Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

Perfidious Priests and What Must be Done About Them

E. L. Core

This essay was first published as a six-part column @ The View from the Core, March 11 to April 15, 2002.

Part One

March 11, 2002

For decades, a crisis has been brewing in the Catholic Church in the USA: a crisis of faith, a crisis of morals, a crisis of courage. Scandalous revelations in the fallout from the prosecution of a predatory pedophile among the priests of the Archdiocese of Boston may, finally, bring the crisis to its turning point. The priest was allowed to continue in ministry with little or no supervision, for at least 15 years and perhaps for much longer, resulting in the abuse of 130 children. These revelations — and others since brought to light, or more into the light — have elicited outcries of outrage, especially among Catholics. How could these horrendous activities have been allowed to happen? Why have perfidious priests — some of whom have committed criminal acts — been allowed to continue in sacred ministry? And what must now be done?


In addressing the issue of recent clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the USA, I do not want to make the situation out to be more complicated than it is; nor do I wish to oversimplify. First, I will relate the facts of the situation, as far as I can determine them to be: this will take some time and attention to detail. (Nor will I refrain from comment in the midst.) Later, I will propose my own analysis: how realistic that may be, I do not know.

I rely on recent news reports for the facts of the current situation. Philip Jenkins’ book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press, 1996) is the best source of detailed information, historical trends and wide-ranging analysis. Writers at the National Review Online provide a contemporary viewpoint from well-educated, articulate Catholic laity. And, as always, the redoubtable editor and other writers at the monthly Catholic World Report provide the most insightful extended analysis, outside of books, in the March 2002 issue. (As I write, CWR is available on-line only through January.)

A Review of the Current Situation
(from recent news stories and opinion pieces)

The sorry and sordid story made headlines starting Jan. 6 & 7, when the Boston Globe ran a two-part series recounting the sexual crimes of John J. Geoghan — who had been a priest of the Boston archdiocese before he was finally “defrocked” in 1998 — and the shameful manner in which his superiors had handled his case. The Boston Archdiocese was forced, by court order, to make public its internal documentation of the case. From that information, National Review Online’s Rod Dreher related some facts about how Geoghan had been mollycoddled, in a Jan. 25 column:

Dreher continued:

Nowhere in any of these documents is there evidence that the churchmen who so agonized about the welfare of Father Geoghan ever showed concern for the children he was raping and fondling, or their families.

As the scandal in Boston “mushroomed”, bishops around the country decided to take action publicly against priests who had been reliably accused of sexual misconduct. As reported in an article in the Los Angeles Times, Mar. 4, Cardinal Mahony had dismissed up to a dozen priests from service:

None of the priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese are believed to be involved in any recent cases of sexually abusing minors. Their cases occurred as long as a decade ago, and all had undergone psychological counseling, according to one of the sources.

Nonetheless, since the scandal over the sexual abuse of minors erupted anew in the Boston archdiocese last month, dioceses across the country, including the Diocese of Orange and Diocese of San Bernardino, have been under increasing pressure to rid themselves of any priests with a history of sexual misconduct.

Not all dioceses have waited until the Boston scandal erupted; according to a New York Times piece, Mar. 3, the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, has had a firm policy of dealing with priests accused of sexual abuse:

The priests who have been accused of sexual abuse no longer work in churches. One performs karaoke on Wednesday nights at the Lincoln Jug restaurant in Belleville and another pumps gas at his mother's service station in the small town of Columbia.

In the mid-1990’s, the Diocese of Belleville publicly ousted 13 priests accused of inappropriate sexual contact with children, leaving them in an odd limbo — on the church payroll yet without portfolio [sic], called “Father” but barred from administering sacraments or wearing the collar.

Some individuals have questioned whether some dioceses have actually gone too far in removing accused priests, especially if they have already served without blame for a long time since having fallen. And we certainly must not blithely accept every accusation as true, especially because an atmosphere of frenzy-feeding would make it possible for a false accuser to ruin someone out of malice and spite. I nonetheless find it difficult to understand why it is not thought wise to make sure a perfidious priest does not continue to gain respect and support from the church — social, psychological, and financial — after having committed criminal or otherwise immoral acts with those entrusted to his pastoral care. A second chance, so long as it follows true repentance and the opportunity of asking and receiving real forgiveness from the injured parties, should not be out of the question: a third chance, let alone a 130th chance, certainly should be.

A Review of Recent Historical Trends
(from Jenkins’ Pedophiles and Priests)

Philip Jenkin’s book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, provides considerable background for the current situation. I will quote from the book at what may seem extraordinary length. But the book is 214 pages long, including about 40 pages of footnotes, and I quote but small, fragmented portions of two or three of the book’s ten chapters.

Though not widespread, earlier accusations of clerical misconduct surfaced occasionally through the 1970s. Church officials and mass media alike attempted to deal with them quietly:

Generations of jokes and rumors have helped create a willingness to believe the worst of a celibate clergy, so that the reporting of a few authentic cases of pedophilia quickly leads to acceptance of the most extreme charges about systemic corruption. However, the same religious mythology initially made mainstream media more reluctant to give credence to such allegations, for fear of repeating canards that seemed more suitable for vulgar jokes. (p. 32)

There were certainly cases in the 1960s and 1970s when Catholic clergy were found to be sexually involved with children or adult parishioners. However, the media generally cooperated with the church in avoiding scandal. Clerical offenders were dealt with quietly, usually being transferred from their parishes without obvious publicity, and were required to submit to periods of seclusion and therapy that were neither long nor arduous. (p. 33)

The number of accusations grew dramatically in the 1980s, and unfortunately set something of a pattern to be followed over the next two decades or so:

The major breakthrough in establishing the scale and reality of a “clergy-abuse” problem occurred in the Louisiana diocese of Lafayette in 1984-1985, when Father Gilbert Gauthe was tried on multiple counts of molestation. He was suspected of molesting children of both sexes as early as 1972, and charges involved forcible abuse as well as child pornography. On several occasions, though, church authorities who learned of his misdeeds responded merely by transferring him to new parishes, where the cycle would begin afresh. (pp. 34f)

The Gauthe affair did much to establish the stereotypical characteristics expected of the “clergy-abuse” offender. Apart from illustrating the extensive harm that one individual could do in a position of trust, the case suggested that the church as a whole had acquiesced in the wrongdoing, perhaps even aggravated it, by refusing to take decisive and punitive action at an early stage. The affair set the precedent that failure to intervene should result in serious financial penalties and compensatory damages for the families. (p. 36)

In 1985, a confidential report to the bishops of the USA warned that more vigorous, more rigorous, action was required:

The burgeoning number of scandals evoked deep concern among some Catholic observers, and in 1985 a confidential report entitled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Matter” was submitted to the Catholic hierarchy. The authors included Gauthe’s attorney, F. Ray Mouton, and two clerics [priests], Thomas P. Doyle and Michael Peterson.... The group warned of the need to take urgent action in the face of scandals, to react swiftly to complaints, and also to avoid charges of secretive proceedings or cover-ups. (p. 37)

Tragically, either this advice was not followed, or not followed often enough, or not followed well enough.

Cases of abuse have not been confined to the USA; in Canada, one instance culminated in an episcopal resignation because of the way cases had been handled:

The Newfoundland [Canada] cases were the first of the new wave of scandals... In the spring of 1989 attention shifted to the long history of both physical and sexual abuse committed by members of the Christian Brothers order against teenage boys in the Mount Cashel boys home in St. John’s.... During the original clandestine inquiry, some Brothers implicated in molestation had been permitted to leave the province to undertake new assignments. There were no sexual allegations against the province’s archbishop, but he resigned in 1990 under attack for church policies during the earlier investigations and cover-up. (p. 39)

After the number of cases skyrocketed in Chicago, the archdiocese initiated radical changes in its policies:

[In the Chicago archdiocese] in the 1960s and 1970s there had on average been two or three cases each year in which priests were accused of sexual misconduct with minors. The rate rose dramatically to seventeen complaints between 1986 an 1988, and to nineteen in the two years 1990-1991. (p. 41)

In September 1992 the Chicago archdiocese instituted the most comprehensive changes, including a pledge to remove forthwith any clergy accused of child abuse in order to prevent any potential harm to future victims.... Where charges were substantiated, priests would in effect pay for the offense for the rest of their lives. There would be years of therapy and counseling, and after this: “We recommend for each priest that has successfully completed the four year aftercare program: restricted ministry, a mandate restricting access to children, supervised residence, participation in a support group, assignment of a monitor or supervisor for life, and if indicated, ongoing therapy.” The Chicago policy was widely imitated, especially the use of a lay-dominated review board. (pp. 49f)

Imitated? Widely?

Contrary to much opinion, this is not a “Catholic” problem:

Clergy of most major denominations were to some extent tainted by such cases from the late 1980s. (p. 50)

The Church Mutual Insurance Company reported that by 1993 “it currently has open claims against four hundred non-Catholic clergy and has closed three hundred others since 1984. About half of them concern child sex abuse....” During 1992 alone, molestation charges were brought against Baptist ministers in rural Michigan, in New Orleans, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In the last case, multiple allegations of rape and molestation were directed against three brothers from one family, all of whom served as ministers in their respective churches. In 1994 there were molestation cases in Baptist churches in Georgia and in Houston, Texas.... Episcopalians encountered a lengthy series of misconduct cases, many involving minors; insurance claims for church liability in sexual matters rose from an annual average of five or so in the late 1980s to thirty-nine in 1992. (p. 51)

These cases, however, do not garner as much media attention as do those involving Catholic ministers. Many Catholic observers, including me, think this is due partly to a widespread hostility towards the Catholic Church among mainstream media.

(How long, for instance, will we have to wait until the Boston Globe, or the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post does some intensive investigative reporting into Jenkins’ account of the Church Mutual Insurance Company having receiving seven hundred claims in cases of sexual abuse involving non-Catholic clergy in one ten-year span — half of them involving children? Until hell freezes over, that’s how long.)

Now, almost every case in which a priest is accused of sexually abusing youngsters is called “pedophilia”. This is not always the case. In fact, it is not usually the case:

When considered in detail, the cases often suggest sexual liaisons between priests and boys or young men in their late teens or early twenties. This behavior may be reprehensible in terms of violating ecclesiastical and moral codes of sexual conduct, and breaching vows of celibacy, and the power relationship between priest and young parishioner renders it difficult to speak of the behavior as fully consensual. However, it is not properly pedophilia.... We are therefore left with the obscure word ephebophilia: the sexual preference for boys, epi hebe, upon puberty. (pp. 78f)

The Chicago data indicate that less than 2 percent of all serving American priests are or have been involved with minors, about a thousand “pederasts” in all nationwide, with the great majority of this group being homosexual ephebophiles. True pedophiles would be counted at most in the hundreds, and “predators” like Gauthe [and Geoghan ELC]... constitute a small handful of priests accused of abuse, a few dozen at any given time in the whole of North America. To assert this is in no way to play down the damage that can be done by such individuals or to deflect the culpability of any superior who might have tolerated their activities, but it does provide an essential context for appreciating the dimensions of the “abuse problem.” The number of “pedophile priests” has been magnified by a factor of twenty or more. (pp. 82f)

As we can see, though recent revelations have been shocking, the number of individual priests involved does not (for now, at least) seem to be significantly larger than what should have been expected, according to recent studies. The general Catholic population, however, was not made aware of these statistics.

Jenkins attempts some explanations of how the situation evolved over the past 30 years:

Church attitudes were also conditioned by demographic changes within the priesthood, which suffered an alarming decline in numbers from 1968 onward.... In consequence, clergy and seminarians were a scarce commodity whose careers should not be lightly jeopardized. For that reason, dioceses granted a wider latitude in accepting ordinands of suspected homosexual disposition, and were reluctant to take severe action against priests with a sexual predilection for minors. Clerical authorities were predisposed to place their hopes in the efficacy of treatment and therapy rather than punitive measures. (p. 92)

He also responds to assertions by some observers that the clergy-abuse problem is the greatest crisis the Catholic Church has ever faced:

From a global perspective, the “greatest-crisis” language is fatuous. The contemporary abuse issue directly affects perhaps a few hundred priests on one continent, and it fades into insignificance beside such political conflicts as the spread of Islam and Protestantism in the early modern period, the rise of communism and fascism in the early twentieth century, and such intellectual crises as the Enlightenment and the growing hegemony of science and rationalism in the nineteenth century. (p. 167)

But he also warns that the consequences should not be underestimated:

Though falling short of these other menaces past and present, the abuse problem has already had complex effects on North American Catholicism, and there may be serious long-term consequences. Catholic observers frequently note how easily outsiders are misled by the divisive and even vicious tone of controversies with the church; in reality these have little impact on “real” Catholic life, which revolves around the enduring verities of the parish and the Sacraments. In the abuse issue, however, lies a serious threat to exactly these core phenomena that have survived unscathed the decades of skirmishing over matters like contraception and women’s ordination. (p. 167)

More on the Current Situation
(from recent news stories and opinion pieces)

The American scandals are starting, finally, to get the attention of Rome. As reported in an article in the New York Times, Mar. 2:

Many Vatican officials, conservative and liberal alike, say it will take a sweeping reform of the priesthood to stop the pedophile scandals. The liberals want better psychological screening and revamped training in seminaries. The conservatives shift the focus elsewhere, saying that sexual abuse cases in the church mainly involve teenage boys, not young children, and for that reason they say the priesthood should become less welcoming to gays. Priests who said this made clear they were not suggesting that gays were any more likely to be pedophiles. But they said most of the sex cases being investigated did not fit the classic definition of pedophilia.

As already indicated above, by Jenkins, “pedophilia” is an inaccurate — mistaken, erroneous, just plain wrong — description of most of the activity now being scrutinized. Contrary to the opinion of the priests cited anonymously in that article, some professionals do not hesitate to “suggest” that homosexuals are, indeed, more likely to be sexually attracted to much younger persons than are heterosexuals.

For instance, Catholic psychologist Richard Cross clarifies certain aspects of the situation, in an article in the March 2002 issue of Catholic World Report:

People who molest children fall into two basic types. There are pedophiles who are, strictly speaking, heterosexual (although they might not be exclusively so). These would be men who molest girls, or women who molest boys. Then there is the pederast, who is homosexual.... The most common form of pedophilia involves men molesting girls. The second most common form involves an older girl or a woman molesting a boy. Then you have the third form, which is what we are seeing in the press lately: the pederasts; the adult male molesting the younger male. (This could be either a pre-pubescent male or an early adolescent male.) .... The most recent data that I have seen suggests that there is more abuse of men against girls than men against boys, as I’ve mentioned. That is, abuse by heterosexuals is more common than abuse by homosexuals, or pederasty. However, there is a much smaller percentage of heterosexuals who are molesters than homosexuals who molest. Up to one-third of all homosexuals have pederastic tendencies. (p. 43; emphasis in original)

The Vatican had already gotten immediately involved in another recent case. Though the incident seems to have gone unnoticed, as far as I can tell, in the American press, the archbishop of Cardiff in Wales was ordered by the pope to resign last year, as reported in a Guardian article, Oct. 27, 2001:

The Pope yesterday took the extraordinary step of ordering the retirement of Archbishop John Aloysius Ward, the most senior member of the Roman Catholic Church in Wales, in the wake of a paedophile scandal which has rocked his diocese to its foundations. The 72-year-old archbishop, who had been under severe criticism from clergy and congregations following the convictions of two priests for child sexual abuse offences, was forced to resign despite making clear his determination to stay in office. He had been accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings about the two priests’ conduct.

Indeed, the archbishop had ordained one of those men to the priesthood in 1998, despite the ordinand having already been accused of child sexual abuse, and in the teeth of warnings from a fellow bishop that the man was “unworthy”.

(The precise manner of the archbishop’s exit from office is disputed: he claims that he was not ordered to resign. I interpret the evidence this way: Vatican officials had, shall we say, strongly suggested to the archbishop that he resign or retire early. He repeatedly and publicly refused to do so. After Ward met with the pope, he was told that he must resign or he would be deposed. So he resigned.)

As mentioned above, child sexual abuse isn’t only a “Catholic” problem; it’s not only a “clergy” problem, either. Witness recent news stories:

(The New York Times is owned by the same company that owns the Boston Globe. If the NYT has attempted, or does in the future attempt, to investigate charges of child sexual abuse by agents of the UN, which is headquartered in New York, as vigorously as the BG has investigated the Catholic hierarchy in Boston, please let me know. Do not think it necessary to also send contemporary reports of flying pigs.)

Sadly, some clergymen seem to have trouble dealing with the reality that they are sinners, that they have sinned, and that they need to repent and reform their lives. An almost piteously tragicomic aspect of the Boston story comes in the person of Fr. D. George Spagnolia. He had been dismissed from his position by Cardinal Law because of an accusation of having molested a 14-year-old boy in 1971. Spagnolia protested his innocence, refused to leave the rectory as he had been ordered to do, hired a lawyer, and even appeared (with his lawyer) on The Factor, Bill O’Reilly’s program on the Fox News Channel, to state his case.

Beginning in 1973, Spagnolia had left priestly ministry for 20 years, and has since publicly claimed to have been chaste during that time. This turned out to be a lie, as revealed in the Boston Globe, Mar. 2:

Spagnolia also disclosed that in addition to his nearly four-year relationship with Winston F. Reed after leaving the priesthood in 1973, which was reported by the Globe yesterday, he also had a year-long relationship with another man in 1981 or 1982 before resuming a life of celibacy. He had previously said that he had no other sexual relationships after parting with Reed in 1980.

He apologized to his supporters, insisting that he never meant to deceive anyone and lied to protect the privacy of himself and his partners. However it was Spagnolia who brought up the issue of celibacy during an interview with the Globe on Tuesday, insisting that he had lived a celibate life during his 20 years away from the priesthood.

Spagnolia still insists that he is not guilty of the 1971 charge. What moron would believe him now? And what on earth is one to say when a man claims that, by lying, he didn’t mean to deceive anybody?

Hello? Hello?

Sadly, too, some bishops seem to have great difficulty accepting the reality of their own shameful failures in contributing to this sorry situation. Perhaps the most astonishing quotation in this regard, it seems to me, came from Cardinal Law as reported in the Boston Globe, Mar. 10. The Cardinal had met with roughly 3,000 lay leaders from the archdiocese of Boston at a convocation, which I gather is an annual event. He is quoted as follows:

In his response at the end of the convocation, Law said, “In my most horrible nightmares, I would never have imagined that we would have come to the situation in which we find ourselves.”

Say what?

Cardinal Law, you yourself personally were responsible for compounding one Parents’ Nightmare with Another Parents’ Nightmare: a trusted priest abused their children, and a respected bishop allowed the predator to continue his ways. Any other nightmare that has followed was caused by the nightmares for which you were partly responsible, personally.

If that is all the recognition — all the conscience, all the consciousness — we can expect from Cardinal Law and other American bishops, the nightmare has only begun.

Part Two

March 18, 2002

“With a whole population able to read, with cheap newspapers day by day conveying the news of every court, great and small to every home or even cottage, it is plain that we are at the mercy of even one unworthy member or false brother. It is true that the laws of libel are a great protection to us as to others. But the last few years have shown us what harm can be done us by the mere infirmities, not so much as the sins, of one or two weak minds. There is an immense store of curiosity directed upon us in this country, and in great measure an unkind, a malicious curiosity. If there ever was a time when one priest will be a spectacle to men and angels it is in the age now opening upon us....” (J. H. Newman, October 2, 1873)

Cardinals Law, Mahony, and Egan

I concluded last time with Bernard Cardinal Law’s perplexing detachment from the situation he himself had helped to create, as reported in the Boston Globe, Mar. 10:

In his response at the end of the convocation, Law said, “In my most horrible nightmares, I would never have imagined that we would have come to the situation in which we find ourselves.”

