Sunday, 19 August 2018

Catholic Sex Scandal: Where are the good shepherds?

Where is God when a priest masturbates a boy with one hand and then proceeds to conduct Sunday mass holding the communion elements in the other hand? 

Where is God when a ring of predatory priests secretly trades pornographic photographs of their victims and then go about ministering to the people?

Where is God when a priest forces a child to perform oral sex and also orally raped the boy and then squirt holy water from a bottle into the victim's mouth "to purify him."

And where is God when a Cardinal sexually abused a 16-year-old boy 50 years ago and then spent the next 50 leading the church as if nothing had happened? (I try to provide my view on all these questions in the postscript 2* below).

Revelations that Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused about 1000 people over seven decades broke out last Thursday. Altogether, the jurors' report ran up to 884 pages where the full extent of the deviant sexual acts were finally made known to the world at large.

This is the second massive scandal to hit the global stage since Boston Globe newspaper reported similar widespread sexual depravity in 2002. 

The despicable tale is repeated ad nauseam: It involves a priest, a bishop or a cardinal. It involves a child, an innocent boy brought up in the Catholic faith. And it involves the church covering all all up, sweeping under the rug, transferring the paedophile priest to places with even more defenceless boys to exploit, or sending the predatory priest for counselling, therapy and rehabilitation, and assuming he has repented, releasing the defiler into the open pen of unsuspecting and trusting young boys. 

It reports that: "the grand jury on Tuesday released the findings of the largest investigation of sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, finding that 301 priest in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years. It contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by priest."

And, "similar reports have emerged in Europe, Australia and Chile, prompting lawsuits and investigations, sending dioceses into bankruptcy and undercutting the moral authority of the leadership of the Catholic Church which has some 1.2 billion members around the world."

This time, Pope Francis has his hands full, with the haunting cries of the victims and their family members demanding justice.  

Personally, I felt that these words by the Church simply fell short of calming the public outrage:-

"Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent. There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow."

Former priest-turned-psychiatrist Richard Sipe argues that "the prevalence of masturbation in seminaries, and the ready forgiveness in confession, "forms a cycle of guilt that binds clerics and confessors together wherein secret sexual transgressions become minimalized and trivialized - even sex with minors becomes just another sin to be forgiven.""

Alas, where is the large millstone to hang around offending priests' neck for the seven decades of ecclesiastical immunity and impunity they have enjoyed when they are supposed to be standing in the gap as their good shepherds?

Mind you, if you so desire to trace the root of this sin, the seven decades of sexual abuse in the Church is nothing compared to the first reported case of child abuse, which stretches as far back as 153 AD. 

That case gave rise to the first law against abuse of boys by its clergy and it was only passed at the Council of Elvira in 306 AD.  

Imagine that, the sin of the Holy Father have since been passing down from one generation to another until this day and age, and the papacy is undeniably the most enduring institution in the history of mankind. 

No empire, rulership or kingdom have lasted this long (and continues to do so) since the time Jesus pronounced on Peter that upon this rock I shall build my church until the time the Pennsylvanian jury convicted 301 priests for a sin as old, stubborn and formidable as the history of the Church itself. 

If the truth indeed sets believers free and Christ is their answer, one has to wonder what freedom has the Church been giving to her very own clergymen and what answer have they been offering to their vulnerable flock for the widespread abuses of such freedom? 

And if the church stands as an institution to reform souls of all colours, cultures and creeds, it is indeed the greatest tragedy for her now to admit to the reality that after 2000 years of her humble origin, the most urgent call for reform is still within the ecclesiastical leadership itself.  

Mark Twain once said: "The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example."

Lesson? If there is one lesson here, it has to be this: -

"There is nothing more frightening, more damaging and more condemnable than a religious belief held together by a cloistered group of men who not only wield power but supposed legitimacy to do as they please in total disregard for the pain and sorrow their actions have caused to those they have sworn to teach, lead and protect."

Who can then forget the often-time-ignored warning of Lord Acton (in 1887) when he said these words which captured the essence of the tyranny of such pontifical leadership: -

"I cannot accept your cannon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely...There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it."

Is there any doubt that power, religion and sex combined would invariably bring out the worst in those who wield and abuse them and those who assist in the perpetuation of the office of those who wield and abuse them?

Wouldn't such sexual depravity be duly arrested and punished if not for the hundreds of priestly overseers who strode to protect, hide and transfer the offending priest away from the public eye because they chose to protect the delusional image of the infallible papacy rather than the innocent victims?

I guess the words of English Historian AJP Taylor would be most fitting here: "All change in history, all advance, comes from the non-conformists. If there had been no troublemakers, no dissenters, we should still be living in caves."
What therefore failed the Church in this fallen priest saga is not the lack of church moralists supremely equipped in knowing right from wrong, but the  want of courage to act on that knowledge at the cost of their coveted position and priestly title.

Let me end with an irony. 

In December 1979, then Bishop Ratzinger, who had been accused of knowing about the sexual scandals in the early days and did nothing to bring the guilty priest to account, defended the decision to expel Professor Hans Kung as an official theologian of the Roman Catholic Church on the ground that "his writing cast doubt on several of the most basic doctrines of his church". 

Professor Kung was known then as the modern day Luther, who had been faithfully knocking on the Wittenberg's door to provoke a second Reformation in the Catholic Church. 

Be that as it may, this is what Bishop Ratzinger said to justify the expulsion of Professor Kung: -

"The Christian believer is a simple person: bishops should protect the faith of their little people against the power of the intellectuals."

Mm...somehow I can't get the words "simple person" and "little people" out of my mind. 

I guess that is how the Church sees her millions of members worldwide. It is this superior position that views her members in diminutive scale that grants the Church such blatant and wide berth to do as they please, which included protecting the abusers and silencing their victims in order to uphold her burnished image at all costs.

Alas, when Jesus called to Peter with this commission that "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," the church had however for the longest time rested her foundation on another rock as this latest scandal has unravelled. 

It is a rock that had blindingly elevated the priesthood to dizzying heights of usurpative power with the goal of preserving only the form of that call and not its substance; in other words, to wantonly reap the profit that the call brings and avoid the sacrifice, the cost, and the Cross to bear altogether.

Is it then finally time to return to the Rock of Ages, the timeless Rock that is based on the foundation of Calvary, the crucification of self, and the legacy of the risen Christ after more than 2000 years of struggling with this unwieldy sexual beast buried deep in the catacombs of the Catholic faith and practice?

Well, only time will tell. But I may just be too naive to think that this time the Church have learned her lesson for good. Cheerz. 

Postscript 1*:-

Just read the extract below...(points 5 to 6 left me speechless. I imagine Jesus would have stormed the Vatican City and overturned their tables and chairs for turning the House of His Royal Priesthood into a priestly den of conniving pedophiles). 

"Here is how the grand jury, in caustic terms, described the Catholic Church’s methods for covering up abuse and protecting priests:

First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”

Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self-reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.

Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.

Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.

Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.

Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”"

The words of Geoffrey Robertson QC who wrote the book "The Case of the Pope" that called for the prosecution of the previous Pope cannot be more apt and timely here: -

"The priesthood offers incomparable opportunity and spiritual power for paedophiles, and some have deviously infiltrated it, but most offenders appear to be psycho-sexually immature, often in denial about their condition and hoping that the rigours of the priesthood will protect them from themselves. Instead, they find a brotherhood, a sodality that closes ranks to protect them not from themselves but from the consequences of their actions, because the overriding philosophy of their superiors has been to avoid scandal to the church." on.

Postscript 2* (forewarning: long, at times, aimless screed)

Where is God? Where is God when a 7-seven-old girl is recuperating in the hospital from a tonsil operation and a priest who was on a visit, flushed with lust, locked the door behind him and proceeded to rape her in that state? 

Where is he then when a defenceless child of God is being abused for years without end in sight by a "man of God"? Why does David still pants after God when men around him say to him all day long: "Where is your God?

Well, it is easy to find God when all things are going well. But where is he went everything around you begins to fall apart, one by one, your business/career, your finances, your health and your loved ones? We readily embrace the Prosperity Gospel of the modern age without thinking because that is the God that comes closest to resemble the deity we worship or want to worship. 

