noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the
Latin cor, meaning heart.
This Views Column
April 1, 2002
Wolves in Shepherds Clothing
Perfidious Priests and What Must Be Done About Them
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:
Arise, and go down to the potters house, and there I will let you
hear my words. So I went down to the potters house, and there he
was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in
the potters hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed
good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: O house
of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord. Behold,
like the clay in the potters hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck
up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have
spoken, turns from its evil, I will repent of the evil that I intended to do
to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I
will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my
voice, then I will repent of the good which I had intended to do to it. Now,
therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus
says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping evil against you and devising a plan against
you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
But they say, That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will
every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.
(Jeremiah 18:1-12 RSV)
Some Spots of High
Ground in the Morass
The news, which I have been reviewing extensively, is not all bad.
I mentioned last
time how Archbishop Elden Curtiss, of Omaha, wrote scolding letters
to two parishioners of the archdiocese, after each had written to a local secular
newspaper criticizing how the archbishop had handled two cases of clerical misbehavior.
I was happy to learn that Curtiss has since apologized to the two, as reported
in the Omaha World-Herald, Mar. 25:
Archbishop Elden Curtiss announced Monday [Mar. 25]
that he is apologizing for his written rebukes of two Roman Catholic parishioners
who publicly criticized his decision to reassign a priest who had viewed Internet
child pornography. I am sorry that my previous letter to you was interpreted
as being demeaning or even insulting, Curtiss wrote to Frank Ayers and
Jeanne Bast. I never meant it to be such. When informed of the
apology, which Curtiss said he mailed Saturday, Ayers said it was not necessary
for the archbishop to apologize directly to him, but I do definitely
I will continue to pray for our church leadership and
for Father (Robert) Allgaier and most definitely for Archbishop Elden Curtiss
in these most difficult times, Ayers said. Bast said she is glad the
archbishop wrote. I thank him and I accept his apology, she said,
and I will continue to pray for Father Allgaier and the church.
.... Curtiss also attempted to explain his previous letters to Ayers and Bast.
He said his earlier letters expressed his private frustration that a fellow
Catholic would be so negative about the accusations leveled against
a young priest without knowing all the facts of the case; and negative against
me without knowing the process I was following with professional advice.
And my own bishop, Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, has been singled out as an outstanding
example of how cases of clerical sexual abuse ought to be handled, according
to an article
in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 29, which begins with a quotation
from Wuerls homily at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the previous day:
What has led us to where we are today in the scandal
around a number of priests who have abused minors is not so much the abhorrence
of the moral failure itself but, added to it, the sense of failure on the
part of church leadership to respond adequately to this sin, which is also
a crime. Wuerl did not speak of his own track record, which is widely
regarded as one of the best. A current editorial in the Jesuit magazine America,
which urged the bishops to make a public act of penance, singled Wuerl out
for his refusal to reinstate a pedophile when the Vaticans highest court
ordered him to do so in 1993. Wuerl has said that he has never knowingly returned
a child molester to ministry.
Yesterday, however, he tried to explain that bishops who
returned child molesters to parishes years ago did not act out of malice.
Twenty years ago society did not recognize that the desire for sexual contact
with minors was a psychological compulsion, so bishops treated it as they
would any other moral problem requiring repentance and forgiveness, Wuerl
said. He continued that his own perspective on the issue changed during his
first months as bishop, when he met the young victims of three priests, their
parents and the traumatized people of the parishes where the abuse had taken
place. While a bishop must consult with his staff representing many
disciplines, legal, financial, canonical and pastoral, he must always respond
as a pastor. ... The first obligation of a pastor is the care of those entrusted
to his care.
Wuerl is not the only bishop who has dealt appropriately with these situations,
acting primarily as a pastor of both clergy and laity. Of course not. But, as
in every other area of life, those who have botched up the job get the headlines:
bishops and priests who serve well and faithfully dont warrant much attention
from the media, just as bad parents or physicians or police officers make the
news while good parents and physicians and police officers go largely unrecognized.