Foreboding is added to my perplexity upon re-reading the article, which also contains this revealing notice:

“For more than two months, we have been inundated by the media with details of that awful history,” Law said. “It has left us sad, it has left us angry, and it has robbed us of that trust which a short while ago we took for granted.”

Excuse me, Cardinal Law: neither the media nor the reports of an “awful history” have robbed Boston’s faithful of the trust they had taken for granted: you yourself, personally, have done so by being partly responsible for some of the egregious “details” of that “awful history”.

As reported, Law speaks as if he had been standing in a crowd next to a street when he was suddenly struck by a car veering off the road. Actually, he is more like a passenger who had been telling the driver how well he was handling the car as it barreled down the sidewalk.

It seems to me that the cardinal cannot bring himself to face reality: his own actions, and inactions, have contributed to a situation he can’t stand. Perhaps, like Spagnolia — who didn’t mean to deceive anybody with his lies — perhaps Law has spent so much time trying to convince himself in his heart that his actions were not wrong... not so wrong... not really so wrong... they have become less than real to him. As if he was outside himself, watching somebody else make his mistakes.

Such a man is no man to be leading a clean-up of the mess he helped to make.

If a recent column by Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times is any indicator, the archbishop of Los Angeles may not be such a man either:

Across the land, the Catholic Church is being forced to come clean about the sins of the fathers, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles appears to be falling into line. But the million-dollar word there is “appears.” .... In 1988, [Cardinal Roger] Mahony established a policy designed, in his words, “to do all that is humanly possible to prevent sexual abuse....” In his Sunday [Mar. 10] statement, he invoked that policy and vowed that his church “will not knowingly assign or retain a priest, deacon, religious, or layperson ... when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor.” Well, given that the policy goes back 14 years, how is it that as many as a dozen accused molesters were still on the payroll? Did Mahony just now hear about them?

Now the archbishop of New York is coming under fire, as reported in the Hartford Courant, Mar. 17:

Secret court documents reveal that New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, while serving as bishop of the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese.... Egan failed to investigate aggressively some abuse allegations, did not refer complaints to criminal authorities and, during closed testimony in 1999, suggested that a dozen people who made complaints of rape, molestation and beatings against the same priest may have all been lying, the documents show.... However, Egan, who as cardinal in New York is the highest profile Catholic in the United States, has come under growing criticism for not speaking out. On Friday, in a New York Daily News cover story headlined “Speak Up, Egan Told,” Egan’s spokesman said the cardinal planned no public statements on the issue. Egan did not respond to requests for comments about his actions in the Bridgeport cases, including a list of questions e-mailed to his office at the request of his spokesman, Joseph Zwilling. In an e-mail Saturday, Zwilling referred all questions “concerning the Diocese of Bridgeport and/or any actions that may have occured in that diocese” to Bridgeport.

One should not jump to conclusions based on newspaper reports of “secret court documents”. These documents must have been acquired by underhanded — perhaps illegal — means, and it may be unwise to trust the interpretations of what “the documents show” by those who thus acquired them. (The case is different for Boston, where the documents were made public by court order.)

But, surely, we are past the point where official silence, and stonewalling by spokesmen, is acceptable. When was it ever acceptable? And why doesn’t Cardinal Egan know this?

Hear Me Bleat

Before I continue, I would do well, I think, to establish some ground on which to speak. Am I, one of the sheep, anybody to be telling the shepherds what I think has gone wrong with the Catholic Church in the USA, why it has gone wrong, and what must be done to help to set things right?

C. S. Lewis, an Anglican Christian, addressed this very question at the beginning of his paper “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”, delivered May 11, 1959, to a group of Anglican priests at Westcott House, Cambridge:

Though I may have nothing but misunderstanding to lay before you, you ought to know that such misunderstandings exist. That sort of thing is easy to overlook inside one’s own circle. The minds you daily meet have been conditioned by the same studies and prevalent opinions as your own. That may mislead you. For of course as priests it is the outsiders you will have to cope with. You exist in the long run for no other purpose. The proper study of shepherds is sheep, not (save accidentally) other shepherds. And woe to you if you do not evangelize. I am not trying to teach my grandmother. I am a sheep, telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them. And now I start my bleating. (Christian Reflections, p. 152)

The “Moral Authority” of the Bishops in the USA:
Sliding Further Down the Drain

Philip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report, writes a lengthy article in the March 2002 issue. Called “The Scandal in Boston — and Beyond”, it begins thus:

Even the most imaginative dramatist, with the most malign attitude toward the Church, would have been hard pressed to produce a scenario in which the Catholic Church was humiliated as quickly and thoroughly as the Archdiocese of Boston was in the opening days of 2002. Within a matter of weeks the Catholic Church — which in theory commands the allegiance of roughly one-half the people living in the region — had been reduced to irrelevance as a force in Boston’s public affairs. (p 36)

Indeed. Since the scandal erupted in Boston, more and more bishops are, these very days, publicly dismissing from active service priests who had been accused of sexual immorality — almost always with male youths only — yet they were allowed to continue in sacred ministry; as reported in the New York Times, Mar. 17:

Within weeks, bishops across the country began purging their dioceses of priests who had been serving despite accusations of child abuse. Since January, at least 55 priests in 17 dioceses have been removed, suspended, put on administrative leave or forced to resign or retire. They include at least 6 priests in Philadelphia, 7 in Manchester, N.H., 2 in St. Louis, 2 in Maine, 1 in Fargo, N.D., and as many as 12 in Los Angeles. There are 194 Catholic dioceses in the nation.

And as I write, a controversy erupts in Brooklyn, where a priest had, several years ago, accused an older priest of having abused him and his brother in the 1970s. According to a Newsday article, Mar. 15:

The Brooklyn case stems from allegations made by two brothers, one of them a priest himself, that the Rev. Joseph P. Byrns molested them as children in Douglaston during the early 1970s when he served at St. Anastasia Church. The Rev. Timothy J. Lambert, 44, who is on leave from the diocese of Metuchen in central New Jersey, said that in a 1998 meeting with top diocesan officials, he charged that he and his brother had been molested for several years as adolescents.... “Father Byrns denied unequivocally that anything like this had happened,” said [Brooklyn Bishop Thomas] Daily’s spokesman, Frank DeRosa. “The diocese spoke with him carefully and closely on a number of occasions and was satisfied with his denial.”

If convincing denials were all that is necessary, nobody would be in jail for anything. Is that not obvious? Why was it not obvious to Brooklyn diocesan officials as recently as 1998? Here’s an answer:

Lambert says it came down simply to the priest’s word against his and his brother’s. “I was a priest. He was a priest,” he said. “What made me less credible than him? In my view, the only thing was that if they believed him, they had more to lose if they didn’t.”

The deleterious effect on what is often called the “moral authority” of the bishops, of which Lawler writes about in Boston, will spread, or is already spreading, across the country.

The phrase “moral authority” is vague and ambiguous. What people really mean, I think, when they say that somebody, or some group or organization, has lost the “moral authority” to lead or to guide, or even to stake a meaningful position, is this: the person, the group, the organization have demonstrated that they can no longer be trusted to be honest, upright, straightforward persons of integrity who stand for what they say they stand for — so nobody gives a damn any more what they say.

How is it demonstrated? Breaking promises while feigning their fulfillment; saying one thing while doing another; declining to abide by rules that one expects everybody else to follow; hiding behind lawyers when open honesty is called for. One or another bishop has done this, and more, in cases of immoral priests. For decades. And still today.

How can decent human beings — let alone faithful Catholics and other Christians — ignore these kinds of breaches? In the New York Times article quoted above, it is put this way:

All sides agree that the church is in danger of losing the moral credibility in speaking out on political and social issues, including the death penalty and the status of Jerusalem. “If the church does not respond vigorously to this scandal, then the authority the hierarchy has to teach morally will vanish,” said R. Scott Appleby, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at Notre Dame. “It won’t just be a crisis, it will be all over but the shouting. There will be no moral credibility for the bishops to speak about justice, truth, racial equality, war or immigration if they can’t get their own house in order.”

Similarly, in an editorial in the New York Post, Mar. 17:

Last week, the cardinal [Edward Egan of New York] invoked church-state separation as he again requested a “conscience clause” — an exemption on moral grounds for religion-linked organizations — in any state legislation to make contraception coverage mandatory in employer health plans have. Fair enough. But there won’t be much political support for a conscience clause if the church seems to have lost its conscience — that is, if it appears willing to tolerate serial pedophiles in its midst.

The “Moral Authority” of the Bishops in the USA:
They Themselves Had Opened the Drain

But those who are already looking — whether with glee or with dismay — to January 2002 as the beginning of the end of the “moral authority” of the episcopacy in the USA will need to readjust the focus of their lenses: the real collapse of the “moral authority” of the American bishops began in 1968. Events of early 2002 merely demonstrate the seedier, sorrier aspects of the effect that the bishops’ actions, and inactions, have had on the faith, morality and daily life of Catholics in America, priests and laity alike.

What happened in 1968? Certain Catholic theologians in the USA brazenly distorted the Catholic faith in the most public way they could manage; the American bishops let them get away with it; worse, they eventually lent a false legitimacy by which further brazen distortion of the Catholic faith — disguised by the euphemism “dissent” — could continue unabated.

To set the stage, we must review the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the authority of the pope and bishops to authentically establish Catholic doctrine. (Yes, we must.)

Vatican II reaffirmed the common understanding of the Catholic faith: that when the pope, or the body of bishops together with him, have definitively or repeatedly taught a given doctrine as part of the Catholic faith, then the doctrine is no longer legitimately subject to debate or dispute among Catholics, even by bishops and theologians. I suppose this may seem shocking, especially to Protestants, who are accustomed to fashioning a faith according to their liking from their own interpretation of the Bible, and to Americans, who are rightly accustomed to the idea that laws and politics are continually open to debate and change by voters, legislators, governors and presidents, and judges. The Catholic faith, however, has always been understood by Catholics to have been handed on in the Church from Jesus Christ through His apostles. And the authority to determine true doctrine, definitively and especially in cases of dispute, has always been understood to belong to the pope and the bishops in communion with him.

Yes, Vatican II changed nothing in this traditional understanding. In fact, the Council explicitly and specifically embraced it in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 25:

In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium [teaching authority] of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra [definitively with the fullness of his office as universal pastor]; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, his famous encyclical on the regulation of birth. Little did he suspect the ambush being brewed by “Catholic” “theologians” in the United States, whose ringleader was Fr. Charles Curran.

Word of the encyclical reached America by publication on July 29. The story of its reception is told by Catholic historian Kenneth Whitehead, in an article in the March/April 1998 issue of Catholic Dossier:

In spite of the fact that the encyclical contained solid traditional Church teaching, the reaction to Humanae Vitae was nevertheless a veritable explosion of dissent from both inside and outside the Church. The incredulity mixed with disillusionment concerning both the person of Paul VI and his re-affirmation of the Church’s teaching was simply massive; and it included probably a majority, at least in North America and Europe, of the Church’s own working theologians, many of whom had already gone out on a limb and openly called for a change in the Church’s teaching. The judgment of these people was that the papal Magisterium [the teaching office of the pope] was simply wrong.

The day after Pope Paul VI’s encyclical was issued, a group of theologians at the Catholic University of America, for example, issued a statement eventually subscribed to by more than 600 theologians and other professional specialists in canon law and related disciplines in North America, in which they asserted that dissent from the encyclical was entirely licit — mostly because, they claimed, the encyclical was “not an infallible teaching,” thus consciously setting aside Lumen Gentium #25 which, of course, required their assent to the encyclical whether or not it was infallible.

Whitehead is diplomatic. He says the signers of the statement — many (if not most) of them among “the Church’s own working theologians” — issued their declaration by “consciously setting aside” the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

I am not so diplomatic. I say they lied. They were liars and, in some cases, they are still liars.

And what happened to these lying Catholic theologians? Many of whom were in official positions in dioceses or religious orders or Catholic colleges. And, thus, on the Church’s payroll. Did their bishops demand that they be honest and either rescind their signature or find another way to make a living?

No. So far as I know, nothing was done to any of the liars. In fact, most of them were eventually rewarded by promotions or by fame or by influence — more influence among Catholics, indisputably, than the bishops themselves have had.

Thus began the collapse of the “moral authority” of the Catholic bishops in the USA.

The Bishops’ Munich Pact

Unsatisfied, apparently, with merely failing in one of their chief responsibilities — to uphold the Catholic faith — by ridding the Church of public liars, the American bishops soon issued “norms” by which liars could proceed to further undermine the Catholic faith, yet continue as “Catholic” “theologians”. These “norms” were part of a statement the bishops issued November 15, 1968:

Norms of Licit Theological Dissent

49. There exist in the Church a lawful freedom of inquiry and of thought and also general norms of licit dissent. This is particularly true in the area of legitimate theological speculation and research. When conclusions reached by such professional theological work prompt a scholar to dissent from noninfallible received teaching, the norms of licit dissent come into play. They require of him careful respect for the consciences of those who lack his special competence or opportunity for judicious investigation. These norms also require setting forth his dissent with propriety and with regard for the gravity of the matter and the deference due the authority which has pronounced on it.

50. The reverence due all sacred matters, particularly questions which touch on salvation, will not necessarily require the responsible scholar to relinquish his opinion but certainly to propose it with prudence born of intellectual grace and a Christian confidence that the truth is great and will prevail.

51. When there is question of theological dissent from noninfallible doctrine, we must recall that there is always a presumption in favor of the magisterium. Even noninfallible authentic doctrine, though it may admit of development or call for clarification or revision, remains binding and carries with it a moral certitude, especially when it is addressed to the Universal Church, without ambiguity, in response to urgent questions bound up with faith and crucial to morals. The expression of theological dissent from the magisterium is in order only if the reasons are serious and well-founded, if the manner of the dissent does not question or impugn the teaching authority of the Church and is such as not to give scandal.

52. Since our age is characterized by popular interest in theological debate, and given the realities of modern mass media, the ways in which theological dissent may be effectively expressed, in a manner consistent with pastoral solicitude, should become the object of fruitful dialogue between bishops and theologians. These have their diverse ministries in the Church, their distinct responsibilities to the faith, and their respective charisma.

53. Even responsible dissent does not excuse one from faithful presentation of the authentic doctrine of the Church when one is performing a pastoral ministry in her name.

54. We count on priests, the counselors of persons and families, to heed the appeal of Pope Paul that they “expound the Church’s teaching on marriage without ambiguity”; that they “diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ,” but “teach married couples the indispensable way of prayer... without ever allowing them to be discouraged by their weakness” (Humanae Vitae, 29). We commend to confessors, as does Pope Paul, the example of the Lord Himself, Who was indeed intransigent with evil, but merciful towards individuals.

There you have it: the American bishops’ Munich Pact. How’s that? David Gelernter wrote about the Munich Pact the other day in The Weekly Standard:

Everyone knows about Munich, September 1938: Britain and France generously donate a big slice of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, in exchange for “peace with honor,” “peace in our time,” and the Brooklyn Bridge. Many people know about the Kristallnacht pogrom, November 1938: Germany’s approach to the Jews turns from mere oppression to bloodthirsty violence. Kristallnacht was “triggered” by the murder of a German diplomat by a deranged Jew. But some (not all) historians point out the obvious: A leading cause of Kristallnacht was Munich itself. Hitler read the Munich agreements as a proclamation by England and France stating: “We are weak; you have nothing to fear; do what you like.”

Following Gelernter’s lead, allow me to translate: “Norms of Licit Theological Dissent” is bishop-speak for “We are weak; you have nothing to fear; do what you like.”

Indeed, we may see a foreshadowing in the bishops’ capitulation, 1968, of their spooky reluctance to face the reality of the situation they must deal with in 2002: the stupidity (at the least) of having kept immoral priests in sacred ministry. As Whitehead put it:

This whole elaborate effort of the U.S. bishops [issuing “Norms of Licit Theological Dissent”] was an exercise in unreality, since not one of the conditions they specified was ever observed by the actual dissenters; quite the contrary, for the most part. (emphasis added)

Results of the American Bishops’ Capitulation

Church authorities that have spent the past three decades hiding criminals from justice — criminals like very rare pedophiles (some of them heterosexual) and less rare ephebophiles (all of them homosexual) — began by allowing liars to continue working among them.

Germany, after Chamberlain’s attempt to appease Hitler, had soon invaded and conquered a great deal of Europe; “Catholic” “theologians”, after the bishops’ attempt at appeasement, soon effectively declared Catholic life in its entirety — faith and morals, doctrine and discipline, history and tradition, parcel and part, bit and piece, jot and tittle — open to serious debate, doubt, and even denial.

It has been a power struggle, plain and simple: the bishops and the Catholic faith have, so far, lost.

An essay by Msgr. George A. Kelly in the March 2002 issue of Catholic World Report puts it thus:

The most important and enduring scandal in the Catholic Church of the United States is the established and continued existence of what Pope John Paul II has called a “counter-magisterium” — a rival teaching office that confutes, confounds, and contradicts what the Pope and the bishops in union with him set forth as the Gospel of Jesus Christ regarding human beings, their destiny in this life and the next. The #2 scandal is the downgrading of orthodoxy as an essential standard norm of Catholic belief, and the consequent downsizing of “right belief” as normative for teachers and pastors.... The scandal consists in the harm done to faith in Christ’s Church by the continued and unopposed power exercised by these anti-magisterial forces, which use Catholic colleges and schools, religious societies, and so-called pastoral entities in opposition to the settled mind and law of the Church. (p. 48)

A recent expostulation by Andrew Sullivan illustrates how the distortion of Vatican II has become entrenched to the point that an intelligent writer can take as fact what has no foundation whatever in the teachings of the Council. Sullivan, who is (for lack of a better word) a practicing homosexual but nonetheless claims to be a faithful Catholic, wrote thus, Mar. 14, concerning some “difficult issues” in a section entitled “Sparing Rod”:

The first is whether the Church has a single unchanging doctrine on every matter of morals which every Catholic is obliged to assent to and practice at all times. This is a common view among pre-Vatican II Catholics, ex-Catholics and non-Catholics. It’s wrong. The Church is not a democracy, but neither is it a Vatican dictatorship. The Second Vatican Council specifically carved out a larger area for the laity to discuss, reflect upon and debate matters of morals, of the application of broad principles to particular issues, and so on. We – not just the Pope – are also the Church. For example, most Catholics find the complete bar on any birth control to be, not to put too fine a point on it, bizarre. When the Church imposes something by diktat that the faithful cannot square with their own moral sense, experience and prayerful reflection, two things happen. The laity ignores it; and the hierarchy loses credibility. To a lesser extent, the Church’s teachings on re-marriage, the role of women, celibacy, and homosexuality are also so theologically muddled and troubling upon inspection that they have generated considerable debate. Bottom line: I don’t think such debate is faithless or un-Catholic.

Sullivan posted a letter from a reader, who asked the following: “Where specifically did Vatican II carve out a broader area for the laity to debate the Pope on matters of morals?” The question will go unanswered, of course, because Vatican II did no such thing: “Catholic” “theologians” who wanted to carve out a larger area for their own influence have convinced many Catholics of it, though.

He also posted part of a letter from Catholic philosopher Alexander R. Pruss, who has provided me with the entirety of his letter:

I see several misconceptions in your piece “Sparing Rod” that I thought I should respond to both as a Catholic born after Vatican II and as someone who teaches ethics.

To the extent that the Church is a democracy, it is a democracy that enfranchises all the generations of Catholics before us. Seen in this way, the Church’s official teachings on sexual matters are, as far as we know, the beliefs of the majority of Catholics. While there is a sense of the faith among Catholics, any one Catholic’s sense, or even the sense of the majority of Catholics at a given time, can be clouded. After all, according to a 1992 Gallup poll, only 30% of Catholics accept the correct view of the Eucharist. If someone’s eyesight of clearly visible objects is defective, we disregard his testimony about more murky objects. Likewise, if a Catholic gets wrong things on which the Church is completely clear like abortion or the Eucharist, then his sense of the faith is not functioning properly, and so his views on things like contraception that are somewhat more controversial are irrelevant.