For that reason and nothing else, our default position is to give our finances to appease him. We give because such a God promises to prosper us in return, grant us long life, make a way without the loss and pain, and lead us into the path of romantic happiness, always. It actually reminds me of the vending machines in Singapore (recently declared illegal) that promise their patrons a lucky lottery strike at some time of the day. 

There is thus nothing that should impede us or stand in the way of believing in such a God. He is just undoubtedly un-doubtable. It is therefore in our nature to run into such a church when such a promise is offered at the pulpit from an all-dolled-up preacher whose mouth can say nothing else but wealth, health and longevity. The honey pot of faith just keeps overflowing, the working bees cannot help but gatecrash.

Alas, maybe I am deluded. Maybe the many Saints of God are deluded. Maybe Saint John of the Cross was deluded. Maybe Saint Therese of Lisieux was deluded too. Maybe even Mother Teresa was deluded when she cried out - "So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them...because of the blasphemy...If there be God...please forgive me...When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven there is such a convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me...and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul." But, in her delusion, in her immeasurable pain, she still held on to Jesus' coattails even unto death. How's that for being deluded?

I then join them in this conspiracy of delusion because I too have so many unanswered questions, I too raised my thoughts to Heaven only to find a convicting emptiness and like sharp knives they return to hurt my soul, especially with what is happening in the Catholic Church. And I can't imagine how the victims and their parents are feeling right now. 

I therefore join this rare group of Catholic Saints in their delusion to still believe in a God even when the apparent fact is such that there is nothing but every reason to leave this delusion for a saner reality.

But then, I wonder, what is true delusion? What keeps men running around in this world with no end in sight piling up one earthly treasure after another? What keeps them so busy in their restless climb up  the summit of power, wealth and fame only to find that meaning is neither found there too? 

Alas, we find a God that resembles so much like what we have been thinking about him all day and all night long that he is no longer a God that is independent apart from us, or exist outside of our imagination. For this reason and this reason alone, we cannot think of a God that can rise above our wish-list conception of him. 

Our faith falls short because our imagination fails us - even without us knowing it. We are kept cosy in the bubble of our own delusion. We are unable, or worse, dare not think beyond the proximate prosperity that is promised by men who themselves are happily prospering from the failure of our collective imagination. They think they have found the key to faith by promising everything good without the bad because the bad is an immediate turn off and the good turns on many things, especially the assured attendances of thousands every good Sabbath. 

As such, I always believe the first step to believing in tough times is to leave a frail imagination behind; to leave the delusion that keeps us tethered to  the glittering mirage on the ground and never look up to the endless expanse above us. C.S. Lewis once said: "I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."

Truly, I don't know why or where is God when those unspeakable things happen to such lovely, endearing and treasured children of God. I have no answers in a way that can satisfy the mind of one who is earnestly seeking for an answer or two. Personally, some of the darkness of the soul that we are traversing through can be ruthlessly painful and piercing like sharp knives returning to tear us apart.

But I'd like to think that wherever God is, he has never left. I may never know why he did not intervene, what was he even thinking (right?), but I know why he did not leave. They may have nailed him and tortured him, but he chose to never leave. He never left because I truly believe he knew something that we never knew (or often overlook or fail to imagine) in a trial, no matter how unjust the situation may be. He never left because he saw something in a trial that is even more redeeming than when times are good, or when everything is going your way. He saw redemption that is beyond what this world can entice or offer. He saw enduring transformation when a soul is taken from a place where there is only pain, sorrow and suffering. That is why he never left for he had already said that in this world, you will have trouble, yet take heart, I have overcome it. He saw value beyond the value of this world.

This may not be the answer many are looking for, but I have never intended it to be an answer because each trial we face is unique to us. We will just have to seek our own answer or answers that come closest to giving us a sense of closure over time. 

Alas, I may not have found mine, at least not fully or completely, but I know deeply that it is never my heart desire (now or ever) to live out my faith and hope for a lack or failure of imagination.

Law & Grace equals Liberation.

Someone on FB asked me how I reconcile Law and Grace and how does the two (working hand in hand) lead me to liberation. Here is my answer:- 

"I note your point. I understand Salvation is a free gift. 

Thru His grace and sacrifice at the Cross, it is done. We are thus counted or deemed as righteous by faith and belief, by proclamation and acceptance. 

