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Abuse Scandal & “Vos Estis Lux Mundi”

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Having read this article in THE CATHOLIC STANDARD and the document on the Vatican website, I am hopeful but unconvinced that this will prove sufficient. Can Church leaders still be trusted to police themselves? Will this satisfy demands for transparency? While not mentioned at all, did not the crisis with Cardinal McCarrick clarify that the roots of the scandal were not in pedophilia but rather an active homosexuality? Can the problem we face be resolved without first a purification of the Church, next a rededication to celibate love and most importantly a renewed call to holiness?

We are Called to Live & Minister in Fidelity to Christ 

The Holy Father is quite right that we are all called “to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.”  No one is excused from the demands of the moral life.  Indeed, our fidelity to our calling to holiness finds its demarcations within the parameters of our vocations of service, particularly in the mutual life of support and affection shared by spouses in marriage and by the cleric in his surrender to a celibate love that finds its direct source in God.  The motu propio rightly speaks of this truth but it must be asked, does it ever really target by name the key issue behind the current crisis about priestly misbehavior and abuse?

Yes, sexual abuse is obviously an offense to God and it certainly causes “physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm to the community of the faithful.”  I would also add, that as a sin, it also brings ruination to the soul and character of the perpetrator.  Efforts to prevent further abuse will certainly require an openness to the grace of the Holy Spirit; however, it will also require sufficient “concrete actions.” Measures already taken proved their value even though they were not fully effective, given their application to the laity and to accused priests while leaving the bishops largely immune or detached from the reach of child protection initiatives.

The Shepherds of the Church are Entrusted to Safeguard the Flock

We have seen a peculiar development in the response to the abuse of children in the Church.  Initial initiatives focused on the laity (parish staff and teachers) with the clergy almost entirely outside the purview of child protection programs.  Then as more and more priests were charged and judged guilty of abusing minors, religious and parish priests were added to the mix.  Recent efforts at deflection failed for the bishops when attorneys targeted them by name as either abusers (themselves) or as protecting, enabling or hiding  priests who harmed children.  Can we now trust them to do what is right?  The papal initiative continues our efforts to deal with dangerous priests but also places bishops on the radar.  While we are all called to a moral life, the practical focus here is specific to the clergy, given the current scandal.  The scope of the misbehavior begins with violations of the sixth commandment (You shall not commit adultery).

Yes, the bishops have a singular role to play as the successors of the apostles possessing the fullness of priestly authority.  They must edify their flocks “in truth and holiness,” not as pampered princes but as humble servants who live out “the evangelical counsels” in obedience to the Lord.  They must keep trust with God’s people, placing the needs of the faithful centermost in all they say and do.  Will these new universal procedures be sufficient in combating ecclesial betrayal?  Frankly, the document looks to the future while many of us are still concerned about the past and present.

Yes, there should be “mutual listening” and openness “to the contributions of those who care deeply about this process of conversion.”  But where does this place agnostic clinicians that continue to work for the Church who once counseled the return of abusers to assignments and later couched the scandal as one of pedophilia while it was in actuality one of homosexual pederasty?  How can we trust those who treat priests when an unspecified number of their centers are suspected as hotbeds for homosexuality and dissent?  How does a Church express sorrow and reach out to victims so that they might find real healing and peace when the leadership apparently places an inordinate emphasis upon hiring savvy lawyers so as to avoid liability or fault?  What becomes of truth when both shepherds and attorneys employ a plethora of words that baffle the mind and fail to answer pertinent questions? Where is true transparency when the critical and revelatory letters of a high profile prelate like Archbishop Viganò can be dismissed, even by the Pope, himself?

The Strengths & Weaknesses of the Papal Intervention

What are the positive elements of this document that build on past efforts to stem the abuse of minors by clergy?

  • Episcopal cover-ups are now deemed as crimes in the Church.
  • Dioceses cannot be indifferent and must render material and physical help to victims.
  • There is finally a system to report the malfeasance of bishops.

What might be the negative or problematical points in this document?

  • Homosexuality is not named as having any part in the problem and scandal.
  • We must still trust bishops to investigate their fellow bishops.
  • No penal actions or disciplines are dictated.
  • The new policies are not retroactive to older cases.
  • Nothing dictates transparency, either in the investigations or the subsequent punishments.

Given the nature of the crisis, the document singles out clerics and religious.  This is as it should be but many remain deeply worried about priests who are wrongly accused.  The document speaks of a presumption of innocence; but in truth, what constitutes “credible” accusations has never been sufficiently or universally defined.  Allegations going back decades and lacking forensic evidence, still result in suspensions. The stigma from charges will always remain and frequently Church authorities feel that these men cannot be reassigned. Those who are dead cannot defend themselves but they can have their good names and reputations destroyed.  The methodology we follow would require that even if allegations should later be proven untrue, we must approach each case as if a wrong did occur.  Many bishops did not seem overly concerned about possible injustice, that is until attorneys and victims turned their sights upon them.

While it is lamentable that priests known as abusers were shuffled around; it is just as sad when possibly innocent priests are not convicted of crimes but are still convicted by the court of public opinion (largely uninformed) and a bias media.  They are frequently left out in the cold and attempts to defend them, especially from conservative voices, are often rewarded with charges of intolerance and homophobia.  It may simply be a matter of cynical over-reaching, but some have noticed that the prosecution of cases of priestly misbehavior are not handled the same by different bishops and in varying locations.  If the new document brings uniformity then that may be a definite improvement, providing that justice is real. Too often it seemed that certain priests, even where a preponderance of the circumstantial evidence pointed to guilt, got off easier than others.  We have seen this in a number of cases where men charged with homosexual indiscretions or misbehavior were either defended or quietly returned to ministry.  While we must not be uncharitable or fall prey to calumny, the question does logically arise, were they being specially protected by friends in high places (perhaps with similar inclinations)?

How Should We Punish Bad Bishops & Priests?

Note here that “no penal actions or disciplines are dictated.”  This is a serious matter that should become part of the global discussion.  What do we do with bishops and priests who are not incarcerated?  Priests suspended from ministry and/or lacized often have to find new  employment.  The Church loses track of them.  If they are registered sex-offenders in the US then the government might track a few of them.  Given their tarnished reputations, it may even be hard for them to find a place to live.  Some places post signs and various people have taken it upon themselves to warn neighbors and to alert nearby schools.  God forbid that the man is actually innocent; however, if he is a predator, many of these men are serial offenders.  They seem unable to stop themselves.  The homosexuals among them, and this is the majority, seem drawn to multiple partners.  Many of these priests, themselves, suffered trauma in experiencing a homosexual encounter when they were teens.  Yes, the abuser was himself abused.  All the while our society has sought to make the disorder of homosexuality normative.  That is why the media often falls over itself in attacking the abuse scandal in the Church while desperately trying to sever it from homosexuality.  Can we keep the priest abusers in Church run facilities indefinitely?  Must they accept chemical castration?  Can we mandate that they live in special monastic centers far from populated areas?  What do we do with a priest when all he knows is being a priest, even if a bad, sick or criminal one?  The Church has been condemned for keeping these men in Church facilities.  The Church has also been criticized for letting these men go and not supervising them.  We need to do something but I am unsure that we can do anything that will please everyone.

Abuse of Priests as Spiritual Incest

Although the attitude of certain shepherds makes it hard to believe, we are traditionally taught that the relationship of a bishop to his priests should be that of a father to his son.  If this is the case, then we have a problem in the Church that is more complicated than a few sick bishops having sexual relationship with priests.  Fathers nurture and care for their children.  They treat them with justice and compassion.  They hear them out.  They may even discipline them when such is necessary.  We cannot excuse past abuse or enable clergy to hurt others.  But the question must be asked, would a father disown his son?

Clarifying the delict, we read that it first applies to “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts.”  I recall years ago a bishop in Hawaii who was accused of sexually abusing some of his priests.  Along these lines, the situation with McCarrick (former cardinal in Washington) is an egregious tale of deception, complicity and perversity.  However, it would still be a scandal even if these acts with priests or other men were consensual.  Are we not limiting ourselves to that which might be prosecuted legally?  Further, I have a hard time imagining an “innocent” priest (as a grown man) submitting himself as a sexual pawn to his bishop so as to avoid punishment.  I would either walk away or more likely give him a quick punch to the face.  Many of the stories imply that such misbehavior was to incur favor and plum assignments, maybe even elevation to the episcopacy. These are not abused innocent men. These are homosexuals victimizing their own fellow homosexuals.  It would seem to me, after proper investigation; that a number of these so-called adult priestly victims would also have to be dismissed from the clerical state.

Minors, Vulnerable Persons & Trust

Point number two is where most of the gravity in the current scandal can be found.  It is also a matter that will need further development.  For instance, what is a minor?  Currently in the US it is regarded as someone under 18.  Many other places in the world lower the age of majority to 16 or even 14 years of age.  Again, it seems that we are giving an emphasis to legal liability.  Is this not somewhat capricious?  Children and young people should not be abused.  That should be a given.  But what is deflected is that the priest or bishop is not supposed to have sexual relations with anyone, of any age, and of either gender!  If priests remain true to their promises, then youth and other vulnerable persons are safe.  The issue here is one of morality and holiness.

