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German Summit, Shades of Martin Luther

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The recent manipulation of the Amazonian synod by German churchmen and now their own two-year summit hints at a coming religious revolution.  It echoes the division and devastation enacted by Martin Luther.  The disgruntled monk similarly sought alliances with dissenting religious leaders and earthly rulers. The princes of old are gone but the secular politics of the world are still every bit as opposed to the interests of the Catholic Church as they were before. While Catholicism has moved forward at the pace dictated by providence and the Holy Spirit; we are again a church plagued by scandals and not with one heresy but assaulted by all of them under the heading of modernism.

The German Summit Begins

The first assembly for the German summit was from January 30 to February 1, 2020. Pointing to an atmosphere of rebellion, Cardinal Reinhard Marx made it clear last year that this synod would continue despite objections from Pope Francis. Arguably more Protestant than Catholic, the Central Committee of German Catholics rebuked Pope Francis for a “lack of courage for real reforms” after the promulgation of his Post-Synodal Exhortation (To the People of God and to All Persons of Good Will the Church in the Amazon). Disappointed, but unwilling to give in on the reforms he has championed, Cardinal Marx of Münich asserted that the topics from the synod were “by no means off the table.”

If the subject matter is something that cannot be changed then what is the purpose of such discussions? Are we stirring the pot to ferment trouble or might we find answers that respect the truth, tradition and the needs of a changing world?  Praxis must follow and safeguard doctrinal truth.  When it takes the lead there is no assurance that it is in fidelity with what is right or good.  Further, we must be honest as to the sources of formation.  Are new ideas and stratagems emerging from revelation and the sources of doctrine or from outside the parameters of our constant faith?  Religious relativism and indifference have now made space for defection to other “denominations” or even for the faithless slide into the new atheism.  It seems to me that such was unavoidable given the relativism of truth to human whim and secular expediency.

Artificial Contraception

While all Christian churches condemned artificial contraception for 1,900 years, today Catholicism is viewed by her own congregants as backward and out-of-sync among liberal and conservative believers alike. Back in the 1960’s and the first days of the Vatican reforms and Humanae Vitae, the controversy on this issue should have awakened us to the core problem that would revisit us in other matters ready to explode like divorce, abortion and same-sex bonds.

Unfortunately, we did a poor job of communicating the Church’s rich Christian anthropology.  The incarnation of Christ grants prominence to the dignity of human persons and the sanctity of life.  Persons are not interchangeable.  While animated by immortal souls, the body is not unimportant.  We are not spirits operating extraneous or robotic bodies of flesh and blood.  Unlike the angels we are not pure spirits.  A body without a soul is a corpse.  A soul without a body is a ghost.  The integrated human person is properly a body and soul.  This is how we live and relate to one another.  The sacrament of marriage, along with its obligations and duties, focuses on this reality of human beings as corporeal persons.  We are our bodies.  While love cannot be contained to this world, marriage is a reality that ends at the door of death.   We are promised that we will be like angels and yet with Christ’s resurrection, we are given a clue as to the glorification of the body that awaits us and our restoration, body and soul.  Our understanding of identity embraces an intense appreciation of the human person as a corporeal-spiritual composite.

Gender is not an accidental but rather touches the central meaning of who and what we are.  There is a complementarity of sexes, and while there is an equality in grace it is not mathematical.  We are different.  It is this difference that draws men and women together.  How we are made is also how we relate and communicate.  God has a plan for us and we are called to discern this plan.  When it comes to married couples, there is a basic failure to appreciate that the marital act is more than the mechanics of the sex act but is a profound self-donation to the beloved that trusts the will of God and selflessly embraces the mystery and treasure of human life. Couples that would define their relationships by contraceptive acts, short-change their calling and the openness to life that is a hallmark of their vocation.

The problem of contraception is not a new question although technology has come a long way from the Egyptian use of crocodile dung. The Church saw it as an offense against the first command of Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Families can be both responsible and open to the gift of life. They can cooperate with God instead of treating God as the enemy and his gift and blessing of children as a disease to be medicated away.

Divorce and Remarriage

While it has been very much in the news, especially given an apparent lack of clarity from Pope Francis, it must be proposed that the Catholic Church still accepts Christ for his word when he condemns divorce and exposes its link to adultery. Unless it is unlawful (the reason why there is an annulment process), marriage endures until the death of a spouse. The Catholic Church stands almost alone in this teaching as many of the Orthodox churches permit second penitential bonds and most Protestant churches will bless unions with divorcees or even with persons of the same sex.  As a sacrament, we are supposed to see in marriage something of Christ’s relationship with his Church.  Promises are made and Christ keeps his promises.  We should pursue the same fidelity.

When it comes to marriage, few churchmen are ogres who want to hurt others. We realize that mistakes can be made. Many of the irregular unions also include children and a genuine desire to return to the sacraments. How do we work with them without destroying the basic meaning of the sacrament? Annulments, properly and honestly done, are part of the solution. Just as married priests in the early days of the Church were asked to embrace perfect continence, might this suggest an answer in certain situations? Can we be more proactive at the beginning of relationships so as to reduce the number of failed marriages? We certainly emphasize that even if couples cannot be invited forward to receive Holy Communion, they should still go to Mass and render God the worship due to him as believers. We are all sinners and all sinners should know that they will never be turned away from the church doors even if they should refrain from coming to the altar. The Mass is still the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.  I suspect that there were many on the hill of Christ’s death who were similarly drawn to Jesus and his message but remained ill-disposed to fully benefit from the sacramental moment.

Same-Sex Unions and Homosexual Acts

Older Christians have experienced a reversal in how homosexuals are viewed and treated.  The revulsion and prohibition against homosexuality once shared between the Church and state has been turned totally on its head. What was regarded as a perversion and as illegal is now reckoned by secular society as good, permissible and as something which must be actively promoted. Those who oppose homosexual sin are now reckoned as bigots.  Indeed, laws are increasingly targeting believers who want to be tolerant or co-exist but cannot find it in themselves to celebrate what they understand as wrong and as grievous sin.

When it comes to the matter of same-sex relationships, is there a way to acknowledge love and friendship outside of the paradigm of matrimony? Might we recover an expanded appreciation of chaste brotherhood and sisterhood? Could it be that the prevalent eroticism of our times has poisoned this issue?

Abortion and the Sanctity of Life

The issue of abortion is particularly troublesome as the news parades Catholic politicians clapping and cheering the removal of any and all restrictions upon the termination of pregnancies. Literally children nine months in the womb and ready to be born are now vulnerable to what is more infanticide than abortion. The Church proclaims a Gospel of Life that is increasing politicized and made one issue among many. The Church would still proclaim that if one’s life is taken then for that person there are no more issues. We are not opposed to the genuine rights of women.  We refuse to engage in the culture of death’s great deception.  The Catholic Church defends the rights of everyone.  We give voice to the voiceless.  The Church speaks up for the rights of all women and some of those women are in the womb.