Some Catholics may indeed find the Church’s teachings on matters like contraception “bizarre”. But this is only because they are unaware of the work of philosophers like John Finnis, Germain Grisez, Janet Smith and Karol Wojtyla. Once one understood this work, even if one were not persuaded (as I think one should be: see my own articles at www.georgetown.edu/faculty/ap85), one would no longer be able sincerely to call the teachings “bizarre.” On the contrary, one would see the Church as espousing a coherent, plausible and all-encompassing ethic of sexual love based on the notion of ontological self-giving.

Your references to Vatican II are puzzling, largely due to a lack of specific references. According to Vatican II, whenever the bishops at any one time unanimously teach that a position is to be definitively held, then that position is thereby infallibly taught (Lumen Gentium, 25). No doubt, the bishops in, say, the 13th or 18th century were in unanimous agreement that it was to be definitively held that, say, homosexual acts and contraception are wrong. Hence this is infallibly taught.

Sexuality is central to human life, and is closely tied to that which is at the center of the Gospels: love. If the Church is wrong on contraception, re-marriage, celibacy and homosexuality, then the Church over the past twenty centuries has got a central area of human life almost completely wrong. Thinking that the Church is so massively wrong about love is indeed un-Catholic.

Some might call Pruss’s explanation pathetically old-fashioned; others might call it remarkably brave. It is neither: an informed, intelligent, articulate Protestant or Muslim or atheist could say as much as Pruss wrote to Sullivan — so long as he honestly intended to accurately express the Catholic faith.

But wolves in shepherd’s clothing have managed to undermine, diminish, and distort the Catholic faith while claiming the aegis of the Second Vatican Council, though a careful — no, even a casual reading — of the Council’s documents will reveal, as already indicated here, that this has been done in spite of the Council, not because of it.

The American bishops will regain their “moral authority” when they start acting like Catholic bishops, acknowledging by word and deed their momentous responsibility to safeguard and hand on the faith they have received from the Apostles. And not before then.

Am I saying that “dissent” from Catholic faith and life caused the outbreak of immoral priests in our midst? No. But there is, indeed, a very good argument to be made that confusion about Church teaching, caused by deliberate and public deception by prominent “Catholic” “theologians”, contributed to the outbreak and “justification” of immoral behavior among Catholics of all stripes.

Here’s a bit of evidence from an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 17; the story is about retired priest Joseph P. Lessard, now 76, who admits to having molested boys back in the 1960s and 1970s:

His first victim was a boy of about 12, the son of a couple from a neighboring parish whom he knew well. Lessard, an avid outdoorsman, arranged a fishing trip. After fishing, he took the boy back to the rectory and “started fooling around,” which he said involved touching each other’s genitals and masturbating. “I emotionally and physically wanted to have sex with him,” Lessard said. “There was a mutual interest in having sexual gratification.” The abuse went on for a couple years.... Lessard said he was guilt-free, believing he was educating the boys in sex. He didn’t consider this breaking his vow of celibacy. It didn’t seem as if he was hurting anyone.

If anybody has any evidence that It’s OK As Long As Nobody Gets Hurt was an attitude one could find among parish priests of even one generation earlier, please let me know.

The connection between this particular priest and the distortion of Vatican II, however, is quite direct, and does not need to be surmised; the article later quotes a man who says that he had been one of Lessard’s victims:

“My parents loved him. They would rather me be out with him than roaming the streets,” said the man, to whom the archdiocese paid $60,000 in 1997. “He had a camper. A big mobile home, and lots of great places to go camping and hunting and fishing. He knew several people who had farms and great fishing ponds around Chesterfield.” Lessard talked openly about masturbation, the man said. It wasn’t a sin anymore after the Second Vatican Council, Lessard would say. He wouldn’t let up on the subject. (emphasis added)

If the bishops are to restore their “moral authority”, they must go further back, and deeper down, than merely dealing with immoral priests in their ranks: they must root out Catholic professionals in official positions who effectively confute, confound, and contradict the settled mind and law of the Catholic Church.

Is this such an unthinkable request?

That last example takes us from hypotheses to a real situation. And here is another: if professional Catholic theologians and pastors and religious — on the Church’s payroll, at all levels — effectively compromise Catholic faith and life to the point where they are becoming indistinguishable from the prevailing secular milieu, why are these men and women not called subversive traitors and expelled?

Okay, we could call them something else. C. S. Lewis knew what to call subversion of the faith by clergy, in an interview in 1963, when he was asked what he thought of contemporary Christian writing:

A great deal of what is being published by writers in the religious tradition is a scandal and is actually turning people away from the church. The liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel are responsible. I cannot understand how a man can appear in print claiming to disbelieve everything that he presupposes when he puts on the surplice. I feel it is a form of prostitution. (God in the Dock, p. 260)

Call it prostitution; call it traitorous subversion; call it dissent: it must be rooted out of the Catholic Church in the USA to effectively restore the bishops’ “moral authority” among Catholics, and the Church’s “moral authority” in public life.

Part Three

March 25, 2002

“In fact, the diseases of consciences, their indifference to good and evil, their errors, are a great danger to man. They are indirectly a menace to society as well, because the level of society’s morals depends in the ultimate analysis on the human conscience. A man who has a hardened heart and a degenerate conscience is spiritually a sick man, even though he may enjoy the fullness of his powers and physical capacities. Everything must be done to bring him back to having a healthy soul.” (Pope John Paul II, March 15, 1981)

Subversive Traitors?

I concluded last time with the idea that men and women, on the Church’s payroll, whose writings and speeches and work tend to effectively render the Catholic faith and life indistinguishable from the secular milieu ought to be recognized for what they are: subversive traitors. And the “moral authority” of the bishops, in particular, and of the Catholic Church more generally, cannot be restored until — unless — subversive traitors are expunged from official positions.

Oh... listen.... I can almost hear the hysterical charges being aimed at me now: You are an Inquistionist, a pogromist; you would really like to be able to set the fires ablaze beneath anybody who disagrees with your own version of Catholicism. And hysterical charges they would be, in more ways than one, especially in the United States of America. Catholics whose alleged conscience supposedly cannot allow them to believe the Catholic faith are entirely free to leave the Catholic Church. And, were they honest men and women, that is what they would do. They can become Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Baptist. Or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu. Or atheist or agnostic. They can start their own denomination, or a brand new religion to their self-satisfied heart’s content.

Now, part of the on-going problem with “pedophile priests” — and with the far more numerous, though still rare, “ephebophile priests” (homosexuals who abuse male adolescents) — part of the problem is that almost nobody in authority has been willing to name names, thus allowing the immoral priests to continue their predations. I think that the problem of pedophiliac and ephebophiliac priests could not have taken root and grown to bear poisonous fruit except in the prevailing climate of moral confusion, abetted by the initial collapse of the bishops’ “moral authority” in 1968; this climate of moral confusion in the Catholic Church has been, I believe, caused largely by the widespread influence of subversive traitors in the bosom of the Church; and, getting rid of their predations, of quite another kind, is necessary to restore the health of the Church: so, I myself must be willing to name names.

Rev. Richard McBrien

Fr. Richard McBrien is most famous, perhaps, as the author of a book called Catholicism. Before taking a look at what some folks have had to say about his book, I would like to note that he has been quoted recently, and probably far more often than I have discovered; for instance, in an Associated Press article at Yahoo! News, Mar. 13:

A handful of bishops already have made changes, ousting dozens of priests accused of molestation and working more closely with prosecutors. However, some Catholics — particularly liberals — say reform is needed beyond how the church addresses misconduct in its ranks. “The old system is dead,” said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame. “It’s just a matter of how long it takes before it completely implodes.” The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative and editor of the religious magazine First Things, disagreed. He predicted the church will emerge from this trial with a renewed commitment to its most basic values. “The problem is not with celibacy. The problem is with priests who aren’t celibate,” Neuhaus said. “The problem is not with the teaching of the church. The problem is with the people who don’t live the church.”

(Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor, stated quite succinctly what I am trying to make the case for: “The problem is with the people who don’t live the church.” Viewed from another angle, though, as I’m trying to get across, the problem is with the people who don’t leave the Church but remain in its bosom, trying to “purge” it of everything that is actually, really, distinctively Catholic.)

McBrien was also quoted in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 16:

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, chief spokesman for Pope John Paul II, asked about the Boston scandal earlier this month, told the New York Times that the solution was for the church to ban gays from becoming priests. The comment outraged experts who noted an absence of data linking homosexuality to pedophilia. Most studies show that heterosexual and married men are as likely as gays to abuse children. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at Notre Dame, said Navarro-Valls’ statement also ignored the reality that gays make up an increasing percentage of the priesthood. “It’s one of the most bizarre, absurd and irresponsible statements I’ve ever heard from the Vatican,” McBrien said. “If that became policy, we’d have to evacuate the seminaries.” McBrien went on to say, however, that “cultural, social and even religious changes in attitude toward sexuality and marriage” had dramatically reduced the pool of potential priests. “We are drawing from an ever thinner slice of the population in recruitment of priests,” he said.

(Note how casually, yet deliberately, the Post-Dispatch writer distracts the reader from the reality: most of the sexual immorality committed by priests, for which the Church is now under fire, has not been pedophilia, the sexual abuse of children; it has been ephebophilia, the sexual abuse of adolescentsalmost invariably boys. Remarkably, a recent Boston Globe article has noted this: “It has become the shorthand label for a sex abuse scandal that now haunts dioceses around the nation: the pedophile priest crisis. But the vast majority of priests who sexually abuse minors choose adolescent boys — not young children — as their targets....”)

Catholic theologian Robert Fastiggi has analyzed McBrien’s book Catholicism and shown how McBrien so cleverly, so subtly, distorts the Catholic faith in fundamental matters — thus betraying the Church, whose doctrine he is paid to preach, by engaging in what C. S. Lewis has likened to prostitution.

Fastiggi’s article in Pastoral and Homiletic Review, June 1996, begins thus:

If one were to judge a book by its (back) cover, the newly revised edition of Richard McBrien’s Catholicism would have all the appearances of a clear, competent and complete guide to the teachings of the Catholic Church. With praises from diverse authorities, ranging from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury to theologians from Fordham, Boston College and the Gregorianum, this impressive-looking volume seems to possess all the academic credentials needed to be considered the book on “Catholicism.”

As is well-known, though, we cannot judge a book by its cover, and the question that must be asked is whether Fr. McBrien has presented Catholicism as it really is or Catholicism as he would want it to be. Of course, credit should be given where credit is due. Any book of over 1200 pages surely deserves some recognition for the work that went into it, and if one is looking for a quick summary of the thought of theologians like Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Küng and Johannes Metz, McBrien’s book is certainly useful. However, if one is looking for a clear and faithful exposition of authentic Catholic teaching, one would be well-advised to steer clear of McBrien’s opus and concentrate instead on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In reading McBrien’s text, it is clear that the author has mastered Catholic vocabulary and knows how to give the reader the impression of being rooted in the Catholic tradition. It is here, though, that a disturbing tendency emerges. What one often finds is a discussion of a traditional Catholic dogma cast in ambiguous terms by a skillful turn of phrase or a clever sleight of hand. Thus, the uncritical reader is given the false impression that McBrien’s discussion of the dogma is safely rooted within the parameters of Catholic orthodoxy without realizing that the author has frequently undercut the full meaning and authority of the dogma itself.... (emphasis added)

He concludes as follows:

McBrien’s Catholicism is a dangerous book — dangerous because it cloaks dissent in the vocabulary of the language of Catholicism itself. Its methodology is one of deliberate ambiguity in which many teachings of the Church are either obscured or so qualified that they lose their full significance and authority. The potential impact of this text on the faithful is frightening.

Fastiggi closely examines McBrien’s discussion of the theology of the Church, salvation, infallibility, Marian dogmas, and conscience. His opinion of McBrien’s view of the role conscience plays in making moral decisions is worthy of special note:

McBrien ultimately undercuts the Church’s authority as a moral teacher by asserting that “the Church has never claimed to speak infallibly on a moral question, so there is probably no instance as yet of a conflict between an individual’s fallible decision in conscience and a teaching of the Church which is immune from error” (p. 973). The net effect of this view is an atmosphere of moral ambiguity in which a Catholic can clearly “differ with an official moral teaching of the Church” as long as there is “antecedent attention and respect to such teachings” (p. 980). [emphasis added]

Even the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has published a general review of the book, from which I quote the conclusion:

Catholicism poses pastoral problems particularly as a textbook in undergraduate college courses and in parish education programs. The principal difficulties with the book lie not only in the particular positions adopted, but perhaps even more in the cumulative effect of the book as a whole. The method is to offer a broad range of opinions on every topic with the apparent intention of allowing or stimulating the reader to make a choice. This places a heavy burden on the reader, especially since some of the opinions described do not stand within the central Catholic tradition. The reader who is a theological beginner could easily assume that all the authors cited are equally a part of the mainstream Catholic conversation, whereas some of the authors are closer to the margins. While the book could be a helpful resource to theologians looking for a survey of opinions on some question, it might well be bewildering and unsettling for Catholics taking undergraduate courses in theology. For some readers it will give encouragement to dissent.

The problem is further aggravated because Catholicism gives very little weight to the teaching of the magisterium, at least where there has been no explicit dogmatic definition. At many points the book treats magisterial statements on the same level as free theological opinions. On a number of important issues, most notably in the field of moral theology, the reader will see without difficulty that the book regards the “official church position” as simply in error.

This review has focused exclusively on the problematic aspects of Catholicism. Certainly, as the 1985 statement of the Committee on Doctrine affirmed, there are many positive features to be found in the book. Nevertheless, this review concludes that, particularly as a book for people who are not specialists in theological reasoning and argumentation, Catholicism poses serious difficulties and in several important respects does not live up to its ambitious title. (emphasis added)

(McBrien’s book must be wonderfully self-serving. Indiscriminately citing the opinions of theologians as authoritative fosters the perception of theologians as having authority: that is, it fosters the perception of McBrien himself as having authority.)

Alas, this “general review” by the bishops’ committee may actually be counter-productive. What was called for, in defense of the Catholic faith? Clear, ringing denunciations of McBrien’s deceptions. What did Catholics get? Criticisms that are too often circuitous and mealy-mouthed; helpful reminders that there are “many positive features to be found in the book”; and complaints that some readers may be overburdened.

Moreover, the newspaper articles quoted above, in which McBrien had been quoted, were not in error: he is, indeed, a priest in good standing and a professor of theology at Notre Dame University.

There, he continues to misrepresent the faith he is paid to uphold.

There, at Notre Dame, reporters can find McBrien and can refer to him, correctly and accurately, as being a priest and a professor of theology at a Catholic institution.

And the American bishops publish “general reviews” that nobody reads.

Most Rev. Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, as far as I know, has written no tome the likes of McBrienism... er... I mean, the likes of McBrien’s Catholicism. Perhaps he thinks McBrien has said all that needs to be said.

The auxiliary bishop of Detroit is quite happy, though, to use his mitre and crosier to lend a gaudy but quite false sense of authority to any gathering of Catholic malcontents. Especially when the promotion of homosexuality is involved.

For instance, as reported in a recent article at World Net Daily, Gumbleton spoke at the New Ways Ministry Fifth National Symposium, in Louisville, Mar. 8:

Pro-gay Catholic speakers and workshop leaders, including two U.S. bishops, offered ideas for creating a more homosexual-inclusive Church at the New Ways Ministry Fifth National Symposium, titled “Out of Silence God Has Called Us,” March 8-10 at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, Ky.... Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton told parents, “The first thing that I think needs to be said that’s very, very important if we’re going to love our children is simply to recognize that homosexual people are not disordered people. They are psychologically healthy people. ... Homosexuals are as healthy as anyone else.”

Gumbleton added, “Homosexuals are able to function and grow at least as well as heterosexuals. They are able to be creative, put in a hard day’s work, act as citizens, help their neighbor. Somewhat surprisingly, they make love more humanely, largely because they are better able empathetically to feel what their partner is feeling.” .... On Saturday evening, retired Bishop Leroy Matthiesen of Amarillo, Texas, celebrated Mass wearing a rainbow stole on a ballroom stage decorated with rainbow banners. The rainbow has become a universal symbol of the homosexual advocacy movement.

(Ah, yes. Life, somewhat surprisingly, would have always been so much better for the human race — if only all our parents had been homosexuals in same-sex relationships.)

Remarkably, the WND writer provides the reader with all that is needed to show that Gumbleton and Matthiesen misrepresent the Catholic faith, which their vows and their position in the Church require them to uphold:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

However, the Catechism also states: “Homosexual acts [are] acts of grave depravity,” and “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” [The quotations are from ## 2358 and 2357.]

It needs hardly to be said, among honest men, that the Catechism does little more than restate the ancient, unchanging teaching of the Catholic Church: homosexual acts are always — invariably and without exception — sinful.

Now we can see why there is no need for a Gumbletonism book: we can be confident that it could be said of a book, if written by Gumbleton and called Catholicism, that “On a number of important issues, most notably in the field of moral theology, the reader will see without difficulty that the book regards the ‘official church position’ as simply in error.”

The Corrupt American Episcopacy

As the example of Gumbleton and Matthiesen shows, there is much more to the collapse of the bishops’ “moral authority” than failure to remove predators from the midst of Catholics, be the predators sexually immoral priests or otherwise subversive traitors.

The American episcopacy has become corrupt. Not the individual bishops. Well, not all of them. But the episcopacy itself has become corrupt: the group, the organization, the body. It no longer has the will — it has not had the will for a generation or more — to remove subversive traitors from positions of trust, nor to appropriately discipline sexually immoral priests, nor to cause perfidious bishops to be removed from their very midst: all this, I believe, a long-time-coming result of the bishop’s Munich Pact, “Norms of Licit Theological Dissent”, November 15, 1968.

Fr. Paul Shaughnessy wrote about this, with keen insight, in the Essay in the November 2002 issue of Catholic World Report:

I define as corrupt, in a sociological sense, any institution that has lost the capacity to mend itself on its own initiative and by its own resources, an institution that is unable to uncover and expel its own miscreants. It is in this sense that the principal reason why the action necessary to solve the gay problem [in the Catholic priesthood in America] won’t be taken is that the episcopacy in the United States is corrupt, and the same is true of the majority of religious orders. It is important to stress that this is a sociological claim, not a moral one.

If we examine any trust-invested agency at any given point in its history, whether that agency be a police force, a military unit, or a religious community, we might find that, say, out of every hundred men, five are scoundrels, five are heroes, and the rest are neither one nor the other: ordinarily upright men who live with a mixture of moral timidity and moral courage. When the institution is healthy, the gutsier few set the overall tone, and the less courageous but tractable majority works along with these men to minimize misbehavior; more importantly, the healthy institution is able to identify its own rotten apples and remove them before the institution itself is enfeebled. However, when an institution becomes corrupt, its guiding spirit mysteriously shifts away from the morally intrepid few, and with that shift the institution becomes more interested in protecting itself against outside critics than in tackling the problem members who subvert its mission. For example, when we say a certain police force is corrupt, we don’t usually mean that every policeman is on the take — perhaps only five out of a hundred actually accept bribes. Rather we mean that this police force can no longer diagnose and cure its own problems, and consequently if reform is to take place, an outside agency has to be brought in to make the changes.

By the same token, in claiming the US episcopacy is corrupt, I am not claiming that the number of scoundrel bishops is necessarily any higher than it was when the episcopacy was healthy. I am simply pointing to the fact that, as an agency, the episcopacy has lost the capacity to do its own housecleaning, especially, but not exclusively, in the arena of sexual turpitude. Should someone object to this characterization, I would reply in these terms: Excellency, let’s look at the American bishops who have been deposed in recent years as a consequence of sexual scandal: Eugene Marino of Atlanta, Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe, Keith Symons of Palm Beach, Daniel Ryan of Springfield, Illinois, Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa. Can you name a single instance in which the district attorney or the media did not get there first — a single case, that is, in which you yourselves identified the scoundrel in your ranks and replaced him before the scandal aired on CBS or before the police came knocking on the door?

At least one more bishop can be added to Shaughnessy’s list, as reported in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mar. 9:

Three years ago, the pope tapped him to heal a Palm Beach Catholic Diocese reeling from a sex scandal that forced its trusted bishop from the pulpit. On Friday, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell, 63, stepped into the spotlight with his own secret. Describing what he called a misguided attempt to counsel a troubled seminary student, O’Connell acknowledged he had inappropriately touched the boy about 25 years ago while a rector in Missouri — and had a similar relationship with another teen. At a news conference at the Palm Beach Gardens church that has served as his main parish since 1999, the well-regarded O’Connell said he has offered his resignation to the pope and will go to a quiet place to pray and await his fate.

The pope accepted O’Connell’s resignation within a few days. (A remarkably quick turnaround time, I understand.)

Moreover, as the Boston Globe reports, Mar. 22, it looks as if several other American bishops are about to be engulfed by an old transgression erupting as a new scandal:

Two Roman Catholic archbishops confirmed yesterday that in the mid-1990s they were involved in a legal settlement of a claim that San Diego Bishop Robert H. Brom coerced a seminarian into having sex when Brom was bishop of Duluth, Minn. However, the former seminarian who leveled the charges retracted them after reaching the settlement that provided him with a sum that was less than $100,000, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage said in an interview. At the time of the agreement, Schwietz was bishop of Duluth. Brom, in a statement last night, denied the allegations, which stemmed from the 1980s. Brom said the charges against him — and three other bishops and several priests — had been disproved by an investigation and retracted by the former seminarian....

However, according to an affidavit filed last week in an unrelated case in San Diego Superior Court, the former seminarian told a friend that he only recanted the charges so he could receive his settlement money. The friend, Mark Brooks of San Diego, another former seminarian, said in his affidavit that the former seminarian told him his retraction letter was “false.” Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., said in an interview that the retraction by the seminarian was a condition insisted on by the Duluth diocese in return for the settlement. At the time the case was settled, Vlazny was the bishop of the Winona diocese in southern Minnesota, where the seminary is.

More and more evidence comes to us that more and more American bishops are more and more compromised. If a lawsuit being filed as I write is any indicator, much more evidence may be coming to light in the future; as reported in the Miami Herald, Mar. 22:

An ex-seminarian will make sweeping sex abuse and racketeering claims today in Missouri against the former bishop of the Palm Beach diocese and two other dioceses, employing a far-reaching federal statute [RICO] most commonly known for its use in organized crime prosecutions. The man, the third to come forward with sex abuse allegations against the ex-bishop, is charging Anthony J. O’Connell and the dioceses of Palm Beach, Knoxville, Tenn., and Jefferson City, Mo., of falling under racketeering laws in their coverup of sexual abuse cases, according to Pat Noaker, one of the team of Minnesota attorneys representing the alleged victim. The lawsuit also names other American bishops as co-conspirators, according to a news release issued by the lawyers.

(O’Connell is not an “ex-bishop”: he is a retired bishop.)

Now Elden Curtiss, the archbishop of Omaha, has put his foot in it. Though Curtiss has provided an analysis of the vocations “crisis” that I believe is revealing and accurate, his response to the current sex scandals reveals how a bishop can cause harm by acting on incidental matters without understanding the nature and magnitude of the problem.

As reported in the Omaha World-Herald, Mar. 19, Curtiss wrote to two members of his diocese, scolding them for having written to the secular press to criticize and question Curtiss’ recent handling of two cases of priestly immorality:

Two Roman Catholics have received written rebukes from Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss after publicly criticizing his decision to reassign a priest who had viewed Internet child pornography.... The archbishop sent copies of the letters to the writers’ pastors. And he instructed both people to say one “Hail Mary” prayer for him as penance. Typically in the Roman Catholic Church, priests assign such prayers as penance to church members who have confessed sins. Curtiss could not be reached for comment. The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, archdiocese chancellor, declined to comment on the letters individually or generally. “The archbishop considers any letters he’s written as between himself and whoever received them,” Gutgsell said....

Bast and Ayers wrote letters to The World-Herald’s Public Pulse regarding Curtiss’ decision to assign a priest who had viewed Internet child pornography to St. Gerald parish in Ralston. Both questioned Curtiss’ assertion that children of the parish were in no danger. Ayers wrote that the archdiocese needed to be more forthcoming with what information it has about deviant behavior of some priests. He noted that the archdiocese didn’t inform parishioners about either the Rev. Robert Allgaier’s viewing of child pornography or Daniel Herek’s sexual abuse of children while he was a priest until after the news media broke the stories. Bast wrote that Curtiss owed the people of the archdiocese “a public apology for not being truthful and forthright about this problem from the very beginning.” ...

The letter to Bast read, in part, “I am surprised that a woman your age and with your background would write such a negative letter in the secular press against me without any previous dialogue. You should be ashamed of yourself!” Curtiss went on to say, “The Church has enough trouble defending herself against non-Catholic attacks without having to contend with disloyal Catholics.”

At first, one is tempted to agree with the archbishop: I do think it would have been more prudent for the letter writers to have sent letters to the chancery rather than to the local secular newspaper. On second thought, however, we must realize — the archbishop must realize, all the bishops must realize — that “internal” complaints from victims and their families, over decades, went unheeded by those in authority in the Church. So one tends to feel that, had Bast and Ayers written merely to the archdiocese, their letters would have probably been fruitless.

Moreover, this story reveals yet another instance of the lack of forthrightness, and of the unreality, of church officials in handling the current situation. How could the spokesman say the letters were considered between the archbishop and their recipients only — when copies had been sent to other people by the archbishop himself? And how dare Curtiss call a Catholic “disloyal” and complain about “non-Catholic attacks” against the Church, when it is the very misbehavior of priests, mollycoddled by irresponsible bishops, that have invited the current wave of anti-Catholic fervor?

Another story breaks. A married man had filed a sexual harassment complaint, last September, against Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg. As reported in the Tampa Tribune, Mar. 22:

Bishop Robert Lynch Friday denied any wrongdoing in a case involving a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by the former spokesman of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. The diocese paid its former spokesman more than $100,000 after the married man filed the complaint against the bishop in September, The Tampa Tribune learned earlier this week.... Joseph DiVito, a lawyer for the diocese, said that when Urbanski decided to leave his job he was paid a severance package that amounted to about a year’s salary and benefits costs. Urbanski was not prohibited from discussing the matter, he said. “The diocese does not buy silence in St. Petersburg,” DiVito said....

Urbanski said in the complaint that Lynch made numerous unwanted advances toward him, including booking one motel room for the two on trips and touching him suggestively. Lynch, 60, has not been accused of sexual abuse by anyone. Lynch characterized Urbanski’s allegations as merely a perception, and implied the more than $100,000 was severance pay.... Lynch said the diocese conducted a full investigation into the harassment claim. He said the diocese was satisfied with the results, but he would not say what they were. He said he has never had similar complaints filed against him.

The diocese conducted a full investigation into the harassment claim? A claim against the bishop of the diocese? And he tells us “the diocese was satisfied with the results”? But he doesn’t tell us what the results were?

I am, for once, speechless.

And maybe I don’t get out enough, but I have never heard of a “severance” package for somebody who quits his job.

Yet another story breaks. A former all-star professional athlete, and his brothers, went public with accusations that a lay teacher, who became a seminarian and eventually a priest, had sexually abused them in the early 1960s. As reported in the Detroit Free Press, Mar. 23:

The brothers said in a series of interviews that the Rev. Gerald Shirilla molested them in the 1960s when Shirilla was a lay teacher at Hamtramck St. Ladislaus [sic] and later while he studied for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. Tom Paciorek, in particular, said Shirilla abused him at least one hundred times from ages 15 to 19. Shirilla, 63, was removed this week from St. Mary Church in Alpena, where he was hired as pastor in August. He surfaced there nine years after the Archdiocese of Detroit barred him from active ministry, saying there was credible evidence in 1993 that he had molested boys decades earlier. Church officials have not commented on where Shirilla has been since he was released in 1994 from a sexual-disorder treatment facility in Maryland.

On Friday, the Detroit Archdiocese reiterated that his ban continues. Shirilla has refused repeated requests for comment, and his attorney maintains the priest has done nothing wrong and is contemplating legal action against the church. Bishop Patrick Cooney of the Diocese of Gaylord hired Shirilla in Alpena, saying four evaluators had proclaimed him safe to return to ministry. But Cardinal Adam Maida ordered Shirilla removed Wednesday after reports in the Free Press about his reassignment.

(How Maida has any authority to order Cooney, another diocesan bishop, to remove any priest from a given assignment is beyond me.)

It is no exaggeration (indeed, it is an understatement) to say that day by day we are provided with more and more evidence that the American bishops — whether by continuing perfidy, by resignation, by stonewalling, or by plain and simple what-else-could-it-be-called-but-stupidity — the American bishops are simply incapable of salvaging the “moral authority”, and restoring the integrity, of the Catholic Church in the USA.

Shaughnessy continued his Catholic World Report Essay, already quoted from, thus:

The question will naturally arise, how can Catholics show respect and obedience to their bishops if they believe the episcopacy is corrupt? The answer is that a Catholic does not respect his bishop or attend to his teaching on the grounds that the bishop is holy, but because the bishop, to the extent that he teaches in union with St. Peter, is supernaturally protected against teaching error — and this holds true whether or not the bishop is a villain and whether or not his compatriots are institutionally corrupt. Our duties toward our bishops are the same now as they ever were and ever will be. Moreover, I have frequently counseled wholesome young men of my acquaintance to enter religious orders that are corrupt in the sense explained above. No shame attaches to membership per se in a corrupt institution (all the ancient religious orders and national episcopacies have undergone cycles of corruption and reform), and the question of one’s vocation to take up a certain burden is entirely distinct from the contingent circumstances in which that vocation is lived out. I stress this point in order to make clear that I am not counseling disobedience or disrespect to bishops, and I am not denying that religious orders, even corrupt ones, are capable of working for the good of souls. But let’s face facts. When more of your priests die by sodomy than by martyrdom, you know you’ve got a problem; when the man you bring in for the fix comes down with AIDS, you know you’ve got a crisis; and when the Pope first gets the facts thanks to 60 Minutes, you know you’re corrupt.

The Catholic Church, being Christ’s bride without spot or wrinkle, is indefectible. She is holy because Christ is holy; she is perfect because Christ is perfect. She can not teach error. Her ministers, however, have sinned in the past, sin now, and will sin in the future until the second coming of Christ. She has lost some of her sons to heresy and some to schism, and those who remained have, in various periods, sunk into corruption. Renewal comes about, of course. God raises up a St. Francis or a St. Dominic, a St. Catherine or a St. Ignatius, who not only reject the endemic moral cowardice of their times, but through their own heroic holiness and passion for truth, bring about a transformation in the lives of their fellow Catholics, teaching them by their own example to love sanctity. The current corruption is nothing new, and reforming saints will certainly appear in our midst. Yet even those of us who are not reformers need not sit down under our present woes. Each of us, according to his station in life, can make a modest contribution to the renewal.

The Pope Speaks

The way the media covered the story, you could have almost thought that Moses had come down again from the mountain: in his annual Holy Thursday letter to priests, Pope John Paul II addressed the scandal of sexually immoral priests.

Dear Priests! Know that I am especially close to you as you gather with your Bishops on this Holy Thursday of the year 2002. We have all experienced a new momentum in the Church at the dawn of the new millennium, in the sense of “starting afresh from Christ” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 29 ff.). We had all hoped that this momentum might coincide with a new era of brotherhood and peace for all humanity. Instead we have seen more bloodshed. Once again we have been witnesses of wars. We are distressed by the tragedy of the divisions and hatreds which are devastating relations between peoples.

At this time too, as priests we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of Ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the mysterium iniquitatis at work in the world. Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice. As the Church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us — conscious of human weakness, but trusting in the healing power of divine grace — are called to embrace the “mysterium Crucis” and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness. We must beg God in his Providence to prompt a whole-hearted reawakening of those ideals of total self-giving to Christ which are the very foundation of the priestly ministry.

It is precisely our faith in Christ which gives us the strength to look trustingly to the future. We know that the human heart has always been attracted to evil, and that man will be able to radiate peace and love to those around him only if he meets Christ and allows himself to be “overtaken” by him. As ministers of the Eucharist and of sacramental Reconciliation, we in particular have the task of communicating hope, goodness and peace to the world.

Some had hoped for more from the pope, much more. But given the venue of his approach — an annual letter that had probably been in the works for many months — I think the remarks were appropriate. And we need not conclude in haste that nothing further will be said. Or that nothing will be done.

Some suspect that John Paul II, nearly 82 years old, having worn himself out in the service of the Lord and His Church, and living with physical ailments now, may be too old to deal with this morass. But he has been counted down and out before, many times, so nobody should be surprised if he rises to the occasion once again.

Significantly, the pope did not adopt the language of American church bureaucrats, psychological “experts”, or mainstream media: he didn’t call immoral priests “sick”, and he didn’t excuse bishops for having made “mistakes”. Noticing this, Peggy Noonan has voiced the heartfelt hopes of many, Mar. 22:

This week an old giant returned to speak of what roils us. His words were welcome, heartening and necessary. But they were not, I think, sufficient. In Rome John Paul II, our warrior-saint of a pope, addressed, finally, the sex scandals that continue to rock the American Catholic Church.... So, the pontiff said that the priests who have abused and seduced teenage boys and adolescents had given in to the most grievous forms of “the mystery of evil.” He did not call the guilty priests only disturbed or in need of therapy; he said they had done evil and betrayed God’s gift to them, the gift of the priesthood.... And yet, one must hope the pope’s letter was only a beginning, only a prologue to action more grave and definitive.... It was heartening that the pontiff broke his silence, heartening that he did not say that priests who prey are only sick, which is how the American cardinals have treated them in the past....

For the first time in my lifetime ardent Catholics, or perhaps I should say orthodox Catholics, no longer trust their cardinals and bishops to do what’s right. They have pinned their hopes on the Vatican, and on the old warrior saint, JPII. They want him to hold up his silver crosier with the crucified Christ on the top and demand that priests who seduce teenage boys — or who sexually abuse, molest or seduce anyone — be thrown from the church, and that their protectors, excusers and enablers be thrown from it too.... The church does so much good! So much of what it is should be protected. But not, of course, at the price of betraying what the church stands for. The Catholics I know, and I know all kinds, left, right and center, would rather see the cathedrals sold for condominiums than see the decay continue.

Which is where the old pope — the mover of mountains, defeater of tyrannies, killer of communism, holder to the faith whose most special gift has been his power to show the powerless of the world, the peasants, the workers with grim hands, that he was their protector, that he loved them in the name of the church — comes in. The powerless need his protection now. They need that old crosier held up again, to tell the dirty wave to recede. Which is why so many of us are hoping that what we heard this week will not be remembered by history as “the pope’s statement” but as “the pope’s first statement — the one that led to a great shaking of the rafters in 2002.”

Amen to that.

Part Four

April 1, 2002

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will repent of the good which I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.” But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”’” (Jeremiah 18:1-12 RSV)

Some Spots of High Ground in the Morass

The news, which I have been reviewing extensively, is not all bad.

I mentioned last time how Archbishop Elden Curtiss, of Omaha, wrote scolding letters to two parishioners of the archdiocese, after each had written to a local secular newspaper criticizing how the archbishop had handled two cases of clerical misbehavior. I was happy to learn that Curtiss has since apologized to the two, as reported in the Omaha World-Herald, Mar. 25:

Archbishop Elden Curtiss announced Monday [Mar. 25] that he is apologizing for his written rebukes of two Roman Catholic parishioners who publicly criticized his decision to reassign a priest who had viewed Internet child pornography. “I am sorry that my previous letter to you was interpreted as being demeaning or even insulting,” Curtiss wrote to Frank Ayers and Jeanne Bast. “I never meant it to be such.” When informed of the apology, which Curtiss said he mailed Saturday, Ayers said it was not necessary for the archbishop to apologize directly to him, “but I do definitely accept it.”

“I will continue to pray for our church leadership and for Father (Robert) Allgaier and most definitely for Archbishop Elden Curtiss in these most difficult times,” Ayers said. Bast said she is glad the archbishop wrote. “I thank him and I accept his apology,” she said, “and I will continue to pray for Father Allgaier and the church.” .... Curtiss also attempted to explain his previous letters to Ayers and Bast. He said his earlier letters expressed his private frustration that a fellow Catholic “would be so negative about the accusations leveled against a young priest without knowing all the facts of the case; and negative against me without knowing the process I was following with professional advice.”

And my own bishop, Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, has been singled out as an outstanding example of how cases of clerical sexual abuse ought to be handled, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 29, which begins with a quotation from Wuerl’s homily at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the previous day:

“What has led us to where we are today in the scandal around a number of priests who have abused minors is not so much the abhorrence of the moral failure itself but, added to it, the sense of failure on the part of church leadership to respond adequately to this sin, which is also a crime.” Wuerl did not speak of his own track record, which is widely regarded as one of the best. A current editorial in the Jesuit magazine America, which urged the bishops to make a public act of penance, singled Wuerl out for his refusal to reinstate a pedophile when the Vatican’s highest court ordered him to do so in 1993. Wuerl has said that he has never knowingly returned a child molester to ministry.

Yesterday, however, he tried to explain that bishops who returned child molesters to parishes years ago did not act out of malice. Twenty years ago society did not recognize that the desire for sexual contact with minors was a psychological compulsion, so bishops treated it as they would any other moral problem requiring repentance and forgiveness, Wuerl said. He continued that his own perspective on the issue changed during his first months as bishop, when he met the young victims of three priests, their parents and the traumatized people of the parishes where the abuse had taken place. “While a bishop must consult with his staff representing many disciplines, legal, financial, canonical and pastoral, he must always respond as a pastor. ... The first obligation of a pastor is the care of those entrusted to his care.”

Wuerl is not the only bishop who has dealt appropriately with these situations, acting primarily as a pastor of both clergy and laity. Of course not. But, as in every other area of life, those who have botched up the job get the headlines: bishops and priests who serve well and faithfully don’t warrant much attention from the media, just as bad parents or physicians or police officers make the news while good parents and physicians and police officers go largely unrecognized.

I would like to single out one priest for special recognition, but unfortunately I cannot name him nor give but a few details: I cannot find the documentation that I thought I had saved. He eventually found himself physically attracted to younger people, and succumbed to the temptation several times. When he finally realized that he would never be able to trust himself around young people again, he resigned the sacred ministry and retired to live a solitary life in a lonely cabin in the woods, in reparation, and he resolved never to be alone with a teenager again. I think his case of self-aware self-sacrifice is a heroic example of courage, of which there are far too few in this whole sorry mess.

A Few Caveats

One sentence quoted above may have come as a big surprise: “A current editorial in the Jesuit magazine America, which urged the bishops to make a public act of penance, singled Wuerl out for his refusal to reinstate a pedophile when the Vatican’s highest court ordered him to do so in 1993.” After reading, for weeks, of how this or that bishop is removing this or that priest from his position because of sexual involvement with young people, one may wonder how Church courts may be involved. Does not the bishop have the right to place, or remove, a priest from a given position? Yes. And no. For priests have rights, too, and especially a priest who is a pastor.

Though the Church is not a government (in which there may be checks and balances between branches), theology, practice, and law have developed in response to varying circumstances over the centuries to hinder the abuse of autocratic authority. One of the developments is the recognition that a parish pastor has a right to a stable ministry: neither he nor his parish and parishioners is well-served if he is subject to removal willy-nilly by the bishop. (There are situations, however, in which a pastor may be appointed for a limited “term of office”.) Though a bishop may suspend a priest from exercising his ministry if he thinks there is just cause, he cannot do so indefinitely if the priest objects: there may very well be a trial, which may very well result in appeals. An entire section of the 1983 Code of Canon Law deals with The Procedure for Removal or Transfer of Parish Priests. (There are also “administrative acts” that can be employed, but I know little about them.)