I would like to single out one priest for special recognition, but unfortunately
I cannot name him nor give but a few details: I cannot find the documentation
that I thought I had saved. He eventually found himself physically attracted
to younger people, and succumbed to the temptation several times. When he finally
realized that he would never be able to trust himself around young people again,
he resigned the sacred ministry and retired to live a solitary life in a lonely
cabin in the woods, in reparation, and he resolved never to be alone with a
teenager again. I think his case of self-aware self-sacrifice is a heroic example
of courage, of which there are far too few in this whole sorry mess.
A Few Caveats
One sentence quoted above may have come as a big surprise: A current
editorial in the Jesuit magazine America, which urged the bishops to make a
public act of penance, singled Wuerl out for his refusal to reinstate a pedophile
when the Vaticans highest court ordered him to do so in 1993. After
reading, for weeks, of how this or that bishop is removing this or that priest
from his position because of sexual involvement with young people, one may wonder
how Church courts may be involved. Does not the bishop have the right to place,
or remove, a priest from a given position? Yes. And no. For priests have rights,
too, and especially a priest who is a pastor.
Though the Church is not a government (in which there may be checks and balances
between branches), theology, practice, and law have developed in response to
varying circumstances over the centuries to hinder the abuse of autocratic authority.
One of the developments is the recognition that a parish pastor has a right
to a stable ministry: neither he nor his parish and parishioners is well-served
if he is subject to removal willy-nilly by the bishop. (There are situations,
however, in which a pastor may be appointed for a limited term of office.)
Though a bishop may suspend a priest from exercising his ministry if he thinks
there is just cause, he cannot do so indefinitely if the priest objects: there
may very well be a trial, which may very well result in appeals. An entire section
of the 1983
Code of Canon Law deals with The Procedure for Removal
of Parish Priests. (There are also administrative acts that can
be employed, but I know little about them.)
Similarly, theologians who have been lawfully appointed or elected to certain
positions are not necessarily subject to removal summarily by higher authority,
even in the case of obvious, perhaps even deliberate, error. (My remarks earlier
on the bishops failure to discipline theologians in the wake of the promulgation
of Humanae Vitae unintentionally implied otherwise.) Again, procedures
have been established over the centuries to protect the freedom of legitimate
theological speculation and development. (See Canon 218.)
Indeed, one of the complaints raised by bishops at Vatican II was that, in
the preceding 100 years or so, progressive theologians were sometimes silenced
by Rome without a real chance to defend their positions. The pendulum, as the
saying goes, has now swung too far the other way.
One of the reasons that actions against an accused priest (or theologian, for
that matter) must be taken with care is that an accusation is not a conviction.
Ironically, this point came up in an essay,
Mar. 29, on media bias, by Dr. David Stolinsky, a retired teaching-physician
who writes on social and political issues:
The same paper [the Los Angeles Times], like most papers,
takes great care to refer to anyone who has not yet been convicted of a crime
as an alleged or accused murderer or rapist. This
wording avoids lawsuits, and more importantly, it follows the American tradition
that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So why is it that this
paper began a story about child abuse in the Catholic Church with the front-page
headline Mahony Wont Name Abusers. Not one of these priests
had been charged with a crime, much less convicted, or their names would already
be a matter of public record. But those Cardinal Mahony didnt name were
not referred to as alleged abusers. Somehow the fear of lawsuits,
and the devotion to civil liberties, were forgotten in the rush to condemn
the Catholic Church and, by extension, Christianity in general. Accused
murderers and rapists in jail awaiting trial are alleged, but
priests not formally charged with anything are abusers. How inconsistent.
But how revealing.
Stolinsky notes, too, another peculiar aspect of reporting about the current
Also revealing is the fact that the kids allegedly abused
are referred to as victims, accusers, teens,
youths, and other terms that leave us to guess their sex. The
word boys is rarely used. If the sex of the alleged victims had
been reported, we could judge the truth of the claim that 90 percent of them
were boys. But as it is, we can only wonder whether that claim is correct.