Practically speaking, there has been more than a little confusion as to what constitutes a vulnerable person.  During a conference with archdiocesan officials a few years ago at St. Jerome’s hall in Hyattsville, I asked a recently hired official if the protection guidelines included the intellectually challenged and the elderly.  He said no, just minors.  I argued with him.  Now it seems he was indeed wrong.  Left unsaid is how does one protect both the vulnerable persons from harm and the clergymen from false charges?  We are told not to be alone with children and yet many parishes still have reconciliation rooms with closed solid doors.  Would it not be better to insist upon the traditional confessional with a wall and screen?  Are we consistent in not having clergy alone with people suffering intellectual challenges?  When a priest does sick calls, is he alone or accompanied by others?  There was a recent case where Fr. Gerold Langsch was charged with groping a woman in hospice care after he was summoned to give the last rites.  Are our priests never to be trusted?  What does this communicate about the clergy?  Our Lord sending his disciples out “two by two” is making ever more sense.

All Pornography Poisons the Soul

Certainly I would agree that it is grievously wrong for the clergy to possess child pornography.  However, it is also sinful and inexcusable for priests to collect adult and/or gay pornography.  Where are the programs to assist priests who are addicted to pornography and self-pollution?  Even if the filth is not of the type that will land the priest in jail, it is still sufficient to posit him in hell.  How can a priest authentically care about persons while he looks upon the bodies of others as commodities to satisfy his own lusts?  Pornography is literally a form of virtual prostitution— others are devalued as persons by the very one who should be praying for them, to raise their dignity, and to save their souls.  The priest who would exploit others has forfeited within himself the grace that others need to be spiritually enriched.

Giving a Name to the Sin that Fuels the Scandal

The sixth commandment (against adultery) is interpreted by the Church as pertaining to all sorts of sexual misbehaviors.  Many feel that the document would have been stronger with an elaboration of the crimes or sins that made this document necessary.  As it stands, there is arguably a level of ambiguity.  The universal catechism gives us a list of sins that violate the sixth commandment and offend against chastity: (1) lust, (2) masturbation, (3) fornication, (4) pornography, (5) prostitution, (6) rape, and (7) homosexuality.  While today we must deal with a whole list of deviant sexual practices, like pedophilia and bestiality, it is apparently presumed in the catechism that all but homosexuality would be universally condemned and hopefully quite rare.  The last sin listed here is very important to this discussion.  The universal catechism states that when it comes to homosexuals, “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”  No reference is made to this sin by name in the papal document.  Deliberate or not, is this a fatal oversight?  The popular characterization of pedophilia is grossly false. Pedophilia is a psychiatric malady in which an adult has a primary or exclusive sexual disorientation toward prepubescent children.  By contrast, well over 80 percent of the abuse cases with priests in the United States involved older or teenaged boys. Nevertheless, this misdiagnosis of pedophilia is what has allowed the US bishops’ conference to wrongly conclude that homosexual priests are no more likely than heterosexual ones to enter into abusive behavior.  How many cases of active homosexual clergy (as with McCarrick) are known to the bishops?  How many have similarly been protected and promoted when they should have been severely disciplined?

Just at a time when we are called to embrace the truth, the reality of the situation is often carefully worded by churchmen in a way that seems inexact if not explicitly deceptive. Further, many people are themselves so morally bankrupt that they cannot distinguish what is right or wrong, particularly when it comes to human sexuality.  They are formed more by our secular culture than by the Christian kerygma.  It is in this light that some may complain that these new measures should have better spelled out what sins violate the sixth commandment.  While it would probably be widely unpopular and condemned as intolerant, should not some mention have been made about homosexuality as at the root of the current problem?  The failure to do so will make it easy for the harshest critics to say that nothing has changed… that the Lavender Mafia is still pulling the strings and protecting its own.  It was not long after Pope Benedict XV asserted that homosexual men should not be ordained as priests that he called it quits.  He apparently had neither the health nor the strength to fight this powerful enemy from within… this proverbial “smoke of Satan.”  Those who would dissent on homosexulaity would likely be the first to liberalize teachings about fornication and adultery.

We need a priesthood that is unassailable in its individual membership and that speaks with one voice as the sentinel of Christ.  Priests must be witnesses to the whole world of a calling to be living signs of contradiction to our times.  Ironically, the world attacks the priesthood for the very corruption with which it has infested the priestly soul.  The scandal is not that we have faithfully stood up against the world but that too many have succumbed.

