Edward R. Murrow said, “There’s nothing more important in life than friendship.” Friendship demands attentiveness, caring, sacrifice and intimacy. Consciously or subconsciously, friendship mandates change as personal universes somehow begin to inersect and then align and sometimes collide. There is an effort to it, time given it and an appreciation of its value. And sometimes, things go terribly wrong: betrayals, mistrust, brokenness, misunderstandings and failure to thrive.
Walking away is a viable option then; in fact, that is absolutely the right thing to do. Stepping away can protect, nurture, preserve and heal. It is about recognizing what is unhealthy, detrimental to personal growth, and diminshing to what is good. Other times, what matters is choosing to change self and relationship to recapture, renegotiate and rebuild wth purpose and promise. That requires a profound faith that it will be well worth the effort.
The history of the Roman Catholic Church is pockmarked with scandals and tragic misuse and manipulation of power, money, and the faithful. Every scandal from the early ones related to marriages and polytheism to the largest schism in the Protestant Reformation has generated cries of hypocrisy and won the wrath of generations. History teachers delight in recounting the abuses and cynically ridiculing the institution. But maybe that pattern of abuse and reform merits some attention. The reforms are not as appealing to the jaded, but they exist folowing every scandal.
First, while it may not be highly visible to some observers, the Church caters not to the perfect but to the flawed human beings born into a historical context and set of circumstances beyond individual control. Structures and systems shape and guide behavioral norms in every generation and culture, and the Church itself recognizes that. The goals of loving one another, of becoming better people, exist in acknowledgment of those realities. How to live as a flawed and broken being is the real question. Fot the wider Church, how to live as flawed and broken human beings in community is the larger question.
With that in mind, the pattern of scandal and reform that has plagued the Church’s existence becomes less monolithic and more personally relatable. Every exposure of an issue, a hypocrisy, a real problem, is somehow addressed. Raging against the machine may won awareness, but it is those who work towards the changes that open pathway for the next generation. It is far more intriguing to explore the liaisons of a pope or the sexual acts of the clergy or the abuse of children. Those evils, personal and institutional, are a function of flawed human beings, mental illnesses, and psychological and emotional limitations. They are undeniable and point to sociological structures as well.
Investigating, or having the courage to begin to look at the reform itself, demands an understanding of all those factors. Having an appreciation for the fact that none of it has gone unnoticed, that the Church has in fact begun to catalogue the errors and mishandled responses and reactions, requires a curiosity beyond the news reports and sound bytes. What has left such deep scars and so many wounded has caused a reform movement that has not yet won a name.
Virtus Training is a part of that reform: it challenges the traditional heirarchial structure with an emphasis on personal responsibility for a community. It aims at creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable and safe and where real communication among adults can take place. It is about adults hoding one another accountable for language and interaction, and it moves the Church from the role of arbiter of such charges to receiver. New structures with highly educated and competent counsellors in place allow for a new process that defies the old problem-solving by transfering the perpetrator. In a social world of fluidity and mobility, the Church has managed to design a whole new way of addressing issues and educating people. The change has begun; like the scandals of the past, headlines will still go to the sinfulness. But somewhere, out there, serious reform and change is taking place. And once again, the individual will be able to choose which path to follow: walking away or staying to be part of this reform.