So Where Did This Weekend’s Mahony Postings Go?

Basically, they went down a Lenten repentance hole because I think they were bad for my soul and the souls of others. I dislike Cdl. Mahony. Deeply. Very deeply. But….

I took a walk yesterday and spent the time struggling, as is my custom, to pay attention to the Rosary.  In the course of my many mind wanderings, I got to thinking about some of the people in the news I’ve been harsh with.  These tend to be people I regard as abusive of power entrusted to them at the expense of the weak (think “Mahony and the cops who killed that young man with Down’s Syndrome”).  I was praying the Sorrowful Mysteries, it being a Tuesday, and got to thinking about the parable of the unmerciful servant.  I thought about my wishing that Mahony was in jail, that the cops were in jail, that the bad guys get there comeuppance and it was sort of like I was challenged to say all that to Christ’s face: to say, “Give them what they have coming to them!” with the full awareness that the measure I use would be the measure I receive.

Long pause.  Couldn’t do it.  I’m stupid, but not that stupid.  I’ve got sins in my own past where I’ve received ridiculous amounts of grace and would not all all like it if I got what I deserved for them.  I tried that “I’m just after justice here” feint but it was pointed out to me that I am not charged under law with the task of dealing justice to these or most of the people I sit in judgment about as I blather on from day to day.  I’m neither judge, prosecutor, jury, nor jailer.  So what is achieved by training myself to wish for judgment to fall on people whom God has not placed me, under law, with the duty judge?

Nothing, unless you account “becoming more eager for the punishment of others and the exemption of myself” an achievement.

So it appears that one of my Lenten projects is going to be to try to find a way to think differently about people I regard as guilty of serious evil.  It can’t be to pretend that they are not guilty of serious evil (I don’t do it of myself when I sin–or at least I try not to), but neither can it be the wish they they get their comeuppance. It has to be a hope and a prayer for mercy for them and for the various other people who commit outrages.  I’ve received absurd amounts of mercy myself and I don’t want to blow that like this guy:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. * 23* “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; * 25* and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26* So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; * and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, * till he should pay all his debt. 35* So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

After reading the story of the woman taken in adultery this weekend, my conscience got the better of me and I thought, “You’ve had cries for your blood posted on the web.  And more than that, they are often perfectly justified cries for your blood.  Do you really think it advisable to be baying for somebody else’s blood?”

Hard to argue with that.

Same thing goes for Law, by the way.  Which reminds me.  Last week I posted a link expressing my amazement at a story in the English press asserting that Francis had “banished” Law from his Church.  I was skeptical even when I posted it, but I thought I should note the story since it seemed to so flatly contradict my own prophecies of what the new Pope would do (i.e. , continue doing what his predecessors have done in a) canning bishops who have themselves committed grave sins of abuse while b) leaving in place those bishops who were simply idiots) that I though I should acknowledge I might be wrong.

I am, as I have indicated in the past, of two minds about this.  Part of me would like to see more butt-kicking.  But parables like the one above, as well as  stories like the woman taken in adultery–taken, by the way, “in the very act” and guilty, guilty, GUILTY!!! of grave sin and giving absolutely no sign of repentance that we can see in the story–hold me back.  When I look at the Church’s mission I find myself thinking “Be careful what you wish for” when I contemplate the demand people like me and others sometimes make of her that she become a punishing and avenging fury for sinners.  Do I hope for that for myself when I go in the confessional?

But dammit!  Law has gotten *away* with it!  Yeah, about that.  From all I’ve read and heard about Law, he seems to have tried on multiple occasions, to resign.  I know people who have met him and who described him as “shattered” by the experience.  No sign whatsoever of the sort of the self-justifying narcissism we see in Mahony behavior.  I’m told (if I understand correctly) that he tried to put himself in a monastery.  Looks like penitence to me.

