Archbishop Carlson’s Deposition Reveals a Painful Truth: He’s Just Like Us

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It’s a bitter pill for Catholics, watching the videos of Archbishop Carlson’s testimony.

I understand and share the emotions it raises.

But we do not serve ourselves or our Church by pretending that it ain’t so. We’ve got to face this because it is reality. It doesn’t change in any way the simple fact that Jesus said “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

What it changes is the blind notion that many Catholics have — that we all want to have — that our religious leaders are sinless Christ figures themselves.

They’re just people, just like us. They are conduits of the graces of the sacraments. God can and does reach through them and into us when we go to them for support and help in our troubles.

But the miracle in that is all on God, not on them. They don’t create the miracle, they don’t control the grace. I know from personal experience that God can reach out and touch anyone, anytime. I believe that all that’s needed on our parts is a willing heart. All we have to do to receive God’s healing grace is say yes to it.

Why, then, a priesthood? If God can reach directly into us Himself then why do we need priests who are conduits of grace?

Because the priesthood is God’s instrument for bestowing this grace in an understandable, predictable and accessible way. I think that the emotionalism that is sometimes exhibited in some churches is an attempt to re-create that first transforming moment of grace when they originally said yes. It is an attempt to touch God and feel it again by using our own emotions to elevate ourselves to that level.

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The Eucharist gives us that healing moment of grace, that experience of touching God, of feeling Christ, without any effort on our part. All we have to do is say yes and partake. It is the same with confession. Confession bestows healing grace. So much so that there have been times, including long periods when I was feeling especially challenged, that I went to confession every week, even though my sins were not so grave, because I needed that encounter with Christ, that healing grace that confession gives.

Sacramental confession strengthens us in an almost unfelt way. The more often we go to confession, the stronger we are in resisting evil. In fact, my experience has been that if I confess something on a regular basis, I stop wanting to do it. It takes a bit of time, but that’s what happens.

These graces, as well as the graces of the other sacraments, flow through the priest in a way that is simple for those of us who receive it. We don’t have to understand theology. We don’t have to work ourselves into an emotional high. All we have to do is say yes and accept the grace that is freely given to us.

The crowning moment of grace is always the Eucharist, which is direct contact with Christ. So far as I’m concerned — and I’m not a theologian, so this applies only to me and my understanding — the Church is the Eucharist. And we are the eucharist. Because the Eucharist is Christ. The priesthood exists to bestow grace. Priests are conduits of grace, and it does not matter what kind of hooligan they are personally, the graces of the sacraments flow through them to us, regardless.

Which brings me back to Archbishop Carlson. I wouldn’t call him a hooligan. In fact, I’m not sure how to label him. I don’t want to label him and his faults. It is enough for me that this is the situation in which we find ourselves, him and us. Because at this point, that’s what it’s about: Him and us.

Not, Jesus and us, or even the Church and us. But poor, messed up Archbishop Carlson and us. We don’t have to decide what to do about Archbishop Carlson. What we are tasked with is determining how we are going to relate to our dear Church in the light of the obvious fact that our leaders are ordinary people.

They can be cowards. Just like us.

They can be craven. Just like us.

They can lie, cheat, steal and run away when they get in trouble. Just like us.

They can gossip and betray confidences, hold grudges and be spiteful. Just like us.

They are not Christ.

What they are is men who have consented to be the conduits of grace to Christ’s Church, which is us. There is a moment when heaven comes to earth and the Eucharist becomes His Body, His blood, in which the divine flows through them.

The fact that a few of them become callous about this and begin to devalue it and even start thinking that it is all about them and not Jesus, does not change the impact it has on us. The Eucharist is still real, even if the priest is a messed-up welter of confusion and sin.

Archbishop Carlson reveals himself to be a lawyered-up citizen who ducks and covers under oath in an act of self defense. I have no idea why he didn’t do the obvious thing and exercise his right to take the Fifth Amendment. It would have been far less damaging to his credibility than this performance.

You can find the full text of his deposition here. Many of the salient comments are highlighted to make them easy to find.

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There really isn’t any point in trying to find an “out” for Archbishop Carlson in this. The deposition speaks for itself. Besides, it’s not our job to judge Archbishop Carlson. Our job is the much tougher one of working out how to be a faithful Catholic in a world of fallen leaders, including our leaders in the Church.

How do we follow these men when they are so nothing special as this deposition reveals them to be? Not, mind you, worse than us. Most of us would duck and cover in a deposition like this one, just like the Archbishop. Any of us who have brains would get the best legal counsel we could and do exactly what that attorney told us to do.

Archbishop Carlson doesn’t reveal himself to be a fiend in this deposition. He reveals himself to be no better than the rest of us.

Which brings us back to the task that faces us. We are fallen people, served by a priesthood that is composed entirely of fallen people, living in a fallen world.

Yet we serve a risen Savior, Who is God Incarnate. We are called to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

But we can’t do it. We. Can. Not. Do. It. We don’t get through a single day without at least one and usually many sins of one sort or another.

We want heroes who will give us the illusion of the possibility of human perfection. But human perfection is always just that; an illusion.

To put it bluntly, we are all — priest and parishioner alike — down here in the pits together. As Jesus said, “There is none good except God.”

So how do we solve this conundrum of answering a call to be “perfect” while we are certain that there is “none good” among humankind?

We solve it by getting up every morning and giving our day to Jesus and His Mother. We solve it by availing ourselves of the certain graces of the sacraments. We solve it by forgiving each other and sustaining one another in our weakness.

How does this apply to the Archbishop Carlsons in our clerical leadership? More to the point, how does it apply to us and our response to the Archbishop Carlsons in our leadership?

My answer — and this is just me, talking about me — is that we need to cherish these men and help them as we can. At the same time, we need to stop pretending that they are anything other than fallen human beings. When they stand behind that altar and lift up the host, they are conduits of God’s grace. When they come down from behind the altar and scald us with a fit of rage or lie in a deposition, they are just people, wallowing around in the pit of failed good intentions along with the rest of us.

This is difficult for Catholics. It’s difficult for me. I am still working out how to deal with wounds inflicted by clergy. Some days I don’t do so well with it. Protestants can just dismiss their clergy as fallen people and be done with it. But Catholics are part of a hierarchical Church whose entire governance is built on the administration of these fallen men.

How do we, as Catholics, remain faithful when we see by their actions that we must be judicious about how and when we follow our clergy?

This is a tough one. It’s not always or even mostly about big public dilemmas like Archbishop Carlson’s dipping and dodging deposition. It is usually more personal, and because of that, far more damaging to us as Christians and Catholics.

How do we, say, disregard things a priest or spiritual director says to us in a fit of rage? How do we decide what to believe and what not to believe about the things they say to us? How do we overcome the sense of betrayal when a priest gossips about our deepest hurts? These are more the kinds of things that most Catholics must overcome in their walk of faith. The big public falls from grace seem easy to me compared to those much deeper personal dilemmas. How do we live together as Catholics in this fallen world?

These are hard questions with no easy answers. I’m going to leave it open for discussion and see what the rest of you think. In the meantime, take a look at Archbishop Carlson’s deposition. It’s clearly not a case of dementia or anything like it. He’s dipping and dodging and doing it quite well. Just like us.

Shacking Up, Gay Marriage and Now Wed Leases: Is Marriage as the Larger Culture Lives It Dead?

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Shacking up, gay marriage and now wed leases.

Given all this, I’m inclined to say as so many people do these days Why bother?

A reader sent me a copy of the Washington Post opinion piece excerpted below. The author, who is a divorce attorney, suggests that, given today’s revolving door marriages, we just set up marriage as a lease arrangement and forego all that “til death do us part” nonsense at the get-go. He sees it as a simplification of the court-laden bitterness of today’s divorce culture.