But, when we are talking about law (not ceremonial ones), we are talking about the ten commandments (TC) too right?

Now, It is NOT thru obedience to TC that we are saved, (which is impossible as it implies human effort and belief), but by faith and only by faith through the finished work of Christ that we are saved, right? 

Thus far, I supposed, we are on the same page?

Yet, TC is not the cause of sin, right? 

Paul mentioned that the coming of the law makes us sin more. But surely, the law of sin (and death) differs from sin of the law right? 

The law of sin is about the First Adam for whom we are bound until the Last Adam came to set us free for good, for all time. 

But that (that is, the law of sin) does not mean the sin of the law right? The law is not sin, TC is not sin, OT/OC (Old Covenant) is not sin. For there is no human agency involved. 

They are all imperfect instruments trying in earnest to bridge the "graceless" gap.

Paul said: "What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Sin is sin, and the power of sin is the law (by breaking it and not its mere existence mandated by God Himself) does not mean that the law gives one the power to sin. It is still our choices from our fallen nature that we break the law (or are disobedient to it). 

Take out the human agency factor and the law is nothing more than a divine normative template.

For it is illogical (even unfair) to say that our secular law, for example, (like "Do Not Litter Fine 500" or "Please Flush Fine 1000") is the cause of me littering or not flushing. 

Law makes us aware of sin, but it does not make us sin. Our sinful nature from First Adam entices is to sin by the awareness of the law and then breaking it.

So, the liberation I talk about is not just to know the law, that is, TC, but to know Christ and His unfailing Grace. 

The knowledge of the law without Grace is helplessness and the proclivity to sin by dint of our fallen unredeemed nature. 

But the knowledge of the law and its obedience through the power of Grace is liberation. 

The perfection of His Grace is in the Grace of His Perfection that we proclaim through faith in vicarious wholeness. 

The law is thus not redundant. Just as OT is not redundant. They are a purposeful interlude (or backdrop) to herald the perfect sacrifice made perfect in the Amazing Grace of the Last Adam. 

For to rely solely on Grace without the historical and soteriological background of the law is like putting a child near the warm fire against the cold outside, but leaving no boundaries for the child and thus risking him to touch the fire. 

With Grace, the law makes sense to me to remind me of what is good and what is not, and to allow me to claim freedom from it not through disowning it (or by disassociation), but fulfilling it through the unmerited favour demonstrated in the finished work of Christ. Not by might or power, but by His Spirit in positional righteousness. 

So, therein lies my freedom from the awareness of the law and the empowerment of Grace, working hand in hand, heart to heart and soul to soul."

Alas, in this endless debate about Law and Grace, it is supposedly "endless" for a reason, that is, we each have our own opinion and it is better to live and let live, to believe in a way that we are still able to grow in our own way because there are other more pressing issues in life that calls out to us, and trust me, this Law and/or Grace "schism" will not break the unity of faith if we learn from and respect the differences of views and then, march forward to transform ourselves and others, one lighted step at a time.

What breaks the seemingly fragile unity of late however is when we polarise faith with such hostility and antagonism arising from such distracting differences that we lose sight of how each of us can impact lives by coming to Christ with the simplicity and innocence of a child, that is, no preconceived bias, no presuppositions that elevate oneself above others, no contention of who is more right than the other, and no boasting of doctrinal superiority. Because in our infinite ignorance, we are all equal. 

Christ has called us to join our faith in one spirit, one soul, and one body to make a difference in one life, one hope and one passion, not to create differences over one stubbornly held belief that will not count much (if at all) for unity, eternity and charity. 

That's my view this morning (and for all mornings until I heave my last breath - for that I know I am sure). Amen. Cheerz.

Self-righteousness vs true religion.

When Joseph Prince (JP) preached about righteousness, to declare it, and all things shall be added, that is, you name it, car, finances and house, it kept me thinking about the righteousness that humans proclaim directly upon themselves. 

More relevantly, I ask: What makes a man good and a man evil? What makes him sacrifice for another and what makes him abuse another? How is JP's teaching on righteousness translated or applied in our everyday living? 

But first, let's see what has fixated the World of late.

In the midst of the World Cup 2018 in Russia, what has truly captured the World's attention is the rescue of the 12 boys and their coach in Chiang Rai. 

