Thursday, February 28, 2008

Missing in Action? Not Quite: Moral Courage Still Exists

I've been thinking recently about the absence of moral courage among not just our political leaders, but among our spiritual leaders and just everyday Americans.

We don't seem to value it that much any more, or else it has been cheapened by its commercialization.

So I thought I would pass on just a small incidence of personal moral courage, remarkable by its insertion into everyday life.

Everyone is aware of the Catholic Church's unfortunate reactions to the priestly sexual abuse scandal.

One day, in our Sunday bulletin, I glanced at the message from our priest (now retired for health reasons). He was discussing the fact that it had been a hard year for lots of people, him included, and the need for faith in difficult times.

He talked about his father's death, his mother's illness, and his own health problems.

He also said that he had been struck with depression after "a priest who is my friend has been implicated in a sexual abuse case."

The sentence haunted me for a long time. If I had a friend who had been accused of such, would I have had the guts to mention it, much less to identify this person without equivocation as my friend. Not "someone I thought of as a friend" or "someone I long considered a friend," but just "my friend."

About a month later I asked him about it. First, he made sure that I understand that it was pretty obvious that this priest was guilty, and that he did not condone his actions--in fact that he expected him to be turned over to legal authorities.

But then he said, "He has been my friend for thirty years. I cannot and will not pretend that I don't know him and love him. I'm struggling with how to forgive him without losing sight of his victims and the harm he has done. But if anything about which I have been preaching on infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness is true, then I cannot desert him when he has sinned. Especially then."

Several members of my parish raised a stink about this characterization of a child abuser as our priest's friend, and he gently explained his position again and again to deaf ears. I heard rumors later that even people in the diocese office were upset with his "choice of words."

But I always thought that my priest--whether you're a Christian or not--set a standard for quiet, everyday moral courage that few of us could match.

For the sake of my children, however, I'm going to try to live up to his example.


Shirley Vandever said...

Wow. I am trying to think if I have ever been in a position even remotely like this. I don't think I have.

And what is probably even more telling is that the priest in his message probably did not agonize over his wording "a priest who is my friend...". It probably came quite simply to him.

I imagine there are many instances of moral courage happening in big and small ways every day. Perhaps one day there will be a reality-show to tell us about them.

Maybe not. I hope not. I believe that the strength of our country and of humanity lie not in large and historic deeds, but in the thousands of small ones....just like this one, which is not so small after all.

Anonymous said...

This is a profound position; and it takes an extreme amount of courage to defend unpopular people and positions, but this is the quintessence of freedom. If we do not defend things we do not like, it is unlikely we will have the courage defened anything at all.