Sunday, November 3, 2019

2019.11.03 How Can A House Divided Stand?

Saints and sinners live side by side everywhere—in every home, town, city, nation, country, church—and in every soul. When you know and embrace this wisdom your house will not be divided.

What happens, though, when ignorance and evil conspire to become institutionalized?

Recently, on the nightly news commentary show, Greater Boston, we heard an interview with French artist and filmmaker François Ozon. He talked about his creative process in making a movie about the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. The film is based on true stories and real people and is entitled, “By the Grace of God.”

Ozon spoke about his well-curated decision to make a movie, rather than a documentary or even a docudrama, about the pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in France. He got actors to play the parts of the priest, those who exercised ecclesiastical authority, the adult men who'd suffered abuse as children, and their families in Lyon, France.


All the victims had remembered in silence. One man began to search for the others. They found each other, shared their shame and their stories, and were able together to effect some change in a centuries-old rigidified, hierarchical, religious institution. How did they accomplish this?—through the power of truth, collective action, mutual support, media, and the secular legal system.

All of the men had been part of a scout troupe led by one parish priest who was sexually attracted to children. The narrowing of the focus plus the dramatization of the issue made it flesh, made it real, and therefore palpably credible—much more so than a docudrama would have. 

Although this film is in French and has subtitles, the dialogue isn’t complex, and the subtitles are not bothersome.


Besides a sinking heart, I felt a rising rage AND an expansive hope after I saw it. There is much more to this trauma than meets the eye. 
    -This is NOT as simple as an indictment of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. It is about centuries of patriarchal power abuses and coverups, involving complicit men and women at all levels—saints and sinners all.
    -It is about the politics of money. 
    -It is about confusing the Church with God, commonly called idolatry. 
    -It is frighteningly connected to what is going on in our nation and the world right now.
    -It is about ancient wisdom: words of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke way back in the first century CE: A house divided against itself cannot stand. (Mk. 3:25, Mt. 12:25, Lk. 11:17) You don’t need a personified figure called Satan to know this truth. 
    -It is about the ultimate value of breaking the silence and the shame that engulf addiction and related compulsions, diseases that keep full healing out of reach for too many. 
    -It is about tragic, treacherous exploitation of the best of religious values: forgiveness and divine compassion, and the Mystery of the Holy within and among us. 
    -It is about a terrifying exploitation of the Gospel: Jesus himself loved and touched little children, did he not?
    -It is NOT about priests who are evil, but about priests, such as the one in this film, who repeatedly ask for help for their mental illness and get refused. It is about priests, such as the one in this film who, when confronted, confess over and over. THEY TELL THE TRUTH.  (This is not about all priests of course, but I had one such priest as a client some years back. He had been stripped of everything, including his pension. I saw him for free and felt about as powerless as he did, except to proffer forgiveness divine. I did not know how to psychoanalyze his disease or help him, but I knew moralizing wasn’t helpful at all. He knew that too.) We need more research.
    -It is NOT about pedophilia, because that means love of children NOT sexual love with children. A better word might be pedo-predation.
    -It is about calling Holy that which is Evil.
    -It is about the inability to see saint and sinner at once.


The amazing work of this small group in Lyon realized one big legal change: the statute of limitations for seeking reparation or accountability for such predation has been extended in France from 15 years to 30 years. That is restorative justice and hopeful. When we work together, give up our unholy divisions and collaborate for the good of all, we can change our system. Their work continues, and despite complexities, there’s hope for the pope.
Without question, this film dramatizes one of the most painful death throes of patriarchy. If you have ever tended to someone who is dying you know what death throes look like—jerky, often lasting for days and weeks, painful to watch. The only thing to do is to be patient, present, take lots of breaks, have people who will listen to you, and pray without ceasing. You are hurting more than the one in the throes. If you are faithful you will trust the outcome and the divine hope within it.


See the film to catch the fullness of the power this phrase evokes: By the Grace of God.

BIBLE  Remember the story of Zaccheus, the money manager/tax collector/business man who intuited something sacred going on with  this Jesus and his teaching? The crowds pressed, so Zaccheus went up into a tree to see Jesus as he passed by. Jesus spotted him, glanced up. Their gaze locked. Ever wonder what Jesus saw in Zaccheus's eye, and what Zaccheus saw in Jesus's eye?


Remember always to ask: the grace of God according to whom?
A divided house cannot stand, but it can be rebuilt.