Seven years into a comfortable retirement after an unprecedented career as a diplomat in foreign service for the U.S. State Department, Charlene waded into the midst of the U.S. Catholic sex abuse scandal.
When the loudest “reform” groups were assuming the rhetoric of lynch mobs against priests who were accused, Charlene called for another kind of reform: a courageous and faithful application of the Gospel of mercy and truth to the wound that had been laid bare in our Church.
In 2008, Charlene Duline, a convert to Catholicism, published her memoir, Drinking from the Saucer.
Her’s has been a life of many courageous stands. Before the Civil Rights movement became part of our national consciousness in 1962, Charlene became the first African-American woman from Indiana to be accepted in the nascent Peace Corps.
After a two-year posting in Peru, Charlene took on successively senior diplomatic posts representing the United States in Haiti, Liberia, Tanzania, Swaziland, Panama, and the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and finally Washington, DC.
A graduate of the University of Indiana, Charlene holds a Masters degree in International Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
One would think she had done enough. Toward the end of Drinking from the Saucer, Charlene described her concern for imprisoned and discarded priests:
After one priest had been killed in prison, I wondered how others were faring. I searched the internet to find out where some were incarcerated . . . I demanded to know why our Church officials have never asked for prayers and forgiveness for them.
As I juxtapose, today, Charlene’s decision to reach out to convicted and incarcerated priests, with the more vindictive voices of the self-described “faithful,” I can’t help but consider the well known Gospel Parable of the Good Samaritan. [Luke: 25-37]
A man is left beaten by robbers [yes, from my perspective, the analogy holds.] A priest and Levite pass by in fear that helping the wounded man will leave them ritually impure under the law. The Samaritan becomes the only person free to obey the higher law, to be a neighbor to the discarded and stranded.
In his profound book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this same parable:
The Samaritan . . . shows me that I have to learn to be a neighbor deep within, and that I already have the answer in myself. I have to become someone in love, someone whose heart is open to being shaken up by another’s need. Then I find my neighbor, or better that I am found by him. (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 197)
Charlene has learned something about the Gospel of Mercy. The lesson did not come cheap, as her memoir describes. Only such a wounded healer could call upon the Church’s shepherds with the force of having lived the Gospel of mercy, to refine the voices they are listening to in all this. “What kind of shepherds,” she wrote. “abandon their sheep when they make a misstep.”
Charlene’s birthday is August 13th, the day before Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day — the date of his execution in prison. Her memoir concludes, not about herself, but about us, the discarded:
May they feel His Presence today, and every day.