To Cast Down an Idol

By Mary Paluzzo
Patheos blog
July 13, 2019

I’ve had to walk by the former House of Prayer and Peace several times this summer. It’s on the way to the pool, and Rosie is learning to swim.

I try to walk on the opposite side of the street, because the abusive nun’s only recruit to her self-aggrandizing religious order still lives there. She is not allowed to wear the habit or go by her name in religion anymore, but somehow she got to keep the house.

I have seen her twice.

She wears trousers and has long hair now; she drives a car tiled all over with decals and bumper stickers. Half of these glorify handguns and the Second Amendment, and the other half are about how we should pray the Rosary to end abortion and stop all the killing. Once she was getting out of that car as Rosie and I were walking by, and she started to say hello– but then she realized who I was, and stopped awkwardly.

I pretended I didn’t see and kept walking. I shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t kind. I ought to have said something. But what?

I have not been up to Franciscan University’s campus in several years, but this week I keep seeing photos of the Portiuncula chapel.

I used to pray at that chapel almost daily.

I liked to kneel in the front, on the floor, at the Lord’s feet. I would offer Him all of my sufferings and loneliness; I would cry until my tears soaked the tiles in front of me. Sometimes I just sat there, listened to the silence, and watched the pillbugs crawling in the cracks between the stones.

The Portiuncula is all over the internet now because its picture was used as an illustration on my friend’s “Open Letter to Franciscan University of Steubenville.” One of the infamous Father Sam Tiesi’s alleged victims has published a letter calling out by name everyone who should have helped her but utterly failed.

A friend is on that list.

Karen writes:

“Fr Mike Scanlan was the next person to fail me.  He was the President of FUS, an internationally known speaker, and leader of the charismatic movement .  Fr. Mike was another father figure, another holy man whom everyone said I could trust. He said he was there to help.  Everyone said that was great. They were wrong.

Fr Mike used his power and position to manipulate me.  We spoke and emailed regularly while I went through the worst of the pain.   I was vulnerable and confused. He used that to his advantage to keep his best friend’s secret safe.  He lied to me and said it had not happened before, but it had. Many times. And he knew it. Fr. Mike told me it was my fault, that “Sam loved me too much” and that the abuse was just an expression of his “love” that went too far.  He told me I was at fault for telling this secret, and that I should recant my story and everything would be okay. But asking me to lie, and convincing me that these lies were truth was not help at all. It was not “love”. It was wrong.  Fr. Mike was a monster too.”

I used to love Father Mike. He was a friend and tried to be an ally when a priest on campus was bullying me. I believed Father Mike was a living saint. And now I don’t, because Karen’s story has been corroborated by so many people that I trust. I have no reason at all to disbelieve. What she says sounds perfectly typical of how Franciscan University chews up and digests its victims. I thought this was a modern corruption, but apparently the school has always been that way.

Yesterday, a mutual friend discovered Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s name in a very long report on clerical abuse, as my friend Rebecca wrote about here. Sheen isn’t accused of sexually abusing anyone himself– only walking in on a priest molesting someone, calling the victim a slut, and covering up the crime. And of course, that hasn’t been proven yet. I hope it turns out to be false. When I first moved to Steubenville, I lived in an apartment that came with free satellite TV. I used to watch old Fulton Sheen programs on EWTN, to fill the silence of living alone. They were comforting. I don’t want to think he’d do something like that. But in all honesty, can I say it’s not possible? No. I can’t say that about any bishop, particularly not in the United States in the past century. It’s more likely that they’re all as guilty as sin.

I have not been downtown to The Friendship Room very often this summer. But I dropped by this week, to give them the food that Rosie picked out from Wal Mart. I handed off a bag of ice pops for their freezer, and the volunteer cheered as if she’d won the lottery.

The big church next door has an adoration chapel which I hadn’t visited in awhile. There’s a sign by the door warning people to dress modestly, and I happened to be in one of my frumpy maxi skirts, so I went inside. There was another sign warning people to call the police on panhandlers and not give them any money. I tried not to think about that one.

I slid into a seat before the Presence.

He looked like a white disc of bleached wheat flour to me.

There is a silly Praise and Worship song we used to sing before Mass when I attended Franciscan University. “We bow our hearts, we bend our knees, O Spirit come make us humble. We turn our eyes from evil things. O Lord, we cast down our idols! Give us clean hands. Give us pure hearts. Let us not lift our souls to another.” 

I used to enjoy that song. I would raise my hands and close my eyes and belt it out cheerfully. I had no idea, when I came here thirteen years ago, that the idols I would be casting down would be of the Catholic variety. I thought idols were outside the Church, but they are inside– this or that false spiritual mother or father, this or that Catholic celebrity, this or that childish trust that authorities will do the right thing. And this hurts.

Father Mike Scanlan was not crucified for me. I was not baptized in the name of Bishop Fulton Sheen. I was not baptized in the name of Franciscan University. I was not baptized in the name of this or that religious sister or this or that faction of the Charismatic Renewal.  Not in the name of homeschooling or the Catholic elementary school with all the bullies. Not in the name of the Catholic parish with the Communion rail nor the one where they still practice intinction nor the one with liturgical dance. I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Then again, being baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost makes you a member of the Body of Christ– one with the cranks, the abusers, the rapists and their enablers; one with the Charismatics and the Traditionalists and everybody else who carries that indelible mark on their souls. Christ is scourged, mocked, humiliated, paraded through the street dragging His own cross as a madman and a blasphemer Who set Himself up as a king. Christ is stripped naked, nailed to the wood, cries out that God has abandoned Him, dies in agony and descends into hell, and here we all go with Him.

This is what it is to be a Christian.

To be a Christian is to be one flesh with every other baptized person no matter how evil they are– and also one flesh with a humiliated God who couldn’t find God for a time.

I make it sound noble and beautiful, but it’s not. It’s terrible. There is nothing beautiful about the horrendous betrayal that is spiritual abuse.  There is nothing exemplary about me, that I stepped into the Adoration chapel because I happened to be wearing clothes that complied with the dress code instead of hopping the next bus home. I’m still not sure I did it for any reason other than the air conditioning.  There is nothing good about the state of the Church right now and there is certainly nothing good about this particular too-often-lauded commercialized brand of Prosperity Gospel Catholicism that is peddled out of the Ohio Valley.

I am trying so hard to hold on to Him.

Perhaps I need to cast down another idol. Perhaps I’ve made an idol out of the idea that I have to try to hold on. Perhaps it’s time for me to let go and see if He holds onto me. To be one with the God who could not find God, is to give up the ghost. To let go and fall into the arms of the One Who looks like a disc of bleached wheat flour and doesn’t seem to be listening.

Into Your hands, I commend my spirit.


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