The other day, I was asked this question: What would be the worst crime, almost unforgivable, for your child to commit, besides rape and murder, when they become an adult? The answer for me was child molestation. We are beset with “unforgiveable crimes” each day in the media of the Philadelphia’s Clergy Abuse trial and the beginning of the Sandusky trial. The pain of these crimes on the victims, the accused and society as a whole leaves a sense of moral emptiness, especially in our cold and objective legal system. Finding meaning is almost as hard as finding forgiveness as Graham Greene’s classic novel The Power and the Glory explains.
If you have never read Graham Greene’s work, this is a great place to begin. His hard writing is laced with powerful symbolism and punching realism that overwhelms the reader into submission. Greene’s writing matches the literary prowess Hemingway displayed in Old Man and the Sea. The unnamed “whiskey priest” is chased by the police as the Catholic Church is banned by the government for exploiting the Mexican people. The police Lieutenant, the agent of justice by the state, hunts the wayward priest, who fathered a child living in poverty.
The priest is the last remnant of the corrupted Catholic Church and stands as the last pillar of its pride, vice and greed. He is aware of his sinfulness and his shame as people seek his services. He is beyond forgiveness, as he knows his courage is buoyed more by his quest for alcohol than his faith. He seeks a forgiveness that will never come as he eludes his pursuers. The reader follows the broken whiskey priest among the poverty and injustices of the society and a natural world that is unsympathetic to his dependency or plight.
The central motif of the novel is how we face our broken humanity in the forms of the individual and society. We are sympathetic to the priest because he is honest in his limitations and open in his needs. He wants wine. He wants to drink. He has learned what it means to be human only after his exploiting and lofty role as the town priest is gone. Society forces him to realize his lowliness. His worthiness is in his acceptance of his humanity’s weakness as he seeks the mercy and forgiveness of a disappearing God.
Will Sandusky and Monsignor Lynn admit their lowliness as the walls that protected their lives of pride fall down? Will we be sympathetic if they admit their unforgiveable sins? When they are finally broken of their infallibility, will we be able to see their humanity and become sympathetic? The longer they refuse to realize their sins and their humanity, the greater monsters they become for society. The longer the trials go on, these two men become less human as we track them down.
Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory, reminds us there is humanity in the most unforgiveable characters. It also speaks of the corruption of institutions by making their leaders feel above societal rules. The recent stories of Penn State and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia child abuse scandals remind us of the cycle of human failings and how we share a sense of blame in our collective conscience. We must admit our guilt, our silence and punishment in the hope of healing and finally correct society. Then we will realize our own power and glory for the good of all.
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