As the Irish church sex abuse scandals tightened around the Vatican this past week, I couldn’t help but think how better communication could heal things. Once again, the old adage of the cover-up being worse than the crime was proven true.
I’d like to break with tradition of my journalistic colleagues and not bash the clergy for a moment in favor of sharing with you a story about communication of a different sort.
It all started about a year ago, when I was enrolled in a “Communication: Access to Power” course. When the facilitator asked us what we were hoping to get out of this weekend, people stood up and shared things like how they wanted to have richer communications with loved ones, and hoped to discover how to minimize the conflicts with co-workers in the office.
We were all dying to know why the small Irish American nun in the back of the room was here, and a hush came over the nondescript conference room as she approached the podium.
“My name is Sister Mary Elizabeth Lloyd; call me Sister Mary Beth,” she said in a tone that barely registered above a whisper.
This was a person clearly uneasy in the spotlight, her pale blue eyes darting nervously around the room without looking at any one person. “I am a Filippini nun and I’m trying to improve my negotiation skills.”
The comment cocked many an eyebrow in the room. Was this really some boardroom brawler in disguise, a titan of industry who would redden the knuckles of Donald Trump with a ruler until he begged for mercy?
The instructor, sharing our amusement, used a slightly patronizing inflection to ask, “Sister, what do you negotiate?”
“I negotiate for the welfare of children,” she replied, a small, content smile escaping her lips. “My mission work takes me down to the bus stations of Brazil.
“Parents bring their little children down to the terminal so that visitors can rent them for sexual purposes. Some of these poor boys and girls aren’t even 10 years old, yet working their children as prostitutes is the only means of support the family has.”
“A group of us nuns visit the bus terminal and outbid the travelers. We pay the parents what they would make for an afternoon of the little child’s time. We then take the boy or girl and play with them or buy them ice cream.
“So, I decided to take this course so that I can improve my negotiation skills and spend less money in my dealings so that I have more cash to reach more children.”
The entire room swallowed the lumps in their throat in unison. The weekend course had many dinner breaks, and we would sit open-mouthed as Sister Mary Beth recounted the good works done by the humble nuns of Filippini, who have been helping the poorest children and women survive through charitable works for over 300 years.
This course had representatives of every race and creed, yet they all rooted for the Catholic nun, whose humility and selflessness was a model for all faiths. I was moved, touched, and inspired by her work with Child Headed Households (CHH), an organization that cares for children who have become head of their households after losing both parents to AIDS.
She published her experience in a book, AIDS Orphans Rising: What You Should Know and What You Can Do to Help Them Succeed, which can be found on the web site www.AIDSOrphansRising.org.
For the first time in decades, I was intensely proud of the clergy of my church, and my face beamed as I reconsidered my Catholic nature once again.
Though I went to the communications course to improve my leadership skills at work, I unexpectedly found myself resuming a long forgotten conversation with God that we held during my more frequent church attendance.
When I opened my mind and heart to what was going on in Mass, instead of bringing my festering contempt for the collar into the House of God as I had been for the last 10 years, a funny thing happened.
I was inspired to donate to worthwhile causes in the second collection, the retired clergy fund that helped with the medical bills of the dedicated priests and nuns that educated me in my formative years, the religious education foundation, and the mission work of modern day saints like Sr. Mary Beth.
Palm Sunday marks the holiest week in our church’s calendar, which makes the crucifixion of our church officials in the press ironic timing to say the least. Many of the people who communicated poorly will get their comeuppance in the harsh media spotlight, and they deserve all of the pain that they get and then some.
You may be tempted to send a message calling for change in our broken church by withholding dialing down the Easter offering; I know I will.
Perhaps you may want to consider taking that money you saved in the first collection and giving it to a worthwhile cause funded by the second collection? While most women her age are dying Easter eggs with grandchildren, Sister Mary Beth Lloyd and her colleagues are probably spending Easter working miracles in a Brazilian transit terminal with little more than the price of a bus fare.
You can help by making checks payable to Religious Teachers of Filippini and mail to Sr. Mary Beth Lloyd, MPF at Villa Walsh, 455 Western Avenue, Morristown, New Jersey 07960.