Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

Click for Front Page of Current Issue (Home)

 Volume 1.7  This View’s Column March 25, 2002 


Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

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


“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.

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”