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 Volume 1.9  This View’s Column April 8, 2002 


Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing

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


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

The Damage Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Homosexualization” of the American Clergy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky high.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As George Neumayr notes at TheAmericanProwler, Mar. 13:

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

Celibacy is Not the Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it is an idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celibacy as currently practiced in the Catholic Church in the USA does, however, seem to me to be a problem. But I will address that issue, and others, as I conclude this column next time in The View.

ELC 2002


 Volume 1.9 This View’s Column April 8, 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”