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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Abuse in France & the Seal of Confession

It makes me weep that the ministry of mercy might be distorted into the “weapon of silence” against those who have had their innocence assailed and their bodies violated.   

Given the recent revelations of priestly abuse in France, some of the critics are targeting the sacrament of confession, notably the seal that binds a priest to silence under the pain of mortal sin and excommunication.  It is not a new question, “Must the priest remain silent when the sins confessed are also legally crimes?”  The Church’s response remains the same and cannot be compromised— the seal must be kept no matter what. The legal establishment in many if not most places respects this silence. Indeed, when ministers, lawyers, doctors and psychologists demanded confidentiality for their clients, they were given the lesser protection of professional secrecy. However, even in the United States there have been a number of challenges to the seal as well as threats to fine or jail clergy.

I am not sure what the evidence might be, but supposedly an independent commission in France found that in rare instances, the sacrament was used to conceal misdeeds.  It would seem to me that any who would advise going to confession to suppress the truth would make themselves accomplices in their sins.  I suppose that sexual criminals themselves might confess to a priest in order to silence his voice.  This can be true about many wrongs, from abuse of children and adults to infidelity and murder.  The priest confessor can hope that the penitent employs the sacrament for the proper reason and has a contrite heart; but few priests can read souls.  A priest might even seek to avoid hearing a person’s confession when the rumor mill would give him a heads up.  Nevertheless, most of the time, he must make himself available and he must give the penitent the benefit of a doubt.  Even if absolution were denied, he would still be required to keep silent.  The seal is absolute and means that he cannot divulge what he hears by word or by intimation.  The priest is aware of the many dirty secrets and the terrible darkness that infects souls, even those who seem observant and pious.       

“The report recommended that priests who heard of abuse during confession should be required to report evidence to state authorities.” Given that France is a secular country I suspect that the Church will soon know more than lawsuits, but that good priests will join the bad in jails.  The laws of God take precedence over those of men.  Remove the seal and the sacrament of penance would be destroyed. Everyone would be afraid what a priest might tell others.  The sacrament is literally understood as from the penitent’s mouth to God’s ears.  The priest is the instrument used by Christ to extend his saving ministry.  Jesus did not forgive souls and then turn them over to the authorities.  Now, having said that, priests should and likely already do urge penitents who confess abuse to turn themselves in for treatment and for justice.  Such may be understood as a sign of true contrition and wanting to change.  Forgiveness requires a disposition open to mercy.

It may also happen that a victim of abuse confesses what has happened in the sacrament of penance.  I would disagree with the authority in the article who suggested telling the penitent that this element is not part of the confession protected by the seal.  This constitutes a serious and impractical effort at demarcation that will likely get the priest excommunicated.  The seal must apply to every delicate detail the priest hears from the sign of the cross to the dismissal.  The priest should urge the person to report the abuse or to bring it up with another priest or person on the parish staff outside of confession.  Any instance of child abuse reported outside the sacrament (and is thus not under the seal) must be reported to the police and then to the local bishop.

The analogy of a person drowning is a false one.  If you find yourself in the water and cannot swim then you shout for help— in other words go public and to the police.  The parallel with confession would be like a drowning person whispering too low for anyone to hear.  See a priest outside the sacrament and he will likely go to the police with you, yes even if the culprit is another priest.  At least this is the case if he puts the youthful victim first (as he should).

How Far Can the Pope Go?

The article, “Are There Limits to Papal Power?” by John A. Monaco does a good job of giving the accepted view of papal authority that is further explicated in the universal catechism.  It is really nothing new although I know many critics are worried that the timing of the article is to question statements and the direction of the Church under Pope Francis.  Monaco is certainly concerned, as are many of us, about the recent restrictions placed upon the old order of the Latin Mass.  While some version or rite of the Mass must be promoted as constitutive of our worship and faith; I would question whether this would demand that every rite or reformation of the liturgy (old or new) must be permitted.  While St. Pope John Paul II gave a restricted freedom to the practice of the old liturgy; it was Pope Benedict XVI that really opened it up as a gesture of freedom and in the hope of reconciliation with traditionalists.  But despite the language used implying there had never been a strict suppression; most of us know that in practice there had been.  This in itself demonstrates something of the scope of papal authority, no matter if we agree with it or not.

I take it that the consternation some have expressed is not about the first part of the article which simply teaches what the church understands by papal authority and infallibility, but rather about the adjoined “thought experiments.”  Actually, the latter part is familiar to me as such proposed scenarios, even questionable ones, were often posed when I was in seminary some four decades ago.  How far can a pope go?  While I do not believe the author wanted to insinuate that the rosary will be the next item on the pope’s agenda to forbid— I suspect he selected the topic of the rosary because any possibility of suppression is technically nil.  However, there was a commotion in 2002 when St. Pope John Paul II enriched the rosary by adding the wonderful Mysteries of Light.  Some people just do not like change, either in private devotions or in the liturgies of the Church.

The author rightly affirms:  “And while it is true that most papal pronouncements and writings do not fall within this narrow scope of papal infallibility, they should generally be received with docility and ‘religious respect.’”  Yes, and this is a fact that many on the left and today too many of the right seem to be dismissing.  No matter whether the Pope is Benedict XVI or Pope Francis, the author is correct that papal power is “limited by natural and divine law.”  The pope is the servant of the Word, not its master.

