Tuesday, February 23, 2010


During my many years of living abroad, I always found people curious to know what Americans are really like, what makes us run. Recently I gave it some thought and I concluded that we are more complicated than we know, that we are basically quirky and qrazy!

It’s the quirky, qrazy things that make Americans what we are proudest of being: American. For most Americans it is difficult to avoid the superlative when discussing our country and its attributes. We are brave, creative, compassionate, and silly. Sometimes we are all of those things at the same time. We are a mélange of offbeat colors, cultures, and creeds, but all of us believe in the law of the land that defines America: liberty and justice for all. That creed inspires awe in those who don’t have such freedoms.

We Americans want to be loved and admired. We are arguably among the most envied, the most imitated, and the most hated people in the world. We Americans are distinctive in our dress or undress, in our often-strident voices, in our love for the underdog, in our idiosyncrasies, and in our fierce independence.

We believe that with the honor and privilege of being the wealthiest and most technologically advanced democracy in the world there comes an obligation to fight for the same rights for everyone else on Planet Earth. We willingly send our first-born or only-born to distant lands to defend and help those less fortunate. Despite our generosity – to a fault some say – we are often castigated for our capabilities and extraordinary willingness to share. We reach out to the world through our government agencies, UN agencies, and private exchange groups, and are among the first to assist in relief efforts in any part of the world.

Americans have a zest for living. We treasure our traditional values of freedom of the press, of religion, of assembly, and of individual rights. We believe that to disagree with our leaders is as natural as taking the next breath. We believe in assembling peacefully – and sometimes not so peacefully - to air our grievances. America was forged in the revolution of 1776 when the colonists revolted against British colonial rule. That revolution continues to inspire. The freedoms demanded in 1776 are the same freedoms desired by millions of people who make desperate attempts to reach American shores.

Americans believe in the dignity of hard work and we know with an inborn certainty that with hard work anything can be achieved. Americans worship, or not, as our spirit dictates, but we demand the freedom to do either, and we defend everybody else’s right to do the same. Slavery and segregation are an ugly part of American history, but the nation rose from the horrors of that shameful past, and through laws and the goodwill of most Americans, established the goal of liberty and justice for every American.

Americans are an extremely generous and giving people. We are the people some love to hate; however, on a one-on-one basis, most nationalities love us. The success of the Peace Corps demonstrates that. Young and old, we Americans take our expertise abroad, and spend two years living in rustic conditions, endeavoring to uplift the lives of the poor by demonstrating what can be accomplished with meager resources. In return, the volunteers learn about other cultures, are sensitized to the poor, and discover that feet were indeed made for walking.

Americans want to live well and we obsess over how to live extremely well. A two-car garage is no longer to be wished for, but is mandatory. Americans are contradictory. Families love to eat out, yet we search for restaurants that feature “home cooking,” and, as at home, we want “all you can eat.” Americans have a love affair with their cars, and enjoy hitting the open road. There is a strange reluctance to get out of our cars until we get back home. For that reason there are drive-up banks, drive-up restaurants, drive-up telephones, drive-up laundry-dry cleaners, and someone is working on a gadget to enable Americans to pump gas without getting out of the car.

The bywords of the younger generations are wash and wear, carry out, and the all-time favorite, buy now-pay later. Instant gratification is the order of the day. Americans no longer carry money. We carry plastic credit cards that are used to pay for groceries, movies, fast foods, clothing, mortgages, in short, almost everything. Of course that means that a considerable number of Americans are deep in debt; however, we go on happily charging whatever our hearts desire and adding to our liabilities.

Americans visiting other countries are sometimes gregarious, loud, and obnoxious. This usually comes from feelings of inadequacy in not knowing the local language. It is only in the recent past that we have recognized the need to learn a foreign language. The attitude previously, odd though it may seem, was that everybody in the world should speak English. And as quiet as it is kept, English is not the official language of the United States. This news does not lessen our insistence that everyone coming to our shores should speak English.

Ah, yes, Americans are people of great humanity with a unique sense of justice and fair play. We are proud of living in a democratic country, and are patriotic to a fault. We are at our best in times of adversity. An outrage committed against one American is one committed against all Americans, and the country bonds in solidarity. We Americans are magnificent in our collective mourning and outrage. In times of great tragedy we wave the Stars and Stripes, the national symbol of unity, a rallying declaration that as long as that flag flies, Americans will not be defeated by whatever tragedy. We come together in anger and grief to demonstrate our support for the fallen, and to make a potent statement of our pride in being Americans.

When Americans, and others, were attacked and killed in places with strange sounding names – Beirut, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi – our compatriots shuddered, but felt certain that such death and devastation could never happen on American soil. September 11, 2001 shattered forever our notions of safety at home, and changed the welcoming character of Americans. We no longer welcome the world’s tired, poor and hungry because they might be terrorists.

When America sneezes, some countries catch a cold, or come down with other unpleasant maladies, and they feel it most in their bare money coffers. During the years of the Cold War, the United States and Russia competed against each other by pouring money and aid into countries they had interests in, in an attempt to win those nations over to their side. An African proverb says when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. And so it was when the two powers engaged in tugs of war over small countries. When the Cold War ended many of those countries learned to their great surprise that America, as other nations, has interests, not friends. It was then that the “grass” truly suffered.

Americans have some quirks that are more distinctive than others. Perhaps the French invented perfume, but Americans have the market on deodorants. While some cultures might prefer natural body odors to the use of deodorants, Americans have an anathema to body odors – our own and anybody else’s. We are personally offended if we get a whiff of anything from anybody that doesn’t have soap, spices or flowers in it. That might help to explain the other oddity to foreigners. Americans do not want people to stand too close. We value our personal space. When we talk to a foreign visitor, we stand several feet from the visitor. This causes the visitor to get closer. We inch backward and this weird dance continues until a wall is reached. At that point we Americans make a hasty exit.

When Americans say, “Time is money,” we mean it. We want to meet, greet, and get on with the business at hand. We do not mean to be rude; we just don’t want to waste time. In some cultures it is customary to meet, sip tea, and inquire about the person’s nephew’s cousin’s step-uncle, the weather, and current events on Mars. By the time the foreign person asks about the American’s fifth cousin’s step-niece, the American’s eyes have glazed over, and he might appear to be in a catatonic state.

Such are the ways of Americans, a people courageous, gentle, noble, warm, funny, generous, and above all, quirky – the ultimate word that can be used to adequately describe those of us who proudly call ourselves Americans.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


We the People are the Church. Since that is so, then why are we allowing our so-called leaders to herd us out of the forest and into the swamp? Each time a priest is accused of sexual misconduct, each time a priest goes to prison without any proof of his misbehavior, each time a million dollar payment is made to an accuser and to a contingency lawyer, we, the People, allow our Church to be dishonored in the worst manner. We the Church have become the “victims” of greedy lawyers, liars, and thieves, as well as the hateful groups trying to bring down the Church in order to create one in their own warped image. This is what power is and what power does.

Much of what the bishops do is done behind closed doors and little if anything is communicated to the rest of us, we the Church. They seem to be even above the Pope. When the U.S. bishops decided to do away with canon law and conduct their own inquisitions of accused priests - even to the point of sending directives to the Vatican that a priest be “laicized” and have it done - the genie was out of the bottle.

Our priests are kicked out of Church properties and the guilty along with the innocent are left to stand in the dock with only a public defender as their voice. The wife of one public defender was in court to hear her husband’s case, and she said to the priest being tried, “I don’t know why we’re here. My husband knows you’re guilty!” Unfortunately the priest was too befuddled to report this comment to the judge. A mistrial might have been declared. In most cases the accusers don’t have to produce any proof, not that they would be able to anyway. The lack of having to prove one’s case is something new in the history of the American justice system.

