Lent (Day 29) — Jimmy Breslin’s “The Church that Forgot Christ”

Now beginning Chapter 3 of Breslin’s book, which opens as follows: “I am on my way to church on a Sunday as I’ve been doing every week since age seven.” And later in the chapter, in discussing the much more secular feel of walking along Broadway in Manhattan to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, he recalls the religion-steeped feel of Catholicism in Queens. “Out in Queens, the sound of my religion always was a soft, lovely murmur of the footsteps of the faithful walking to mass at a few minutes before each hour on Sundady mornings. In all my Sunday mornings everywhere I’ve been, no place since then has been so dominated by religion.” That feel he describes of the religion of his youth is much like my own feeling. On Sunday, when I was a kid, there were at least 6 Masses, and before the 8a Mass, the kid’s Mass, all of the kids of the parish school would be heading to church, so the area around the church was a buzz of activity of kids in their Sunday best, heading to Mass, and all the nuns from the school, to make sure the little darlings behaved themselves. Before the 10a service (there were two, one in the Upstairs Church with the ceiling lamps that looked like rocket-ships or bombs, and the other in the downstairs chapel which had a cool and dark feel to it, even when fully illuminated), most of the people of the parish would be heading to church, and Bowdoin Street and Perceval, and Hancock, and Mt. Ida Rd. and the other streets around the church would be full of people converging on the Church. It gave a solemn but celebratory feel to Sunday mornings. Everyone (or so it seemed) was on their way to church.
And Breslin also talks about getting married at Blessed Sacrament. But now (after the pedophile scandal broke), it feels different going to Mass — he still does it out of habit, but there is a wedge between him and his religion because of the criminal activity of some priests, and the wholly negligent attitude of the administration that took pains to protect victimizing priests and the name of the Church over making sure that the victims were treated rightly and heard.
And though I had no longer been going to Church, and had become an Unitarian, that all encompassing atmosphere and the family feel I recalled came rushing back when I heard about the scandal in Boston, and I recall feeling very much betrayed. I never did like Cardinal Law, who seemed very much to be a well-connected pencil pushser, but nothing more (he lacked the charisma of Cardinal Cushing, the bishop of my youth), but my feelings shifted very much towards downright hostility, when I learned of his handling of this crisis. By his actions, and inactions, he was (and is) an unindicted co-conspirator in the whole affair. And that John Paul II allowed him to retire to Rome smacked of a desire on the part of the pontiff not to solve the crisis, but rather to make it go away, to put Law in a place where he could not be summoned to court, made to testify, and face criminal penalties. Some anger at that still lingers for me, and for Breslin too, I’m guessing.

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