Having been raised Catholic, completed nearly 12 years of Catholic school, receiving my ministry training through the Catholic Church and then working for 15 years as a pastoral minister in the Church, I have had a front seat view of all that is magnificent as well as malevolent within Catholicism. The final conclusion I have drawn is that for the past 2000 years, immediately after the apostles discarded Jesus’ embrace of the feminine in favor of the patriarchal and hierarchical status quo, the Church has needed to be reformed.
I used to believe this reform could come from within. I have since learned otherwise. I also used to believe that perhaps the answer was a whole new church altogether – as was the result of the Protestant Reformation, and more recently in Evangelical Christianity and even closer to home, in the off-shoot Catholic denominations. While a more traditional form of “Church” might work for some, I have increasingly come to understand that as we grow toward union, anything that separates – religion, denomination, even atheism, will not serve. Instead, the awakened world is looking for a way to connect that is accepting of all beliefs, and embraces the Truth that is inherent within every single belief system – even those which has grown past the idea of “the old man in the sky god.”
Enter Authentic Freedom…here we provide everything that Church was originally intended to do, only without doctrine, dogma or any form of prosthelytizing:
Authentic Freedom (dot) Love is a community of women and men who are responding to the calling of their Soul to discover their own unique giftedness and how they are called to find fulfillment in these gifts while being supported and empowered in the use of these gifts in service to the betterment of the world.
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Authentic Freedom has come about because we long for a more loving, more compassionate, more tolerant, more accepting and gentler world where the needs of all are met for the common good and where all of humankind can once again live in harmony, peace and understanding.
If you have found yourself here, you are either just beginning to hear the rumblings of your Soul, or have already come to know that you are among those who are being hospice to the dying world while midwifing the new world that is coming into form and are looking for people of like-mind with whom you can share this challenging and exciting calling!
We are changemakers, wayshowers, sh.t-disturbers, mystics and rebels. And here we are safe to question, explore, discover, be empowered and supported for our own unique giftedness and for how we are called to exercise these gifts in our world.
When I first launched the Order of the Magdalene Priesthood Training, I thought it had to do with building a “new church.” I thought it would be the training ground for women and men to come into their fullness and be ordained as priests and priestesses as was originally modeled in the Church. Very quickly, I learned this was not to be the case and it seems I am learning this truth more and more every day. What is most interesting about this unfolding, however, is that it is turning out exactly according to what I have been saying all along about ordination in the institutional church:
There is no shortage of vocations. There is only a shortage of vision.
For the past many years, the institutional Church has complained about a vocation shortage. In the Catholic Church, especially, there aren’t enough men coming forward as candidates for priesthood. This is a fact. The Church’s response to this has been to close parishes and to make a single priest responsible for multiple parishes. (Note, there is also a HUGE shortage in people attending church, but that is a whole other story.)
When I was still working in the Church, I would argue, “There is no shortage of vocations. Those who are called are sitting right here in the pews, we simply need to empower them to identify, cultivate and then use their unique gifts. When we do this, we will never have to ask for the ministries of church to be fulfilled, people will willingly and enthusiastically come forward offering to share their gifts.” My words fell on deaf ears, but with the Magdalene Priesthood, I am finding the fulfillment of these words.
In the Magdalene Priesthood we are doing just what I described to our priest (and anyone else who would listen) all those years ago. Through the Magdalene Priesthood training (for women and men), participants are given the resources and support they need to:
Discover their unique giftedness.
Cultivate these gifts.
Move through the fears, resistance and societal conditioning that might otherwise hinder them in the use of their gifts.
Be empowered in the use of these gifts 1) for the sake of their own fulfillment and 2) in service to the betterment of the world.
In short, the Magdalene Priesthood training supports participants in coming to know themselves and then empowers them to live that truth fully in the world. The end result is a community of self-empowered women and men who are living their unique gifts fully in the world and doing so in a way that is unique to them. With the Magdalene Priesthood, members are living these gifts IN THE WORLD. Graduates of the Magdalene Priesthood are living these gifts in a multitude of ways:
Participants and graduates of the Magdalene Priesthood Training are women and men from all walks of life. We are not locked away in an ivory tower or sequestered in a monastery. Instead, we are IN THE WORLD doing every day jobs (even I am working part time as Office Manager for a local arts academy). The difference is that we are no longer bringing our broken, wounded, fragmented selves to these jobs, we are bringing our WHOLE selves and in doing so, transforming the work we are doing, our workplace and even the people around us. In completing the work of the Magdalene Priesthood Training, we are bringing the fullness of love into the very heart of where it is needed the most – in our broken and fragmented world.