More and more priests are simply summoned to the bishop’s office where they are faced with the bishop and his minions. The priests are not allowed to have even one trusted person accompanying them. They are told there is an accusation against them, usually of some 40 or 50 years ago, told to vacate the rectory, and sent on their way. Where is he to go? A priest in Ohio who was kicked out of his rectory had suffered several heart attacks and a kind parishioner took him in. For her good deed she received a blistering letter from her bishop condemning her for what she had done. The woman saved the priest’s life. He had nowhere to go except under a bridge or a homeless shelter. What manner of bishop would want that on his conscience?

Yes, this is what American priests are facing. Who in his right mind would become a priest during the reign of such bishops? This is the ultimate act of betrayal of our priests. We the People allow the bishops to behave towards our priests as if they are beggars at the table of the bishops. They serve at the pleasure of the bishops. What about the pleasure of the Church, we the People? Not one iota of thought is ever given to the good name and reputation of that priest? The parishioners are left stunned and without a beloved priest.

A few weeks ago Cardinal Sean O’Malley in Boston gave six elderly priests in a residential home orders to leave immediately because somebody popped up on the radar and said they remembered being abused by those priests. These men had served the Church well with no accusations and without one whit of proof – Cardinal O’Malley ordered those elderly, sick men on the streets. Two of the priests died from the shock and horror of being kicked while down by their bishop, and two others are missing and feared stranded somewhere or dead. Is that the behavior of a good shepherd? Shame on Cardinal O’Malley who is so proud of his Order that he always wears his Franciscan habit; he of the Franciscans who preach that “fraternity with all creatures is fraternity with all men”; he whose Order takes care of their own in prison and thereafter; he, the proud Franciscan bishop who orders the old and infirm diocesan priests out of Catholic residences and into the mean streets. What spiritual strength it must take to muster the nerve to flaunt both the Franciscan Order and God Almighty. For more on Cardinal O’Malley see Carol McKinley’s blog: http://throwthebumsoutin2010.blogspot.com (The Civil and Canonical Rights of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston). It sends a chilling message.

More and more parishioners are standing up for their priests. They must! The priests have nobody else – just us, the people, the Church. We cannot allow them to be kicked out of OUR Church on the sole word of an accuser, with no proof. Our priests have no protection. They are human. They are men. They sin. They are forgiven by God, by some of us, but it seems never by the Church. We are the Church, are we not? The shepherds of the Church have disappointed me to an insurmountable degree. They have cast out some sick priests and many innocent priests on the sole word of some seeking only to enrich themselves at the cost of the lives of the accused. Priests are held to a higher standard than other men, but bishops are held to an even higher standard and they are failing.

The Holy Father’s theme for Lent is justice. The definition of justice he said, “implies ‘to render to every man his due.’ […] In reality, however … what man needs most cannot be guaranteed to him by law.” What priests need most are bishops unafraid of hateful groups and contingency attorneys, both of whom have made suing the Catholic Church a livelihood. Priests need bishops unafraid to speak out about the injustice and unfairness now rampant. Early on there probably were some genuine victims, but now anybody without a conscience and with a need for greed can accuse any priest.

Has anyone asked himself why decent, caring bishops don’t speak up, and stop the nonsense of pushing good priests into tragedy? We know there are good and holy bishops out there who work quietly to help accused, rejected and dejected priests. Their voices can only be heard in the background now because the power grabbers make the most noise. But someday soon the decent bishops will be called upon to restore faith in the Church. We the People wait and pray for their time to come. When the Church is completely bankrupt, or when there are no more priests to accuse, or when married priests are brought back into the Church, or when women are…gasp…ordained as priests, maybe then, just maybe, some errant bishop will stand up and say, “Maybe we made a mistake.”

As for power, privilege and injustice, I wonder if Pope Paul VI had the current crop of bishops in mind when he said the “smoke of Satan has entered the Church.”