Friday, November 15, 2013

Tell All The Truth

Well.  I can tell this is going to be a funky blog post, and I'm not sure, frankly, if it wouldn't be better for all of us if I just went back to bed.

I woke up this morning thinking about Ranger Rick.  Heaven knows why.  I haven't thought about him in years.

Yesterday I wrote about evangelicals and Catholics and the whole feminism/religion thing, and I noticed afterwards that I was a little more strident than people whose opinions may be similar to mine, but who are themselves evangelical.  Perhaps they hesitated to call one of their own a "Christian misogynist" because the word misogynist is seen by some as just a touch inflammatory.  Sarah Bessey's post, for example, is full of power, but also quiet grace much different from mine.  I thought about this difference.  I thought about how, if you're wanting to change your own church, you've got to work a little more quietly, be the voice of reason, the calm stillness after the storm.  If you call a well-known pastor names, people who like that pastor will quit listening to you, not him.  You'll be strengthening the opposition's position, not your own.

And yet. 

I went to Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  I graduated in 1985.  The high school, built in the 1960s, included apartments at the back for priests who lived there--two, I think, though more than that commuted in to teach the religion classes that were a required part of our curriculum.  Rick Stieglitz lived in one of them while I attended Dwenger; he taught my sophomore class on Mass and Sacraments.  And he was a pedophile, and we knew it.

In 1985 sexual abuse was very rarely spoken of.   But I still don't know why not.  It seemed like all the students knew about Father Stieglitz.  I knew I was safe around him, because he didn't go for girls, but he put the long-legged good-looking boys in the front rows of his classrooms, and a friend of mine, male, once told me that it was common knowledge that when Father Stieglitz wandered through the boys' locker room, as he very often did, you didn't turn your back on him. 

The biggest issue with the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church isn't that some priests were sexual predators.  Unfortunately, that seems to happen in all religions, in any place where charismatic creeps can obtain power and access to victims.  The biggest issue is that the Church covered it up.  Pedophiles were moved from parish to parish instead of arrested and sent to jail.  Rick Stieglitz lived at the high school, where he could go into the locker room at any time.  This was insane.

So I woke up today thinking about the priest the high school students called Ranger Rick, and how while we all knew what he was doing, it never occurred to me at least to tell any of the adults.  It's odd now, to compare my basic complicity then with how quickly I'd respond if one of my children told me about a potential pedophile in their school.

I never lived in Fort Wayne again after I graduated from college, but through the magic of Google was able to find out more about Rick Stieglitz.  At some point in the late 1980s he became pastor of Queen of Angels Church.  In 1992 he legally adopted 4 boys from Haiti and moved them into the rectory with him, ostensibly so that they could be educated in the States.  The new Bishop, John D'Arcy, who had actually gotten derailed from a more promising career track in Boston when he spoke out against reassigning John Geoghan (a notorious pedophile priest who was eventually defrocked and then killed in prison), ordered that Stieglitz resign and made him live apart from the Haitian boys.  D'Arcy removed Stieglitz from any full-time assignment.  Later a man filed suit against Stieglitz, alleging he'd been abused while a student at a Catholic elementary school; the suit settled out of court.  Stieglitz was officially laicized--meaning, made unable to serve as a priest--in 2007, though I couldn't find out why.  Bishop D'Arcy died in 2013.

So there you are.  Speaking the truth in 1983 is something we students should have done.  But we didn't know that.  We knew not to turn our backs, but we didn't know to open our mouths.

Meanwhile today is Ruby Bridges Day.  On this day, fifty-three years ago, a six-year-old black girl walked under federal marshall protection into a formerly whites-only school in New Orleans.  Only one teacher would agree to teach her.  Parents pulled all the other children from her class.  She was shouted at and spat upon; one woman threatened daily to poison her.  Another set up a coffin outside the school, with a black doll inside it.  The six-year-old--someone's precious child--had to walk past that coffin every day.

She never cried.  She kept walking.  She sat alone in her classroom with her sympathetic teacher, and she learned, and she changed the world.  I marvel at her strength; more than that, I marvel at her mother's.  I don't know if I could send my babies into a lion's den.

Through the magic of Google, I was able to find out more about Ruby Bridges.  Married and with four adult sons, she now volunteers in the same school she desegregated.  A photo of Bridges' recent visit to the White House shows her standing beside President Obama, both of them studying Norman Rockwell's famous painting of Bridges' first walk to school.

This is such a mess of a post.  I know it is.  Here's the other thing I know:  the only way to freedom is to live in the truth.  Walk in the truth.  Speak the truth.  However, wherever, in whatever manner you can.