Culpability?

People do incomprehensible, senseless, and evil things. Because we do not have windows over our hearts or in our heads, often times the unbelievable seems to pop up out of nowhere. Fr Dwight Longenecker, like many of us, can’t comprehend a person opening fire with a weapon in a crowded movie theatre. A human being who had Christian parents and who went to a high school with Christian teachers acts in a most diabolical … wait–maybe it’s the devil.

Is James Holmes demon possessed? It is impossible to say without a detailed diagnosis. Even then, it is a slippery question. We are dealing with a reality that is rubbery. In many ways this is the wrong question. Better to ask, “Was James Holmes taken over by Evil?”

Yes. Something happened to the mild mannered science geek. He turned into a monster. Something twisted in his mind and heart, and Evil made an entry. Evil infested his life. It took him over. Whether the twist was through mental illness, some inner wound or some terrible dark intelligence, we cannot say. The fact that we can’t say what went wrong and don’t have a neat and tidy answer is the key to understanding the terrible conundrum of evil.

Being neither a practitioner of the demonic, nor an expert in exorcism, for all I know, Fr Longenecker could be right.

On the other hand, I’ve seen the ugly side of addiction close up in my family and in my ministry experiences. I have long-struggled with codependency and the associated compulsions which, in the light of day, make me shake my head and wonder why I behaved in a way I would not choose.

The recognition of my own culpability steers me away from blaming grandparents who were child abusers or alcoholics and who were unable to give my own parents sufficient tools to be good parents themselves. I don’t blame other people. Being a healthy adult in recovery, not to mention a Christian, I fess up to my own failures. I think about having sex with a woman who is not my wife? My fault, not Dad’s. I eat more than I should at the end of a long day? That’s on me, too, not Mom who encouraged me to clean my plate. I lash out in anger or sarcasm? It wasn’t any imp putting bad words and attitude into my mouth. It wasn’t my daughter on hormones. Mea definitely culpa.

I read a few commentators trying to penetrate the accused shooter from his mannerisms, the direction his eyes followed, and such. Someone I read thought he had pinpointed the mental illness from what he saw on CNN. Well, maybe it was mental illness. Or maybe it was an isolated human being who struggled with perspective and who made a conscious (if horrific) choice to do something evil. Why is it so easy for Christians to accept that some people are just bad (or worse, heretics) and so difficult to concede that some sinful choices are just that: choices?

Msgr William Lynn saw bad and sinful choices being made by a cardinal in Philadelphia. (Or so his defense team suggested). His brother priests molested and raped children. The same guys who sat with him in seminary, who shared drinks and good times with the rest of the clergy before the Chrism Mass, and who put a public face at Mass on an otherwise very private and sheltered life. A life that may, for some people, drain perspective and drain the ability to admit culpability.

There’s no big conclusion or wise maxim to come from this essay. The older I get the more I concede I just don’t know. But that doesn’t make me more willing to auto-accept some younger whippersnapper’s clever insight on these senseless things. I don’t have a better idea. But I’m dislinclined to blame anybody else for anything.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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