The Year In Letting Go, Go, Angels!

Los Angeles Ashes

At the time of my First Communion in 1988, I was too young to know what rape was, except that it had something to do with men being mean to women and, like watching an R-rated movie, it guaranteed Hell. As I prepared for that day, I remember asking my parents, catechism teachers, even other priests, why Father John was allowed to officiate over something so important if he had done something so bad. I heard the same half-explanation from everyone: "Father John has a problem."

I didn't think much of it until late last year. That's when my editor asked if I could investigate the sex-abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Diocese of Orange. I was noncommittal until a sex-abuse survivor visited the Weekly's offices carrying a stack of damning documents. Thanks to those, I discovered that 30 other priests shared Lenihan's "problem." That "problem" destroyed the lives of children into their adult years and, thanks to a December agreement between the church and victims, will now cost the faithful $100 million. It's the largest sex-abuse settlement in the history of the Catholic Church.

"Father John has a problem."

When I attend Mass and see the Vietnamese youth group selling car-wash tickets as a fund-raiser for their Christmas pageant because there's not enough money, I think about "Father John has a problem" and realize what a lie it was. Father John didn't have a problem; we did.

Around Thanksgiving, my parents had that look again. Another article of mine translated by someone. That would've been the one called "More Bang, Please," which disclosed how Brown spent $350,000 on a PR firm to spin his pedo-lies.

I wasn't seeking another confrontation. Earlier in the day, a sex-abuse victim who pleaded anonymity thanked me endlessly over the phone for my work. The person was one of about 20 different victims of priests who called to thank me over the past year. While I'm always grateful, the calls drain me—as much as I've grown accustomed to it, it's hard hearing a molestation survivor describe their preteen violation in devastating detail.

By then, I was already refusing the Body of Christ from priests, preferring to receive the host from a lay Eucharistic minister. And still, when the collection basket passes my pew, I stare ahead.

But my parents didn't want to hear about my theological problems this most recent evening. All they wanted to know was whether the $350,000 figure in my story was correct. S, s, I tiredly assured them.

They remained silent. "What you're doing is good, Gustavo," my mom finally said. She resumed watching some weepy telenovela. Our Virgin of Guadalupe statue above the television never looked so radiant.


The Year in 'Oh,

Dear God!'

By Cornel Bonca

"I was extremely depressed and discouraged and not sure there was anything I could do." This from Dr. Sheryl Fontaine, a professor of English at Cal State Fullerton, when the returns from Ohio made it clear in the early morning of Nov. 3 that the United States of America not only had stomached, excused and tolerated George W. Bush's disastrous war, know-nothing arrogance and stupefying inequitable economic polities, but also wanted four more years of it.

As she learned that Bush's victory was due largely to the evangelical Christian Right's embrace of "moral values"—which, from all indications, means killing Iraqis, an intolerance of gay love and a searing disgust of women who choose not to take their pregnancies to term, even if they've been raped or if pregnancy puts their lives in danger—Fontaine, a member of Claremont's United Church of Christ Congregational, felt alienated and betrayed.

Though her moral values are recognizably New Testament—compassion, tolerance, inclusive-ness in personal relationships, social and economic justice in the public realm—with a smidge of Zen Buddhism thrown in, "there's a sense," she says, "that names that I have given myself—I'm a Christian—have been usurped, taken away from me, co-opted, and I don't know how to get it back."

I asked her if there were any way for progressive or even mainstream Christians to engage in some kind of dialogue with the Christian Right. "At this point, I feel a little too injured to know what the conversation would be. I want to believe there's a way to be part of the conversation, I want to believe that I am a part of this country again, but I don't necessarily feel that right now."

Why is finding common ground with people who identify themselves with the same religious figure so damnably difficult?

"The most charitable way I can understand it is that the [Christian Right] are stuck in stage two of [psychologist] Lawrence Kohlberg's scale of intellectual and moral development," she says. "Things are either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and there are no gray areas. And that's what Bush presents—the Axis of Evil vs. Us."

She can see the attraction of such thinking, however.

"There are moments when I say life would be a lot simpler if I believed in this way, and in this time when things are so complicated and frightening, when that fear level has increased, it's interesting that so has the number of evangelical Christians."

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