I cannot speak to the overall intent of the article.  I suspect that many of the clashes today signify a failure to trust the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.  The fact that must be accepted is that popes have jurisdiction over the worship and prayer forms available in the Church.  Just a few years ago, Eucharistic Adoration, which was a long-standing devotion in the Church, was raised to a formal liturgy.  This was done to avoid abuses and to insure certain uniformity.  The late St. John Paul II was criticized by certain traditionalists for raising the host over the chalice (instead of the paten) at the Ecce Agnus Dei.  What they forgot was that the Pope “is” the ROMAN RITE. Historically other local churches imitated the liturgy of Rome even before there were official mandates.  Today, in the Roman Missal (English Translation) used since 2012, the rubrics give the priest the option of raising the host over the chalice instead of the paten— a change rooted in the papal practice. 

While I might prefer freedom in regards to the old or newer form of the liturgy, it is my conviction that the Holy Father has authority over such matters.  We can pray that the shepherds of the Church will exert proper discretion along with compassion.  We can pray that the flock will embrace both humility and obedience in living the faith and in participating in whatever form of worship available to them in the Church.  As a warning, let none disparage the reformed ritual of the Mass as the Spirit is efficacious in the sacrament.  The Mass is the Mass, despite the various accidentals and languages.  It is an unbloody re-presentation of the one-time sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.  The man at the altar, either looking toward us or away, is a sharer in the high priesthood of Christ.  The Eucharist given while we kneel or stand, either on the tongue or in the hand is the real presence of the Risen Christ, body, soul and divinity.    

Should a FREEDOM of Liturgical Forms Be Permitted?

I have not really said much about this issue because, to be frank, it befuddles me. As a whole it seems to me that the accommodation made possible by Pope Benedict XVI was working. Given the many challenges facing the Church, I really have not discerned any pressing need as did Pope Francis to restrict the old liturgical form. Those who are sowing the seeds of disharmony are largely not among our priests or in the parishes where the traditional and reformed order of the Mass are offered.

I would urge the Holy See to set its sights on the SSPX that has consistently spurned overtures for reunion and gives its own spin on what it can and cannot legitimately do. I suspect that come the next illicit episcopal ordination, they will return to their status as an excommunicated schismatic group. They might wrongly malign Vatican II for the excesses of a few but they are arrogantly blind to their own growing heresy against ecclesial communion given both papal and conciliar authority.

The current papal measure is needlessly hurtful to good people and places organizations like the Fraternity of St. Peter into a precarious and painful position given that they are faithful both to the old form and to the successors of St. Peter.

The permissive stance of Pope Benedict XVI actually reflected a toleration that existed prior to Trent where there were a great many local or national adaptations of the Western or Roman liturgy. This FREEDOM or liberality gave richness to the liturgical tradition. Given the ravages of the Protestant reformation, the Church literally circled the wagons to defend herself. The reforms after the council permitted a few adaptations in local churches or among orders, but generally through dropping and combining elements sought a liturgy that would apply to the whole Church.

Vatican II sought ways in which to better share the faith and the worship of the Church with the modern world. Signs of the coming apostasy and defection were already in the air prior to the council and the reforms. We can argue as to whether or not Vatican II was effective to deal with modern challenges but it was not the absolute catalyst for the problems faced in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Certain traditionalist critics stamp the reforms as heretical or as a type of Modernism. What they seem to forget is that the heresy of Modernism infected the Church and clergy back when the Mass was offered in Latin and according to the old form. Indeed, it was admitted by the Modernist founder Alfred Loisy that he was rigidly faithful to the rubrics of the old Latin Mass even after he had long since stopped believing.

While the accidentals vary, the heart or meaning of the old and the new form of the Mass as true divine worship is the same— a sacramental re-presentation of our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary in an unbloody manner; an oblation in which we offer ourselves grafted to our high priest Christ as an acceptable gift to the Father; and as a sacred meal through which we receive and are transformed by the “real presence” of the risen Christ (whole and complete) in Holy Communion.

The first Mass was offered in Aramaic and Hebrew as were the Jewish liturgies in Jerusalem. Later the Mass was largely offered in the Greek of the Hellenic gentiles. The witness of Peter and Paul, along with the many martyrs to follow, would lead by God’s grace to the conversion of an empire. The language of Rome became the voice of the Church. Latin became the mother tongue of the Church and the Mass. The languages of men were subject to change but the Latin remained the same. Just as Latin was the vernacular for the Romans, the Church after Vatican II wanted to make room in the liturgy for the vernacular of the many peoples who populate the Church today. Latin will always be the sacred language of the Church; but any and all languages that give praise to God can become holy vehicles for the divine.

No Ordination for Women Deacons

This whole business about women forbidden to serve in the Catholic Church is a lot about nothing.  Women have served in many ways over the last two thousand years and as daughters to the Blessed Mother they have imitated her as handmaids of the Lord.  The problem is not a lack of opportunity but the wrong mindset that is amplified by contemporary society.  Service today is increasing equated with headship and power.  Such a mentality is even problematical for men called to holy orders as they should first see themselves as servants of the Lord and slaves for their people.  Christ turns the worldly notion of power on its head; such is the witness of the Holy Thursday foot washing.   

