Spirit Quest

Kind'a late to admit that priests also sin

By The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

When I first heard of the plight of the archbishop of Antigonish as he arrived at Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, I thought that a mistake must have been made. Perhaps a border official not up on baroque art had mistaken pictures of those naked cherubs cavorting among the clouds so often depicted on cathedral ceilings, as pornography.

Which reminds me of Evelyn Waugh's description of an encounter between a British border guard and a traveller. As the suitcase is opened the guard sees pictures and magazines, and announces, "Them's dirt. I knows dirt when I sees it, else I wouldn't be where I am."

But alas as it turns out the cleric was importing the real McCoy.

Much has been written and commented in every media about the fact that bishop Lahey had travelled alone to such morally questionably destinations as Germany, Spain and the far East, couldn't make eye contact with the officer and was hesitant about admitting he had a lap top with him — a dead give-away. Be warned!

As the sad tale unravels people of faith are soul-shattered. Many have confessed that although their faith in the church has been dealt a serious blow, their faith in God remains strong.

"Enough is enough," exclaimed Archbishop Mancini of Halifax as he addressed the faithful of the diocese of Antigonish. I am not sure what he meant, but many would utter those words. He was plainly distraught. He felt constrained to reassure Christians that priests also sin. Kind'a late to admit it.

That incident at the airport has opened the Pandora's box that Bishop Lahey had hoped was finally sealed when he negotiated a multi million dollar settlement for the victims of clergy abuse.

Ted Schmidt, a former Catholic school teacher, editor or the Catholic New Times writes in his blog, "Theology in the Vineyard": "Raymond Lahey always got high marks for being a good pastor one who furthered the lay voice in the church. But like most of his confreres, he has not realized that absolutely new wineskins are needed in today's church. Knowing many of these fine men I say without fear of contradiction that presently they seem to have missed a fundamental truth of modern ecclesiology, that the Spirit is given to the entire church and not an ordained rump of clerical celibates. They are so fixated on the idea that they are "the teachers" that they have forgotten that they must first be the listeners and learners."

Will the church, that is the hierarchy, from the pope down to the parishioner , or ought it be, "from the pew down to St. Peters" learn the true nature of the church.

No church or organization is immune from fault. The tele evangelists that fill the ether with their ranting in the wee hours of the night, and the pastors of super churches have often been shown wanting. The danger is that when an organization, be that the state or church, places its total trust in a fallible human being it stands to fall and great shall be the fall of it.

I have just finished reading Karen Armstrong's last book, "A Case for God", it will probably turn out to be her best. She traces the history of the concept "god" through the ages to our time. Many still believe in god as a superhuman being, who lives and reigns from heaven, whose purpose can be changed by prayerful flattery. That kind of god is an illusion. It cannot stand the storms unleashed by the acts of unfaithful shepherds.

It is high time that we all be reminded of the words of that barefoot Palestinian preacher who simply said that "God is love." A hierarchical churches was not in his mind. It is love alone that heals the wounded soul, be that Lahey, the victims of abuse, the exploited children everywhere, the despairing faithful. And remember also that love is a verb not a noun.

16 October 2009 — Return to cover.