Where are you on the "Empathy Scale"?

Here we go again….

Let me get a few things straight before we get started. I am now a lapsed Catholic – I believe everything I was taught during eight years of Catholic school – my parents both volunteered most of their time to our parish church and school, a trait they not only passed on to me but enjoyed my involvement with the church in the various roles I took. I was an altar server as a teenager (the first girl in my parish to do so), a lector, CCD teacher, Teen Club member, then leader, a Eucharistic Minister, Folk Group leader, softball and swimming coach, volunteer school aide and later, was a teacher in two different Diocesean elementary schools.

I have been “on the inside” since I was a child; my parents volunteered and brought many stories home of their dealings with the clergy and other volunteers – as a curious child, I always loved to “accidentally overhear”. I have been included with adults and their conversations when I was younger as the only kid in the room most times – “You’re smart – you understand” is what I often heard. Dinners over the years with clergy members, from nuns and priests, to pastors and Diocesean big wigs – I have had the honor to know many Bishops in later years as well as a great number of priests, sharing many conversations and a few glasses of wine with some.

All that being said, I can say to you, I am a Catholic. I believe in my faith, my love for the “Hippie Jesus”, as I like to call him, that I was introduced to as a kid – the 70’s showed us a handsome man with long hair, in a robe and sandals, loving everyone, forgiving everyone – shunning no one but the hypocrites at the Temple. I believe we are here for a reason, to do all the good we can, love one another, celebrate in the joys of a heavenly paradise when we leave this earth, surrounded by the ones we love. Based on that, I want to believe in the best in people, love conquering all, and in the end, goodness in what people do, think and say.

And as I said, here we go again….

I read an article in the Diocesean newspaper recently that began with the sentence “the June 26th decision by the Supreme Court was a tragic day for the Church and the world”. On that day, the United States Supreme Court handed down two decisions regarding marriage equality. The Defense of Marriage Act was dead, California’s Prop 8 was declared null as the people who brought suit did not have the right to do so. Finally, the United States government, the Federal level would be acknowledging same-sex marriages and all the Federal laws and statutes afforded heterosexual couples since this country was founded would be equally afforded to homosexual couples.

This decision was a landmark in the history of America – and one that the Catholic church calls “tragic”. The article seemed to be a repetitive rant stating the Church’s belief that the “truth about marriage” was that it is “one man, one woman, for life”. That is their view, steadfast and pure. But it causes me to ask one question, speaking of steadfast and pure (emphasis on pure) – why has the Catholic Church not been as vocal, passionate and condemning of their own scandal involving sex?

Today, on a New York City radio station, I heard a story of a Catholic priest,”defrocked” because of allegations, later proof of child molestation, who had lost his home because of Superstorm Sandy. As a result of him having “nowhere else to go”, a parish in a neighboring city had taken him in and allowed him to live in the parish rectory. Um, anyone see a problem here?

One of the last years I taught, the faculty was informed of a new Music Director the parish had hired – he would also be running the children’s choir. I distinctly remember another teacher and I both raised our heads up when we heard the man’s name – he had been a parish priest in my home parish where this other faculty member had also taught. We raised our heads because this priest had been in the parish leading the altar boy, sports, teen and music programs. He was there for many years and then suddenly, gone. No explanation – just gone. Now he was the new music director in the school where I was teaching. The other faculty member and I were called into the principal’s office right after the meeting – we were sat down and told that under no circumstances were we to say we knew this new music director. Much younger, more naive, we questioned once and were told we would be “let go” if anything came out about where he was from. Very strange, we both thought, but as the Church’s scandal issues had not been brought forth at that time and because we couldn’t imagine what would have elicited this preemptive reprimand, and valuing our jobs, we left well enough alone. Years later, that priest/music director’s name was in the Daily News as a priest who had been transferred from parish to parish because of child molestation accusation and charges. We were in disbelief.

But this is a M.O. the Catholic Church has used for years, time and time again, in many different parishes all over the world. It is inexcusable, deviant behavior on the part of people entrusted to lead believers, shaping their spiritual beings over lifetimes. It is an abuse of position, power and a deception, the scale of which can only be rivaled in suspense thrillers. Yet the Church not only continues to deny their actions, they vehemently chastise others. “Do as I say, not as I do”. How can even one parish priest, a pastor in charge of their parish make such a grievous decision to take in an accused/convicted child molester? Or should we look at this as “Hippie Jesus” would have – forgiveness, compassion, understanding, rehabilitation of a fallen man? Taking it one step further, if we choose to look at the actions of this pastor as compassionate, should we not, as the whole Church look at “marriage equality” with the same compassion? After all, how is it that a Church, with “Hippie Jesus” as its “front man”, if you will, can’t be all about love? That damn four letter word that has been getting men and women in trouble since Adam and Eve – LOVE!

Compassion for those who hide who they are for fear of familial shunning, societal scorn and religious ridicule – when will the Church recognize the fact that many men have grown up, victims of the Church’s scandalous behavior and have floundered as adults, some even choosing suicide as an option to relieve their pain? When will the Church who professes compassion, concern and love realize that many people in the LGBT community want to be good Catholics but have nowhere to turn within the Church only to leave an institution they grew up in and for some, choosing to end their own lives because the pain and shunning is too great? More and more lapsed Catholics lead to dwindling church attendance, less proselytizing¬†on behalf of an ancient order and the contradiction just seems to create a wider and deeper chasm between the believers that are left.

Perhaps it is the word LOVE we should really invest our attention to – “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” – empathy for others brings about the highest level of love regardless of religious, political, economic, or lifestyle standing.

When push comes to shove, where do you stand on the “Empathy Scale”? Think about your faults and what criticism and shunning you may face as a result of your beliefs – think about being the minority when it comes to that position. Perhaps then, you can truly understand what being human is all about.