Monday, June 10

No Simple Solutions

The trouble with blogging is that readers come and readers go, entering and exiting in the middle of conversations, which makes it difficult to understand a writer’s complete position on an issue, unless that writer reposts her credo every day. Which most of us don’t. So to the multitudes coming from NRO, and for my own benefit, let me clarify my views on The Situation. As if my views matter. But you’re here reading them, so you might as well have an accurate picture.

The problem the bishops will be confronting on Thursday and Friday seems simple. Tragic and horrific, but simple.

Some Roman Catholic priests have sexually assaulted children and young people. What should be done with these men?There are two aspects to solving the problem: policies and action.

Policies are the focus, and I think policies is where the bishops would like to keep our attention. But the fact, paper-strong policies have been on the books in most dioceses for years. Yet the priests have remained, remained until lawsuits and the press caught up with the guilty dioceses and their administrators.

So what is at issue this week is twofold: How should the policies be tightened - the primary issues here are reporting to civil authorities and laicization and (whether the bishops would like to admit this or not) how Catholics can be certain that the policies are being enforced by every bishop in every diocese.

Lots of pundits have and will be offering opinions on “what the bishops must do” in Dallas, and while that strikes me as a presumptuous stance, I’ll go ahead and join in:

What the bishops must do in Dallas is reassure the Catholic faithful that their primary concern is Christ and that it is His voice which they are discerning and are committed to follow.

For you see, over the past decades, for scores of reasons, the Catholic faithful have come to doubt very much that their leaders, from bishops on down, can be depended on to be led by Christ alone.

This is who they have perceived to be in charge and to be the minds leading the bishops, priests, educators, hospital administrators and religious orders, male and female instead:

Lawyers and accountants.

Real estate advisors.

Purveyors of secular educational fads.

The secular media.

Secular mental health professionals

Secular feminists

HMO’s and insurance companies

the Democratic party

Not to speak of needs: The need for the approval of the secular media and the elites in the cities in which the cardinals and Important Bishops have their big houses and attend their Important social events. The need to be perceived as “progressive” ideologically, in education and everything else. The need to compete with evangelical styles of youth ministry and worship.

The need to justify one’s own private misbehavior by maintaining a public silence on sin and “controversial” moral issues.

The need to not offend one’s comfortable middle class parishioners, lest they leave our parishes and take their children out of our schools. The need to be quiet about the sins of fellow clerics and religious for fear of one’s own sins being publicly vetted.

All of this, instead of listening to Christ.

In a way we are shocked, in a way we are not. We’re shocked because although we had our suspicions, we thought that since they said they were listening to Christ, and they were constantly telling us to listen to Christ (in a vague way, yes, without reference to any of the stuff that would make us uncomfortable, but still….), they must have been.

But this series of revelations, not just about the priests, but about the “orthodox” bishops who shuffled them, protected them, and authorized the intimidation of victims, has shaken us. It has shaken us because we see that the categories to which we were accustomed to thinking – the “progressive” and the “orthodox” were false, at least when it came to the ordained. They all spoke of Christ, with their own particular twist, giving some comfort to those of us who sympathized – the liberals had Mahony and Weakland, the conservatives or orthodox had Law and (without knowing him too well) Egan, they thought. But so strangely, when confronted with the files of their brother priests and the pleas of victims, had the same reaction:

Forget Christ. Forget Christ who speaks of nothing but the need to protect the little ones, the need to suffer, the absolute requirement to tend to the suffering and to view the suffering as Christ, wounded. Forget the souls of the victims and potential victims. Forget the damage done to God’s children.

Instead, gather the lawyers, intimidate the victims, get the sympathetic MD to sign off, write the checks, and send the priests away with a warm letter of support.

Stop it. Give us good policies, but moreover, give us the assurance that you will just stop it. And what’s the best assurance? Asking us to trust you? No. You’ve been asking us to trust you for decades, and look what’s happened: victims scattered throughout the land. On other fronts, Catholic schools producing children who don’t know and don’t believe the Faith. Catholic hospitals that turn away the poor and treat patients like inconveniences. Catholic colleges that are nothing but con games played on unsuspecting parents.

You’re right. You do need to regain our trust. And how?

Who am I to say, but this might do it:

The tightest policy possible within the constraints of canon law.

A process for dealing with bishops who are revealed to knowingly violate the policy. Don’t tell me it can’t be done. It can.

A few resignations. You know who you are. (It's only right. It would be a truly galling site to see bishops who permitted pederast priests to continue in ministry vote to punish those priests and not bear some punishment themselves.)

A public show of penance. Of meaningful penance, involving divesting unnecessary diocesan resources (i.e. those that exist to make the prelates’ lives worthy of the cities in which they reign and hobnob) and giving them to victims.

