Let the person who is without sin be the first...
By Father Thomas Hawkins
Won't it be interesting if The Kansas City Star decides to next do a series of front-page articles about married men who have died from AIDS?
Like priests who have died from that disease, such men can also be exhibited as evidently having failed in keeping their vows. Hopefully it will make their friends and families feel really good to know that the whole purpose of these articles will be solely to bring to the attention of the wider community the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic. Nothing but the highest principles involved here.
And how convenient it will be to say that 'there is a higher percentage of married men who have died of AIDS than in the general population.' (Of course that is true - because the general population consists of babies in cradles, children in grade schools, all women, the elderly and everyone in nursing homes. But it's such a grand sounding statistic that one should repeat it as often as possible.)
Now, there are those who might feel that such articles would be exhibiting the distress of others for mere financial gain or even pandering for a prize by ghoulishly displaying the sufferings of the dead and the sorrows of those they left behind - but who would stoop so low as to make money from the grief of others?
Such articles could point out that the real problem is that married couples as a whole are to be blamed for just burying their heads in the sand. How many of them naively stumbled into matrimony without having been given sufficient education as to the complications of sex. One rational conclusion must be that marital fidelity just doesn't work.
Albeit an ancient institution, the article could say that marriage is just rapidly becoming passe and even deeply resented by some outside of it. As a matter of fact (and this is for real) a national survey released this past November found that only 26 percent of American adults now describe themselves as "married with children."
Since the thrust of the articles will be that these AIDS-afflicted couples must be more open and honest about just what is going on, The Star might set an example in its own obituary notices. No longer should the editors permit evasions in regard to the cause of death. All of those who died from AIDS should be clearly labeled - at no extra charge. And reporters can attend their funeral services to make sure that whoever gives the eulogy does so in the spirit of the New Total Frankness.
Setting irony aside, let me say that the statement in a recent Catholic Key article about a certain priest's death as the result of AIDS being a fact known at the time only to the immediate family is not completely accurate. People are not naive. (Editor's note: The key word here is "known." The cause of his death was widely suspected.)
There was a lot of talk on that occasion and others similar to it. And the talk was, for the most part, compassionate toward the deceased, his family and his community.
It was not something that needed to be reported on the front page of the diocesan newspaper or explained at the funeral - and it was not, in just the same way as it is not done at many other funerals. This does not mean that church authorities were ignoring reality or sweeping the problem under the rug. Most people are sympathetic and understanding at a time of death, no matter what the cause of death.
Priests listen to more sins than anyone else on the planet and they are not easily stunned and amazed when they learn that another priest has been less than perfect. Every priest who wants to see a sinful priest never has to look further than the mirror in the morning, which is why Mother Church in her wisdom has the priest at Mass wash his hands in front of the congregation and pray the words of Psalm 51: "Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."
Priests are generally merciful, sensitive and discrete regarding the sins of their fellow human beings and that includes the sins of other priests because they realize, more than anyone else, that priests are not carved from marble. They come equipped with all the baser passions and are not immune to loneliness, times of depression, mid-life crises, periods of doubt, acts of plain foolishness, and the dangers of meeting the wrong person at the wrong time and the greater danger of meeting the right person at the wrong time.
Anyone who thinks that the issues of celibacy, sexuality and homosexuality are not being discussed and debated in the church these days must never pick up a Catholic periodical. There are some who feel that church authorities have not been sufficiently public (and publicly condemnatory) of priests who have died with AIDS. They don't seem to understand that church people really do ask themselves, "What would Jesus want me to do?" And then they try to act accordingly. Which includes living by the admonition, "Let the person who is without sin be the first to cast a stone." But "statistically" there are more first stones cast by newspapers than by the general population. And the recent series of articles seems to demonstrate that there are more first stones cast by newspapers than even by the most conservative members of a surprisingly compassionate church.