Like celibate clergy, our religious sisters and nuns have certainly signified (in an official manner) the presence of Christ and the activity of his Church.  The problem with Ms. Casey Stanton (co-founder of Discerning Deacons) and those laywomen like her is that they want clerical standing for a part-time commitment or job in the Church.  As a lay chaplain she could still work for the Church; indeed, given recent changes by Pope Francis, those like her in the future might serve as official Readers, Acolytes and now Catechists.  Her lack of clerical standing is no barrier to personal overtures of “encouragement, love and healing.”  Any argument to the contrary is deceptive nonsense.

Just because North Carolina requires chaplains in state prisons to be ordained is no concern of the Catholic Church.  The state cannot dictate to us who we should or should not ordain.  In any case, we would grant no official standing to the ordinations of Protestant ministers.  The issue here is apples and oranges.  We do not ordain women as priests because our Lord has not clearly established such jurisdiction for the Church.  The diaconate is intimately connected to the priesthood and is not comparable to the deaconesses in the early Church.  Indeed, women religious are likely their successors and the label or name was dropped to avoid confusion.  Stanton, like many other laypeople might have degrees in religion, but this does not qualify her for ordination in any capacity. 

The article states, “Up until the 12th century, the Catholic Church ordained women deacons, although by then their service was mostly restricted to women’s monasteries.” This is not strictly true.  There was a ceremony of installation but there was no ordination into holy orders or one of the seven sacraments.   The Council of Nicea directly forbade the laying on of hands or the ordination of women.  This is an unbroken tradition from the earliest days of the Church.  We might research the matter, as the Pope has suggested, but the matter of ordination is fixed and will not change.  There is no evidence that New Testament deaconesses were ever ordained.  Ecclesial nomenclature was still evolving and the term “deaconess” was simply applied to women who out of propriety assisted with female neophytes prior to baptism or in some cases were the spouses of deacons.  Despite the arguments of authorities like Phyllis Zagano, many of us would see efforts to ordain women as deacons as a break from our tradition and the beginning of a severance from apostolic succession.

Crucial Connection between Religion & Spirituality

Can there be legitimate spirituality segregated from religion?

Catholicism would contend that genuine spirituality must emanate from that which is religiously true. Otherwise, it constitutes false worship or superstition.  We do not pray to any fertility goddess or to the four winds or to anything else of the sort.  We invoke the intercession of the saints but repudiate the worship of voodoo and New Age angel worship.  We do not worship the sun in the sky or accept that our lives are predetermined by the heavenly constellations as in astrology.  We do not pamper ourselves with the narcissism of paid motivational speakers that substitute slogans and psychology for faith and prayer.   

As Catholics, we see the Church as both a human and a divine institution. She is both entrusted with the saving message and the vessel established by Jesus to ferry us to the promised shore.  Our Lord gave us the Eucharist as our rations to sustain us on the journey.  Catholic spirituality finds it core in the Eucharist and the Church that gives us the sacraments.  The human side of the Church is liable to sin. Such is an immediate connection to the great commission— we are commanded to call sinners into our ranks.  The divine side of the Church is the source of holiness. Both Christ and his Church is the Way.  The Church is not viewed as an optional construct for purposes of fellowship but is esteemed as the great mystery or sacrament of salvation instituted by Jesus Christ.

Christianity takes a hardline against alternative movements such as oriental, new age, and nature spiritualties. While tolerant of others, the faith would insist that believers find their spiritual strength and solace in the Christian kerygma. Ultimately this comes down to a profound appreciation of the sanctifying movement of the Holy Spirit, the redemptive mediation of Christ and the fatherhood of almighty God. Catholicism is intensely communitarian as our Lord identifies himself with his Church as his mystical body. This is where the connection is made with the Blessed Mother Mary and the sanctoral intercession of the saints. Within the history of the West there have been a number of spiritual doctors and movements that reflect these truths, such as Augustinian, Franciscan, Dominican and Ignatian (Jesuit) spiritualties.

The reference to “oriental” spiritualties might wrongly be interpreted as a slur given a secondary dictionary definition that reflects current ethnic insecurities and excessive sensitivity.  Polite conversation and discourse is frequently made impossible by an unrestrained passion to argue.  Such belligerence has infected both political and religious interchanges. What is meant here is no slander but a shortcut to listing Eastern religions or philosophies = Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc. The term is typically used in religious dialogue. It can also refer to Oriental churches which are the Catholic and Orthodox churches of the East. We should remember that dictionaries like Webster tend to restrict themselves to pedestrian definitions.

When this discussion emerged online, another critic lamented that there was a downplaying of Judaism in my appraisal of spirituality.  This was not my intent.  Christian and Jewish spirituality are not the same but they both find their root in the revelation of the true God and his promise to his people. Catholicism regards Judaism as true religion and the precursor for Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI argued that we are both people of the one covenant. We claim Abraham as our spiritual father in faith. The psalms from the Hebrew Scriptures constitute a staple of prayer for Catholics used in the Mass and daily prayer. Any Catholic who would claim Christ might be regarded as a spiritual Hebrew. Antisemitism would be regarded as a terrible sin, not only against the Jewish people but against the very foundations of Christianity.

