After the Fall

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June 3, 2013 by lucieromarin

I’ve written elsewhere about how the traditionalist movement, having no single founder or leader, escapes the problems that can afflict communities with a leader, both when that leader inspires a over-commited- or quasi-cultic devotion, and, even more especially, when that leader turns out to be in some way fraudulent.

Trads may be lucky that way, but it’s no reason to sneer, or to feel we’ve scored a point in the cosmic war for the flag of faith. It’s great when men doing the wrong thing are forced to stop doing the wrong thing, but for their followers, the unearthing of scandal means only shock followed by grief. We’re talking about people who have given up work, income, or marriage for the sake of their apostolates or movements. They’ve moved overseas, taken public or private vows, and entrusted the deepest longings of their spiritual lives to communities they believed, not only to be orthodox, but to be led by holy men, men who seemed to offer what they need to attain holiness themselves.

When celebrity priest! or a great founder is suddenly proved something other than holy, the temptation for persons outside that situation is to one of three responses:

1) to advocate silence, advising suffering persons to keep quiet about their experiences or disappointments for fear of shocking those who still look to that movement for guidance;

2) to say something along the lines of, “Well, that’s what you get for being lured in by celebrity/joining a cult instead of sticking with the Church,”

3) to consider the public scandal proof of the invalidity of religious orthodoxy or of religion itself, and to say as much to the traumatised person.

Now, most people aren’t a) lovers of cults or b) fundamentalist atheists taking malicious pleasure in the crosses experienced by persons of faith. Thus, most people who respond in these ways really believe they’re helping the victims by doing so. However, they are not, and these are the reasons why:

1) Parish and Religious life during the 1980s (and into the early 1990s) was so extremely dire that all it took for a movement to be considered orthodox was that its leaders a) not deny the basics of the Catechism, b) not publicly badmouth the Pope, c) not have clowns in the sanctuary, and d) pray the Rosary.

That was it! That was all it took, which meant that desperate and well-meaning Catholics, worn out by sanctuary dances and guitars, saw the sheen upon the brass, and thought it was gold. These apostolates and movements attracted such followings, because their members had nowhere else to go. (Seriously, do you think communities of women in suit-dresses and shoulder pads would have flourished as they did if there had been some Josephite or Dominican habits in the same suburb for young women to look to?).

In other words, blaming the victims for not noticing that the orthodoxy of these communities was slightly awry is not always fair. All they had to compare them to was Sister Peace-and-Justice, who preferred to be called Jan.

2) Both the second and third possible responses above are borderline forms of denial. Both  – unintentionally, I believe – blame the victim for his or her experience; ‘This only happened because you went about religion the wrong way,’ or ‘This only happened because you went about religion at all.’ One blames the victim for his choices. The other blames the victim for being himself. That is, by telling a naturally religious woman that her problem is religion, you tell her that she herself is the problem. By telling a naturally religious man that his problem is religion, you tell him that he is the natural dupe of charlatans, and will continue to be so until he stops being what he is…and starts being more like you.

3) One last word. I’m not about to defend clerical immorality here, but there is something I’d like to point out, apropos fallen celebrity priests of the pro-life movement. Ours is not the first generation in which Catholic teaching about marriage and family has to be defended from the pulpit; however priests have never had to ‘promote’ marriage before, because society as a whole has never eschewed it before. They’ve never had to give speech after speech persuading people into an enthusiasm for marriage. And their talks about purity have never needed to include constant reminders that the marriage act is holy as well as pleasurable. Ours is the first generation in which priests have expected to sell marriage, and to sell it often, and consistently, and to sell it with particular emphasis upon its joys.

Selling anything is difficult work, and it’s also unnatural; how do you block your mind against your own pitch?

(I know I can’t prove anything here. I’m just saying.)

The first way to help people to heal is to acknowledge that a wrong has been done them, and the second is to make sure that, in doing so, we don’t add to their wounds.


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