Monday, April 03, 2006

Fallen "Star"

In the wake of the abuse tidal wave these past four years, one thing which American Catholics have failed to come to terms with is that many of the scandal's most prolific predators were, in the time of their ministry, the most charismatic, outgoing, magnetic clerics of their local churches -- men who were perceived widely as assets to their dioceses, assets to the life of the church.

In sum, that's how they got away with it.

Because of this reality, we really need a discussion we haven't had -- how to reconcile a public record which brought good people to faith, calling them from apathy to a place in the heart of the church, with the tragic underside of the same personal qualities which were able to work so much good.

In this light, I was really grateful to be sent a piece from yesterday's Chicago Tribune which puts the ministry of the widely-accused Dan McCormack in the context of his place as a beloved priest who made lasting impressions on those he served.

It gives a depth to the question of good and evil which has, regrettably, not been visited enough these last four years. And, more than anything else, it calls readers to think.
To many, [McCormack] was a devoted white priest who ministered to suffering neighborhoods and was moved by the passion of African-American culture. As pastor of St. Agatha in Chicago for six years, he was forceful in his denunciations of violence and prayerful in his late-night visits to the emergency room to comfort victims of gunfire.

Yet he now stands accused of betraying the trust he had earned, by sexually abusing three boys at his parish....

McCormack's charisma was obvious even in his first parish assignment: St. Ailbe, in the Calumet Heights neighborhood. There, they still remember the masses he would celebrate each Thursday for schoolchildren.

"He was marvelous," said Sister Kathryn Hartnett, the parish's director of development. "It was absolutely incredible to watch. He knew how to get their attention, and he could really speak to them."

Hartnett remembers one Halloween sermon during which McCormack spoke while carving a pumpkin at the altar.

"All the time he was giving his sermon, he was carving into it, and the kids just couldn't believe it," she said. "His message was that we have to give something of ourselves, in order for the light of God to shine through to others."

McCormack finished by holding up the carved pumpkin so the children could see the light beaming through.

Like others close to McCormack, Hartnett said she finds the sexual abuse allegations difficult to believe.

"This just doesn't seem like his nature," she said. "There's a saying by Maya Angelou that says, `People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.'

"Well, I always think of that when I think of Father Dan. Because, the people--they just loved him."
And on and on it goes.... I'm still trying to work through the whole question, myself. Doubt I'll ever find an adequate answer.