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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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A Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer

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Having celebrated this morning the memorial Mass for St. Francis of Assisi, I am inspired by the votive Gospel reading (Matthew 11:25-30) to reflect upon the Our Father. This may seem a bit odd as the reading was not about the Lord’s Prayer, per se, but rather a different albeit neglected oration with similar attributes. Jesus announces, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.” This much, any of us as believers could recite. However, unlike the Our Father, this was Jesus’ personal prayer. There was no request to teach the gathering how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is given to us as one that reflects the human condition of weakness and sinfulness. Like us, Jesus will be tempted in his humanity; unlike us, he will surrender himself into the hands of the evil one so that we might be delivered. The prayer here speaks of his unique identity as the divine Son of God: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Note that it begins much as does the Lord’s Prayer as an oration of praise addressed to the Father. Heaven is also mentioned although here it is clear that he has lordship over both heaven and earth. We are given a quick glimpse of our Lord’s relationship as “the Son” to the Father. This is not figurative language or pure analogy. It is expressive of his very identity. (Note that at his baptism in the Jordan the identity of Christ as the beloved only Son of God is revealed; when it comes to our baptism, our identity is changed— we become adopted sons and daughters to the Father.) We are summoned as “children” to trust God in our communication with him and in the life of faith. Ours is not a detached or malicious deity. He loves us and wants the best for us, which is union with him. Suffering and death come into the world through sin. While the dark mysteries are not immediately brushed aside, we have in Christ one who is in solidarity with us. Indeed, by enduring the price of sin, he redeems us. A distinction must be made between the active and passive will of God. The Father did not send his Son into the world because he directly willed for him to be tortured and murdered. That would image God as monstrous. The reason or motivation for his coming is made clear in the reading: “Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.” The mission of Christ is to be faithful to his Father’s will— to do whatever it takes to fulfill the divine saving plan. Both here and in the Our Father, the providence of God is accentuated, “thy will be done.” The reading continues: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” We know that his situation is not entirely comparable to our relationship with the Father because we are purely human and Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He is God made man. Nevertheless, he gives us something of his relationship as our own.

Interestingly, this prayer in Matthew appears in the Gospel again tomorrow (Saturday, the 26th Week of the Year, Cycle 1) albeit from Luke 10:17-24. Prior to the prayer, the text states: “At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit . . .” This is an important lesson for us as the great Christian revelation is that of the Trinity. Jesus reveals to us the face of God. He patterns for us how we are to pray to the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Our Lord prays in the Spirit. Saturday’s text from Luke also precedes the prayer of Jesus with the return of the seventy-two disciples sent out by the Lord. We are told they come back rejoicing and say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus responds, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” A link can be drawn between this and the ending words of the Our Father where we pray “deliver us from (the) evil (one).” Ours is a jealous God. He will not share us. If we belong to him then the devil can have no part of us!

More than any other prayer, the oration that is held in common by all Christians is the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. While there are a few variant English translations, we all recognize it and it is a staple in our liturgies. It is the one prayer that we have memorized. Until recent times, most Catholics could also recite the Our Father in Latin, something which the Vatican still promotes so that visitors to Rome from around the globe can recite this prayer in unison. Note that the prayer for peace and its sign is placed immediately after the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass. This is no accident as both the ritual and the prayer from the lips of Christ immediately signifies the unity of the believing community in Christ. We should exhibit caution that while it is memorized, we should never say it mindlessly or mechanically. We would not want to lose sight of the treasury of prayer types that make up the whole. It has been called the perfect prayer. Our Lord gives it to us as both as a prayer to be said and as a formula for other prayers. These are words that we must make our own if it is to be a true dialogue with God. It is the one prayer that is essential to a person’s daily prayer and spiritual life as a Christian.

During the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord introduces the Our Father. “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). Why did the ancient pagans babble with many needless words? First, they were speaking to a false deity. As such they were really talking to themselves, trying to convince themselves, despite their frustration that someone was listening. Nevertheless, there was no response— no intervention— just a painful silence. Second, some of the pagans believed that if they could stumble upon the true name of God then all their wishes would be granted. They literally babbled long strings of nonsense words for this purpose. This was no genuine speaking in tongues, but a one-sided and deliberate effort at magic or sorcery so as to manipulate the deity. It was not intelligent conversation just fruitless gibberish. Nothing came from it. Third, some sought to pamper God just as they did people of power or high station or wealth. They were moved not by a desire as creatures to give praise to the Creator; no, this was simply an effort to ingratiate themselves so as to court favor. Such people were often very weak and fearful in character. The more anxious they became the more they talked and talked and talked. Fourth, the pagan priests in particular would often shout and repeat their petitions— almost as if their deity were deaf or had to be convinced to respond. This stood in stark conflict with the intimate union that Jesus shared with us by giving “his” Father to us as “our” Father and suggesting a back room, hidden away, as the best place to privately pray.