“Yeah, but the bastard should be in jail!”  Yes.  And the adulteress should be dead.  Only here’s the thing.  It’s not the Church’s job to put people in jail.  It’s our job.  We laity.  The ones with all the guns, cops, judges, juries, and prisons.  And we declined to do that (and no, that’s not because “he skipped the country to avoid prosecution”.  There was never any attempt to put him in jail.)  So what do I want?  A *Church* that puts people–people who look penitent to me–in jail?  Do I want a merciless Church bent on making penitents pay?  Do I–being what I am–want that for me?  At that point, my collar starts to feel pretty tight and start thinking I’m maybe not such a smart guy after all if that’s what I’m after from the Church of Christ.  For the measure I use will be measured to me.

So: I’m back to thinking what I thought above.  I think it’s best I err on the side of mercy, particularly with a guy like Mahony who I frankly detest.  Pouring gas on that fire is not good for me, does his victims no good, and does not speed the wheels of justice.  Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.  I will pray God’s perfect justice and mercy be done and then leave it in his competent hands to take care of it.  My breathing down the neck of the Almighty and offering helpful hints on how to fix the problem doesn’t seem to really help God in his administration of the universe but does seem to be very bad for my soul.

Mea culpa.

So a short while ago I ignorantly popped off
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  • Thibaud

    I suspected as much :-)

  • Beccolina

    Good for you, Mr. Shea. God grant us all such reflections and realizations in our lives during the remainder of this Lenten season.

  • victor

    You could have saved yourself writing a long post here and just said “They went down the Mahony.” We all would have understood what you meant.

  • Father Maurer

    You’re a humble man, Mark. I’m sure this wasn’t an easy post to write. Thank you for offering your humility and sharing your reflection on erring on the side of mercy. It’s helpful and inspiring.

    • Sonya Addams

      My penance for the rest of Lent is to pray once a day for Cardinal Baloney and to not call him that again.
      I will also pray a prayer of thanks for Mother Angelica. She had him sized up a long time ago (Law too) and suffered more than any one here for speaking her mind

  • Pavel Chichikov

    When you start in on another person’s faults and trespasses, and you do it honestly, it opens up windows into your own soul and your own behavior. In that sense, it’s as helpful as hitting yourself on the head with a hammer so you know what a severe headache feels like.

    So far as erring on the side of mercy is concerned, unless you mean mercy in a secular sense, (spiritual) mercy is the not our department and neither is judgment.


    The left hand of the angel rose
    And then there fell eternal snows,
    The right hand of the angel spread
    And with three fingers blessed our bread

    The storm outside, the angel priest
    Blessed the people at the feast,
    Snow and winter blocked the doors,
    Within was peace beyond all wars

    Outside the freezing of despair
    Inside a fragrant summer air
    So great the contrast out and in,
    A sound of lutes, a sound of wind

    Some were those who would not stay
    But pushed their cups and plates away,
    Who would not join the other guests
    Although the table had been blessed

    And when the door had been left wide
    A bitter cold came from outside:
    They may return though it grows late,
    The angel said, so we will wait

    March 5, 2013

    • kmk

      God bless you, Pavel, and you too, Mark.

  • Molly

    Your blog is in a lot of ways a “sign of contradiction” to me and for that reason I check it often. Liked seeing this today, thanks!

  • Leroy Huizenga (@LHuizenga)

    I always wonder, though, what of St Catherine of Siena? She may be a good model for those of us laity trying to deal with bad shepherds in our efforts to renew and purify the church.

  • Jamie R

    There’s a difference between a cardinal and a woman caught in adultery. The cardinal enjoys a position of power; the adulteress doesn’t. Cardinal Mahony qua Cardinal deserves only whatever contempt he gets, while qua Roger he deserves the same mercy everyone deserves.

    The reason the Church is in this mess in the first place – the reason folks like Mahony and Law protected and shuffled abusers – is a misguided confusion of forgiveness or a person in their capacity as a person and forgiveness of an office-holder in their capacity as an office-holder. It’s the same reason that, on the one hand, Newt Gingrich’s sins are between him and God, and, on the other hand, you’d have to be crazy to trust him in any institution that requires any sort of oath or vow. Even if Card. Mahony were penitent instead of proud, he would still deserve our criticism qua cardinal, no matter how much mercy and understanding he deserves qua Roger.

