The “Virtual” Challenge: The Spiritual Effects of an Autumn of Scandal - I've re-posted this article from a couple of years ago... because its still true today!
The “Virtual” Challenge: The Spiritual Effects of an Autumn of Scandal Autumnal weather arrives with its attendant rites of death when we see nature passing from the verdant beauties of summer to the cold and brutish death of fall. Alas for many who claim membership in the Roman Catholic Church of Canada, it is not only dead leaves that litter the ground, but we also seem hip-deep in among the tattered remains of many a faith gravely tested. For some, the revelations that have come to light concerning the arrest of Bishop Raymond Lahey, Bishop Emeritus of Antigonish, Nova Scotia on charges of importation of child pornography has been a killing frost laying waste their belief in the moral status of their church’s leaders, their Bishops. Beginning with the startling news of his initial arrest and with each subsequent news development, Canadian Catholics have faced a direct and brutish challenge to their faith in the Church. This trepidation in the face of a savage hostility, rarely experienced in Canada since the passing of dark days of the Protestant - Catholic battles of the 1920’s and 30’s, has even led some to the point of formally renouncing their membership in the Catholic Church. It is imperative that we consider the interplay of forces that has robbed so many of the beauty and the comfort of their previous convictions of faith. In the age of the “crack-berry”, the “iphone” and wireless networks everywhere, the Internet may well be a proper place to discover, defend and engage in argument by partisans of various social schools of thought. It has become the “place” where anyone, theist or atheist, secular humanist, or other citizens of Church and State can meet and engage each other in debating the great questions of our time. Marshall McLuhan’s merging of the medium and the message is made manifest within the web pages of news sites, which act now as both objective presenters of the news of the day, and as a blank chalkboard which allows the sharing of opinion Even the most cursory review of these posts is sufficient to prove that today’s theists’ are being pounded into submission by a tsunami of hostility and indignation from every corner. There have been very few souls who have been willing to step into the virtual arena and take up the mantle of defending and protecting the faith. Those few that have “stepped up to the plate” have had to deal with dangerous brush back pitches that would make Phillies hurler, Pedro Martinez, blush with shame. But much as he has returned to form with the Philadelphia Phillies after an extended absence from Major League’s play, so now too is the time for partisans of all camps to work out together that “equilibrium” which John Ralston Saul describes as being essential to any vibrant society. The internet was heralded as the medium through which citizens from any corner of the globe could meet to accomplish this end. It has, for better or for worse, succeeded. The legion of souls won away from the Church threatens to dwarfs the largest pile of dead leaves, leaving in their passing a cultural atmosphere that is as toxic as the smoke that scents the autumn air. As a Canadian in his 50’s who has lived in both the English and French solitudes of Ontario and Quebec, I remember the rapidity of change in the Québécois culture that accompanied “la Révolution Tranquille”. Seemingly “as in the twinkling of an eye”, the Catholic Quebec voice disappeared from debate. Now, once again the voice of Catholicism, is in danger of being rendered silent in the face of the sinfulness of its spiritual leaders. It is a truism that nothing is as firmly than “conventional wisdom” until that day when it is held no longer. One is reminded of the clarion call of John Paul II which echoed through of the Soviet Empire. It wreck asunder the altars of belief that were held to be “self-evident truths” through his inspirational call to all people to “be not afraid” in the face of oppression. Such a voice needs to be heard again. The challenge of this current spiritual season of death has given to believers and non-believers alike the opportunity to change the conventional wisdom of the day and Catholics of all ranks and convictions ignore at their peril the challenge this poses to the Canadian church. Revolutions come like a thief in the night. It is now time for Canada’s Bishops, currently gathered in meetings in Cornwall, Ontario, to engage fully in this debate. It is a time for them to shake off the shame that has seemed to still their previously robust voice within the public square. It is time for them to lead, to teach and to pastor their wounded flock of followers. My experience as a participant in this debate within the threads of the C.B.C. news website exposed me to a vitriol such as I rarely faced as a priest. Yet all was not bleak and hostile. Interesting questions, like the hardy flowers of fall, pop forth from within a few of these exchanges. One multiple poster posed the following question regarding the financial capacities of various diocese to pay the settlements, without facing bankruptcy: is the Catholic Church, like other institutions such as banks or automakers, “too big” to be allowed to fail. This may prompt the state to intervene to ensure full and just compensation to the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Some Western societies offer such supports to maintain a viable system of churches to service those citizen who would to access their services, but this has often come with costs to their freedom and liberty. David ben Mark who identifies himself as a person of Jewish faith, reaches out in sincere compassion to Bishop Lahey. “Just by living life we are broken into pieces and scattered into the wind and we reassemble ourselves to be broken and scattered again. We break in many different ways and none of them are pleasant. I am not ashamed of you or shamed by you.” His is a voice reminding all that no one escapes this life without the stain of sin, even sins seemingly as heinous as what is alleged of Bishop Lahey. Yet no where in the untold bytes that comprise this “virtual space” could be seen the presence of any Bishop or priest of the Catholic Church. The faithful have every reason to expect that it should be their religious leaders who would want for their voice to be heard in these trying times. It’s absence is keenly felt by many. I pray that the Bishops might resolve do all that they can to help right the seriously listing ship of faith that is the Canadian Roman Catholic Church of 2009. It is long past time for them to put out of their minds the blisters, aches and pains of past scandals, and to take up the challenge of cleaning up the mess that this crisis of infidelity has wrought upon us. If not, this Hallow’s Eve, they might find themselves hip deep and haunted by the souls of Catholics, past and present who cry out in anguish as the Catholic voice is silenced within Canada. Copyright reserved to Fr. Tim Moyle. Publication in whole or in part is prohibited without the express permission of the author.