Code of Silence

You swore to yourself a long time ago
There were some things that people never needed to know . . .

And you can’t talk about it
Because you’re following a code of silence . . .
That’s not the kind of code you’re inclined to break
Some things unknown are best left alone forever . . .
You’re never gonna to lose the anger
You just deal with it a different way
But you can’t talk about it
And isn’t that a kind of madness
To be living by a code of silence
When you’ve really got a lot to say?

Excerpt from Code of Silence by Billy Joel
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Father Frank Richards was the principal of Knoxville Catholic High School when I was a student there.  He was a big bear of a man, soft-spoken with a kindly smile.  My Senior year, he presided over the special outdoor Mass at our retreat, the one where we all held hands.  He presented me with a plaque and congratulated me after I made the valedictory address at Graduation.  He also raped three boys.

Of course, none of us knew that then.  Nor did we know it the next year, or the year after that.  I learned the sordid truth from an article in the local paper over fifteen years later, about the time that I and everyone else in our Diocese learned that our beloved former Bishop was also guilty of decades-old sexual abuse, after one of his victims decided to go public despite having been paid over $100,000 by the Church for his silence.

Catholics seem to operate with the understanding that silence is golden when it comes to anything at all that could bring bad publicity upon the Church.  This attitude extends to more than cases of priestly sexual abuse.  I’ve continued to encounter this attitude throughout the Catholic education of my older children.  On several occasions, teachers left abruptly under mysterious circumstances and neither parents nor children were given any information or explanation, but were rather left to sort through the rumors or, in one particularly egregious case, read all about it in the local paper.  The thought process seemed to be that if we didn’t talk about it at all, maybe it would go away.

As for Father Richards, they simply expunged him–the video put out to celebrate the school’s 75th anniversary just leaves him out of the list of KCHS principals, skipping right over the 1981- 1985 school years without comment.   Bishop O’Connell, having founded our diocese, couldn’t be forgotten so easily, but they took his name off a building.  And everyone tried to forget.

And why not, right? After all, we’d suffered so much embarrassment over the abuse scandal.  Some had even left the Church over it! Protestants were saying bad things about Catholics and looking suspiciously at every priest, even though we all knew that priests are no more likely to abuse children than anyone else.  We instituted Diocesan policies and took our Virtus classes so that we could continue our volunteer work and put up signs forbidding children to use the church bathrooms alone.  Why couldn’t everyone just move on?

Many of us really did think we could put this all behind us.  We didn’t know that more revolting revelations were forthcoming.

But many people did know.  The priests who had committed abuse and continued in ministry.  The people who had reported being abused by priests and bishops.  And Bishops who ignored victims, or didn’t believe them, or paid for their silence, and moved abusers from place to place–in some cases watching them advance in stature and responsibility–instead of removing them from the priesthood or reporting their crimes to authorities.  They knew, and they chose to remain quiet, one presumes from a misguided belief that their silence would avoid scandal.

In our Catechism we learn that scandal is “an attitude of behavior which leads another to do evil . . . [it] takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized . . . [it] is grave when given by those who by nature of office are obliged to teach and educate others” [CCC 2284-2285].

Our Bishops have failed dismally in their obligation to teach, educate, lead, protect, and shepherd the faithful.  My faith in the Church is unshaken, but my faith in its hierarchy is at an all-time low, and I am not alone.  The faithful laity will no longer be satisfied with apologies and committees.  We must demand change–accountability, penance, resignations, and complete transparency.

Bishops, the silence IS the scandal! It’s time to shed some light.

Silence IS

My Sunday Photo: Narnia

Narnia
My big kids all attended Knoxville Catholic High School, and when I showed Emily this photo, which I took a couple of weeks ago while Lorelei and I were walking on the trails near the school after morning Mass at All Saints, she recognized “Narnia” immediately.  You’d have to ask the kids at KCHS why they call the path and clearing in the woods by that name; all I know is that they are really not supposed to go there.  It does look a little magical though, doesn’t it?  And it’s a good picture to post today, the day after the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
C.S. Lewis
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Not Your Parents' Rhythm Method

I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.
If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.
NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.
I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.
I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).
I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.
Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.
I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?
Teddy's Graduation

Over One Thousand Pounds


That’s how much weight my second son lifted (not all at once!) at the KCHS Football Liftathon on Monday night.  To be exact, it was 1,100 lbs. He benched 340, power cleaned 300, and squatted 460.

If you have kids, you probably know the special feeling it gives you to see yourself reflected in one of your children.    Like me, Emily was an early talker–she could say 80 words at the age of one year.  She loved books from an early age and always has her nose in one now.  She has always had a rich imaginary life.  She’s a writer.   Jake’s a writer, too, and he loves to sing, and cook, and does theatre, and is actually interested when I talk about plants and flowers.
But when someone asked John and me whence comes Teddy’s ability to lift large amounts of weight, we had to deny all responsibility.  We are not athletic and never were.  Teddy is the only one of our kids to show any interest in sports, and he was in the 8th grade before he participated formally.
But there’s another special feeling you get from watching your kid do something that is totally his own, something you never did, could never do, aren’t even interested in doing, but still admire and are almost in awe of.  That’s how we felt the other night, watching Teddy pick up all the Liftathon medals for his class.

