Many of us are still reeling from the news of 300 priests in PA raping over 1000 children. We felt utter disgust that the crime was covered up for years by the hierarchy, and finally revealed not by any church authority but by a grand jury. Shock probably progresses through several forms: revulsion, questioning, action. Even Pope Francis could not muster any stronger condemnation than the poignant line, “we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
The Pope’s advisor, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, voiced truth: “The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership. Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us.” Theologians have proposed all the bishops resign; other leaders suggest cutting off church donations. Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, abused himself by a priest when he was in eighth grade, has proposed eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecutions. All excellent ideas, but no one talks much about dismantling the clerical culture that created this mess, or paying attention to the victims.
And what does the ordinary person-in-the-pew do? How in our concern do we avoid re-victimizing? This early in the process, I’ve come to one practice, the Buddhist tonglen. While rage is appropriate, this prayer also calms and centers, for as the Dalai Lama says, “Inner disarmament first, then outer disarmament.”
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, because most people flee suffering, I begin by inhaling the suffering of the child abuse victims. It almost breaks my heart to do this, because I think of my own grandchildren, so small, vulnerable and innocent. But I try to continue, breathing in the pain, confusion, shame and betrayal the raped children must have felt. Their suffering can seem like a black cloud, which overshadows my narcissistic delusion I could do anything to change what happened.
But I bring them to the only source that can affect their terrible injury: Infinite Love and Healing Light. Some imagine this as Christ, always so fond of children, so quick to defend them from his stupid disciples. I imagine him dissolving the dark cloud and bringing comfort. I may never know these victims, but he does. He cherishes them and wants their healing with all his heart. Knowing they are in safe hands, I exhale peace, balm, joy.
Tonglen may not be everyone’s style of prayer, but it seems better than being helplessly overwhelmed by the problem. It might even be used by compassionate people to pray for the priest-rapists. What terrible wounding caused their actions? Was it a clerical culture that denied the most natural human warmth and touch, stalling their psycho-sexual development around age 14? Was it seminary training that made them feel so entitled they could grab whatever satisfaction they wanted, with no thought for the damage they wreaked? Did they live in dread of discovery? And what bizarre mental illness persuaded them that preserving the pristine image of the church was more important than ruining countless lives?
I don’t mean to suggest here the meaningless cliché of “sending thoughts and prayers” that surfaces from politicians after shootings. I mean a practice that takes time and concerted effort, that truly believes “with God all things are possible.” It awakens our finest self, and for some may flower in appropriate action. All of us doing it together is the Mystical Body at its best, wrapping the terrible suffering in tremendous care.