The termination of Mike Moroski as Dean and Vice Principal at Purcell Marion High School in Cincinnati, Ohio is reaching a national audience. Recently, Moroski offered these questions as prompts for deeper analysis:
WHEN do institutions go too far in trying to quiet their members?
HOW do you reconcile your faith and your own personal beliefs that are the direct result of that very same faith?
WHY are some people seemingly so afraid of differing opinions?
WHAT is the REAL issue in all of this confusion?
The impact of this situation has always been much larger than Moroski’s unjust punishment or standing up for gay marriage. In my opinion, if you take a closer look at the fallout, you’ll see a prime example of what is eating the Catholic Church from the inside: a hierarchal leadership removed from the needs of the people.
When my partner, Nick, was an employee at Moeller high school at the same time when Moroski was teaching English, Nick often commented about a gift that Moroski possessed. It was an undeniable and rare ability to connect, truly connect, with teenagers. “God love him” was my reply because if you work with teens, observe youth groups, or sit in on high school theology classes, you know that anyone capable of entering the often ear-budded tunnel leading to a 16 year old mind can only be described as a miracle worker.
How we educate the Catholic youth is, in my opinion, one of the most pressing crises of the US Catholic church. It’s not just the statistics of school closings. (In the 2011-2012 school year, 34 Catholic schools opened while 167 were consolidated or closed. And we know that this pattern will only continue.) What makes Catholic education so dismal is the manner in which Catholic adults, notoriously, mark their faith formation beginning and ending with Sunday school programs, sacramental preparation classes, or formal Catholic education. Once a diploma is in hand, or high school youth group is over, the faith formation often ends as well. Catholics often regard faith formation like algebra class: learn what you need to get through it and survive. I imagine that Mike Moroski’s approach to education and faith formation somehow penetrated that superficial layer. From the outpouring of student support, the emotional upheaval is clear: the students listen(ed) to him and they loved him. The archdiocese removing that kind of educator from Purcell’s environment not only devastates the community, but models an abuse of power that not only insults and damages the students who stand to lose the most, but it insults and damages us all.
My generation finds itself repeating history, we are once again living in a time when the combined use of our vocal chords and critical thinking skills is a threatening action deemed punishable by church leadership. When we put our conscience into action, when we speak from the multi-lingual living God who. dwells. in. each. of. us., we are not met with open curiosity or inquisitive invitation. Those of us who publicly and openly claim our identity and embrace our “divergent” beliefs are met judgement, with condescending suggestion to study Scripture more closely, we are advised to find the REAL truth of our lives by prioritizing someone else’s reasoning over our own. It’s as if there is a myopic, linear way to God. It’s as if our human history hasn’t already spoken volumes about the evil we are capable of when we misuse systematic power and control in the name of God and orderliness.
It is most certainly not a modern trend to be an outspoken Catholic, to be in the fray. It was the searing call of the earliest Christians. Our history books reveal multiple instances of church leadership changing their tune, ideas and decisions (slavery, capital punishment, the priesthood to name a few). Does that mean there is no merit to having leadership or believing its teachings? No, of course not. Quite the opposite. The church leadership should stand with us in dialogue, not above us. Why is that such a threatening position, to stand shoulder to shoulder? Could it be that we’re equal (no master is greater than the servant) and that equality doesn’t neutralize power, but rather perfects it? This collective massaging of truth does not make it inauthentic or morally relativistic nor is it about making it convenient for everyone to lead comfortable lives. Quite the opposite! HIERARCHY is the easy way out. The social and religious construct we currently practice IS the convenient way. We may have moments like this when many are in uproar and as tragic and outrageous as this situation is for Mike and Katie Moroski, it’s also a lot easier to deal with this than it would be to engage each and every student, educator, catholic, priest, lay person, minister, child, friend. Operating as a love-centered, God-revealing community would mean that we actually and actively reflect upon our lives as we strive to understand the mystery of grace. Hierarchy is the convenient way to run companies, organizations, and institutions. Yes, it limits creativity and spirituality, but it does remove our sole responsibility to own our lives of faith. Hierarchy. It’s instructional and thereby the very definition of convenient. We Catholics pay lip service to “The Process” or “Discernment” or “The Journey” of faith. Yet, in my lifetime, my own personal discernment of love, sexuality, identity, human rights, reproductive health, and power is commendable only if I arrive at the same answer as church leadership. If and when I arrive elsewhere, I’m labeled a liberal, a moral relativist, or a rebel, a heathen, ignorant, uneducated, lazy, unsaved. I reject these labels. I reject the idea that unless I completely embrace all the teachings of the Magisterium that it disqualifies me from asserting a valid, thoughtful, sacred insight of my own, born out of the fire of my own God-given existence.
I believe church leadership is capable of rich goodness and wisdom. I believe that its guidance and prudence has a place in our church community, but its patterns of behavior, its unapologetic bullying and abuse of power – the very model of leadership that Jesus overthrew – is not only spiritually killing its faithful, but viciously destroying our ability to pass on the faith to the next generation.
Moroski says that for him the issue has always been about the acceptance of diverse opinion. For me, the issue is much uglier than that. We all know that Catholics possess different and opposing opinion, but how it is publicly handled is the problem. This is not about accepting diversity, it is the prioritization of details over children, of dogma over community, of uniformity over reality. It is about how we are treated by our brothers in leadership positions of the highest levels of church. It is about being callously thrown around like dispensable objects instead of sacred vessels. It is about church leaders being so removed from the people that they do not see they are persecuting their own sisters and brothers in the name of church doctrine. It is the lack of relationship with community that these situations arise. Or, perhaps, it is the utter lack of faith (or is it fear?) that God is speaking through others that paves the way to Calvary.
Today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Catholics receive a marking upon our foreheads and souls reminding us we are entering a season of change. I reflect upon “change” and conjure up some of my favorite images of Christ which pertain to the restoration of the senses. The blind see, the deaf hear, the diseased walk, the dead rise, the mute speak. If one of the messages of the new covenant was absolute clearing and openness, why do we expend so much energy on the opposite? Why does church leadership spend so much time and resources trying to mute those who are speaking?
May this season of reflection bring inner transformation for us all.