"Without any understanding of man's deep-seated urge to self-transcend, of his very reluctance to take the hard, ascending way, and his search for some bogus liberation either below or to one side of his personality, we cannot hope to make sense of our own particular period of history or indeed of history in general, of life as it was lived in the past and as it is lived today. For this reason I propose to discuss some of the more common Grace-substitutes, into which and by means of which men and women have tried to escape from the tormenting consciousness of being merely themselves. .... human beings have felt the radical inadequacy of their personal existence, the misery of being their insulated selves and not something else, something wider, something in Wordsworthian phrase, 'far more deeply interfused'." (Aldous
Huxley, "Appendix" from The Devils of Loudun, Penguin Books, 1971, 313f.)

"Spotlight", the movie

A Reflection by Michael Whelan SM

“There's no higher compliment to pay this steadily riveting, quietly devastating take on investigative journalism than to say Spotlight gets it right.” So wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, November 4 2015.

This film tells the story of how, in 2002, a team of journalists from the Boston Globe told the horrible story of sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. After breaking the story, they wrote more than 600 articles, giving the individual accounts of victims, exposing more than 70 clergy who had molested children in their care and proving that there had been well orchestrated efforts – mostly successful – to cover it up. Cardinal Law was implicated in the cover ups, along with a network of professional lay people – including journalists at the Globe.

Uncomfortable truths are told in this film with restraint, objectivity and compassion. Catholics in particular should go and see it. Spotlight – like the current Royal Commission – takes us into the wilderness where we must face our demons. “The truth will set you free”(John 8:32).

By facing those demons, we can begin to recover the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is part of our baptismal identity. One of the tragic ironies in this whole sordid affair is that the prophetic voices have come – for the most part – not from the representatives of the Catholic Church but from the victims, the media and the representatives of the legal system. Where would we be if the victims had not had the courage to step forward and tell their harrowing stories? It is precisely the shame and embarrassment of being called to public account that can make us desperate enough to remember that it is prophecy we are on about not maintenance of a system. We must resist the temptation to shoot the messenger.

By facing those demons, we can begin to break free of the self-defensiveness that has more to do with maintenance than mission. “Christian humanity always goes forth. It is not narcissistic or self-referential. When our heart is rich and is so self-satisfied, then it has no more room for God. Please, let us avoid ‘remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe’” (Pope Francis in Florence, 10 November 2015).

By facing those demons, we can hopefully find the impetus to embark on a thorough study of Catholic culture – especially in the formation houses of priests and religious. Is there anything there in the Catholic culture that has aided and abetted the awful betrayal of trust represented by the sexual abuse? If so, is that being adequately addressed? In particular, is our understanding of and teaching on human sexuality in accord with both human experience and the life and teaching of Jesus?

Finally, by facing those demons, we might begin to grasp the profound significance of the Second Vatican Council’s statement: “The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal” (Lumen Gentium #8). We are a ‘pilgrim people’, not an ‘arrived people’.

I am told that the Chinese character for “crisis” has a man on a mountain. It represents danger and opportunity. The danger is that he might fall to his ruin. The opportunity is that he might see where he needs to go .......

Michael Whelan SM

Parish Priest