Friday, 31 October 2008

'Is There No One Left to Condemn You?' He asked.

Yesterday morning I woke up early as I do most days and stepped out into the freezing morning air, being the time of year for it, and went about my business. Fridays I drive to Cadishead, leaving at about 7am to pick up a young man with multiple learning disabilities and mental health problems to take him out for the day. The swimming pool being closed, we went for a walk in the woods, lunch, a little time in Church arranging vestments and then to look at the animals in Heaton Park. At least, that is what I did and I did it for his benefit, even though there is no real way of knowing if he enjoys himself or not, but one hopes and perseveres. Yesterday, though, as he had not taken it in his mind to sleep for a few days, he screamed and screamed from the early morning to the evening, testing my patience and mental well being. Why are you screaming? I thought and what can we do to make you happy? Alas, nothing seemed to work until, crawling around on the sacristy floor, he encountered a box of votive candles which made a pleasing noise when repeatedly thumped and the cries of ages became the sound of laughter. Eventually, of course, the box was broken and the cries resumed.

Most people run away from him, or, in a memorable case, say that his parents must have been 'really evil', or ask if he is possessed. He does have the ability to test people, to reflect ones deepest, hidden reactions to something which takes us out of our comfort zone by no other means than by being who he is, the way God made him. He also helps me to cut through some of the interminable documents and ritual and theology which I (necessarily) consume and to see a child of God, free from the ties which bind us and dictate our every word and answer. I am reminded that 'I don't know' is a perfectly good answer and that God is to be found, deep within his creation. Therefore I am reminded to be more tolerant of those with whom I disagree, particularly amongst 'my own' camp - goodness, I expect most people to disagree with me, why ever not, but I certainly don't mind, it keeps me occupied for the ten minutes of the day spent between waking up and checking my emails for abusive messages generated by this blog. Life is rich and many coloured.

Maybe this state of bemused tolerance which I exist in on Friday evenings explains why I read the Church Times yesterday and found myself agreeing with much of what I read but even, horror of horrors, agreeing with Giles Fraser! First of all, I enjoyed the editorial and found much in it of sense, soundness and good cheer HERE. Secondly I agree with Giles Fraser (still feels odd) in his comments about Forward in Faith and GAFCON HERE. Maybe there will be strings attached next week, I do not know, but for now, taking away any tendency to read too much into what is written, it feels accurate.

Also in the news today is the new Papal documentation which rather vaguely refers to voluntary psychometric testing for Seminarians (and presumably for those going through a selection procedure) in the Roman Catholic Church. Now, as I have said before, I am utterly disinterested in anyone's genetic wiring and I realise that many companies use a very similar tool for screening their employees to get the sort of characteristics they want, team builder, go getter, whatever they decide is the type they want and in a marketplace so crowded with applicants, it makes sense to employ a company to weed out people who would not appear to be what you are looking for before you use your own resources on interviewing them. So far, so good. Or not, depending on your view of this sort of thing, I suppose I am fairly ambivalent having been, for a job I applied for a few years ago, subjected to this sort of testing. I was in the last five, in the end, which I was happy about.

What characteristics do we look for in a Priest though, if we are the company employing the testing people? That may seem a tough question, but I suggest that the answer is in the negatives, what sort of person do we not want. We do not, as a company, I guess, want people who are not called by God, but that would seem hard to check. We do not want, erm, paedophiles. Correct. My two Catholic schools had major paedophile scandals during the time I was there (discovered some five and fifteen years later) all involving priests, both of which had catastrophic consequences on a rather large section of humanity, for these things will escalate. Fine, so we have to have Police Checks updated every year, as I have in my secular job for years as I work with vulnerable people. In the Church, as so often, the 'norm' becomes inverted and whereas in secular life, the difficult truth is that research shows that the majority of sexual abuse happens in the home and is a mixture of heterosexual and homosexual abuse (more of that later), in the Catholic Church the majority of sexual abuse has been homosexual and (obviously) out of the family home. But the issue I want to pick up on here is that abuse is rarely about sexual attraction, it is generally a power play, a means to empower (in their own mind) an individual who feels disempowered in his or her day to day life. They feel they have power over children, particularly in a school or church setting, and use that power dynamic to assert their battered self image of a powerful individual onto a child as well as themselves.

These are not people who anybody wants as Priests or teachers or, well, it's hard to think of what you might want them as, in any charity. Psychologists claim to be able to recognise this type of person, or someone with such tendencies and it does not seem alien to me for the Church to use such skills to protect it's children and itself from any more scandals. Damien Thompson writes an unusually level headed piece about this HERE. The crux of this document though, is that the screening will discourage people (with the final authority resting with the Seminary Rector and Bishop) who are gay and unable to disassociate themselves with contemporary gay culture (which presumably means, in Vaticanspeak, sleaze rather than positive elements) and who are unable to lead a celibate life from being ordained.

One can sympathise with this, you can see the intense damage caused by the vast problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and you can see that it would be desired to end it. Will this just drive already 'closeted' people deeper underground though, with possibly disastrous consequences later? Will this do anything about the (less common, but still not rare) problem of heterosexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church? Will the threat of examination deter those type of people cunning enough to have hidden abuse for years or will it just make them more careful? Will it lead to a further decline in vocations (from the RC Priests I know personally, it looks as though it most definitely will) or will it even have an effect in the growing movement for married Priests? This is what I think is the most likely, to be honest. It has also been seen and reported on in pages more authoritative than these that this same test has been tweaked and used to extract 'old fashioned' fans of the Old Rite (or faithful Catholics following the dictates of the Pope) from seminaries and selection as well. This is the problem, it is desirable to not want sexual abusers ordained as Priests, but the system is open itself to abuse by seminary rectors who wish for a certain sort of person or a person with a certain mindset to fit their bill. I know of very few RC potential seminarians, but of the three I have encountered, one was deemed 'too high', one was asked to reapply in a few years and one began and then chose to stop training. This shows nothing but a bias towards the 'high' in a certain diocese.

To those of us called to the well rounded, joyful life of celibacy and obedience in that particular way to God, it is neutral news. I do not wish to share a way of life with child abusers, but I do want to share a way of life with people, warts and all, of all type and humanity, a rabble like the Apostles, of people to share with and learn from and to share in the joys and the pains of it, the euphoric and the gloomy times. I do not want to work in a corporate McDonalds. For those men who are not called to married life, to men both heterosexual and homosexual who wish to follow the call of God in this particular way, there is, I hope, freedom to follow the dictates of their own hearts. For those men who wish to marry, there will, I hope, be a chance to be a Roman Catholic Priest in the fullest sense in the not too distant future. For all of us sinners, there is the grace and mercy of God.

There is an immense task incumbent
on all people of goodwill, namely the task of
restoring the relations of the whole human family,
in truth,
in justice,
in love and in freedom.

(Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris).