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Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

I awoke earlier this week to find myself being maligned in our local newspaper by none other than Springfield’s Catholic Bishop, Most Reverend Edward M. Rice, who called me a hypocrite and a baby murderer.

Let me say it before you do, “I started it.” I had published a pretty hard-hitting column the week before, calling out the anti-abortion hypocrisy of Republicans and the Catholic Church as we are facing the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who is almost certain to cast the deciding vote to overturn Roe v Wade, dragging the civil rights of women back by a half a century. And the hard fought for civil rights of the gay and lesbian community will not be far behind.

I didn’t mean to provoke the bishop into acting an insecure, pink clad, middle school bully. I simply pointed out the indisputable fact that many Republican politicians who have made a career out of trumpeting anti-abortion rhetoric have been caught forcing aids and paramours to get abortions to avoid having their private sexual dalliances exposed. And I also pointed out the fact, and I linked the Public Broadcasting System’s 2019 documentary on the topic, that many nuns in nations around the world have been forced to be housekeepers and sex slaves for supposedly “celibate” priests who have been forced to have abortions to keep the priests from being publicly humiliated.

My point, a point that I have made many times over the years, is that abortion laws only apply to those who do not have the resources or connections to get a doctor to perform an abortion secretly or to travel to Canada or France. Striking down Roe v Wade will affect poor people, but it will have no impact on the wealthy or even the middle class.

The hypocrisy of this is multiplied by the fact that no Republican politician and certainly no Roman Catholic bishop, has every suggested that the wealthy be charged with a crime when they return from their vacation in Paris where they terminated an unwanted pregnancy. And, in fact, the Catholic Church has gone to great lengths to cover up and protect from prosecution, the priests who have raped nuns and then forced them to get abortions. These are not opinions. These are facts.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

What I published were facts, media documented events of moral travesty. Did the bishop dispute the facts? No. Did the bishop show remorse for the facts? No.

All religions encourage repentance for sins but the Catholic Church has institutionalized this in the confessional, the sacrament of reconciliation. But when the Most Reverend Edward M. Rice was confronted with these sordid and humiliating facts, rather than make some public confession of the centuries of Catholic sex crimes, he dismissed them and labeled me a hypocrite, a baby killer, and accused me of being anti-Catholic.

And this last charge is what I want to drill down on:

I wrote my doctoral dissertation on monastic spirituality. I suspect that I have spent more time in Trappist monasteries than has our local bishop. I suspect that I am more deeply immersed in the ancient Catholic literature about spiritual practices than he is. For many years my former church officials feared that I might one day leave my former denomination to become a Trappist monk. I am not anti-Catholic. But here is where Bishop Rice and I differ, I don’t believe that either child molesting or the systemic rape of nuns is inherently Catholic. I can conceive of a Catholic church that does not institutionalize pedophilia or rape or forced abortions. Where Bishop Rice and I differ is that he believes that it is anti-Catholic to even mention the fact that there has been a long and sordid history of sex crimes within the Catholic Church that the Catholic hierarchy has denied, hidden, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars in avoiding the legal consequences.

Once again, Bishop Rice offers denial and childish name calling where what is needed is sincere repentance, penance, and a resolve to be a better Catholic Church.

Given his lack of moral discernment, I would not allow Ed Rice to be in charge of a hotdog stand. I can celebrate the good works of the Catholic Church in addressing poverty, illness, and in advancing education and public morality but those good works do not become immunity to responsibility for rape, forced abortions, and pedophilia.

It is simply tragic that even a bishop cannot see the difference between these crimes and what it means to be Catholic.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

But this is the problem with power, isn’t it? We have been treated this week to rants from our Covid-infected president, demanding that the attorney general, Bill Barr, bring indictments against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, for literally no crime other than being the political enemies of a deranged president; when the laundry list of undeniable crimes committed by Trump, his family, and his minions would have made Al Capone counsel him to dial it back a bit.

Power can make people feel immune to responsibility. Power can make people assume that there are rules for all of the little people but no rules for them.

This has certainly been the case in our nation’s recent turmoil about police violence and racism. There have been so many police killings of unarmed black people in America that it is seriously difficult to keep up but one of the most egregious, and that is saying something, was the murder of Breonna Taylor in March. This Louisville resident was shot dead while she was still in her bed.

I hesitate to use the normal phrase, “a comedy of errors” because this was no comedy. The police had obtained a “no knock” warrant for Taylor’s apartment by using largely false accusations.

