52 Poems, Week 33: Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes (Thomas Campion)
52 Poems, Week 34: The Country Clergy (R.S. Thomas)

Sunday Night Journal, August 19, 2018

I feel obliged to say something about the latest eruption of sex-related scandals in the Church. I'm not sure exactly why I feel obliged. This blog is not primarily about religious matters, and a great deal happens in that realm that I don't feel any need to comment on. But as it is written by a Catholic and looks at things through explicitly Catholic eyes, it seems to me that not to say something on this extremely important subject would look like evasion. 

I've started to write about it once or twice before but came to a quick halt because any expression of outrage and anger that I might come up with is inadequate to the worst of the crimes. I doubt that I need to describe those here, and I certainly don't want to. They are the sort of thing that leave one physically ill and thinking "How is it possible that a human being could do this?" They are not "failings" or "mistakes." They are monstrous evils. Moreover, I don't think I have anything to say about any of it, either in the way of expressed outrage or of opinions about the causes and cures of the problems, that hasn't been said by someone else, usually many somebodies. 

So I'm going to quote a lot of those others. But first I think it's important, really important, to note that the measures that have been taken since 2002 have certainly reduced the number of crimes against minors, especially children. The whole climate has changed, and situations that were once accepted as good and normal (and usually were) but were exploited by child molesters are in general no longer permitted. I mean situations where a priest is alone with a child for any length of time. Neither parents nor priests in their right minds would allow it now. 

Nevertheless: what the McCarrick and Pennsylvania disclosures have done is to reveal that a culture of sexual, mainly homosexual, corruption, exists at the highest levels of the Church in this country, and possibly in Rome, where reports of McCarrick's sexual misconduct were ignored as he was being made a cardinal. The thing that comes up over and over again in relation toMcCarrick is that "everybody knew." That is, "everybody" knew he carried on a homosexual life which involved preying on seminarians. And they kept it secret, and did nothing to stop it. Rod Dreher has described (repeatedly) being told this in 2002 when he was a reporter investigating the abuse crisis: over and over again people in a position to know told him that "everybody knew," but no one would go on the record. 

Well, you can read all about that elsewhere, and probably have if you're interested. The result, for me and for many, many other lay Catholics, is that the American bishops as a body, meaning principally the USCCB, have no credibility at all. Individual bishops may, and do, have it. But the body as a whole: no. No one can be very confident that its official statements are entirely honest.

People will always commit sexual sins, and some of those people will be clergy. That has to be accepted as a sad fact of life. But what can't be accepted is the presence of a circle of men, quite a large circle, and much of it highly placed, who are committed to serious sin as a way of life, in direct and violent contradiction of their vows and of basic Catholic moral teaching. What we hear over and over and over from most of the hierarchy evades this fact. And the clear inference, supported by evidence (e.g. McCarrick), is that at least some of them are part of it, and even more of them know about it, but for whatever reason don't or can't do anything about it.

At least one bishop, Morlino, of Madison, Wisconsin, is willing to speak plainly:

It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord. 

You can read more of his statement here. It is harsh, and I'm sure he will be charged with "homophobia" (a word I don't consider to be of much use) and of scapegoating homosexuals. But the majority of the abuse cases have been male-on-male, and involved adolescents, not pre-pubescent children. And anyway the situation would not be fundamentally different if heterosexual activity were at the center of the "subculture," if that's the right word.

As you may know, Rod Dreher has been writing frequently about all this for some time. As you also know if you read him, his work reporting on the scandals in 2002 played the major role in driving him away from Rome and to Orthodoxy. His blog draws a lot of comments from smart readers with a wide range of views. By way of illustrating what some lay people are feeling and thinking, here's a selection of comments from two posts, this one and this one. (The posts themselves are worth reading though far from pleasant. If you only want to read one, make it the second, "Traitors In Their Midst.") I don't necessarily agree with everything in every one of these, certainly not with those who have left the Church. But I understand and to a great extent share their feelings. And I'm seeing this sort of thing everywhere I look on the Internet, particularly on Facebook, from faithful Catholics. Many of the laity are very, very angry. (I just copied and pasted these--typos and other errors are left as they were.)

The laity need to bulldog this until 100% of the network priests and bishops are laicized. Laicized. Every one of them.

Mandatory clerical Celibacy was required by the Gregorian reforms to solve problems in the medieval church; now it is clearly creating more problems than it solves. It has got to go.


In the case of the present crisis, more pain is in prospect. Many will lose their faith. The process of decline, already well advanced in places like Europe and elsewhere, will accelerate. A considerable portion of the hierarchy will defect, and in fact has already defected, to the Enemy. There is no way to put a happy face on any of this or dress it up as anything other than the disaster it is.