This boy has amazing discipline and drive.  Two years ago he told me how much he planned to weigh by now, and he ate his way there (he’s always hungry).  All he wanted for Christmas and his birthday were exercise and weight-lifting related items.  If he doesn’t have workouts scheduled at school, he often goes to the gym on his own.
One of Teddy’s coaches called him Hercules the other night, and I told him that Teddy wore a Hercules costume around the clock for 18 months as a toddler.  I wonder if maybe Teddy has an inner Philoctetes urging him along today!

Teddy is not a totally foreign creature to his parents.  We can at least claim genetic credit for his academic talents (well, he thinks he is smarter than both of us), which are on par with his athletic abilities.  He does some pretty heavy lifting academically as well, maintaining a GPA that is actually HIGHER than 4.0, taking AP courses, and scoring a 34 on the ACT recently.  Again, though, it’s his own drive to succeed that keeps him up late studying when necessary due to his football schedule.  We never have to say a thing to him about homework or grades.
For once, the prognosticators got it right. Whenever people saw me walking around with chubby little Teddy (who weighed, they predicted he would play football one day.

There's Always That 5%

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Yesterday was the Feast Day of St. Louise de Marillac.  Frankly, I don’t know the first thing about St. Louise, but I was well-acquainted with one of her namesakes.
Sister Louise de Marillac Lovejoy (just Sister Louise to us) was my American History teacher when I was a junior at Knoxville Catholic High School.  She was a Sister of Charity who’d been allowed to live in Knoxville so she could take care of her aging aunt.  At that time this meant she was the only Sister we’d ever seen who didn’t wear a habit (although she did wear a veil).  And she was a character.
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Feisty, scrappy, opinionated, dictatorial, passionate–these are all good words to describe Sister Louise, who dominated her classroom and argued every point vociferously, accuracy be damned.  She often regaled us with tales of the terrible atheist, “Maureen O’Hara.”   Correcting her was pointless.  She did not even care if she got the names of her students wrong–she just re-christened them.  James, whom she called Charles all the time because that was his older brother’s name, eventually became “Charles James.”  Mariette was “Marietta.”  She couldn’t pronounce “Kneier,” so she called that girl “Miss Kim.”  Mr. Dodd became “Mr. Todd.”  And you better believe they all answered to whatever Sister decided their names were!
Sister’s greatest joy was catching out-of-uniform students as they walked past her classroom.  As she lectured, she always had one eye out for them.  She would break off mid-word and run out of the room, then she’d come back in, carrying the out-of-uniform jacket, cackling with glee.  The offending garment was held hostage in her closet until its owner paid a ransom, which Sister gave to the Missions.
Honestly, we did not get very far in our American History Book.  The last thing I remember was trustbusting and Teddy Roosevelt.  Part of that was because of Sister’s enjoyment of going off on tangents, like the atheist thing.  People loved to argue with her and could really get her going.  I remember one whole class devoted to a diatribe on why wearing an ankle bracelet signaled you were a prostitute.  “This is true, class,” Sister would assure us.  Along with “There’s always that 5%,” that was Sister’s favorite saying.
The other reason we never reached 1910 was that Sister spent a long time on the areas of history she thought were important– mostly the colonial period.  Sister had an interesting way of teaching.  She would reiterate the point she wanted to make over several classes until we had it memorized, then have us chant it back to her, like parrots.  It worked, by God.  I bet if I could get my old classmates in a room and ask them what the Magna Carta was, they would immediately burst out with, “The first step along the road to self-government.”  The Mayflower Compact was, “The first step along the road to self-government in the New World.”  And what three important things came to Jamestown in 1619? “Slaves, women, and the Virginia House of Burgesses.”
In addition to American History, Sister taught a Current Events class that Seniors could take as an elective.  It was interesting because kids who tended to be cut-ups and classroom trouble-makers often took the class, because they enjoyed sparring with Sister.
Sometimes we would be sitting in the classroom and some former student, visiting the school for the day, would arrive and come in to give Sister a hug.  How delighted she always looked to see them.  She looked grouchy a lot of the time but her smile really transformed her.  I know we wondered at the time why old students flocked back to visit.  Today the school itself remembers her with a Social Studies Award given out in her name each year.
The last time I saw Sister I was at St. Mary’s Outpatient Clinic for a three-hour glucose tolerance test when I was pregnant with–I think–Emily.  I was happy to see her but sorry that she wasn’t herself.  I had heard that she was terminally ill at that time, and her spunk seemed gone as she told me that she wasn’t feeling very well.
We have so many teachers in a lifetime–too many to count or remember.  But “there’s always that 5%” who make a lasting impression, and Sister Louise was one of a kind.
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