A few days ago I got into a discussion with an old friend about an article that appeared in some newspaper written by a fellow who was not a Catholic and criticizing the Catholic clergy for being, umm,…well, I don’t exactly know why he was criticizing them, but they are, lately, an appealing target.  Here is a bit of that correspondence.  My friend suggests that we should demand and expect of clergy a kind of perfection of character and person we would not expect of a baker, a bartender or a cabdriver, because they occupy positions of trust, etc.  Well you can read why.  I disagreed.  (I have edited my own reply a bit to smooth out my language and syntax…a very tough thing for me to do…and to clarify some things.  I can do that since this is my blog and I control EVERYTHING!)
My friend wrote:
“Let me just focus on why clergy should be held to a higher standard.  They are leaders; they volunteered/sought out leadership. We entrust our children in schools to them, and in a sense our souls to their care…they are spiritual healers.
Otherwise, why not let out all those in prison for life sentences or awaiting death penalties…make them priests…if we don’t believe church leaders shouldn’t be held to a higher standard.
It’s a ridiculous observation made to put it another way than you may be thinking. Why isn’t it natural and logical for us to expect those we entrust so much with to set good example?”
I replied:

Hello R______,

I don’t disagree with you when you say that it is natural and logical, etc.  It is, indeed, and there’s the rub.  We do expect, and in many ways demand of others what we find in ourselves not possible, not worth the effort, beyond our capabilities and so on.  We are most on our guard to make excuses for ourselves…all the while believing we do, in fact, meet a “higher standard”, never really acknowledging we fail of the  “higher standard” we are quick to convict others for not meeting.  That’s a very convoluted way of saying the same thing Christ said of the persons who point out the mote in another’s eye all the while ignoring the great log in their own.  It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a kind of hypocrisy, and possibly sinful.

Of course you will argue with me that somehow the office, the position, the responsibility assumed means that only the very best will be chosen, especially if it is some high and holy office.  I merely mention Alexander VI as an answer.  (ED:  Or perhaps Bill Clinton, Gov. Edwards, the Enron officers, Goldman-Sachs and millions of others.)

There is nothing in any position, profession or portion of wealth and prestige which guarantees that the person occupying or bearing it is going to be any better a human being…morally…than the next one.  That, R____ ,is a matter of the acceptance of grace and conformity to the will of God, wisdom, prudence and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It has little at all to do with out fallen human nature, except that through long practice the person opens himself humbly to accepting the grace of the moment and being humbly grateful for being allowed to be a servant of that same divine will.  You will recoil at all of this religious stuff, I think since you are, of course, a business man.  And, what, you are entitled to wonder, has the one got to do with the other?  Where do humility, doing God’s will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all of that enter into the wide, wide world?

I will maintain that some part of every act is a moral act since all we do in some way affects others and the world around us.  If God knows the fall of a sparrow, He knows the entry of a number in a ledger, and if He can account for a sparrow’s fall, He will hold us to account for that entry.  The office holder, whatever his position, is only prestigious as much as he honestly and humbly tries to do God’s will for him and for the people affected by his office; in that and in that alone consists his “higher standard”.

And, because we are who we are, we will all fail.  There were only two perfect human beings, Christ and His mother.  They accepted the higher standard offered them.  Both of them suffered for it.  We know of Christ’s temptations.  We don’t know anything of hers, but I am sure she had them.  Probably one of them was to rub her eyes and wonder if she was having a bad dream when the angel appeared with the news she was going to get pregnant.  However she simply said yes, and didn’t go out and buy a nice dress and tell all the neighbors she was carrying a little bundle of joy.

Now, you mention that clergy volunteer for their positions.  That is faulty and incorrect theologically speaking, but quite in line with the business and political model many people want to strap onto the church or fall back into thinking about when they think about the church.  It couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The men and women who become priests or vowed religious are following a “call” to do that…at least the ones I know.  I am well aware of the thousands who have entered those states of old because their parents forced them, it was an easy living, or, recently lamentably, an outlet for their perversions.  That does not gainsay that authentically and truthfully one must be called to that state, and formed in it.  The abuses which have come to light in the last ten years are there precisely because organically a rottenness was allowed to enter the system.  Consider that what is happening is a pruning of the vine; cutting away diseased growth and practice.

I will not answer your last question because I do not think it was seriously meant.  A murderer was in fact made an Apostle.  You must remember St. Paul.