  • Tom

    Great post, made me do a lot of thinking also

  • Marv

    It’s odd then that the snarky articles about that horrible NOR and those nasty traddies have remained on your website. I guess it is acceptable during Lent to be shi**y towards them.

    Did you remove the comments about Mahoney because you truly regretted them or because they might effect your ability to obtain speaking engagements in dioceses where Bishops are sympathetic to Mahoney or just don’t want someone speaking that has said anything critical about the clergy or hierarchy.

    Call me cynical Mark but in this world where there are numerous Catholic apologists are pursuing a limited amount of Catholic dollars I think the main reason behind criticism of NOR, Rorate Caeli, Voris, etc (. . . and their criticism of you . . . ) goes beyond believing that they are being poor Catholics and may involve the pursuit of your audience’s money. Just a thought.

    • Mark Shea

      God bless you, Marv.

    • deiseach

      Yeah, Marv, all the thousands of dollars I’ve poured into Mark Shea’s greedy hands when I could be giving it to the “If you think Paul VI was a real pope you are going to burn in Hell alongside the rest of the schismatics” wing of the church – terrible!

      And I’m one of those old enough to remember the Latin Mass when it was the only rite of the Mass, I want the altar rails left in place (or brought back) and I can tell the difference between a ciborium and a chalice. But that’s not good enough for some.

    • Faith

      Wow, Marv. A truly nasty, low remark. I blush for you.

  • Roberto

    I have been struggling with the same issues, not only about these notables, but also about less known people, such as annoying bloggers. And I have come to the same conclusion. We need a bigger dose of PPP: patience, penitence and pardoning. We are called to love one another, not to judge those we don’t like.

  • suzy

    I think most of us would happily leave Cardinal Mahoney alone right now, we only wish he’d just be quiet. His tweets were simply over the top this past week and totally unworthy of a prince of the Church. The disrespect he was showing for Pope Benedict was an indication that he’s not repentant in the least. He clearly feels that the Church consists of factions and with this election his faction won (I think, btw, that he’s wrong). Those tweets are what people are reacting to. That said, it looks like he’s simply trad baiting and he’s best ignored. In many respects that’s the worst punishment that you can mete out to someone who loves attention. I think, however, Mark, that you’re right. For your own sake at least, not to indulge in wishes for his punishment. I am glad to know that Cardinal Law at least understands the gravity of what he did and failed to do. Cardinal Mahoney clearly hasn’t reached that point yet.

    • Mark Shea

      Yep. I’m among the people who wish he would just shut up. And I think I may have an obligation to counter his self-justifications with facts about his actual criminal behavior (lest people believe falsehoods, particularly falsehoods that imply the people who have noted that behavior are liars). But I don’t think it good for my soul to go beyond that to speaking of him with contempt (for which I feel a lively temptation) or fantasizing about punishment. I want mercy for my sins. So I must want it for his.

      • Marthe Lépine

        I have a suggestion, and I am not joking, but really serious. I think that it would actually be a good idea to send the cardinal a tweet telling him just that: “would you please shut off?”

        • Stu

          I tweeted him back this weekend.

          I asked him, “Please stop. Please just stop.”

          I think others should absolutely do the same for the good of everyone, including Cardinal Mahony.

      • Marthe Lépine

        I have a suggestion, and I am not joking, but really serious. I think that it would actually be a good idea to send the cardinal a tweet telling him just that: “would you please shut up?”

