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What the priest didn't say

July 17, 2007|Carl Marziali | CARL MARZIALI reported on the clergy sex-abuse crisis for the public radio series "This American Life."

IWENT TO MASS on Sunday morning with mixed feelings. The news had just come out that the Los Angeles Archdiocese had agreed to the largest settlement in the Catholic Church's child molestation scandal. My wife and I wondered what to do: Should we stay away in anger at our leaders, as some of our churchgoing friends in the Pasadena area were doing? And what, if anything, should we put in the collection basket -- a comically symbolic question when viewed against a $660-million payout.

We decided to go so we could hear our pastor's homily about the news. The parish is one of the most active and engaged we have ever known. Its connection to the scandal is minimal -- one accusation 40 years ago against a priest who stayed one year. It is a measure of how naive we still are that it did not occur to us that the subject might not be discussed in the homily.

It was not. In fact, the pastor was not even there. He was replaced by the associate pastor, a friendly man known for his frank and self-critical homilies. This priest, I was confident, would mention the settlement. Instead, he only inadvertently drew attention to the issue by leaving it off a list of "serious issues" facing the church, such as global warming, the war in Iraq and the possible return of the Latin Mass.

The Latin Mass?

Even if the settlement wasn't going to be the topic of the homily, at least the news reports could have been acknowledged, along with a promise to address the issue at a future date.

Even more disconcerting was the business-as-usual feeling in the pews. The parishioners chuckled at the homily, which had something to do with the Good Samaritan. I have to believe that most of them were as troubled as we were. But they didn't show it.

Many people go to church for comfort and consolation, not to confront more problems. We want peace from Mass, and perhaps the priest was trying to give it to us.

But he, more than anyone, should know how easy it is to coast on people's need for reassurance. And this was one time when he should not have reached for the cruise control.

We are taught that, spiritually speaking, we are the church. Evidently the same is not true of the material church, which draws no connection between the hundreds of millions of dollars the archdiocese has squandered and the decades of contributions by people in the pews. The archdiocese plans to sell more than 50 properties. We are supposed to be ecstatic that special collections will not be required -- as if we are too stupid to realize the ongoing burden of higher insurance premiums, rental space, borrowed money and other costs.

When the collection basket came around, my wife set her jaw and passed it on. Maybe if that happens 660 million times, someone will notice.

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