Amongst the too-many pieces of unsolicited advice I give my children is to not lie to themselves, either. Once falsehood becomes one of your mental navigation tools, you are headed to shipwreck.
Lying always takes a toll on you. Even if no one else sees it and there are no immediate repercussions.
But when it becomes institutionalized?
It wrecks other people's lives, too. No matter how much you would like to pretend otherwise.
When a federal judge decided this month on a prison sentence for Fr. Robert McWilliams — convicted of child abuse, child pornography, and child trafficking — she had two versions of past events from which to choose.
In the account of McWilliams’ lawyer, the priest needed help, therapeutic treatment, to address the “demons from his childhood” which influenced the heinous crimes of his adult life.
The “demons” were not specified, but since a prosecutor’s memo spent several pages discussing the correlation between suffering abuse and committing it, it’s reasonable to presume that’s what McWilliam’s attorney was getting at.
But the prosecutor argued that McWilliams was not “corralled into a crime by a series of unfortunate life circumstances.” Instead, her assessment was blunt: McWilliams was “cruel,” “calculating,” and a “sociopath.”
But whether McWilliams is more like an unfeeling Hannibal Lecter or instead a damaged, criminally unmoored Buffalo Bill, both accounts leave the Diocese of Cleveland in a difficult position.
Either its seminary was unable to weed out a sociopath ordained a priest just five years ago, or it was unable to realize that a deranged and unstable trauma victim was unsuitable for priestly ministry.
That is the sort of horror that makes honest people and institutions take stock and make changes.
So what is the response of the leadership of the Cleveland diocese to their ordination of Buffalo Lecter?
Seminary screening is not perfect, nor is it foolproof. But when the system is beaten, most observers would expect a thorough postmortem — the kind that results in a clearly articulated set of changes, and a public commitment to follow through on them.
In Cleveland, seminary administrators have said thus far that the McWilliams saga hasn’t really suggested to them any particular changes they ought to make. That prompted one victim of McWilliams to suggest last week those administrators need, as it were, to take “their heads out of their asses.”
If a seminary doesn’t see an evaluative failure in the ordination of a sociopath, some Catholics have asked, what certitude can be had that McWilliams is the only one to graduate from the place? If there aren’t specific failures to recognize and to change, is it reasonable to conclude the failures are systemic, and the changes must be, too?
But a thorough, impartial investigation might turn up blameworthy clerics.
Worse, it could upset the leadership's equilibrium, cause it to question itself and tell it that real penance and reform are necessary.
Better to just maintain the self-deception that everything is basically fine.
We are an Easter People.
Forward in Hope.
Your Preferred Tuneful Whistle Past the Graveyard.
Despite the blaring klaxons, closing parishes and all the other evidence to the contrary.