And we can wonder whether the reluctance to report the sex of the victims
is due to a reluctance to offend gays. Perhaps the 90 percent figure is incorrect.
Perhaps there is no bias in favor of the gay agenda. But the incomplete reporting
lends credence to our suspicions. Cant reporters and editors see this?
Or dont they care?
(No, they cant see it.)
Comedian Jackie Mason, with Raoul Felder, is another voice for restraint when
considering accusations, in a Washington Times essay,
When there is an allegation of child abuse made against
a member of the clergy, logically there are but three possibilities: The allegation
is true; the allegation is knowingly false and made for the possibility of
financial gain; the allegation is in fact false, but the accusers believe
it to be true. Yes, Virginia, believe it or not, there are people who would
make false allegations for profit. To these people, the Catholic Church in
America represents a seemingly bottomless pocket. Additionally, there is a
perception that the church would pay off on even a false claim. With lawyers
working on contingencies, it is a no-lose situation for an individual who
wakes up one morning and decides he or she was abused by a priest 30 years
The church should be held to no greater or lesser standard
than should any citizen or other responsible entity. If there is a sexual
harassment allegation by an employee against General Motors, General Motors
investigates that allegation. If the harassment rises to the point where force
or a criminal act is clearly involved, General Motors or any other organization
in a similar situation should rightfully direct and assist the complainant
in going to the criminal justice system for aid. However, for the Catholic
Church, as suggested, to immediately report every complaint to the authorities,
on a presumptively guilty basis, puts the accused in an impossible position,
and places the church in harms way in terms of civil litigation, if
the accusation is later determined to be unfounded. The Catholic Church is
an institution that represents the core beliefs of, and is the moral compass
for, tens of millions of people. It is not only unfair, it is unwise, to undermine
this relationship by a response more visceral than thoughtful.
A Few Bits of Anti-Catholic
Bias in Mainstream Media
Just as it would be unwise to accept at face value every accusation of priestly
misconduct, so is it unwise to accept at face value every report in the mainstream
media. A recent news article, and two opinion pieces, especially caught my attention.
in the Boston Globe, Mar. 24, reported the following:
Thomas Blanchette, another man who alleges that [Rev. Joseph
E.] Birmingham molested him in the 1960s, said he approached [Cardinal Bernard]
Law at Birminghams funeral in 1989 and told him about the abuse. Blanchette
said Law silently prayed for him, but then instructed him to keep the information
He laid his hands on my head for two or three minutes,
Blanchette, who said his four brothers were also molested by Birmingham, said
of Law. And then he said this: I bind you by the power of the
confessional never to speak about this to anyone else. And that just
burned me big-time. ... I didnt ask him to hear my confession. I went
there to inform him.
I bind you by the power of the confessional.... Ooooh. It sounds
so mysterious... so ominous... so awful.... Im sure non-Catholics must
be wondering what it means. Catholics must be wondering what it means, too.
Because there is no such thing. It sounds, to me, like something out of the
wackier fantasies of somebody like Charles
Chiniquy. The Boston Globe, though, prints it without a second thought:
had they investigated, just a little, they would have had to leave it out.
by somebody named Johanna McGeary, in Time, Mar. 24, contains the following
The Roman Catholic Church is a stern hierarchy that has always
kept its deliberations secret, policed itself and issued orders from the top.
An obedient priest moves up in power by keeping his head down, winning rewards
for bureaucratic skills and strict orthodoxy. When Cardinals are created,
they take a vow before the Pope to keep in confidence anything that,
if revealed, would cause a scandal or harm to the church. When it came
to sex abuse, the Vatican essentially told bishops, Youre on your own.
But if saving the church from scandal was literally a cardinal virtue, then
the bishops of Americas 194 dioceses who had direct responsibility for
priestly misconduct would make it their first principle. Better by far never
to let the public know.
