The Full Story: On Archbishops and Scandals and Grace

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI read an opinion piece published on The Spectator this week, one regarding the recent vote in Ireland to legalize gay marriage. In it, gay atheist Matthew Parris criticizes the Archbishop of Dublin and his response to the referendum, but not for the reasons you might think. Not because the Archbishop was too harsh, or unloving, or judgmental. Not because his response was out-of-date or out-of-touch or out-of-line with current opinion. No, he criticizes Archbishop Martin for the exact opposite, for swaying with the times, for choosing popular opinion over the will of God

I read this piece, not having read anything elseon the subject, and I sighed, saddened by the conclusions drawn, by what it seemed to say about the church and her influence on the world. “Have some of us, in short, made the mistake of taking the church at its word?” Parris asks. “Was it always, anyway, about going with the flow? Was it always secretly about imposing the morals of the majority on the minority — so all that is necessary is to discover which way the preponderance falls?”

I showed this article to Jonathan, and he asked the obvious question, the one I should have asked myself: “What did the Archbishop actually say? Have you read his response?” And so I went looking. Multiple news outlets headlined one piece of what he said – the bit where he said the Catholic church needed a reality check – but little more. “I think really that the church needs to do a reality check,” Archbishop Martin said, in the most-quoted part of his interview, and, “I appreciate how gay and lesbianmen and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.”

These statements do seem as though he’s changing his position because of the vote, until you read his remarks in context. The reality check he referenced? It was that the church isn’t reaching young people, that many of those who voted for the referendum attended Catholic schools for twelve years and somehow didn’t hear or accept what the Church is teaching, that leadership needs to find a way to speak its message in a way that today’s youth can hear it. “That doesn’t mean that we renounce our teaching on fundamental values on marriage and the family,” he said.

The media took a soundbite, a few words that seemed to be saying one thing but really meant quite another, and broadcast it far and wide and Mr. Parris, whether intentionally or not, heard exactly the message he wanted to hear – that Christianity is a sham, a system that imposes the “morals of the majority on the minority”. Though the Archbishop’s message was one of humility and empathy, one that held to the traditional values of Christianity, it was truncated and twisted, made to look as though he was backpedaling. Which leaves me wondering: in this world of readily available, constant information, in this world of causes and outrage and global community, do I ever get the full story?

The Internet exploded recently with the latest scandal from a certain large family, with accusations and allegations and I-knew-there-was-something-fishy-about-them statements.

Before I go any farther, let me pause to state this (which should go without saying): sexual abuse, like any other kind of abuse, is always, always wrong, and must not go unpunished. Victims must be given love and care and counseling and the understanding that we, as a society, do not tolerate such behavior. A family that chooses to live its life in the public eye, displaying its most personal moments for the entertainment of the masses, cannot suddenly claim a violation of privacy when some of their darker secrets are revealed.The handling of this situation seems shady, at best, and there are many questions unanswered.

And yet, I’m left with this: with all the impassioned posts about this situation, all the people crying out for blood, all those who simply get a thrill from watching the mighty fall, where is there room for grace? For humility? For the realization that we do not have the full story?

People are hurt, lives destroyed by false rumors, by online blurbs that have only echoes of the truth, that only tell a part of the story. In this instant world, where the public’s attention span lasts no more than a day or two, we are quick to light our torches and grab our pitchforks, quick to fire off responses, quick to judge the actions and the lives and the words of others. We must speak now, or be obsolete. We must react now, have an opinion now, or be left in the dust. Social media spreads half-truths like wildfire, and we are all too eager to believe.

We rarelyhave the full story, be it about an Archbishop’s statement, or about a celebrity scandal, or about a listing in the local police blotter, and yet we think we do. I plead guilt to this myself; I included a link to Matthew Parris’s piece in this week’s edition of WWW, lamenting the way the Archbishop seemed to cave to popular opinion, before Jonathan encouraged me to dig deeper. I accepted the story on its face, trusting I had a complete enough picture to make a judgment, and I was wrong.

Today’s media environment invites and encourages my reaction, my quick judgment, my outrage. May I take the time to think, to evaluate what I am told. May I have humility and grace. Online, as in life, may I always be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, realizing that I rarely have the full story.

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