This is what Mary Magdalene did. This is what Jesus did before her. Jesus was not “in” the temple. He was not a priest of the temple. He, like any other rabbi, sometimes spoke within the temple grounds and at synagogue, but he was not a priest in the clerical sense of the word. He served at table – but over ordinary meals. He performed ritual – but they were not the rituals in the temple – they were the homey, earthy rituals that were part of everyday Jewish life. The same was likely true of Mary Magdalene. She was a woman of the world, ministering IN the world through her own unique calling and her own unique gifts – not in a temple, not in a church, but in the midst of the people wherever and however she was called.
Learn more about the Magdalene Priesthood Training by clicking on the icon below:
For thousands of years, human beings have been building temples to their gods. From the humble beginnings of forest shrines, to the temples of the East, to the gargantuan medieval cathedrals and in more modern time, the mega-church complexes, human beings have designed and built external structures to house, to reflect, and to give worship to their gods. In many belief systems the believers were required to offer sacrifice and worship within the walls of these temples so as to earn the favor of their god. For some, neglect of these obligations is met with threats of eternal damnation.
These temples were built to represent an external god. God was either thought to be in the temple – either contained within its walls, within its tabernacle; or at the very least, it was only in the temple where god could be met. The walls of the temple were meant to keep gods in and non-believers out. Some belief systems have even created rules where those who don’t believe, or those within the faith who aren’t considered worthy because they have not completed the prescribed atonement rituals or sacrifice are not truly welcome. Keeping gods in and the undeserving out. All of this rooted in the belief that as human beings, we are separate from God.
Jesus taught otherwise. Raised Jewish, Jesus learned and followed the prescriptions of his faith. He listened to the stories of his ancestors. He studied the words of the prophets. He memorized and followed the law. He was a good Jewish boy doing what good Jewish boys do. But, as the stories seem to imply, Jesus heard and experienced something beyond the surface layers of his Jewish faith. He did not simply attend synagogue on Saturday to fulfill his Sabbath obligation. It is likely that somewhere in his journey with his Jewish faith, he came upon the more mystical studies of his tradition. Here he discovered a God that was not only in the temple. He found a God that was not in a heaven light years away. Likely through contemplation, meditation and prayer, and through the guidance of others who had come this way before him, he found a God who was not “out there” but dwelt deep within Jesus’ own being in a state he called “Oneness.” Jesus discovered that the kingdom of God was not out there, but was within him in this state of Union where he experienced peace, contentment and bliss. John the Evangelist later called this experience Love.
For Jesus, the temple became something not outside of himself. Rather, he came to understand that he was the temple – that we are all the temple. God is in us and we are the temple of that Divine Spirit. The mystical traditions of Judaism (the Kabbalah) affirm this. We know and understand this when we do the work Jesus did of healing ourselves of all that which seems to separate us from God – fears, false perceptions, ego attachments, old wounds, etc. This is the work Jesus (likely) learned through his own Jewish faith, which he accomplished for himself and when he then went on to (try to) teach his disciples. Some got it. Some did not…..
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Learn the Kabbalistic principles practiced by Jesus through the Order of Melchizedek Training:
Two-thousand years ago, a Jewish man fell in love with the mystical teachings of his faith – teachings about love, compassion, and oneness. In his love of his faith, he discovered an intimate relationship with the Divine who he called “Abwoon” – meaning all that is. He felt the love of this Divine being as the love of a parent for their child – and even more so. In this love, the man found peace, contentment and joy along with the means by which he could experience “heaven on earth.” In his excitement of this discovery, this Jewish man did what every rabbi did before him; he sought to teach others what he had learned.
He taught where all rabbis taught – in the synagogue, in the courtyard of the Temple, in the fields, on the hillsides and near the shores of the living waters. He was invited to dinner in people’s homes and he taught there. He taught wherever there were those “with ears to hear.” In his wanderings, he attracted a company of women and men who chose to follow him so that they might learn even more from this man who knew and showed great love.
In this company of women and men, there was a very special woman, Mary, from the house of Lazarus. She along with her brother Lazarus and sister Martha, became Jesus’ devoted students, learning all he could share with them, while gaining insights and revelations of their own. Mary took to Jesus’ teachings in a unique and special way. Soon, Mary and Jesus became one. Mary understood the depth of what Jesus had come to know in a way unique from the others and in this, she too became teacher.
When Jesus was arrested, put on trial and murdered, Mary was there by his side. With the other women and a few brave men, they stood watch and offered prayers of support for Jesus as he suffered and died. They never left his side. When Jesus’ body was removed from the cross, Mary and the other women anointed his body for burial, wrapped it in linen cloths and offered the requisite prayers of burial. When the stone was rolled in front of the entrance to the burial cave, the women wailed. They cried. The tore their hair and clawed at the ground. In tending to their own grief and to the horrors of Jesus’ dying, they created space in which new life could begin.
And it did. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to Mary. She saw and she believed. And then Jesus did a remarkable thing – he appointed Mary, now called Magdalene, “Tower of the flock.” Mary was ordained and sent forth to continue Jesus’ mission in his stead. He did not give over his mission to the men who remained hiding in the Upper Room. He gave it to the woman who had the willingness to be emptied of all within her that might hinder her from knowing anything other than LOVE. He gave it to the woman who was free enough of ego to stand face to face with her greatest fear – the torture, suffering and death of her beloved and to have the courage to trust that even in this greatest loss, new life would emerge.
Mary was the new life. Mary, now called Magdalene, went forth to share with the other disciples the good news and to continue what Jesus began – supporting the disciples and anyone else with ears to hear – in the mission of Love.
But then, patriarchy stepped in. Unwilling to let go of their fear of the patriarchal cultural norm and unwilling to set aside their egos enough to remember the equality that Jesus taught, the disciples rejected Mary’s message. “This is the ravings of a woman. Jesus’ could not have risen from the dead. What does that even mean?” Then Mary showed them. She showed them how they could see Jesus and experience his presence, his guidance and his teachings. They saw a glimpse, but they did not experience the fullness of what Mary described and then they became jealous. They asked Mary why Jesus would appear to her and not to them. How could he love her more than they? Mary tried to explain, and Jesus through her. But still the disciples could not accept that Jesus would choose her over them. So they cast her out.
Mary then went on her own way, with Lazarus and Martha beside her, the other women, along with a couple of the men who believed, and did what Jesus ordained her to do. She continued in the mission of Love.
The other disciples tell it differently. It is to Peter that Jesus gave the mission of building the new church (a church Jesus never spoke of building), and the purpose of this church was salvation. Only those who believed as the disciples told it would be welcome into paradise at the end of time – totally forgetting that the only kingdom Jesus spoke of what the one right here in our midst when we are free enough of our fears to know Love. Sadly the Love Jesus taught was forgotten and replaced instead by fear.
This fear is the patriarchal wound of Christianity. Fear born out of jealousy. When the disciples cast out the woman Jesus ordained to continue in his stead, they cast out all women. No longer reflecting the balance between masculine and feminine that Jesus favored, the Church became the distortion of love. Instead of being rooted in the Oneness that Jesus preached, the new Church was based in separation and fear, power, control and privilege. Like the patriarchal culture in which they were raised, the men created a hierarchical, patriarchal institution where those in power are lauded as better than the rest and where salvation was the privilege of the few who would obey their commands. What we have today is a sad and broken institution whose fear comes out sideways in gluttony, lust for power, wrath, envy, greed, sloth, and the worst of these – pride. Here children are raped and the offender excused, women are denied their rightful place as teachers and guides, our humanness (including our sexuality) is demonized, and instead of people living in LOVE, they are cowering in fear.
Embracing Mary Magdalene changes all that! In place of fear we find love. Instead of hierarchy we discover collaboration. Instead of power over, we have power with. Not because of Mary, now called Magdalene, but because of what she represents – the core of Jesus’ message which is LOVE. But this message of Love is not even about Jesus – it is about the truth of our Source, our original nature, ourselves, all of creation, and that which some might call God. Love is who we are. Love is all there is. When we remember as Jesus and Mary Magdalene remembered, then there will be peace and we will fulfill our mission as humans which is to discover heaven on earth. So mote it be! Amen!
