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Power to the Laity

by William Hughes

Lyman Frank Baum spun a delightful tale over a century ago. It’s called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It dealt with a little girl named Dorothy, and her odyssey, via a tornado, from a Kansas farm house into the strange, magical land of Oz. Some saw it as a parable of the populist struggle that engulfed the nation in the late 1890s. The sordid sex scandal presently rocking the Roman Catholic Church is like a 2002 version of the Wizard of Oz in many ways.

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, like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, that is no longer the case.

In fact, as I write, 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, like 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 has Cardinal Law, and his clever counterparts, “been making believe” about? 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! And, 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 in the north of Ireland. What we got back for our human rights efforts was indifference to the desperate situation in the British controlled tagged the victims as troublemakers, and were hostile to us 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. It, too, coveys a strong mandate about the need for democratic checks and balances within that faltering institution. What Dorothy and her three companions, found out from their journey to Emerald City is also very instructive to the mess within the Church. First, that goodness and a trusting nature can afford people some protection against evil, but that ignorance of evil’s capabilities will eventually allow it to impose itself upon them. And, secondly, that each individual carries within himself the solutions to his own problems, were he only to view himself objectively. The ancients, like the Roman Seneca, called this wisdom “God’s Natural Law.”

A recent poll conducted by NBC News showed a roster of mistrust with respect to the American public’s lack of confidence in major institutions. It included corporate executives, brokerage firms, drug companies, the oil industry and the Roman Catholic Church.

On June 15, after a public outcry and demand for reform, led by the victims of priestly abuse, the 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, too, like Bernard Law, wasn’t on the cleric’s limited agenda in Dallas.

Two-thirds of Catholics in a Washington Post poll, released on June 19, said the new guidelines do not go far enough in protecting children. Three fourths of the general public felt that way. 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. It must demand the sacking of the failed men who have betrayed not only their trusting flock, but also their God. Only then, can the laity say, with joy in their hearts, as the brave Dorothy acclaimed on returning to the great plains of Kansas: “And oh, Aunt Elm! I’m so glad to be at home again!”

William Hughes is an attorney and the author of Andrew Jackson vs. New World Order (Authors Choice Press) and Baltimore Iconoclast (Writer’s Showcase).

(c) William Hughes 2002


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