Uvalde Cleric: ‘Don’t Talk About It’; Michael Ortiz: ‘Watch Me’

Source: The American Conservative

Take a look at this remarkable thread by a resident of the Texas town of Uvalde, about the fallout from the school massacre there, and community anger at the local law enforcement officials who sat on their hands while children were slaughtered. Above, an image of Michael Ortiz, the author of the thread, taken from a story Marfa Public Radio did about colleges in his part of Texas.

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Well. First, this is one man’s opinion. We don’t have another one, at least not that I have seen, by someone else who was present for this homily.

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But assuming that it is an accurate account of this deacon’s homily, I can’t say that I’m surprised. This is the same kind of thing that Catholic laity heard from many (but not all!) priests during the abuse scandal. I was present at the parish in my hometown one Sunday in 2004 (I was there visiting my family) on the Sunday when the priests of the Baton Rouge diocese were all instructed to read a letter from the bishop informing them that a previous bishop, the late Joseph Sullivan, had been an abuser. I well remember the visiting priest who delivered that letter from the pulpit (the pastor was out of town that weekend) instructing the congregation not to talk about it, to put it out of their minds. I was so outraged I almost stood up and left. But I didn’t; even though I was writing about the abuse scandal back then, I still lacked the courage to stand up in public and tell a priest that he was a manipulator, and, by trying to make the congregation feel that it was wrong to ask questions or even talk about the fact that their previous bishop was a gay sex abuser, was himself accessory to this evil.

Years later, the Diocese of Baton Rouge would make public the names of its priests who had abused children, according to its own records. One of those priests, the late Father Clyde Landry, was pastor of the parish in my hometown during my childhood. He molested a number of kids — including at least two in that parish, I am confident (confident, because though I don’t know it for certain, I know of the wrecked lives of those boys, who used to serve at the altar — and they follow the precise pattern of the lives of many abuse victims). This was a congregation who had to absorb the fact — confirmed by the current bishop in a 2019 statement — that their own priest once upon a time molested kids in that parish. That was fifteen years in the future from that Sunday in 2004. Back then, the people were told by the priest who had mass that Sunday that yeah, our former bishop was an abuser, but your job is to never talk about it again.

That’s not justice. That’s not reconciliation. That is manipulation and abuse.

If Michael Ortiz’s account of what was said from the pulpit of his parish is accurate, then that is the same kind of thing: a bullying attempt by a member of the clergy to restore social harmony without accountability or justice. Back in May, the NYT published a complimentary story about the parish, saying that it has become a hub of community healing. Is it still? I wonder if Ortiz’s claims are shared by others in the parish?

It reminds me of 1993, when I helped a German TV network produce a news segment about pollution in south Louisiana. Back then, a local Catholic pharmacist in a river town near Baton Rouge raised alarm when she began seeing an unusual number of prescriptions for a rare cancer drug. The implication was that there might be something poisonous in the air or water of their town that was giving people cancer. When she began speaking out, her community turned on her. Why? Because most everybody there worked at the chemical plants. They didn’t want to know. I sat there with the TV journalist and listened to the pharmacist talk about how her parish priest asked her and her husband to leave the parish, because they had become a source of division.

Kay Gaudet was the name of the pharmacist. Here’s a 1988 story from the Los Angeles Times about her saga. Excerpt:

“I’m not trying to be a hell-raiser or a goody-goody; I just think we have a situation that needs answering,” said Gaudet, 37, whose pharmacy just past the stoplight on Route 74 has become a clearinghouse and meeting place.

“When I first started with the list, some people wanted me to say right away that the chemicals were at fault. But I didn’t want to say anything that I didn’t know to be true. Then last summer, it started to get out of control. When four women miscarried in eight days, I realized that something was very wrong here.

“I started studying the chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, and their possible effects, and it just clicked. I had to raise the question, so I did. My mom is always saying to me: ‘Kay, shut up. Didn’t you ever see that Silkwood movie? If you’re not worried about yourself, what about your kids?’ And I say that’s exactly what I’m worried about–my kids.”

Gaudet and her husband, Chris, have two healthy little girls. The oldest, Christine, 9, has watched her mother so carefully over the last year that she knows the issues, sometimes pretending that she is a television reporter. With imaginary microphone in hand, she asks: “Why are all these babies dying?”

Again, I want to be fair here. I did not hear the sermon that Michael Ortiz highlights, and I can’t find a recording of it online. If one of you can, email it to me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com, and I’ll post the recording. If you were present for it, and you disagree with Ortiz, please write me, and I’ll post your rebuttal.

But if Ortiz is telling the truth about it, then what’s happening there is the local parish siding with power, for the sake of sweeping injustice under the rug.

Here’s a good piece Ortiz wrote for Texas Monthly about life in Uvalde. He sounds like a left-wing activist, but so what? If he’s right about authority trying to cover its backside for its failures, then he’s right — and he’s right to call religious authority out for collaborating in it. A major lesson I learned in writing about the church sex abuse scandal is that the line between the righteous and the unrighteous did not pass between the political or theological left and right. Ortiz says that he is a college math professor who is autistic. It sometimes falls to the neurodivergent, who don’t realize that some lines shouldn’t be crossed, to tell the truth about a situation.

“I sure as hell won’t be told that I can’t call [leaders] to account,” says Michael Ortiz. He may or may not be right in his analysis of what happened in Uvalde on that horrible day, but he’s certainly correct to say that those in authority have no right to expect people to shut up and be quiet when they are being lied to. That is a principle that everyone of principle, whatever their politics, should agree on.