Pope Francis has been given the greatest opportunity that could ever be given to the leader of a “great” institution. He has been given the opportunity to root out and rid his home of the evil that has beset it. Instead, Francis has chosen to side with the forces of evil by stating that the Church has “spared no effort” in resolving the issue of clergy sexual abuse – an “effort” that I find I must question. What exactly have you done about addressing the issue of priest sexual abuse and the culture of clericalism that has allowed this evil to continue for 2000 years? As far as I can tell, the evil continues in spite of the “effort” the Church claims to have put forth (an effort that has for the most part been geared toward preventing the laity from abusing children…a laity that was rarely guilty in the first place!).
Children are still being abused. Priests are still getting away with it. Clergy remain in hiding. And the magisterium turns its face in denial of the true source of this evil – a culture of white male, ordained privilege that places priests above the people they were meant to serve. “Above” us to the point that neither Church, nor Canon, nor even moral law pertains to them.
Pope Francis has failed us. I cannot speak for other Catholics (or former Catholics), but I once had great hope for this pope. I didn’t expect doctrinal change (though it would be nice if he at least acknowledged that women were deserving of ordination and that historically there is no support for a male-only/celibate only priesthood), but I did expect that the chose leader of the world’s largest religious faith would stand on the side of truth. With his most recent statements, however, it seems he stands on the side of the hierarchy – specifically, protecting the culture of clericalism that is at the heart of all that is wrong with the Catholic Church, and I might argue, with all of Western society. I have always said, if you want to see where Western culture is going, look to the Catholic Church. Where Francis currently stands on the topic of clerical abuse seems right in line with what is happening in the area of sexual abuse in the good ole USA – the men in power standing with the men in power while the rest of the world suffers. I am ashamed.
I will say it again, Pope Francis, you have failed us. You have been given a chance to acknowledge the horrors of clergy sexual abuse, admit the wrongdoing of your brethren, ask for forgiveness, and then embark on the true work of forgiveness which is to determine the cause of the sin and ROOT IT OUT! Instead you have done nothing but offer platitudes while brushing clergy sexual abuse off as something that only happened in the past. Incidents of clergy sexual abuse are still being reported today, but the Church does nothing. Francis, with your words today, it is clear that nothing else will be done. Until the cause of the “sin” is identified and transformed, the sin shall remain. Apparently Pope Francis is ok with this or more would be done. “We have spared no effort,” are perhaps the most offensive words I have yet to hear out of the mouth of this pope.
Pope Francis you have failed us…and as a 53 year old woman, I can tell you it is not only the youth of the Church who are outraged. The whole entire world is outraged over the ongoing sexual abuse of the vulnerable by the ordained Catholic priesthood….and you should be too!
Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS
Authentic Freedom Academy and Temple of the Magdalene
Please join us Wednesday evening for the inaugural of the Temple of the Magdalene online gathering:
Birthing the new church that has nothing to do with church
With both Authentic Freedom Academy and Temple of the Magdalene, I am doing everything I can to take the Church out of church while birthing a new vision of what we formerly called church. Before doing this, however, we have to examine that which is destroying the Catholic Church (and by association many other forms of Christianity) from the inside out:
On September 20th, National Catholic Reporter published an article by Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, For Real Change… In her editorial, Sr. Joan identifies four key roots that need to be addressed if there is any hope of reform in the Catholic Church: clericalism, clericalism’s long arm, the theology of obedience and the theology of the priesthood itself.
Clericalism: Clericalism is the sick and twisted culture that arises out of the idea (propagated by the Church) that clergy are somehow superior and extra-holy. It is the system which gives priests and bishops absolute authority and makes them the keepers of accountability for everyone else BUT themselves.
Clericalism’s Long Arm: As Chittister mentions, it is not only the clergy who hid centuries of sexual abuse. This culture of clericalism has seeped into the actions of those who have something to gain from the institution: church and diocesan staff, law makers, law enforcement agencies, even the people in the pew who have found a perceived sense of power in their relationship with the Church.
Theology of Obedience: This is the obedience I have fought my whole life – the system that enforces obedience to the Church over obedience to God and where the only thing that matters is that which is “explicitly handed down by the magisterium.” I find it interesting how easily the Church forgets its own teaching on primacy of conscience and how easy it is for the Church to ignore the fact that action ALWAYS precedes legislation! Compounding the issue of obedience is the very fact that NEVER have the laity been consulted in the development of Church teaching (thank you for this reminder Joan!). Instead, a bunch of old white guys make decisions for all people to obey without having a clue about the life experiences of those who are expected to abide by these laws – the same laws these very priests ignore whenever it suits them! Hypocrites!
Theology of the Priesthood: OMG! Don’t’ even get me started! The idea that priests are somehow changed because of their ordination – that simply by virtue of their ordination they are different and better than the rest of us – is quite simply LUDICRIOUS! Where did Jesus EVER model this? In fact, the “priesthood” that Jesus modeled was exactly opposite of the privileged state of the Catholic priesthood. In fact, Jesus preached vehemently AGAINST this kind of hierarchical privilege.
Birthing a New Vision of What We Used to Call “Church”
Unlike Sr. Joan Chittister, I no longer hold on to the hope that the Catholic Church will enact any sort of reform. From the perspective of the power-class, they would have too much to lose. Instead, I have come to understand that my calling is to be part of birthing something NEW. This new that I am called to be a part of birthing gathers up that which was intended for good in the early Christian movement and perceives it – not through the lens of separation, but through the call to UNION. Those who call Jesus their teacher are not better than, more right, more powerful, more deserving than anyone else. As Jesus tried to teach his disciples, truth is found within and that truth leads us not into separation – but into LOVE.
Here we are no longer:
Black or white
Christian or Muslim (or Jew or Buddhist or Pagan or Athiest)
Male or Female (or non-binary or trans or…)
We are ONE.
Here there is no hierarchy.
Each person is empowered in discovering and living their own truth from a place of love.
Each person is recognized for their unique giftedness and it is acknowledged that they have ALREADY been ordained by the Divine that made them to live this giftedness for the sake of their own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of the world.
Here we no longer serve an institution – we serve each other and the betterment of our world.
Here everything is sacrament and we don’t need a priest to make it so for we are our own priest/ess.
Here every day is the Sabbath and every loving action is “the mass.”
Communion is in every way we connect with another in that place of love.
It really is this simple.
If you are interested in being part of this birthing, join us Wednesday evening for the first Temple of the Magdalene online gathering:
Temple of the Magdalene Online Community Gatherings
Click on the image to join
The Temple of the Magdalene Online Community is a monthly gathering of women and men who are interested in supporting their journey of self-actualization through the wisdom teachings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The wisdom teachings of Jesus and Mary Magdalene are those rooted in love and in support of union – union within ourselves, with the Divine, with each other, and with all of creation.
Through the Temple of the Magdalene online gatherings, participants will cultivate a relationship with the Divine of their own understanding (by whatever name, image, form they wish to give it), come to know themselves, and discover the source of their own truth within. In addition, participants will have an opportunity to connect with women and men of like-mind who have not found fulfillment in institutional religion, but who are seeking a more universal approach to spirituality – one that is “spiritual but not religious” and which supports the development of the only “church” we will ever truly need – the “church” within.
The monthly gathering is FREE (Donations are encouraged. Donate HERE. ), open to the public and take place via teleconference. The gatherings will consist of:
Discussion and Sharing
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
7:30 pm central time
Sessions are recorded and archived for those who are unable to attend the live gatherings.
Sessions are facilitated by Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS.
Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS is a Modern Magdalene Priestess, spiritual counselor, educator and author. She is the author of the highly-anticipated, Song of the Beloved – the Gospel According to Mary Magdaleneand Authentic Freedom, both of which reveal the hidden teachings of Jesus as revealed through his most devoted student, co-equal minister and beloved partner, Mary Magdalene. For over twenty years, Lauri has researched, studied and put into practice these hidden teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition and discovered within them rich and effective tools for facilitating self-awareness and self-actualization. These teachings and practices prove that beyond the doctrine resides the truth that unites all people – the truth of Oneness in Love. As a priestess of the Magdalene/Christ, Lauri shares these teachings through her on-line and local courses, one-on-one mentoring, writing and publishing.
Lauri is the owner of Authentic Freedom Academy and founder of the Temple of the Magdalene and the Order of the Magdalene. She lives in Oshkosh, WI. You can learn more about Lauri’s other writings, programs and services at www.authenticfreedomacademy.com.
You can reach Lauri at lauri (at) templeofthemagdalene (dot) com or (920) 230-1313.