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They were searching for one of Taylor’s former boyfriends who was already in police custody. So the police were there for no good reason, under false pretenses, and when they broke down the door to her apartment, Taylor’s boyfriend, a legal gun owner, responded to the invasion by firing a single shot from his gun, which provoked an avalanche of gunfire from the police who were shooting blindly and wildly into the apartment.

Breonna’s death has sparked protests in Louisville and in many cities around the world. The failure of Kentucky’s first black Attorney General to bring indictments against the police officers involved has fueled the controversy which focuses not only on police violence but on the implicit racial dimensions of the tragic murder.

Look, when the lights of a patrol car come on in your rear-view mirror, what goes through your mind? I can tell you, as a white guy, I think, “Rats, this is going to cost me. I’ll have to pay a fine and then my auto insurance rates will go up for the next several years.”

But when a black person sees police lights in their rear-view mirror, don’t you understand that most of them immediately start thinking, “What can I do to not die today?” There are indisputable aspects of race in policing in America and it is so pervasive that it even infects black police and black Attorney Generals.

I’m not wanting to in any way be dismissive of the racial aspects of Breonna’s death, but I would like to draw back the lens for a moment just to mention the other aspect of this tragedy, which is the abuse of power.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Duncan Lemp

This is Duncan Lemp, who was also killed by police in March while he was asleep in his bed in his own home. This murder took place in Maryland as police executed a no-knock warrant to search his home for gun violations. I am not wanting to deny the fact that race plays a role in many police killings, but I do think that we have to add some awareness that police also shoot white people, Asians, Latinx, and Native Americans, often without cause and too often with illegally obtained no-knock warrants.

And just like my beef with our local Catholic Bishop, many people have interpreted the demonstrations and protests which have taken place after these police murders as being “anti-police” or as failing to support our public servants who risk their lives every day to protect and serve the vulnerable, because they cannot seem to separate legitimate policing in their minds from the wanton Old West habit of shooting people through windows and walls before finding out if there is any plausible reason to be shooting anyone.

It is as if we tell police that they can’t shoot unarmed black people that we are saying that we just can’t have police anymore!

If the police have become so powerful that we cannot legally charge them with crimes or even question their conduct when they clearly murder innocent people in their sleep, then, folks, can’t you see, the police have simply become too powerful?

I don’t want to live in a city where I cannot call the police if my life is being threatened. And I don’t want to diminish the social costs of the illegal drug trade, but, come on, what is with this heavily armed war on drugs? And don’t you know that wealthy white people in gated communities are more likely to have drugs in their homes than are poor black people in impoverished neighborhoods?

Drug use and drug distribution are problems in America, but they are problems that call for addiction treatment. There has been no observable reduction of drug use in America as a result of the armed policing efforts of Federal, State, and local policing agencies. Please let me say that again: in spite of billions of dollars wasted on Federal, State, and local armed policing of the drug trade, there has been no evidence that it has reduced drug use at all.

How long do you keep doing something that obviously doesn’t work? Breonna Taylor was just another innocent victim of an absurdly violent police policy towards drug enforcement. And it keeps happening because, . . . ok, racism, classism, all of that . . . but it keeps happening because power begets power. Because bloated police budgets and fear mongering conservative lawmakers keep fielding an over militarized police force onto our streets and accusing us of being indifferent towards crime when we question their crazy tactics.

Bill Maher was right when he said on his show a couple of weeks ago that “Power is like owning rabbits, the more you have the easier it is to get a lot more.”

I am sincerely sorry that Bishop Rice thinks that mentioning rape, forced abortions, and pedophilia makes me anti-Catholic. . .that he cannot conceive of a Catholic Church without sex crimes.

I am sincerely sorry that President Trump and Kentucky’s Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, cannot conceive of a police force without unchecked violence resulting in murder. But, I can. I can conceive of a repentant Catholic Church that deserves our respect and praise. I can conceive of a law enforcement universe that serves the public interest.

If the Catholic Church is so powerful that it is above objectively confessing its own sins, if law enforcement has become so powerful that uniformed police officers cannot be criminally charged for even murder, then they have become too powerful.

Dr. Roger Ray

It isn’t that people in government, law enforcement, or organized religion have not been made aware of their abuse of power. It is just that they simply do not care.

So, I have one thing to say: times up. If you refuse to correct yourselves, we will correct you. If you abuse power, then you don’t deserve to keep it.

Dr. Roger L. Ray
The Emerging Church