TRUTH, AND THE ‘POPULAR NARRATIVE’

Speak truth to power. It is the phrase, apparently Quaker in origin, written on our hearts, scrawled on placards in our contemporary world – the battle cry, if you will, of the non-violent as they battle the forces of mendacity, especially, it seems, on matters of race and racism. Question, probe, pray, speak quietly or forcefully in its face, but never be cowed by that power that oppresses you when truth is at stake. But, sorry, there seems to be an exception here. NEVER, ever, question, or even seem to waffle on repeating or reporting the received narrative of sensitive contemporary events, especially regarding alleged racism, as handed down on marble tablets from the government, the media, the culture at large – and especially, at this tender moment, on such terribly sensitive matters as the violent death of George Floyd at the hands of a cop. I made a point of treading lightly as a news reporter in such areas – both out of sensitivity and, yes, because I didn’t want to stray from that “received popular narrative.” You think I’m crazy? But former MIT Chaplain Dan Maloney lost his job last week for straying, almost certainly inadvertently, from the popular narrative. Though I don’t know him, Fr. Maloney strikes me as a man of the lightest tread – non-violent and non-political in every respect. Just a quiet shepherd of souls at an institution where brilliant future scientists and engineers nonetheless go looking for eternal gospel truth. And Fr. Maloney is passionately convinced of God’s mercy and has written a book on the subject. Separated from his MIT flock by the pandemic, he therefore, expressed his anguished reaction to events in Minneapolis in an email to that flock, gob-smacked, no doubt, to find that he’d offended powers in the university, certain students who reported him to MIT’s Anti-Bias Response Team, even his own Boston Catholic Archdiocese which promptly fired him from his chaplaincy. Here is part of what he had to say in his email: “The police officer who knelt on (George Floyd’s) neck until he died acted wrongly. I do not know what he was thinking. The charges filed against him allege dangerous negligence, but say nothing about his state of mind. He might have killed George Floyd intentionally, or not. He hasn’t told us. But he showed disregard for his life, and we cannot accept that in our law enforcement officers. It is right that he has been arrested and will be prosecuted.” Anything controversial there? (I’d like to link you to his entire statement, which I’ve read, but which I can’t seem to re-locate again. Please search on-line and evaluate it yourself.) Frankly, where Fr. Maloney probably got into deepest water was where, at another point, he noted that Floyd “had not lived a virtuous life” and that police “deal with dangerous and bad people all the time, and that often hardens them.” But he did not suggest that Floyd was irredeemable or guilty or his drug-involvement exculpatory of the cop’s actions – only that George wasn’t perfect, like you or me. Good priests have a tendency to point out things like that and humbly include themselves among the sinful. On the matter of racism, Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture. Org has noted, “The chaplain didn’t say that Floyd’s death was NOT prompted by racism. He simply remarked that the evidence is not conclusive. For that he was banished from campus. For that he was given a public reprimand by his own archdiocese, which announced to the world that his statements ‘were wrong.’” I, like Phil, found statements that were debatable, some with which you may disagree, some that are not well-explained – but nothing truly wrong, offensive or, most especially, in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church. (For my part, it’s occurred to me – and perhaps to you – that this “bad” cop didn’t care about Floyd’s race, that he was a bad, violent cop to all, regardless of race, creed or place of national origin. It might even have been a personal vendetta. But, you see, none of that would fit the “popular narrative” of systemic racism, though it would be telling the whole truth, if it were true. There is much we don’t know yet.) I have an image of Fr Maloney as a priest eager to understand how one man could do this to another, conscious of God’s mercy as it touches on the sins of racism, prejudice, injustice and on judgement, redemption, crime, punishment and salvation – a man who acts “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ), gently going about administering the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to us sinners. But now he’s out of a job. Where are you, Fr. Maloney. I think I’d like to go to Confession.

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