I have a confession to make. I am a priest.
To say so wasn’t always a confession. Forty years ago it was still a respected occupation. Granted, widespread clergy leadership and involvement in the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements had already diminished its credibility with a wide swath of the population, particularly white Conservatives who would eventually begin flocking away from Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant churches. While that exodus took place for many reasons, clergy political activism in the 1960’s and 1970’s got the ball rolling.
Then the sepsis of clergy child sex abuse and other sexual misconduct began to weep from a vast institutional wound. It is still oozing and pouring out the toxic infection from within. Clergy-led institutions, all of them male dominated when it began, circled the wagons to protect their own rather than acknowledge the raft of perpetrators within its ranks. The very culture of clericalism insured that bishops, priests, and pastors would instinctively close ranks instead of deal with the poison in its bloodstream.
The consequence of this brotherhood-culture that denied the truth and sought to ostracize, punish, and expel those who sought to open the doors on its dark history, has been bankruptcy, shame, and disrespect for an entire profession. Sure, within our churches we are still embraced and accepted but the level of mistrust and animosity toward clergy in the greater culture is palpable – and from my point of view, well deserved.
So, my dear police officers, take it from someone who knows, you and your institutions of law enforcement would do well to be less defensive and to invite feedback and collaboration with your critics rather than fight them as if you are a poor victim. I was greatly heartened to see Chief Mike Passalacqua and three other officers raise their fists at the People’s Peaceful Protest and NAACP Black Lives Matter rally, and join in the “Black Lives Matter” chant. It showed a welcome embrace of the community rather than the belligerence of the “Back the Blue” rally that oozed a menacing defiance.
Inviting feedback and engaging in honest self-reflection is hard and often painful work. In the mid-90’s I attended my first clergy sexual misconduct training designed for ministers, priests, and bishops who would go back to their dioceses and districts to train others. It was a week long conference led by two women and composed mostly of male trainees. It took three and a half days for that room full of men to finally acknowledge that we were privileged and wielded significance power within our institutions. We all began as victims of unfair accusations and demands, and it wasn’t until we came to terms with the collection of resources at our disposal as (mostly) white, male, and largely affluent leaders possessing institutional power, that we started to listen and learn.
Dear members of the law enforcement community, you have too much power to act like victims. It is time to open your doors and windows, invite public participation in your oversight, collaborate with those who have been historically victimized and marginalized, and in the process, create a healthier professional culture on the way to being a more effective public service.