So far, eight of the boys have been rescued, leaving four boys and their coach. It is said that their coach is weak because he has been feeding his boys leaving little for himself. 

Leaders from all over the world, from all religions and races, including international football superstars at the World Cup, are praying for them, praying for the rescue efforts, and praying for their safety. 

Even Elon Musk has offered to help and the FIFA has promised them (once rescued) a front row seat in the finals of the World Cup 2018. 

All in all, the world is holding her breath for the boys and their coach, and we stand deeply inspired by the dedication and devotion of the Navy Seal divers and rescuers who literally put themselves on the line.

Let's return to JP. 

He preached that it is not about doing right so much as it is about believing right. 

Once you believe it, declare it, internalise it, and live it, you reap big. You reap houses, cars and financial wealth. Your life will be abundantly blessed with longevity and prosperity. 

In fact, at one point, JP even applied Matthew 6:33's "seek ye first and all these things will be added unto you" to a Christian's self-declared righteous life and claimed that such a believer will become no different from a prosperity magnet wherein he will have more wealth than he can ever imagined. 

The thing about JP is that his message is simply irresistible. I would call him the prince of correlations, that is, if you declare it, you are. If you claim it, you have. If you believe it, you're there. If you confess it (righteousness), you never even were (that is, sin-less). And if you name it, it's yours. 

This brings me to Saman Gunan. His name is less familiar to us than his action. Saman lost consciousness on his way out of the Tham Luang cave complex, where he had been delivering air tanks. 

The deputy governor of Chiang Rai said: "His job was to deliver oxygen. He did not have enough on his way back." 

Saman sadly died and his partner had to retrieve his body out of the cave. 

This reminded me of James 1:27 about true religion. 

It reads: "What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world."

This scripture is comprehensive in its simplicity. It is about actions and not just beliefs. It is about sacrifices and not just declarations. It is about "orphans and widows" and not just being a magnet for prosperity. And it is about keeping oneself from being corrupted by the world and not believing oneself to be elevated by the world to great riches. 

To me, the boys and their coach are crying for help. They are the "orphans and widows" of this world. They are pleading for a good samaritan to walk their way, stop and tend to their wounds, provide them a resting inn to heal, and see to it that they are provided for thereafter. 

That's what people like Saman are doing, even giving their life, time and efforts for the boys. 

For me, that's true religion in demonstrable acts. That goes beyond just believing, to giving, to persisting, to sacrificing, and to delivering. 

With that, I return to JP's declaration of righteousness as I end here. 

JP once said that God doesn't want us to "dissipate" our faith by having faith in a house, a big car or financial successes. He preached that every morning, just declare His righteousness on our life and "all good things will be added unto us".

At one point, he even said that that's the essence of the gospel, a gospel according to Joseph Prince, who is veritably the prince of gracious correlations. 

Personally, I can see how helpful (to a certain extent) JP's message could be for those who are obsessed with sins, repentance and confession. 

It is said that Martin Luther entered the confessional with such annoying frequency to confess every trivial sin conceivable that one of the priesthood had to rebuke him by pleading with him to really kill someone, and then return to confess the sin for absolution. 

Maybe JP's message would be an antidote for believers like that? 

But as a whole, JP's message does not stop there. That is what makes it uncanny. He goes further to promise a form of prosperity that I am concerned may work against the human message of grace at Calvary. 

His slant is always about the reward of righteousness and it is always about material, tangible rewards. His calling card is bigger houses and cars, and greater wealth. The depth of his message on radical grace is about the depth of being prosperous.

It is seldom about the house of mourning, but a house full with riches. It is seldom about the road to Calvary, but about reaping it in with abundant successes. 

And it is seldom about doing the right thing, making the right choices about it and sacrificing at the expense of one's comfort, gain and convenience, but about right believing, right proclaiming and right receiving.

I believe there is a place for such teaching (to some extent), but in the real world, where people like Saman whose sacrifices come closest to what the scripture would call a pure heart and the true religion, I am afraid that JP's self-declared righteousness runs the risk of being more self-serving than self-denying, and more self-enriching than self-sacrificing. 

Alas, most times, the number does not endorse the message. The lamentable reality is that, the number merely endorses the number. Cheerz.