Lets pass by the astonishing notion that strict orthodoxy
is required for a priest to move up in power in the Catholic Church
in the USA. (One need read no further to understand that the writer is quite
What caught my attention was the equally astonishing notion that a cardinal
takes a vow to keep in confidence anything that, if revealed, would cause
a scandal or harm to the church. I would not waste either McGearys
time or mine to ask her for a citation. But I had seen that little bit of fantasy
related elsewhere, too, as fact, so I thought that I should point it out.
Finally, a column
by one Michael Kramer in the New York Daily News, Mar. 24, relates a quite fanciful
history of mandatory celibacy:
Ending celibacy wouldnt be heresy: A married priesthood
was the original and traditional Catholic condition for more than 12 centuries.
Until they were forced to choose between their families and the priesthood
in 1139, many Catholic clerics, including 39 Popes, were married. Its
crucial to understand that embracing celibacy did not reflect some purer interpretation
of Gods will. In fact, it was mostly about money. A string of worldly
medieval Popes had gradually worked to impose mandatory celibacy on the priesthood
to increase their political power and enrich the churchs coffers. Married
priests quite naturally left their holdings to their heirs. The Popes wanted
those riches for the church and Innocent II got the job done for good
when the 2nd Lateran Council ended optional celibacy in 1139.
Actually, what really is crucial to understand is that Kramers
history is almost entirely wrong, except for names and dates. This
made-up history this fundamentally anti-Catholic history is so
commonplace, though, historian Philip Jenkins (whose book was quoted at length
One) published an article
in the Washington Post, Mar. 31, to set the record straight:
The notion that mandatory celibacy wasnt imposed until
the 12th century, stated as fact, seems quite damning to the churchs
insistence on the practice. If true, modern Catholics would be insisting on
an innovation that has been around for less than half of the history of Christianity,
one that dates to the Middle Ages, a period that enjoys a dreadful reputation
in modern thought. Through guilt by association, celibacy seems to be linked
in many peoples minds with such horrors as witch-burning, the Inquisition
and the Crusades. Worst of all, the reasons often cited for the invention
of celibacy are not even spiritual, but rather involve land rights. According
to a scholarly myth widely held among historians, the church was just trying
to ensure that the children of priests could not become legitimate heirs to
church land. Literally, according to this story, the modern Catholic Church
is keeping alive a survival of feudal times.
This pseudo-history is wrong at almost every point. Mandatory
celibacy goes much further back than Medieval times, if not quite to the days
of the apostles. Priestly celibacy was the usual expectation in the West by
late Roman times, say the 4th century, and Medieval statements on the subject
were just reasserting discipline that had collapsed temporarily in times of
war and social chaos. Of course we can find married priests throughout the
Middle Ages, just as we can find priests committing molestation today, but
that does not mean that, in either case, they were acting with church approval.
In making this point about dates, I am not just nitpicking
in the worst academic tradition. I am stressing that priestly celibacy is
a product of the very early church. Just how early? It was celibate priests
and monks who made the final decisions about which books were going to make
up the New Testament, and which would be excluded. If, as most Christians
believe, the ideas and practices of the early church carry special authority,
then we should certainly rank priestly celibacy among these ancient traditions.
So if they were not defending land rights, why did successive
popes try to enforce celibacy? Odd as this may seem, the main reason seems
to have been the increased frequency of the Eucharist or Mass. Because of
the need to focus on spiritual rather than worldly interests, married priests
in the 3rd and 4th centuries were supposed to abstain from sex the night before
saying Mass. As Mass became a daily ritual, this effectively demanded permanent
celibacy. Out of this practical need came a whole theology of self-sacrifice.
The idea of celibacy is based less on a fear of sexuality than on a deep respect
for its power, and with proper training, a celibate could transform or channel
this power into a source of strength. Modern psychologists would later invent
the term sublimation for this complex process.
(Jenkins, by the way, is an Episcopalian.)
I have decided that it may be very instructive to show that historical documents
demonstrate the absolute correctness of Jenkins assertion about the main
reason for the rise of mandatory clerical celibacy. The Roman tradition of clerical
continence (married clergy abstaining from sexual activity) can be traced back,
demonstrably, to the end of the fourth century. Indeed, it can be traced back
specifically to a decree issued by a small group of African bishops who met
in council in June 398 who themselves were merely handing on (Latin traditio)
and reaffirming rules that had come to them from earlier times.