A public recognition that all of this is part of a piece:

We gave in. We had problems before – we had our share of predators in the priesthood before Vatican II, and we know it. But something happened in the years since, in which we lost our nerve completely, and we apologize. We tolerated egregious sin of all sorts within our own ranks, and, as a result maintained silence on those same sins before you. Our actions have resulted in untold harm to the victims of clerics and indirect harm to millions who have heard a diluted Gospel for years because we couldn’t preach it, lest we hear it ourselves and convict ourselves.

I normally am very kind to my readers because I like them very much, and most of them are much smarter than I am.

But sometimes.....

Someone commented on a post below that a true "Catholic" blog wouldn't question mandatory celibacy. Oh.

Well, sorry. Mandatory-celibacy-for-some-Roman-Catholic-priests is worth discussion because it's just that. What I said. That reader seems to be under the impression that all RC priests are celibate. THey're not, and I'm not talking about the under-the-table non-celibates. I'm talking about the married priest who's the pastor of the largest parish in Fort Worth and the married priest (pointed out in the comments) who's the pastor of the largest parish in Phoenix.

And I'm talking about the British Catholic priests, described in this article from the London Times:

The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales now has 228 former Anglican clergy as priests, of whom nearly half are married. Their presence is leading to resentment among serving Catholic priests as well as priests who resigned to marry and have a family.

Interesting note from a reader:


Remember how in the 1920s the Irish hierarchy of the US persuaded Rome to deny Eastern Catholics their proper married clergy lest it confuse the Latins of the US? Now they're allowed married clergy on a case-by-case basis. The father of the child whose miraculous cure got Edith Stein canonized is a married Eastern priest here in the US.

Oh, Lord. No sanctuary.
Big post comin'

I'm getting offline now because, you know, I sort of have a life (a baby, a newly-minted 17 year old who wants his birthday sub for lunch, a 10-year old who just walked back from "dance camp" at her school, and has to practice piano before her lesson this afternoon. Oh and a book manuscript to finish this week, maybe?), but I also have a huge, Summa Blogilogica post churning around in my mind about The Situation, and I need to work it out with some thought, just in case some Big Name Journo decides to notice me again. Geez.

Happy Birthday to my son, David, who's 17 years old today!
Thanks to Tim Drake for the link to this website documenting the abuse alleged to have occurred at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN.
Can forgiveness and justice co-exist?

Well, gee, I hope so or else this whole Judeo-Christian gig has been a big waste of time. But anyway - an article on the question from the Sacramento Bee.

More on the Bishops and mortal sin.

Greg Popcak's asking the question over at HMS Blog and says, as he prepares to post some reader responses and his responses:

Secondly, this is more than a "how many angels dance on the head of a pin" sort of debate. There are practical ramifications of living under the influence of grave sin, specifically, one cuts oneself off from charity (as Matt Pinto pointed out on this morning's radio broadcast), and also one cuts oneself off from God's wisdom and grace. All one is left with, then, is one's own will and intellect to figure out what to do. And if the will and intellect is clouded by sin, and closed to grace (as mortal sin does) then any action one takes will simply make the situation worse, which certainly seems to be the case in Boston as well as in other places.



A prayer from St. Catherine of Siena, offered for the newly-appointed cardinals ("the new plants") of the ill-fated Pope Urban VI:




"You are a fire always burning. Yet, though you always consume all that the soul possesss apart from you, you never consume the things that are pleasing to you. With the fire of your Spirit burn and consume, root out from the bottom up, every fleshly love and affection from the hearts of the new plants you have kindly seen fit to set into the mystic body of Holy Church. Transplant them away from worldly affections into the garden of your own affection, and give them a new heart with true knowledge of your will. Make them despise the world and themselves and selfish love. Fill them with your love's true fervor and make them zealous for faith and virtue. And so, once they have left behind the false desires and pretenses of this passing world, let them follow you alone in purest purity and glowing charity."


A few weeks ago, I asked you to send in accounts of your experiences of secular music pieces used in Catholic Masses. My college friend Ed wrote this morning to share an experience, not at a Catholic church, but still mighty pertinent:

I attended a Methodist Church over the weekend. This church has from time to time
an outstanding jazz combo that does a great job with traditional hymns. After the Minister finished announcing the new Capitol Campaign, the Jazz Combo all invited us to sing....are you ready?

"Pennies From Heaven"

In case you missed it, an excellent review of Goodbye! Good Men by Fr. Robert Johansen
From Commonweal:

One Boy's Story:
'Father M would like to see you in his office'

It's not just because we're married.

My husband has some excellent thought on Cardinal Dulles' NYTimes piece on his blog today:

Should someone be free from consequences because their victim was too young to stand up and point out their accuser? Why should perpetrators who are caught be excluded immediately and those who do a good job of convincing their victims to remain silent be able to remain years later when the truth is finally known? Plus there is the myth of "one act" which I would modify to say "one 'known' act," - these things are almost never solitary events.

