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 Volume 1.6  This View’s Column March 18, 2002 


Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

Perfidious Priests and What Must Be Done About Them (Part Two)


“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, 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?

  • If the Democratic candidate for the governorship of a state actively did his best to promote the candidacy for state legislature of every Republican on the ballot throughout the state, how many votes would he get from Democrats?
  • If the new Republican governor appointed only Democrats to his cabinet, wouldn’t there be calls for impeachment?
  • If the president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod announced that he believes the pope is Christ’s Vicar on earth, would he remain long in office?
  • If the president of Bob Jones University started filling positions with conservative Catholic educators, would he not be suspected of trying to change the thinking of the university?
  • If a CBS reporter wrote an article criticizing the left-leaning bias of his organization, would he remain in good standing there for very long?

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.

This column will continue next time in The View.

ELC 2002


The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”