I quote from The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, by Christian
Cochini, S.J. Preceding this section, Fr. Cochini relates how the decree has
been explicitly cited and quoted by bishops and popes from the fifth century
right through the Reformation in support of clerical celibacy:
Here then is the document that was to play such a part in
the history of ecclesiastical celibacy:
Epigonius, Bishop of the Royal Region of Bulla, says:
The rule of continence and chastity had been discussed in a previous council.
Let it [now] be taught with more emphasis what are the three ranks that, by
virtue of their consecration, are under the same obligation of chastity, i.e.,
the bishop, the priest, and the deacon, and let them be instructed to keep
Bishop Genethlius says: As was previously said, it
is fitting that the holy bishops and priests of God as well as the Levites,
i.e., those who are in the service of the divine sacraments, observe perfect
continence, so that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking
from God; what the apostles taught and what antiquity itself observed, let
us also endeavor to keep.
The bishops declared unanimously: It pleases us all
that bishop, priest, and deacon, guardians of purity, abstain from [conjugal
intercourse] with their wives, so that those who serve at the altar may keep
a perfect chastity.
This text is interesting in many respects. Mention is made
of the clerics wives, and particularly, the wives of the hierarchys
high-ranking members: bishops, priests, and deacons. Most of those
or at least a large number were thus bound by marriage. Such men are
being asked by the African synod to give up no less than all conjugal intercourse
and to observe perfect chastity. Because they are ministers at the service
of the divine sacraments, it is deemed that marital life would prevent them
from carrying out simpliciter (in all simplicity) their intercessory
function. (p. 5)
Clerical celibacy was not an invention of greedy popes in the Middle Ages.
But thats the kind of flat-out nonsense that passes for historical understanding
in mainstream media. Clerical celibacy was a practical outgrowth of ecclesiastical
tradition and liturgical practice going back to no later than the fourth
century to the days, indeed, when the very canon of Sacred Scripture
had not yet been definitively determined.
Justice even plain and simple honesty demands that columnists
and reporters acknowledge these historical facts, not ignore or distort them.
Am I saying that dissent from Catholic faith
and life caused the outbreak of immoral priests in our midst? No.
But there is, indeed, a very good argument to be made that confusion about
Church teaching, caused by deliberate and public deception by prominent Catholic
theologians, contributed to the outbreak and justification
of immoral behavior among Catholics of all stripes.
Catholic scholar Michael Novak wrote
about this in a Good Friday meditation, Mar. 29:
After a daily diet of sexual-abuse scandals, American Catholics
came into Good Friday this year with a new way of observing Lent: mortification,
shame, and the bitter herbs of public humiliation. But also with a powerful
conviction that dissent has failed. Okay, there was a sexual revolution;
okay, there is a new morality. Problem is, had the old morality
been followed, there would be no scandals, which so many now suffer from.
Child abuse comes not from celibacy nor vows of chastity. Neither women priests
nor married clergy make it go away just examine the record of churches
that have gone that route....
The reason the American Church today stands accused of hypocrisy
is that it has been teaching one thing (semper fidelis for two millennia),
while in that deeply conflicted generation ordained during the Sixties and
Seventies (hit simultaneously by Vatican II and the sexual revolution) a small
but significant body of its priests including some bishops has been flagrantly
violating that teaching. That traditional teaching holds that our bodies are
holy, the temples of the Holy Spirit, the physical manifestation of our personalities
and of the graces poured out on us through the sacraments. We are embodied
souls; every part is body, every part is soul, there is no dualism here. Our
persons have been anointed. Our persons are sacramental. These teachings,
exemplified in the life of Christ, are the ground of Catholic thinking both
about loving sexuality in marriage and about the fire that gives celibacy
its beauty, the purposive struggle for purity of heart. To engage our bodies
in sinful acts, which slap the face of God and pierce anew His wounds upon
the cross, is a kind of blasphemy. It is a dreadful misuse of sanctified bodies,
bodies united in the Eucharist with Christs own. These acts wound the
holiness of a partner, destroy innocence, breed contempt and anger, awaken
hatred for God. They are especially horrible to contemplate when they have
injured the unspoiled and trusting young.
