Power to the Laity:
The Roman Catholic Church Must Stop Playing Make-Believe
The sordid sex scandal presently rocking the Roman Catholic Church is in many ways a modern version of the Wizard of Oz. For the longest time, the Church's arrogant hierarchy, overly idealized by the laity, has been beyond the criticism of "mere mortals." Today, thanks to bumbling clerical bureaucrats such as Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, that is no longer the case. In fact, Law is regularly accosted by parishioners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, demanding that he resign for his alleged cover-up of the crimes of pedophile priests, including the notorious Father John Geoghan .
In my updated metaphor, let us place Cardinal Law in the role of the Wizard of Oz. He represents the Church leadership today in America. And--like the original Wizard--after being exposed as a "humbug," he can now honestly say to the faithful, "I have been making believe."
What have Cardinal Law and his clever counterparts "been making believe?" They have been making believe that they alone are the Church! Their message, as if given to the enslaved Munchkins, is that they alone rule the Church, and that others, the faithful, must follow blindly. The truth is that the laity is the real Church; its clerical leaders are simply that--appointed leaders who should serve, based on acceptable standards of clerical conduct, at the pleasure of the laity .
The modus operandi of the Church leaders with regard to the repulsive crimes against the young was to ignore and/or cover up the foul deeds, blame the innocent victims, and marginalize those exposing the wrongdoing. This sad pattern has a history .
For years, activists in this country implored Cardinal Law and others in the Church hierarchy to take a stand for the beleaguered Catholics of Northern Ireland. What we got back for our human rights efforts was indifference to the desperate situation in the British-controlled colony. They simply tagged the victims as troublemakers and were hostile toward the activists for bringing the matter to their attention .
Parallels continue. It was a tornado that drove Dorothy to Oz, and it is the deepening sex scandal that has catapulted the laity into examining the widespread corruption within the Church. The scandal, like the story, similarly conveys a strong mandate about the need for democratic checks and balances within the faltering institution .
What Dorothy and her three companions discover during their journey to Emerald City is also comparable to the mess within the Church. First, we learn that goodness and trust can provide some protection against evil, but ignorance of evil's capabilities will eventually allow it to impose itself upon unsuspecting innocents. Second, we learn that each individual carries within himself the solutions to his own problems, were he only to view himself objectively. The ancients, such as the Roman Seneca, called this wisdom "God's Natural Law."
A recent poll conducted by NBC News demonstrated a general lack of confidence in major institutions among the American people. Among the mistrusted institutions were corporations, brokerage firms, drug companies, the oil industry, and the Roman Catholic Church .
On June 17, after a public outcry and demand for reform led by the victims of priestly abuse, U.S. Bishops at a Dallas, Texas conference adopted a "zero tolerance" resolution regarding pedophile priests. Unfortunately, they were silent on the key question of the complicity of many of their own members in perpetuating and covering up the pedophilia scandal. Accountability for individual bishops and cardinals (such as Bernard Law) wasn't on the clerics' limited agenda in Dallas .
The Church faithful must take off their "green glasses" and see the leadership as it really is, without any illusions, and take the Church back for themselves. They must demand the sacking of the failed men who have betrayed not only their trust, but also their God. Only then can the laypeople say with joy in their hearts--as the brave Dorothy exclaimed on returning to the great plains of Kansas--"And oh, Aunt Em! I'm so glad to be at home again!"
© William Hughes 2002
William Hughes is an attorney and the author of Baltimore Iconoclast (Writer's Showcase).
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This story was published on July 3, 2002.