6 March 2013, Thoughts on Excommunication

Yesterday’s announcement by the Bishop is a disturbing event in our diocese. Probably it will lead to self-righteous judging and polarization on all sides, always, of course, in the name of Jesus. There is a lot of pain.

The Bishop cannot be happy with the position he as taken. He is a good man with a pastoral sense who, I believe, cares deeply about the excommunicated priest and the so-called breakaway community. He has taken the only position he believes canon law allows. This whole process cannot have been easy or joyful for him.

There has to be pain also for the priest and the community — good people all who have been trying to do what they believe is they only thing they can. Their community in many ways reflects what parishes are looking to be — quality liturgies, educational opportunities, community ministry involvement. The priest is prayerful, well-educated, liturgically gifted, and also pastoral. No doubt all are suffering from the way their home parish was closed, and are dealing with their pain as best they can.

There are any number of theories about how we got into this mess, most of them involving finger-pointing of some sort. But that is the past, and the past cannot be undone. How we got here is not as important as what we do now that we are here. In the annals of international diplomacy there are numerous stories about dangerous issues being resolved by “underlings” from different sides of issues who get together and talk about things when their principals could not. The story is told about a potentially world-ending situation being worked out by a low level functionary of the White House meeting with a low-level functionary of the pertinent embassy getting together in a Georgetown bar just talking and relaying ideas back to their principals. When folks get on stage with a public position there is rarely any wiggle room, and nothing can get done. Its a bit like two branches of our government these day, each pointing fingers at the other while everyone suffers. Some things are best discussed in privacy and confidentially by folks who do not have an emotional investment.

No doubt there have been missteps on all sides. But who is to say that all involved in this mess are not following the Holy Spirit as they see her in their own prayer? All the people involved in this are good people, perhaps so involved and entrenched in their own positions as to be unable to see the good in the other side. This is just part of human nature. But finger pointing doesn’t work. In many ways the Holy Spirit is process, one that has been described as the ongoing revelation of the Trinity.

Perhaps we might learn from some of the studies of war and PTSD. Pain is a terrible thing, both for individual folks and for institutions. It has to be dealt with, and it will be dealt with one way or another. It is better if persons in pain deal with their pain on their terms rather than on the pain’s terms. If it is not dealt with, the pain will arise with a vengeance when we are not ready for it, and it is devastating. Without pointing fingers, it might be that this is some of what is happening here. Perhaps collectively our diocese is going through its own form of PTSD. Pastors who have watched their parishes being closed have experienced pain, and I would guess that many of them have not gotten the needed help, so they have hidden their pain and moved on. The same can be said, in my opinion, about many congregations, including the community at the center of all this. Maybe not. I don’t know, but it looks that way to me.

The Bishop has stated publicly that he wants to repair what is seen as damaged relationships with the priests of the diocese. He seems to be trying, and there is anecdotal evidence that things are getting better. I believe we all want to see him succeed. He has had a tough time here. But every once in a while something happens that causes wonder. Rightly or wrongly, because of his previous track record with us, anything he says or does is met by many of us with skepticism and mistrust. Morale among priests is not all that good.

We priests also want to see things get better for our diocese and our Bishop. Yet there are many who are afraid to say what we really think and feel. Many are still stung by the previous years of our Bishop’s tenure. Some issues are the “arbitrary” and “unilateral” movement of the priests’ retirement age from 70-75. Many priests are wondering if they will live long enough to enjoy their retirement. Some priests are hesitant to express their thoughts because of the reprisals they fear the Bishop will take against them. Maybe this fear is justified, maybe it isn’t.  It points out the underlying current in our diocese. The atmosphere of fear among priests is real, subtle, unnerving, and debilitating. Many are just not happy. As some say, “it’s just not fun anymore”. It is not fair to judge any of them. It would be nice if more of us would express publicly what we say privately.

Perhaps our current situation might provide some hints as to where the Holy Spirit is calling all of us. In the interests of full disclosure, I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of time”, and “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you”. I believe he was speaking not only of the universal church, but also of local churches, of our local church today.

Just sayin   .  .   .