The current crisis in the Catholic Church is one of homosexuality; no matter how many bishops and their so-called experts would say otherwise. It would NOT be “unjust discrimination” to remove them (any who have experienced even one act of homosexual intimacy) from the seminaries and from the active priesthood.  This should be a given if we want to insure the high moral character of the priesthood and the reputation of the Church. Homosexuals are loved by God and his Church; but they must remain chaste.  They can serve the Lord in many ways, albeit outside of holy orders.  No one deserves to be a priest or bishop.  It is a gift from God and his holy Church.  No women are called and few men.  No one can demand ordination as a matter of justice.  I am fearful that without this purge, the scandals and problems we face will remain to haunt us for many years to come.

Can We Find It in Ourselves to Trust the Hierarchy?

Not new is the level of care that many local churches already offer to those who come forward as victimized.  God stewards have welcomed them to come forward and have listened to their sad stories.  They were treated with respect and their dignity was acknowledged as children of God.  Many good bishops have offered both spiritual and therapeutic assistance.  However, we as a Church are ashamed that charges of abuse were sometimes not taken seriously and clergy were allowed to continue in preying upon innocence.  Those with any moral conscience are deeply troubled by allegations that officials threatened victims to be silent and that hush money was paid.   The institution of the Church failed a number of her own.  All the while, Mother Church with Mary’s immaculate heart weeped for her children.  I suspect there are still tears pouring from heaven.

The provisions call for the submission of reports through the institution of a specific ecclesiastical office and to Ordinaries.  Reports could also be sent directly to the Holy See. The Metropolitans would regularly take the initiative in commencing investigations of higher clerics.  (This is much as Cardinal Wuerl had suggested some months back; has Pope Francis put his name to the cardinal’s plan?)  I have not yet read any other critiques but I can well imagine that a number will complain.  Are we again being asked to trust that the bishops of the Church can police themselves? We read that the proposed procedures will insure “confidentiality” (to protect the applicant) and yet no one will be obliged to secrecy.   It will be interesting to see how this will work.

As an alternative, many of us urged the further establishment or expansion of independent lay review boards.  Canonical changes would be required so as to give these boards some teeth against slippery and guilty higher level clerics.  At present, given this document, it seems unlikely this will happen.  Did the cries of many fall upon deaf ears? It is indeed possible that our shepherds know better than many of us as to what must be done.  The problem is that earlier assurances proved shortsighted and McCarrick (a principal spokesman for the American bishops) was revealed as part of the problem, not the solution.   As I first said, I hope this new stratagem will bear fruit.  Be that as it may, it is hard to shake off a nagging pessimism that this effort of the Holy See will satisfy the level of transparency for which critics and victims are clamoring.  We pray that this is not more of the same.  Have we been down this road before?  Are we trying to fix with a bandaid what needs surgical intervention?  Are we seeking to resolve a major challenge to the Church’s life and authority with a gentle tweaking of policies when what she really needs is a full-blown reformation?

A Few Links to the News About This Blog Story

CNA – Analysis: Is Pope Francis’ new abuse plan the answer Catholics are looking for?

Vatican News – New norms for the whole Church against those who abuse or cover up

Catholic Telegraph – Q & A Regarding Pope Francis’ Motu Propio VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI

Intermountain Catholic – US Bishops’ Conference Statement on Motu Proprio

America – Pope Francis’ new sex abuse rules are a revolution for the Catholic Church

CRUX – Reaction to Pope’s abuse letter: ‘Nice words, but it’s time for action’

NC Register – Pope Francis Signs Motu Proprio to Prevent and Denounce Abuses in the Catholic Church

The Mission of Making Converts

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The RCIA team and this Muslim family in Bethesda has done that which would earn them rebuke and imprisonment in many non-Christian countries: making possible their conversion to Catholicism this Easter. Given religious intolerance elsewhere, even the Pope told the Christians of Morocco that their mission was NOT to make converts. Speaking for myself… God bless this family for having the courage to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in coming to the true faith! And God bless those Catholics who have walked with them on this journey of faith!

The family above also comes from a non-Christian nation. What will happen to them should they return?

All the first believers were Jews. If they had not converted their own then there would be no Church. The early Christians were persecuted by a pagan Rome that worshipped multiple deities and the emperor. We do not stand outside the doors of Hindu or Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques or Jewish synagogues tearing down the faith of others through proselytization. But much of the non-Christian world has criminalized any evangelization and/or conversion. The mission of proclaiming the Good News is a systemic element of Catholic faith.

We may remember that the whole fight with the Obama administration was on this topic of religious liberty… that the Church has a mission beyond the walls and doors of her places of worship. Given the oppressive yoke of either Communism or Islam, many of the Orthodox churches of the East (unlike Western Catholicism) opted to emphasize ritual and liturgy over any missionary outreach or social gospel. How can the Church be a genuine “yeast” in any society where we are hesitant to share the full message and person of Jesus with others… the one and only Savior and Lord? Is the preservation of harmony in society worth the price of people’s immortal souls? The truth must be proclaimed… to our own and the fallen away, to non-believers and to those who belong to religions where truth and error are mixed.

Part of the problem we face as Americans is that we are too insular, interested in Hollywood or feminism or gay marriage or other local concerns while ignorant to the crises faced by believers throughout the larger world.

Given personal integrity, each of us is called to pursue the truth as he or she sees it. Silence does not always promote truth or equate immediately to faithfulness. The witness of Christ is not a passive or disinterested docility but an aggressive and countercultural pursuit for the truth and for justice. Catholicism is a global faith and we need to open our eyes to the plight of believers everywhere.

Granted his singular position, the Pope speaks not for himself but for Christ and the world-church. This makes anything he says important for reflection and guidance. We show respect to him personally and render religious assent to what he teaches all the while knowing that the charism of infallibility does not apply to every practical decision or policy. Cardinals Burke, Mueller, Sarah and Zen and others have rightfully offered their concerns about this papacy, all the while doing so in fidelity to Petrine authority and Church teaching. While we are not part of the Magisterium, I would suggest this is a pattern for “thinking” and “caring” believers.

Catholic Bytes

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“It is of course horrible and scandalous what some in the Church have done and utterly reprehensible, but I can’t get past the fact that despite all the failings of the clergy, that Jesus Christ’s love for us is real and I need to cling to it with all my strength,” said Father Conrad Murphy.  (CLICK the picture to read the article.)

CATHOLIC BYTES

Women & The Priesthood

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Given that women are excluded from the sacrament of Holy Orders, does this mean that in the Catholic Church there are seven sacraments for men and only six for women?  How is this fair? What are we to tell young women who feel a calling to ministry?

While some critics contend that Jesus only selected men as his apostles given the prejudices and chauvinistic conventions of his times, there are many instances where Jesus raised up the dignity of women and highlighted their call to witness and service.  How could Jesus extend spiritual liberation to us if he were not free to do as he pleased?  Indeed, the fact that he is a sign of contradiction that is betrayed and murdered is a testimonial of his freedom.  He would do what is right and is not subject to coercion.  He shows us the way to true freedom.  When it comes to his dealings with women, he cherishes them as disciples and prophets, but not as apostles or priests.

The first relationship that comes to mind is with his Mother.  She is a strong and courageous woman, who self-proclaims herself as the handmaid of the Lord.  If the tradition be true then she is learned of her faith due to her service as a child-servant in the temple.  Mary is present at the most important moments of salvation history:  at the annunciation, at the presentation in the temple, at the start of Christ’s public ministry in Cana, at his passion and death upon the Cross on Calvary and as a witness of the risen Lord among the eleven in the Upper Room.  There are also the two faithful sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  There is the repentant and faithful Mary Magdalene.  Indeed, there is the exceptional Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus at the well and then testifies about him to her people.  Nevertheless, while Jesus is willing to break with the conventions of his day; he still only selects men to be his apostles or his first bishop-priests.  This is a pattern that would remain unbroken.  Indeed, the early councils (as at Nicea) would forbid the “laying on of hands” or ordination of women.

The Gnostic heretics ordained women but they also denied the incarnation.  They taught that Jesus only pretended to be a man and as one subject to death.  Since matter and the body were given a negative value, they did not perceive an issue with priestesses as an alternative to priests.  Catholic Christianity has always insisted that matter is not inherently evil and that it cannot be subtracted or ignored in the equation of redemption.  Our Lord joined himself to humanity in a male body.  This flesh was integral to his identity.  Indeed, we are promised restoration as ensouled bodies.

Gender is not an accidental to who we are.  We are not angels or pure spirits.  This truth is discerned in all the sacraments which are signified by form and matter.  Baptism requires water (matter) and the words that invoke the name of the Trinity (form).  The Eucharist requires bread and wine (matter)along with the words of consecration (form).  Ordination requires the intention to ordain priests with the laying on of hands (form) upon men (matter) called to ministry.  One could not baptize with beer.  One could not celebrate the Mass with milk and cookies.  One could not ordain a woman substituted for a man.