Similarly, theologians who have been lawfully appointed or elected to certain positions are not necessarily subject to removal summarily by higher authority, even in the case of obvious, perhaps even deliberate, error. (My remarks earlier on the bishops’ failure to discipline theologians in the wake of the promulgation of Humanae Vitae unintentionally implied otherwise.) Again, procedures have been established over the centuries to protect the freedom of legitimate theological speculation and development. (See Canon 218.)

Indeed, one of the complaints raised by bishops at Vatican II was that, in the preceding 100 years or so, progressive theologians were sometimes silenced by Rome without a real chance to defend their positions. The pendulum, as the saying goes, has now swung too far the other way.

One of the reasons that actions against an accused priest (or theologian, for that matter) must be taken with care is that an accusation is not a conviction. Ironically, this point came up in an essay, Mar. 29, on media bias, by Dr. David Stolinsky, a retired teaching-physician who writes on social and political issues:

The same paper [the Los Angeles Times], like most papers, takes great care to refer to anyone who has not yet been convicted of a crime as an “alleged” or “accused” murderer or rapist. This wording avoids lawsuits, and more importantly, it follows the American tradition that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So why is it that this paper began a story about child abuse in the Catholic Church with the front-page headline “Mahony Won’t Name Abusers.” Not one of these priests had been charged with a crime, much less convicted, or their names would already be a matter of public record. But those Cardinal Mahony didn’t name were not referred to as “alleged” abusers. Somehow the fear of lawsuits, and the devotion to civil liberties, were forgotten in the rush to condemn the Catholic Church — and, by extension, Christianity in general. Accused murderers and rapists in jail awaiting trial are “alleged,” but priests not formally charged with anything are “abusers.” How inconsistent. But how revealing.

Stolinsky notes, too, another peculiar aspect of reporting about the current scandal:

Also revealing is the fact that the kids allegedly abused are referred to as “victims,” “accusers,” “teens,” “youths,” and other terms that leave us to guess their sex. The word “boys” is rarely used. If the sex of the alleged victims had been reported, we could judge the truth of the claim that 90 percent of them were boys. But as it is, we can only wonder whether that claim is correct. And we can wonder whether the reluctance to report the sex of the victims is due to a reluctance to offend gays. Perhaps the 90 percent figure is incorrect. Perhaps there is no bias in favor of the gay agenda. But the incomplete reporting lends credence to our suspicions. Can’t reporters and editors see this? Or don’t they care?

(No, they can’t see it.)

Comedian Jackie Mason, with Raoul Felder, is another voice for restraint when considering accusations, in a Washington Times essay, Mar. 29:

When there is an allegation of child abuse made against a member of the clergy, logically there are but three possibilities: The allegation is true; the allegation is knowingly false and made for the possibility of financial gain; the allegation is in fact false, but the accusers believe it to be true. Yes, Virginia, believe it or not, there are people who would make false allegations for profit. To these people, the Catholic Church in America represents a seemingly bottomless pocket. Additionally, there is a perception that the church would pay off on even a false claim. With lawyers working on contingencies, it is a no-lose situation for an individual who wakes up one morning and decides he or she was abused by a priest 30 years ago....

The church should be held to no greater or lesser standard than should any citizen or other responsible entity. If there is a sexual harassment allegation by an employee against General Motors, General Motors investigates that allegation. If the harassment rises to the point where force or a criminal act is clearly involved, General Motors or any other organization in a similar situation should rightfully direct and assist the complainant in going to the criminal justice system for aid. However, for the Catholic Church, as suggested, to immediately report every complaint to the authorities, on a presumptively guilty basis, puts the accused in an impossible position, and places the church in harm’s way in terms of civil litigation, if the accusation is later determined to be unfounded. The Catholic Church is an institution that represents the core beliefs of, and is the moral compass for, tens of millions of people. It is not only unfair, it is unwise, to undermine this relationship by a response more visceral than thoughtful.

A Few Bits of Anti-Catholic Bias in Mainstream Media

Just as it would be unwise to accept at face value every accusation of priestly misconduct, so is it unwise to accept at face value every report in the mainstream media. A recent news article, and two opinion pieces, especially caught my attention.

An article in the Boston Globe, Mar. 24, reported the following:

Thomas Blanchette, another man who alleges that [Rev. Joseph E.] Birmingham molested him in the 1960s, said he approached [Cardinal Bernard] Law at Birmingham’s funeral in 1989 and told him about the abuse. Blanchette said Law silently prayed for him, but then instructed him to keep the information secret.

“He laid his hands on my head for two or three minutes,” Blanchette, who said his four brothers were also molested by Birmingham, said of Law. “And then he said this: ‘I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this to anyone else.’ And that just burned me big-time. ... I didn’t ask him to hear my confession. I went there to inform him.”

“I bind you by the power of the confessional....” Ooooh. It sounds so mysterious... so ominous... so awful.... I’m sure non-Catholics must be wondering what it means. Catholics must be wondering what it means, too. Because there is no such thing. It sounds, to me, like something out of the wackier fantasies of somebody like Charles Chiniquy. The Boston Globe, though, prints it without a second thought: had they investigated, just a little, they would have had to leave it out.

An essay by somebody named Johanna McGeary, in Time, Mar. 24, contains the following remarkable passage:

The Roman Catholic Church is a stern hierarchy that has always kept its deliberations secret, policed itself and issued orders from the top. An obedient priest moves up in power by keeping his head down, winning rewards for bureaucratic skills and strict orthodoxy. When Cardinals are created, they take a vow before the Pope to “keep in confidence anything that, if revealed, would cause a scandal or harm to the church.” When it came to sex abuse, the Vatican essentially told bishops, You’re on your own. But if saving the church from scandal was literally a cardinal virtue, then the bishops of America’s 194 dioceses who had direct responsibility for priestly misconduct would make it their first principle. Better by far never to let the public know.

Let’s pass by the astonishing notion that “strict orthodoxy” is required for a priest to “move up in power” in the Catholic Church in the USA. (One need read no further to understand that the writer is quite clueless.)

What caught my attention was the equally astonishing notion that a cardinal takes a vow to “keep in confidence anything that, if revealed, would cause a scandal or harm to the church.” I would not waste either McGeary’s time or mine to ask her for a citation. But I had seen that little bit of fantasy related elsewhere, too, as fact, so I thought that I should point it out.

Finally, a column by one Michael Kramer in the New York Daily News, Mar. 24, relates a quite fanciful “history” of mandatory celibacy:

Ending celibacy wouldn’t be heresy: A married priesthood was the original and traditional Catholic condition for more than 12 centuries. Until they were forced to choose between their families and the priesthood in 1139, many Catholic clerics, including 39 Popes, were married. It’s crucial to understand that embracing celibacy did not reflect some purer interpretation of God’s will. In fact, it was mostly about money. A string of worldly medieval Popes had gradually worked to impose mandatory celibacy on the priesthood to increase their political power and enrich the church’s coffers. Married priests quite naturally left their holdings to their heirs. The Popes wanted those riches for the church — and Innocent II got the job done for good when the 2nd Lateran Council ended optional celibacy in 1139.

Actually, what really is “crucial to understand” is that Kramer’s “history” is almost entirely wrong, except for names and dates. This made-up history — this fundamentally anti-Catholic history — is so commonplace, though, historian Philip Jenkins (whose book was quoted at length in Part One) published an article in the Washington Post, Mar. 31, to set the record straight:

The notion that mandatory celibacy wasn’t imposed until the 12th century, stated as “fact,” seems quite damning to the church’s insistence on the practice. If true, modern Catholics would be insisting on an innovation that has been around for less than half of the history of Christianity, one that dates to the Middle Ages, a period that enjoys a dreadful reputation in modern thought. Through guilt by association, celibacy seems to be linked in many people’s minds with such horrors as witch-burning, the Inquisition and the Crusades. Worst of all, the reasons often cited for the invention of celibacy are not even spiritual, but rather involve land rights. According to a scholarly myth widely held among historians, the church was just trying to ensure that the children of priests could not become legitimate heirs to church land. Literally, according to this story, the modern Catholic Church is keeping alive a survival of feudal times.

This pseudo-history is wrong at almost every point. Mandatory celibacy goes much further back than Medieval times, if not quite to the days of the apostles. Priestly celibacy was the usual expectation in the West by late Roman times, say the 4th century, and Medieval statements on the subject were just reasserting discipline that had collapsed temporarily in times of war and social chaos. Of course we can find married priests throughout the Middle Ages, just as we can find priests committing molestation today, but that does not mean that, in either case, they were acting with church approval.

In making this point about dates, I am not just nitpicking in the worst academic tradition. I am stressing that priestly celibacy is a product of the very early church. Just how early? It was celibate priests and monks who made the final decisions about which books were going to make up the New Testament, and which would be excluded. If, as most Christians believe, the ideas and practices of the early church carry special authority, then we should certainly rank priestly celibacy among these ancient traditions.

So if they were not defending land rights, why did successive popes try to enforce celibacy? Odd as this may seem, the main reason seems to have been the increased frequency of the Eucharist or Mass. Because of the need to focus on spiritual rather than worldly interests, married priests in the 3rd and 4th centuries were supposed to abstain from sex the night before saying Mass. As Mass became a daily ritual, this effectively demanded permanent celibacy. Out of this practical need came a whole theology of self-sacrifice. The idea of celibacy is based less on a fear of sexuality than on a deep respect for its power, and with proper training, a celibate could transform or channel this power into a source of strength. Modern psychologists would later invent the term “sublimation” for this complex process.

(Jenkins, by the way, is an Episcopalian.)

I have decided that it may be very instructive to show that historical documents demonstrate the absolute correctness of Jenkins’ assertion about the main reason for the rise of mandatory clerical celibacy. The Roman tradition of clerical continence (married clergy abstaining from sexual activity) can be traced back, demonstrably, to the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it can be traced back specifically to a decree issued by a small group of African bishops who met in council in June 398 — who themselves were merely handing on (Latin traditio) and reaffirming rules that had come to them from earlier times.

I quote from The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, by Christian Cochini, S.J. Preceding this section, Fr. Cochini relates how the decree has been explicitly cited and quoted by bishops and popes from the fifth century right through the Reformation in support of clerical celibacy:

Here then is the document that was to play such a part in the history of ecclesiastical celibacy:

“Epigonius, Bishop of the Royal Region of Bulla, says: The rule of continence and chastity had been discussed in a previous council. Let it [now] be taught with more emphasis what are the three ranks that, by virtue of their consecration, are under the same obligation of chastity, i.e., the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, and let them be instructed to keep their purity.

“Bishop Genethlius says: As was previously said, it is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites, i.e., those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let us also endeavor to keep.

“The bishops declared unanimously: It pleases us all that bishop, priest, and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from [conjugal intercourse] with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep a perfect chastity.”

This text is interesting in many respects. Mention is made of the clerics’ wives, and particularly, the wives of the hierarchy’s high-ranking members: bishops, priests, and deacons. Most of those — or at least a large number — were thus bound by marriage. Such men are being asked by the African synod to give up no less than all conjugal intercourse and to observe perfect chastity. Because they are ministers at the service of the divine sacraments, it is deemed that marital life would prevent them from carrying out simpliciter (in all simplicity) their intercessory function. (p. 5)

Clerical celibacy was not an invention of greedy popes in the Middle Ages. But that’s the kind of flat-out nonsense that passes for historical understanding in mainstream media. Clerical celibacy was a practical outgrowth of ecclesiastical tradition and liturgical practice going back to no later than the fourth century — to the days, indeed, when the very canon of Sacred Scripture had not yet been definitively determined.

Justice — even plain and simple honesty — demands that columnists and reporters acknowledge these historical facts, not ignore or distort them.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Support from Likely (and Not So Likely) Sources

In Part Two, I noted the following:

Am I saying that “dissent” from Catholic faith and life caused the outbreak of immoral priests in our midst? No. But there is, indeed, a very good argument to be made that confusion about Church teaching, caused by deliberate and public deception by prominent “Catholic” “theologians”, contributed to the outbreak and “justification” of immoral behavior among Catholics of all stripes.

Catholic scholar Michael Novak wrote about this in a “Good Friday meditation”, Mar. 29:

After a daily diet of sexual-abuse scandals, American Catholics came into Good Friday this year with a new way of observing Lent: mortification, shame, and the bitter herbs of public humiliation. But also with a powerful conviction that “dissent” has failed. Okay, there was a sexual revolution; okay, there is a “new morality.” Problem is, had the old morality been followed, there would be no scandals, which so many now suffer from. Child abuse comes not from celibacy nor vows of chastity. Neither women priests nor married clergy make it go away — just examine the record of churches that have gone that route....

The reason the American Church today stands accused of hypocrisy is that it has been teaching one thing (semper fidelis for two millennia), while in that deeply conflicted generation ordained during the Sixties and Seventies (hit simultaneously by Vatican II and the sexual revolution) a small but significant body of its priests including some bishops has been flagrantly violating that teaching. That traditional teaching holds that our bodies are holy, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the physical manifestation of our personalities and of the graces poured out on us through the sacraments. We are embodied souls; every part is body, every part is soul, there is no dualism here. Our persons have been anointed. Our persons are sacramental. These teachings, exemplified in the life of Christ, are the ground of Catholic thinking both about loving sexuality in marriage and about the fire that gives celibacy its beauty, the purposive struggle for purity of heart. To engage our bodies in sinful acts, which slap the face of God and pierce anew His wounds upon the cross, is a kind of blasphemy. It is a dreadful misuse of sanctified bodies, bodies united in the Eucharist with Christ’s own. These acts wound the holiness of a partner, destroy innocence, breed contempt and anger, awaken hatred for God. They are especially horrible to contemplate when they have injured the unspoiled and trusting young.

How can people who studied long and prayed hard before taking vows turn in such a direction, in some cases habitually and nearly hardened in it, with a full-scale ideology to rationalize it? How can that happen? It could not have happened without a culture of “dissent,” especially regarding the theology of the human body. Its partisans call it “dissent,” which of itself is a healthy thing within a loyal brotherhood, but in its recent American form has been a sullen, silent rebellion, a separation of the heart from the leadership of those popes that followed the greatly loved and much-misinterpreted John XXIII (d. 1963). Paul VI and John Paul II have been the butt of the progressives’ ire. “I think the Church is being governed by thugs,” one Jesuit is quoted as dismissing them. (emphasis added)

Catholic columnist Phil Brennan traces, Mar. 27, the roots of “dissent” back much further — back to the nineteenth century, in fact, and the attempt of one American priest (Isaac Thomas Hecker, founder of the Paulists) to make the Catholic faith more palatable to Americans:

The scandals rocking the Church in America today had their roots in what might be called “Heckerism,” the ideology that gave birth to political correctness in the Church — the doctrine that insists that if a tenet of theology gives offense to anyone it must be either toned down or abandoned....

Slowly, covertly, the cancer variously identified as Americanization or modernism, or simply as heresy, has eaten away at the vitals of the Catholic Church in America. The Church in America that once stood like a rock in the sea of uncertainty, corruption and immorality that is modern secular society — the Church which could claim to be the staunch guardian of the immutable principles of Christianity handed down from the Apostles — has become an instrument of confusion and doubt, a betrayer of its faithful and a haven for the worst kinds of perversion and heresy. (emphasis added)

Recall that, in Part Two, I also asked this:

If professional Catholic theologians and pastors and religious — on the Church’s payroll, at all levels — effectively compromise Catholic faith and life to the point where they are becoming indistinguishable from the prevailing secular milieu, why are these men and women not called subversive traitors and expelled?

According to Cal Thomas, a conservative Protestant columnist, Catholic author Ralph McInerny pegs the rejection by professional Catholic theologians of Humanae Vitae as the beginning of the “modern decline from Catholic orthodoxy”, which I have already identified as the time of the collapse of the “moral authority” of the Catholic bishops in the USA. As Thomas wrote in a column, Mar. 30:

McInerny dates the modern decline from Catholic orthodoxy to 1968 when liberal theologians rejected the pope’s Humanae Vitae, which restated certain boundaries for sexual expression. The “moral theologians” who rejected the document displayed an attitude, says McInerny, which was “antithetical to Christian morality.” His point, and it is a good one, is that the leaders of the Catholic Church in America (and one might also argue the same applies to many Protestant leaders) were compromised because they feared the criticism of the world more than they feared disapproval from God. The same attitude prevails in many churches today.... Too many churches abandon doctrine at the first sign of secular disapproval for fear of being called names and being rejected by the unchurched masses....

Instead of orthodoxy and discipline, some in the Catholic Church and other churches have sought the world’s approval.... What they’ve received in return is corruption in their souls and in their leadership. Too many Catholics, as well as others who call themselves Christians, think they should be able to create God in their image. Catholics want to remain Catholic while at the same time rejecting some of the basic teachings of their church. Can one be a member in good standing of the NAACP if he’s a racist? Whether the issue is divorce, or sexual expression of any and every kind, these theological lone rangers think they are God and get to decide right from wrong.... The best approach to solving the problem of a few priests who prey on minors, and theological liberalism in general, is for the Catholic Church to return to the original rulebook, Scripture, which was written and delivered for the protection and redemption of humanity, and stop listening to the siren call of the world, which is headed in another direction. (emphasis added)

Part Five

April 8, 2002

“Are unbelievers more numerous among us today than believers? Perhaps faith is dead and has been covered with a layer of secular daily habit, or even denial and contempt.... Can it be that beneath unbelief there is downright sin, the inveterate sin which evolved people will not call by its name, so that mankind shall not call it by that name, and not seek remission?... Let man name sin by its name; he is not called upon to falsify it in himself, because the Church has received the power from Christ to exert over sin, for the good of the human conscience.” (Pope John Paul II, April 13, 1980)

The Damage Done

The damage done to the Catholic Church in the USA, and to individual Catholics, by the decades-long botched-up handling of cases of priestly immorality is incalculable. Ironically, the bishops surely made matters worse by trying to keep them under wraps; as indicated in a National Review Online column by Rob Dreher, Mar. 28:

The ire of the Catholic laity may rob the Church hierarchy of the kind of political protection it has formerly enjoyed. “As a Roman Catholic, it disgusts me to have to talk about this,” fumes former U.S. Attorney Joseph di Genova, who says that the Church is in more serious jeopardy, legally and otherwise, than its top leaders seem to understand. “If men like Cardinal Law and Cardinal Egan don’t quit looking at this as primarily a canonical and legal matter, but one of civic duty and civic responsibility, the pain is going to be prolonged,” he says.

Di Genova, who is now in private practice in northern Virginia, says the success Church lawyers have had in keeping clergy sex scandals quiet over recent decades has, ironically, become a Trojan horse. “If all of this had been made public over the past 30 to 40 years, the problem would have been dealt with, the bad priests would have been removed, and it all would have been taken care of,” he says.

But the problem was not dealt with, bad priests were not removed, and much has been taken care of as badly as could be imagined. Individuals have been hurt, sometimes (it seems) irreparably; the good name of the Catholic Church, and of individual Catholics (especially, but not exclusively, priests), has been besmirched as seldom before; and, many good and faithful priests feel that they have been put in a no-win situation.

