Pope Francis





 Most of us don’t know it, but Pope Francis deeply loves his favorite hymn, the one with verses that I’m sure, touch your heart and his:

       “We are all God’s children

        We are all the same

        He is calling us by name to help the poor and lame

       And learn what life is really for

       It’s to know and serve the Lord …

    Francis heard it a few years ago, liking it so much he inquired and was assured he could use it as the theme for a Papal visit — his first to the Philippines. Obviously I’ve never met the Pope and never will, but I’m quite sure his character and compassion conform with the faith he reveals both at the Vatican and on his world visits.

      Now, you know what’s coming. It’s this: As a Protestant and a minister, I also deeply regret the absolutely dreadful events that have swept the priesthood which in general is in Pope Francis’s world. I sense that the burdened Pope is deeply bruised emotionally or maybe who knows, almost damaged in heart given his facial expressions on TV.  

     Maybe. Perhaps he is not just a spiritual man purely but an intellectual, so that he absolutely knew that sexual exploitation – sad to say — was woven into all of human culture, dreadful dimensions though it sometimes brings. If I were one of his staff I would quietly assure him. I would draw upon the insights of the great thinkers of human history, as I have tried to do, in delivering some of my sermons. One reference comes to me now, spoken by a great intellectual who was also a world renowned theologian I was to interview in the early 1960s. I mean Paul Tillich. I remember, that while the cameras were being given fresh reel, he murmured something that relates to the issue that preoccupies Catholic Christians: “Even happy people can’t be without a measure of darkness. Think of it: the word happy would lose its own meaning if it is lonely but were not balanced by a measure of darkness.” I’d say that Pope Francis probably knows that: darkness is certain to be in our lives and it always will be, but let us pray to a smaller degree.

     Now that we’ve touched upon that dimension, I am, as a journalist and minister, bound to raise the ugly, indeed horrible, actions of hundreds and hundreds of Catholic clergy. Why and Why. Don’t palm off on me that priests are always lonely or friendless and thereby have to find ongoing affection. Sometimes a priest is indeed lonely but he must have known that loneliness comes; priests have often told me.

    I’ve known some, who shared their problem with me. Why? Because I had a background in clinical psychology and experience in both mental hospitals and — get ready — in prisons. I liked it and, once if you believe it, a young fellow who had been in one of my Maritime congregations. (He was joyful when the guards brought him to my glass enclosed chamber in a prison outside Toronto.)

    As for the clergy, it’s clear that most, are– or should be — very good listeners, not very big talkers. In my view the big listeners are the winners in pastoral work. As I look back, I recall the great value I acquired in Nova Scotia’s mental hospital from the psychiatrist Professor Fraser Nicholson who lectured at the seminary. Before long he urged me to visit the nearby mental hospital weekly providing therapy as I would have in the ministry or journalism.

   I did so when I came to Ontario when, for a time, we lived in Whitby, a town near Toronto. I found it had a prison a few minutes from our home. The warden himself, after we’d met, wanted to help me: so he created a list for each evening I came, a list of three prisoners who would be brought one by one to a room with glass walls in order to assure guards could look in. To me, it all was always an interesting evening and the warden asked me if I’d teach others to do as I did. (I just didn’t have the time. It was the Rogers technique, a little talking, a lot of listening, then some asking.)

   I touch on that less known activity because it’s not just a relevant technique for the clergy, but a way to build sharing, to create confidence, to engage a person who is resisting his anger and needs to relax but open up. It’s more than a methodology, it’s a way to establish authentic relationships. Obviously the clergy discuss things other than casual visits to the prisoners. It also promotes a benevolent and conversational relationship. Over the years my impression is that many priests have many professional parishioners, but even with them, there’s fewer social relationships. Hence, a few Catholic clergymen, have at times, told me of the loneliness of their calling, simply because the vocation too often places them aloof, and somewhat distant. Obviously that is not a warm situation, but a lonely one. Thereby, some turn to seek intimacies which they feel will bring warmth, bonds, and, at times, intimacy.  Obviously that has become very perilous.

      Catholicism, at the present time, has no choice but to maintain the tradition of the single life. Sad to say, it is, as several have told me over many years, it’s tough, and they mean lonely, childless, distant, infertile, unproductive and so on. It’s now many years since CBC television, cooperating with three other international networks, dispatched a team of us to Chicago to interview a theologian whom many believe was the greatest of his era: Paul Tillich. I was to interview him and did so. It was lengthy and so we paused here and there.

       Tillich is now long gone – he passed away in 1965 _ but some of what he said to me, in the breaks in the taped interview, stayed with me or were picked up by other scholars and journalists. A few months ago, I came upon one of the very insightful Tillich statements he made in those personal conversations he always had when the cameras paused.

    In my past I’ve come upon some of his almost conversational quotations. One was murmured in our personal conversation as the CBC technicians reloaded; it stayed with me and I believe it is relevant to the current confusions in the lives of numberless thousands of Catholic clergy. “Loneliness” Tillich said long ago, “expresses the pain of being alone. But solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” The current and painful evidence the media reports reveals that numberless priests have known pain and loneliness. That’s not their fault. But to live with loneliness is different: they, the priests, desperate for affection, reach to the culture of children. We can never support that, but, in my view, we all can try to understand it.



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