The pattern established by Jesus brought no derision upon the dignity of women but neither was it a pattern that the Church felt free to alter in any manner.  Given that our faith is in the person of Jesus Christ, then we must acknowledge that he knew what he was doing and that it served his purposes. Pope St. John Paul II in his 1994 encyclical Ordonatio Sacerdotalis, infallibly taught, once and for all, that the Catholic Church has no power whatsoever to ordain women to the priesthood. Many churchmen may very much want to ordain women.  But the Church is faithful to Christ, even if there should be matters we do not fully understand.  If we violated the pattern given by Christ, then the whole Church would be jeopardized.  The Episcopalians or Anglicans may be in this situation.  Orders in the Anglican Church were deemed null-and-void given a change in their prayer book after the break with Rome.  About a century passed where the intention to ordain priests who make sacrifice was edited from their rituals.  Apostolic succession was lost.  Some have argued that it might be partially restored today through the participation of former Catholics in their ranks and Orthodox bishops at their ordinations.  Unfortunately, even if there should be a partial restoration, it is further jeopardized by the presence of women presbyters and bishops.  If their ordination is counter to the will of Christ, then all the Anglicans are doing is playing dress up.  There are no true women priests (or rather, priestesses) in Christianity.  If the Catholic Church were to follow suit and attempt to ordain women, it would place the sacraments at stake.  If the priest is a sham then the Mass and absolution for sins would be forfeited as well.  The equation is simple:  no priesthood = no Eucharist = no Church.

The pattern of Jesus in selecting men and not women for the priesthood is normative for all ages.  Any change would require a new revelation from the Lord. Not even the pope has the authority to change this teaching and practice.

The one who would extend the Holy Spirit to the Church is himself filled with the Spirit.  His every step is aligned with divine providence.  His miraculous works and signs are enabled by the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit preserves the Church in the truth, especially about those most essential elements of faith.  The apostles are made the first of his ministers of a long-line throughout history, extending his proclamation of the Good News and realizing his saving works in the sacraments he instituted.  The male-only priesthood emerges as part of his plan for the legacy and life of the Church.  God does not fumble or make mistakes, even when the men chosen are sometimes less than saintly.

The first apostles were Jews but later Jews and Gentiles would be chosen.  Some of those chosen were married, but there was a growing emphasis upon celibacy from the beginning.  However, while the apostles and priests were married and single, Jew and Gentile, not one of the successors chosen would ever be a woman.  This is the case all the way to the present day.  This two-thousand-year consistency speaks volumes about the will of Christ upon the matter of ordination.  The tradition is clear and uninterrupted, century after century.

The Church also makes use of the bridal analogy that we see in Scripture, especially in the writings of St. Paul.  The substitution of a woman would destroy this ancient analogy and wrongly signify a lesbian relationship of a bride to a bride.  The priest stands at the altar “in the person of Christ” the groom and head of his bride, the Church.  The priest is a living and breathing icon or image of Christ.  Certain religious traditions demand that the priest have a beard, an “accidental” that makes self-evident the “substantial” element of his maleness which he shares with Jesus Christ.

Years ago I recall an interview where certain women who had undertaken theological training and had a background of church service, demanded that they be ordained priests.  They were angry and claimed the Church was deaf to their cries.  They said that they deserved to be priests— that they had earned it.  But such an attitude is counter to the truth about the priesthood.  Even men with such a mentality would probably best not be ordained.

The priesthood is not something that one might earn as in a social justice agenda.  The underlying meaning comes out at the foot washing by Jesus of his apostles.  Those who would lead the faith community must become the servants of all.  The priesthood is a gift that must be exploited in giving.  The priest lives for others.  He preaches God’s Word, not his own.  His very reason for living is the forgiveness of sins.  He makes present the Lord, both in his sacramental presence and in his saving activity.  Never in the history of the world had God given such authority to men as he did with his priesthood.  And yet, ironically, the priesthood is not about personal power and prestige.  It is about being the servant of all, literally a slave to honor God and to serve the needs of God’s people.  His servanthood is a fundamental imitation of Christ (Mark 10:45).

It would be wrong to say that there are seven sacraments for men and only six for women.  Most men and all women will never be ordained priests.  However, all the laity, men and women, are summoned to participate with their priest at Mass.  The celebrant makes possible the offering of the congregants at the liturgy.  Along with the gifts of bread and wine, believers join themselves to Christ— as grafted to him— as one oblation within the Lamb of God and accepted by the heavenly Father.  We pray, not only that bread and wine will become the flesh and blood of Christ, but that all of us may be transformed by grace into the likeness of Christ.  It is in this sense that the priesthood enables our own faith and our own oblations.  We are united in the Mass and the priest’s absolution insures our growth in holiness.  Our universal and most essential vocation is not to the priesthood but to holiness.  All of us are called to be saints.

Christmas Oratorio at Holy Family Parish

Pass the word. Holy Family Parish will be the only venue where the PG Choral Society will be performing for Christmas. Support the arts. Enjoy traditional music. Make the season a time of special remembrance.