My first thought was that the guy deserves a couple of stars for innovative thinking and his willingness to legislate himself out of a job. But then I thought that he’s probably as sick of doing divorces as every other attorney I ever met. Setting up wed leases for his clients (His suggestions would require quite a bit of personalized legal tailoring for each couple.) would probably end up being, if not as lucrative as a high-dollar divorce, still a good living for an attorney, and without the need to Xanax.

So, I guess he’s not being entirely selfless.

However, he has put his finger on the truth of what is happening in our society.

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We’ve trashed marriage to the point that it no longer means much of anything. Gay marriage is the end of marriage as a legitimate institution. Now the flood gates on redefining marriage are open and you can bet that a lot of garbage is going to trot through them. Of course, none of this would have happened if heterosexuals hadn’t trashed their marriages (and their kids, homes and finances along with their marriages) for so many years.

Christians who want to follow Jesus instead of the world are going to have to make a decision about their marriages. Are they entering into Holy Matrimony, which is a life-long union on which God rains down sacramental graces? Or, are they entering into an elastic “so long as we both dig it” legal contract endowed by the state with nothing much but a lot of misery and legal gas?

The truth is, marriage, as it is practiced today has nothing — and I mean nothing — to do with the sacrament of Holy Matrimony as Jesus created it and as the Church has provided it for 2,000 years.

Which is it Christians?

Have you and your spouse entered into a Covenant before God Almighty that bonds you together in sickness and health, for richer and poorer until death does you part? Or are you just play-acting with some legally created contract that you can breach or nullify anytime there is sickness or poverty or you just don’t feel like it today?

For centuries, the legal definition of marriage corresponded closely enough to the Christian understanding of Holy Matrimony that the two could function almost as the same thing.

No more.

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In today’s brave new world, “marriage” is a legal construct. At best, it is a contract. At worst, it is a sham. Many times it is both — a sham contract.

Holy Matrimony, at least as the Catholic Church and some other denominations do it, remains unchanged. Outside of those churches that still treat marriage as the life-long Covenantal relationship between a man and a woman that God intended, there is no Holy Matrimony in our society today.

Christians who want to follow Jesus are going to have to learn to make this distinction, first in their own lives, and second as they regard the “marriages” in the wider world. There are things that redefining the law cannot change, and this is one of them.

True marriage, which, to distinguish it from the legal contracts of the wider society, I have decided to call Holy Matrimony, is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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It is up to you, my Christian brothers and sisters, if you want to be married in the eyes of God in Holy Matrimony, or you want a legal contract for sex and shared finances. If you want Holy Matrimony, then you must begin with the Church as the cornerstone of your marriage. By that I mean you must be married in the Church and you must make Christ the head of your home.

I do not think it will be possible for Christians to be the light the world so badly needs if we continue down this path of half Christian/half worldly.

More and more the world itself is demanding that we, as Joshua demanded thousands of years ago, choose this day whom we will serve.

Choosing to follow Christ begins in the individual heart, and it is first acted out in the home. The creator of home is Holy Matrimony.

Everything else is dead legalism.

From the Washington Post:

We all know that far too many marriages end in divorce, yet this institution does not adapt. Indeed, most Americans today want to expand conventional marriage to include same-sex couples.

So why is there no effort to improve the legal structure of marriage, when it shows itself to be deficient?

Marriage is a legal partnership that lasts a lifetime — one lifetime to be exact, that of the first of the spouses to die. Generally speaking, that is a long time for any partnership. People, circumstances and all sorts of other things change. The compatibility of any two people over decades may decline with these changes to the point of extinction.

In real estate, one may own a life estate in a piece of property. This is comparable to the term of a marriage — a lifetime. And in real estate, one may hold possession of property for shorter terms through a lease.

Why don’t we borrow from real estate and create a marital lease? Instead of wedlock, a “wedlease.”

Here’s how a marital lease could work: Two people commit themselves to marriage for a period of years — one year, five years, 10 years, whatever term suits them. The marital lease could be renewed at the end of the term however many times a couple likes. It could end up lasting a lifetime if the relationship is good and worth continuing. But if the relationship is bad, the couple could go their separate ways at the end of the term. The messiness of divorce is avoided and the end can be as simple as vacating a rental unit.