Just as there are varying definitions or appreciations of religion, similarly there is diversity in any appreciation of accompanying spirituality.  The Christian tends to view spirituality and prayer as directed to holiness and union with almighty God.  There is a great deal of authentic variation, some stressing the imagination, others rational reflection and still others a select brand of piety. The traditions of faith, liturgical worship and the transmission of the Scriptures immediately link Catholics to the Church. 

While Christian voices would urge against it, there are a number of Eastern and/or New Age religions that are pursued for some proposed spiritual benefit today by people in the West. Christianity takes exception to popular elements like pantheism and animism that are inimical to the faith. Most secular spirituality would likely propose adherence to a humanistic philosophy lacking adherence to any creed.  Such might denote introspection, as to oneself be true.  It might denote a connection to others or to nature or to the cosmos.  It might imply a tenuous relationship with something greater than ourselves but unnamed. 

No doubt frustrated by the shenanigans of “right-wing Christians,” one critic remarked in an online discussion that there is nothing worse than a “God told me” Christian.  However, worse would be a God that is utterly silent. Prayer and spirituality is signified by a two-way dialogue or relationship. It is not a one-way soliloquy. That mentality sets the stage for deception and charges of atheism.

What the Catholic Church would propose, especially for believers, she would not force upon those outside her ranks. We respect the conscience and religious liberty of persons even if we disavow the associated sects.  Ecumenical dialogue invites but it does not impose. Just as with this post and comments, there is a sharing of my faith’s perspective and our diversity— not immediately for conversion but hopefully for greater mutual understanding. We can become friends even if we have substantial disagreements. Doors are opened.   Accomplished within the context of peace and respect for persons, it is our hope that the witness and the testimony of the Christian faith would have a compelling power to draw people to Christ and the Church. 

A Fall from Fidelity & Subsequent Exposure

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the secretary-general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, resigned on July 20 after a newly founded Catholic online newsletter employed commercially available data to trace his calls, movements, and behavior since 2018 linking him to gay bars and a Las Vegas gay bathhouse:

  • Does the use of such surveillance constitute an invasion of privacy?
  • Does the publication violate basic journalistic ethics?
  • Should such information always be shared with a titillated and voyeuristic public? 
  • Cannot the priesthood of such a man be salvaged or does such exposure and scandal forever destroy his ministry?
  • Does not such high-tech spying threaten the privacy of all of us and open up the possibility of blackmail?
  • How many innocent churchmen were targeted in this probe?
  • While arguably legal should such efforts be outlawed? 
  • How should Church authorities respond or act when questionable means are used to “out” clergy and others? 
  • While we would expect a priest to remain faithful, should a priest face discipline for information gathered by unethical means? 
  • Would acting on this information make the Church an accomplice in sin? (We have never accepted the philosophical dictum that “ends justify means.”)

Many of us know priests who fell with women and later repented, were rehabilitated and gave great witness as pastors of souls.  Placing the question of ordination for homosexuals aside, should not these priests be given a second chance or does the unnatural or heinous character of their acts demand permanent removal and laicization?  I do not know.  Honest about my own bias, I would tend to be harsh against homosexuals.  I suppose much depends upon the type of ministry and the willingness of laity and bishops to forgive.  We live and work at a time when just the insinuation of wrong can destroy ministry.   

What immediately disappoints and upsets many Catholics is that we are all urged to keep our solemn promises, no matter whether to marital fidelity or priestly celibacy. There is no evidence of criminal misconduct by Monsignor Burrill with minors; however, homosexuality is often linked by conservative critics to the abuse of youth.  The condemnation of the homosexual man is frequently intensified by journalists and bloggers making this unsubstantiated association.

My thoughts go back to various men in Holy Orders who made mistakes or who had charges placed against them. Back in 2020, Father George Rutler was accused of watching gay pornography and then sexually assaulting a 22 year old woman. The charges of assault were dropped in May of 2021 as unfounded.  Will that be enough to restore his good name?  Who can say?  The headlines made when a priest is charged are in bold and everywhere.  When vindicated, one is lucky to find a mention in anything larger that a want ad or obituary.  The left delights in what it sees as the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.       

The current environment is toxic and dangerous for the most innocent of clergymen.  But original sin and concupiscence is still at work even in the best of men.  The Church would naturally seek to heal and restore while many other voices would rather expose and depose. 

Can a Gay Man Be a Saint?

I was surprised recently when I read a critic deriding Mark Shea as dissenting upon the topic of homosexual sin.  Finding this hard to believe, I traced the comment back to the posted article in question:

While he can sometimes be caustic, especially regarding politics, I could discern no divergence from Catholic teaching. He merely urged compassion to persons and the avoidance of sinful presumption against others.  As a priest I am obliged to teach the hard truth about many issues of faith and morals; however, as a pastor, I can also well appreciate a pastoral consideration and welcoming to penitents.  We are all sinners.  A man my size cannot disguise that his struggle is largely with the fork, but whatever the transgression, as a confessor of souls, I have always counted myself as the chief of sinners.  While there might be some pointing of the finger, the mission of the Church is predominately that of mercy.    