The issue of abortion can certainly be expanded for a better defense of life in scenarios of war and non-combatants, the elderly and euthanasia and the value or lack thereof of the death penalty in crime prevention, etc. However, this is not a pick-and-choose list. If a person is pro-abortion but opposed to capital punishment, he or she is not pro-life. We need to appreciate the non-commensurate value of human life wherever it exists.

Holy Orders as Restricted to Men

The question of holy orders is frequently considered within the apologetic of power and rights. It should rather be understood in the context of service and gift. The pattern that Jesus gave us is not one upon which we are free to diverge. He selected only men as his apostles, despite the fact that there were notable women who witnessed as prophets to the Gospel: his Mother Mary, the sisters of Lazarus (Martha and Mary), the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary Magdalene and others. The early councils like Nicea forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women. The solemn proclamation of St. Pope John Paul II on the subject was definitive and infallible. Only some men and no women are called to be priests. However, the priesthood is a gift to all of us who participate at Mass and in the sacraments. We share our differing gifts for the good of the whole body. No one has a right to the priesthood. There is no egalitarian equivalence between men and women, although both are equally invited to faith, baptism and grace.  One can prepare for priesthood but no one deserves it. It is purely a gift. If women cannot be priests or bishops then they are logically also prevented from membership in the third tier of holy orders, the diaconate. The evidence is that women in the New Testament who were called deaconesses were not ordained. They cared for female neophytes preparing for baptism. In certain cases, they were simply the wives of ordained deacons.

We can look for ways to include more women in decision-making, but holy orders will never be open to them.  Not only does the tradition not support it, there is evidence of opposition to the prospect.  The witness of the Anglicans is insignificant because apostolic succession was already compromised and they responded to the cries of modernity, not to the dictates of Scripture and Tradition.

Value in the Discipline of Priestly Celibacy

Further, the gift of priesthood or holy orders cries out for a single-hearted love. While a discipline, there is an integral relationship between the priesthood and the charism of celibacy.  (This subject was of such importance that many married men in the apostolic and patristic age were required to pursue perfect continence when they were ordained.) Given that the Holy Father picked the name FRANCIS for his pontificate, I am not surprised that he has resisted calls to allow married men to serve as priests in the Amazon. Traditionally, celibacy is interpreted as an element of apostolic POVERTY and is appreciated in the context of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who went away sad “because his possessions were many.”

  • The Council of Nicea (325 AD) forbade the laying on of hands or ordination of women.
  • The Council of Carthage (390) commanded celibacy or perfect continence for priests.
  • The First Lateran Council (1123) & the Second Lateran Council (1139) prohibited clerical marriage and cohabitation.

A Few Closing Thoughts

What is it exactly that the extended German summit hopes to achieve by its assessment of Catholic sexual morality and  the dynamics of priestly life in regard to celibacy and the role of women? The American bishops following Pope John Paul II’s 1995 letter to women also promulgated a pastoral “reflection” on women (after much consultation where dissenters tried to hijack the discussion). The bishops attempted to make appeasement where the Holy Father inadvertently made enemies of certain progressives and radical feminists. However, in the end their effort was so watered down that it was of little lasting value, restricting itself to the unexplored themes of leadership, equality, and the diversity of gifts. The focus moved away from women in the Church to their general place in society. This is not to say that the document lacks utility for future discussions about the extension of praxis that respects the laws of nature and the revealed truths of God. When it comes to the new German effort, it appears that dissenting lay Catholic organizations are being given more a voice than those with a significant traditional faith footprint. Theologians can assist the Magisterium but they are not the Church’s teaching authority, themselves.

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

Celibacy is the Solution

Author’s Note: I am amazed at how much negative feedback, especially from non-celibates, was sent to me about this article– much unworthy of publishing.  It demonstrates to me that there is a real and dangerous prejudice against Christian celibacy and a reductionism from some that minimizes its importance and value.  I was happy to see that a brother priest, who is actively involved with our archdiocesan seminary in Washington, DC, has shared positive thoughts on the topic that are similar to my own.  Fr. Carter Griffin has written a wonderful article first published in FIRST THINGS and now posted at the CERC website: “Celibacy: The Answer, Not the Problem.”

var38While there are trite sayings to the contrary, simple answers are not always the best answers.  This is particularly the case with the assumption of some that the impetus for the clergy abuse crisis is the imposition of an “unhealthy” and “unnatural” celibacy. Despite the deceptive eroticism and deprecation of both celibacy and purity that permeates our modern culture, there is nothing malignant or disordered about celibacy. Acknowledging a supernatural component to Christian celibacy, it is a manner of living and loving that is completely natural.  Given the current scandals, celibacy is not the problem, but the solution.  The answer that many are seeking to our troubles is not the wholesale allowance of married clergy.  That would not resolve issues of abuse; indeed, it would introduce a host of new difficulties like marital infidelity and divorce.  This is not to say that men in good and holy unions could not serve as faithful Catholic priests; all I am asserting is that this is no miracle solution to the Church’s ills.

What is the real solution?  We should demand that celibate priests remain faithful to their sacred promise.  If priests behave themselves then there will be no incidents of child abuse, assaulted nuns, illegitimate children and homosexual liaisons. Just as the Church implores married couples to keep their vows; our priests should do the same and thus give a witness and proclamation devoid of duplicity.

While we cannot demand that all heterosexual candidates for priesthood must be virgins, we can certainly establish it as the Church’s preference.  Sexual activity prior to a life of priestly celibacy is not a positive element in their formation.  We cannot make mortal sin a prerequisite for the sacrament of holy orders.  I have known seminarians so tragically shadowed by memories of heterosexual promiscuity that they felt compelled to discern out of formation for holy orders.

I still do not buy the argument that repressed but active homosexuality is not a major factor in the current abuse scandal.  There are few pedophile cases and way too many instances of homosexual pederasty.  Given this assessment, I think the Church should have a general prohibition against “active” homosexuals in formation and priesthood. When I say active, I mean “one strike and you are out.”  We cannot give homosexual relations the same moral value or weight given to heterosexuality.  Homosexual acts are always sinful; heterosexual relations in the marital act are holy and befitting the plan of God.

Given this distinction, I would argue that a priest who falls with a woman might be forgiven by the Church and returned to ministry.  Prudence and discipline would demand a period of real penance and soul-searching.  That is why I have suggested a few years of suspension in such cases where a man might deliberate with professionals and speak to the Lord about the status of his vocation.  If his priesthood should prove salvageable, then he could reassigned, preferably to another diocese.  Admittedly, some would disagree with me but the problem here is no disorientation and granted consensuality, not a matter of abuse.  It is simply, albeit tragically, a case of mortal sin that can be absolved in the confessional.

The matter of an immoral heterosexual liaison becomes more problematical if there should be offspring.  Whatever determination is made, the priest in this situation has an obligation to both claim the child (fatherly relationship) and to help provide financial support.  Forgiveness does not dismiss the need for restitution.  While discretion is required, there should be no cases of women being paid off by dioceses and children growing up without knowing the identity of their fathers.   Hopefully, God’s people might be forgiving when such stories are inadvertently exposed.  I do not foresee published lists of priests who have had children out of wedlock.

Christian celibacy cannot be identified with the variation in Buddhism which is directed toward spiritual enlightenment.  Christian celibacy is not the same as that practiced in Hinduism for the sake of greater physical strength and longevity. Christian celibacy finds no counterpart in Islam which utterly renounces celibacy. Christian celibacy cannot be compared with the secular or humanistic version that temporarily utilizes celibacy to target one’s energies and purpose toward economic or business success.  More than chastity, Christian celibacy is regarded in Catholicism as a gift given by God and then returned to God by the disciple.  It is a manner of fulfilling the request that Jesus gave to the rich man who went away sad because his possessions were many.  It is the ultimate response to the twofold commandment of Christ.  The Christian celibate loves the Lord with his whole heart, body and soul.  That same love spills out into a loving service of others.  Married Christians can also keep this commandment, although that divine love is first showered upon one’s spouse and children.  It is a love and commitment shared.  The celibate priest sees himself as married to the Church. He belongs wholly to the Lord and to his people.

It is somewhat ironic but true that even the necessary measures put into place to thwart the abuse of minors has damaged the actualization of this celibate love.  The priest’s relationship to the Church is spousal.  His relationship to those in the pews is paternal. He is to exhibit a spiritual fatherhood in his ministration of the sacraments and pastoral care.  Unfortunately, so as to protect the young, their access to their priests is seriously undermined.  A terminal distrust and suspicion has walled the priest off from many of his spiritual children— thus hampering spiritual bonding, counsel and even (in some cases) their access to sacraments like confession.

Despite the negative propaganda and the ill-informed solutions that attack the heart of the priesthood, celibacy remains one of the great treasures of the Western priesthood. We should not be quick to throw it away.  Here is the big surprise for many critics— most celibate priests remain happy with their vocation.

Ramblings about Fornication, Adultery and Homosexuality

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None of these topics stand alone.  Once human sexuality is pursued more for pleasure than for parenthood, the flood walls open.  Sex is separated from marriage.  This truth about fornication immediately leads to that which is the primary cause of divorce, adultery.  Once sex is separated from marriage, it is very hard to reattach.  The critics of Church teaching might not always argue for blatant promiscuity; but they are apologists for sex outside of marriage.  They will even resort to semantics.  Just as contraceptive use is regarded as “responsible parenthood” and abortion is labeled “choice,” fornication is classified as “pre-ceremonial sex.” It is expected that couples will “live together” or cohabitate prior to actual marriage.  That which was wrongly explored as a way to test the waters is increasingly becoming a non-contractual alternative to marriage.  However, mortal sin is not a good preparation for matrimony.  Indeed, it makes one ill-disposed to God’s grace.  It also cheapens the message of love.  True love seeks the good of the beloved, placing his or her needs ahead of one’s own desires.  Men and women are called to marriage where they can be helpmates to each other in holiness and grace.  The institution of marriage is an important level of protection for the spouse and the children.  It is crafted as a vocation of monogamous love defined by discipline, duty and dependence (the three d’s).  Indeed, some shy away from marriage because it is a public proclamation of obligation and responsibility.  Christian love is always sacrificial and seeks redemption in Christ.  Husbands and wives need to assist each other in becoming saints and going to heaven.  Love of a superficial depth or that which suffers from a counterfeit faith would place the object of one’s attentions into mortal sin and risk the pains and loss of hell.  How is that true love?  What would happen to the beloved if death should overtake him or her prior to the full acquisition of the marriage bed?

When it comes to the vocation of marriage, promises are made to be kept.  Jesus forbids divorce.  But what becomes of fidelity when no formal promises are made at all?

Catholicism promotes an honest appreciation of sexuality and human weakness. Looking first to dating or courtship, heavy petting and French kissing are sinful outside of marriage as they make self-control difficult and often lead to either intercourse or oral sex.  Men and women are not robots.  We must always be cognizant of time and place when we are with others.  Public places are safer than private locations.  Late hour encounters might be more liable for violations of persons than how we carry ourselves in the daylight.  There is also a heightened value upon meeting a nice girl or boy at church or school over encountering strangers at a pick-up bar.

Critics contend that the Church places too much emphasis upon sex.  However, the truth is the other way around.  It is secular society and Christian revisionists that place such extreme gravity in sexual activity that it becomes an ends unto itself.  The slippery slope begins that will eventually set the stage for even perverse desires and the demand that homosexuality be normalized.

One of the loudest critics of Catholic teaching on human sexuality is Fr. James Martin.  It has been argued (to my satisfaction) that Fr. James Martin does not think with the mind of the Church upon the matter of homosexuality. He would contend otherwise, quoting the universal catechism that those who regard themselves as homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” [CCC 2358]. This is as it should be but how would we parse the definition of discrimination? Too many priests of his sort would affirm both the disorientation and same-sex unions. It may be that many young men come to their priests wanting to hear the hard truth— that sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is always and everywhere the matter of mortal sin. The scandal here is that priests are summoned as prophetic voices for Christ to preach and teach the truth. The substitution of our own opinion or words for the often challenging Word of God leads the children of God astray.

I do not believe we should have any part in attempting to normalize being gay. While much is made of homosexual marriage or same-sex unions, the truth is far more sordid in that the majority of active gays are highly promiscuous.  I also think it is problematical to ordain gay men, particularly those with past encounters. We should not fall prey to the false toleration of secular culture over the commission to be signs of contradiction in our world. We must respect the inherent dignity of persons even if we cannot always approve of everything that people do. A facet of the dilemma we face is that homosexuals are increasing making their sexual orientation into a primary factor of personal identity. This inadvertently impoverishes the depth of meaning that defines human persons. We are so much more than our sexual drives and romantic proclivities. The need for love, affection and friendship should not be limited to or strictly defined by genital activity. Sexual union should also always be in accord with the natural congress of a man and woman entitled to the marital act.

Discernment of the moral character of the man or woman would neither turn a blind eye to sexual affections nor dismiss a history of genital activity; however, the measure of a person also includes many other pertinent attributes such as fidelity to promises, generosity of spirit, courage in keeping obligations and a willingness to sacrifice for others. My analysis as a heterosexual but celibate Catholic priest is that Christian gay men and women are called by God to respond in a profound way with lives of prayer, loving service and perfect continence. The Gospel would never deny love to any child of God; however, we must distinguish what does and does not constitute genuine loving.