  • Victor R. Claveau, MJ

    “If thy right hand offend thee cut it off.” While I believe I understand what the Lord meant when he said this, I cannot help but think that this should also apply to prelates who have abused their positions.
    Far too many men have proven the “Peter Principle”, which states that a person rises to his level of incompetence.
    There must be accountability. As long as we have incompetent bishops recommending incompetent priests to become incompetent bishops, we will always be mired in leadership mediocrity.
    It is highly doubtful that a ineffective bishop will recommend someone better than himself.
    Only dynamic, proven bishops should be allowed to recommend priests to become bishops. New bishops should know that they are on probation. Give then five years to prove themselves, and if they don’t measure up, replace them.
    Souls are at stake here.
    Referring to those who aspire to be bishops, St. John Chrysostom wrote, “The loss of one soul carries with it a penalty which no language can represent. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value, that the Son of God became man, and suffered so much, think how sore a punishment must the losing of it bring!” (Homily III: Acts I. 12).

  • Peggy R

    I am glad you took down the posts. I have learned as well harping on others’ failures is terrible for my soul. Especially on the web for all to see.

    Blessed Lent to you.

  • Clare Krishan

    re: “Especially on the web for all to see.”
    so long as @CardinalMahony tweets I’ll read and respond in fraternal correction charity:
    The very fact that all can see helps keep me humble: my choice of gaelic ‘sarcasm’ is not original but quoted from St. Patrick (his autobiographical Confessio in original Latin reads: Rideat autem et insultet qui uoluerit Translation: Those who wish may laugh and insult.) found at traditional catholic blog here
    While ‘church militant’ language (refering to the ‘flock in need of Peter’s feeding’ in our secular age) has been dropped from the new Catechism, it is not thus invalid nor the terms ‘suffering church’ for the souls in purgatory nor the ‘triumphant church’ for the beatific vision of the saints in glory. Yet the mystery of who gains membership and how is understood to be a matter of the Final Judgement, reserved to three-in-one Divine Wisdom, never to be presumed by we mere mortals (some Traddies propensity to gauge externals as equivalent to the internal state of a person’s soul is known as Jansenism and is, was and will be anathema as a dualist heresy. As reductionist and evil — irony of ironies — as any liberation theology accusation they may hurl about, for where Marxists sacrifice present sanctity for an imagined future unreality, Jansenists sacrifice present sanctity for an imagined past unreality)
    Trinitarian triangulation is always the best way to go: in the present moment love abides by virtue of courage for mercy’s sake!

  • Arnobius of Sicca

    Well said Mark. I can relate to your struggles on judgment and mercy.

  • MattyD

    Beautiful piece, Mark. Though, I’ve greatly valued the *info* you’ve conveyed on the Mahoney story, your vitriol was beginning to worry me a smidg.

  • Adrianne

    Roberto has the word: Penitence. At the intersection of Love of God and Hatred of Sin, there is Penance. Probably the number-one underestimated resource for us who have legitimate grievances against obvious and unrepentant sinners (private as well as public). Do penance–for their sins, for your sins, for sins you don’t know about but which nevertheless wound the Body of Christ. Pick a penance and do it–or get your spiritual director to pick one for you–and keep doing it until the desire to judge and punish goes away. It’ll take years, but it’s much better for you; and it does good.

  • RC

    Thanks, Mark.

    It strikes me how Law really is the Emmanuel Goldstein of some people’s lives: the figure who is mentioned just for the sake of ginning up a daily Five Minutes Of Hate.

    I can’t be too sympathetic with that, since the hate against him has been enjoyed by people who never wished him well from the day he arrived in Boston; and besides, like some of your other friends, I also saw him when he was a broken man at the peak of the scandal. I don’t know how his life has been since: maybe he’s gone back to being a puffed-up character, but at that time he was just another sinner like the rest of us, and knew it. To date, he’s the only US bishop (is there any other in the world?) who gave up his see and his country because of cover-ups, and yet some people will not be pleased until they can stone him to death on live TV.

    On Sunday Pope Francis preached on the gospel passage of the adulterous woman, and spoke about God’s mercy for our sins, and yet the rumor-mongers were hoping that he would give orders to throw an 82-year-old guy out into the street.

