When I was young and a fresh convert to evangelical/charismatic Christianity I worked for Andy, a 30ish man who had been raised in the Assembly of God. His father was an elder in the church, a well- respected white-haired gentleman, a bulwark of his congregation. He had seen the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement, and had seen the growth of his denomination. I looked up to him and to his son; they were more experienced in following the gospel, and had none of the bad habits I had acquired in my years of living life on my own terms.
That summer, the elder man left his wife and took up with a younger woman. Then, a short time later his son’s wife left him for her brother-in-law, the husband of Andy’s sister.
This was my first serious letdown after my conversion. Others were to follow both during my brief time as a non-Catholic Christian and later after my return to the Church. A mentor, a man in his forties, who had helped me in many ways, split with his wife and started seeing a young divorcee. A close friend had an affair, then divorced his wife, got an annulment, and married his mistress in the Church, something that still shocks me to write. Another close friend left her husband and ten kids, other couples who professed faith divorced, etc, etc.
In each of these cases I was shocked because people of whom I thought highly did things I never dreamed they would. These people were one and all serious Christians, not nominal ones. I am still mystified by this, though I am no longer shocked. The mystery deepened when I reconnected with a lot of people I had not heard from in 30 or 40 years on Facebook. Folks that, when last I knew, had heroin habits, whom I expected to be dead a long time ago, were still married to their former live-in girlfriends, had achieved apparent success, had grandkids now, and to all appearances were far more together than some of my other friends who had been zealous Christians while they were sticking needles in their arms.
I had thought I had seen it all, but I had not. There were further shocks to come.
The first of these, which are brought about by someone I did not have a high opinion of turning out to be far worse than I had thought, was the case of Archbishop Rembert Weakland. I was never a fan; during the 80s he was the leading friend of dissent among the hierarchy. And he had been the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Conference from 1967 to 1977, the years when the Benedictines’ great heritage of Gregorian chant had been dismantled in most monasteries. But I was shocked when in 2002 he was revealed to be unfaithful to his vows. I never would have suspected that he was violating his vow of chastity, nor paying off his male lover. Then instead of spending the rest of his life doing penance in shame, he wrote a self-justifying autobiography, which seems the epitome of narcissism.
I thought he was bad. I never dreamed he was that bad.
Then there was the case of the Legion of Christ. The order never appealed to me; just another bunch of Jesuit wannabees. But I never would have dreamed that the founder was a profoundly immoral man, a hypocrite of monstrous proportions.
Similarly, I never have had a very high opinion of the military establishment. But featuring a course in a military school that promoted dropping nuclear weapons on Mecca, a course that ran for eight years? No way.
Wrong again. I thought they were evil, but their evil was far worse than I had imagined.
And now this latest disillusionment, with the Franciscan University of Steubenville grants an honorary degree on an advocate of torture, the head of the CIA under Bush. I have long had associations with the school; I have numerous friends who are alumni, and many friends over the years among the faculty. I have dated more than one Steubenville graduate. Readers of the journal will recall that I wrote about driving to Steubenville for a book club that was composed mostly of folks who taught at the university. For years, until I had so many commissions that I no longer had spare icons, I had a booth selling icons at the St Francis celebration, an annual Catholic version of the familiar medieval fest. I didn’t think I had any illusions about the place, was pretty familiar with the bourgeois ethos that was just under the Franciscan habit. But this?
And even worse, I was totally disillusioned by the lack of outcry, both in Steubenville and in the wider Church.
But disillusionment is good, right? Illusions keep one from the truth and we should welcome that which brings us closer to Truth.
I just wish the truth about humans was not so grim.