’s enough for them. It doesn’t matter what the actual evidence is…

These people are incapable of being reasoned with, at least for the moment. As St. Thomas would say, it is like arguing with a vegetable. So, what to do? Let the banshees scream, and just do what needs to be done. Maybe eventually they can be reached, but not right now.

Plenty of people are so unbelievably angry with the Church that it is just not the right time to reach them. Some people are angry with moderate jurisprudence for accused clerics. So be it – let them be angry, and meanwhile let’s focus on doing what is truly just. Justice, by the way, is one of three goods which allows for grave scandal, in St. Thomas’ mind, the others being life and teaching right doctrine.

Lesson #8: Beware of false friends

There are many snakes in the grass who are willing to hurt good people by lying about them or otherwise damaging their reputation… Some of them are or have been “friends.”

People who are counting on secular Grand Jury reports to “fix the Church” might be falling into such a trap. Remember that Judas was not only a traitor to his Friend, but he also trusted the government too much. The two sins went together.

It is His Church, not the country’s.

Enough said.

Lesson #9: Men are seriously vulnerable in the #metoo era

This is especially true for priests. I once heard of a bishop who had a policy when he was around kids (which I suppose for him would only be at major public events), which was this: at all times, have one hand on the crosier, and one hand on the pectoral cross… Thus he protected himself from accusations. And many good clergy live in this kind of fear, a fear which is becoming less and less neurotic as the moral panic increases among the laity. They need our support, and anything we can do to help protect them is good – help them retain plausible deniability (like appropriately reminding them of diocesan CYP policies, not putting them in situations where they could easily be accused “credibly” by a mischievous kid, etc.), encourage them to stay beyond all reproach, tell them you trust them. It all helps.

It might also be worth it for clergy to take a cue from Justice Kavanaugh, who has kept a rather meticulous personal calendar for decades (remarkable!) which he produced in favor of his innocence… Names, places, times, activities. Tell your secretary to keep all of it on file, and to correct it if there are any missed appointments, unexpected events, etc. by making a special note. I know I’m considering doing this.

Lesson  #10: God alone is the Just Judge

Any human justice system is going to be imperfect. There will always be procedural rules about due process which occasion the protection of real criminals. There will always be innocent people wrongly accused who are found guilty in a fair trial.

History, strictly speaking, can never be demonstrated. We will never be totally sure about what happened in some house in suburban D.C. 36 years ago. We will never be totally sure about the veracity of any accusation of a crime, as in the end it could always have been a carefully crafted hoax to get someone framed, or an unrealistic truth. And yet we need to do our best anyway.

God, however, does not investigate – He knows, and His judgment is always just.

True Myth Part 4: Jesus and the Tricksters

Eamonn Clark

Jumping ahead quite a bit in Scripture in our “true myth” series, today we will look at an incredibly powerful relationship between Jesus Christ and the “trickster archetype.”

Fans of the Baltimore Catechism will recall that God “neither deceives nor is deceived.” How then, could God incarnate fit into this paradigmatic role of the Trickster, occupied by deceptive figures such as Loki, Hades, various coyotes, ravens, and other such creatures – including serpents – throughout the history of mythology? These figures use trickery in order to gain power… What does Jesus have to do with this?

Without a full exploration of the ins and outs of the trickster paradigm, we can point out just a few commonalities which apply to Jesus:

