During its annual meeting this past November, the board of directors of Instruments of Peace unanimously adopted a resolution to conclude business and dissolve the nonprofit. It was agreed that its main program, SafeNet, which John McCord and I co-founded in 2003, would revert to an all-volunteer advocacy group and continue its work without financial assistance. “SafeNet” is an acronym for “Survivors Alliance and Franciscan Exchange Network.” With a return to its roots, the “Franciscan” aspect of its name would once again impart a deeper meaning to a ministry of service.
Many people helped sustain the efforts of Instruments of Peace from the very beginning. This included survivors, their families, members of the community and those involved in law, education, psychology and journalism. It also received support from a handful of Franciscans and other members of the clergy. To these and many others we extend our gratitude.
When Standing Up Counts Most
With regard to the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara, it has been in a tailspin for some years now. It has been spiraling into the notion that its own survival may depend on consolidating with other Franciscan provinces in the country. It’s possible, then, that even the very little we did expect of new provincial David Gaa was, in a sense, too much to expect. The opportunities for corrective measures which the promise of his leadership held for many have all but dissipated among survivors. This has been a perplexing development. I believe Gaa is an honest man devoted to meaningful pastoral work. But core issues of healing and reconciliation for survivors and communities—which were raised during a private meeting between us—may have overwhelmed him. I can appreciate the many duties and concerns of running a religious order and the business of keeping it solvent. But I cannot accept that I or any other survivor should have to remind the church of its obligation to those it has harmed.
As for friars Dan Barica, John Hardin, Richard McManus, Brian Trawick, Angelo Cardinale and others, I understand why these men may never change. Theirs is a stubborn but clueless reality. In the world they occupy there are no winners in a pointless fight for sanity and reason. That the province will eventually suffer for their stupidities is no wish of mine. But it's clear from a strictly historical standpoint that their abysmal behavior will inevitably result in future harm to themselves and their order. If consolidation of the Franciscan provinces becomes a reality, you can be certain that inheriting each other’s sins and liabilities will become one, too.
The religious brotherhood that the Franciscans in this province profess loyalty to is often at odds with enlightened change. They are certainly not the only members of the clergy who fail to stand up and be counted when standing up counts most. But friars who act like spoiled children mistakenly believe the reflective lens they hold up reveals everyone's face but their own. Many simply cannot see that they have become the fools of their own narcissism.
This is the universe that the Province of St. Barbara is hurling itself through. I was taught and schooled by the friars and worked with them on and off for over forty years. I’ve seen how some have embraced truth and initiated painful but productive periods of growth and understanding. I’ve also watched as others have failed to grasp even the fundamental holiness of their task which the clergy abuse crisis helped magnify and define. Astonishingly, not one friar in the province has shown any interest in creating a ministry for clergy abuse survivors or crafting a sustainable model for helping communities cope with the fallout. The late Alberic Smith was the last friar to devote himself to this cause--and he was mostly mocked for doing so by other friars who seemed to cherish their denial as if it were a subscription to Boy’s Life.
The distressing manner in which some Franciscans have conducted themselves on this issue comes as no surprise to those who understand a simple, basic truth: words without action and action without thought are the cynical tools of rogues and frauds. The red flag that has been raised here is that our acceptance of bad behavior in this confused brotherhood has created an anomaly which has grown steadily like a cancer deep within the very teachings of St. Francis.
In the end, service work remains a spiritual practice that tenders no regrets, only humility. True instruments of peace may be those more willing to listen and speak with their hearts than with their heads. They may be the parish priests who remind us from the pulpit to pray for those the church has harmed. They may be the men and women who help us understand clergy abuse by sharing their stories with us. And they may also be our mirror selves who tend to offer us a hint of redemption in our desire to reach and be reached.
NOTE: A Room With A Pew has gained a loyal following for which I am truly thankful. With the partisan shadow of abnormal times upon us, the worst kind of hucksters are gearing up to market and sell a new brand of normal. This blog will remain part of the resistance that goes on offering an unorthodox slant on religious, social and political issues. As questions of abuse and trauma take on new meanings, I will continue to use this space to express opinions and feelings that convey and challenge the recovery process in all its diverse and complex forms.