One Ringy Dingy!

Want to have some fun?  Try handing a youngster a dial telephone, and then asking him to show you how it works.  What happens next will be a study in consternation, and the rough equivalent of a scholar struggling to decipher ancient writings on the Rosetta Stone.

This farcical image came to mind, recently, as I watched a news story detailing the removal of the last pay phones still in service in New York City.  Alas, I thought, individuals without a cell phone (if there are still such luddites out there) will no longer be able to enjoy the experience of lugging a pocketful of quarters, dimes and nickels to a telephone booth, or checking random pay phone coin return slots for forgotten change.

Though now obsolete, pay telephones along the highway offered motorists a sense of security in the event of a breakdown.  But those of a certain age will recall a time when it was necessary to insert a coin in the appropriate slot before one could even reach an operator or get a dial tone.  In other words, if you found yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere and you needed to call someone for assistance, you had better have some coins close at hand or you were out of luck.

Those familiar with the mountains and forests of upstate New York know that, while beautiful, parts of that region can be incredibly remote and inhospitable.  As a State Trooper patrolling in some of those desolate areas before cell phones or even portable radios (circa 1970),  I always kept two dimes taped to the inside of my Stetson.  The purpose of those coins was simple: if my vehicle ever became disabled in an area where I could not make radio contact with my station, I could trudge to a pay telephone.  Fortunately, I never had to take such an extraordinary measure.

Thinking about even more-ancient forms of telephone communication, I am reminded of the day my boss told me I had to call home … emphasizing that it was an emergency.  Unfortunately, my boss’ order was complicated in several ways … it was 1964 … I was in the military … stationed at a facility in the mountains of Taiwan … and there were no such things as cell phones or even phone lines back to the States.  To call my family I had to, first, arrange for a Transpacific line which could not be set up until the following day.  Then, after taking a bus to Taipei, I sat in an assigned booth at a commercial telephone facility until the line was connected.  Fortunately, I learned that everything was fine at home … the emergency call had been intended for a different fellow with the same last name.

In contrast to my archaic experience calling home in the 60’s, a recent event illustrates how far we have come in communicating with one another.  In this case, my cell phone rang during Thanksgiving dinner and, upon answering, I was thrilled to be talking with (and seeing) my grandson … who is in the United States Army … stationed in South Korea.  Unlike the byzantine system I had to navigate to call home in 1964, he was simply dialing us up on his personal cell phone to wish us a Happy Holiday.

I am willing to bet that many who read the title of this piece recognized, immediately, the signature line of Ernestine the telephone operator (played by Lily Tomlin) on Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh In” some fifty years ago.  For those who did not get the reference, I will be happy to explain.

Call me.

And So It Continues

Basic theological differences aside, turns out that the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have a lot in common.

When the long-awaited investigative report on clergy sexual abuse within the SBC was released in May, 2022, it included a previously secret list of more than 700 immoral, unprincipled and compromised pastors and other church-affiliated personnel. Prepared by the independent investigative group Guidepost Solutions, this document revealed that for more than ten years, SBC leaders had maintained a private list of abusive ministers, while failing to ensure that those same accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.

A close reading of this explosive-yet-very-sad report makes clear that the SBC has joined the Catholic Church as an indelibly stained enterprise, each with lengthy and well-documented histories of countenancing and protecting sexual predators masquerading as clergy in their midst. In short, both of these groups failed, miserably, with regard to what should have been one of their core responsibilities … the protection of our young and most vulnerable.

The Catholic Church, in particular, has a long and sordid record of working to keep the lid on their clergy abuse scandal by transferring problem priests from parish to parish. In other words, church leaders were more concerned with keeping things quiet than with bringing this outrage to an end, and so it continued for decades.

One particularly outrageous example of failure in the Archdiocese of New York is that of former priest Gennaro “Father Jerry” Gentile. Before being outed in the New York media in 2002, with the headline “Twisted Journey of a Problem Priest,” Gentile had, for years, raised suspicions among fellow clergy about his interactions with young men and boys … but nothing was ever done. He was laicized in 2005. And though he may have been the worst, Gentile was but one of many clerics who, when accused of scandalous behavior, were moved to other unsuspecting communities. And while the Archdiocese ultimately paid $60 million in damages to those victimized, it could never recover the trust of the multitude of families and individuals affected, forever, by the actions of these evil men.

Writing in the blog Patheos, John Beckett observes:

Never forget that values are more important than the institution. This is the most disappointing thing about both the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist scandals: people in positions of responsibility put protecting the reputation of their church ahead of caring for victims and stopping predators.

And in the end, they did even more damage to the reputation of their church. Now both denominations are known not just as a place where bad things happened, but where supposedly spiritual leaders covered them up.

To that I can only add: