For those of you who don’t know, Roger Cardinal Mahony, the retired Archbishop of Los Angeles has a blog. His most recent posts are his response to the criticism he has received as a result of the release of the Archdiocesan abuse files.
The blog posts require a response on two fronts-1)sociological and 2)theological and scriptural. The latter does not typically draw my attention in this blog but I believe a theological/scriptural response is appropriate because it is so closely connected to the sociological aspects of sexual abuse, especially for those who’ve been abused by clergy.
In my work assisting survivors of sexual abuse, I am often confronted with a perpetrator who never fully appreciates the damage wrecked on victims of abuse. The perpetrator somehow feels self-pity and expects the world to understand and appreciate his suffering. The abuser is not capable of perceiving the world from any perspective other than his own and never confronts the reality of his monstrous actions. Once you read Cardinal Mahony’s blog posts it would be difficult to miss the similarities between his point of view and that of a perpetrator. Mahony deftly casts himself as the victim and writes that in his suffering he is called to be humiliated like Christ. The not so subtle implication is that just as Christ was accused of criminal behavior, the Cardinal himself has suffered the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.
Of course, this is a gross misrepresentation of reality, which brings me to my second point. Besides casting himself in the role of Christ, Mahony re-interprets Scripture (something sacred for Christians)to fit his own nefarious ends. In his February 18th post entitled, “Jesus, Suffering Servant”, he states, “The poem of the Suffering Servant is important for all of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ since we are called to imitate his words, actions, and life. Part of that journey will always entail suffering from time to time. But what makes Jesus’ suffering so different, and so important for us, is that he lived out Isaiah’s prophecy fully: ‘…he did not open his mouth…’ That means never rationalizing what is happening in our lives, never protesting misunderstandings, and never getting angry because of false accusations. And that is so difficult for us human beings. It is certainly difficult for me on my journey.” While he casts himself as the Suffering Servant in imitation of Christ, that’s not the common interpretation of the attribution given the patrimony of the church or Scripture scholars. We benefit from the Suffering Servant but are not the Suffering Servant. We aren’t innocent and led to the slaughter as Jesus was. The blog post was written right around the same time that he was to give deposition testimony in an abuse lawsuit in Los Angeles. How convenient for him to have found a Scriptural passage that explains his silence and refusal to answer questions. Mahony should know better but I suspect he truly sees himself as suffering for the good of the church and its people.
When institutions of trust lose their integrity they begin to grasp for power in a desperate attempt to hold on to what they perceive as rightly theirs. Some will go to great lengths to preserve that power, even manipulate Scripture and the emotions of others.