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William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
“Words without thoughts”
Published: February 07, 2022 10:48 AM
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“Words without thoughts”

Hamlet is tempted to kill the king. (image: commons.wikimedia.org)

 

In Shakespeare’s play, Prince Hamlet’s uncle Claudius murdered Hamlet’s napping father by pouring poison, “juice of cursed hebona,” in his brother’s ear, taking the throne and marrying the widow. At least, that’s what Hamlet senior’s ghost tells Hamlet junior on a “platform before the castle” of Elsinore.

Ordered by his father to avenge the murder, Hamlet decides to kill his uncle. When he sees the usurper king kneeling in prayer, the prince at first thinks his chance at revenge has come. But on reflection, he decides that his uncle’s dying at prayer would simply send him to heaven and Hamlet wants Uncle Claudius in hell.

So the nephew decides to wait until his uncle is engaged in some hell-worthy activity like “When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed, At gaming, swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation in’t” and kill him then.

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What Hamlet does not know is that the “prayers” of Claudius are no such thing. As the king admits as he gets off his knees, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

King Claudius of Denmark could be the patron of public statements in the 21st century.

Over and over again when they can no longer ignore those exposés, bishops, chancery offices, superiors and such managers issue statements.

How often after someone’s egregious crime or even mere social lapse do we get statements by some personage or organization linked to that sinner affirming that, “This does not represent us because ours is a religion/movement/community/corporation of peace/equality/tolerance/opportunity”? In fact, it requires no special effort to hear or read new such protestations several times each day.

Frequently, those protestations of innocence, accompanied by promises that the evil will be rooted out, must be repeated with a regularity that cannot fail to induce scepticism.

The common line is, “This is not who we are.” On first time hearing, my reaction is, “I hope not.” Told a third time, I wonder, “Are you sure?” The fifth occurrence elicits, “The hell it ain’t!”

Such is the case with the Catholic Church.

Over and over again, we learn of the abuse of minors, vulnerable people, and women by clergy and others working under the aegis of the Church in both the past and the present. It no longer rises to the level of news. Even worse, spotlights expose near-universal patterns of coverup of that abuse. That, too, has become expected.

Over and over again when they can no longer ignore those exposés, bishops, chancery offices, superiors and such managers issue statements.

Until just a few years ago those statements were likely to claim that those who point out crimes are enemies of the Church or that abuse is a problem in English-speaking societies.

There is too much contrary evidence for that offensive defense to work any longer, so now those statements accept the facts and even express varying degrees of remorse, some of it possibly sincere.

Then, invariably, the statements go on to end with a disclaimer that the Church, the diocese, the order, or whatever is committed to the protection of children, vulnerable people, women and others and the first concern is the healing of victims. It is as regular a coda as “Amen” is the conclusion of prayers.

Automatic words without real thought in them. Words without truth.

Shut up!

Either be sadly silent or simply apologize. Words of apology, whether for trivial matters or great crimes, must never be followed by “but” or any explanation or other attempt to defer guilt. Unembraced guilt, words without thoughts, never to heaven go.

Better to remain silent with head hung low and eyes downcast. Failing that, simply express sorrow and leave it to the offended to decide what comes next: acceptance or rejection of the apology, granting or refusing forgiveness, a slap or an embrace.

La Croix International published an interview with Peter Beer who resigned as vicar general of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising rather than be part of a structure that refuses to change the way it deals or, rather, refuses to deal with abuse.

Beer recommends that clergy "stop uttering empty phrases expressing their great concern for the victims."

Of course, many priests do indeed feel the concern and pain for victims and try to bring some healing. Whether bishops and other managers have the same priority is clearly a case-by-case situation at best.

Those priests are in a difficult position. They remain public representatives of a corrupt system, lacking the power to fix it yet propping it up as its thoughts “never to heaven go.”

After so many years of those declarations, people are better able than Hamlet seeing kneeling Claudius to see the reality of the emptiness that posturing is meant to hide.

The time is overdue to look sincere by being sincere, and being sincere means proactive action, not words without thoughts that never to heaven nor people on earth go.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia