Some of the best things
that happen in these worst times occur among Roman Catholic priests. "Stop
the presses!" one wishes to hear, because that claim would
represent radical and rare news.
No one can complain, as
many used to, that secular media do not pay attention to the churches and the
clergy. Ask anyone on the street: she may not know about any of the sacraments
or what goes on at mass, but she will know about clerical sexual assaults,
covers-up by bishops, and stumbling as Rome fumbles with the issue. The
"worst things" make news.
But sometimes even serious
critics of Catholic ways find it urgent to speak up. One of these is Eugene
Kennedy, columnist and retired Loyola University of Chicago psychologist. He points
out that "there is a far larger and deeper territory" than that
usually covered in the media. How to find it? "It might as well be the
cave next to Bin Laden's even though it can be entered at any time in the
rectory just down the street." Despite the agonies related to the sex
abuse wars, priests have stayed on the post. And they seldom complain--they are
too busy serving on the front lines where human need is most patent.
Still, they hurt. Kennedy
quotes a priest who loves his job and loves his people but finds that "an
astonishing sea change" has occurred among priests of his generation:
"we cannot wait to retire." They are sick of "the profound
unending nuttiness (e.g., a seminar on exorcism)"
that never stops. Kennedy observes the good but tired priests, hears their
stories, passes some on to readers.
Being a theologian as well as a psychologist, Kennedy views priests'
"secret lives" in the light of what he knows and what we cannot know
of Jesus. "What did Jesus feel," he asks, "and was it really any different from
what our best priests feel?" One biblical story tells how Jesus experienced a
drain on his energy, just as priests do when human need overwhelms them.
"There is no secret about this," urges Kennedy: we just need "to read
between the lines of the scriptures."
Maybe we would do well also to read beyond the lines that make