I should add that if the scandalous allegations are true, then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the most typical case of the homosexual abuser in the Church.  Supposedly he had relations with men and minors.  Eighty percent or more of the abuse cases narrated in the Church are with young males and often within the teen years (pederasty and not true pedophilia).  However, many of the bishops and Fr. Martin insist (against the facts) that there is no correlation between homosexuality and abuse.  Until this connection is admitted, I have to wonder if we will reliably deal with the current scandal.  By contrast, recent remarks by Pope Francis would allow that active homosexuals should be respected and loved as God’s children, but they should be denied entry into holy orders. The Pope does not see homosexuality as a neutral matter. There is concurrence with the universal catechism that speaks about it as a disordered attraction.

Sexual activity is the exclusive right of heterosexual spouses. We are all obliged to keep the sixth and ninth commandments. The commandment against adultery focuses upon illicit sexual activity. By extension it would also include general fornication, prostitution, pornography, homosexual acts, masturbation, orgies, rape, incest, pedophilia, pederasty, bestiality and necrophilia.

The Pope may not want homosexuals in the priesthood but the Holy Father is outspoken about his desire to welcome people who feel alienated by the Church.  I suspect that what muddies the waters are efforts to welcome homosexuals and those in invalid second marriages as full or practicing members of the Church. Can we truly affirm the dignity of persons and sympathize with their struggles when the first words out of our mouths are those of condemnation and judgment? Might there be a better way? While critics of the Church are wrong to demand absolute acceptance of activity and states of life ruled as immoral or sinful from Scripture and Tradition; is there a praxis that might preserve their link to the faith community and the possibility of a healing or merciful accompaniment? I have been critical of the open table in regards to the reception of Holy Communion. If one is not spiritually disposed toward the Eucharist, then would we not be bringing down divine judgment upon the heads of such people? How can we give absolution to those in adulterous or intimate same-sex relationships if there is no firm purpose of amendment of life? This is where much of the debate is taking place.

Along with fornication and adultery, homosexual acts are listed by St. Paul as among those sins that can cost us our share in Christ’s kingdom.  The Church struggles to distinguish the disordered nature of homosexuality from the actual commission of homosexual sin (an intrinsic evil).  Many refuse to acknowledge this delineation and/or see it as a renouncement of persons.  Acts against nature are always regarded by the faith as abusive.  Of course, here again our secular society wants to avoid this verdict.  One has to wonder how far the sexual toleration can be stretched.  Does it already include multiple partners?  Are bestiality and pedophilia waiting in the wings for general acceptance?

Pope Francis on Homosexuality & Consecrated Life or Priesthood

0002044The Pope’s Own Words:

The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case. We have to be exacting. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church. This is something I am concerned about, because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention.

We have to take great care during formation in the human and affective maturity. We have to seriously discern, and listen to the voice of experience that the Church also has. When care is not taken in discerning all of this, problems increase. As I said before, it can happen that at the time perhaps they didn’t exhibit that tendency, but later on it comes out. The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates, if that is the case.

I had a somewhat scandalized bishop here who told me that he had found out that in his diocese, a very large diocese, there were several homosexual priests and that he had to deal with all that, intervening, above all, in the formation process, to form a different group of clergy. It’s a reality we can’t deny. There is no lack of cases in the consecrated life either. A religious told me that, on a canonical visit to one of the provinces in his congregation, he was surprised. He saw that there were good young students and even some already professed religious who were gay. The religious wondered if it were an issue and asked me if there was something wrong with that. Francis said he was told by one religious superior that the issue was not “that serious, it’s just an expression of an affection.” That’s a mistake. It’s not just an expression of an affection. In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.

We have to urge homosexual priests, and men and women religious, to live celibacy with integrity, and above all, that they be impeccably responsible, trying to never scandalize either their communities or the faithful holy people of God by living a double life. It’s better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life. When there are candidates with neurosis, marked imbalances, difficult to channel not even with therapeutic help, they shouldn’t be accepted to either the priesthood or the religious life. They should be helped to take another direction, but they should not be abandoned. They should be guided, but they should not be admitted. Let us always bear in mind that they are persons who are going to live in the service of the Church, of the Christian community, of the people of God. Let’s not forget that perspective. We have to care for them so they are psychologically and affectively healthy.

Statements are taken from an interview with Pope Francis conducted by Fr. Fernando Prado, director of Claretian Publishing House.

Reflecting Upon the Abuse Crisis

154164358031183741 (7)The clergy abuse issue just never seems to let up.  Today there was a headline in THE WASHINGTON POST, Three Teens Allege Abuse by Catholic Priest in D.C.” A Capuchin parochial vicar from Sacred Heart Church was charged with a single count of second degree sexual abuse and brought to the D.C. Superior Court in shackles.

The dark tragedy of clerical abuse of minors conflicts with a core element of the Church’s identity.  The mission of every priest is to be a spiritual father— teaching, nurturing and healing his flock.  The center of the priestly vocation is his role as a vehicle for the forgiveness of sins.  Any priest who would harm or corrupt others stands in stark violation of his sacred calling and the mission of the Church.  When the scandals first emerged, many disbelieved the allegations and assumed that none of it could be true.  Today, that mentality can no longer be substantiated.  While individual cases may or may not be credible, the issue is real and some priests have failed us and violated the trust we had in them.  Excuses cannot be made.

Given the type of violation we are discussing, it must be admitted that efforts at healing will fall short.  How does one restore trust when it is violated so egregiously?  Clergy abuse of minors signifies a profound attack against innocence that leaves a lasting wound.  That is why people come forward decades after such assaults.  Lives are changed forever.  Many of those assaulted abandon the faith.  Others are hampered in their later relationships and suffer from trust issues.

The comeback that “we are all sinners” does little to soften the blow about such infidelity.  Yes, it is true that the history of the faith is one where corruption and sin has infected both leaders and followers.  But, we argue as well that the true legacy of the faith is written with the lives of the saints.  We have not always been successful at the discernment of spirits.  We struggle to distinguish those who really walk in holiness and those who only put on a show.  The Church is holy because Christ is holy and the Church is his mystical body.  This is the case, even though the Church is composed of sinners.

The apparent but largely unreported fact that abuse is even more pervasive outside the Church does nothing to ease our disappointment and shame about misbehaving clergy.  The Church should be above such violations of decency.  We rightly expect a lot of our priests.  Celibacy which should be the shining treasure of Catholic ministry is subjected to ill-repute and questioned as either the cause or situation that enabled wrong doing.  Apologists argue that the celibacy is not the problem but rather the solution— if priests will follow through with their promises.  What we need are shepherds and laity courageous enough to embrace the hard truths that confront us and to fully cooperate with God’s grace in the sacraments toward the cleansing of our ministries.  This will necessitate a full acquisition of the truth; in other words, a realization that the problem is not largely one of pedophilia but of sexually disordered and frustrated men who are mostly but not entirely homosexual.  The proof of the pudding is the number of pederasts who have also broken their promises with adults and older teens.  Of course, if such men kept their promises this discussion and need for purification would be largely mute.  However, promises have been broken and in ways that demonstrate a lack of commitment to faith, holiness and prayer.  They loved God too little and sought satisfaction where it was forbidden to them.

What most of us once regarded as rare and aberrational has proven to be more serious than we imagined and devastating for thousands of children and their families.  Compounding the problem, many wrongly targeted the victims and witnesses that came forward for resulting scandal instead of disciplining rogue clergy and removing them from ministry.  We must continue corrective efforts.  We must perfect policies to protect our youth while insuring a process that safeguards innocent clergy from charges that are not credible.  My worry today is that there is an intense malice that clouds the subject, one that focuses upon any and all clergy, regardless of the truth.  Mercy toward the guilty will not bring restoration to ministry or escape from censures and punishment.  Justice toward the innocent must protect the rights and sacerdotal dignity of priests who may be falsely charged or condemned by association.

Reflecting upon how we might personally respond to the scandals facing the Church, here is a good list:

  1. Stay put and do not abandon the Barque of Peter— remember the words of Peter, where would we go?
  2. Keep faith in Christ and in the Catholic Church— do not stop believing.
  3. Remain faithful to the Mass and the discipline of prayer— offer our own fidelity in reparation for the unfaithful.
  4. Acknowledge our own faults and seek mercy in absolution— while not all sin cries out to heaven, we are all sinners needing forgiveness.
  5. Open your mind about the issues facing us and grow in the faith— as believers we must always know and proclaim the truth.
  6. Continue to live for others in acts of Christian charity— such is an antidote to the selfishness that has manufactured this situation.
  7. Avoid hate and calumny, exhibiting a heartfelt sacrificial love and mercy— if we are to face the devil then we must put on Christ.
  8. Clean your house of that which conflicts with our Gospel witness— we should have no part in the hypocrisy that makes this matter worse.
  9. Seek the purification of the Church from any satanic enemies within— the poison in the mix must be expelled, even if it means the end of individual ministries.
  10. Fight for justice and healing toward the oppressed, wounded and innocent— the dignity of persons must always be safeguarded.

 

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.

A Scandal that Calls for a New Reformation

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“Christ himself, the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach. Likewise, a priest who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way.”

– St. Pius X

We are taught as Catholics that the Church is holy because Christ is holy.  This is what gives truth value to the second mark of the Church mentioned every time we recite the Creed at Sunday Mass.  The Church is holy and it is by means of the teachings of faith and the sacraments that we can be made holy by grace.  This is what we believe and yet has there ever been a time when it was so very hard to believe? The Church is also composed of sinners; indeed, we are all sinners needing a Savior.  But when it comes to our priests and bishops, we like to imagine that they have a direct line to heaven.  They make little money, forsake a spouse and family and are at the immediate beck-and-call of their flocks.  The lesson that Jesus gives his apostles with the Holy Thursday foot washing is that the greater they would become, the more they would have to humiliate themselves as the servants of all.

Catholicism insists that both bishops and priests should remain celibate— placing the love of the Mystical Body or the Church ahead of all other loves.  At a time when most churches compromise on the moral teachings of Christ; the Catholic faith remains resolute about purity prior to marriage, about the permanence of marriage, about marriage as only a relationship between a man and a woman, about the nature of the marital act as open to the generation of children, and about the sanctity of human life.  The loftier the moral message, the further the messenger might fall when he is exposed as duplicitous.

Our priests witness the marriages of couples in love, consecrating unions with the favor of God and of his Church.  They baptize babies, transforming them from mere creatures of God into adopted sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.  They absolve penitents from their sins, literally stealing the damned from the devil. At Mass they celebrate the sacrifice of Calvary so that we might offer ourselves with Jesus, the Lamb of God, as an acceptable oblation to the Father.  They give us Holy Communion, rations from that promised shore to which we travel as spiritual pilgrims.  Along with bishops, they offer confirmation, completing our baptisms so that we might be enriched by the gifts of the Spirit and made living temples of God.  They anoint the sick, perpetuating the ministry of Jesus in bringing healing to the hurting among us.  They bury the dead, preaching a message of hope that in Jesus love is stronger than death and victorious over the grave.  The priest is at the center of everything Catholic.  That is what makes the current scandal especially devastating.  The faithful are rightly disappointed and upset. Our shepherds are facing a crisis in holiness.

Contagious Scandal & the Loss of Reputation

Any one priest signifies every priest.  This collective appreciation has made the present crisis a damning one.  When the laity look at their priests, they immediately wonder, “Could he be one of those priests?” While regarding only a few, these dark revelations of sin and crime are sufficient in damaging overall trust.

Men presumed as truthful revealed as duplicitous liars.

These are the same men appointed as preachers of the Gospel.  The priest and pastor is the chief catechist of every parish and is entrusted with the faith formation of his people.  What becomes of the message or the Good News when the messenger becomes a witness of bad or scandalous news?  What becomes of his credibility when the mouthpiece of God not only stumbles in his witness but is unveiled as an agent of the devil’s anti-gospel? How can such a man speak to us about the truth when he has failed to put on the mind of Christ?

Men presumed as merciful exposed as sources for sin.

These are the men chosen to give flesh to the Divine Mercy in the ministry of the church.  Who would want to go to confession to such rogues?  Many might think that their sins pale in comparison to such reprobates.  While the efficacy of the sacraments is assured; it is understandable that the faithful would feel stained or polluted by association with these men.  Is it all just empty words and gestures? Compounding the problem, they sometimes substitute malice for mercy and draw others as accomplices into their lives of sin.  How can such men draw us into the love of God when they do not have the heart of Christ?

Men presumed as healers caught as sadistic destroyers.

Jesus condemned the pharisees for placing unnecessary burdens upon good people.  As an antidote he delivered the freedom and healing that belongs to the children of God.  Priests were called to mend souls and to give hope, not to breach their victims from the family of God or to give them cause for despair.  The miscreants in the news destroyed innocence and purposely misdirected the faith trajectory of people’s lives.  They placed their own sexual gratification over sacred promises and the good of persons.  How could they live with themselves, exchanging the joy of right relationship with God for a cruel transitory delight toward others?  Even if there were a failure to love, did they not fear God?

Men presumed as pure are brought to light as defiled.

Priests are commissioned as eschatological signs of Christ’s kingdom.  This is a basic premise behind the promise or vow of celibacy.  Celibacy is not the same as chastity or virginity.  Rather, it is a wondrous way of loving others.  We are corporeal-spiritual composites, creatures of spirit and flesh.  The purity of the body is supposed to immediately signify the virtuous nature of the soul, the existential resolution as one who loves the Lord so tremendously that it spills over in concern for the neighbor.  As opposed to the pattern of the rich man going away sad because of his many possessions, it is the follower of Jesus who seeks to abandon earthly satisfaction so as to be rich in Christ.  What happened to this singleness of purpose in these men?  How is it that they could be satisfied with the carnal man when they were pledged to something greater, the one who lives in the Spirit?

Men presumed as holy are divulged as devils.