In short, this catastrophe has considerably longer to run. The Church that rises from the ashes will be smaller in numbers and weaker in the eyes of the world. But She will be purified by fire and suffering. And She will again be the light that Jesus called Her to be.


The worst thing is to feel suspicious of every cleric I encounter. [my emphasis]


I do have concerns that clericalism has in fact colored doctrine both intentionally and unintentionally to protect and promote the self-interests of the clergy. Is that not exactly what they have been doing regarding the sex abuse crisis, so why not many other doctrinal issues as well?

It’s past RICO time. These men are utterly and irredeemably corrupt. Nothing but force is going to protect kids.


I am at the point where you were; staying Catholic but not trusting the clergy. But that begs the question, who should you trust?

No one.

You can’t trust the Orthodox priest, the Protestant pastor or anyone, except hopefully your spouse. I’ll stay with the RCC, but always a bit suspicious of those in authority, never ever letting my kids around anyone, as all parents should do the world over and throughout time.


A big part of this horror is the realization that if it wasn’t for the courage of the victims of the Catholic clergy who came forward, the empathy and hard work of the journalists who listed to them, and the law enforcement agencies who put the law into motion, this evil would remain hidden;

Because of this, the bishops, with a few exceptions, have lost trust and credibility in any objective sense. They are a hindrance to authentic healing, and if they have any shred of honor left in them, should leave.


This numbness of faith I’m feeling is something new for me – I was too young to appreciate what was happening in 2002. It’s as if my limbs are being severed one by one as I watch from a distance, and eventually I’m going to have to return to my body and live in this new reality. I love the Church and weep over her. The only thing that consoles me is the understanding that this is in reality a great mercy. Two months ago nothing was different. The only thing that’s changed is a little bit of light has shined on the ugly darkness. Now there’s a chance for change that didn’t exists before.


I cannot be Catholic any long because I don’t see how I can ever trust a cleric again. I have girls that are teenagers and at least in theory they wouldn’t be targets but nevertheless I would never leave them in the company of any cleric, ever. You can’t live a faith like that.
Unlike you I don’t see another form of Christianity as an answer. I’m just done.


I work for a catholic organization in a chancery building and have for the past 11 years. I am beside myself with anger and disappointment (too weak a word, really). We were all led to believe things were different this time, that all the rot was in the past. Now I feel duped, and worse I feel like my work helped a system that gave cover to awful men and their crimes. I feel a fool for having taken Catholicism seriously when it’s clear so many priests and bishops never did. [my emphasis.] I guess I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, there were indications all along that many did not take the call to holiness seriously especially in sexual matters. Look at the way they were ignored or dismissed from the pulpit and in the confessional. I’m trying hard not to fall into despair but it is very, very difficult when I read about all those children abused and discarded, the ongoing McCarrick slime, and the good men scandalized and chased out of seminaries. The crocodile tears of a predator was worth more to these bishops than the innocence, souls, and physical protection of children and vulnerable people. I’m like a man in a bombed out building, looking around in bewilderment and wondering if there’s any good left that’s worth salvaging.


I live in the Archdiocese of Newark and have had my heart broken by our diocese and my parish over this summer. But what living in this tension with my former friend and what has gone on in my diocese is doing for me is helping me to realize that the Lord will use those broken clerics to consecrate the Eucharist and baptize my babies and absolve my sins. And I am now more aware that I am “a sheep among wolves;” very crafty wolves that sometimes dress in shepherd’s clothes.

Ultimately, I love Jesus and His Church too much to take the steps you and your wife took. I am not bashing you. But my faith isn’t any longer an intellectual exercise, it’s a love between me and my Redeemer.

I’m really angry, though. I’m planning to protest the USCCB meeting in Baltimore in November and we’re not giving ++Tobin another cent until he starts acting like a pastor and less like a CEO.


[This is one commenter replying to another.] "What I’m noticing is that the secular media is repeating the same story from 2002..labeling it a pedophila crisis. Understand: every instance of gruesomeness detailed in the Pennsylvania testimony is diabolical.
But no one is speaking about the demographics of the victims..in which 81% are adolescent or adult males."

This. If anything is ever gong to change, and children are truly going to be protected, we have to destroy the clerical lavender mafia root and branch, along with the hierarchs who protect them. Not just in the U.S., but globally. And most of all in Rome.

Every other issue is secondary to this one.


