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Enough outrage: Let’s model holiness

Archbishop Wenski's column for the October edition of the Florida Catholic

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In recent days and weeks, we have witnessed a divisive fight as the U.S. Senate exercised its constitutional duty to give “advice and consent” on a nominee to the Supreme Court. Our nation and state now prepare for the mid-term elections. As citizens we will exercise our right to vote ­a right we should exercise conscientiously with a view to the common good and the defense of the dignity of the human person.

At the same time, the Catholic Church in our country has come under increased scrutiny. This summer’s Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on historic cases of predation by some clergy on the young, along with fallout over the disgrace of the once Cardinal McCarrick and the former Nuncio’s “testimony” implicating the pope in having ignored evidence of McCarrick’s abuse, have created a “perfect storm” reopening wounds that many thought were cauterized in 2002 when bishops adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for those who abused minors and vulnerable adults.

The Grand Jury report, however, did acknowledge that since 2002 only a few priests have offended. Our zero tolerance and safe environment policies are working, and I am confident that the “investigation” recently announced by Florida’s attorney general will show that here in the Archdiocese of Miami. But anger, especially towards Church leadership who in the past failed to adequately address abuse, shows that 2002 came too late for too many victims.

Our nation and our Church are living through difficult times. Some have described our times as being not so much an era of change but the change of an era. One of the signs of the times is that all of society’s institutions are being called into question. Certainly, in recent years, these institutions have been undermined to one extent or another because of corruption and greed and because of the abuse of authority and power. Positions of service are turned into instruments of personal gain. We see this in politics, we see this in academia, in the media, in the entertainment world, and in business. Tragically we have also seen this in the Church.

For these reasons and others that have yet to be well articulated, many people are increasingly addicted to “outrage.” In fact, the internet and cable news support a whole industry devoted to “outrage” — which could be defined as talk designed to provoke emotional responses — anger, fear, moral indignation among others. This “outrage industry” is sustained by overgeneralization, sensationalism, inaccurate information and “ad hominem” attacks. Oppositional research designed to uncover dirt about an opponent is seen as a legitimate tactic in the “contact sport” that is today’s politics. Bloggers use “outrage” as click bait and those talking heads on cable TV exploit it as a strategy to increase audiences and therefore their advertising revenue.

Debate and argument is replaced with shrill polemics, polemics that generate little light but much heat that feeds the outrage. This only aggravates the polarization that has divided us both as a nation and as a Church.

But if we allow ourselves to be blinded by outrage, justice will no longer prevail. If we discard due process, then a benighted tribalism will inevitably overtake us. Our U.S. Constitution recognizes the rights of the individual to seek redress for grievances while at the same time affirming the presumption of innocence. These principles undergird our American system of justice predicated on due process. As Americans we are ruled by law — not by despots or by mobs. In America, we value fairness and thus we should reject those who would put their thumbs on the scales of justice in order to advance their own self-interests. In a sea of moral relativism, people feel set adrift — and this is perhaps the reason for their outrage which is often a projection of their fears.

As a nation we need recommit ourselves to a common truth “derived from the Laws of Nature and Nature's God” as eloquently expressed in the Declaration of Independence. When a democracy bases itself on moral relativism and when it considers every ethical principle or value to be negotiable (including every human being's fundamental right to life), it is already, and in spite of its formal rules, on its way to totalitarianism. The “might of right” quickly becomes “might makes right.”

As Catholics, we must recommit ourselves to the ordinary high standards of Christian living. Today, the mostly self-inflicted wound of the clerical abuse scandal has damaged the credibility of the Church and muted her moral voice as well having scarred too many victims. Yet, while acknowledging our sinfulness and our failures, we are charged by our baptism to seek after holiness by witnessing to the Gospel “in season and out of season.” By living the Gospel coherently, as faithful and faith-filled citizens, Catholics in America can make our contribution to the common good by modeling for all what a reconciled and reconciling world should look like.

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