  1. He is, in many ways, in between life and death. (See Levi-Strauss on this characteristic of tricksters qua mediators of life and death for more… think of how the animals which normally portray trickster characters are neither herbivores nor hunters but eat already dead animals…) Here are some examples of this “in between” space:
    1. The Baptism in the Jordan – in between the Nations (death) and Israel (life), in between the Sea of Galilee (full of fish and where He calls the first disciples) and the Dead Sea (…dead…), in the midst of the flourishing jungle but in the lowest part of planet Earth, and in water (which both gives and takes life).
    2. His first act after the Baptism – He goes out into the desert (to deal with a real trickster) in between Jericho, the city of sin and death, and Jerusalem, the city of spirit and life… This same space will be the setting for the story about the Good Samaritan (representing Himself), who picks up the half-dead (!) sojourner (Adam), of which He is the renewal.
    3. He touches the unclean (symbols of death) and gives healing/life – For example, the raising of the little girl in Mark 5, or the healing of the leper in Matthew 8.
    4. The Resurrection – Did He actually die? Is He really alive? Whatever the case, it’s clear that our sense of the “in between” is tapped into… The psychology of the uncanny valley is maxed out.
  2. He normally dwells on the outskirts of society, frequently retreating to the wilderness for solitude. Much of the 3 years of the public ministry is spent camping just near the Decapolis and other such places. Bethany is another place worth mentioning, as it is not quite in Jerusalem, but it is near it, where he raises Lazarus from the dead (more “in between” life and death imagery) and prepares for Passover for the last time… Gethsemane and Golgotha are also just outside Jerusalem.
  3. He claims the role of a gatekeeper to the underworld. (Even more death-life ambiguity.) “I hold the keys of life and death,” He says in Revelation 1:18. Or take John 10:9 – “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved,” or John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  4. He is a shapeshifter.
    1. The Resurrection – He is the same, but different. (More ambiguity!) The disciples can only half recognize Him, though the wounds give testimony that it really is the same man they knew. But He is changed somehow.
    2. The Eucharist – Jesus literally takes the shape of bread and wine.
    3. God has become a human being – certainly a kind of changing shape, albeit in a qualified sense.
  5. He cannot be contained or caught by the power of opponents. He passes through the crowd, or He hides effectively, as seen in many passages in the Gospels, such as the rejection at Nazareth in Luke 4. Instead, only He has the power to lay down His life… and take it up again (John 10:18).
  6. He does not often give direct answers. Instead, He speaks in parables, riddles, questions, and ambiguities. He arguably only directly answers 3 questions of the over 100 put to Him, and He arguably asks over 300.

Other “trickster” characteristics might be noted as well, such as spiritual power, unclear origins, and a preference for working in the midst of obscurity and chaos. What are we to make of all this?

It is that Jesus goes to the most “uncomfortable” place in our psychology and asks us, nonetheless, to trust Him. So one of the deepest parts of our mind, which is intuitively inclined to see the brokenness of the world, is “cured” by His reversal of the trickster archetype.

God “deceives” in a way by becoming human (thus not “looking like God,” as He did on Mount Sinai with fire and thunder), in order to gain the power of persuasion or condescension. But also, and perhaps in a deeper and plainer sense, God is not only reversing the trickster’s goal-paradigm but inverting it as well… Instead of deceiving to become powerful, God becomes weak in order to tell the truth.

 

Scripture and the Crisis – Part 3

Eamonn Clark

See Part 1 and Part 2. Today we look at the story of the Levite and his concubine at the end of the Book of Judges. Warning: do not read while eating.

Judges 19-20

In those days Israel had no king. [The chaos of Israel after Joshua’s death is ominously summed up in this line, which is repeated several times throughout the Book of Judges. It is a lawless land. Here, near the end of the age of the quasi-vigilantism of the Judges, we see moral corruption at its peak in a story which is perhaps the most gruesome of the entire Old Testament.]

Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. [The Levites were the sacred tribe which held no land of its own and from which all the priests came. What is this Levite doing in the wilderness, away from civilization? He is near the tabernacle at Shiloh but is not obviously personally dedicated to it. He certainly does not seem to be interested in the hermitage for the sake of private prayer… Why is he taking a half-wife from a city already known (from the previous chapters of Judges) to be a source of intense corruption of worship (namely, idolatry)? This shady situation already blurs some lines: the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the natural, and the conjugal and celibate. Nothing is immoral in itself so far, but we should expect trouble with such ambiguity and proximity to sin. And how we have allowed these same lines to be blurred in the past decades… It is no longer the flesh descendants of Levi, but the spiritual descendants of Melchizedek – the clergy – who have been wandering about, swinging close to sin, and blurring lines. Much of this also has to do with concern for proper worship.] But she was unfaithful to him. [An idolatrous hometown breeds unfaithfulness – go figure.] She left him and went back to her parents’ home in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her parents’ home, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him.  His father-in-law, the woman’s father, prevailed on him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there.

On the fourth day they got up early and he prepared to leave, but the woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Refresh yourself with something to eat; then you can go.” So the two of them sat down to eat and drink together. Afterward the woman’s father said, “Please stay tonight and enjoy yourself.” And when the man got up to go, his father-in-law persuaded him, so he stayed there that night. On the morning of the fifth day, when he rose to go, the woman’s father said, “Refresh yourself. Wait till afternoon!” So the two of them ate together.

Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the woman’s father, said, “Now look, it’s almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home.” 10 But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. [The inconstancy of the Levite, triggered by a desire for food and drink, for rest, and for pleasing his concubine’s father, ends in imprudent haste. Such closeness with the world will lead to bad decision-making, it seems, where the darkness will come quickly, bringing trouble with it.]

11 When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let’s stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night.”

12 His master replied, “No. We won’t go into any city whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.” 13 He added, “Come, let’s try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places.” [Jebus – Jerusalem – was at that point not yet a Jewish city. The Levite’s insistence on staying among the children of Israel signals a kind of piety, but also a false sense of security. “As long as we are with God’s chosen people, we will be alright.”] 14 So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin.15 There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them in for the night. [Recall how the angels visiting Lot were also going to stay in the square. Nobody is on the lookout anymore.]

16 That evening an old man from the hill country of Ephraim, who was living in Gibeah (the inhabitants of the place were Benjamites), came in from his work in the fields. 17 When he looked and saw the traveller in the city square, the old man asked, “Where are you going? Where did you come from?” [The perfect set of questions for the Church these days, especially the hierarchy.]

18 He answered, “We are on our way from Bethlehem in Judah to a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim where I live. I have been to Bethlehem in Judah and now I am going to the house of the Lord. No one has taken me in for the night. 19 We have both straw and fodder for our donkeys and bread and wine for ourselves your servants—me, the woman and the young man with us. We don’t need anything.” [Notice the strangeness of the Levite’s answer… Is he going to Ephraim’s hill country, or to the tabernacle at Shiloh? He apparently complains that nobody has provided hospitality, but then says he doesn’t need anything. As we have seen already, he is a confused man.]

20 “You are welcome at my house,” the old man said. “Let me supply whatever you need. Only don’t spend the night in the square.” 21 So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. [Quite the partier this Levite is.]

22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” [Like the men of Sodom, they are opportunists, but they are also homosexuals. The two dispositions are not caused by each other, but evidently, they exacerbate each other.]

23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.” [This is almost exactly the same as the episode in Sodom. But now watch the turn…]

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine [the one who had motivated the whole journey he is on, whom he went to retrieve 4 months after her unfaithfulness!] and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. [The men are so full of lust that they are placated by this woman being put in their midst. The Levite’s willingness to do this, however, does not seem to be quite the same as the owner of the house. We do not hear a complaint from the Levite – perhaps he is just a coward. He is half-hearted and uncertain, as we have seen throughout the whole story, except when it comes to protecting himself. Even though he would have been overcome by the mob, he at least could have made his concerns known. After all, the sacred caste has a special duty to speak out against evil! Why is it not the Levite who is exhorting and castigating the mob?] 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.

27 When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. [How many victims of abuse are captured by this image? Longing for safety and acceptance, only to have become so weakened that they can merely lay at the threshold.] 28 He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” [See the pastoral skills of the Levite at work.] But there was no answer. [Now comes the turning point…] Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. [The realization that his half-beloved has been killed seems to move him to mercy. About a thousand years later, Christ will tell a story in which a Levite fails to pick up a man only half-dead for fear of being made unclean. Only now does the Levite begin to be “serious” about loving, and in a way it is too late… But what he lacks in timeliness, he arguably makes up for in grotesque theatricality.]

29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it was saying to one another, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So speak up!” [And this is what we have seen happen. The effects of abuse have been sent around the Earth, in all its graphic nature. The nations are horrified and enraged, and rightly so. In our day, it is arguably worse, as it was not a group of Levites who abused the woman but other men. How much more intense might the reaction of Israel have been if such a thing had happened in the shadow of the tabernacle at Shiloh…]

(20) 1Then all Israel from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came together as one and assembled before the Lord in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, four hundred thousand men armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.”

So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and outrageous act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and tell me what you have decided to do.”

All the men rose up together as one, saying, “None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. But now this is what we’ll do to Gibeah: We’ll go up against it in the order decided by casting lots.

12 The tribes of Israel sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What about this awful crime that was committed among you? 13 Now turn those wicked men of Gibeah over to us so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.” [Again, like we’ve seen in the two other passages we’ve looked at before, the penalty which is seen as appropriate is extreme – but so too has the evil been extreme.]