Note that those who know each other often need few words. I have known long-term spouses that can communicate to each other with a look or a nod. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we want. More importantly, he knows what we need. He hears all prayer, even that which is said in a whisper while we are alone. We do not have to make a big show about prayer and faith. The main thing is that it remains real. The Lord’s Prayer helps us to render true prayer.

Certain anti-Catholic critics will use our Lord’s spurning of the babbling prayers of the pagans to attack upon our recitation of the rosary. But such an argument collapses as there is definite content to the rosary, i.e. the mysteries of faith. Others, particularly the “once saved, always saved” apologists will argue against persistence in prayer. This latter view crumbles because we are urged to pray always. Note the story about the mistreated widow in Luke 18 who prevails against an unjust judge because of her persistence in wanting justice. Jesus commends her to his listeners. If she can find justice from a bad judge, just imagine how well our petitions will fare given that the divine judge is all good and loving. Our Lord tells his listeners not to lose heart when they pray and that it is a “necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Patience and persistence is really more for our sake than for God’s. While the Christian will humbly acknowledge divine providence, our petition prayers ideally express what we really want, the desires of our hearts. This speaks immediately to our relationship with the Lord. Is Christ our true treasure? Do our hearts belong to him? What do we really want? God knows what we really need. It has been said that God answers all prayer. A catechist friend teaches, “Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no and sometimes not now.” I would add that often the asking itself is the true answer as it breeds a sense of dependence upon the divine. When the answer does come it is often a gift unexpected but what we really need.

I think part of the answer for which we are looking is hidden in the Catholic mystery of purgatory. We are taught that this purification rightfully begins in this world. Often we pursue penance and various mortifications. But we are also purified and transformed in our daily life of prayer. The response of God and his timing brings us to a continual conversion or changing by grace. This is also expressed in the Our Father, to put on Christ, to have the will of the Father. Any questioning experiences a reversal. Those least enlightened and transformed will ask, “Why doesn’t God give me right now what I want?” The person who has walked with the Lord for a while will ask, “Why is it that I am still restless and fail to want what God wants in my life?”

Christianity is not sorcery and the Our Father is not a magical incantation. Christianity is the end to magic and superstition. The words of the Lord’s Prayer are precious but they also constitute a formula to assist us in putting together our own personal words when we pray. Further, prayer is a back-and-forth operation. We talk to God and then we pause and find quiet in ourselves to listen for God’s whispering to our souls. This is not self-deception. It is something wondrous and real. The conversation with God must be authentic if it be constitutive of a worthwhile and personal relationship in faith. Remember that Catholic-Christianity is not a book religion or one of philosophy and rules. At its very heart, Christianity is a personal and communal relationship with a person, with the saving Lord. It is Jesus who draws us into the mystery of the Trinity. He is our mediator to the Father. Remember, our orations are made to the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

How are we to pray?

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:7-13).

1. To Whom is Our Prayer Addressed?

As mentioned before, we address the Father as a people who have been brought into a more intimate relationship with God. We are not merely creatures appealing to the Creator but adopted sons and daughters to our heavenly Father, kin to Christ and children of our Queen Mother Mary. We are invited into the family of God. The Holy Spirit makes possible this saving faith. Otherwise, neither believing nor prayer would be possible. While we are naturally wired for God as demonstrated by all the efforts at sacrifice and worship toward a deity around the world and throughout human history; the God of the Jews is revealed as a loving Father. He is the Abba or “papa.” We are his little children. It is this God who surrenders his only Son so that we might be saved from our sins. Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. He works his miracles by the Holy Spirit. He raises himself from the dead by his own power, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is extended to us in faith and baptism. We become temples of the Holy Spirit— a people regenerated or “born again.”

Our posture as we approach the Father in prayer is not comparable to the oppression humanity endured as the devil’s property. Redeemed or bought at great price, we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).

Note that we address God by denoting that he is in heaven. Heaven is by definition where God is. One might even say that God is heaven. Those who would live in heaven must live in God. The Trinity will be our eternal home.

“As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:6-7).

We are literally heirs to the kingdom of heaven. It is in Christ and by grace that we will be divinized— members of the family of God.

2. Summoned to Give Glory to God with the Angelic Hosts.

The angels of God always keep their sights upon God and give him eternal glory. We are invited into this chorus of praise. Our rejoicing comes with the acknowledgment of God’s holiness, “. . . hallowed be thy name!” At Mass we have the Sanctus where we cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Holiness is more than a description of God or a divine attribute. One might regard it as a name. Indeed, the Trinity is intimated by the Sanctus, the triune holy God; he is three co-equal divine persons in one God or divine nature. What is holiness? It signifies something of the divine otherness. When possessed by men they are transformed into the likeness of Christ. Saints are not self-made and it is so much more than being good. Foremost, a saint is a sinner that has been forgiven. God extends something of his own mystery and plants himself into the souls of men. We become temples of the Holy Spirit and new Christs for a world that still needs to encounter Jesus.

The pattern when praying is always to begin with praise. It conveys the basic posture of the creature to the Creator and the Son to the Father. Other forms of prayer will eventually pass away. Giving glory and praise to God is not only foundational to the spiritual life but to the order of creation. The sung praises of the heavenly hosts is the symphony or music of all rightly disposed creation. If there is a discordant note or break in the harmony, such is reserved for the devil and his indentured pawns. Those who keep faith with Christ have every reason for their “sure and certain” hope. The righteous man or woman (not self-righteous) knows joy even before crossing the threshold from this world into the next. He or she already carries something of eternal life.

The Mass gives us the Gloria, a wonderful expression of praise which ushers forth a real sense of the Church in pilgrimage giving praise in unison with the Church in heavenly glory:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.
We praise you,
we bless you,
we adore you,
we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

It is a peculiar but authentic side-effect in the spiritual life that when the creature (the lesser) gives glory to the Creator (the greater) that something of the divine shines back upon the one rendering praise. We laud God as holy and thus make ourselves into recipients of his holiness. That which is praised, is shared or reflected back. We can only be saints because we participate in the holiness or divine otherness that is God. The one human person that supremely participates in this holiness is the Virgin Mary. She is preserved from sin and made holy because the All Holy One enters the world through her. She becomes an exemplar for God’s other children as to how we can be transformed by grace. Note the humble posture of Mary in Scripture. The pattern of praise that Jesus sets for us is realized in his first disciple. The Church echoes her daily in the Magnificat when reciting the Liturgy of the Hours: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”

3. It is in Giving that We Receive.

The liturgy, our prayers and even the life of charity consist of elements of giving and receiving. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The pattern is clear. The kingdom breaks into the world through the person of Christ. Then we respond by taking up our crosses and following him. The obedience of those on earth should mirror the fidelity found in heaven. The back-and-forth and the many prayer types in the Our Father also find witness in the great prayer of worship, the Mass. We encounter the Lord in his Word and we respond with praise and alleluia. The Gospel is proclaimed and we respond with affirming the Creed and petitions. God has given us the grain of the field and the grapes of the vine. We take them and make them into bread and wine. Next, we offer them to God that they might become the body and blood of Christ. Given to us again, we offer the Lord to the Father as the one acceptable sacrifice. He gives it back once more for Holy Communion. We take what we have been given and then give it to others as a people sent on mission. We cooperate with God but the initiative remains with God. We would have nothing to offer— we would be nothing— apart from the movement of God and his gifts to us. While we are called to obedience and to be sentinels of the kingdom, the kingdom of God breaks into the world according to his providence and not by human labor and whim.

This reception requires reflecting upon what the Lord says and does for us. Otherwise, we would be hard-pressed to know his will in our lives. Many people think they are good but, separated from the Lord they do not know how to be good. A son or daughter might advocate euthanasia for a parent suffering pain. A husband might urge contraception to his wife because of pressing financial worries. A friend might suggest to another teen an abortion because of unplanned pregnancy. They might all think they are doing right; however, they are easily led astray when separated from the Church and the content of the Good News (the Gospel of Life).  Formation in the faith, along with prayer and reflection, give us divine guideposts as to how we should live and act.  Otherwise, genuine love is replaced by a terrible and false compassion.

We must all be alert to the danger of devaluing prayer from a dialogue to a soliloquy. Are we communicating with God and allowing him to speak to us? Are we talking to ourselves and simply mimicking God with what we want to hear? While obedience plays an important part in Catholic discipleship, we are not mindless robots or soulless ants. The hands of the soul must be outstretched to receive what the living Word would give us. Indeed, the true disciple hungers for the truth that God wants us to receive and to know. Disposition and appropriation are vital. We must be ready for what God wants us to have. We must make what God offers our own, before any selfish desires or human fears. The pain at the end of a person’s life might be the means of a final purification so as to see God. The self-donation of spouses in the marital act may give their union it’s most precious gift and preserve their union. The unborn child regarded as an inconvenience or an accident may prove to be the person who most loves us in return and makes a positive difference in what would otherwise be a lonely life filled with regret. We have to know God’s will, even in the face of sin, and then trust God’s will in a childlike manner.

Christians should regularly open the Scriptures. It is God’s inspired Word. When we read or hear the Word of God there is a human-divine encounter. Every meeting with God changes us— if we are open— if we want to be in right relationship with God. Catholics should also know their catechism and look up all the attached Scripture passages. There is also utility in following the daily readings of the Mass as well as looking at the prayers. We are people called to both a personal and a corporate faith. We pray alone, among a few friends or family and with the community of faith at the Lord’s Supper (the Mass). The Mass is a participation in the marriage banquet of heaven. Christ is the groom and the Lamb of God. The Church is his bride. Christ instituted the Church so that we would have each other and to insure that his truths and sacraments would not be lost in the passage of time. The kingdom of God breaks into the world, first through the person of Christ and now through the Church, his mystical body.

