I have a positive regard for silence as a virtue of the liturgy and the spiritual life. Silence has a shadow outside of those disciplines.
My wife texted me from the public library the other day. Check the Kansas City Star online, she advised. The three-part series begins here and ended yesterday. I don’t think my wife knew Msgr Tom O’Brien, but I did. I was aware of the rough details of this situation:
(T)he diocese said it had received a complaint in September 1983 accusing O’Brien of sexual misconduct with a different teenage boy and that O’Brien denied any wrongdoing when confronted. O’Brien was removed from his assignment as pastor of Nativity of Mary parish the following month, the diocese said, and sent for psychological evaluation and treatment in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.
After treatment, O’Brien was allowed to serve as a part-time hospital chaplain until 2002, when then-Bishop Raymond J. Boland restricted him from presenting himself as a priest.
During those years as a hospital chaplain, he was in residence at the parish I served from 2002 until 2008. The pastor told me that single credible complaint was the only one against him. When the firestorm of 2002 hit, that old complaint resurfaced, somehow. Parents at the parish complained bitterly about Msgr O’Brien hearing the confessions of children and presiding at the occasional school Mass. My new boss conceded he had “lost all credibility” with parishioners for giving a friend a rectory to live in and a limited pastoral role in the parish.
It really is no wonder that my friends and former parishioners are fuming over Bishop Finn, questioning what other secrets are being kept. Msgr O’Brien quickly disappeared from the rectory in 2002. He would visit frequently, and I know he had friends in the parish. But his profile was almost zero by the start of that first school year.
Enough internet commentators are focusing on the horrors of sexual abuse and the institutional cover-up. David Gibson has a devastating post up at dotCommonweal about Bishop Finn. Readers here know of my own concerns about the Ratigan case. Until the big news on him broke earlier this year, my daughter still considered him her favorite priest. His picture was quickly removed from the family’s “favorite priest” section on the fridge. The young miss overheard my wife and I talking about Bishop Finn the other week. “Haven’t they fired him yet?” my daughter asked. Good question.
I wonder about her faith. Are the changes I see more the typical adolescent rebellion/boredom/testing boundaries? In the back of my mind, I do wonder if something happened. The young miss is usually talkative about a lot of things. Very little though about NCYC, which her mother had hoped would spark a new sense of faith.
My daughter came to Mass with me Sunday night this past weekend. I was playing, so we didn’t sit together. In fact, I didn’t see her at all till after liturgy. She mentioned that she went to the balcony and only came down for Communion. She went back after receiving the Eucharist. “I like it up there,” she reported. At least she’s in the door. For the moment.
One mother quoted in the Star, whose son committed suicide back in the 80’s, and who has recently met with another of the altar servers who was abused:
I needed support. I thought, ‘I’ll go to Harrisonville. It’ll be quiet time for me.’ But I could not make myself go in the parking lot of that church.
If you ever tell, you’ll be kicked out of the Catholic Church, your parents will disown you, and you’ll die and go to hell.
… or something similar.
If a victim tells, he or she should be reassured to no end they will never be kicked out. The only unforgivable sin, it seems, is ordaining a woman or attending such a liturgy. The only people who will be mad will be the hyperorthodox defenders of the faith. But no worries: there will be somebody to get mad at tomorrow, if not later tonight. And while it’s true everybody dies, bad shepherds are the ones who have the millstone around their necks.
Bishop Finn may be lawyered up on the diocesan dime, but does he realize the peril of his situation?
Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle to find meaning in the silence.