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Shocked by Bishop Holley’s Forced Retirement

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Installed in October 19 of 2016, Bishop Holley generated controversy soon after arriving in Memphis when he ordered the transfer of about 75 percent of the diocese’s pastors, an unprecedented move. The Diocese of Memphis has about 65,000 Catholics and 42 parishes. There was no set policy on assignment times when Bishop Holley arrived and many had spent inordinately long periods in certain parishes, accruing strong followings. Successful pastors at the more lucrative parishes were also frequently allowed certain autonomy. Bishop Holley wanted to impose a policy that was followed in the Archdiocese of Washington. Bishop Holley decided to appoint pastors for six-year terms, with a possible renewal of the term for six more years.

As a response to the change, it was subsequently reported that morale among priests was low, and that parish collections and contributions to the annual diocesan appeal had declined significantly. Many parishioners became very vocal and labeled the bishop as unresponsive. Parishioners followed pastors to new assignments and left their prior churches.  It was said that as many as a quarter of one church’s membership defected.  Others stopped attending entirely.  The Holy See sent Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis to visit and respond to the complaints. They met with as many as 50 priests and disgruntled laity of the Memphis Diocese during their visit.

The verdict came out on October 24, 2018 with Pope Francis removing Bishop Martin Holley from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Memphis, Tennessee. The Pope has named as apostolic administrator, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky. Archbishop Kurtz stated: “I humbly accept the appointment of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Memphis, while remaining archbishop of Louisville. I am eager to work with the priests, curia and faithful of the Diocese of Memphis to promote stability, peace and healing until Pope Francis appoints a new bishop.”

What message does this removal send? Can parishioners make so much noise about the transfer of priests that bishops can get sanctioned and removed? This is ridiculous. There must be more to this. Bishops have the authority to assign their priests and to close and consolidate parishes and schools, especially if they are failing. It seems he did all this. Where is his crime demanding dismissal? One parishioner noted: “Bishop Holley doesn’t kowtow to the powers that be here. There’s a lot of people who really love Bishop Holley. He’s a really holy man. He doesn’t pander to egos. The majority is really thankful he moved the pastors around. It was past due.”

The impression is given that the USCCB and the Holy Father capitulated to financial blackmail from laity manipulated by a few disobedient clergy angry about their transfers. I suspect that Bishop Holley saw the seeds for such a dangerous situation (threatening trusteeism) and decided to break it up, supposing that the Holy See would support him. [Very few of the pastors gave television news interviews and I suspect that most of the presbyterate were good men hurt by the transfers but unable themselves to reign in the forces of upset and retaliation around them.]

As for the school closures, we are told that they had exhausted available funds and that few if any of the children were Catholic. While we seek to help the poor of any denomination, we must not do so at the expense of the needs and faith formation of our own children.

It seems to me that Bishop Holley essentially followed patterns he witnessed in the Archdiocese of Washington where pastors are given six year assignments (renewable) and where the Inner City Consortium was necessarily reduced in size and scope. As far as I can recall canonical regulations about “immovable pastors” do not exist in the current Code of Canon Law. This may be cause for many other bishops to be fearful, as such a move by the Pope over administrative matters is virtually unprecedented.

The visitation from two archbishops and the papal sanction signals the end of episcopal sovereignty from the intrusive authority of bishops’ conferences. Indeed, the Pope as the bishop of Rome has traditionally respected the governance of other bishops within their (arch)dioceses as long as the faith and morals of the Church were promoted. This is no longer insured.

Bishop Holley is known to be a shepherd faithful to Church teaching and devotion. While centered on the Eucharist, he has personally witnessed to a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and daily says his rosary. He is a dear friend and I was told that his intervention here in Washington made possible my current assignment. He remains a bishop and as one of our Lord’s priests, I pray that he will be permitted to continue in ministering the sacraments and Christ’s healing mercy to others. Knowing him as a personable and caring person, I cannot help but feel that those who derided him were the ones who closed the doors to friendship and failed to give him a real chance to make a positive difference in Memphis.

I am deeply distressed by his removal by the Pope. He is a man deeply concerned about the faith, needs and rights of all of God’s children. I cannot help but think that there has been a terrible misjudgment and injustice committed in his regard. Whatever has happened, he remains in my prayers and in my heart.

ADDENDUM

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No matter where one might stand in the Church, the bishop is right that there must be due process and a legitimate transparency. We damage our own moral authority if we do not proceed in a manner that ensures fairness and justice (for all parties).

The Proper Response to Scandal is Not Defection

ARTICLE: “Want to leave the Catholic Church? Officially you can’t” by Dan Waidelich.

