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 by Laramie Boyd
Casting Stones
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       Believe me when I say I am not an expert in church doctrine, or in who does or doesn't go to Hell or Heaven, even though my grandfather and an uncle were Nazarene preachers, not uncommonly referred to as fire and brimstone Bible thumpers, Hell and damnation, and all that. But I am vaguely familiar with what is regarded as "sin" by most Christian sects. And I even made an "altar call", meaning I went to the altar at the front of a Protestant church in Montrose, California, and loudly proclaimed of my sinning ways, asking Jesus for forgiveness. I wasn't sure what all that meant, but I knew it was supposed to be a life changing event in my young life. I was to forego all the sins of my past, like cussing, drinking alcohol of any kind, close contact with girls, fornication, things I didn't know if I wanted to give up at the time. I must say the change never really developed into a lifelong vow of obedience.
     But I must be cautious when and if I criticize any practice of any church institution. I need to be mindful that any aspersion directed at any church body is not just an "I gotcha" , but is rather an objective reaction to a "sordid story rooted in decades of cover-ups, predatory men, and broken boys." That quote is from a column written by Christine M. Flowers for the Philadelphia Daily News.
     Miss Flowers revealed during Confession that "I believed in the depths of my 6-year-old soul that the man on the other side of that screen could grant me absolution", even though she was not sure what she was guilty of having done. She just believed she would be forgiven. Sadly, Miss Flowers "sees a blight on her beloved Church." The Attorney general of Philadelphia issued a "story of promises broken, innocence shattered and obligations violated."
     According to Mike Argento of the York Daily record in Pennsylvania, a grand jury investigation found that 301 priests in that state had committed some "terrible crimes against children, some repeatedly, and repeatedly protected from the consequences of their actions by the church". The victims numbered 1000. A Christian Science Monitor staff writer's survey revealed that just 75 priests served any time in jail. The number of priests who had their day in court was just 7 1/2 percent of the number of victims of child cruelty.
     Kristen Houser, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, pointed out one consistent aspect of the issue. "The initial impulse is to protect the institution, whether that institution is a church or a university or a football program." That seems to downgrade the mystique of religion in general, to liken it to a football game. Does it seem as though comparing protective responses for the accused in child abuse allegations, at any level, to turning a blind eye to a football player who gets a DUI, is a valid comparison?
     I am sure there are good Catholics who hesitate to condemn those priests who were instrumental in forgiving their sins when they were young and impressionable. But what is a good catholic, a church going believer, supposed to do? How should they react to the "institution" that, it almost seems like, approved of child abuse. At the least in some cases didn't disapprove. Does the believer continue to tithe? Continue to adhere to new fiats from the Pope? Believe that He is infallible? Send their children to the schools that were a haven for the predators? Stay away from the building where church dogma is professed but not enforced, but still believe in the creator and his Son? Not an easy decision for some, I am sure.
     Christine Flowers finished her article of deep sorrow and anger with these words:
I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace
To do penance
And sin no more

     Maybe that's the answer. Do not lose your spirituality over another person's behavior. Maybe it isn't the building where you pray, but rather that you do pray, and the life you lead as an individual, that really matters.