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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Father Conley and me

The nightmares are back. And not at a good time. The tarnished silver tea service is on the kitchen island, surrounded by an engraved crystal bowl, pottery vases, the antique china coffee cups etched in gold and painted by my great aunt, and the hand tooled Estonian leather book I was given by a friend fresh from the far reaches of Kazahkstan -- not by choice, his trip -- in 1984. Three silver lamps with multiple arms stand like soldiers in chainmail guarding the kitchen table. The room is crowded with antique tables, dining room chairs, an old parking meter, a pile of oversized pillows, and the wood hexagon table I remember my parents buying on a tense Saturday afternoon when I was a child. The kitchen and the hallways nearby are crammed full of everything that could be moved out of the dining room, living room, and family room in order for them to be steam-cleaned yesterday. I suppose it will be a good idea to put them all back when the carpet dries. Our two amazingly fantastic daughters are graduating in the next two weeks, one from college, one from high school. The graduation photo collage was due yesterday, AP tests wrap up tomorrow. Prom is Saturday night: the dress ready, shoes ready, accessories ready, hair appointment set up and nails to be done. Kaia has had her last classes and is taking her very last test at this hour. (She was going to study this morning but decided to take out the trash instead.) Now she is off to enjoy Twins games (how is that possible?) and play frisbee with her friends. There are parties to plan, a big house to clean and make ready for guests. A week from today we drive across South Dakota to St. Paul to the aubergine-painted house for one last college visit and a weekend of awards ceremonies, brunches, commencement and parties. And then a fast trip home to repeat the sequence in honor of Annika's graduation. Announcements, invitations, food orders, slide shows (because I cannot commemorate anything without the requisite slide show), and balloons, party hats (what? no party hats?!) and all of the paraphenalia that is part of the festivity. So far, 178 kids have said "Yes" to the party invitation. A yard to prepare, new badminton racquets to buy, the deck to be repainted, a garden to clean out and flowers to plant, and dog poop to pick up. At least I got the sofa made already. And on top of all that, Annika is speaking right now to her classmates on a schoolwide podcast about teen suicide prevention in view of the seeming rash of suicides and suicide attempts at her school this year. A heavy burden that she's carried now for weeks, preparing the presentation, being the liaison from the Principal to the students on this concern. She wears it with grace but it sure weighs her down. So this is not a great time for mom to fall apart. And during the daylight hours, I don't. But these nightmares..... Today's New York Times (attempt at link above) reports on the American Cardinal who has replaced Ratzinger, now Pope something, as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Which is to say, top dude in charge of priests and just about everything else. He was Archbishop of Portland and San Francisco prior to this elevation. He's not done a consistent, great job of protecting the faithful. It's hard to read about clergy sexual abuse. It's hard for anyone to read about clergy sexual abuse. Anyone with something resembling a pre-frontal cortex, a human intelligence can plainly tell that priests sexually molesting boys is despicable. Everyone, that is, except the higher-ups in the church. Go figure. I'm serious. Go, try to figure that out. Figure out what that is about. Power. Abusing power. Guarding privilege. Holding on. And covering up. Nobody outside that small privileged elite has any problem understanding the magnitude and the depth of damage done to the personhood, the psyche, the trust, and the faith of a child who is used sexually by a person in power over them. Who is manipulated, twisted, and left to feel guilty -- because the one violated is always the one left feeling the acute guilt. That, I suppose, is because the one who is violated is not a sociopath. There have been advocates within the church, on behalf of victims. Priests, even some archbishops. One in particular stands out in this article. And it's his plight, or rahter my own, like his albeit with a different twist, that has been giving me the nightmares lately. The Rev. John P. Conley, a former United States Attorney who became a priest, discovered, literally, the abuse of a flustered young boy in his parish and the senior priest "crawling away." Father Conley also learned that priests had not been briefed about a new state law establishing priests as mandated reporters of child sexual abuse. "Instead of imposing restrictions on Father Aylward [the perpetrator of the abuse], Archbishop Levada suspended Father Conley...." Father Conley, more at home with the courts than I, filed a defamation lawsuit against the Archdiocese, arguing that he had been punished and slandered for reporting the abuse, and he eventually won a settlement. Stunning. The church. In its arrogance, its sheer stupidity, its failure of Christian charity and faithfulness. Stunning. To everybody not sheltered by its marble towers and corporate offices. I'm still stunned --- though well on the way to recovering! --- that I too was defamed and then set up by the officials who threw me to the mob. If you are still wondering about my story, this one goes a long way toward explaining it. And my nightmares. It's also that time of year. I'll get through it, I'm getting over it, past it, and growing stronger because of it. But still, ask me how likely it is that I'll be paying a visit to the offices downtown anytime soon. There is life out here, life beyond there, those well-carpeted and tastefully decorated, and sterile offices, beyond their closeted and fearful failures. This is where the grace is being poured out. This is where mercy and kindness and "the peace of the Lord" is being shared. Freely. Without abuse. Without dissembling. Without terror. The terrors of the congregation, the official bullshit and, well, I want to call it misconduct, is past. Except in these occasional nightmares. And even those are being resolved. There is life to choose! Life! And so it goes. There are 178 hungry mouths to feed!

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