  • Pavel Chichikov

    I have to say that the only direct encouragement I’ve ever had, as a writer, from a bishop, was from Cardinal Law. About 12 years ago. I’ve never met him personally and have never lived in Boston.

  • Dymphna

    I misread your title to say that Cardinal Mahoney had taken down his Tweets. Oh well.

  • John C

    If you ever have the time or the inclination, I would appreciate some exegesis on the “seventy times seven” passage. I don’t know that I’ve ever quite understood it. Who do we forgive? My sister, who I’ve always had a difficult reationship with? (Yeah, probably) Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 150 people, including some little toddlers playing in their day care? (Not so much) A woman in my parish, who fancies herself a “spiritual guide”, told us recently that one of the Sandy Hook parents had “forgiven” the the man who murdered his child. This was held up as a model of Christian enlightenment. I’m afraid I wasn’t buying it. I am a father, and it would never occur to me to “forgive” the murderer of my child, or of 25 other children. I remember reading years ago about “cheap grace”. I don’t think I’m ready for the concept of “cheap forgiveness”. Seems to me that forgiveness is a long and difficult process, and that it may have some natural limits. In any event, great post. Take care.

    • Marthe Lépine

      A note about “forgiving the murderer of my child” If my memory is correct it is exactly what the mother of Maria Goretti did…

    • Mark Shea

      And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

      For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

      That is the uncompromising demand of the gospel. God will take the smallest effort toward real forgiveness seriously, but he will not in the slightest tolerate the refusal to forgive and we risk the fires of hell if we do not forgive to the fullest extent of our crippled ability and continue asking for the grace to keep doing it till we are done. If you think a father who announced his forgiveness for that act of butchery is extending “cheap grace” you have no conception at all of what forgiveness cost him. That was one of the most expensive acts of forgiveness in the world.

  • Bob

    I appreciate the sentiment. But what I can’t figure out about your thought process on this is why you seem to have concluded that the church must be either church of mercy OR a church that holds its own employees accountable for grave acts that actually destroy people, but not both.
    Am I asking for blood in saying that the right course with Law would have been to remove him his office in Boston — not in chains; a simple retirement — while leaving him in the United States? Then it’s up to the law to decide what to do with him. You’re right, the law had its chance. But it takes a brave prosecutor indeed to criminally prosecute the active leader of the RCC in Boston of all places. By removing him to Rome, the Church gave the strong impression that it wanted to get him out of U.S. jurisdiction before the heat got too hot. It gave the impression that it sought to close ranks and protect itself, rather than protect its kids.

  • Art Deco

    “Yeah, but the bastard should be in jail!”

    The point may be banal, but here goes:

    John Geoghan was convicted of squeezing the rear end of a 14 year old youth at a public swimming pool in 1991. That was the most utile case the public prosecutor in Boston had among the complaints on file (in large measure because the statute of limitations had not run out). Unless it is your view that the Boston chancery was an accessory to whatever Geoghan did with every moment of his waking day, it is difficult to understand with what sort of crime you would charge Cdl. Law. You might make the chancery or Cdl. Law civilly liable for offenses committed on Church property or in the course of parish or diocesan events, but you generally do not incarcerate people for torts. The problem with thinking along the lines of “he got away with it” is that the definitions of anticipatory offenses in penal codes do not incorporate anything Cdl. Law did do or did not do. Anyone would have gotten away with it, and ordinarily it would not occur to anyone observing to hold the work supervisor or parent of an offender responsible for the offender’s crimes. People appear to want the penal code to be something it has not been (and likely should not be).

  • Wills

    Well done. Well done indeed. Now print this particular blog put and paste it to your computer to remind you the next time you are tempted….and for consideration try leaving off the cute-but-invective descriptions when you write. It will help keep you in a place of balance. I can testify from experience. When I keep my language as neutral as I can it helps me be charitable in better ways.

  • Birthday girl

    “From all I’ve read and heard about Law, he seems to have tried on multiple occasions, to resign. ”

    Can you point to additional information on this topic? Thank you.