The secular press has been eager to report, with salacious — and sometimes, I could swear, almost pornographic — detail, how innocent youngsters (mostly boys in their teens) were seduced, and their families betrayed, by wicked priests. Usually, their mental health was wounded, and their spiritual lives damaged; sometimes, their faith was lost. Often, the same results were inflicted on their relatives and friends who tried, unsuccessfully, to get the hierarchy to hold abusive priests accountable. These are broken souls for whom Jesus Christ, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, died a shameful death on the Cross; He Himself, with words that could not be more frightening, has said how much they mean to Him:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! (Matthew 18:6-7 RSV)

Bishops, and their defenders, have often claimed recently that they had adopted a forgive-and-let’s-get-on-with-life attitude towards these immoral priests, and that such an approach is eminently Christian: after all, they say, we are all sinners, we are all in need of forgiveness, and we are all called to forgive. Of course. But it seems to me that the Sacred Scriptures show us that St. Paul the Apostle would have taken a much different approach. Look at what he told the first-century Christians of Corinth to do with a man who was consorting with his step-mother:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother [that is, a fellow Christian] if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5 RSV)

Remove him from your midst! Hand him over to Satan! Do not even eat with him! Drive out the wicked one from among you! So did St. Paul command the Corinthians to deal with a notorious sinner in their midst: surely, our bishops, and their defenders, cannot claim to be better Christians than was the Apostle.

The Catholic Church has been damaged, too, as surely as have the individual victims. We are all in this together. We share a faith, a heritage, a tradition, a life that have come down to us across the centuries. And our reputation — that of the Church, of its priests, of its faith and life — has been wounded immeasurably. Catholic author Mark Shea put it this way in an e-mail, Mar. 12:

I don’t fly off the handle over every accusation of ecclesial malfeasance in the media. I know those guys hate the Church. That’s why it drives me nuts that the Church leaders and its media seem to be deliberately choosing a course guaranteed to give the Church’s enemies a stockpile of weapons-grade uranium for years, perhaps centuries, to come. Don’t think I exaggerate: look at the everlasting nature of slanders based on the Inquisition and the Crusades.

Indeed, “those guys” in mainstream media do “hate the Church”. I cannot help but imagine the glee with which the editors of newspapers like the Boston Globe and the New York Times find another juicy tidbit of Catholic scandal to set before their readers. I cannot imagine that they are motivated by concern for victims or by a passion for justice: they are motivated, mostly, by a concern to sell papers, but also by a deep long-held animus against the Catholic Church.

No matter. They do us a favor by exposing the misdeeds of priests and their superiors. As St. Thomas More reflected during his imprisonment in the Tower of London almost five centuries ago:

Give me Thy grace, good Lord, to set the world at nought.... To think my most enemies my best friends; for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

But blameless priests are being affected by the bad press; as Rod Dreher reported in a column, Jan. 15:

There are many good priests, men who would never harm a child, who suffer terribly from loss of morale. They feel that others look upon them with suspicion. They are terrified of leaving themselves open to a false accusation, which could end their priesthood. “Father D.,” a young priest who serves in the Southwest, tells NRO the abuse cases have affected relationships within his own family. On a visit home a few years ago, his sister suggested that her six-year-old son share the bed with Father D., “because he’s a great cuddler.” When the sister saw the horrified expression on her priest brother’s face, she understood that her innocent suggestion could have been a career-killer for Father D. If the children had told anybody that the boy had shared a bed with a priest, Father D. could have been thrown out of the priesthood. “I act around my nieces and nephews the same way I act in the parish: I am never alone with a child, period, end of story,” he says. “False accusations are a reality, and these horrify me as well. The only thing I can do is what I’ve done: Set up barriers and protections, and pray for protection.”

The “Homosexualization” of the American Clergy

As indicated many, many times through the course of this essay — beginning with a general overview of the situation from Philip Jenkins’s book Pedophiles and Priests in the Part One, right through a critique of bias in media reporting by David Stolinsky in Part Four — the real nature of the crimes being committed by priests against Catholic youth has been consistently disguised in the mainstream media: true “pedophile priests”, who prey on young children, form an exceedingly small number of the perpetrators; the overwhelming majority of them are homosexuals preying upon older boys.

As far as I know, Boston Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald was one of the earliest writers in mainstream media to broach the reality in relation to the current scandals engulfing the Catholic Church in the USA; he reported his conversation with a priest, in a column, Mar. 6:

“Thanks for returning my call,” he said. “I have a take on what’s happening now, something no one else seems anxious to get into, including the people in your business whom I'm angry at, too. The papers keep talking about pedophilia. That’s the wrong word. The real issue here is homosexuality. It’s usually heterosexuals who are pedophiles, which is a psychological disorder that has something to do with arrested development, sending them back to an age where they last felt comfortable, identifying with someone who reminds them of themselves.”

“Where are you getting this from?” he was asked.

“From friends who are psychologists. John Geoghan? Sure, he was a pedophile. But of all the guys whose names we’re reading now, no more than a couple were pedophiles, a percentage probably consistent with the general population. The majority of these victims were not prepubescent; they were young teens, so it had nothing to do with pedophilia. It’s technically called ephebophilia, which is almost exclusively homosexual, and it isn’t about comfort; it’s about sex. The media don’t like talking about this because, by and large, they have come down on the side of gay rights, the advancement of the gay agenda, so there would be an uncomfortability because, again and again, gays are saying, ‘We’re no threat to children; that’s why we should be Boy Scout leaders, why we should be teachers, why we should be able to adopt.’ That’s always their justification for interactions with young people.”

“Father,” he was assured, “you’ll be branded a hater.”

“I know, so please make sure I’m well-disguised, though if I said all of this in a homily I think people in this parish would be pretty cool with it.”

I don’t know if the priest would be branded “a hater”. But one can gather from Fitzgerald’s follow-up column, Mar. 11, that he himself certainly was:

The torrent of invective unleashed by that column would be difficult to describe; suffice to say, it was a truth a lot of people did not want to hear.

He continued:

But that backlash was wonderfully balanced by the number of other priests who called to concur, including one who personally experienced such wrath when he challenged the gay agenda from his pulpit. “Check the Merck Manual,” he suggested. “Every nurse and doctor is familiar with it; I have a copy. It defines pedophilia as repetitive sexual activity with pre-pubescent children and usually involves heterosexuals who’ve had psychological and emotional disorders from youth. Look at the ages of the victims we’re reading about here, like those ‘waiters’ who were brought to that camp in New Hampshire. They were 13, 14, so we’re not talking pedophilia; that’s intentionally misnaming it. Homosexual molestation is where you seek after kids who’ve reached puberty, and almost all of these victims we’re reading about were adolescents or young teens, so how can you possibly call that pedophilia? Call it what it is.”

What’s needed here is a little bit of honesty, though you can be sure it will be vehemently assailed as hatred. Isn’t it ironic that those who clamor for tolerance have none for anyone else? “There’s a lot of anger among them,” this priest agreed. “Remember how they protested the church’s teachings a few years ago by throwing condoms at newly ordained priests outside Holy Cross Cathedral? There’s obviously a lot of immaturity there, too, but most of all it’s an anger against authority. No one seems to want to say it, but the only answer to these problems is the Vatican’s view that we’ve got to get this element out of the priesthood.”

What is it? Molestation or seduction of adolescent boys by homosexual adults.

(You had better check that Merck Manual right quick: if it becomes widely known that Merck is being used to clarify our perception of reality in this particular way, I have a hunch there will be powerful behind-the-scenes pressure to minimize the distinction between pedophilia and homosexual molestation/seduction of teenagers in succeeding editions.)

The few amusing moments in this whole mess have come, for me, from watching the reaction when reasonable people point out that nearly all of these cases of priestly sexual immorality involve adolescent boys: thus, by definition, these offenses are being committed by homosexual men.

Mary Louise Cervone appeared on two TV programs, Mar. 28, representing the “Catholic” homosexual organization called “Dignity”. On The O’Reilly Factor (FNC) and on Making Sense with Alan Keyes (MSNBC), Cervone frantically tried to deny, over and over again, any distinction whatever between pedophiles who prey on young children and homosexuals who target adolescents. She offered no evidence for her assertion, of course, but spent most of her time wresting the conversation back to it.

I almost felt sorry — almost — for somebody forcing herself to look so willfully stupid for a national audience.

And, when NRO columnist Rod Dreher appeared on CNN’s The Point, Mar. 15, he used the word “homosexual” instead of the word “pedophile” to refer to our sexually immoral priests: though Dreher has the data on his side, both the host and the other guest paused for an uncomfortable moment of stunned silence. They reacted as if Dreher had used a racial epithet or a profanity.

It was great.

This afternoon, I thought — yes, I actually let myself believe — that a mainstream journalist was going to use the “H” word. David France, a Newsweek editor, was being interviewed by Lester Holt on MSNBC. During the brief segment — called “Can the Church Survive?” — Holt actually pointed out to France that “pedophilia” may be not the right word to describe most of the deeds. He asked France to comment, in a manner that invited clarification. At that point, I thought we were really, actually, frankly going to hear the “H” word. Alas, all the honesty France could muster was to note that, yes indeedy, most of the victims have been teenagers. Not teenaged boys, mind you. Just “teenagers”.

Given this atmosphere, I doubt that the following story will get much play; it comes from an article in the Boston Herald, Apr. 7:

A priest accused of raping a Newton altar boy and an unknown number of other youths over three decades used writings from Nambla — a much-assailed group that advocates sex between men and boys — to entice naive teens into having sex with him, an alleged victim of the priest said yesterday. The accuser, a gay man in his 40s who works in the service industry and requested anonymity, said he was introduced to the Rev. Paul R. Shanley in 1974, at age 16, by an ex-Dorchester man who co-founded Nambla, or North American Man-Boy Love Association, and goes by the name Socrates.

He says Shanley was a strong proponent of Nambla’s philosophy, which holds in part that older men should introduce pubescent boys to the mysteries of sexuality, and routinely collected and showed teens Nambla materials. The accuser says Shanley openly courted and engaged in sex with numerous boys in the 14 to 17 age range while the longtime Boston priest, who is now 71 and living in San Diego, ran a small Catholic ministry for “sexual minorities” from the early 1970s into the 1980s.

The Boston Globe ran an article the same day, about the same priest, referring always to Shanley as a “child” molester and without mentioning NAMBLA:

Despite three decades of complaints that the Rev. Paul R. Shanley had sexually abused children, the Boston Archdiocese transferred the onetime “street priest” to a California parish where officials were never told of the molestation allegations.... A church adviser told the Globe that the documents will include a 1977 record of a statement by Shanley in which Shanley said he did not believe that pedophilia was deviant or immoral. Pedophilia is the term for sexual urges or activity toward prepubescent children by adults. The adviser could not say to whom Shanley made the statement....

Shanley, who was known as Boston’s “street priest” in the 1960s and ’70s, was ordained in 1960 and held parish assignments at St. Patrick’s in Stoneham, St. Francis of Assisi in Braintree, and St. John’s in Newton during his three decades in Massachusetts. He was also chaplain at Boston State College in 1969, the same year he established “Rivendell,” a retreat house for youth workers on a 95-acre farm in Weston, Vt. In 1970, Shanley launched his “ministry to alienated youth,” based at St. Philip’s in Roxbury, for runaways, drug abusers, drifters, and teenagers struggling with their sexual identity. He ran the ministry for eight years, attracting wide public attention for embracing ostracized minorities and challenging the church’s position on homosexuality. In 1979, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros reassigned Shanley to the Newton parish, even though in 1974, according to one of Shanley’s victims, the cardinal had been notified of Shanley’s abuse by the victim’s mother. Shanley said publicly at the time that he was removed from the youth ministry because he differed with Medeiros over the church’s outreach to homosexuals....

Church directories indicate Shanley is now a “senior priest” assigned to the clergy personnel office at archdiocesan headquarters in Brighton. But he has been living in San Diego working as a police volunteer in an organization that finger-printed children at county fairs. He was dismissed last week, according to San Diego police. Shanley’s alleged victims in the Boston Archdiocese included a 42-year-old South Shore man who received a $40,000 settlement from the archdiocese in 1991 after notifying church officials that he had repeatedly been anally raped by Shanley in about 1972, when he was 12 or 13. The alleged victim, who asked that his name not be used, said he met Shanley after responding to a newspaper advertisement the priest had placed encouraging troubled teenagers to contact him for counseling.

(Of course, in Shanley-speak, “outreach to homosexuals” means “approval of homosexual behavior”.)

Today, the Boston Globe published an article with more disturbing details of the career of Shanley, but it still begins by referring to his criminal past in the Boston area as that of a “child” molester:

The Archdiocese of Boston arranged the transfer of a known child molester, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, to a California parish in 1990 with a top-level written assurance that Shanley had no problems in his past, according to a spokesman for the San Bernardino diocese. The letter, which cleared the way for Shanley to work for three years at St. Anne’s in San Bernardino, without restriction on his contact with children, was written by Bishop Robert J. Banks, who was then the top deputy to Cardinal Bernard F. Law....

During most of the time Shanley was at St. Anne’s, he and another priest from Boston owned and operated a bed-and-breakfast for gay customers 50 miles away in Palm Springs, according to interviews and property records reviewed by the Globe. Shanley and the Rev. John J. White, his co-owner of the B&B, were both technically on “sick leave” from the archdiocese and were being paid by the Boston Chancery. It was unclear last night whether Law or his aides were aware of the two men's business interest....

In January, when the Globe reported Shanley’s long history of allegedly molesting teenage boys, White denied that he owned property with Shanley — until the Globe confronted him with property records.

(How about that, Boston Catholics? Two homosexual priests were — are? — on your payroll while they were running a B&B for homosexuals in California. Yes. How about that?)

And notice how the Associated Press casually confuses the issues in an article in the Tampa Tribune, also published today:

Ireland’s Roman Catholic bishops were holding crisis talks Monday over the church’s handling of cases of sexual abuse involving pedophile priests. The meeting comes a week after the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, resigned after admitting he had not done enough to prevent sexual abuse by priests, particularly the Rev. Sean Fortune, who was facing 66 counts of molesting and raping teen-age boys when he committed suicide in 1999. (emphasis added)

(Will the resignation of the Bishop of Ferns “after admitting he had not done enough to prevent sexual abuse by priests” become a precedent for American bishops?)

I may be wrong: the Shanley story is getting some play, perhaps because of the deceit of one diocese by another. What low-down chicanery! What unconscionable effrontery! The bishops’ semi-annual meeting in June is really shaping up to be all the more explosive.

Sky high.

But Fitzgerald writes again today, noting how the misleading reporting crosses the line from disingenuous to dishonest:

It’s one thing to be disingenuous and quite another to be dishonest, a line too easily blurred when those who report the news attempt to choreograph it, too, which is exactly what many in this business are doing by perpetuating the myth that pedophilia is the cancer now infesting the Catholic Church. It is not pedophilia that has brought the Boston archdiocese to this dark moment; in most of the instances where abuse has been alleged, it’s homosexuality that has caused such pain and disgrace....

Pedophilia is a red herring, providing safe cover for irresponsible critics, allowing them to swing from the heels, recklessly impugning reputations, carelessly making blanket indictments, secure in the knowledge they incur no risk because everyone agrees that hurting a child is reprehensible. Criticizing homosexual aggression, however, would invite the rage of advocates who, refusing to acknowledge the elements of depravity that exist within their community, bitterly assail anyone else who dares to address it, labeling them homophobes, which is just one more example of what you can do with words. It may be unpopular, but in a scandal of this magnitude it’s certainly not hateful to identify the problem by its right name; indeed, it beats deceit, especially if the only reason to mislead is fear of incurring the wrath of militants. Believe this: If “homosexuality” replaced “pedophilia” in the language used to cover this interminably miserable story, we would see a lot more restraint, resulting in a lot more fairness to everyone affected by it, especially legitimate victims and innocent priests.

The latest round of clerical suspensions for sexual immorality, and the anecdotal evidence of the likes of Shanley and White, are not the only evidence of the “homosexualization” of American clergy. According to a new book, the Jesuits in the USA have been overrun by homosexuals. As Garry Wills says in a New York Times Book Review article, Mar. 28:

The authors report a general agreement among present and former Jesuits that a gay subculture flourishes in the Society. Outsiders became aware of this subculture in 2000, when it was reported that Jesuits by the dozens were suffering from or dying of AIDS. From one novitiate alone — in fact, the one I entered in 1951 — five men who were novices in the 1960s were dead of AIDS by the 1990s. There were attempts to hide this rate — when Thom Savage, the popular former president of Rockhurst College in Kansas City, died in 1999, it was said that he died of respiratory problems, but a reporter for The Kansas City Star found only one cause of death, AIDS, listed on his death certificate.

It is not surprising that the numbers of heterosexuals have declined, as many left to marry and others were deterred by the celibacy requirement from entering. The remaining or arriving gays have formed protective networks — the authors call it a “lavender Mafia” — to provide the sense of community otherwise so hard to come by in the order. Of course, this works against a larger sense of community, since some of those Jesuits interviewed express resentment at being excluded by the gays. A straight young Jesuit says: “I feel quite alone when Jesuits of my generation talk about sex and sexuality. Straights complain about being in the minority in the ‘younger Society’ and about being held to stricter norms of conduct. Gays want shoulders to cry on as they struggle with coming out and are unduly sensitive to any detail of a response which they can interpret as nonacceptance.” A man in his thirties teaching in a high school also feels stranded: “Several of my former Jesuit friends would mention the large number of gay Jesuits and the impact that had on community life as being a big reason they left. As a relatively young Jesuit who is heterosexual, I believe I am in the minority, and that raises questions.” A priest in his sixties is less tolerant of the younger men: “I get annoyed with those gays who seem stuck on one note — anger.” This man seeks escape from the community room by spending time with women friends outside his institution.

As George Neumayr notes at TheAmericanProwler, Mar. 13:

Were Ignatius of Loyola alive today, the Jesuit order he founded wouldn’t ordain him. His once-formidable society is now a corrupt club for homosexual dilettantes and anti-papal dissenters. Real Catholics need no longer apply.

Celibacy is Not the Problem

As naturally as flies gather on rotting meat, many people — usually liberals, even (or especially) Catholics, in mainstream media — are blaming clerical celibacy for this problem, and recommend making it optional as a solution.

Let us quote again from one Michael Kramer, who was shown last time to have no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to the historical development of mandatory celibacy. From his same article, Mar. 24:

The best guess from secular analysts is that celibacy doesn’t itself produce the twisted personality that causes some very few priests to prey on children and young adolescents — although the problem of arrested sexual development needs further study, since many would-be priests enter seminaries as teenagers.

But even if celibacy doesn’t cause such deplorable behavior, there’s ample reason to view it as bad policy anyway. First, says Marquette University Theology Prof. Michael Fahey, “married priests would emancipate the church because they would be better connected to normal life. Unmarried priests are simply less sensitized to the needs of children.” And second, says Fahey, optional celibacy would rejuvenate the clergy because the church is facing a manpower crisis.

During the past 30 years, as the number of Catholics has grown by about 30%, the number of priests has declined by about 10%. There are 62.4 million U.S. Catholics and more than 2,500 parishes are without a resident priest, in part because roughly 20,000 American priests have left the clergy to marry during the past 25 years. The available pool of men willing to become priests would increase if they could marry, and their quality would likely improve as well.

The lid is being blown off that little deception (of which Kramer is likely a victim rather than merely a perpetuator). Celibacy has been blamed for nearly 40 years as one of the chief, if not the chief, cause of the decline in priestly vocations; and, that decline has then been used as an argument to end mandatory celibacy. A soon-to-be-published book, by Michael S. Rose, argues instead that good, solid, orthodox Catholic men, willing to embrace celibacy and to devote their lives to the service of God and the Catholic Church, have been turned away — if not actually driven away — from Catholic seminaries in the USA. In droves. For decades.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to delve into this affair in detail. But here is some of the table of contents from Rose’s book, Goodbye! Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood.

