Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ringing True and Tickling Ears

At 8:30 pm on November 15, 2014 an inmate died in prison in Danville, Pennsylvania.  He was under armed guard and handcuffed to a hospital bed at the time.  His death could have been prevented by a straight forward procedure to clear the arteries leading to his heart.  Oh well, you say, somewhat cynically.  One down.

Meanwhile another inmate has spent over 20 years incarcerated about 400 miles away in the New Hampshire State Prison for Men.  To which you say again, so what?

Well, for one thing, both are Catholic priests, the deceased one Father Charles Englehart, an Oblate, the currently imprisoned one Father Gordon MacRae, a diocesan priest and writer of These Stone Walls.  In fact, if you want a good commentary on the case of Father Charles you can read about it at These Stone Walls and follow links to various other articles about the case and context.

For another thing, both Father Charles Englehart and Father Gordon MacRae were imprisoned for sexual abuse of minors, based on the testimony of individuals, who if they testified against you or me on similar charges would be laughed out of court.  There is no practical evidence that the sexual abuse these two men were charged with actually happened, or was even plausible.

However, to some the testimony of the two star witnesses "rang true."

But, let's take a look at "rang true" and what it means.  In the middle ages, when coins were made of gold or silver, they were not as uniform in their size and weight, and so this created an opportunity for there were those who would counterfeit these coins by mixing other alloys in with the gold or silver.  To test the coins, merchants would drop them onto stone.  If the coin were phony, it would make either a dull or shrill tone depending on the alloys used, but a gold or silver coin would have a clear tone or would "ring true."

The allegedly aggrieved in both the cases of Father Gordon and Father Charles gave testimony that ebbed and flowed with the audiences and was nothing, if not inconsistent.  If the testimony of either of these alleged victims rang in any way, it sure was not true.  How about a big clank?

But, both of these cases had a more significant sound that seemed more like ear tickling as described in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
In the 1990's a scandal broke of what appeared to be widespread sexual abuse of minors by priests. In fact there were significant instances of priests who did sexually abuse young people.  What was ignored was that the bulk of these incidents were actually not pedophilia, but ephebophilia, which is in fact homosexuality, and homosexual acts between adult males (in this case priests) and post pubescent males.  It is not the splitting of hairs, but an essential distinction that is important to know and understand.

What was ignored even more was that sexual abuse has been studied in the past and that there are reasonable statistics, particularly a study done by the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, reported in 2001.  That study found that in the group studied, 96% of all abuse occurred from people closely connected to the victim, from parents, to cousins ,to grandparents, boyfriends of the mother etc., with only 4% from what was termed strangers.

You can read about the social context of the Sexual Abuse Scandal in a report produced by Catholic League in 2004.

But, here is my real point.  I believe that we have reached a time in our society where St. Paul, the writer, or at least the mind behind 2 Timothy is proving to be a prophet.

The prosecutors in both these cases had to turn away from objective truth to a version of truth that rang true somehow, and that tickled their ears and would further their careers in order to prosecute these cases.

If I were a prosecutor, which would be better for my career, to prosecute a teacher, or scout leader, who might actually have abused someone, or to target a class of people (priests) that the public will believe are already guilty?  Oh, and the priests are more likely to be under defended, to boot.  Judge Sol Wachtler stated at one time that a prosecutor in presenting to the grand jury looking for indictment could get an indictment for a "ham sandwich".  Well, if his ham sandwich was a Catholic priest, a conviction was almost a slam dunk as well.

I was frankly too shocked by what I read in Father Gordon's commentary about the Englehart case to respond as I often do in a timely basis.  Father Gordon suggested that his article would make readers angry, and that emotion flitted around in my noggin for a while.  But, the more I thought about it and prayed about it and read about it, I realized that it was less about the particular instance than about a North American society, both Canadian and American that is rapidly going mad.  Hence, my reference above to the writing in 2 Timothy about "tickling of ears."

Then Father Gordon dropped the other foot the very next week with his article about Gossip.

I have sat with this for over a year.  I have no explanation for it other than I felt compelled not to publish at the time.

My reason for publishing today is that there is much more going on and this piece is a prelude of sorts to the piece that will follow.