4. Supplication Emerges from Our Dependence upon God

“Give us this day, our daily bread.” The first prayer that we learn as children is one that comes naturally— intercession and petition. A child asks his mother for a cookie. We make a request of God for a favor. We pray for ourselves and for others. There are some who reduce all prayer to petition. This phenomenon was manifested after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. There was a short while when millions seemed to return to religion. They had lost control. They were desperate and afraid. A year later many of them had fallen away again. Their faith was shallow. They could ask God for things; but, they were ill-equipped spiritually to give. Where was the praise? Where was the thanksgiving? Too often when it comes to “gimme” prayers, there is a lack of balance or focus. If the person does not get what he or she wants, then the person gets angry and stops praying. They are quick to tell God his business but slow to listen.

While prayers of petition might be the most elementary and readily distorted; God indeed wants his children to turn to him. However, we must do so with a profound humility and acceptance of God’s will. The Lord’s Prayer has us pray for our daily bread, that which sustains our life. Yes, this first may be the food for our bellies but it is so much more as well. We are also fed from the table of the Word and from that of the Eucharist. Jesus teaches, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Given how Jesus does not run away from his mission; we must also pray for strength and courage. This was lacking when Peter denied knowing Jesus and the apostles were in the locked upper room hiding. The risen Lord would appear to them and along the beach to heal Peter. We cannot escape the Lord and we should face the challenges that come to us with a witness that celebrates Christ’s victory over sin and death. Whatever this world takes away from us, we know that Christ can give back many times over.

The Bidding Prayers or General Intercessions at Mass constitute a wonderful model for petition prayers. We pray for many needs: the Church, our country and the larger world, for the oppressed or those facing injustice, for the suffering or the sick, and for those who have died as well as for those who mourn them. A number of us regularly pray for an increase of vocations as well as for good and holy priests. Given the tragedy of abortion, most faithful Catholics pray daily for the unborn child, the right to life and that parents will have hearts welcoming toward their children. We can pray about anything— safety, health, solvency, security, belonging, love, etc. A mark of our Christianity is our willingness to pray on behalf of those who hate and seek to hurt us. This is a great measure to the authenticity of our faith and our willingness to imitate Jesus.

Having said all this, such supplications should not be reduced to crass and ineffective magic or superstition. The believer trusts that God knows best. It is not like rubbing Aladdin’s lamp and wishing for a million dollars in small bills. I would also doubt that an angel will come down from heaven with the winning lottery numbers. My credulity is also strained by those who pray during sporting events. While it is okay to pray for a fair match and the safety of players, I am doubtful that God would intervene so that the Redskins football team would beat the Cowboys, even if the devil does have a contract with the athletes from Texas. Countries might pray for victory and for peace during times of upheaval and war; however, I think God is more on the side of justice over oppression. Historically both sides often pray to the same God. I am reminded of the unofficial truce of 1914 during World War One. The leadership of the warring countries refused a papal petition for a hiatus in violence. Nevertheless, the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial Christmas truce. It was said that one could hear the hymn Silent Night simultaneously being sung in the different languages of the combatants. Many visited the enemy camps. Food and drink was shared. The dead were exchanged. Small gifts were given. The peace did not last very long but it was a teaching moment about human brotherhood that still haunts us in a divided world.

Watching the news on television or reading about tragedies in the newspapers often leaves us unmoved. This should not be the case. We have access to news unlike any generation before us. This should become an occasion for prayer, not voyeurism seeking the sensational. We may not personally know the victims of violence or natural disasters but they are still people like us. They need to be remembered in our prayers to God. When possible we can add our donations to those prayers to assist people in a material way, too.

The worse the people, the more we should feel compelled to pray for them. Who knows, a believer may find out when he meets the Lord at judgment that his were the solitary prayers for some poor soul who had no one to care enough to remember him to God. Many will rightfully pray for victims, but how many of us pray for the victimizers? The most they usually receive is the venom of curses elicited from hatred. Over time many poor souls are forgotten. We should pray for those who need jobs and for those who sell themselves and are exploited to make ends meet or to care for children and those who need them. We should pray for those living on the street and eating out of dumpsters; we should also pray for the callous who walk around them each day uncaring. Many have made bad decisions and are locked into destructive behaviors and addiction. We can lend a helping hand and keep them in our hearts and their needs upon our lips. Such prayer can be effective. It is also transformative for the person who is praying and interceding for others. Do we invite others to know Christ as we do? Do we ask them to pray with us? Have we ever asked a friend or neighbor to join us at Sunday Mass? Prayers of supplication are a demonstration of compassion.

