children of an addict

CardinalMahonyFor the second time this week, the LA cathedral has become an anti-sacrament, a symbol of alienation, dissension, and violence.

I feel profoundly saddened and ashamed. I don’t know why. Is this what it feels like to be the child of an alcoholic father?

I work with a bunch of non-Catholics. I was trying to imagine how I would explain my sadness to them, because for them doctrine and the liturgy are not treasures that they value. I finally realized that it isn’t about doctrine or liturgy. Liberals and conservatives alike have no fondness for the Cardinal.

The best way I can describe the situation is this: being a Catholic in the archdiocese of Los Angeles is like being a child of an addict. There are a number of correspondences between the family of an addict and the archdiocese of Los Angeles:

  • the addict is an opportunist who engages in a systematic campaign of denial and cover-up
  • the addict is a law unto himself
  • the addict forms alliances outside of the family in order to sustain the toxic fiction of well-being
  • when confronted with the fallout of his toxic behavior, he asks for forgiveness without being thoroughly contrite (ready to make amends); he is unable or unwilling to make a sustained, thorough-going apology for what he has done and for the consequences of his behavior on family life
  • he surrounds himself with enablers and peacemakers (e.g. Todd Tamberg and Mike Nelson)
  • he scapegoats his victims
  • his children suffer from a particularly intense form of neglect, a neglect that would be less severe if he were physically absent; as it is, his presence continually makes present the reality, “you are not loved for your own sake”

It is particularly telling that there was an editorial by Mike Nelson in this week’s Tidings, scapegoating the victim of sexual abuse who chained himself to the presider’s chair last Sunday during Mahony’s homily. Scapegoating a victim of abuse!

The Tidings went to print before today’s unrest at the Cathedral. During an interfaith prayer service being held there, members of the LAPD had to intervene to prevent Cathedral staff from having some pro-life Catholics arrested. The LAPD, the organization that brought us the Rodney King debacle, acted in a notably more altruistic manner than the staff at the Cathedral. There is a reason the Cathedral looks like a fortress. It has become a symbol of a man whose primary apostolate is to protect himself.

Now I’m not saying that the Cardinal is necessarily an alcoholic. I don’t know the man personally. But the patterns of addiction are there for all to see. At the very least, I think it safe to say that he exhibits some form of addiction to the cult of his own personality. How else do you explain the narcissistic behaviors?

The consequences of such toxic behavior are far-reaching: there is some intense spiritual as well as psychological fallout. Essentially, the wound experienced by the child of an alcoholic father is this: I have a father who is not concerned with my welfare. That’s a very sobering, even spiritually crippling, thing to think about. It’s a return to the wound into which the serpent insinuated Eve in the Garden: you do not have a loving Father, but one that only seeks what is best for Himself. In the case of Eve, it was a lie. In the case of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, the sting of pain is especially sharp because, by all accounts, it is true.

As I was poring over the testimony given by the Cardinal in hearings last winter, I lost interest in the question of whether the Cardinal actually knew or did this, that or the other thing. I realized that, regardless of what he has done or not done, I am still unhappy with him. I am dissatisfied simply because of who he has failed to be: a shepherd. He has failed to provide the pastoral love that we, his spiritual children, are longing for. We long to look into the face of a priest and see there a reflection of the Father’s love… a presence that dispells the lie that we do not have a Father who looks at us with love and attentively seeks out the lost. As it is, we are given reason to doubt the parable of the prodigal son.

It’s first Friday, a fitting day for prayer and reparation. In the family of an addict, every one is a victim, including the addict himself. So maybe that gives us a way to pray, even for the Cardinal.

And to pray that someone will perform an intervention before things get much worse.

ADDENDUM (March 2019): I wish the Cardinal would watch The Heart of Man. He might then begin, in some way, to understand himself, as well as those who have been neglected due to his woundedness.

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