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lahey the unmentionable

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 05, 2009

Canadian Bishop Raymond Lahey was arrested last week for possession of kiddie-porn, an event widely reported in the media. The public reaction was one of understandable disgust and exasperation. Halifax Archbishop Anthony Mancini has written an open letter to the Roman Catholic faithful of Nova Scotia in which he addresses the damage wrought by Lahey.

Except he doesn't.

Not only does Lahey's name never appear in Mancini's letter, but there is not a single reference to any concrete act of wrongdoing whatsover. In one phrase Mancini sails near the subject with the words "shocking and possibly criminal sexual behaviour," but he fails to tell us what this behavior was, still less who perpetrated it.

What we get instead is a long roar of self-pity, the high-flown language of spiritual agony. Emotionally Mancini is way over the top -- disconcerting in itself, coming from a man in a position of responsibility -- and his complete inability to name the wrongs to which he is reacting makes the letter all the more strange. We get some oblique reminders of our duty of forgiveness, but lacking the acknowledgment of a trespass to forgive the encouragement is vacuous.

Particularly dismaying is Mancini's "we're on a learning curve" paragraph. All he communicates is that he can't say what he means:

If our church is to get beyond our present difficulties, if we hope to have any significant future, we must learn the lessons which these last years of struggle point to. One of these lessons is for all of us to have a better understanding of what constitutes a human person. People, priests, bishops are human, and failure to see, recognize and care about this will continue to produce inhuman expectations and give rise to inhuman behaviour.

Say what? The constitution of those human persons given to homosexual interest in boys was understood perfectly well by St. Paul, and indeed long before. Moreover, the ability to "see, recognize and care about" this tendency was built into the traditional ascetic discipline of religious and priestly formation, which imposed hardships designed to toughen men of good will against temptation and to weed out the rest. After the Council this discipline was laughed off the program by the Laheys as ridiculously old fashioned, but the "inhuman behaviour" that resulted would have been entirely predictable to St. Augustine. Back to the letter:

Another lesson is that failure in pastoral leadership is also connected to a misunderstanding of the diverse relationships which are needed to hold together the community of faith. Bishops, priests, deacons and lay ministers are not superheroes; leadership among the people of God is not about power, it is about caring.

I don't know what Mancini means, and I doubt very much that Mancini knows either. He's rattled and he's babbling. Is Lahey's storing kiddie-pix on his hard-drive meant to count as a "failure in pastoral leadership"? Most of us would find the pastoral failure in the willingness of the Canadian hierarchy to ignore sexual disorders in their number. Does Mancini think only a superhero can conduct a life of ministry without an occasional tumble into crime? And what's the point of the power-versus-caring cliché? How does the Lahey Affair illustrate a misunderstanding here? As with Archbishop Wilton Gregory's "We have all been enlightened" line, Mancini's letter shocks by proposing as empirical discoveries what the rest of us always accepted as basic principles of morality.

We are personally going through the passion and the death which Christ experienced, but we have not yet gone beyond death to the resurrection. It is as if we are presently sealed up in a dark tomb waiting for the power of the Spirit of God to overtake us and raise us up to a new day and a new future.

Oh come off it. "We" are not bleeding to death on a cross. "We" are not trapped in a tomb. In reality, "we" are momentarily embarrassed by the arrest of a bishop for vice. A single paragraph laying out the known facts of the matter in plain English would give the faithful more reassurance than fifty pages of this Baroque breast-beating. Mancini's letter is yet another specimen of the disease for which it purports to be the cure.

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