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. [One might be inclined to say that they don’t want to go down the rabbit hole on this.] 14 From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. 15 At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. 16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. [We see now two groups – the Benjamites, who don’t seem to think that retribution for a crime is all that important when it concerns men of their own kin, and the men of Gibeah themselves, the one who actually perpetrated the crime. They are now defended by many armed men, including highly skilled warriors – who shoot from the “sinister” hand.]

17 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle. [They have far more men, but Benjamin is more greatly invested in victory… Their own existence seems to be on the line.]

18 The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?”

The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first.”

…(the Benjamites kill 22,000, then 18,000 in a series of battles commanded by the Lord – they pray and fast and weep and ask again if they should go up)…

The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.” [God has desired the fighting to occur even though He knew Benjamin would cut down so many good men. But now, God will fight on the side of the good guys.]

29 Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. 30 They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. 31 The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads—the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah. 32 While the Benjamites were saying, “We are defeating them as before,” the Israelites were saying, “Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.” [Benjamin is lulled into a false sense of security by their apparent dominance, then this arrogance is capitalized on by the other tribes. What exactly such a strategy would look like today, I do not know.]

33 All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west of Gibeah. 34 Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was. 35 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. 36 Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten. [Ultimately, the victory belongs to God. And it will come unexpectedly and swiftly.]

The Israelites go on to destroy all the cities and towns of Benjamin, although a small remnant of Benjamin escapes alive, not only because no tribe can be entirely snuffed out among Israel, but also as a reminder that evil can never truly be entirely rooted out in this life. The Levite’s lack of good sense is what occasioned all of this, however. While he is not the perpetrator of the abuse himself, he could have taken many steps to avoid such a catastrophe. There are many lessons here for clerical culture – the importance of clear boundaries and categories in relationships, dedication to frequent and right worship, a clear sense of purpose and personal identity, appropriate distance from worldly pleasures, careful decision-making, and courage to speak out against evil – even, sometimes, in the face of the mob.

Next time, we’ll look at some of the personal psychology involved in abuse… Be sure to subscribe to be notified!

Scripture and the Crisis – Part 2

Eamonn Clark

See Part 1. Let’s take a look at a different aspect of the crisis – the “cover-up.” We turn to the Book of Joshua, just after the destruction of Jericho, the city of sin. The spoils were supposed to be dedicated to the Lord and put in His treasury in the camp… or else.

JOSHUA 7

But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. [Achan wanted some gold for himself. What belonged to God, and to the whole camp collectively insofar as they offered it together, was held back for personal gain. While Achan’s remote intentions are unclear, surely he sought to advance himself politically and socially.]

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” [After the victory at Jericho, the archetypal city of sin, the Hebrews are feeling very good about their position over Canaan. They have grown presumptuous and inattentive to their own sinfulness.] So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water. [How strange that with our comparatively few clergy we used to be effective at converting the world, but now things are different. Something has happened… And often, the people who don’t worry about the numbers, or who have no real plan to reverse their trend in ordination numbers, are part of the problem, as we have been seeing.]

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” [Joshua realizes the harm that has been done to their reputation… The defeat at Ai will become an incentive for attack from the whole land.]

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. [So, what is sacred that has been hidden? It is the priest’s life itself… It belongs to God, and to the Church. It does not get to be treated as his own, it cannot be hidden away – it must only be “hidden” with the Lord, like all sacred things, but then its flaws are in view for all to see. Just like the spoils of Jericho, every priest is taken from among sinful men and made sacred to the Lord. And if some priest is not a good “offering,” he must either be reformed or discarded.]

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. [Israel is to be reminded through this consecration that they are not a normal people, they are God’s own inheritance. This gives them insight into how egregious this crime is, and why they have failed to conquer Ai – and will continue to fail until the situation is remedied.]

14 “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” [The investigation begins. It is thorough, and the stakes are made clear from the beginning – the one who is guilty will pay with his blood. Nothing less will suffice as punishment.]

16 Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. 17 The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. 18 Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.

19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” [The little piety that is in Achan’s heart is taken advantage of by Joshua to profit the whole camp, and ultimately, Achan’s own soul.]

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” [One must wonder what would have happened had Achan continued trying to hide the spoils. Surely, it would have turned out even worse for him and for all Israel than it is about to.]

24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.”