We are all called to be saints.  That is our fundamental purpose in life.  Christ as the new Adam comes into the world to restore an innocence that was lost by sin.  The priest is charged as an instrument of the Lord to dispense the divine mysteries in making this objective possible.  His ministrations allow us to enter in the saving paschal mystery.  Here is where the sins of these men become a kind of blasphemy against all that is holy and good.  Instead of realizing their role as sharers in Christ’s priesthood and extending his saving works, they look to the wimpish failure of the first Adam; indeed, worse than this, they play the role of the serpent.  Do they not see how they have been thoroughly soiled as slaves to the devil?  Have they stopped believing entirely?

We are told that a priest, even in mortal sin, can validly administer the sacraments.  This is one of the great absurdities of faith and yet one necessary to insure the efficacy of the sacraments in the life of God’s people.  Of course, while a bad priest might do some good, his bad character often sours the milk and corrupts or tears down what is built up.  This dissimulation probably constitutes a special wound in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Our Lord is pained by the priest who is a cheat or hypocrite, even as he is supposed to be “another Christ” at the altar.

It remains a conundrum that a priest might take his people to the very gates of heaven but himself be unable to enter.  While we might think that the graces of priesthood would make it easier for him to go to heaven; certain authorities have argued that it makes the prospect of hell more pressing and dangerous.  Why?  The more one is given, the more for which one will be held accountable.  The priest knows better and cannot claim ignorance.  Everything needed for salvation is immediately available.  That makes any neglect inexcusable.  Further, because he has been configured to Christ by his ordination, the devil targets him for every temptation and assault.  At his altar, at his desk, in his car and in his bed he is always in the midst of a fierce battle with the prince demon of perdition.  Priests who forget this will immediately stumble.  The senses are especially targeted.  The scandals of late all appeal to the flesh and sexuality.  The sins committed are virtually unimaginable.  Minds are clouded.  Hearts are hardened.  The devil will take any crack he can find to pierce the priest’s soul— smoking, drunkenness, gluttony, sloth, anger, jealousy, whatever.  The devil may have failed in his temptation of Christ; but starting with his apostles and coming down through history to his priests and bishops of today, he has found men who sometimes falter and even become his property.  Judas may not be the only bishop-priest in hell.

It is a terrible business when the weak link of faith is the shepherd. The weapons to hurt souls and to attack the Church then come from the very hands of the priest— hands that were consecrated for the chalice and the host.  We as Catholics become our own worst enemies.  It is at such times that we must remember that our faith is placed ultimately not in men but in God.  We should also recall the saints, for theirs is the true legacy of the Church.  Instead of running away, it becomes all the more imperative for God’s people to keep the faith and to demand fidelity and holiness of their priests.  All sins might be forgiven, but the sins against innocence must not be forgotten.  A reform of the Church will mean that some higher churchmen will have to step down, certain priests will have to be removed from ministry and others will have to embrace a heroic apostolate of penance and sanctity.  This is not a time for window dressing but of a true moral reform, to deal both with a hostile secular modernity and a rigid clericalism that makes careerism and a fear of scandal into higher imperatives than protecting God’s flock from the robber and the wolf.

If we enter into the light (not afraid of what will be unmasked) and not in the darkness (where the roaches of sin hide), then we will truly walk with Christ.  As opposed to the clamoring enemies of the Church who see the current scandal as the death knell for Catholicism, maybe it is an unavoidable summons to “grow up” and to become a more effective and genuine witness for Christ in the modern world?  Divine providence is most unfathomable when God draws something of the good from the misdirected evil of men.

How Do We Get Out of This Mess?

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His Enemy Came and Sowed Weeds All through the Wheat

These are dark days for the Church.  One of my friends even said, “These scandals make me feel ashamed to work for the Church.” I well understood.  At every Mass a priest mentions and prays for his bishop by name.  What if a bishop should disappoint you or you discover that one was likely a reprobate?  I suspect a number of priests have paused or recently winced during the saying of the Eucharistic prayer.  In any case, we are called to pray for the good and the bad, always remembering as priests that we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God.

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Jesus’ apostles often disappointed him— one even betrayed and despaired, taking his own life.  I suppose the best of priests are wounded healers.  Nevertheless, there are certain sins that cry out to heaven.  I am reminded of one of the parables:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Is it time for the harvest?  It is so very hard to separate the weeds from the wheat.  Indeed, the weeds threaten to strangle the wheat.  We desperately want to see the weeds bundled and burned.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Alarmists about Vatican II regularly cite a quotation attributed to Pope Paul VI that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”  While I neither have a naïve celebratory nor a pejorative view of the Council, I do feel that a diabolical attack upon the Church extending back to the very beginning of the incarnation is reaching a fever pitch in these latter days.  The assault targets both clergy and lay.  The complicit backdrop is a culture where sexual perversion is increasingly regarded as normative, where immigrant families are derided as criminals and subhumans and where mothers argue for the choice or right to murder their children.

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Just as Christ is the fulfillment of the ancient promise for redemption given our first parents; the devil is all about broken promises.  He corrupted Adam but failed when it came to Jesus and that failure fills him with an eternal spite.  He numbs consciences to the truth about the sanctity of life and the dignity of persons.  He hardens hearts, not merely against charity but even about what should be obvious in regards to compassion, mercy and decency.  Truth is an immediate casualty but so is the love that beckons to us from the Cross.  We become comfortable with our sins and selfishness.  Divine commands become weak suggestions.

Christ was tempted but could not fall; however, we still struggle with the brokenness of the first Adam.  Apart from Christ we are destined to fail.  The world pampers our pride.  The flesh entices our senses.  The devil seeks to oppress and even to possess us.  Satan has a burning hatred for us and the Church.  He lost the war against Christ but continues to corrupt and steal in skirmishes for individual souls.  We should not pretend that the devil is a fool.  He knows that the best way to hurt the Church is to undermine her ministers— as goes the priesthood, so goes the Church.  It was only a matter of time that this crisis would turn to the bishops given that they possess the fullness of priesthood.

Jesus redeemed us and yet some would return to their bondage of suffering, sin and death.  We hear the devil speaking through the mouths of his slaves all the time:  “I am not a saint so why try? May we always be going to hell but never get there.  You can’t tell me what to do.  If it feels good then do it.  It is my body.  Everyone is doing it! Those foreigners are all drug dealers and rapists!  I’ll run over anyone who gets in my way!  Going to church is a waste of my time.  To hell with her brains, I want her for her body.  We don’t want his kind around here. It only becomes a baby if you want it.”  Yes, I am convinced that the devil has a hand in this abuse scandal; but, of course, none of the guilty can escape personal culpability.