5. The Proclamation of the Gospel Begins with the Cry to Repent and to Believe.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Our Lord came into the world to make possible the forgiveness of sins. Here is the root of my vocation as a priest.  Every priest is a minister of reconciliation ordained to extend the saving work of Christ. Repentance makes the ground fertile for faith. We have to let go of what a fallen world offers if our hands are to be free to accept the gift of Christ. (Years ago I remember reading a book by a Pentecostal minister who explained this clause of the Our Father as a bargaining with God: if you forgave others then God would give you mercy in return.) No, there is no such deal.  It does not work that way. We have nothing with which to bargain with God. He holds all the cards. The Lord’s Prayer is not offering us a deal as might be imagined between gangsters; no, rather the prayer is pointing to imitation and how this furthers our new creation in Christ. If we forgive as Christ forgives then we are imitating the Lord. If we love and forgive like Christ then the Father will see something of his Son in us and give us a share in his Son’s reward. The reference to temptation is an acknowledgment of human weakness. It is okay to ask God to avoid certain challenges which might be too much for us. Of course, when empowered by grace, people are often surprised by how much they can endure as a disciple. The deliverance from evil or from the evil one is indicative of the whole meaning of Christ’s redemptive Cross. Original sin made us the devil’s property. Christ redeems us and makes us free.

We want our personal sins forgiven or remitted. We also want true liberation or the lease broken from the house that sin built— the various injustices, sources of hatred and manipulation— indeed, any and all of the framework of sin that would bring us back into demonic bondage. Christ reached out to those who were oppressed, hated, scapegoated, and cast aside. He let them know that they were important and loved. He also healed the sick, forgave sins, exorcised demons and raised the dead. These were the acts by which he gave us a powerful example of counteracting the presence of sin or evil among us. When facing the effects of evil, we all need deliverance prayer and heartfelt contrition. Our sins placed Christ on his Cross. He died for each of us by name. He said from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The war is over and Christ is the victor. But the devil is spiteful. He fights his small skirmishes for individual souls. We must still battle powers and principalities. Between this world and the next saints will certainly be made perfect but on the way saints are sinners who know they have been forgiven.

 

Trust & a Corporate Sole Church

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Many Catholic parishioners assume the each parish is a legal and economic entity all to itself.  Those most faithful who give regular support may even imagine that they as a community own the church they attend.  However, in truth most churches belong to the local ordinary or bishop.  It is for this reason that those bishops who are ordinaries, not associate or helping bishops, are generally forbidden to drive cars.  One accident on the road could cost the whole diocese.  Yes, everything is owned by one man.  When a new bishop comes in, all the appropriate papers are signed, and there is a transfer, not just of spiritual jurisdiction, but of property, investments, other resources and money.  During the colonial and early days of the Catholic Church in the United States we followed the pattern of having trustees or a board own each church or school.  This is a pattern that we find with many Episcopal churches.  The problem we quickly discovered is that it watered-down the bishop’s authority.  Parishes would sometimes refuse to accept priests that were assigned to them.  The bishop could not close parishes and often did not have the resources to build new ones.  Catholics would even invoke civil laws to fight the decisions of their bishops.  Ethnic groups would frequently send back to Europe, hiring their own clergy.  Vagrant clergy traveling from place to place would find work in parishes even though they had not been vetted by the bishop.  The Old World sent many of its more troublesome priests to America.

Trusteeism died out as the American bishops increasing asserted their authority under canon law and national legislation passed in councils or gatherings at the primatial see, Baltimore.  Lay parish leadership in administering parishes was crushed.  It seemed that the problem was solved.

However, the days of rapid church growth are behind us and the model of corporate sole is becoming increasingly controversial if not problematical.  Churches have been consolidated, especially as populations have moved and ethnic groups have intermarried.  National churches are rapidly disappearing.  While the cause is sometimes espoused as being that of the priest shortage, viable parishes have suffered, too.  The priest abuse scandals have required that some bishops sell off church properties in order to pay settlements.  The faithful in the pews are made victims to sick men in priestly collars, bishops afraid of exposure, the hurting that want first justice and then revenge, and lawyers possessed by greed.

I recall a meeting years ago where the priests learned that funds earmarked for the care of sick and elderly retired clergy had almost been exhausted in the maintenance of priest abusers and settlements.  We were essentially told that should we need long-term care that we would be on our own.  A three-person board would be established for what little remained.  We were told this would protect the money from litigation and/or the whim of future bishops.  Nevertheless, a promise echoed since the days of Cardinal O’Boyle had been broken.  Parents were anxious about the future of the men who became priests. They would have no spouse or children to care for them in later years.  Mothers were told at ordinations, “Don’t worry about your boys; the Church will always take care of your sons.”  Ah, but we live in a world of broken promises— what is one more?

The Church is still wary of lay leadership in parish administration.  So much of the scandal could have been avoided.  Counselors and psychologists might tell a bishop that a priest abuser is healed and could be returned to ministry (which we know now is untrue); however, I doubt that an advisory board of laity (including parents) would have agreed to having such men returned to their churches.  The answer would have been, “Hell no!”  One strike and you are out— a man might be forgiven, but the wrong cannot be forgotten— the risk is too great.

It is my understanding that one diocese in California deliberately broke itself up into many smaller corporations sole.  However, the problem with trust remains.  We are required to keep confidence with an episcopacy that has sometimes violated this trust; indeed, the entire set up communicates that the bishops do not trust their own people. Given the recent exposure of Bishop Michael Bransfield in West Virginia, who knows how widespread an abuse there may be of the corporation sole model?  Schools were closed and charities suffered; nevertheless, the bishop could spend $2.4 million on private planes, luxury hotel rooms, limos, fine dining and even jewelry.

Here is precisely a case where the triangle needs to be turned onto its point.  The top part is the largest, the laity among the People of God.  Below this would be the religious, the priests, then the bishops and finally the pope.  Priests and bishops are not princes or rulers but servants; indeed, they are ideally the slaves of God’s people.  The pope is “servant of the servants of God.”  Bishops that live in expensive penthouses and mansions are confused about their station.  Even the popes live in modest apartments in a structure made for worship or as one pope suggested, that sometimes feels like a museum.

If there is a problem with clericalism then I suspect it has infected the corporate sole model of church administration and governance. The concentration of power in individuals is an incredible temptation.  Often it is accompanied hand-in-hand with a desire for secrecy and a lack of genuine transparency.  Notice that the revised standards for child protection still places bishops over bishops instead of independent lay boards.

I cannot say that I have all the answers. But it seems to me that there are pertinent questions that need to be asked.  Otherwise, how can we move forward?

The Holy Father & His Sons

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I posted some time back that I was distressed that the Holy Father would constantly bombard with insults men who earnestly struggled to be good and faithful priests. It was my hope that the pendulum was finally and decisively moving to the other side with the papal letter to priests on the 160th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars. Indeed, I even printed a copy for myself feeling that these encouraging words from the heart of Pope Francis were long overdue. But I guess old ways are hard to change.

Why would Pope Francis admit in public that he feels it is an honor to be attacked by Americans, when the most critical voices profess genuine loyalty to him and only beseech clarity and orthodoxy from the Holy See? Does he not understand that he has disparaged a church that has endured vile bigotry, fought back dissent, defended the sanctity of life even against her own, and is even now in a knock down fight with a modernity that has already vanquished much of Europe? Unmatched by any other entity except for maybe the U.S. government, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities reaches out a helping hand in charity and proclaims a message of freedom— not asking for thanks— but deserving at the very least a certain level of recognition and respect. The Vatican would be in a shambles and there would be no “Peter’s Pence” if Americans did not shove money into the papal pockets as fast as the Pope took it out.

American Catholics love the Holy Father.  While many of our brethren have fallen away, there are still millions of us who keep the faith even when it takes us to the cross.  As for the priesthood, we have our share of sinners and saints, but most of our men daily lay down their lives for their flocks.  They try to help people while not compromising the Gospel.  This is not rigidity but an effort at humble service rooted in charity and in truth.  We preach both repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  If we pamper sin we might make friends and even fill a few more pews, but the lie would deny salvation to souls and make us accomplices in sin.  This is not the form of accompaniment demanded by Christ.

My priest colleague and old friend, Msgr. Charles Pope has an ever widening media footprint and he has taken some negative feedback recently for saying that which needs to be said. Knowing him and his profound loyalty to Christ and to the holy pontiff, it must have been the most painful statement of his life.

The Holy Father stated:

“I would like to emphasize an attitude that I do not like, because it does not come from God: rigidity. Today it is fashionable, I do not know about here, but in other parts of the world it is fashionable, to find rigid people. Young, rigid priests, who want to save with rigidity, perhaps, I don’t know, but they take this attitude of rigidity and sometimes – excuse me – from the museum. They are afraid of everything, they are rigid. Be careful, and know that under any rigidity there are serious problems.”

Monsignor Charles Pope wrote on social media:

“Santo Padre, I’m not feeling the love here, I don’t feel accompanied by you. Make room in your heart for me and others like me. I am not a young priest, but I know you don’t like my type of priesthood. Further I am an American and this mere fact seems to also make me troublesome in your eyes. I am not afraid of everything as you state, but I do have concerns for the ambiguity of some of your teachings and severity of some of your actions. Yet when we, your less favored sons, ask you questions, you will not answer or clarify. In all this I am still your son and share the priesthood of Jesus with you. I await the solicitude and gentle care from you that you say I, and others like me, lack. Meanwhile I must honestly and painfully say that I am wearied from being scorned and demonized by you. Respectfully, Carlo.”

If there should be any backlash for such courageous honesty, I hope it will be measured by justice and respect for the truth. The saints are weeping.

A Priest Trying to Understand the Pope

Pope Urges an End to Insults… YES!

Pope Urges an End to Insults… YES!

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We read:  “The pope said that ‘nowadays it is fashionable to hurl adjectives’ in what’s tantamount to ‘a culture of insults.’ He recommended responding ‘to malice with goodness.'”

Pope laments current “culture of insults,” church propaganda

It is public knowledge that the Holy Father has hurled many insults, especially at many whom are largely regarded as faithful priests and even bishops. If such is the case, then why is he surprised if some should return them or even try to laugh through their tears with humor? The humility of Pope Benedict was rooted in his intellectual life and prayer. Yet the world hated this gentle and ascetic man (careful with his words) as much as it seems to love the provocative and outgoing Pope Francis, who like President Trump, says what he wants without a filter.

My intention is not to foster scandal.  This is merely a cry in the wilderness.  The Pope’s words (unfortunately) speak for themselves:

  • The CLERGY have been called “vain butterflies,” “smarmy idolaters,” “priest-tycoons,” “animals,” “new Pharisees,” and “confessional torturers!”
  • The CURIA has been labeled “the leprosy of the papacy.”
  • SEMINARIANS, especially the traditionally-minded have been targeted as “potential little monsters.”
  • NUNS who preferred the older disciplines and vestiture were criticized as “uninspiring old maids.”
  • TRADITIONALISTS were censured as “museum mummies.”
  • While the Holy Father has made powerful efforts to reach out to those who feel estranged from the Church and those in irregular unions, he is less friendly toward REGULAR CHURCH-GOERS in the pews. He calls them “pickled pepper-faced Christians,” “closed, sad, trapped Christians,” “defeated Christians,” “liquid Christians,” “creed-reciting, parrot Christians,” and “watered-down faith, weak-hoped Christians.”
  • JOURNALISTS do not escape but are insulted as “fomenters of coprophagia!” If Trump has his fake news, the Pope has literally referred to his dogs eating feces.

So I agree with the Pope, enough with the insults… all around.

In fear and trembling… pledging obedience… a faithful but derided son.

Tension Between Homosexuality & Christianity

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The traditional Christian view is that homosexual acts are grievously sinful.  This was expressed recently by Vice President Pence and it precipitated an immediate response from the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.  Making an assessment of his own same-sex “marriage” to Chasten Glezman, he states:  “Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President (Pence), it has moved me closer to God.”

What should be the response of a traditional Christian who is well aware that the revelation of God in Scripture and in creation, itself, stipulates that homosexuality is a grievous sin and that it can cost us a share in Christ’s kingdom?  Some churchmen contend that the Church herself can overrule the testimony from the Bible; however, the Pope and Magisterium may interpret Scripture and Tradition but do not have the authority to revoke or reverse revealed doctrines.

Some authorities claim that the harsh stand against homosexuality in the Bible reflects not the mind of God but the bigotry of men. If this be entirely the case then the whole question of biblical inerrancy is called into question. What is or is not inspired by God then becomes dubious.

Some authorities assert that there are certain teachings and practices in the Bible and in the life of the Church where we see a development over time in our understanding, as with the institution of slavery.  While this is true, critics would quickly add that such development must be organic or natural (as when various biblical themes interplay against each other) and cannot be forced. Those who would promote a radical anti-patriarchal feminism have sought to fabricate a new divine archetype.   There is a return to the goddess or the Lord (in some cases) is viewed less as a man and more as an androgynous human. Could the God proposed by Buttigieg be of this sort— a deity fashioned precisely for homosexuals?  The problem in both cases is the forfeiture of what is real and the substitution of human fancy.  While there are subjective elements to our discipleship, Catholic Christianity demands attention for what is objectively real.  This is a necessary symptom of our belief in the incarnation and resurrection.  Either Jesus is God made man or we are still in our sins.  Only God has the power to save us.  Either Jesus rose from the dead or we are the greatest of fools who will be soon forgotten in our graves.  None of this can be left to empty myth or to a sentimental feeling or to a drunken hallucination.  Either the story of salvation is true or we are lost and the Gospel is a lie.

If he has not fashioned a new god, could it be that Buttigieg is ignorant of his deity’s demands?  Could he be in psychological denial as to what the Judeo-Christian faith and its deity demand?  Could he have bought into the notion that biblical moral teachings are somewhat capricious and that all that matters is that we try to be “kind” or “compassionate” or “nice”?  Some politicians think that they can legislate morality at will to satisfy their current agenda.  Unless one has the gift of reading souls, no one can truly know whether Buttigieg is closer to God or not.  This is despite the fact that those of us who believe in an objective order would insist that homosexual acts constitute the matter of mortal sin.  How can one be close to God if one has severed his personal and communal relationship with Christ through sin?  Sin is a declaration of the person to God and to his fellow men— he is saying not merely that he hates God but that he is indifferent to him and toward anything he commands.

I cannot say I have heard much rhetoric of an alternative deity as I have from the camp of radical feminists.  This group hates men and raises abortion to the level of an infernal sacrament.  It is for this reason that many Christians view abortion as the return to the practice of human sacrifice.  The innocents are being devoured by demons (masquerading as deities).

