Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!
Appropriately enough, I have a wicked hangover.
I gave up booze for Lent, managed (with a few slips) to stick to it, and so when the sun set last night and some friends and I were celebrating a successful fundraiser forthe ferret shelter, I decided to catch up on all the beer I’d missed, all at once. I keep forgetting I’m not an undergrad anymore.
So I dragged into church feeling likeP. Diddy, prepared to limp through midmorning Slacker Mass as usual and then go home to get dinner for the family ready (I was thinking what, exactly, inviting everybody over here instead of making reservations?), but when I walked in the door, there was a party going on.
The priest, a jovial and bouncy guy not much older than me who knows how to open and close a story, had hidden chocolate and eggs all over the church. Under pews, behind statuary, even in the little slots where the matches for the candles rest. He hid colorful plastic toys in the hymnal holders and in the pots of hyacinths and lilies on the altar.
Kids in pink and yellow and green and blue, many with flowered hats, were gleefully crawling all over the splendid 1800s church in search of treasures. Their parents, with cameras, greeted one another and smiled and shook hands and hugged. The crucifix was draped with white, the doorways with pastel ribbons fluttering in the warm spring breeze.
The sanctuary was lit by the sunshine through the glorious stained glass windows. It smelled of flowers and rang with laughter. And I was suddenly so angry I couldn’t breathe.
Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly king, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!
I haven’t written about the latest turn of the screw in the 8-year nightmare that is the “priest sex abuse scandal.” I haven’t written about it because Adrastos has it handled, because I’m not surprised by any of it, and because everything I could say, I said years ago:
I covered religion for four years as a reporter, and I was raised a
Roman Catholic. As such, I knew many, many good priests, guys who’d do
anything for you, guys who were the last thing standing between their
neighborhoods and gang warfare, guys who were more angry than anybody
that the high standards to which they held themselves were not the same
standards to which their leaders were subjected.
I was a part of the team of people who broughtthis to light:
very first year Imesch arrived in Joliet, one of his priests was
questioned by the DuPage County sheriff’s police. Parents at the Rev.
Lawrence Gibbs’ Lombard parish complained to Imesch about Gibbs’
inappropriate behavior with their sons, but Imesch dismissed their
concerns and transferred Gibbs to another parish without telling his
new parishioners about the accusations. Gibbs was later accused of
molesting numerous altar boys at a cabin in the north suburbs.
The Rev. Fred Lenczycki, now serving a prison sentence for
child sexual abuse, was transferred to various parishes and eventually
to California, where his new pastor was told only that Lenczycki had
been unjustly accused of abuse. It took authorities decades to catch up
with the priest.
However, the most egregious example of
Imesch’s disregard for his parishioners was the case of the Rev. Gary
Berthiaume. Berthiaume had served along with Imesch in the Archdiocese
of Detroit, and the priest had been convicted of child sexual abuse and
served time in prison. In 1987, after being exposed as a molester at
yet another parish, Berthiaume asked Imesch to find him a place in
Imesch installed the convicted sex offender at a west
suburban hospital where Berthiaume worked as a chaplain. Berthiaume
also began assisting at Masses, including children’s Masses, at a
nearby parish. The pastor there said he wasn’t told of Berthiaume’s
past until well after the priest’s appointment — and then only by
The column I wrote when Imesch retired isn’t online anymore, but I still have a copy and went looking for it this morning:
When Southtown columnist Tim Placher wrote movingly of his own victimization by one of Imesch’s priests, the bishop’s only response to this committed Catholic, cruelly wronged, was to play the victim himself.
“For 26 years, he never said anything,” Imesch said. “It sounds like he wants to smear my name.”
It was a breathtaking display of ego and insensitivity.
His resignation now solves nothing, makes up for nothing.
The late Pope John Paul II should have demanded Imesch’s mitre and ring four years ago.
He should not have been allowed to resign with dignity, chuckle his way through a genial press conference, and talk about his legacy.
He should have been fired, defrocked, and carted away in chains.
He should have to travel from church to church, apologizing to the people who trusted him, the people who knelt every Sunday to hear his guidance, the people who worked far harder than he to attain goodness and appeal to God’s mercy.