And since he prays the Office daily, he's unearthed a fascinating quote that's in this morning's readings, from St. Ignatius of Antioch, and one which, if the bishops do what they're supposed to (er....pray the Office daily), they'll be called to contemplate, as well. Yup.

Don't forget: I'll be offering hourly updates on the Bishop's meeting for those of you who don't have EWTN or have better things to do (which should be all of you).

We also have a new blogger who is a Catholic journalist in Dallas covering the meeting and will be offering his own, truly inside scoop.

Here's what he'll be doing:

I will be at the hotel but I'll have no better view of the proceeding than yourself. That's because they are herding us all into a room where we can watch the meeting on closed circuit television. They are only granting 40 or 50 credentials for journalists to actually be inside the room where the meeting is taking place. You would think the local Catholic media would get some kind of special treatment on this matter.



I am planning on posting one or two items at the end of the day. Perhaps a tidbit from a someone I talk to or something I saw. Something you wouldn't know by watching it on EWTN or watching the reports on the nightly news.


The Dallas Morning News will be offering complete coverage too, of course! .....but we still love what bloggers can do best, don't we - without those pesky editors getting in the way.

Many Catholics are rediscovering, with some interest, the 1961 Vatican document on the qualifications of one entering the priesthood. They've latched on to the passages about homosexuality, and ignored the others, which say quite plainly that men who, for example, those who are overly sensitive, scrupulous, children of alcoholics, and...."who manifest exaggerated attachment to the comforts of life and worldly pleasures" should be viewed with caution.

My husband, who has considerable experience in seminaries both as a student and a professor, examined the entire document more closely here.

Those of you who are coming over from NRO, please take time to read the comments on the blog entry on The Elephant in the Sacristy. I'm posting some of them here, but there all (mostly) worth reading:


In 1966-7, when I was a senior at Archbishop Williams high school in Braintree, MA, I priest from a local parish visited my home room. I'm not sure why he was there, but his remarks seemed extemporaneous. He was a big guy who was very direct in his delivery. He wasn't old but neither was he just out of the seminary. I'd say he'd been a priest for about 5 - 10 years. The only thing I remember him saying was that "most of the guys he was with in the seminary were just there because they were afraid of women". This priest would have been a seminarian at St. John's in Boston around the time that Porter, Shanley, Goeghan, et al were there. This anecdote belies the fact that the "troubles" started with the permissive late 60's and 70's. The problems were there before Vatican II and the 60's.

And another...

Both Amy and Frank note that the strong majority of reported cases of abuse involved clerics who were born, raised, and ordained prior to Vatican II. Obviously, this includes the bishops and various other authority figures who later aided and abetted the abusers as well. In fact, at least at present, the correlation between a pre-VII formation and clerical abuse involvement seem as strong as the correlation between homosexuality and abuse. This means, at the very least, that the traditionalist/conservative argument that VII and its pomps and works caused the Situtation (and that it will all be OK if we somehow just return to pre-VII Catholic culture) is wrong-headed. Post-VII confusion and chaos may have opened the door, but there were already clerics in the closet, so to speak. Moreover, there was obviously something off about pre-VII seminary training and seminarian vetting, maybe as off as the training/vetting that Rose documents, if imperfectly, in "Good Bye, Good Men."

And another

Once again, people need to read more history. Progressivism was a hitherto-unknown virus that appeared in 1962 and swept through the hierachy. Sorry. No. Read about the Gallican Church from the 17th through the early 19th century. Read about the state of clerical life in Europe in the 18th century. Please understand that the relative uniformity (to use a positive word) or conformity (to use a negative word) from 1830, say, to 1960, say, was an exceptional period far from the norm of the Church.

For the period before 1700 I can cheefully recommend Warrenn Carroll's enormous but quite good History of Christendom (he's already published four volumes - pray her survives to vol. 6). For everthing since the later Renaissance there is no quick source.

You will have to use a very narrow definition of what you're calling "Progressivism" for it to be new. Refusal to obey the papacy, refusal to obey the apostolic counsels, and refusal to not sin is eternal.

And another:

So, here we are again, just as in a political discussion. I have my latest studies, and you have yours. As with most things related to social science, studies apparently reach opposite conclusions. On the one hand, if you were abused as a child, you will abuse as an adult, on the other, there is no correlation between what happened to you as a child and your adult sexual health or lack there of. Abusive homosexuals tend towards the abuse of boys, but then again they don't. We should distinguish between whether or not, the abuser goes after pre-pubescent children (pedophilia) or post-pubescent youths (ephebophillia), or this disnction is meaningless. Pedophilia can be cured (old school), it can't be treated (new school).
When this gets too chaotic, point out the flaws in the study you don't like, or hope that your point of view is backed by the latest study.
It reminds me of trying to determine what causes homelessness or poverty or the relationship, if there is one, between abortion and breast cancer, or any number of other questions.. Does anyone benefit from this or enjoy these discussions?
I would like to think that common sense should help us solve many of these disputes, but I'm sure someone is going to comment that there is no such thing, or "you have your common sense and I have mine."
And we expect those intellectual/moral titans knows as the American bishops to sort this out?
Come Holy Ghost....

