I just completed a short blog on “Getting out of prison,” in which I analyzed rigid ideologies affecting the minds and actions of many persons in our uncivil-civil society. I urged self-examination and humility as means to “get out of jail free,” to escape from the prisons of our own making, or of our own choosing. Now I seek to turn reasoned analysis on myself, and wonder if what I am teaching, writing, and living may be for good or for ill.
We begin with questions. What if I am genuinely mistaken about “the Bible,” and it really is or at least contains “God’s Word,” which one may read and discover? Well, in reality I do believe that there is much wisdom in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and that anyone could gain much from reading them intelligently and thoughtfully, and apply what they learn to how they live their lives. The problem as I see it is in effect absolutizing the Bible (or the Qur’an) as unquestionable truth which must be accepted uncritically. It is the lack of thought about what is read, the lack of actively questioning its truth and place in one’s life, that most concerns me.
Second, regarding Catholic institutionalism, am I wrong to claim that the Church is not in reality as “holy” as it claims to be? Am I wrong in criticizing the notion that “Jesus founded the Church,” and set the hierarchy in place, as God the Creator set the stars in the heavens? And what underlies my impassioned criticism of Catholic clergy anyway? The short answer is this: I and no few others have experienced evil committed by Catholic clergy, and even more evil committed by bishops or by Rome making excuses for evil-doing clergy, and covering up their crimes. At the same time, many Catholic “lay persons” simply refuse to see and to deal effectively with clergy who have neglected their spiritual well-being, preached blather to them, deceived them, stolen from them, abused their children, and so on. Anger in me is aroused by the evils and deceits in the churches, all covered up beneath a plastic halo of holiness. The wrongs done to unsuspecting persons and the attempts to continue the evils under cover of “confidentiality” and naked denials should, I believe, awaken the wrath of pacified, often non-thinking Catholics. I personally believe and have said that the Christian community ought to slough off the hierarchy as a snake sloughs off its skin. On this point I may be wrong. (My goodness, could I be wrong? You bet!) And I admit that trying to reform or remake the hierarchy of the Catholic Church seems to lead nowhere, and perhaps achieves nothing good. The attempt may be a waste of time and even damaging, especially when there are at least some bishops and priests who do much good, and genuinely seek to build up Christ in the faithful. Not all clergy members are deceivers and thieves—but many are. Not every Catholic continues to sit passively in pews and unthinkingly accept evils done by clergy—but most seem to turn a blind eye to evil done in their midst.
Having made these points, is it now best to shut up? Is it futile and a waste of energy to criticize the hierarchy of the churches for the evil they do? Would it be better for me, and for others, to keep quiet and to mind our own business? Given how resistant to change Roman authorities have long been, are we just wasting time? Would it be more prudent just to seek God in the silence and peace of one’s heart, and either walk away from the institutional church or at least ignore it? Should Catholics abandon the institutional church for their own spiritual well-being? Or should they stay and seek to grow up, begin to assume responsibility for their own spiritual nourishment and growth, and speak out against evils in clergy as they arise?
Why am I angry because of human wickedness and foolishness, even done under the cover of clerical collars and pious assertions to be “other Christs”? What good comes from such anger? What good comes from the anger of “progressives,” Democrats, or Republicans, who spend so much time hating and attacking President Trump? The man has evident flaws; but who does not? Which President in our “modern history” has not had very serious flaws, and often been self-seeking, and loved power too much? As a political scientist and observer of politics, I cannot name one. If these men did not love power, why would they ever seek to be President (or seek any higher office)? The office of political leadership attracts men and women of a certain caliber: not only those who truly want to “get things done for the common good,” as they all claim, but who at the same time want power, fame, attention, financial gain, benefits for their friends and family members. Should we be surprised that as Vice President, Joe Biden practiced the vice of feathering the nest for his wayward and apparently screwed-up son with huge financial benefits? Should we be surprised that men in the oval office have sought sexual gratification even from young women within their grasp? Should we be surprised that Nixon sought to cover up the crime of the break-in at the Watergate? Or that FDR lied to the American people about the “unprovoked” attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor? Our leaders have been flawed, and often deeply flawed human beings. Do such characters deserve hatred? Is it worthwhile filling our own souls with venom at those we deem dangerous snakes? Are we Americans really so virtuous and good that we expect to elect truly virtuous men and women to the highest offices of the land? Would we even recognize or respond to genuine virtue? Perhaps we are too foolish and too self-absorbed as a people in history even to know who might lead our people in beneficial ways, without being scoundrels or “low-lifers” themselves. “We the People” seem to have become far less virtuous and deserving of good leadership than we believe. We are easily duped, because we are quite foolish.