For the sake of the faithful in the Joliet diocese, I hope the new bishop, J. Peter Sartain, can repair the damage Imesch did. The faithful of seven counties and the priests who are working hard to serve them deserve leadership that is honest, upright, and compassionate, befitting the church and the gospel that guides it.
They deserved better than Joseph Imesch gave them.
I covered the trial of one molester priest, sat through days and days of testimony, victim after victim telling a slumped, orange-clad old man how he had betrayed their trust, ruined their lives. I watched as bishops’ excuses turned to denial and anger, after people refused to take “whoops, so sorry” as an answer anymore. I listened as people who called themselves “Canon lawyers” like something out of The Tudors tried to argue that secular laws in the society in which the church operates do not apply, as though those same laws haven’t protected the church for decades. The worse the allegations, the more insane the defense.
For that work, I was called a bad Catholic, a religious bigot, a meddling, interfering, unconscionably inconvenient reporter who was only interested in tearing down the sincere faith of others. The last refuge of a coward caught out in lies is to blame the press, always, and hey, it’s an easy sell. Everybody hates reporters, right? Everybody hates nosy people who raise inconvenient questions.
And what I wanted to say, all along, was that the only reason I was doing this, the only reason anyone in Boston or Milwaukee or now New York was doing this, the only reason anyone would expose such pain and suffering to the light of day, to expose such an entrenched power structure with all the backlash that comes with it, was for the sake of people like those in church with me this morning.
But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured; Alleluia!
Now above the sky he’s king, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!
When the stories out of Boston broke, they weren’t the first tales of priests abusing children but they were the first to connect the abusers to the people who protected them, and to detail the lengths to which the church went to shield them from the law. That was the difference, what made this a scandal. That it went all the way to the top, was obvious; that no one could do anything, was obvious; that someone as canny as Joseph Ratzinger could be so clumsy and arrogant about this is the only part of any of recent events that surprises me even remotely.
Literally every defense made in the past two weeks, including the anti-Semitism argument, the reporters-are-assholes argument, the it’s-all-years-ago-this-is-how-we-used-to-treat-all-pedophiles argument, rings as hollow now as it did years ago. Liberal priests aren’t the problem. Gay priests aren’t the problem. The secular society isn’t the problem. The press isn’t the problem. The victims aren’t the problem.
The bishops are the problem, and always have been.
p>I left the Church before the stories out of Boston broke, over something else, something different yet the same. Over being lied to. I came back out of grief and loyalty, and have stayed after three months because we collect food for the hungry and pray for victims of racial and gender discrimination, even in our own church. We work instead of moralizing. There is a network of good, of (yes, Glenn Beck) social justice that is an act of defiance in this selfish world and that is what these arrogant bastards in Rome are risking when they spin their little lies, when they foment hate and division instead of unity and love.
That’s not an argument Bill Donohue is making but it is the only one Catholics should be making to those in the larger Church: We are the reason you are here. We put pennies in a bucket to build your buildings all over this country. We run your schools and care for your widows and your orphans and feed your hungry and clothe your naked and visit your sick, we do all this while you sit in an office and help criminals and cowards diminish us all. The work you ruin isn’t yours, or even God’s. It’s ours.
And so instead of defending you, we are angrier than anyone else. Instead of excusing you, we say, we deserved better. Instead of helping to shield you by mocking journalists or blaming gays or bemoaning the exposure of child rapists as harshing our spiritual buzz, we’re first in line to demand: Resign. Subject yourselves to the rule of the laws in the countries in which you live. Repent, as you so often are telling us to do for offenses like eating meat on Friday. Live by the rules of the God you claim to represent, and we’ll just have to see if you ever earn back any of our respect. I don’t think it’s likely, but hey. Miracles happen.
In the meantime, we’ll keep bringing bags of food to the altar, bread among the hyacinths, and carry on the work of your God while you cover yourselves in shame.
Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
Praise eternal as his love; Alleluia!
Praise him, all you heavenly host, Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia!
Father watched the kids scampering after candy this morning and commented, “It smells good, like chocolate in here.” He came around the side of the pew, patted my shoulder, and said, “Happy Easter.”