Man Has Made Himself the Measure of All Things

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Everything is salted with sensuality and eroticism: television, movies, music, books, art, the internet, etc.  Fifty Shades of Grey becomes a bestselling book and it leads to sequels and films, affirming that pornography has truly gone mainstream.  We feed our children to demons, not only with abortion but by eroticizing adolescents— dressing them as provocative adults, putting makeup on babies, romanticizing their juvenile relationships and allowing them to set the rules in our homes (giving them everything they want).  We fill their heads with profane music and delight in their dancing, much as did lecherous Herod over Salome.  Nevertheless, denying our own cooperation in sin, we point the finger at others when lines are crossed.  Man imposes his strictures of fad as dictates over natural law, the height of lunacy. Few are willing to admit that gender confusion and same-sex unions have fashioned a twisted parody of marriage. A political correctness mislabels the clergy scandal so that it cannot be adequately addressed. We clamor about a few pedophiles when the problem remains a cabal of unsated homosexual pederasts.

Forbidden are a host of words and concepts like purity, chastity, virginity, temperance, obedience, duty, sacrifice, etc.  Truth is no longer “what is” but simply “what we want it to be.” A Christian society has largely vanished.  Many elements of the Church have given up the fight and have been seduced.  Custody of the eyes is virtually impossible.  If there remains any element of shame from damaged consciences and complicity in scandal then it is brushed aside by critics upon others.  We find much of this transference in how the Church is faulted, especially her clergy.  A problematical infestation of active homosexuals is ignored or tolerated because the culture wants to affirm and normalize homosexuality.  Thus, the errant priests who largely target males are labeled as “pedophiles” when in actuality they are essentially repressed homosexuals acting out with other men or committing pederasty with older minors. (I must quickly add that this judgment should not diminish a respect for persons or insinuate that all homosexuals are a danger to minors. We need to be sympathetic to those who seek to be chaste and celibate, even if they should not be welcomed into holy orders.)

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Where do we go from here?  Silence is not the answer; indeed, it becomes part of the problem.  Moving the men around is not the answer; like shipping the trash out to sea it only makes a problem for others somewhere else.  Much of the damage evades healing, at least in this world.  What is done cannot be undone.  (Many of us hoped and prayed that this problem was largely behind us.)  Now we know that most of us will be long in the grave before these troubled seas are calm again.

The late cardinal-priest Avery Dulles was a prophet about this problem, urging adequate protections for innocent priests but also alerting the bishops that they should not exclude themselves from inspection, reprimand and public penance. When these issues first began to make headlines the USCCB recommended a day of penance for the laity to pray upon this issue— but the criticism was rightfully made that the laity would prefer to see the bishops and priests on their knees.  The situation with the disoriented and misbehaving clergy might have been a symptom of a sick society and a repressive Church but still people were right to argue about the blinders that some of the shepherds were wearing.  I suppose the issue of fault is often connected to liability and lawyers.  It should be about contrition, amendment of life and penance.

The revelations during the last few weeks have caused many of us who love the Church, clergy and laity alike, to weep as we have prayed.  How can we win back the confidence of God’s people as credible witnesses to the Gospel? The flock has every right to be upset at the many allegations of misconduct and the passivity from bishops in protecting our children.  Where was accountability in all this?  How could anyone move up the ranks of the hierarchy when there were sordid rumors and even past settlements for sexual misbehavior?  Many of us are shaking our heads; it is so unbelievable.  And yet, like throwing gasoline into an open fire, there are many in authority claiming “I did not know” or “We thought we could morally reform the man” or “A few of the details need correction or clarification.”  No one should be falsely charged, either in the commission of heinous acts or as concealing that which cries out to be known; however, missteps were made and we will never move forward while there is a refusal to accept responsibility for how matters were handled.

I’m Mad as Hell and I am Not Going to Take This Anymore!

Most bishops do not regularly live and work in parishes.  They may not be fully aware of how angry people are.  I am reminded of the 1976 movie Network where the television newscaster shouts, “You’ve got to say: I’m a human being, g-dammit! My life has value! So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

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As I said, the faithful have every right to be upset.  They deserve good and holy priests.  They should expect that their bishops and priests would love and protect them, especially the children.  Will we see more empty pews?  Will needed funds dry up?  I cannot yet say, although I have heard more than one person say that he or she will be cutting back.  As with the lawsuits and large monetary awards to victims and their lawyers— we could also end up victimizing the faithful in the pews and the needy in our communities. While the Church’s moral authority is compromised, we are still a voice and helping hand for the oppressed and the poor.  What will happen to them if our resources are stripped away from the Church?

A Proposal for the Future

I have a hard time believing some of the things I am hearing.  I do not want to believe it all.  The deteriorating situation signifies bad news in terms of our credibility in proclaiming the Good News.  Again, what must we do?  Msgr. Charles Pope writes:

“As a lower-ranking priest I cannot issue demands or send binding norms to those in wider and upper ranks of the hierarchy, but I do want to say to God’s faithful how powerfully aware I am of their justified anger and agree with their insistence that something more than symbolic action or promises of future reform is necessary.”

At the end of his article at the National Catholic Register, he states:

“Remember, too, not every bishop or priest is equally to blame. Some are suffering as much as you are. However, no one, clergy or lay, should exempt himself from the task of summoning the Church to reform and greater holiness.”

That is exactly the case and I would like to applaud his courage and forthrightness in saying so.

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It is my view that only something drastic will make any difference in the current climate of anger and distrust.  I am only a priest and maybe a poor one, but here are my suggestions:

  • There should be a new review board given over entirely to the laity (men and women) where bishops could participate as observers and advisors (on ecclesial protocols as well as canonical and theological questions.)
  • While certain facets of professional secrecy and the seal of confession would have to be respected, there should be no secret agreements and a general transparency in the process.
  • There would need to be collaboration with the Holy See, not only to modify certain canons of the Church (returning to the explicit language of the 1917 code), but to create an independent canonical board and to facilitate canonical trials.
  • This review board should also become a clearing house for charges against clergy, especially bishops; priests would be able to share what they know without fear of reprisal in their dioceses.
  • There should be a general purge of those in the upper hierarchy who have tolerated active homosexuality or who have failed in their duty to protect vulnerable persons and the young from predator priests (through either silence or shuffling clergy elsewhere).
  • There should be a bill of rights for priests to insure justice and due process in determining innocence or guilt along with a provision for legal representation (an innocent priest should not be reduced to bankruptcy in trying to defend his good name while Church lawyers defend bishops).
  • Continue to insure that those who have abused or harmed minors would be permanently removed from Church ministries.
  • Insure that all programs of priestly formation also include regular psychological evaluation from a therapist who assents to Church teaching on human sexuality, not minimizing issues like consensual heterosexual relations (fornication), homosexual acts, masturbation, pornography and/or a general discomfort around women.
  • Forbid seminary formation to anyone who has committed homosexual acts and permanently remove any priests from ministry who violate their celibacy in committing them.
  • Suspend a priest from active ministry who has violated his celibacy with heterosexual acts, requiring either his laicization or that he spend five years doing penance in a monastic environment along with appropriate counseling prior to returning to ministry in another (arch)diocese.
  • Reparation for victims that brings some degree of healing and help to those harmed while not destroying the resources that rightly belong to those in the pews and to those assisted by our charity and justice initiatives. (Do we have to review the “corporate sole” model?)
  • Promote policies that both protect vulnerable persons and yet insure fair and just treatment for those accused.
  • As witnessed by Pope Francis, bishops should be required in all cases to live a very modest lifestyle with no more perks than those given to the poorest priest.
  • A penitential reform within the Church that would fully restore the Friday fasting and abstinence practices of the past for everyone and add particular acts of penance (over and above this) for all bishops and priests.
  • A daily campaign of praying the Rosary and/or the Liturgy of the Hours for the sanctification of priests, the fidelity of the Church and the conversion of sinners.
  • Restore the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel to the liturgy, either at the end of the bidding prayers or at the conclusion of the Mass (Satan needs to be uprooted).