Today is my 30th anniversary of my marriage to my only husband.

Today is my 30th anniversary of my marriage to my only husband.

I read a lot of advice on how to stay married, how to be happily married, how to make marriage work.

Most of this advice comes from some “expert” solemnly intoning that if you want your marriage to survive, you have to “work” at it. They usually go on with advice about “date nights” and prenuptial agreements and how to make his and hers careers work and whether or not it’s a good thing to have children. By the time they get through, they make marriage sound like a death march of “work” and rules. Marriage in the marriage experts’ words, sounds like less of life, not more.

Nobody ever asks these how-to-make-marriage-work questions of those of us who’ve managed to muddle through the decades with our one and only life-long loves, raising families, building lives and providing the stability that keeps this nation from falling over from its self-inflicted wounds. I think the reason that no one asks us (aside from the fact that, since we don’t have a degree from an institution of higher learning certifying that we are competent to have opinions about marriage) is that what we have to say is too short, too simple and too flat-out effective to make good copy.

My experience is that when you’ve been up all night with a croupy baby and the family’s tiny bit of spare cash just went to the plumber, date nights become nonessentials. Prenuptial agreements seem a tad silly to people who live from one paycheck to the next. And once you have children, they come first, not your trendy his and hers careers.

What you need to give staying-power to your marriage is … trumpet fanfare and drumroll … love.

You’ve got to love one another. If making your husband or wife happy makes you happy, and if you both feel that way about each other, then you’ve got the makings of a long, happy marriage. If, on the other hand, all you really care about is what makes you happy and you view your relationship with your spouse as some sort of extended sibling rivalry where you compete for who gets what, then you have nothing to offer, because there’s nothing you are willing to give.

My advice, if you want a happy life, is don’t be this kind of person and don’t marry them, either.

Far from making less of life, marriage puts you squarely in the center of it. You can spend decades as a single person, consuming and pleasing only yourself all day, every day, and never really come in contact with life as the organic reality it is. Life lived that way is a form of stasis. It is fun. But it’s meant to be grown out of. There comes a point in every life worth living when it has to be about more than you and what you can get. Life, to be lived, must ultimately be about what you can give.

Marriage changes you in ways that I never considered before I was married myself, ways that I didn’t understand while they were happening to me. The simplest and most important way that marriage re-aligns you and your life is that you are not one anymore. You are two. That means you are not alone, in both the good and bad of not being alone.

Marriage is a blessing. God blessed us with marriage because He saw that it was “not good” for us “to be alone.” Alone has its place in life. Solitude can be a creative, meditative and fruitful experience. But solitude turned sour is loneliness and loneliness that goes on too long becomes despair or bitterness. Shallow, come-and-go relationships cannot break this cycle. We were made for deeper commitments than that. By our very natures, by the incredible male-female complementarity of humanity, men and women were made to complete one another.

But for marriage to be the blessing God intended, both people have to love the other. The husband has to love his wife. The wife has to love her husband. You basically have to be willing to stick your hands in fire for the man or woman who is your life’s partner, your best and sometimes only friend, the one human being you can always count on to be there, to care, and take your side. God gave you parents to get you grown. He gave you a mate for life to get you the rest of the way home.

I went through the usual mid-life thing during which I counted up my regrets and took a wishful look at what I wished I’d done differently. At the end of the day, I realized that everything I’d done, even the things I regretted, had been on the path that brought me to my husband and children. The one thing in my life that I would never change is them. That, on balance, made the rest of it, if not ok, at least something that I could accept.

If you want your marriage to work, love your spouse. Love them so much that when they are happy, that alone makes you happy. Cherish them. Take care of them. Stand by them. And enjoy them.

Your husband or your wife is God’s gift to you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, heart of your heart. Together you make family and home. These things are the best and the fullness of life in this world.


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