The institutional Latin church needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt — not destroyed, but gutted and rebuilt. Unless it is totally gutted, the rot will remain. All of the hierarchs need to go, much of the priesthood needs to go, and a good chunk of laity needs to go, and from the remains a new Latin church can be built on firmer foundations which are more moral and more accountable and transparent. That kind of reform, which is needed, will prove to be impossible unless the entire current regime is liquidated.


When men made the temple into a trading house, Jesus flipped the tables and drove them out with a whip. These men have made the Bride into a brothel and their crimes demand action swifter and more severe than committees and letters and Very Serious Discussions.

Drag them bodily from the altars. Tear the vestments from their bodies and cast them from the sanctuary. Hand them over to the police.

Mercy does not mean withholding consequences, forgiveness does not mean returning to the status quo, and frankly, a jail cell is a better place for repentance than a rectory.

As for me, there's no chance at all that I will leave the Church. My commitment is irrevocable. There's no chance at all that I will repudiate the Faith. My commitment is irrevocable. But one effect of this for me has been to increase the frequency and volume of those little questions that are always with me, that in one way or other come down to this one: what if none of this stuff is true? If your physics teacher is a criminal, it doesn't mean that the acceleration of earth's gravity is no longer 32 feet per second per second (I can't believe I remember that). And it can be verified by experiment. But the whole foundation of Christian faith is the testimony of others, nothing that one can verify independently for oneself. If the custodians of the testimony are discovered to be repeating a story that they themselves do not believe, it disturbs one's confidence in their teaching in a way that the physics teacher's sins do not. 

Over and over I find myself asking: do these men even believe in God?

One last note in what is already far too long a post: I think the Church should consider ordaining married men. I know this would have many problems of its own--everyone who grows up Protestant knows the term "PK." And even aside from theological and pastoral problems the practical obstacles are immense and could not be overcome quickly. Maybe it's not a good idea. But it's certain that for the priesthood to be seen as heavily composed of gay men who may or may not be celibate is a catastrophe. You could not come up with a better way to drive normal men, husbands and fathers, from the Church. 


Because of the grim subject matter I wasn't going to include a picture this week as I usually do. But having written the above, I feel a need to see and think about some healthy green living thing. This is another picture from my Ireland trip. It's a small tree that seemed to be of the fir family. I have no idea what it's called. But that yellow at the tips of the foliage is not a trick of the light--the color actually varies that much.



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Okay, I grew up Protestant and don't know what "PK" means.

I'm glad people don't talk to me too much about the Catholic Church pedophilia scandal(s), because there is not a good answer to: "How can you remain Catholic when this sort of thing goes on in your church?" All I can say is how horrible it all is, and give my own testimony (so to speak) on all of the very good men I know and have known who are priests, whether I believe they are gay celibates, or hetero celibates.

Preacher's Kids.


PK = Preacher's Kid. Surprised you don't know the term. It carries a suggestion of bad behavior as a rebellion against the pressure to be super-good.

I've know a few priests who I thought were fairly obviously gay, and by their general manner and speech made me wonder if they were celibate. And I'm sure that there have been great saints who were sexually attracted to men (or women, if they were women) (not to mention a whole lot of unknown ones.), but who were either more or less unaware of it, or dealt with it the way we're all supposed to deal with temptation. But a clique or "subculture" of consciously and probably actively gay people...very very bad news.

Cross-posted with Janet.

Well, the key thing is to remain celibate. If you cannot do so, then at least don't be a predator. If you cannot sustain celibacy, then leave the priesthood. But the predator part is so horrible that it is beyond words.


I have more to say, but I've got some things to do first. I will say, since these two things have come up--

What Stu says about talking to people is a big concern for me. What will I say to my son who just came back to the Church, and his wife who was just baptized? And to my sister, whose daughter is in a same-sex marriage? And to my protestant friends?

Also, I think that these men and done a terrible injustice to homosexuals--especially to those who are trying to live a chaste life, but also to those who are just honest about their lifestyle.


True. I hadn't thought about that angle.

I have no idea what one can say. It's very hard for it not to sound like platitudes. One specific and relatively minor thing I always want to do is correct the idea most people have that all or nearly all the cases are child rape. But it tends to sound like you're making excuses when you try to do that.

And: second only to the injustice against the actual victims and their families is the massive injustice to the vast majority of priests.

"If you cannot sustain celibacy, then leave the priesthood. But the predator part is so horrible that it is beyond words."

Here's the thing though. The secular media are so pro-homosexual that they seem loath to admit that there is even such a thing as predatory homosexuality. Hence, the pederasty angle gets all the attention, while the McGarrick angle is ignored. But what someone said on Dreher's site seems to be true: much of the attention to young males by the gay abusers, whether adolescents or seminarians, appears to be a "grooming" phenomenon. This would make the "gay" angle difficult to separate from the "pederasty" angle, at least when adolescents were targeted.

The fact of the matter is that there is such a thing as predatory homosexuality, and it often seems not to differentiate much between minors and adults. But this is exactly what pro-gay journalists, politicians, etc., do not want to hear.

Well there certainly is such a thing as predatory homosexuality. But that should not distract folks from thinking there is not predatory heterosexuality too. You don't have to be the pro-gay media to realize that damage and stigmatization comes to a group of people if we pretend they're the only ones who commit these sort of crimes.

That comment wasn't meant to be addressed to Janet in particular, though I guess it looked that way. It was just a follow-on thought, one of several that didn't make it into the post itself.

"Well there certainly is such a thing as predatory homosexuality. But that should not distract folks from thinking there is not predatory heterosexuality too."

I doubt anyone thinks otherwise. That's certainly true, and there are far more cases of heterosexual abuse in the world at large than homosexual. But predatory homosexuality is a bigger problem within the Church. The use of seminaries as hunting and grooming grounds for actively gay priests is by definition a homosexual problem, and the effects are huge. The stories told by some of those who fled those seminaries or were corrupted by them are horrible.

It does sound awful, and maybe married clergy is indeed the answer. The Church is just too political, reminds me of the government. Change needed from within that depends on those in charge to change it. Worse in a way, since we the laity don't even get a vote that means very little.

There's a piece up at First Things, "Why Men Like Me Should Not Be Priests", written by a man with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”. The first reason he gives is that "men with homosexual tendencies find it particularly difficult to live out the demands of chastity. The vast majority of scandals in the Church since 2002 involve homosexual priests profoundly failing in chastity. This is no surprise to me. Chastity, I’m convinced (and the evidence bears this out), is much harder for men with a homosexual inclination than for others."

As you can imagine, the article is getting quite a bit of pushback in the comments -- as of now there are almost 500 of them. Anyway, definitely worth a read, I think.

I read that a few days ago and it was one of half a dozen or so links that I had marked for possible inclusion in this post, but didn't, since the post had gotten sort of out of hand anyway. I had not read any of the comments, though. I'm slightly surprised that it would get a lot of pushback there.

A lot of reports from the pews:


"Well, the key thing is to remain celibate." I think the key thing is whether the seminarian/priest can be chaste. This will apply to married priests if we ever get them.

True. People tend to use "chaste" and "celibate" interchangeably.

From the semi-official Ordinariate blog:


Fr. Dwight Longenecker:


And here's something from a young ex-Jesuit wanting to know why he can't be openly gay and a priest. "Train wreck" is the phrase that comes to mind.


This is an excellent homily by Fr. Thomas Schaefen, O.P. It is the best things I've seen or heard so far. He is one of the Dominican Friars that I wrote about on my old blog who made a pilgrimage from New Orleans to Memphis during the summer.


That is very good.

I'm glad you think so.


I have been wanting to ask why you think having married priests would help. In theory, I have no objection at all to married priests--I just worry about how they will support their families--but I can't see how it will help in this case.

This isn't a criticism; it is a search for understanding.


It's a moot point in any case. And it's really kind of grasping at a straw. I'll say more about it later today. I really have to close the browser and work now.

Oops, I mean it's a mute point. :-)

Ok, let me see if I can briefly explain why I think a married priesthood might help.

I don't say this is necessarily always true, in fact I hope it's not, but as things stand now, in our culture, the priesthood is bound to attract homosexuals by offering a path in life which does not involve romantic/sexual involvement with women and at the same time offers a respected place in society (or at least used to). It gives them, so to speak, a place to hide. That's not *necessarily* a bad thing, but obviously it has the potential for going bad, especially if these people are fully "gay" in the modern sense--i.e. not just having same-sex-attraction but making that their essential identity. And of course really disastrous if they're not truly prepared and able to be chaste. If there are a lot of these it's pretty much inevitable that they'll form a sort of clique or subculture in which they lead a secret life. Hypocrisy, blackmail, etc...that dynamic seems to be very much involved in the abuse cover-ups.

A sort of secondary problem is the sort of clericalism which sees the clergy as the real Church and the laity as a lesser class. This also is a big part of the cover-ups.

What a married priesthood *could* do is open up all that. The priesthood would no longer be a place to hide one's problem sexuality, the environment in which sexual cliques grow would be much less hospitable, and there would be less distance between clergy and laity, especially women. Or maybe I should say "might" instead of "would."