How can people who studied long and prayed hard before taking
vows turn in such a direction, in some cases habitually and nearly hardened
in it, with a full-scale ideology to rationalize it? How can that happen?
It could not have happened without a culture of dissent,
especially regarding the theology of the human body. Its partisans
call it dissent, which of itself is a healthy thing within a loyal
brotherhood, but in its recent American form has been a sullen, silent rebellion,
a separation of the heart from the leadership of those popes that followed
the greatly loved and much-misinterpreted John XXIII (d. 1963). Paul VI and
John Paul II have been the butt of the progressives ire. I think
the Church is being governed by thugs, one Jesuit is quoted as dismissing
them. (emphasis added)
Catholic columnist Phil Brennan traces,
Mar. 27, the roots of dissent back much further back
to the nineteenth century, in fact, and the attempt of one American priest (Isaac
Thomas Hecker, founder of the Paulists) to make the Catholic faith more palatable
The scandals rocking the Church in America today had their
roots in what might be called Heckerism, the ideology that gave
birth to political correctness in the Church the doctrine that insists
that if a tenet of theology gives offense to anyone it must be either toned
down or abandoned....
Slowly, covertly, the cancer variously identified as Americanization
or modernism, or simply as heresy, has eaten away at the vitals of the Catholic
Church in America. The Church in America that once
stood like a rock in the sea of uncertainty, corruption and immorality that
is modern secular society the Church which could claim to be the staunch
guardian of the immutable principles of Christianity handed down from the
Apostles has become an instrument of confusion and doubt,
a betrayer of its faithful and a haven for the worst kinds of perversion and
heresy. (emphasis added)
If professional Catholic theologians and pastors and religious
on the Churchs payroll, at all levels effectively compromise
Catholic faith and life to the point where they are becoming indistinguishable
from the prevailing secular milieu, why are these men and women not called
subversive traitors and expelled?
According to Cal Thomas, a conservative Protestant columnist, Catholic author
Ralph McInerny pegs the rejection by professional Catholic theologians of Humanae
Vitae as the beginning of the modern decline from Catholic orthodoxy,
which I have already identified as the time of the collapse of the moral
authority of the Catholic bishops in the USA. As Thomas wrote in a column,
McInerny dates the modern decline from Catholic orthodoxy
to 1968 when liberal theologians rejected the popes Humanae Vitae,
which restated certain boundaries for sexual expression. The moral theologians
who rejected the document displayed an attitude, says McInerny, which was
antithetical to Christian morality. His
point, and it is a good one, is that the leaders of the Catholic Church in
America (and one might also argue the same applies to many Protestant leaders)
were compromised because they feared the criticism of the world more than
they feared disapproval from God. The same attitude prevails in many churches
today.... Too many churches abandon doctrine at the first sign of secular
disapproval for fear of being called names and being rejected by the unchurched
Instead of orthodoxy and discipline, some in the Catholic
Church and other churches have sought the worlds approval.... What theyve
received in return is corruption in their souls and in their leadership. Too
many Catholics, as well as others who call themselves Christians, think they
should be able to create God in their image. Catholics want to remain Catholic
while at the same time rejecting some of the basic teachings of their church.
Can one be a member in good standing of the NAACP if hes a racist? Whether
the issue is divorce, or sexual expression of any and every kind, these theological
lone rangers think they are God and get to decide right from wrong.... The
best approach to solving the problem of a few priests who prey on minors,
and theological liberalism in general, is for the Catholic Church to return
to the original rulebook, Scripture, which was written and delivered for the
protection and redemption of humanity, and stop listening to the siren call
of the world, which is headed in another direction. (emphasis added)