SOURCE & DATE:  Washington Post – October 22, 2018.

REFLECTION:

The reporter notes that Mary Combs left the Church 15 years ago over the clergy sexual abuse scandals in Boston.  We are told that she looked at “the collection basket, imagining the money paying off victims.”

While one can readily appreciate how terribly she was disheartened, there was nothing particularly noble or heroic about her personal defection.  While such scandals, then and now, should make the laity angry— the proper response is not to run away but to stick it out and fight.  It may be that the clergy are overly identified with the faith; but the laity constitutes the largest segment of the Church.  She should have looked at that collection basket and realized that “there” in the purse strings is power to compel reform.  This is not blackmail.  The laity as a matter of justice can demand that the resources they share go to building up the kingdom and not be squandered in covering up for sin or for appeasing greed and ambition.

Unfortunately, anger spoke louder than her own calling or mission as a disciple.  Indeed, it also eclipsed the many needs that emerge from charity toward the poor and the hurting.  Despite the presence of evil in her ministerial ranks, the Church still does much good for the disadvantaged and the oppressed. Indeed, Catholic Charities is the largest and most active social outreach organization, just behind the U.S. government. Mary Combs walked away from that element of her discipleship in the Church because she was upset by weak and sinful men.

Judas signified one-twelfth of the world’s bishop-priests in 33 AD.  He betrayed Christ and later committed suicide.  Did everyone who had followed Christ leave the Church because of his sin?  No.  They realized that despite human iniquity, Jesus was indeed their Messiah, Savior and Lord.  Peter, the first of many popes of the Church, fearfully denied even knowing Christ when Jesus was being tried.  Nevertheless, our resurrected Lord would respond to his affirmations of love by restoring his authority as the visible head of the Church.  Just as we shake our heads today at the clericalism of our priests and how ambition sometimes overshadows servanthood, we can also recall James and John asking for a special place at Christ’s right and left.  Similarly, the apostles argue among themselves as to who is the greatest.  And yet, when the going got tough, all but John ran and went into hiding.  At the Last Supper they had each been given the authority sacramentally to re-present the mystery of Christ’s paschal mystery and his saving oblation in “memory” of him.  But when they had the opportunity to walk physically with Christ to Calvary, there was only one apostle who accompanied him to the Cross so as to witness the mystery firsthand.

“Now there’s this Pennsylvania scandal,” Combs said. “Hundreds of priests abusing thousands of parishioners and a coverup that went all the way to the Vatican — again.” We are told that she now attends Grace Lutheran Church in Virginia. This is no solution either.  Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.  While even Protestant churches have their own scandals, they are historically also breakaway institutions from Catholic unity.  They may possess certain saving elements which they took with them from Catholicism, i.e. the Scriptures, faith in Christ and baptism.  Sadly, they have also forfeited a genuine priesthood and Eucharist.  This signals that her defection is rooted, not just in a repugnance to clerical scandal, but in a lack of a true and complete Christian faith.  We are told that she took comfort when the Pennsylvania stories broke, in knowing that she was done with Catholicism.  Unfortunately, while we leave judgment to God, he will judge her not as a Lutheran but as a Catholic.

The current scandals should not confirm Mary Combs and those like her in their defection.  Indeed, it should be a clarion call for all to come back and to make right that which has gone wrong.  Those who have courageously stayed with the Church must demand a full accounting of past misdeeds, transparency in the future and a purging of those persons from ministry who can no longer be trusted.  There needs to be a genuine purification and reform.  This must be done by those who have remained faithful and those who have repented of their own failures or defection so as not to be part of the problem but of the solution.

Jesus instituted the Church and gave us ministers and sacraments so as to provide for his people.  He did not say that the Church would always be perfect, only that he would sustain her and that she would be made holy by the bridegroom, Christ.  The devil has had a hand in the corruption of churchmen.  Violations of priestly celibacy as with other sins can be healed by our merciful Lord and even forgiven by God’s faithful people; however, those who have harmed minors and those who have engaged in same-sex acts have no place in the priesthood.

The Washington Post article, while heavily focused on the issue of clergy abuse, actually targeted the question as to whether one could technically leave the Catholic Church. Rev. Thomas Ferguson, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., affirmed what Catholics should already know that it is impossible to defect from the Catholic Church. Our affiliation with the Catholic faith is stamped upon our souls at baptism.  It is the Church directly instituted by Christ.  Any movement away from that Church distances us from our Lord.

The original Protestant churches were regarded as groupings of fallen-away or lapsed Catholics.  Over time, many were born and raised in these communities, never juridically united or formed within the fullness of the Catholic faith community.  What might merit them through ignorance will not satisfy for Catholics who should know better.