Finally, we entrust our souls to God’s care, and God has chosen to operate through those whom He has called as His ministers.  You must remember Christ’s words about giving the power to bind and to loose to the Apostles.  It is this which is the genesis of any respect we may wish to offer to them.  But more than that?  I might, after some time spent in his company entrust my life to a partner, and I did that when working.  But I do not entrust the salvation of my soul to another man.  He is incapable of the task by his very nature, though he has been called to help me, as everyone has been called to the same task.  Perhaps you could talk to a holy abbot about what it takes to be faithful to that call.

If the truth be known, our clergy aren’t our leaders.  They are our servants (actually God’s servants to us in whom they fins the presence of Christ whom they serve first), which is exactly the root meaning of “minister”.  It gets very complicated, doesn’t it, since we should receive their service as if it were Christ serving us, humbly and gratefully and with great love and affection…Remember Christ’s commandment about loving one another?

So are those who “serve” in government our servants, and any standard we hold them to should be the standard of faithful servant.  So much for presidential power.


10 responses to “RE, RE, RE, RE, RESPECT

  1. No.

  2. Good answer Peter. I remember the words of Chief Cahil of SFPD “when people stop hating us we are in trouble”. It is usual for those who hate a group of people to find a reason to hate them and when we are the ones who are hated we must return the hate with love and a blessing. So human to go from the particular to the general. If one apple is rotten all apples are rotten. See you in June.

  3. Pete,
    I got into an arguement with my mother once when I said I hated Brother Abdon Lewis. She told me that I couldn’t hate the cloth. I told her I didn’t hate the cloth just gthe SOB wearing it. Sometimes we need to separate the the clergy from the clerics.
    Joe Willmore

    • Well, hello and welcome!

      I don’t remember the holy Brother Abdon Lewis. I do remember Brother Martin who scandalized me when I saw him with a cigarette and beer at some function one night a thousand years ago. Then I reflected and remembered that I had already had about six beers that night, and I was underage…and, what’s more, he was a human being just like me, for all that. It was, if I was a buddhist, a moment of satori. After 34 some years of being a Fed, I learned that any of us are capable of the most despicable things at any time.

      Now, I am delighted to see your name, and look forward some day soon to seeing yourself after fifty years.


  4. Hello Don,

    Don’t get upset. I was simply trying to keep us all to the highest standards, writers, readers and little children who might wander by. I hope you understand and will live up to the standards in the future if you choose to stay around. It’s like Mom used to say, “Keep your room clean.” She had high standards, too. 🙂

    I am happy to see that you think at least some priests may not be child abusers. And, you should know that I have never disagreed that criminals should be tried and sent to jail if convicted. I spent a large part of my life doing just that. I will not repeat one of the lessons I learned during that time. You may read my reply to Mr. Willmore’s comment to know that. You may wish to think about it.

    Thoughtful Regards,

  5. I have removed the previous comment from pdxdon. It was personally and generally insulting. I apologize to anyone who took offense.

  6. Gabriel Austin

    The matter is far more complex, I think. By instinct we give great respect to the priest [or any clergyman or every nun]. We are not so clever as to be able easily to distinguish between the man [or woman] and the office.

    The matter of the sexual abuse of children touches on deep feelings in our nature. But is this very far from physical abuse of children by their parents? It is far more common than sexual abuse.

    And still further – which is the greater abuse – the sexual abuse of children? or the killing of them in the womb? How many children were abused by how many priests in the past 50 years? How many babes were killed in the womb? How many doctors were involved?

    • Hello Gabriel,

      I was about fourteen (see a previous comment) when I began to look beyond the cloth and see that it covered another man just like me. Of course, I had a father who was fond of saying that every man puts on his pants one leg at a time. And, he was more than imperfect in a lot of ways, but a wonderful and loving guy just the same.

      I have to agree with you, though, about the “greater abuse”, which most of our contemporaries treat as a right. There is an awful debt we are piling up against us. I think of the grandchildren, now, who will never exist because their parents were murdered by their grandparents. I think of that whenever I see a toddler. I really do.

      As regards physical abuse by parents (and sexual abuse by them), a DA up here in NH told me that it was one of the most common crimes in his office. It was positively Dickensian.

  7. Pete,
    I’m going to try to make the reunion at the Cape this year. I’d also like to see you. We could reprise the scene we did from “Mr. Roberts”. LOL I’m retired from a lifetime working in TV and trying to figure out what to do next.
    Joe Willmore

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