The word ‘closure’ is being used very commonly nowadays, and has taken on a specific meaning. I has to do with putting an end to a traumatic experience in a person’s life. It is often used in terms of physical or emotional assault, injury, murder of a friend or family, sexual abuse of a minor, or various other situations. We hear claims being made outside a courtroom for example, by families or an individual that a conviction and sentencing of a perpetrator has brought ‘closure’ to the case. Others may say that complete closure is not possible, but that legal process  has greatly helped along the way.

When this became very common as a way of speaking I was inclined to be slightly dismissive of it as an idea. I even felt at times that there was an element of self-indulgence in it, and that instead of helping to bring about some form of healing it would only deepen the sense of hurt, of grievance, even of self-pity. I have learned.  The passage of time and my own experiences have taught me that the need for closure is real, and that it is a necessary step on the way to overcoming, or learning to live with, whatever events have caused the blight in one’s life.

Ten years on from my run in with the Vatican, I haven’t got ‘closure’, in the sense that I am still not able to ‘be at peace’ with what has occurred in my life. Sadly, I have not been able to ‘move on’ and leave it behind. It is not that easy to find words to explain what that is like for me. Anger certainly comes into it; depression also; a questioning of the direction my life has taken, and how I might have taken a different path; and regret. Thankfully I have sufficient support in my life so that none of these has become really problematic, at least I hope this to be the case. 

What would give me ‘closure’? My mind is clear on that matter.  I would need to have a proper process involving personal engagement with the Church authorities, essentially one that would involve a real human engagement, rather than just an  outlining of what is contained in the Code of Canon Law, or the Constitutions of my Religious Congregation. Authorities using either or both of those leave no room for anything that could pass as real dialogue. It would have to be an exchange at the human level on both sides, involving listening rather than diktat, equality rather than speaking from a position of high title (bishop, cardinal, religious superior, etc). I would have to listen respectfully  to their argument and this might not come easily to me.  I think that, if that were to happen, whatever the outcome would be I would be able to move on. But the Church does not operate like that, and I know I am by no means the only one to have experienced this. They tend to make judgments from on high, give a person no chance to defend themselves, and then leave that individual in limbo. And in a sense that is where I have been for the past ten years. I am a priest, but not really a priest; I am a member of a religious congregation, but not allowed to do any of what is the life-blood of the institute; I am a member, but am consigned to the margins. 

I mentioned regrets.  The biggest regret is my initial response to the edicts of the CDF.  I was sitting at a table in the international headquarters of the Redemptorists in Rome to which I had been summoned, with the leader of the congregation sitting across from me. He handed over two pages of typed script, one containing the judgment against me and the other outlining the sentence to be imposed. Neither was headed or signed, so there was no clear indication of their origin. Who exactly was doing this to me? Was it the person sitting at the table with me that day, or some other? It was being explained verbally to me, but I believe I deserved to have something more formal and clear presented. My regret is that I did not hand those papers back, saying that I would not accept having my life turned upside down in such a fashion.  I should have got up and walked out of the room and the building.  If I had done that, and held to that position, I could have brought things to a head at that stage. I would have left the man in charge that day with a choice. Either he would have to stand up to the Vatican authorities on my behalf, or dismiss me.  I would no longer be in limbo. I would no longer be half in and half out. I could have clearly put the past behind me, and walked on to a new life. It would have been extremely difficult, but sometimes I think it would have been the better option. But it is easy to be wise after the event, especially ten years after the event, and my present judgement is based on a decade of living in the shadows. 

They haven’t been bad years in many ways. My life took on a new direction, while still remaining within the institution. I became a voice for change and renewal in the Church, and it could be said that with the arrival of Pope Francis there has been a lot of change.

But I don’t have much energy or enthusiasm for the work of reform, anymore. That has partly to do with my age, but it is also a recognition of the numerous signs of decay, even collapse, of different aspects of the Church. The monastery I belong to is closing down, and all the indications are that religious life as we have known it doesn’t have a future, at least in this part of the world. It is important to say that this may not be all negative.  Francis is trying his best, but the opposition to him is widespread and virulent, even within the upper ranks of the Church. The traditional notion of priesthood, involving male celibacy, is dying. I, and many others, have predicted all of these things for some time, and it could well be for the best that they all disappear so that there will be space and openness for new and fresh growth. But in spite of knowing that this death was coming, and believing that maybe it is necessary, still to be living through it is difficult.

What of the future, whatever little or much of it I have left in my life? Where do I find meaning in my day to day existence? I know we believe, and I do, that there is an eternal destiny awaiting us, which, while being in some sense a continuation of our earthly existence, will have a depth and a richness beyond our imaginings. But we need reasons to give meaning to the present. I have friends who are important to me, I play golf in the summer, I walk and cycle for exercise, I go to the theatre, I read and I write. All of these help. Maybe I need to find joy in the ordinary things. I  find that the more I stay away from contact with Church structures and institutions, the better I feel. This morning, in a shop, I met a women who recognised me and told me about a mission I gave in her parish over twenty years ago, and how the memory of it still inspires her. I often get that type of reaction from people, and it is lovely. But there is also a sadness to it.

That is me at seventy five. Part of the reason for having a blog, like this one, is to be able to write about life as it is experienced. I have written this very much for myself, reflecting on where I am in my life, seeing what is is like to read over it, and hoping that it will help me to know myself better, to clarify my position and be better able to deal with the challenges that life is now throwing in my way.  As a consequence I hope to be able to live it more fully. If anyone who reads this finds it of interest, good and well; if not that is all right too. I have done it for myself.