A blunt question is put forward: “Can a gay person be a saint?”  Before we reflect upon any answer, those of us who are heterosexual must be honest about the prejudices we have inherited and contrite about the times when we were far less than charitable or compassionate. Any appreciation upon this matter must start with a personal query to our own holiness and trajectory toward sainthood.  While we may have rightly judged homosexual acts as wrong or immoral, did we malign or even seek to humiliate and to alienate our brothers and sisters?  We leave to God the particular judgment of souls; however, we must make assessments about right and wrong as a people consecrated to truth. While it is unpopular with many radical proponents for active homosexuality, the Church distinguishes between sinful actions and “disorientation.”  Intimate sexual conduct outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin.  One’s orientation is either morally neutral or signifies a defect.  There is a huge difference between being sinful and being wounded by sin.  We enter a broken world and all of us are touched by the tragic consequences of sin.  But it is within this human condition that Christ opts to redeem us.  Our Lord voluntarily embraces our human vulnerability.  He comes to bring healing and order to our hurt and messiness.  The Church cannot pretend that a disorder is normative.  The Church cannot impugn the meaning of love as being satisfied or validly expressed through sinful conduct.  Just as many heterosexual unions suffer various degrees of dysfunction; the struggle is even more intense for our brothers and sisters who must rise above their disorder and not seek to enthrone it as the capstone of their identity.  The hurdle faced by the faith is how to extend our saving moral message without being labeled as a “hater” of those with same-sex attractions.  We are all called to love and friendships.  We are all summoned to relationships where we can work together and find friendship and love.  It is within this communion with one another that all of us stumble at one time or another— by being selfish or mean or neglectful or abusive or whatever.  Our Lord teaches us that we must love one another and forgive as he forgives us.  Those of us who are heterosexual in orientation must not act out in violence and bigotry to those who threaten our sense of self and our appreciation of manhood or womanhood.  Those who are homosexual must rein in their anger at those of us who love and cherish them as friends and neighbors, but cannot condone same-sex acts or the accompanying lifestyle.  Sometimes this upset in the gay community is also focused on its own members, particularly those who believe what the Church teaches and seek to be celibate and chaste in their relationships of love.  Despite past sinfulness and possibly stumbling, it is here that the question is answered.  Can a gay person be a saint?  YES, if he or she has a saving faith in Jesus Christ that is acknowledged or realized through repentance of sin and a life of loving discipleship or obedience.  This is the same formula for any of us. 

Pope Francis has stunned many with his assertion that while he opposes any notion of homosexual marriage, he is not opposed to same-sex unions.  However, as the Holy Father discussed the matter, it became clear that he would hope that these connections would be chaste or celibate.  My only reservation about this is that similar arrangements for heterosexual men and women are frowned upon as dangerous cohabitation. As someone who struggles with the temptations of the stomach, I shudder to imagine how I would fare if I lived adjacent to a bakery.  However, consecrated religious men and women live in close proximity and do so chastely and with great spiritual fruits.  Could not men and women who are drawn in love to one another be formally recognized in bonds of brotherly and sisterly love? If lines should be crossed through genuine accident or momentary weakness we have the sacrament of penance and the seal of confession.  It seems to me that this might be an opportunity to catechize upon love and to expand it beyond or at least within the domestic parameters established by the Creator for the propagation of the species.  Just as voluntary priestly celibacy makes the man a special sentinel for the kingdom; these bonds from necessity might do much the same. 

We need to dissect the true meaning of love from any false or fractured sign of its presence.  Masturbation is not love.  The violation of the body of another is not love.  A kiss and a hug may be visible signs of a friendship or love we cannot immediately see.  But what makes love real?  The marital act between a husband and wife is a manifestation of love consecrated by the Lord.  It is not the same as deviant sexual acts or intercourse outside marriage.  That which confirms and expresses the marital covenant gives grace.  Wrongful acts might result in new life, but none should condone either rape or promiscuity.  Sin damages our relationship with others and with God.  That is why fornication is a poor preparation for the sacrament of matrimony.  The self-offering of the spouses must convey a mutual surrender to each other, a pouring-out that seeks to be in conformity with divine providence.  Spouses should see Christ in each other’s eyes.  The union of man and woman in marriage is raised so high that we are to perceive something of the heavenly bridal analogy operative in both the sacrament of marriage and that of the Eucharist.  Christ is the groom and his bride is the Church.  While analogies are somewhat mixed or strained, the Church is also modeled on Mary as the handmaid of the Lord.  Christ as the groom lays down his life for his bride, the Church.  The sin of fornication is only a short step away from that of adultery.  Scripture often connects this sin with that of idolatry in terms of our relationship and worship of the God who created us and calls us to unity in him, alone.  Pursuing the inclination or pattern of his or her disorientation, there is no path forward by which the homosexual could be sexually active and faithful to the Lord.  While not denying one’s goodness as a child of God, the unmarried person (of any orientation), is entitled to love with others and acceptance by the community.  However, none of this requires genital expression.  I would submit that all single people who seek to live chastely should be witnesses of prayer and exceptional service in the cause of charity.  Not having a spouse or children of their own, they can become exceptional saints for the community that needs them.  The focus must change from “poor oppressed and unfulfilled me” to a strong witness in enabling and caring for others, especially the oppressed and hurting.  There is a saying that “God can write straight with our crooked lines.”  Well, this being the case, here is a situation where the world and those in it can be changed for the better by those who started out with a keen sense of themselves as wounded healers. 

The gift is not homosexuality but rather how the person with this disorientation responds to the movement of God in his life.  The gift is how he gives himself to the Lord and the mission before him.  Such a person might fall victim to temptation, but that is not unique to homosexuals— despite the long-held negative stigma.  It may be that we are too quick to dismiss the young boy “sowing his oats,” until that is, a father finds out that his daughter is the boy’s virgin field.  The rise of the women’s liberation movement has deflated something of this double standard, although in the wrong direction.  In any case, no matter whether a sin is committed according to nature or as contrary to it, all sin is in opposition to the direct will of God.  We are called to holiness but not long after infant baptism our clean slate gets smudged.  Indeed, the blackboard itself may have defects or cracks in it because of the effects of sin passed down from the primordial garden or more recently from the dysfunction of families and the wrong turns of a post-Christian society. 

The posture of the believer is constant repentance, reception of mercy and renewed faith.  Over the years my posture as a priest has softened regarding homosexuals, not because I dissent from the teachings of Scripture and the Church, but rather because I want penitents to know that they will not receive condemnation from me in the confessional but rather the forgiveness that Jesus makes possible by the shedding of his blood.  Pope Francis made big headlines in the news when asked about homosexuals and he responded, “Who am I to judge?”  I think what he meant was that all of us stand under the judgment of almighty God.  The role of Christ’s priests, and the Pope is the chief “visible” priest of the Church, is to make available the ministry of reconciliation— the forgiveness of sins.  We must teach the hard truth about right and wrong; but, we must also always show the compassionate and caring face of Christ to sinners.

What complicates the current discussion is that a secular and hedonistic society tends to surrender the ghost in favor for all things corporeal.  The body becomes the absolute focus.  Any challenge or struggle with concupiscence is set aside for its wholesale celebration.  Love is readily defined as erotic or romantic, but less so as maternal (note the rise of contraception and abortion) or empathetic (note the plight of immigrants or ethnicities).  Yes, even brotherly love and divine love are weakened in this movement toward narcissism.  The focus is upon what gives pleasure to the individual.  This is where the “if it feels good do it” mantra really takes off.  Readers can find books that no longer warn against the seven deadly sins but rather detail the myriad of ways by which we can succumb to them. 

As one who believes that homosexual intimate acts are wrong and sinful, those like me should be permitted to retain this position without recrimination as bigots.  There should be no punishment for refusal to give approbation or support to what we reject as contrary to the universal moral law.  I would urge as pastorally and civilly significant a level of toleration that would preclude any criminalization of homosexuality. 

Just as I would not want embarrassing and/or lewd heterosexual acts thrown into my face by the media, I would urge homosexuals to pursue modesty and a degree of discretion.  Noting the signs of the times, we can give sinners the right to sin but would expect the same privilege in seeking to be good and holy.  As with the COURAGE program, the Church must be welcoming and supportive with efforts to affirm human dignity while enabling their chaste and faithful involvement within the life of the Church.  Celibacy needs to be better prized and understood as so much more than restraint or abstinence; but rather, as a means of putting love into action for others.  Instead of saying NO to love, we need to help people to understand the true depths of love and how all of us can say YES. 

We do not need discrimination.  We do not need violence and bullying.  We do not need name calling and derision.  We do not need hateful condemnation.  It works the other way around as well.  The doctrinal teaching about disorientation should not be seen in a pejorative light, but rather as an effort to protect human dignity.  When well-meaning people speak of “hating the sin, but loving the sinner,” homosexuals should not be quick to condemn them because they personally see no way of separating the two. 

Frankly, there are some practical questions that leave me uncertain.  I am troubled when an organist is fired for “coming out” or when a teacher loses her job for announcing her same-sex marriage.  My sympathies are with the Church because such things might compromise our message.  Nevertheless, are we missing some middle-ground that might preserve both the integrity of our message and mission while also welcoming these brothers and sisters?  It seems to me that we have to take back the dialogue.  I suspect that speaking about the nature of friendship and love may be the path to reconciliation.  Not denying that we are gendered or sexual beings, one can be fulfilled and complete without genital activity.  We all need love; we do not all need “sex” to live and to be happy.

I am Grateful for the Knights of Columbus

A year has passed since I read with deep dismay an article by my brother priest, Fr. Peter Daly.  It was entitled, “I’m done with the Knights of Columbus” and appeared in the National Catholic Reporter (dated June 3, 2020). 

The title accurately encapsulates what his 1,300 words would attempt to justify.  The stated cause for his defection is the contention that the Knights of Columbus injected themselves into a partisan campaign at a moment of national crisis over racial bigotry by inviting President Donald Trump to use the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., as a photo op for his political campaign.

He begins by spelling out his credentials to speak on this issue: a priest and Knight for thirty some years, fourth degree, a council chaplain and a faithful friar of his local assembly.  He elaborates about what he has done for the Knights, and the order certainly appreciates his sacrifices for our brothers; but absent is any acknowledgment of the faithful men and the many and overwhelming good deeds they performed to support him, his parish and the local community.

