Imaginal Justice

By Dr. Jaime Romo
Healing and Spirituality
October 6, 2010

In the summer of 2002, as an assistant professor at a Catholic university, I attended the summer Collegium at Fairfield University. It was 18 years from the time I left St. John’s Theologate in Camarillo, California, where I had spent three years in intense and active preparation for ordained priesthood. I went to Fairfield for a long overdue time of reflection about my work as a teacher educator and my Catholic identity. Christine Firer-Hinze, of Marquette University, gave a presentation during the week that resonated deeply with me. Against the backdrop of over a century of Catholic teachings[1], she identified three gaps in contemporary practice that served as practical litmus tests of Catholic social teaching:

1. Lack of real, effective engagement with realities of conflict/ tragedy;

2. Profound ambiguities about women and roles in Church;

3. Profound social sins related to race/ ethnicity.

However, the daily news reports of clergy sexual abuse from Boston that summer were never discussed, validating her first point. The ongoing cover up and by church leaders validates that there is still profound a profound lack of real, effective engagement with the realities of Religious Authority Sexual Abuse, despite the canonization of Mary MacKillop for her efforts to confront RASA 140 years ago. In this area alone, advocates for survivors observe that the Catholic Church can no longer be described as Christian. Through this colossal area, the church may be Catholic, but not Christian.

To do so would be to imagine the church as something related to, but very different from its history, patriarchical structure (which is crumbling), and practical support for women, children and other vulnerable adults who have been abused by religious people.

A German exchange student is visiting with my family, and we talked about a Cistercian monastery in East Fresia, in northern Germany. Ihlow was one of the last monasteries dedicated before the Reformation. It was destroyed shortly afterwards. Subsequently, it was taken over by local royalty and eventually abandoned and lived in by farmers.

In the last few years, archaeologists have unearthed and preserved some of the original materials, and have created an underground museum of these. Aboveground, architects have created a frame over the original structural points, an imaginal dome of sorts. It is called an imaginal cloister, which reminds me of imaginal cells that help a butterfly develop from a cocoon. (See first blog.)

By walking around and walking up to the tower, a visitor might sense a connection between past and present, the death of the old and spaciousness of the new; and so many lives dedicated and impacted in both good and terrible ways to this institution. The juxtaposition of past and present might encourage us to recognize both the death and new life involved in religion. But this doesn’t lead to real action.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, about those who would speak from religious groups and continue the status quo of racial injustice, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in this stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (King, 1964, pp.84-85)

I was not born with a patience gene, and I am thankful to God that there are members of this society who are committed to doing justice, who are impatient to right wrongs, who are clear about the ministry of presence and education and advocacy that compel us to serve and unburden others from their suffering from Religious Authority Sexual Abuse.

I point to those who defend the image of the institution or who claim a new appreciation for whistle blowers of past centuries rather than today as people of good will with shallow understanding of the problem. I lift up survivors and supporters, imperfect as we are, as agents of justice and mercy, in our homes, in this community, and in our world. I imagine a world without abuse, not an imaginal church or imaginal justice.


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