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Truth May Set the Church Free

06/04/02 12:00AM By Jim Luken
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(Host) Commentator Jim Luken reflects on the priesthood and the current scandal in the Catholic Church.

(Luken) As a so-called "cradle" Catholic, an altar boy sputtering Latin at age seven, a teacher at an all-boys Catholic high school, and a freelance journalist for the worldwide Franciscans, I came to know a lot of priests. Ironically, for the past five years I have found myself married to one. Although Jeanette is a priest in the Episcopal tradition, I sometimes jokingly refer to her as "Father." She's a good sport. She knows where the irony resides.

In 50 years of contact with the priests of my childhood faith, I have encountered many extraordinary men of the Catholic Church. Some of these are priests who got out, who left their ministry to marry and, in some cases, raise families. Celibacy was too big a price to pay. Like most Catholics, I am saddened and angered as the list of accusation grows. And as the degree of ecclesial cover-up continues to emerge.

Of course, sexual abuse of children is not confined to ministers of the Catholic Church. Then why are these revelations about priests so disturbing? Perhaps these perpetrators are special because we call them "Father." They used their position and their power as spiritual leaders to manipulate, and then violate, the innocent; those with no power.

A few weeks ago, as the net of scandal was spreading ever wider in the Church, I had a strange experience. Walking through the local mall, I spotted an elderly shopper, a priest in his black shirt and Roman collar. I had never seen the man before, but a strange thought flashed through my mind. I wonder if he could be one of them, I thought, a pedophile. Then I countered the negative thought. In all likelihood, this man is innocent of any wrongdoing. But that reactionary suspicion took me by surprise. As unfair as it may be, people in our society are glancing at Catholic priests, known and unknown, with a similar question in mind.

Over the years, non-Catholic friends have voiced their difficulties with the priesthood, their suspicions regarding the notion of celibacy. Some have expressed repugnance at the way we Catholics confer upon our priests a degree of homage that no human being deserves. "Yes, Father┐ No, Father." So I was raised. This man who was not my father was invested with paternal authority...and then some. This spiritual transference has helped create the context in which the abuse of children has emerged as a horrific pattern.

In the long run, I see the current disgrace as humbling for the Church, and healthy for priests in every parish. It's wrong for men to live as demigods. Many Catholics welcome the situation wherein the Church, which kept its secret for so long, must finally let the light in. No longer filtered by a stained-glass lens. The harsh light. The healing light. The truth may someday set the Church free.

Jim Luken is a writer and manages a senior living facility.
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