Reverse the Pyramid: Faithful Laity Can Save the Church

This is one of those situations where the good suffer along with the bad.  The true “sensus fidelium” is not with dissenters, but with the faithful laity and they are the ones through their prayers and intervention who will now make a difference. Everyone should pray for the Church. Dialogue with the bishops and priests must be fair and open.  This is not a situation the bishops can fix.  As one person said to me, “Their credibility is shot!”

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I noticed online that a few of the Hollywood celebrities have added their two cents (mostly negative) to this crisis in the Church.  It would seem to me that when it comes to scandal they should be the last ones to talk, but I suppose it makes good fodder for deflection.  Pointing to the sins of others takes the attention off one’s own. Years ago when these scandals first broke, I asked an elderly priest (who has since gone to God) about such matters.  He explained that he was surprised about the child abuse but that the problem of errant priests was not new.  However, he explained, the Church treated transgressions (as when a priest fell with a woman) entirely as moral ones, not focusing on psychological issues or any kind of pathology beyond the man’s control.  It was presumed that after a reprimand, going to confession, a retreat and a verbal assurance of repentance— that a priest might be returned to ministry.  Evidently, when it came to some of them, and particularly regarding disordered urges and an attraction to youth, no such assurances could be trusted.

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There has been a great deal in the news about allegations of misconduct by Cardinal McCarrick.  He has resigned from the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis has ordered him to pursue a “life of prayer and penance.” There is not much more that I can say about what has come out about Cardinal McCarrick.  He was a great communicator and extremely charismatic.  We clashed years ago when I openly opposed the practice of giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.  I am still deeply troubled about such policies, although the scope seems to be expanding to include invitations for those in adulterous unions to take the sacrament and even to receive absolution.  How can the mortal sins of enabling murder or committing marital infidelity properly dispose one for the divine mysteries?  I shake my head.  Maybe I am too stupid to understand?  I promised him years ago that I would pray for him daily.  Now, more than before, I am dedicated to keeping that promise.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church was hard to read.  I became overwhelmed by grief and wept.  How could this happen?  Priests are called “Father” and fathers are supposed to protect, nurture and heal their children.  My next emotion was anger.  Men broke their promises and they lied about it.  Others were so afraid of scandal and litigation that they apparently kept silent.  Was this the Church for which I sought to be a priest by entering the seminary 40 years ago?  Our faith is ultimately not in weak men but in Jesus who is God come down from heaven to save us.  Given all the negativity and the painful stories, how is it affecting the people in the pews?  (I am planning a monthly parish program on the saints.  That is where we find the real legacy of the Church.  We will focus on those who faithfully ran the race and won their crowns.)

Years ago when I heard that Cardinal Wuerl was coming to Washington I was delighted as I had been a fan of his catechism, The Teaching of Christ, going back to my college seminary days.  His little book, The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition, co-authored with Mike Aquilina, is a real gem and a useful tool in teaching about the Eucharistic liturgy.  As one of his priests, it is hard to hear all the criticism from his time in Pittsburgh.  It seems to me that he did so very much to make a positive difference in protecting children.  Did he stumble at some point?  I am certain that there are many families and victims appreciative for what he tried to do for them.  There has been some talk that the Grand Jury Report got a number of particulars wrong.  I am not in possession of all the facts and so I will leave it up to others to figure out.  I will keep him in my prayers, especially in the Mass, and urge our good people in the pews not to despair.

I am reminded of John Cardinal Newman’s work on the Arian crisis and St. Athanasius when so many of the bishops had fallen into heresy. He concluded that in the fourth century the laity were the heroes who had saved the day for the true faith. While the Lord will be the one to ultimately separate the weeds from the wheat or the goats from the lambs, we need to trust our good lay men and women today.  I am not talking about dissenters but the homeschooling family, the teacher in the parish school, the volunteers running the bible study, the Blue Army lady always rattling off her beads in the lonely church, the teenager eager to serve Mass, the Knights of Columbus men who actively live out charity in communities, the virtuous souls who march for life and stand outside abortion clinics praying for the unborn and their parents, the reader faithful to his service, the altar guild ladies who help set up for the liturgy, etc. Allowing the laity to take the lead may be hard for bishops as it seems to be a surrender of their authority; however, in truth this is precisely the kind of humiliation that may restore their moral jurisdiction as servants of the Most High God.

Statement from the Archdiocese of Washington to Pastors

Many of you have addressed the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, as well as the Archbishop McCarrick matter in homilies or comments to your parishioners.  Cardinal Wuerl requests that you not shy away from addressing these matters again in a spirit and manner that you feel appropriate. He also requests that you include in your Prayers of the Faithful the following intercession:

“For young people and our most vulnerable that they remain safe and protected, and for those survivors of abuse whether by power or violence, especially by the clergy who have not lived up to their call to holiness. Let us pray to the Lord.”

Finally, as a concluding prayer after the Prayers of the Faithful, he requests the following Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse from the USCCB:

God of endless love,
ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just:
You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.

Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.

Hear our cries as we agonize
over the harm done to our brothers and sisters.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope,
steady shaken spirits with faith.
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, 
heal your people’s wounds
and transform our brokenness.
Grant us courage and wisdom, humility and grace,
so that we may act with justice
and find peace in you.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

FROM CARDINAL WUERL:

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Episcopal Support as Pope Carries Out Reform

Statement Regarding Archbishop McCarrick

Statement on PA Grand Jury Report

Statement in Response to Grand Jury Report (in full)

But Judging Credibility in Abuse Cases Is a Tough Call

“I Met with Every Victim” (TV Interview)

FROM OTHER SOURCES:

Scapegoating Cardinal Wuerl

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked

Pope Francis is on the Side of the Victims of Pennsylvania Abuse

The Good Ole Shepherds Club

Bishops will Have to Sacrifice Power & Privilege to Resolve the Abuse Crisis

Bishop Morlino: ‘Homosexual Subculture’ a Source of Devastation

After PA Grand Jury Report, Will Laws Change to Better Protect Children?

US Bishops Express Anguish Over Abuse Reports

Active Homosexuality in the Priesthood Helped Cause This Crisis

Janet Smith to Bishops: ‘Save the Church — Tell Everything’