Since Fr. Daly gives his own credentials, I suppose I should say something about mine.  I was ordained May 17, 1986 – a month before Father Peter Daly returned from studies in Rome. Like Fr. Peter, I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, a Knight for most of my priesthood, fourth degree, a council chaplain, a faithful friar of the local assembly, past chaplain of the Bishop McNamara chapter, and past Maryland State Chaplain.  I grew up in Prince George’s County, MD and have served in three parishes located here for over 25 of my 35 years of ministry.  Since Fr. Daly implies a political and racial bias in the Knights, it should be confessed that there are so few Republicans in this county that the local elections are over with the Democratic primaries.  Today, Prince George’s County’s population is 79% minority and 14% white. I have personally witnessed its transformation with the civil rights fight of the 1960’s and the efforts at school integration in the 1970’s.  One of my sisters also still lives in the county.  Back in 2008, I personally started a new council here in Mitchellville that is composed of African-Americans, Asians and a few whites. No less than my brother priest, I take to heart the many concerns from our community about racial or ethnic justice and rights.

I am indebted to Fr. Daly for helping out my brother’s family in Calvert County, one composed of both black and white members.  We will always love him.  Having said this, Fr. Daly writes his column in an independent Catholic newspaper that embraces dissent and represents those critics that have defamed the Knights of Columbus as a “hate group” for its upholding traditional values about human sexuality, marriage, family and the unborn.  I regretfully suspect this defection has been long in coming and because of a number of issues.

The article suffers from an egregious tunnel vision that fails to focus upon the heart of Columbianism.  The Knights of Columbus is the most dynamic and active movement of Catholic men around.  If I had my way, every Catholic man would be a Knight and all our ladies would work with them in auxiliaries.  Even as Fr. Daly says, “I am done. I am quitting,” the Knights are using their resources and even risking their lives so as to LEAVE NO NEIGHBOR BEHIND during the coronavirus pandemic and now as everything begins to reopen. 

Like my brother priest, I am often disappointed by what goes on in our Church and society; but I could no more leave the Knights than I could disown my family.  Father McGivney’s brotherhood of men has become an essential organ in the body of the Church.  Indeed, there has been a push away from independent halls to parish-based councils. Despite the many storms that have sought to capsize the Barque of St. Peter, the Knights true to their patron Columbus, help man the sails and care for the rigging, as we sail to the promised shore.  I am confident that the order will never abandon the Church.  We as priests should be just as steadfast on their behalf— the spiritual sons of Father McGivney are among the most active men in the Church.  The Knights of Columbus is more than a club; the late St. Pope John Paul II spoke of the Knights of Columbus as “the strong right arm of the Church.”  I would argue that they are the good right arm to every devout and hard-working priest.  On this account, I would beseech our men to pray for Fr. Daly and for his future return to our brotherhood. 

His negative animus is so acute that he even condemns the construction of the Shrine to Pope John Paul II as a scandal and argues that it deprived struggling parishes and schools of 60 million dollars.  In truth the loan was for 54 million and the American bishops hoped that costs would be recouped by visitors.  This did not happen and the Knights came to the aid of the Church, bought it and remade the facility into a religious shrine.  Today it is a wonderful resource for prayer and education. Yes, we can argue the practicality of the initial purchase; the Archdiocese of Detroit suffered a loss of $34 million.  Was this a theft to the poor?  Would he tell us to sell this facility and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception down the street?  How about selling St. Peter’s in Rome and all the Church’s works of art and sacred manuscripts?  No, there must be a balance in what honors God, what we safeguard for the ages and what is needed for our various ministries and outreach.  Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8). The Shrine to St. John Paul II gives honor to a saintly pope; but more importantly, as a church it celebrates the abiding presence of Christ and his saving work. It should not surprise us that the immoderate newspaper for which he writes frequently took issue with this Pope. Had the Knights not bought the building and it had been torn down— there would have been nothing to show for the sacrifices made. The Shrine today celebrates the Pope who recognized their fidelity to the teachings of the Church, the nature of the family and the sacredness of human life. 

The priest’s rationale for leaving depends upon an interpretation of events and motives that deserve serious scrutiny. The bylaws of Columbianism forbid the involvement of our order in partisan politics.  However, the fourth degree of the Knights urges our men to be patriots. (A clarification should be made that patriots love their country and support her when she is right and correct her when she is wrong; by contrast nationalism is a sin that asserts “my country right or wrong.”)  We might agree or disagree with the policies of various elected officials but we are still obliged to show respect for persons and for the offices they hold. Unfortunately, there is a lack of civility that has infected our national discourse and our bonds in the faith.  No matter whether we personally like him or not, we as Knights would be obliged as patriots to respect our nation’s commander-in-chief no matter whom he might be— President Obama or President Trump or today President Biden.  Unfortunately, left and right, how many times have we heard the exclamation, “He’s not my president?”    

Certainly Fr. Daly has a right, as does Cardinal Wilton Gregory, to make a personal judgment call about President Trump’s visit to the Shrine of St. John Paul II. However, as a correction to his article, the event was planned prior to the riots.  The local Archbishop and others were invited to witness the signing of a document that would place U.S. foreign policy soundly on the side of promoting religious liberty, especially where believers are threatened as in the Middle East, Africa and Asia (China).  As background to this, the Knights of Columbus has adopted devastated churches in the Middle East so as to help in rebuilding and in the retention of the faith.  Many of these war-torn families had seen their fathers, brothers and sons beheaded for witnessing to Christ.  Given the photo of the President holding up a bible outside the burned St. John’s church a day earlier, excessive acts in dispersing the protestors and what proved to be inflammatory statements— the cause for the gathering was lost in the news and the Knights were stamped as bigots, even if in an indirect or unintended act of calumny.  As a result of the invited churchmen being absent, the document would later be signed at the White House.