And another...

As Michael Tinkler notes, "exceptional unity" is a relative term. The decades before Vatican II certainly were not a period of "complete unity," and in my comments, I was responding to the wonderment that a seminary in the 1950's could produce a startling concentration of pederasts in light of a popular theory that our current crisis is mainly the result of the sexual revolution:

"The age of cassocks, repression and tight controls? Why weren't they weeded out? How can the more liberal sexual mores of the late 1960's and 70's be responsible for supposedly rigorous seminaries in the pre-Vatican II church producing pedophiles and sexual predators?"

"Supposedly rigorous" is apt here. I have to wonder what St. John's Seminary was like in the 1950's in order to have produced so many predators. And I'm reminded that Paul Shanley claimed to have been abused by a seminary priest, a faculty member, and a cardinal archbishop. That doesn't sound like an atmosphere of tight controls (at least in the control of sexual activity). It isn't possible to conclude from that Boston Herald statistic that St. John's Seminary in Boston was representative of all the seminaries of the time. Also, at least one Boston priest-molester recently in the news described an abuse pattern in which priests molest teenage boys and then recruit them into the priesthood. There was clearly something especially rotton about that seminary.

It's not worth it, really.

I'm honored and stunned that Stanley Kurtz took up valuable bytes on NRO to take on my blog on the Weekly Standard piece. Thanks, I guess.

Let me just reiterate my point, for newcomers.

I see the presence and tolerance and protection of active homosexuals in the Roman Catholic priesthood as an enormous problem. But I simply don't think it's right to separate it out completely from other issues. Active homosexuality is a problem. So is the presence of priests who lead double lives with women. So is the presence of priests who are alcoholics. So is the presence of priests who are power-hungry and indifferent to human needs. Here's the point: Although some places seem to be turning a corner in the quality of their priests (see our blogging priests and seminarians for great examples!), there is a definite problem, to any close observer, not only in the numbers of priests, but in their quality as well. There are no magic bullets. The priesthood is composed of human beings, and will always represent the breadth and depth of humanity - from the intellectually profound to the simple, from the gifted homilists to the gifted managers. And that's fine. But the truth is, in the West at least, our Catholic people are suffering because of the presence of Catholic priests with other agendas (the subject of Eberstat's piece), and the dearth of priests, period. There are thousands of permanent deacons in this country who could receive further training and be ordained priests. There are thousands of priests who have left the active ministry to marry. Some have left the Church as well, but many, many have not, and are sitting in pews next to you with their wives and children, effectively banned from any kind of parish ministry, including simple ones like being a lector, because of their decision. They followed the Church rules, got laicized, and remain faithful to God and the Church. Beginning the slow process of re-involving men from both these groups back into active ministry, even part time, would, indeed, give a different face to the priesthood - it would broaden in, infuse it with a new energy. Celibacy remains a valuable, essential charism in church ministry. No one denies that. But the fact is, there are already married priests in the Roman Catholic church - in the Eastern Rites and in the presence of converted Protestant and Episcopal ministers - so perhaps there is room for more, and perhaps this situation is calling us to look more closely at the possibility.

Very quickly - another problem I have with much of the current conversation is the equation of active homosexuality in the priesthood with theological "progressivism". Yes, there's plenty of that, and theological progressivism opened a door, but there is no necessary connection between the two. There are more than a few theologically "orthodox" priests out there who are actively homosexual. We have to be careful about our equations.

Finally, I'll just be bold and careless (me typing this with a sleeping baby on my lap, his head resting on my arm, just about fracturing it - my point? I'm typing fast and probably without as much thought as I should) and just say this: Perhaps it's worth considering that if we want to break the political hold that active homosexuals have on the structure of the church without making the priest shortage worse than it is, bringing in faithful married men to serve might be an effective way to do it.

(And I would suggest to you that this concern - the drastic effect on the number of priests able to serve in parishes - is a major concern of the bishops and an important reason they're hestitant about absolute zero tolerance).

From the Dallas Morning News: Married With Chalice - an article about some married RC priests in the Fort Worth diocese.
From the NYTimes (LRR), Cardinal Avery Dulles explains the Bishops' Dillemma in Dallas
On again...maybe...

David Clohessey, head of SNAP, says that his group will withdraw from the class-action lawsuit:

"We don't want anything to get in the way of genuine dialogue that might ultimately benefit children," Clohessy said in a letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We hope you see it as a tangible step toward reconciliation and toward making the church safer."

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