On Thursday, July 7, my letter referencing abuse of children appeared in the Kansas City Star. Rain-soaked, my copy was too soggy to open so a late afternoon phone call was an interesting surprise.
A former high school classmate took me to task, politely and sincerely, but with conviction. Line by line he let me know how distant I was from the truth, how difficult it was for him to understand how I strayed from the church that nourished my school years.
Peter (for this blog) gave me directions to his church where Vatican II had no place and where all the traditions of the Catholic Church were thriving: Latin Mass, busy confessionals, altar turned away from the people, servers of the right sex. Of our entire high school class, only Peter and one other classmate attended this church. Repeatedly, Peter wondered how that could be, how only two out of so many could be with the truth. Peter read his carefully written response to my letter, though he said it was not for publication but rather to inform me.
Vetting, he said, was the problem in today’s church. Candidates for the seminary are not vetted as they were in the ’40’s, ’50’s and early ’60’s. Nuns, he said, knew everything about every kid and ‘deviants’ were not allowed to study for the priesthood. That, of course, led to his position on abortion, homosexuality, the role of women, gluttony, the fall of civilizations, legal questions and his truth that life was simply a time of hardship and tears.
In high school, I knew and liked this man. During our time on the phone I reminded myself how often I had lamented the loss of civil discourse during disagreement. I reminded myself that most anger is a defense designed to shut down any fair and open discussion. Peter was sincere and I had no illusion that his mind was open to change.
Still, I tried. When I pointed out that abuse by the clergy goes well into those years when vetting plucked the weeds, Peter dismissed that as a minor problem and too long ago to actually be relevant.
I defended my position that civil authorities are denied access to records of abuse and that legal procedures should be enacted against priest’s who abused children. Peter, with disdain, dismissed lawsuits as a way to open justice.
Peter cares and defends his church. He brought his arguments without anger even though he found my thoughts difficult to comprehend. Peter phoned fifty-five years after high school graduation to express his belief that healing happens inside his version of being Catholic.
With all due respect, I don’t live there anymore.