The expressed cause for Fr. Daly’s defection seems to be predicated upon a grave fallacy.  Does he really believe the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus intends to enter a “partisan campaign” and/or to take “the side of racial bigotry” and/or to strip citizens of their “Constitutional and human rights”?  Maybe his emotions are running wild as this is an absolutely ludicrous claim. 

Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s statement was indeed stinging:  “I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.”

While it has his name attached, it sounds like a statement composed by committee. There is a failure to separate divergent events: the visitation of the shrine and the efforts by authorities to take back the streets.  Regardless, I would concur with Fr. Daly that those who disagree with any or all of it should reflect upon the message and not seek to kill the messenger.  The Cardinal (then Archbishop) rightly has a claim to the support of his priests and the flocks they shepherd.  Notice that while Fr. Daly can mention what some regard as fringe right-wing religious groups; the Knights of Columbus has chosen the route of respect, yes, even when possibly maligned.  Indeed, during the unrest, Supreme introduced the Novena for National Unity & an End to Racism for Trinity Sunday.

One could certainly question the timing of the event.  Further, as one of his priests, I would be among the first to argue that the Cardinal as the lead shepherd of his flock in DC and five Maryland counties has every right to make judgment calls and to correct his children in faith.  Unfortunately, others like Fr. Daly have made a false assessment to fan the flames of unrest against an organization that is part of the answer, not the problem. 

I want to conclude with a very pointed and personal appeal:

“Father Peter, you can forsake us if you want— we cannot stop you.  But few of our men will follow you.  As Knights, we will keep you in prayer and continue to live out our discipleship.  We are proud of our past, contrite about our failures and filled with hope about our future.  You could have walked with us as we continue to pursue service in FAITH, FAMILY, COMMUNITY and LIFE.  Nevertheless, our bishops as a national body still support us and most priests are happy to give us their religious leadership.  As a faithful friar, you could have done much to encourage programs promoting racial justice as an essential element of our patriotism.  Instead, you walk out the door and in asking others to follow you, deliberately seek to undermine our brotherhood at a time when we are most needed.  You make much of what the Supreme executive officers make as salaries, and yet, most our men work for nothing but the glory of God and the love of neighbor.  As the Maryland State chaplain to the Knights from 2018 to 2020, as a former chapter chaplain, as a faithful friar and as a council chaplain, I can say with a clear conscience and a grateful heart that the Knights are the reason why I can sleep at night.  When many so-called Catholic organizations repudiate our faith and values— when a majority of our people (coronavirus or no coronavirus) have abandoned the practice of their faith— when much of our society mocks the Church and maligns the priesthood— when even elected Catholic officials celebrate the legalization of aborting children nine months in the womb— when the sacred institution of marriage, family and human sexuality is distorted— the Knights of Columbus remains the one most significant organization that has stayed true to what we believe— always in solidarity with faithful priests and bishops.”   

“I am a Catholic and a Knight and I will live and die a Catholic and a Knight.  I cannot speak for others, but for me to break from the order would be like a shepherd saying, ‘I’m done with it, you won’t listen, I hope the wolves eat you!’”

“I appreciate your candor and take you for your word that this defection is a matter of conscience.  However, such should also reflect right judgment and the truth.  It is upon this that I would take exception.  Further, I think you are seriously wrong in urging others to abandon the order.”

I will keep you in prayer.

     

A Tremor for Many, an Earthquake for a Few

Is the title of this article accurate? Yep, pretty much. I wonder if this means the FSSP will no longer be able to staff parish churches? The document would seem to limit the old Mass to special oratories and religious houses. It specifically says the Missal of 1962 cannot be celebrated in parochial or parish churches. I wonder what this will mean in the Archdiocese of Washington? It is currently offered in a number of our parish churches.

The Pope explains:

“Ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the “true Church.” One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency — ‘I belong to Paul; I belong instead to Apollo; I belong to Cephas; I belong to Christ’ — against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted (1 Cor 1:12-13). In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors.”

Traditionis Custodes – The End of the New Beginning?

While I have always argued for freedom to engage in either the old or the revised ritual, this is definitely more restrictive than under Pope Benedict XVI. I hope we can keep peace in the Church.

Article 1 – The revised Missal under St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II are given preference as the unique (Vatican II) expression of the “lex orandi” of the Roman Rite. Okay.

Article 2 – The local diocesan bishop has exclusive authority to permit or forbid the use of the 1962 Missal. Ouch.

Article 3 – If the old Mass is currently permitted in a diocese . . .

  • Groups desiring it must not deny the validity and legitimacy of liturgy reforms. Okay, this is good.
  • Bishops are “to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups.” Oh my . . . hoping it will die out?
  • The old Mass is restricted to one or more locations for celebration but not parochial (parish) churches and without new personal parishes. Oh my goodness, I can hear the screaming and hollering already!
  • Even the particular days for when the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII may be celebrated must be designated and must use currently approved vernacular readings. This infers that it will not necessarily be daily.
  • The priest who would say the old Mass must be delegated by the bishop and all such priests must be appointed or approved by the bishop to offer it. That is going to upset a number of guys!

I suspect many of my friends feel hurt and betrayed today. I do not know why we had to have these changes, but we need humility and we need to pray for healing in the Church.