Monday, September 09, 2002

On Scandal and "scandals"

First of all, we've got terms to define, because most of what we call "scandals" aren't scandal at all, but merely sensational facts or public embarrassments. And our reactions to real scandal and to "scandals" will also differ, have to differ, since the two have so little to do with each other beyond that word.

True scandal (CCC 2284-2287) is always extremely serious and, if intentional, gravely sinful --- Jesus had things to say about it having to do with millstones and large bodies of water. True scandal is saying or doing things that lead other people to sin or to become separated from God. Some, names removed, examples from current events: adults or near-adults getting younger children or the mentally handicapped to do their illegal activities for them; authoritative person publicly stating that if someone's p.o.'ed at their bishop over something they should stop assisting at Eucharist; abusing or manipulating another so that they can no longer exhibit trust or cannot tolerate being in the Church; teaching that name-your-popular-vice (e.g., fornication, civilian-targeting, etc., etc.....) is virtue or even duty.

Yes, true scandal is abysmal, and the solution is to be non-scandalizible. There are people out there in our money and sex and power crazed society looking to give scandal all the time --- and it is our duty not to take it. Our relationship with God has to become strong enough, through prayer and discipline, that the scandal-monger does not have any market among us. One of the reformation-era saints, I think it was St. Francis de Sales, made the argument that just because there are soul-murderers out there doesn't make it right to commit spiritual suicide. So work on building up faith so that "though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

Now for the rest of the stuff, the "scandals" --- meaning the sensational attention-grabbers or the publicly embarrassing --- we have to remember that embarrassment, even the public kind, does not kill. In fact, in the long term, it sets free. (It's secrets that bind and maim and kill the spirit, and sometimes even the body.) So when (more current-events examples) the pastor inserts foot firmly in mouth with a reporter nearby and cameras rolling; honourable government official gets caught harrassing the secretary or fingering the petty cash; your bishop's an extortion victim; or your skivvies lose their elastic and fall around your ankles in some very public place --- charity and patient endurance is the key. "Scandals" generally fade with time; they either get put in a more realistic perspective or they get superceded by fresher targets and tales. [After a few years you may be laughing yourself about your undies on your ankles in the communion line...]

There are dangers in "scandals" to be watched for and to be avoided. To make public or to spread publicly embarrassing things can easily become sins against the target's human dignity, or against the truth. Detraction, slander, and rash judgement are often involved when "scandals" are revealed or propagated. (CCC 2475-2479) And, when the target is unfavored, it is very easy to fall into the vice called schadenfreude, which is when one takes pleasure or delight in the troubles or downfall of someone else. So, we have to avoid ridicule at all costs. Remember and contemplate the spectacularly stupid doings tucked in one's own past, and _know_, not just wonder about, that "there but for the grace of God....." Pray for the poor target, and if you're in a position to give support or comfort in the trial, do so. Comforting the afflicted is one of those things Catholics do, and becoming the pariah-of-the-week is definitely an affliction.
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