Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Sins Of Authority: A Sunday Tirade

     It seems my news reading is insufficiently broad, as yesterday evening I missed a story of considerable importance:

     The Marianist order has suspended a former longtime president of Chaminade High School from functioning as a priest after allegations of sexual abuse involving a former student were found to be “credible,” the order said.

     The Rev. James Williams, who resigned in 2011 after 12 years as president of the prestigious all-boys Catholic institution in Mineola, has “completely denied” the allegations, but a “vigorous, thorough and comprehensive investigation” conducted by the order “deemed them to be credible,” the group said in a statement posted Friday on Chaminade’s website.

     The Marianists said they have contacted the Nassau County district attorney’s office and the Diocese of Rockville Centre about the allegations.

     Every case of this sort fills me with both fury and fear. The allegations might not be true; Reverend Williams has denied them, and at this point no rigorous proceeding to determine their validity has yet taken place. However, that an investigation by Reverend Williams’s own order finds them “credible” suffices to evoke many terrible thoughts, of several terrible consequences.


     Nearly every other kind of evil pales in comparison to the abuse of a child. Yet the abuse of a child by one in a position of moral and practical authority over him plumbs still deeper into the depths of villainy. The authority finds it all too easy to convince the child that the sin and the guilt belong to the victim rather than the offender. It’s an offense capable of warping all but the strongest souls...and very few minors are spiritually strong enough to withstand its effects.

     The scandal over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has harmed the Church even more than did the Renaissance popes and their orgiastic indulgences. Never mind that the frequency of such abuses is just as high among Protestant ministers and lay teachers. Catholic priests are a special breed: men sworn to complete celibacy in the service of Christ. Those who’ve been entrusted with the care of the souls of the youngest and most impressionable of their flock have a responsibility weightier than any other:

     “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” [Matthew 18:3-6]

     Yet when the Most Reverend William Francis Murphy, the presiding bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Center, called a convocation of the priests of the diocese to hear presentations about this terrible evil, the featured speaker, a bishop from another diocese, styled such offenses “inappropriate behavior.” A steady procession of the clerical listeners thanked him for that speech.

     “Inappropriate behavior!” As Father Edward Kealty has said, that’s a phrase to describe “picking up the wrong fork at dinner.” Father Ed got into a lot of trouble with the diocese for saying that to the convocation. It might be the reason he was forced into retirement against his will and the pleas of his parishioners.

     But this, too, is characteristic of sinful authorities.


     Authorities of many kinds are prone to taking credit for good developments and foisting the blame for bad ones onto others’ shoulders. They’re also the life form most susceptible to mincing words, especially when they’re confronted with failures and crimes of their own. It’s one of the reasons for the overall decline of mutual trust in recent years. It’s also one of the reasons for what Samuel Johnson called “the general degradation of human testimony:”

     “To doubt whether a man of eminence has told the truth about his own birth is, in appearance, to be very deficient in candour; yet nobody can live long without knowing that falsehoods of convenience or vanity, falsehoods from which no evil immediately visible ensues, except the general degradation of human testimony, are very lightly uttered, and once uttered are sullenly supported.”

     I submit that recategorizing the rape of a minor as “inappropriate behavior” is far worse than a “falsehood of convenience or vanity.” When a person in authority does it, the blot covers more than his individual escutcheon. It taints the credibility and probity of all those of his stature who by their silence concur with his statement.

     Priests, ministers, and rabbis lack coercive authority. Theirs is of a much higher plane: that on which the most critical distinctions of all, those between right and wrong, are found. If these be found unworthy of trust, where do we stand? To what station do we apply for judgment of our own morals and ethics?

     Time was, it was only the moral authority of the Church that bounded the actions of nobles and kings. The nobility of Christendom didn’t need to fear an army of priests with crucifixes and censers. The flock enraged to action was a far different matter – and such flocks, though armed with nothing but the tools of their various trades, removed the crowns and scepters from the heads and hands of many who regarded themselves as above judgment.

     They who think a restoration of justice must begin with changes to the State and its policies may have been looking in the wrong direction all this time.


     Today is the great Feast of Pentecost, which commemorates the day the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ’s eleven chief disciples. The Paraclete opened their minds to complete understanding of His teachings and equipped them with the gift of tongues, that they might be understood by all who heard them. Thus enlightened and amplified, they went out to do as He had commanded:

     “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” [Matthew 28:19-20]

     Teaching is possible only under commonality of language. When the student understands the teacher’s words, it becomes possible for the teacher to impart new information and understanding to the student. This is why teachers enlarge their students’ vocabularies incrementally, and couch their other lessons in language their students are able to grasp. But when authorities tear words from their public meanings, such that language itself becomes a maze of Humpty-Dumpty eccentricities that forbids anyone to be certain of the speaker’s meaning, teaching – indeed, communication of any sort – becomes impossible.

     Deception – the cloaking of crimes of every magnitude behind dense curtains of words no longer penetrable by the light of common understanding – is all that remains.

     Confucius told us that “What is necessary [is] to rectify names.” What’s happening to communication in our day is the exact reverse – and it’s authorities of every sort, lay and clerical, determined to conceal their villainy from the common folk, who are the perpetrators.

     May God have mercy on their souls, for I doubt that we lesser ones will stay our hands for much longer.

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