Bishop Norman McFarland of the Orange County Dioceses died on Friday after a brief illness. He was the second Roman Catholic bishop in Orange County, he was credited with turning the debt ridden Orange County Diocese that was nearing bankruptcy to a multi-million dollar charity organization. Adhering to church protocol he submitted his letter of resignation at age 75 and retired from active administrative service from the church.
In his obituary printed in OC Register, there was a shadow of doubt cast on how he handled priests accused of sexually molesting children under his watch as bishop in Orange County. Bishop McFarland avoided discussing priests accused of sexual abused because he felt "it was not proper to discuss personnel matters and expected the pastor to do the same." The only taint in his long and illustrious career.
It makes one wonder, going forward, will this byline appear in every obituary of the members of ranking catholic clergy? It will list every achievement they have accomplished along with their unwavering dedication to God, their ministry and their flock, but somewhere in there, a mention of how they handled priest sex abuse allegations will overshadow their whole lives work. Just like the presidency of Bill Clinton, most of his achievements are forgotten but no one will forget the Monica Lewinsky scandal that nearly got him thrown out of office.
In this Easter Season, many Catholics will go to church with a heavy heart. While the religion teaches us to be merciful and forgiving, after all, Easter is the a time for Reconciliation, but with the continued reports of sex abuse among priests and the subsequent cover up that inevitably follows, it weighs heavily on the minds and hearts of the devoted flock.
Many prominent Catholics in the public eye such as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, while they rarely incorporate their religious views when discussing political matters, with the recent wave of scandals hitting the church, even they found it difficult to hold back. Maureen Dowd, known for her acerbic and detached style of writing, couldn't hold back her sadness and disappointment "I’m a Catholic woman who makes a living being adversarial. We have a pope who has instructed Catholic women not to be adversarial. It’s a conundrum." Peggy Noonan called this last wave of scandals nothing short of a "catastrophe" and it will take at least a generation to recover from it. These women are speaking as concerned Catholics who feel that their religion is under assault by the institution that found it.
So far the Vatican have blamed this scandal on the "petty media gossip", homosexuals and of course the devil. Vatican officials, whether speaking on behalf of the pope or not have blamed these scandals on everything and everyone except themselves, with very little reflection on how the ancient institution of the church, who is accountable to no one but themselves may have contributed to this flagrant abuse. There are many speculations and debates on why the catholic church seems to be a magnet for sexual deviants. Some blame it on the vow of celibacy required of all catholic clergy, some blame it on poorly developed sexual psyche due to stunted sexual development, homosexuals infiltrating the seminaries and some just blame it on the devil, which is the easiest culprit-a faceless villain that supposedly lurks in all the corners, waiting to snatch children. The answer is complex and to assign it to one specific cause would be unfair and inaccurate.
Sexual depravity and abnormal sexual desires is a disease and mental disorder that cannot be excused and explained away by someone's current situation or choice of lifestyle such as celibacy or homosexuality. Being celibate does not equal child molester, having a homosexual orientation does not make someone morally or sexually depraved. The church is only alienating the mainstream when high ranking church officials keep making general blanket statements like that.
There is no quick fix or quick answer to an institutional problem that is deep rooted in secrecy, patriarchy and lack of law enforcement or legal oversight. The church has deep pockets and for decades, instead of finding and eradicating the root cause of their sex scandals and reflecting on why the church seem to attract sexual deviants, they have opted to throw money at the problem in exchange for confidentiality agreements and no admission of wrongdoing from the church. The church has been off the radar and out of reach from law enforcement and social service agencies for far too long, it's high time that they get back on everyone's radar.
Peggy Noonan believes that there are three victims in church abuse scandals: first, of course, are the children irreparably damaged by the priests. The second victims, ones rarely mentioned, are the people that work tirelessly on behalf of the church, such as Mother Teresa and many other countless charity workers and missionaries that provide shelter, food, medicine and education for the masses. Third, the over one billion Catholics in this world who are left confused, angry and bewildered at the institution they trust their emotional and spiritual well being with.
Many non-Catholics are puzzled by how we can still hang on to our faith, even in light of so many atrocious crimes and there is no one good answer but the following can provide some insight into the minds of the faithful: The Catholic church, since it's inception over 2000 years ago has had a long and bloody history where popes were murdered and ordered the deaths of others, popes fathered illegitimate children, fought bloody wars and committed mass murder all in the name of God. In light of all this, it has not dimmed the faith and convictions of its flock, because true believers know that the 'old' church created by Christ and the Apostles that carries the message of grace, redemption, deliverance and salvation is greater and more profound than all of the church's collective scandals throughout the centuries. And once in a century, the world is graced with true saints like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, who remind the faithful with their actions on what being a catholic is all about.