Education and Training:
After receiving her BBA in Marketing from the University of Iowa and finding nothing but dissatisfaction in the world of commerce, Lauri began her own search for self-knowledge. As part of this search, Lauri heard her call to active ministry and pursued her ministerial education and training through the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay/ Silver Lake College and her training and credentials as a Spiritual Director through the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in DePere. After fifteen years as a Catholic lay-minister; specializing in adult spiritual formation, small faith communities, pastoral counseling, liturgy and sacraments; Lauri left institutional employment to establish a secular ministry where she could respond to the spiritual needs of a wider audience. In 2005, in support of a lifelong calling, Lauri was ordained as an Interfaith Minister through the Universal Life Church in Modesto, CA. In March of 2015, Lauri completed her Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Studies (Psychology), with an emphasis in mindfulness, creativity, and active imagination practices, through Sofia University.
You can learn more about Lauri Ann Lumby, founder of the Temple and the Order of the Magdalene and Director of the Authentic Freedom Academy, by contacting her at (920) 230-1313 or lauri (at) templeofthemagdalene (dot) com.
As it relates to church, my (now ex) husband shared this bit of wisdom, “The only perfect church is the church of one.” This could not be more true as every single institution ever created by man will only be as good as its weakest member. As long as there are wounded, imperfect humans, we will have wounded and imperfect institutions. I believe it is for this reason that Jesus NEVER set out to start a church. He didn’t even come here to start a new religion. Jesus was a Jew who only sought to remind the tribe in which he was raised of its own Divine potential. But more importantly, Jesus came to support us in moving beyond the external perceived authority of institutional religion and toward the only true authority that we will ever truly need – that which Jesus called “God,” and which Jesus tried to explain, is not outside of us, but is within.
As the revelations of the corruption and evil within the Catholic Church continue to emerge, one has to wonder about the fate of the Church. In my past life, I used to believe the Church could be healed and reformed and that I was to be part of that reform. Now I know better. After giving up on the Church, I thought it was my job to start a new church. Again, now I know better. Why in the world would I want to start an institution and have to be responsible to and for others? No Way! As I have been sitting in this space of holding the Catholic Church in its death and pondering my role in all of this (there is no doubt in my mind that I am here to play some sort of role that has something to do with what we used to call “church”), the prophecies of Joachim DeFiore have haunted me:
Joachim DeFiore (1132-1202), a theologian and prophet of the Catholic Church spoke of the time we are in when he referred to “The Age of the Holy Spirit.” He prophesied that a time would come when humanity would no longer have need for the Church. He said that humanity would no longer need the intercessor of the Church or its priests as we would come to know God ourselves. I believe we are in this time. We are moving away from the need for an outside perceived authority and learning to stand in our own discernment where we can discover and live in our own truth. We no longer need a priest or a Church to tell us what is good, right and true for ourselves. We also no longer need a Church to tell us who God is. We have all the tools we need to come to know the Divine on our own. If we do not have the tools, we have resources we can go to find and learn how to use these tools. This, I believe, is the “Church” that I am being called to help bring forth.
A Church that isn’t a Church
The only Church we will ever need.
The Church within.
Here we come to know the God of our own understanding. We come to know this God through whatever means possible – through scripture, ritual, nature, life itself, creative expression, contemplation, meditation, prayer, poetry, fairytales, etc. etc. etc. Here there is no limit to how we might have an encounter with the Source. In knowing this Source, we also come to know ourselves. In coming to know ourselves, we discover our unique giftedness and how we are called to use these gifts in the world for the sake of our own fulfillment and in service to the betterment of the world. In coming to know ourselves, we also come to know our brokenness and we are given tools to help find healing and transformation from all those things which prevent us from being free. Here, WE are our own source of salvation – We in our relationship with the Source of unconditional love and in our relationship with others and with the world.
I just finished watching the Netflix documentary series – The Keepers. It its official advertising, the docuseries is described as:
This docuseries examines the decades-old murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and its suspected link to a priest accused of abuse.
OMG! This does not even begin to express what is covered in this series. I will be the first to admit that this has been perhaps the most difficult series for me to watch and yet I felt watching it was critically important. In fact, I would suggest that it is critically important for everyone to see. I will, however, preface this recommendation with a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING. The docuseries catalogues IN DETAIL the sexual abuse inflicted on (likely) hundreds of teens by Fr. Joseph Maskell of the Baltimore, Maryland Archdiocese. In addition, the docuseries describes the far-reaching efforts by the Church, law enforcement, the courts and even the FBI to cover up the abuse and curtail the investigations of the murders of two local women, Sr. Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Malecki. The Keepers provides provocative evidence suggesting both women were likely killed by Fr. Maskell (or he ordered their murders). To say the series is chilling would be an understatement!!!
