The Worst Punishment There Could Ever Be

The Worst Punishment There Could Ever Be February 23, 2019

We’re in the middle of the summit on sexual abuse now, and I don’t feel particularly hopeful. 

We’re hot on the heels of once-Cardinal McCarrick being laicized, and everyone’s still talking about it. They’re saying funny, witty things that aren’t very accurate. An especially astute friend of mine observed, “If the worst punishment that can be made to a cleric who has done serious wrongs is to become a regular lay person, geesh, what does that say about laity?”

And I know that’s not exactly an accurate description of what “laicization” means. McCarrick is not being turned into a regular lay person. He’s been greatly disgraced. His clerical status is taken away. Rome no longer has to assign him anywhere. He can’t wear the vestments or say Mass or hear confessions; we don’t call him “Father” anymore. But not even Rome can take the sacramental seal away. A priest remains a priest forever, even if they are forbidden to exercise those faculties. He’s humiliated, I hope, but that doesn’t seem enough. He lost his job, but in a real way, he’s still a priest.
Still… looking at the term, “Laicize,” it sounds like “to turn someone who wasn’t a lay person into a lay person.”  And the way people are talking, you’d think the worst punishment that could be imagined, is that you’d stop being a cleric and become a lay person. Like me. Like us. Like most of the 1.299 billion Catholics in the world. The ultimate punishment would be to become like us.
To sit in the congregation, instead of standing at the altar.

To be told your whole life that God will choose your vocation, that the highest thing you can strive for is to seek the will of God, that God has a future all planned out for you– to the priesthood or the religious life, the married life, the single life, according to His wondrous design and not your own– and all the while to stare at the diptych in your illustrated catechism that says “This Is Good” with a picture of a family and “This Is Better” with a picture of a religious in a cassock. Because apparently, according to whoever made up these cartoons, God plays favorites, and those whose vocation is to be a lay person are not His favorites.

To feel that you’re not God’s favorite, that God has chosen the lesser part for you– although that’s not the real teaching of the Church. Because, for all intents and purposes, it’s the teaching that catechists peddle to the laity.
 To say “Glory to You, O Lord” and make a cross over your mouth instead of saying “A reading from the Holy Gospel.”
To say “Lord, I am not Worthy” when a priest holds up Christ and says “Behold the Lamb of God.”
To not dare leave until the priest says “The Mass is ended.”
Not to be the one who can make the tasteless joke, “Oh, if I did such-and-such I could just give myself absolution in a mirror,” even though that’s not  true– priests need other priests for confession.  But they joke about the freedoms they enjoy anyway. To be the other kind of Catholic, the one who can’t grant absolution to anyone. The one who waits outside one confessional for half an hour, because the confessional with the short line is the confessional with the cruel priest you’ve been warned against. Or worse, to not know what kind of priest you’re getting until you go inside. You’re getting the mercy of God, but by what minister? One who tries to act like Christ while standing in persona Christi or one who tries to make you cry and make you think that it’s Christ attacking you? Or something worse?
 To be afraid to go to confession at all, because of your friend who was forced to sit on a priest’s lap in there. “You call priests ‘Father’ and that means I’m your dad,” the priest said. “That means you have to let me touch you the way your parents do.” And, being too young to say “no,” she obeyed.
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