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. [Achan finds himself in a fate similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah – utter destruction, along with the destruction of his incidentals, in this case his possessions and his children. Nothing of the wickedness of Achan must be allowed to continue on, lest something so terrible be repeated. Furthermore, an example must be made. Despite it seeming like Achan’s children are wronged here, perhaps they, too, were complicit in the cover-up. There are other ways to explain their demise, but this is certainly a possibility. Why did the children not turn over their father to Joshua, or at least return the stolen goods? Surely, they knew about the crime…] 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. [A memorial to deter future wrongdoers.] Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since.

The things which belong to the public honor of God, such as the integrity of priestly life, cannot stay hidden away. Some might accuse me of “magical thinking,” but it seems confirmed by experience that priests leading double lives usually do not make many converts, do not devote long hours to the confessional, and do not deliver that kind of preaching which moves to greater faith, hope, and charity. They might indeed attract much curiosity and intrigue, they might make the parish a lot of money, they might be great social activists, but the real spiritual battles are not being fought by them. Such a man is forced to stay away from what is truly holy by the weight of his own conscience… Either his sin must go, or the Lord must go.

Scripture and the Crisis – Part 1

Eamonn Clark

In several posts, I have tried to provide some context to the present crisis of morals in the Church. As always, the linchpin is Holy Thursday and Good Friday – we are always doing better than that – but here I wish to give sexual crimes and cover-ups a deeper treatment through looking at a few examples in Scripture. I will present an abbreviation of the text and my own gloss.

The first story, familiar to most, is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s escape.

GENESIS 19

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. [Lot is a quiet force for good in Sodom. He sits at the gates on the lookout. He knows what is around him, and he has a real concern to keep his guests safe from harm. He offers his own house so that they will be under his own watch, and then he gently suggests that they should get out of the city quickly afterward – he even uses unleavened bread to feed them, as will also be used later in the Exodus as a symbol of hasty departure.] Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” [These men are opportunists, but they are also homosexuals. They do not want Lot’s virgin daughters, they want his male guests. This group has grown large enough to protect themselves, as they come from all parts of the city. Although they arrive at night, they are open about what they want. We can infer that they have been at this for some time – they have corrupted the young and incorporated them into the group, likely as a lower caste. Twice we hear about the bifurcation between the ages within the group.]

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” [Lot knows that he cannot stop the men from sinning. Knowing the lesser evil, he proposes it to them. He can’t do anything else – it is beyond his power. Despite being “in the know,” his responsibility is limited. Undoubtedly, his opinion on this group is already well-known throughout the city.]

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. [We see the manipulative and coercive tactics of the group… Command, ridicule, threats, and finally violence.]

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.” [God does tolerate great evil, but only up to a point. Evidently, the existence of such a group has become intolerable, and death is their penalty.]

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking. [Lot finds that his whistle-blowing lacks effect. His sons-in-law surely know of the evil in the city, but they don’t believe it is bad enough to warrant divine intervention. Could there really be that much of it? And is it really that wicked to begin with? Etc.]

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” [The way to protect oneself from being destroyed in Sodom is to run away from it. It is not Lot’s responsibility or prerogative to reform or rehabilitate the group, it is to distance himself from it.]

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. [Incredibly, Lot is somewhat attached to the city. It is familiar to him and is pained by the thought of putting it behind him. The purification, although he knows it is necessary, is a fearsome thing.] 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

23 By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. [With the rising of the sun comes a plain view of Sodom and Gomorrah. God wants what comes next to be seen.] 24 Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. [Curious schadenfreude, or misplaced mercy and regret? Either way, it was not virtuous. One of the few who was supposed to be saved destroyed herself by failing to keep her sights set in the right direction.]

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today. [The end of the story leaves our hero in disgrace. Lot thought that since he had escaped the evil men of Sodom, he was safe. He was not – he carried evil with him. He failed to stay vigilant, as if he believed the destruction of Sodom destroyed all the evil in the world. His own fall into perversion, while unintentional, leads him to become the father of two wicked races who would later persecute the sons of Israel, trying to keep them from reaching the Promised Land.]

The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, not spared even after Abraham’s pleading, called for a proportionate punishment, which in this case meant the absolute destruction of the cities. (There is archaeological evidence of the historical truth of this account, by the way.) God “gets it.” Coincidentally – or not – August 30th saw the 450th anniversary of an Apostolic Constitution by Pope St. Pius V which legislated degradation and then death for clerics who participated in the perversion of Sodom. Such curious times we are living in. But as Lot’s ultimate downfall shows us, no one should presume to be above depravity, even those who fight against it.

Next, we will look at a story about a cover-up… and how it goes awry.