When we see rallies for militant homosexuals, they are also often associated with the new atheism and its tendency toward sacrilege and the vulgar or profane.  Homosexuals have a widespread tendency toward promiscuity and multiple partners.  The Christians among them seem to yearn for a particular friendship.  Many have noted that while of the same gender, men and women alike in these same-sex bonds seem to mimic heterosexual polarities:  one is more manly or dominant and the other is more feminine or passive.  Most Christians who struggle with homosexuality tend to stay clear of much of the more blatant and overt shenanigans.  They are not cross dressers and the notion of spitting the sacred host into the face of priests (as was done to the late John Cardinal O’Connor is repugnant to them). They tend to steer away from public expressions of intimacy.  They deplore violence and emotionally are easily hurt.  They love the Church but often feel that the Church does not want them. They struggle with the judgment that they are welcome but only as long as they remain chaste and celibate.  While it might sound like a stereotype, they are attracted to ritual and sacred music.  They delight in liturgies that are aesthetically beautiful and which raise hearts to heaven.  As a group they are attracted to churches with set ceremonials and find comfort in familiarity.

Catholicism cannot affirm disordered homosexual acts as akin to the marital act between a man and woman.  The Church does not have the authority to ratify as good or neutral what is deemed by both divine positive law and natural law as wrong and sinful.  As with our COURAGE program, we can assist them to live out a chaste celibate love.  We can partner with them in prayer and service.  They should not define themselves principally by the same-sex attraction with which they struggle.  They may not be called to marriage but they are called to holiness.  They should not engage in homosexual acts but they are called to love and to have friendships.  There is a place for them in the Church.  It is best that homosexuals not enter the priesthood; however, priests can rightly model for them lives of celibate service.  God will give his children the gifts and the strength they need to be good and holy.

What can we affirm?  First, we should accept as genuine the religious sense that they have.   They should seek to remain in a state of grace so as to make the most of faith study, prayer and the sacraments.  Second, love needs to be expressed and our parishes have many initiatives where they can participate.  They have generous and selfless hearts.  Third, the church would be the first to promote friendship or brotherhood or sisterhood.  Love does not have to be sexual.  The sacrifice of Jesus shows us the true depths of a love and passion that eclipses all other loves, including the passionate intimacy of spouses.  The covenant of lovers points toward that greater covenant that is merited by the blood of the Cross.       

There is something of a mystery when we speak of the God who has revealed himself and the God we know.  The saving acts of God take place in history but the presence of God is not locked in the past. As Catholics, we would make a case for the Christian deity or the Trinity.  We would insist that God is real and one; that he is the author of all things; that he cares about us; that he has inserted himself into human history; that he has shown his face to us; that he has redeemed us from the folly of sin and death; and that he has established a community of faith to proclaim the truth and to perpetuate his saving work in Christ.  We argue from faith, philosophy and even science that God objectively exists apart from whatever many might subjectively believe or not believe.  While Christians would seek to live in peace with others, we would not personally tolerate or regard as also real the various opposing notions of deities or the negation of atheism.  Tension often arises because belief is not easily captured between church walls but tends to saturate the society in which one lives, influencing human values and how people would express them.

Many early Christians became martyrs in the pagan Roman Empire because they refused to worship mythical deities or the emperors.  These deities were interpreted by the ancient Church fathers as false gods or worse as demons in disguise. When we read the later pagan authors, they blamed the fall of the empire upon the rise of Christianity and how it had reinvented or replaced the deities they previously followed.  Their arguments were somewhat pragmatic because even during its heyday, many Romans went through the prescribed motions but really placed no faith in the false deities and their “soap opera” lives.  But the acceptance of Christianity had a profound impact upon the values of Rome.  There was a definite moral shift.  Today, many are again recreating our understanding of a deity while growing numbers are complaining that the whole notion of a God has served its purpose and should now be discarded.  As before, many say they believe but in truth there is nothing about their behavior that would convict them as Christ’s disciples.

Within the context of Christianity, many would say that revisionists have no right to reinvent God and to modify or to reverse his moral teachings.  Leaning toward the subjective, they would counter the argument by a preponderance of questions.

For further reading…

National Catholic Register
Pete Buttigieg is Wrong — God Still Forbids All Homosexual Acts

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

Powerful Stories Impact the Faith

silence

While I read the book SILENCE by Makoto Fujimura many years ago, I have not yet seen the movie. As with Graham Green’s book THE POWER AND THE GLORY there is often as much to learn from bad or weak priests as from strong ones. Both works are extremely unsettling. While outwardly devout, his own compassion and maybe a lack of true faith works against the main priest character in SILENCE. Greene’s whiskey priest comes across as externally weak, undisciplined and cowardly; however, in the end what remains of his faith is shown to be selfless and even courageous. No matter how much he runs away, the “Hound of Heaven” catches him in the end.