Chapter 1: A Manmade Crisis: Why Archbishop Curtiss said the priest shortage is “artificial and contrived”

Chapter 2: Stifling the Call: How for some men the road to ordination is cut short before it really begins

Chapter 3: The Gatekeeper Phenomenon: How good men are unjustly screened out during the seminary application process

Chapter 4: The Gay Subculture: How homosexual politics discriminates against healthy, heterosexual seminarians

Chapter 5: The Heterodoxy Downer: How false teaching demoralizes and discourages the aspiring priest

Chapter 6: Pooh-poohing Piety: How traditional expressions of the faith often disqualify the orthodox seminarian

Chapter 7: Go See the Shrink! How psychological counseling is used to expel the good man from his seminary

Chapter 8: The Vocational Inquisition: How the orthodox seminarian is identified and persecuted

Chapter 9: Confronting the Obstacles: One good man traces his tortuous route to ordination

Chapter 10: Heads in the Sand: How complaints about the poor state of seminaries have gone unanswered

Chapter 11: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: How a death-wish for the male, celibate priesthood created an artificial priest shortage

Chapter 12: The Right Stuff: How to live up to the Church’s expectations for seminary life

Chapter 13: Where the Men Are: Why orthodoxy begets vocations (or, how to learn from successful dioceses and seminaries)

Archbishop Curtiss is the Elden Curtiss mentioned previously, in Part Three and Part Four. I had alluded to his analysis of the current vocations “crisis”, from which I now quote:

I personally think the vocation “crisis” in this country is more artificial and contrived than many people realize. When dioceses and religious communities are unambiguous about ordained priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines these calls; when there is strong support for vocations, and a minimum of dissent about the male celibate priesthood and religious life loyal to the magisterium; when bishop, priests, Religious and lay people are united in vocation ministry — then there are documented increases in the numbers of candidates who respond to the call.

It seems to me that the vocation “crisis” is precipitated and continued by people who want to change the Church’s agenda, by people who do not support orthodox candidates loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Pope and bishops, and by people who actually discourage viable candidates from seeking priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines the ministries.

I am personally aware of certain vocation directors, vocation teams and evaluation boards who turn away candidates who do not support the possibility of ordaining women or who defend the Church’s teaching about artificial birth control, or who exhibit a strong piety toward certain devotions, such as the Rosary.

When there is a determined effort to discourage orthodox candidates from priesthood and religious life, then the vocation shortage which results is caused not by a lack of vocations but by deliberate attitudes and policies that deter certain viable candidates.

And the same people who precipitate a decline in vocations by their negative actions call for the ordination of married men and women to replace the vocations they have discouraged. They have a death wish for ordained priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines them. They undermine the vocation ministry they are supposed to champion.

Curtiss describes, and Rose documents, the nature, purpose, strategy, and some of the effects of those whom I call subversive traitors.

Besides the red herring of decline in vocations, Kramer also claims that eliminating mandatory celibacy would improve the lot of candidates for the priesthood.

Well, it is an idea.

And it is a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of celibate clergy and religious who have served God and the Catholic Church faithfully. Century after century after century.

Alas — and I am very sorry to have to say this — married clergy is no cure-all palladium. Witness, for instance, the report of Bill Wineke, a member of the United Church of Christ, in the Wisconsin State Journal, Apr. 5:

Lest you become comforted thinking only Catholic priests can be clerical perverts, you might want to subscribe to “Freethought Today,” the monthly publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It runs a gleeful feature — one that usually covers a couple of pages — called “Black Collar Crime Blotter.” The blotter picks up newspaper clippings about problem pastors from around the country and the result isn’t pretty.

The April issue, for example, begins with an item announcing the minister of the Edmond, Okla., Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry had been charged with molesting two girls, aged 8 and 9, in the church recreation room. Also listed are an Oklahoma City rabbi, the cantor of one of the world’s largest Reform synagogues, an Assembly of God pastor charged with raping a girl, and a Southern Baptist minister charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. From my own denomination, the United Church of Christ, came news that one of our conference ministers — the equivalent of an archbishop in role, if not in status — was convicted of standing in his house window and exposing himself to neighbors.

Now, I admit that the news that Catholic priests aren’t the only clerical deviates does not do much to make us feel better about the church in general. But it should serve to keep those of us who aren’t Catholic from getting too judgmental and it should call into question the validity of the claim of many that celibacy and the male-only priesthood are the causes of priest failures. Most of the non-Catholics listed in Black Collar Crimes are married and most are in churches that ordain women.

Indeed, as Wineke notes, married clergy have a problem all their own:

A far more common problem in all our churches and synagogues comes from clergy who succumb to the all-too-human temptation to fall in love with persons other than their wives (or husbands). Such affairs are not illegal and they don’t make the papers. But they do result in broken families and in heartbreak among disillusioned church members, many of whom end up leaving the church quietly and never returning.

And this “problem” — marital infidelity among clergy — is “far more common”, he says, than the sins against juveniles that warrant attention because they are crimes. (Not to mention that our secular milieu hardly considers marital infidelity worth mentioning as wrong-doing, except perhaps in a divorce petition.)

Unless one believes that a homosexual can be “cured” by marriage, one defies all reason to claim that a married clergy would have forestalled the rash of homosexual abuse of teenaged boys by priests. Catholic columnist Maggie Gallagher addressed this very notion, Mar. 13:

As I sat in the pews last Sunday, obediently praying for an increase in religious vocations, the thought occurred: If one of my sons wanted to dedicate himself to a life of chastity, poverty and obedience, forsaking marriage (and my grandchildren!) for God’s sake, would I trust my child to the care of people now running American Catholic seminaries? Should I? Should any mother?

This is the question raised in many staunch Catholic hearts by the series of revelations of priestly sexual abuse of teen-agers. Teen-age boys, to be exact. One of the big, obvious questions on everybody’s mind that nobody in the American church hierarchy seems to be willing to address is this: Why, suddenly, is it only boys, boys, boys?

The same old church critics are using these scandals to target clerical celibacy as the problem and married priests as the solution. Right. As if wives are the answer to the sexual urges of men who get their kicks from adolescent boys.

Celibacy as currently practiced in the Catholic Church in the USA does, however, seem to me to be a problem.

Part Six

April 15, 2002

“When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.... Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:26-28, 30-32 RSV)

The Problem with Celibacy

I concluded last time by arguing that mandatory clerical celibacy is not the problem. Clerical celibacy, in and of itself, is not the cause, nor even a contributing factor, in the sexual scandals involving Catholic clergy: married non-Catholic clergy are also guilty of the same kind of sexual offenses of which celibate Catholic clergy are guilty.

Since then, a column by Stuart Reid, deputy editor of The Spectator, was published in the London Telegraph, Apr. 12; he states the case with memorable alacrity:

There is a very serious problem in the Catholic Church, but let’s be clear what the problem is not. It is not, as so many believe, the rule of celibacy. (“I mean, if they was allowed to get married, they wouldn’t be rogering them choirboys, would they?” The same sort of reasoning, in posher language, can be found in broadsheet newspapers.) If you want proof that celibacy is not the cause of child molestation or promiscuous homosexuality, look at the Church of England, or visit your nearest internet paedophile circle. The truth is that celibacy is the only hope that paedophiles — and their potential victims — have.

The same day, the Chicago Sun-Times published a column by well-known author Fr. Andrew Greeley, a long-time defender of continuing mandatory clerical celibacy. Though he mislabels the current scandal as one of sexual “child” abuse, his points are worth noting:

The argument one hears and reads over and over that celibacy is the cause of sexual abuse is a vicious anti-Catholic lie even if it comes from columnists and editorial writers who claim to be Catholic. In an ABC news poll, 6 percent of Catholics and 6 percent of other Americans said that there had been a sex abuse case in their congregation — a finding that shows that the problem is not just celibate or Catholic. Most child abusers are married men (and in some cases married women). Their abuse results from deep emotional problems. If a priest with these proclivities marries, then he will be a married sex abuser. No clinician disputes that truth. The alleged link between celibacy and sexual abuse is specious.

Greeley continues with a blast at “resigned priests”, whom the mainstream media so willing puts before the public these days:

Is there no historian of anti-Catholic nativism who will rise up and shout that attacks on the celibate priesthood have been an integral part of anti-Catholic bigotry for two centuries? Historically, the bigots insist that the priest is either a slimy character looking for young people or nuns to assault, or is something less than a real man. A few resigned priests in effect make that argument today against those of us who have tried to keep our promise of celibacy. Those who accept the argument as though it were unquestionable truth are de facto anti-Catholics. Somehow, the fact that these loud louts now sleep with a woman seems to constitute prima facie evidence that they are more real men than we are and uniquely qualified to criticize our inadequacies. That too is anti-Catholic bigotry and should be labeled as such.

(Another version reads “loudmouths” for “loud louts”. Greeley names nobody, but A. W. Richard Sipes and Eugene Kennedy are the two, usually labelled “former priests”, who seem to be most often given a national audience on TV and in major newspapers. One need not even wonder if anybody who could be labelled, say, “former dissenter” would be obliged so willingly, or given such ready credence.)

Celibacy does have a problem, however: it is far too often in and of itself.

Celibacy is a precious gift, to the individual and to the Church. Yet, it is a demanding gift. Over the centuries, the discipline of clerical celibacy developed along with a whole way of life — comprising the spiritual, devotional, and ascetical — to the benefit of the individual celibate, the community in which he lived and worshipped, and the Church as a whole.

Much of this involved adapting the disciplines of monastic life to the life of the priest in parochial ministry. And much of it was abandoned, lock, stock, and barrel in the 1960s. Not everywhere, not always. But in enough places, in enough ways, to have made a profound difference in the way many priests have conducted their daily lives. I have found support for this proposition in places I would not have thought very likely.

First, from author Gary Wills, from whom I quoted last time. He had a two-part article published in the Boston Globe, Mar. 24. The first part is notable for its egregious misrepresentation of Philip Jenkins’ book Pedophiles and Priests, from which I quoted extensively in Part One. (Wills has quite the reputation for egregious misrepresentation.) Now, Jenkins’ book is a remarkably even-handed treatment of the subject. Perhaps it is this very even-handedness that Wills fears, for he does his very best — which, by the standard of honest men, would be the very worst — to portray the book as a one-sided “conservative” diatribe. I myself would not defend Wills from the charge of lying about Jenkins’ book.

Moreover, in the second part of his column, Wills numbers Jenkins among “protectors of the hierarchy”. He conveniently neglects to mention that Philip Jenkins is an ex-Catholic Episcopalian: had he done so, Wills would have to explain why such a man would have any interest whatever in “protecting” the Catholic hierarchy. For which, of course, there is no explanation. And, thus, Wills would not have been able to dismiss the man, his book, and those (such as me) who cite and quote it. Had he been honest and forthright, Wills would have had to write quite another column.

And... yet... I think he hits the target dead-center when he writes about how celibacy has been left alone, in and of itself, as the sole descendant of ascetical traditions in parish clerical life:

Celibacy arose as just one component in a thoroughgoing theology of asceticism. The desert father who pioneered the practice of celibacy adopted it as just one part of a larger pattern of isolation and meditation, of fasting and other forms of mortification. When priests adopted celibacy, they brought with it some of this structure and most of its rationale. They were not set apart from other men by just one thing. In the monasteries, for instance, silence, isolated cells, long communal chanting of the office, and self-scourging were common. Cloistered men and women were cut off from worldly life in general, not just from sexual activity.

But, progressively, the celibacy of priests became not the expression of a whole ascetical form of life but a substitute for it.... So modern priests do not look much like desert fathers. They are not known for other forms of asceticism, besides celibacy. Most of them eat and drink well, drive nice cars, have no serious material deprivation. A priest who eats out or goes to a play or concert often has a generous layman to pick up the tab. In this situation, celibacy becomes a mark of nonexistent difference. But celibacy without its supporting ascetical discipline cannot be sustained all on its own.

Even if he is wrong about many other things, when a man is right, he’s right.

Second, from political commentator Bill Press. He published a column at CNN, Mar. 28, in which he wrote about his own experience as a student for the priesthood:

As an altar boy and high school student, I’m happy to report, my own experiences hanging out with priests — traveling, going to the beach or movies — were happy and healthy. No groping. No petting. No nudity. No sex. Not even a hint of it. But, looking back, I see how many opportunities a sexual predator would have had....

When it was time for me to take the three vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, I did so without hesitation. To tell the truth, at that point, it was easy. I was young. I was on fire. I was a soldier in God’s army. Any problems associated with celibacy would only come later. Assigned as a seminarian to teach school in Philadelphia, I soon saw the warning signs among older priests. Again, in my case, no evidence of pedophilia. But a lot of self-indulgence in other ways: heavy eating, drinking, travel, golf, television — all distractions chased to fill an obvious void. Wouldn’t they be better off married?

Maybe some of them would, indeed, have been better off married. But wouldn’t they all have been better off had the age-old ascetical tradition, of which celibacy had been but a part, not been largely cast aside in the wake of the Second Vatican Council?

John Henry Newman, while still an Anglican priest, preached on the necessity of this askesis — of self-disciplined self-denial for the sake of the Kingdom of God — to some degree, in some kind, for every Christian:

These are some of the proofs which are continually brought home to us, if we attend to ourselves, of our want [that is, lack] of love to God; and they will readily suggest others to us. If I must, before concluding, remark upon the mode of overcoming the evil, I must say plainly this, that, fanciful though it may appear at first sight to say so, the comforts of life are the main cause of it; and, much as we may lament and struggle against it, till we learn to dispense with them in good measure, we shall not overcome it. Till we, in a certain sense, detach ourselves from our bodies, our minds will not be in a state to receive divine impressions, and to exert heavenly aspirations. A smooth and easy life, an uninterrupted enjoyment of the goods of Providence, full meals, soft raiment, well-furnished homes, the pleasures of sense, the feeling of security, the consciousness of wealth, — these, and the like, if we are not careful, choke up all the avenues of the soul, through which the light and breath of heaven might come to us. A hard life is, alas! no certain method of becoming spiritually minded, but it is one out of the means by which Almighty God makes us so. We must, at least at seasons, defraud ourselves of nature, if we would not be defrauded of grace.

Decades later, after he had become a Catholic priest but before he became a cardinal of the Roman Church, Newman applied this principle to the interior life of the priest when he preached to Catholic seminarians, October 2, 1873:

We must gain the habit of feeling that we are in God’s presence, that He sees what we are doing; and a liking that He does so, a love of knowing it, a delight in the reflection, “Thou, God, seest me.” A priest who feels this deeply will never misbehave himself in mixed society. It will keep him from over-familiarity with any of his people; it will keep him from too many words, from imprudent or unwise speaking; it will teach him to rule his thoughts. It will be a principle of detachment between him and even his own people; for he who is accustomed to lean on the Unseen God, will never be able really to attach himself to any of His creatures. And thus an elevation of mind will be created, which is the true weapon which he must use against the infidelity of the world. (Hence, what St. Peter says: 1, ii, 12, 15; iii, 16.) Now this I consider to be the true weapon by which the infidelity of the world is to be met.

Along with the ancient ascetical tradition must come the equally ancient spiritual tradition, without which the former is but meaningless and mechanical. My friend Fr. John J. Hugo, a priest of the Church of Pittsburgh, saw the need for a deep spirituality in the life of every Christian, but especially of the priest, and most acutely of the celibate priest. Friend and mentor of the great Dorothy Day, he wrote about it in a book published privately not long before he died in 1985:

All this does not prove that celibacy is necessary in order to assume the priesthood of Christ; but it certainly is shown as appropriate for those sharing in the priestly role of Him whose whole life “was a cross and martyrdom,” and who was both priest and victim in His culminating cosmic sacrifice on Calvary. Whether it should be made obligatory for those who are called to the priesthood is another matter. On the basis of comtemporary experience many would assert that it is not even feasible. Assuredly, taking the vow of itself does not exempt the celibate from the present human condition, within which “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and “if you live according to the flesh you will die.” (Rm 3:23; 8:13) The celibate will therefore do well to heed the counsel of Prospero to the young lovers of The Tempest (Act IV, Scene 1):

Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein; the strongest oaths are straw
To the fire i’the blood; Be more abstemious,
Or else good night your vow!

To put it differently, celibacy is not feasible if it is not received and observed in the deep mainstream of evangelic and Christian spirituality. So far this has not happened. The mainstream has trickled down only into a few oases here and there. To make it available for all (and it must also reach the families from whom candidates are expected) the clergy, led by their bishops, rather than allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by material duties, need to drink deep of these living waters and channel them to the whole Church.

I can almost hear the objections already: Oh, Newman and Hugo are so... so... September 10th! Old fashioned. Out of date. Superseded. “Old” Church. Pre-Vatican II.

Permit me to quote, then, from another witness. With regard to the training of candidates for the priesthood:

The spiritual training should be closely connected with the doctrinal and pastoral, and, with the special help of the spiritual director, should be imparted in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Conformed to Christ the Priest through their sacred ordination they should be accustomed to adhere to Him as friends, in an intimate companionship, their whole life through.... Those practices of piety that are commended by the long usage of the Church should be zealously cultivated; but care should be taken lest the spiritual formation consist in them alone or lest it develop only a religious affectation. The students should learn to live according to the Gospel ideal, to be strengthened in faith, hope and charity, so that, in the exercise of these practices, they may acquire the spirit of prayer, learn to defend and strengthen their vocation, obtain an increase of other virtues and grow in the zeal to gain all men for Christ. (Optatam Totius 8, October 28, 1965)

Students who follow the venerable tradition of celibacy according to the holy and fixed laws of their own rite are to be educated to this state with great care.... They are to be warned of the dangers that threaten their chastity especially in present-day society. Aided by suitable safeguards, both divine and human, let them learn to integrate their renunciation of marriage in such a way that they may suffer in their lives and work not only no harm from celibacy but rather acquire a deeper mastery of soul and body and a fuller maturity, and more perfectly receive the blessedness spoken of in the Gospel. (Optatam Totius 10)

See, the age-old strategies and tactics that have traditionally accompanied celibacy and help to safeguard its integrity — which would now be scorned by many as “Pre-Vatican II” — were actually recommended by the Second Vatican Council, explicitly and specifically. From the same witness, with regard to priestly life:

Hence, this holy council, to fulfill its pastoral desires of an internal renewal of the Church, of the spread of the Gospel in every land and of a dialogue with the world of today, strongly urges all priests that they strive always for that growth in holiness by which they will become consistently better instruments in the service of the whole People of God, using for this purpose those means which the Church has approved. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 12, December 7, 1965)

Insofar as perfect continence is thought by many men to be impossible in our times, to that extent priests should all the more humbly and steadfastly pray with the Church for that grace of fidelity, which is never denied those who seek it, and use all the supernatural and natural aids available. They should especially seek, lest they omit them, the ascetical norms which have been proved by the experience of the Church and which are scarcely less necessary in the contemporary world. (Presbyterorum Ordinis 16)

“Practices of piety... the exercise of these practices... long usage of the Church.... Suitable safeguards... mastery of soul and body.... Growth in holiness... those means which the Church has approved.... Supernatural and natural aids... ascetical norms... the experience of the Church.” Yes, the methods — spiritual, devotional, ascetical — developed and tested over the course of ages, which formed a whole way of life in which celibacy was supported and protected, were not rejected by Vatican II: they were, in fact, reaffirmed.

In more ways than one, we see, Newman was The Father of Vatican II, as he is often called. And Hugo was the faithful student of the Cardinal and of the Council, whose directives in this regard, as in so many others, were ignored or flouted by those paying lip service to its lead.

Celibacy, therefore, ought to be one thread of a fabric woven through the whole life of a priest: ripped from the cloth, why should anybody have expected celibacy to hold up at all, let alone to hold up well? I’m sure that many people think that, since the rest are gone, we should do away with celibacy, too, to ameliorate the current problem. But the opposite would be true, too, wouldn’t it? Were celibacy accompanied by the traditional methods, helping to safeguard its integrity, the current problem would be ameliorated. How can we know this? The lived experience of hundreds of thousands — no, millions — of clergy and religious across the centuries give testimony.

When the experiment of a new way — having celibacy go it alone, while the rest of the celibate’s life becomes almost indistinguishable from a secular existence — when the experiment produces all-too-abundant evidence of its failure, what sense does it make to experiment even further? Why not restore the old ways? Are we so stupid... so blind... so ideological... that we cannot learn from our mistakes?