Like the movie Spotlight, this is a series that stayed with me. I felt it to the depth of my being. Being raised Catholic and having worked in the Church for a number of years (finding my calling within the Catholic Church in fact), this series hit home. On one hand, the series did a beautiful job of portraying the potential good in the Catholic Church. It demonstrated the beauty that comes out of the Church in people like Sr. Cathy and other women and men who found the love of the Divine in the Church and who sought to live out that love in service to the world. On the other hand, the series demonstrated the insidious evil that dwells in the shadows of the Catholic Church, the depth of that evil and its far-reaching effects. In Baltimore, it was not only the Catholic Church that was involved in the abuse and its cover-up – this culture of abuse and the efforts to keep it secret involved law enforcement, the courts, and even the FBI. Some suggest that members of the local law enforcement may even have participated in the abuse.
What troubled me the most in this documentary were two things:
The archdiocese’s deception (which continues today!) and the efforts they put forth to curtail any investigation, including arguing AGAINST raising the statute of limitations for abuse victims. If nothing else, cue up episode 7 for the ludicrous arguments put forth by the diocese against increasing the statute of limitations for abuse victims!
The abuse itself. This troubled me because of the way in which the abuse was described. The details of the abuse were so similar to what I have heard from others, and so specific to certain “sacramental” acts and so depraved that I have to wonder if these priests are being trained to do these things. You cannot make this stuff up! It is not normal sexual behavior by any stretch of the imagination. When I heard of a single priest performing this kind of abuse I thought, “Well that’s weird, sick, twisted and super disgusting.” But to hear of it AGAIN with another priest I have to ask the more difficult question: “Why is this more than just an isolated incident and from whom are these priests learning this kind of deviant behavior? It is an abuse of power and distortion of the sacraments in a way that is beyond imagination. It is beyond sick and the pure definition of evil! As one who honored and held the sacraments as sacred, I am horrified – not just by the abuse, but by the Church’s ongoing efforts to deny, ignore, push under the rug, that this is taking place in the Catholic Church and then doing nothing to: 1) hold priests accountable 2) make appropriate restitution to victims (I’m sorry, but a $25,000 pay-off does NOTHING to heal the abuse and its ongoing effects on a victim’s life!!!!!), 3) change the system that made any of this possible in the first place!
This, in fact, is the final piece that I came away with after watching The Keepers. It is too late for the Catholic Church. There is no possible way the institution of the Catholic Church can fix this. The disease is too far reaching. The cancer is too deep. The tentacles of the tumor are too tangled and intertwined. You cannot restore or rebuild a structure that is this far gone. The only answer is to tear it down, creating space for something new. For me, watching The Keepers put the final nail in the coffin of any dreams or hopes I might have had of the Church reforming itself. It really is too late.
How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.
The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.
All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they trade their treasures for food
to revive their strength.
Look, O Lord, and see
how worthless I have become.
For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.
The hierarchical Church is dying. Heralding its death are the ongoing revelations of priest sexual abuse and the Catholic Church’s inability (or unwillingness) to do something about it. The “sins” of the hierarchy go deeper than we can even image (for just a glimpse, watch the Netflix documentary The Keepers. It is the chilling account of one priest who sexually abused hundreds of young girls, who murdered two who threatened to report him, and the entwined system of corruption that allowed him to get away with it). Nothing short of a complete dismantling will change the system of clericalism that places priests and bishops above the law (civil and doctrinal). Jesus spoke against the very system that we see in the Church today as he witnessed the “sins of the hierarchy” in his own Jewish faith:
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
MT 23: 1-12
In this exhortation against clerical hypocrisy and hierarchal abuse, Jesus lays out the kind of leadership he had in mind. Jesus did not preach FOR a hierarchical institution, he spoke of humility and service, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has exalted themselves, placing themselves in positions of power, above those they are supposed to serve. For this they are being humbled. The Church is experiencing the consequences of their actions. In this the Church will be brought to its knees.
The mighty is falling and a new order is rising up to take its place. What that new order is, we do not yet know. And yet, this “new order” seems to be a part of my own calling:
Supporting those who are grieving the loss of the Church they once knew, or who are grieving the damage done to them by the Church…and guiding them to the only Church they will ever truly need…the Church within themselves. Learn more HERE.