Friday, October 2, 2009

archbishop mancini: betrayed on all sides as the church burns to the ground

and so the grotesque child pornography scandal engulfs the catholic church again, this time burning around bishop raymond lahey. the man who brokered the big deal between the church in antigonish and its sex-abuse victims was arrested for allegedly carrying child porn on his laptop. now, allegations surface that 20 years ago, at the newfoundland hughes inquiry into the mount cashel sex abuse, lahey was identified by a witness as having child porn way back then. so the church, evidently, moved him over here to nova scotia.

i interviewed the man now at the centre of dealing with the scandal when he first arrived in halifax two years ago, and i'll paste it below. anthony mancini seems to have been betrayed on all sides. lahey was installed as his bishop in antigonish, but no one told him about the cashil allegations. lahey resigned after being arrested, but didn't tell mancini about it. mancini thinks he must have told the 'holy see' why he was resigning, but the vatican didn't tell mancini. mostly, he seems to be getting his news from the cbc, not the holy see.

how frustrated and angry must he be?

when i sat down with him for an hour in 2007, he said he almost left the priesthood soon after he started in the 1970s because of the bickering over an ecumenical chapel for the montreal olympics. how must he feel now?

on a side note, i based the character of father mckay in black snow on mancini. in fact, when tommy and evie get married, mckay's speech about the foolishness of choosing a certain biblical reading about love is lifted directly from this interview.

one last note - check out this philip larkin poem, church going. the lahey scandal had me reading it late last night. it reminds me of my own trips to the graveyards of the gods in scotland, greece, rome, turkey and egypt. as larkin asks, isn't it curious to wonder who will be the last believer to leave a christian church?

Daily News interview with Archbishop Anthony Mancini

When Anthony Mancini is asked why he believes in God, he takes a moment to think about his answer.

“Faith is something that we receive it is given, it’s not something you can arrive at by studying 14 books,” he says. “Faith is a gift from God. It’s a little bit like the love between two people. It’s not something that’s forced, not something that you can make happen – it’s given, and sometimes, somebody else on the other side receives it and … something happens.”

The new Roman Catholic archbishop of Halifax, installed at the end of November, has gone a long journey to reach this understanding.

“For (some) people, God is some kind of creature. For others, he’s a concept; for others, he’s the uncaused cause, or maybe just the big guy in the sky with the big white beard who doesn’t care what happens to you," Mancini says. “Coming to terms with the reality of the divine in your life means coming to terms with the fact that you and I as human beings are actually desired, that someone actually cares and that someone cares enough that the person loves you, accepts you even in the condition of imperfection.”

Mancini, who was born in Italy and moved to Montreal (via Pier 21) with his family as a child, this acceptance of his own imperfection was a hard lesson to learn.

He says he was ordained in 1970, but didn’t become a priest for another six years. In 1976, he was a young Catholic priest assigned a task he thought he was perfect for - to create an ecumenical chaplaincy service for the Montreal Olympics. But the young cleric’s dreams of harmony soon degenerated into a cacophony of bickering.

Looking back, he blames his naiveté and optimism for launching what became a spiritual crisis. “I had studied ecumenism,” the 62-year-old says, and had an idealized vision of co-operation in the post-Vatican Two era.

“When things didn’t go as well as I imagined it would go, it put me in a state of questioning.”

He watched friends leave the priesthood, watched Quebec tangle through the aftermath Quiet Revolution, and saw that Vatican Two was not having the great revival effect that had been hoped for.

“At the end of this rather difficult and somewhat frustrating time, I went off on a 30-day retreat with the Jesuits.”

There, he took a deep look inside himself and tried to figure out what God wanted from him. Out of this confusion came a clarity, and he returned to the priestly path.

“It was about coming to terms with recognizing myself in ways I had never seen myself before - it gave me a whole new direction,” he says. “It was a conversion, coming to terms with God in your life, with simpleness, with what it means to be accepted, forgiven.”

Mancini still struggles with falling short. Of the Olympics, he says: “In my mind, I was struggling to succeed and because I was failing, my self-image gets affected. ‘I”m useless because I can’t succeed at anything.’ But God says, ‘You don’t have to succeed at anything. You don’t need to prove that you’re good in order to be loved.’”

He says this is not something you realize once and then relax tranquilly ever after: You need to relearn it every day. “It’s when you screw up and when you do a stupid thing and someone comes along and says, ‘OK, you did a stupid thing. It’s not the end of the world.’ That’s mercy, that’s forgiveness, that’s God caring.”

Even if you”re an archbishop?

“I worried a great deal about my first sermon in Halifax, and my desire was to make it the best sermon. The day came and I put out the message that I had, and it was what it was. Was it perfect? No it wasn’t but it was what it was. It was received in spite of its imperfections.”

But humanity’s undentable belief in its own perfectibility leads to no end of grief. Mancini sees it especially in the rosy eyes of newly weds.

“I talk to married people, and one of the reasons things don’t work out is that they have unbelievable expectations of each other that are unfullfillable. There’s no room for mistakes, no room for imperfections. The God that I believe in has a lot of room for that.”

He lets out a sharp laugh when asked what he thinks of that most traditional of wedding readings - St. Paul’s ode to love in his first letter to the Corinthians.

“That’s the worst thing to take for a reading for marriage!” he laughs. “The worst! The reason Paul wrote that passage is precisely to indicate to everyone that they weren’t like that! People think of that’s so wonderful and so beautiful, and ‘love is…’ but it’s not! Love is putting up with nonsense every day.”

Mancini still leans toward working with different faiths, despite - or perhaps because of - those difficult days in Montreal. When asked how St. Paul’s teaching that there is “no Greek or Jew” applies to the different faiths of the world, Mancini grows thoughtful.

“I’m not in a position to know how God handles the differences. But my understanding of how I’ve come to appreciate God is through that kind of (Roman Catholic) framework. My Jewish
friends, the Islamic faith, have their own way. Is there some way of getting at the heart of all of those different ways? Can we come out of it with some sort of distilled definition and understanding of God that would be finally ultimately acceptable to everyone? Well, I suppose that’s why we talk to each other.”

He reflects for a moment and then adds: “If we ever get to that common understanding, that won”t be God either ... Theology is always analogy. Any analogy is limited by the language being used.”
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