“What about you, little man?” I know that I am not a virtuous human being—nor do I claim to be. I have never called myself a “just man,” or “a holy priest,” or a “good monk.” I am too aware of the wrongs I have done, and the good I have failed to do, to exonerate myself. Looking back on my life, there is not much of which I am genuinely proud. If I have done anyone any good in my life, it has been despite my flaws and failures, and because the all-good God can and does work in and through our human weaknesses. “Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory.” Why? Because we are not so good ourselves.
Although I know that I am neither learned nor wise, yet I write these little blogs. Why? Because I seek to share thoughts while being open to correction. Knowing that I do not have a poetic imagination, or handle symbols effectively, I still write little, mediocre or poor poems. Even though I am an impassioned man with considerable anger at injustice and untruth—as I see them—I still try to teach in some ways. Do I do harm to human beings? I am sure that I have harmed no few persons, beginning with my own family members since childhood. I can only hope that I do more good than harm; but in truth, I do not know. Nor do I hold myself blameless in any way. I certainly have never dealt with a Catholic bishop who seemed to find me anything but a pest, or worse; no bishop under whom I ever served said that I do a good job serving Christ in his people—the very thing which I sought to do. One bishop loudly and very angrily accused me of “dividing the parish” (in Kalispell, Montana), and quickly threw me out of his diocese. Together or individually, bishops and their priest personnel boards have awarded me no pension or health care in retirement. They have found me unworthy of any benefits. Nor do I ask for any money from any authority in the church—bishop or abbot—or from lay persons. I am well aware that by temperament, character, and beliefs, I do not fit well into the Catholic church, into a monastery, or into any institution. Authorities may well be right in describing me as a “trouble-maker.” And I have made trouble for some in authority, whether they deserved it or not (but I think that they did deserve questioning for their wrong deeds). As for what I believe, I was told by a priest in one diocese that the bishop there under whom I served considered me to be “non-Orthodox,” which I take to be a polite phrase for a “heretic.” I thought he was a kindly man, but entrapped in rigid dogma. No doubt he found my reservations about the dogma of “the Trinity” to be heretical. (At least he did not have me burned at the stake, as some bishops have done for those who question fixed beliefs.)
So what am I to do? I remain a Benedictine monk of St. Anselm’s Abbey, and I remain a Catholic priest. Am I proud of either position? Frankly, no. On the other hand, I firmly believe that I benefited much from being a brother monk of St. Anselm’s, and I genuinely respect and love my Abbot as a man of God. As for me, I am not worthy or suitable to live in the monastery, for my character is highly flawed, and I really am, as noted, a “trouble-maker.” I question what others do not want questioned. I am unable to live at peace with what I perceive as serious wrong-doing, deception, pretense, or unquestioned beliefs. Even as I consider myself a very poor example of being a Benedictine monk, at least I respect the life the monks attempt to live. As for being a priest in the Catholic church, here I feel much shame and disgust. We priests—myself included—have badly failed the people we were ordained to serve. Many of us are scoundrels, who steal, deceive, seek power, swallow all sorts of ideological nonsense and spew it out to others. Having seen what I have seen from some clergy, there is no way I could be proud to be serve among such men. On the other hand, I have known some wonderful and good priests—one of whom is now in prison for doing evil. And a real scoundrel and deceiver runs free to continue his deceptions, thanks to cover up from the chancery. How could anyone be proud to be counted among such human beings?
I look in the mirror, and I see a fairly old man, become rapidly older. I am thankful for my life, despite my flaws and faulty character, and despite my impassioned and unbalanced temperament. I have received much good from the all-merciful God—“far more than I deserve,” as Dave Ramsey would say. It is best that I live alone, so as not to infect others with my anger and refusal quietly to accept what I think are lies or deceptions. There is no way I could live peaceably with any human being, for I am not at peace with what and who I am; hence, I willingly and gladly accept living alone in relative isolation. And in no way do I want to function publicly in any church, or in civil society. Although no prophet or saint, I would probably be as divisive of human community as was John the Baptist—just on a smaller scale, as I am a much smaller human being than was John.
Finally, should I write and make public such statements? If not, why not? What is gained by hiding who we are? Can any good come from what I do or say? In truth, I do not know. But this I believe: “It is time for judgment to begin in the household of God.”
—Wm. Paul McKane
7 December 2019
Click on the above Poetry and Tanka tabs to read a variety of styles of poetry.