If atheists are right, and there is no God, then let's burn down all the churches, for they're all monuments to lies. If Catholics are right, and there is a God and He is who He says He is, then when He says, "Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32) we'd better realize He means it. That much, at least, Catholics should have in common with atheists: a devotion to the Truth.
But if we are too scared to be loyal to what is True, then we will also fail in being faithful to what is Beautiful and what is Good. The prince of Lies and the God of Truth don't really mix that well.
I write a lot about Unreality on this blog, by which I mean a religious attitude that is divorced from the reality of life. Unreality is a form of idolatry, of using the things of God for your own small-minded purposes, of leaning on the Church to support your tottering house of cards, of being contrived and artificial, of adopting airs and affectations, of making the worship of God not about understanding and serving the Truth (troubling though the Truth may be), but about shoring up your own deliberately narrowed and circumscribed agenda. It is the main temptation facing devout Christians of all stripes.
And here's how Unreality works in practice.
Now, I'm not about to tell this story to shock you with the truly disturbing parts of it - the fact that a man who by all appearances was a seriously dangerous priest (Fr. LaVan) was allowed access to victims by the archdiocese of St. Paul for many years, even up until last December.
In all, LaVan was accused of sexually abusing at least three girls and several women, including one who suffered from a brain injury and was under psychiatric care at the time of the abuse.
Fr. LaVan also reportedly threatened to murder the husband of a woman he'd been having an affair with, and burn her house down, after she ended the relationship. As far back as 1988, a psychologist insisted that putting LaVan back in ministry (after he was accused of raping two underage girls and had been temporarily removed from duty) would be "very risky" - and yet, the archdiocese put him back to work and he served in parishes for another 25 years.
It's not all of that that I'm calling your attention to, horrible as it is.
What I'm focusing on is the reaction of Robert Carlson to one of the many complaints against this priest over the years. Carlson, who is now my archbishop in St. Louis, and who was at the time an auxiliary bishop in St. Paul, wrote a memo to the archbishop (his boss), saying ...
"If we don't want this to build into a real problem it is my recommendation that we accept Father LaVan's resignation from the parish, find a suitable cover story and get him into an in-patient treatment program ... so that this thing does not blow up."
This is Unreal.
And it's the typical way the Church operates. Lie to the people on the ground. The Truth will set you free, and all that, but don't ever get real with the Catholics in the pews.
It's a form of weird administration-think. It's the attitude of an insulated middle-manager type who can't see that there's a disconnect between the marketing and the quality control. It's the security of clericalism protecting the inanity of mediocre mismanagement. And Jesus Christ has nothing to do with any of it.
I have no doubt that Carlson will somehow deny this, or "spin it", as he did with his apparent dishonesty in a recent deposition, and that Bill Donohue and other ideologues will "find a suitable cover story" to protect him, and the last thing we will see is a heartfelt apology or even an acknowledgement that when a priest has harmed parishioners and is removed because of that, that other parishioners have a right to know the Truth. Parishioners should not be lied to, even out of general human decency, much less Christian charity.
But when we get right down to it, how many of us really serve the God of Truth?
Maybe we have little in common with atheists, after all - even those who are seeking the truth. Seek, and ye shall find, but pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He is working the gears and dials furiously to keep up appearances.