Recapitulation: The Diagnosis

“For decades, a crisis has been brewing in the Catholic Church in the USA: a crisis of faith, a crisis of morals, a crisis of courage.” So I began the epigraph of Part One. The sexual scandals — mostly homosexual encounters with juveniles — that now plague the clergy, concomitant with the hierarchy’s failure to deal appropriately with miscreant priests, are, I believe, but a symptom of a deeper, more fundamental scandal: doctrinal confusion and doubt have been wrought, often deliberately, by Catholics in official positions — clergy, religious, theologians. Sometimes, the result has been, in certain cirles, the outright denial of ancient Catholic teachings — especially those regarding morality, particularly sexual morality — but also those regarding, for instance, the divinity of Christ, the origins and meaning of Sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, and the role of the Church’s teaching authority and of individual conscience.

Thus have Catholic faith and life tended to be rendered largely impotent before the onslaught of a secularized culture that has become generally anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian. Merely reflect upon the truth: much of Catholic teaching, especially concerning morals, that evokes the shrillest, angriest, unthinking denunciation these days was taken for granted by virtually all Christians — by virtually all Americans — only a century ago: the immorality of abortion, artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, and homosexual activity. In these respects, the role of the Catholic Church in the USA in determining public policy over the past forty years has been, effectively, nil. In fact, as somebody has noted recently, the Catholic Church — and many others among the older, “mainline” Christian denominations — have been “evangelized” by the world much more than they have been evangelizing the world.

Could anybody, anywhere, honestly deny any of this?

I must say it again: this neutering of the Catholic Church has been accomplished largely by Catholics. Beginning with their capitulation to wayward theologians in 1968, the body of American bishops has been effectively corrupted and has largely abandoned, in deed if not in word, their role of protecting the faith handed on in the Catholic Church — and of protecting the faithful from Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing, whether they be sexual predators or theological innovators (or both).

Yes, the neutering of the Catholic Church has been accomplished largely by Catholics, especially by those in the employ of the Church: clergy, religious, theologians, preachers, writers, teachers. They are usually called “dissenters”: I will explain later why that label is a lie. I call them subversive traitors. C. S. Lewis likened them, in the Anglican Church of his day, to prostitutes. (The scandal of “dissent” infested the Church of England long before it began to infest the Church of Rome.) Catholic writer Amy Welborn recently posted her own observations about an Anglican priest in Ireland who denies that Jesus Christ is divine and that He is savior; she notes inimitably what can be said of him and others like him, whether Anglican or Catholic:

Okay — here’s what absolutely and totally ticks me off about gasbags like this guy: Work it, baby. Work it. Work your church. Dis it. Reject its teachings. Not even its ambiguous-well-maybe-you-know-it’s-all-a-mystery teachings. Central, essential stuff. Throw it out the window. (Are you listening [Episcopalian] Bishop Spong?)

But - keep pulling that paycheck! Keep living off of the hard-earned donations of the fools who actually believe the stuff that you’re so over. Get fat off their sweat.

Do you know what I call that? Fraud. Theft. Highway Robbery.

And we Romans do it too — think of the faculty at “Catholic” universities who write books about Jesus’ body being stolen by wild dogs. Consider all the many religious educators who are doing their best to disseminate what they learned at the “Catholic” universities in sneaky euphemisms and dreary “new paradigms” that do nothing but undermine the Gospel. What a bunch of con artists.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (of which I am a member), has spoken out recently about doctrinal “dissent” because he recognizes it as a threat to the Catholic Church. A Catholic League press release, Apr. 11, invites us to connect some dots; it is not really that difficult to do:

Dissidence and Deviance in the Church: Connecting the Dots

Catholic League president William Donohue commented today on the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church by examining the relationship between heterodoxy and sexual deviance. Donohue holds a doctorate in sociology from New York University. He has taught college courses on the family and has authored books and articles that address the subject of human sexuality. Here are his remarks:

“It is well known that Paul Shanley, a former priest of the Boston Archdiocese, was a serial child molester. Indeed, he not only practiced pedophilia, he publicly justified it and even went so far as to say ‘the kid is the seducer’ in sexual encounters between adults and children. Shanley also endorsed bestiality. That he remained a priest for more than decade after this was disclosed is not in a dispute. Nor is it disputed that he was promoted to pastor by Cardinal Law after it was known that he attended the first conference of the North American Man/Boy Love Association in 1978; at the time he was the representative of Cardinal Medeiros for sexual minorities.

“Shanley’s twisted views on sexuality were not an anomaly. In a 1977 book published by the Catholic Theological Society of America, Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, author Father Anthony Kosnik argued against traditional Catholic teaching on sexuality. He maintained that we must jettison the view that holds fornication, adultery, homosexuality, sodomy and bestiality to be intrinsically evil acts. Showing the wide cultural variance in sexual taboos, Kosnik concluded that priests must understand that ‘God is surely present’ in homosexual relations that are marked by ‘sincere affection.’ This book was widely used in seminaries at the time but was condemned in 1979 by the bishops. Kosnik, however, remained teaching in a seminary until 1982.

“It is time we connected the dots between dissidence and deviance. While the latter is not always caused by the former, it provides intellectual cover.”

An earlier press release, Apr. 4, notes the agenda of “dissident” Catholics:

Dissident Catholics See an Opening: Their Goal is to Lower the Bar

Catholic League president William Donohue issued the following remarks today regarding the stance that dissident Catholics have taken in the wake of the Church’s sex abuse scandal:

“The Catholic League has an agenda: the defense of the Catholic Church. As defined by whom? The magisterium. There is only one teaching body in the Catholic Church and that is the pope in communion with the bishops.

“Dissident Catholics also have an agenda: the dismantling of the Catholic Church as we know it. Malcontents through and through, these men and women have parked themselves in the Catholic Church with the hope that their politically correct vision of religion will triumph.

“Consider Jason Berry, author of a book on sex abuse in the priesthood. He admits to knowing active gay priests who won’t quit the priesthood because they want to reform ‘outdated moral teachings—including celibacy.’ He expresses sympathy for them blaming celibacy for ‘sexual secrecy.’ In other words, the problem is not with deceitful priests who violate the vows they voluntarily accepted. Nor is it with priests who oppose the Church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem is with Rome.

“By such logic it could be argued that sexual secrecy is to blame for the sense of guilt that adulterers experience. So what should we do? Lower the bar so cheaters won’t suffer?

“When priests get ordained and when men and women marry they do so of their own volition. If they find that the strictures governing these sacraments are too cumbersome, they should not go forward. If they come to this conclusion after the fact then it would be better if they quietly exited than to invoke squatters’ rights. What they should never expect is that they are entitled to sympathy for their morally delinquent behavior.”

Intellectual Cover. Highway Robbery. Theft. Fraud. Prostitution. Dissent. Call it what you will: it is slowly killing the Catholic Church in the USA, as surely as immoral priests have been abusing children and adolescents, and their superiors have let them get away with it.

The Prescription

The degradation of the Catholic Church — the trashing of traditional Catholic faith and life — has taken thirty, forty, fifty years or more. When one realizes how quickly and effectively the teachings of the Second Vatican Council were thwarted and hijacked, it becomes clear that the groundwork of subversion must have already been laid, however loosely and informally, before the Council even began its work. Thirty, forty, fifty years or more may be required to undo the damage done.

I am but one layman, in a small parish in small-town America. I have no solution to provide. Fortunately, nobody needs for me to provide a solution: it is at hand, as it always has been. The solution to what ails the Catholic Church is, as it has been in all bad times, the Catholic faith, undiluted and unashamed.

The degradation, the trashing, the neutering, has been done by an effective coordination of brazen deceit and sly stealth. The restoration, the cleansing, the strengthening of the Catholic Church in the USA will require a great deal of thorough honesty and of courage in action.

Indeed, the “moral authority” of the bishops will not be regained, and genuine Catholic faith and life will not be restored, without outstanding courage, making itself known through actions, on the part of orthodox clergy and laity, of every rank and station.

Dissent Is Not Dissent

The first requirement — it is sad and telling to have to say this — the first requirement is honesty.

When the Boston scandal broke in January, and ever since, the lack of honesty from bishops, priests, and official spokesmen has been appalling. (From some of them, of course: I do not mean to tar them all with the same broad brush.) They have attempted “limited hangouts” — telling some of the truth, hoping that it will satisfy curiosity, while holding back the whole truth. They have hidden, as far as they could, behind closed doors, behind lawyers, behind legal settlements, and behind sealed court documents. And they have, sometimes, flat-out lied. To the press. To other Catholic officials. And to their parishioners.

This... this... this disingenuousness, this dissembling, this posturing, this dishonesty, this lying is part of the current crisis of morals in the Catholic Church in the USA — a foundational part, on which all the rest has been built.

How can we trust our Catholic leaders — many of them priests ordained to conform more closely to the Image of Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life — how can we trust them to make decisions about the future of dioceses and parishes, to manage funds, to pastor souls, to worship God worthily in spirit and in truth: how can we trust them in all those other matters, when we can’t trust them to merely be honest?

Didn’t they learn that they should be honest before they even went to grade school?

A prominent Catholic in Boston asks similarly, in a Boston Globe article, Apr. 10:

Jack Connors Jr., perhaps Boston’s most influential power broker and once one of [Boston archbishop Bernard] Law’s closest confidants, questioned whether the cardinal could still lead. “I do not believe it is asking too much for the leaders of our faith to tell the truth,” said Connors, founder of the advertising firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc. “If they are unable to tell the truth to their colleagues, their pastors, and the faithful, they may hold onto their titles, but they will not be our leaders.”

I say more: I do not believe it is asking too much for the leaders of our faith to actually believe, and live, that faith.

So we must stop calling subversive traitors “dissenters”. We must start calling them... subversive traitors.

Okay. Maybe that would be asking too much of sensitive souls; instead, I can recommend a less demanding approach: call them “assenters”. For that is what they are: every Catholic — priest, religious, bishop, theologian — every Catholic who “dissents” from Catholic doctrine is, in point of fact, “assenting” to some other kind of doctrine.

A priest or religious who denies the divinity of Christ is not a brave dissenter from archaic Christian doctrine: he is a hypocritical assenter to the doctrine that Jesus Christ is not God — a doctrine (Latin for “teaching”) common to Jewish belief, pagan religions, Communist propaganda, and atheistic thought. A theologian who claims that homosexual activity is acceptable to God, so long as it involves a stable, loving relationship, is not a brave dissenter from outdated moral codes: he is a hypocritical assenter to moral relativism and psychological fads that can — and have been, and will continue to be — used to justify any and every behavior. (I refer you in passing to a timely article, “Apologists for pedophilia”, by John Leo, dated Apr. 22.) Catholic writers, preachers, and teachers who countenance divorce and remarriage, and artificial contraception, are not brave dissenters from the rigid teaching of popes and bishops: they are hypocritical assenters to the latest dictum from the editorial staff of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Infidelity Cannot Help the Faith

The real authorities, the real leaders, of “dissenters” (that is, assenters to any-and-every-belief-not-Catholic) and of defiantly immoral priests (including bishops) are not the pope nor ecumenical councils nor tradition nor the Bible. No. Their real authorities, their real leaders, are secular humanism, moral relativism, the latest psychologies and sociologies, and the rest of the secular milieu espoused in mainstream media. Subversive traitors and activists-for-immorality serve their real leaders, not the Catholic Church nor its faithful. So, we must make sure that Catholics in official postions are actually, honestly, really Catholic.

The second requirement, therefore, is courage in action.

Heterodox theologians — especially if they are bishops — must be removed from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely. Defiantly immoral priests, and those who encourage and support immorality — especially if they are bishops — must be removed from their positions, if not put out of the Church entirely.

These removals may necessitate ecclesiastical trials. They may require intervention by the Holy See, especially if the miscreant is a bishop. They will certainly evoke much howling, spitting, back-biting, and name-calling.

Appeals by subversive traitors to academic freedom, or to theological inquiry and diversity, would be, in plain language, claims to be allowed to doubt, dispute, distort, deny, and defy everything that has ever been distintively Catholic, yet to still be able to call oneself Catholic. So the first requirement, honesty, is the basis that must never be left behind.

But courage in action will be the key to going forward, especially among orthodox bishops whom St. Paul the Apostle admonished and encouraged:

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:28-32)

A bravo is in order for officials of my own diocese; according to an AP story, Apr. 10:

A Roman Catholic priest is being transferred to another parish because he told his congregation in an impassioned Easter sermon that the church should ordain women and let priests marry. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh confirmed that the Rev. Bill Hausen was being transferred from St. James Catholic Church in suburban Sewickley to Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood as a result of the sermon. “If that homily had not been delivered, he may not be transferred now,” said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. “There’s no question that that was the catalyst.” ....

[Parishioner Lisa] Oliver and other parishioners say they’re trying to keep Hausen at St. James. They distributed support ribbons for people to wear at Masses this past weekend and are collecting signatures of support to send to the diocese. “This is not a man who maliciously maligned the church. He sees the need for change in the church,” Oliver said. “Father Bill didn’t follow the party line. He spoke out and the biggest one that got him in trouble is that he felt women should be ordained as priests.”

(Sewickley is surely one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the region, in a relatively quiet district. Shadyside, too, is a very posh neighborhood skirting the academic district of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.)

A bigger bravo will be in order if “Father Bill” is actively encouraged by his superiors to consider whether intellectual honesty might not require him to come to a change of heart, or to a change of living.

I am not calling for “witch hunts”, pogroms, inquisitions. I am calling for fidelity to the Sacred Scriptures, which teach us what to do with subversive traitors, and how to live faithfully in the Church:

I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I would have you wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil; then the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:17-20)

Though it may seem so, though he may feel it to be so, the man in the pew is not powerless. Catholic author Michael Dubruiel (husband of Amy Welborn, quoted above) recently posted this advice:

There is need of a great reform, one that follows in the footsteps of St. Francis who heard from Our Lord on the cross, Rebuild my church which is falling into ruin. The Church that St. Francis knelt in on that day was literally in ruins, and chances are the church that you pray in is too (although the ruin that is probably present in your church has been destructed not by pagans but by “experts” who have done everything they could to remove not only the presence of Christ from your church but even his image and those of his saints). The nightly news proclaims the message... how will we react? Will we like Francis begin by picking up the stones and placing them on top of one another where we find ourselves? If so like him what we change where we are will eventually change the whole of Christ’s Body.

What can “I” do you might ask?

First, pray. Make sure that your relationship with God is strong. The Church exists to facilitate our relationship with God and unfortunately weak preaching, bad catechetics have had an evil effect on the way we as Catholics live our faith. We need to reclaim our relationship with God and to make that primary in our lives. As the author of Abandonment to Divine Providence wrote, Without God, everything is nothing. With God, nothing is everything. A strong relationship with God puts everything in perspective, “we put no trust in mortal princes,” we can face any difficulty and we can speak out boldly.

Secondly, If you are unsatisfied with the way your parish is run. Speak out! If on the other hand you are blessed to have a great priest, a good celebration of the liturgy, a Church that truly fosters your relationship with God, then SPEAK OUT! Whatever the truth be, let it be known.

Thirdly, do not treat anyone on earth as though they are not human. Your parents were human, they made mistakes — honor them! The pope, bishops, priests, deacons, sisters and nuns are all still human — don’t expect them to be God. Their faults and our own constantly bring us to our knees — we need a savior and he is Jesus Christ!

“Whatever the truth be, let it be known.” Amen.


Frankly, I think the prognosis is bleak. The next ten years will be critical.

May God grant Pope John Paul II multos annos! Sooner or later, though, we will have another pope. Subversive traitors, in collusion with the secular culture, have trained a large number of Catholics to believe that “outdated, archaic” moral strictures — against divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, homosexual activity, pedophilia — and “outdated, archaic” doctrines — such as male-only priesthood — have been retained beyond their time for no reason other than the current pope is (dare I write the horrible word?) conservative.

Gradually, as Catholics-In-Name-Only (CINO) come to realize that the Catholic Church is not going to approve divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, homosexual activity, and pedophilia, and that the Catholic Church is never going to ordain women to the priesthood because it cannot do so — gradually, the rage will build even more than it has already. CINO have been deceived: the Catholic Church maintains its doctrines and practices, not because a given pope is conservative, but because the doctrines and practices are — surprise, surprise — Catholic.

The next twenty-five years will witness a fight over the future of the Catholic Church as has not been seen since the Reformation in England, from the schism of King Henry VIII, through the draconian demolition of Catholicism under Queen Elizabeth I, and past the forced abdication of King James II.

If the Catholic Church in the USA does not begin its own reformation soon, along the lines of the prescription sketched above, it will not be able to resist the fury of “dissenters” whose desires will be further stymied by the next pope. We do not have to wonder where this will lead: we already have ample evidence. In that case, the Church will, sooner or later, go the way of the Episcopal Church in the USA; as indicated in an essay by Leo Penn in the New Oxford Review, Oct. 2000:

Anglo-Catholics within the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) have long claimed that Anglicanism is one of the three branches of Catholicism, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet the events at the ECUSA General Convention, held this year from July 5 through 14 in Denver, demonstrate — once again — that this claim is false.

ECUSA is firmly under the control of the apostles of a New Religion, a religion that is not at all Catholic, and Christian in name only. Defenders of traditional Christianity won no clear victories at the Convention, and suffered many defeats. Even more telling than the defeats on the Convention floor were the battles that were lost without any vote on a resolution. Some faithful Christians remain within ECUSA, but the institution — the House of Bishops, most other national and diocesan governing bodies, most seminaries, and most official Anglican publications — has chosen Baal over the Lord.

Penn continued with a review of a resolution adopted at that Convention:

Let’s untangle this knot of typically Anglican bafflegab:

The openness to “those on various sides of controversial issues” gives plenty of room for every variety of sexual license and weirdness. But in practice, ECUSA is not open to those on the traditionalist side of “controversial issues,” as shown by its decision in 1997 and in 2000 to make women’s ordination mandatory, despite the beliefs of the dioceses and bishops who oppose it.

Some will say this cannot happen to the Catholic Church, not even in the USA. They are wrong. Surely, the Catholic Church cannot fail: for this assurance we have the dominical promise to St. Peter the Apostle. But constituent Churches, even many of them together in great regions of the world, can fail. And they have failed. Often.

Though for a time racked by heresy and schism, North Africa was once a garden in the Catholic Church: it was laid waste by Muslim conquest. England, arguably, was once the jewel of the Catholic Church in Europe: by rack and rope, it was virtually annihilated for centuries. The corruption of prelates and clergy in Germany was so great, it sparked the Reformation that tore Europe into warring religious factions, leaving many areas largely Protestant. France, called “the eldest daughter of the Church”, has seen the Catholic Church in its midst wither until it is but a wraith of its former self.

In the beginning of King Henry’s schism, only one bishop, and only one prominent layman, stood their ground and refused to forsake the Catholic Church: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. Both were executed for their fidelity to the Holy See, by a man whose only quarrel with Rome was that he could not divorce his wife.

We will not, I think, have to face the executioner for restoring and maintaining Catholic faith and life in fidelity to the Church Universal and the Holy See. But we will have to face the wrath of our secular culture, expressed every day in mainstream media. And — I do not mean to exaggerate — perhaps even the wrath of the courts if activists ever make it illegal for the Catholic Church to “discriminate against” homosexuals (by refusing to “bless” their “unions”) and women (by refusing to “ordain” priestesses). Do not be so foolish as to think that to be impossible.

“The Catholic Church”, said G. K. Chesterton, “is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” So it has always been. So it is now.

St. Athanasius, pray for us.
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More, pray for us.
St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us.
Ss. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, pray for us.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep. For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” (2 Peter 2:1-10a RSV)

© ELC 2002

Webpage © 2002 ELC
Lane Core Jr. (lane@elcore.net)
Created April 12, 2002; revised April 16, 2002.