I fully recognize the difficulties. And also the advantages of a celibate clergy. Like I said I don't think this is going to be on the table anyway. I bring it up partly out of a desperate sense that something fundamental *must* change.

Did you read that piece I linked to above by the young Jesuit? That, and this one paint a very disturbing picture of the way homosexuality and the celibate male priesthood are tending to work out these days.

I will have to think about that. Not that anyone will ask my opinion.


Someone pointed out to me, in response to this married priest discussion, the account of the life of Federigo Borromeo in this month's Magnificat. A married priest could not have done what he did.

Fr. Martin Fox in the comments section on that seminary story you linked to above (I don't how to link to just his comment, so I copied all of it):

I’ve been reading a lot of these threads on Mr. Dreher’s blog, and of course lots of information elsewhere, on these matters. I am a Catholic priest, and it is profoundly upsetting. And I’m grateful for Mr. Dreher’s work.

It may be foolish of me to weigh in, but here’s how I see it:

– There’s no question there was a big problem — such as Mr. Giella describes — in many seminaries, especially in the ’80s and ’90s. Michael Rose told the story in Goodbye Good Men 20 years ago.

– I am in no position to say whether there are seminaries still like that. But I don’t think it’s widespread, based on conversations with priests and seminarians over the years.

– Nevertheless, I do believe a lot has changed. I was in the seminary from ’97 to ’03; I entered at 35 and was ordained at 41. My seminary had had its problems, but if there was a “gay subculture,” it was invisible. The environment I knew was a healthy one. I’m in touch with priests who came after me, and seminarians there now, and all I can see tells me the environment is healthy. Nothing like what Mr. Giella described.

– Most Catholic seminaries are graduate schools, only a few are college. The average age of seminarians is trending a little lower than in my time, when it was in the 30s; now I think it’s in the high 20s. That, I think, bodes well for men not being so naive and easily manipulated, doesn’t it?

– Some people seem to have the notion that priests all know each others’ secrets. Again, I must not have been invited to those conversations. I hear very little, other than when I hear another priest’s confession, and even then, I hear very little. I’m not naive, I’m sure there are problems, but I am not “in the loop.” My priest friends and I meet regularly to pray together and visit over dinner. Pretty boring.

– I don’t blame anyone for covering this story or expressing anger, but there are a lot of good men in the seminaries, and in the priesthood, trying to grow in holiness and help others to do so. Someone above compared the addictiveness of these stories to porn. There is another comparison; spending too much time with this stuff is unhealthy. Don’t forget to look up and around at the good things happening.

Fr. Longenecker, himself a married priest, wrote on mandatory celibacy, and came to this conclusion:

Would not the formation and support of our priests be better if those who were celibate were also members of a religious community? This is the practice of the Eastern Orthodox. Then would it not be a complement to the celibate priesthood if more tested and mature married men were to be ordained?

If bishops were to be selected from the celibate members of religious orders this would continue to honor the vocation of celibacy. Such a solution would also be an ecumenical outreach to the Eastern Orthodox. It would honor both celibacy and marriage and allow both vocations to be nurtured in the church. It would not only help with the shortage of priests, but bring new gifts to the presbyterate and help to support both marriage and the gift of celibacy with a good dose of both realism and the hope that we can learn from the present crisis and by God’s grace grow into a stronger and more competent church.

Thanks very much for those, Marianne. That first one is *really* encouraging. In the post I emphasized that comment about wondering about every priest because that's something that really bothers me. The three married priests I know are exempt, not only because they're married but because they didn't go through the seminary system as young men. But the others: I can't help wondering--were they part of something like what the former seminarians describe? It's unfair but the thought presents itself unbidden.

I've seen a number of comments here and there making more or less the same point that Fr. Longenecker makes and referring to the Orthodox (and to Eastern Catholics). I could argue it either way in the abstract, and for that matter there is no obviously correct answer. But as an adaptation for the times a married priesthood seems worthy of consideration. That's ignoring the problem of a parish supporting a family, not just one man, which in practical terms seems pretty much insurmountable.

One of the things Fr. Longenecker mentions is that most priests these days live alone, and that's not a good thing. I'd been thinking along those lines myself, remembering that when I was a child there were at least three or four priests living in the parish rectory, who "shared a home and life together", as Fr. Longenecker puts it.

That reminds me of something from 30 years ago. My wife's parents were not Catholic and lived in a very small south Alabama town. That whole area of the state is pretty sparsely populated--not many people and therefore not many Catholics at all. But this town does have a Catholic church. Once when we were visiting there my father-in-law remarked that the priest seemed to be a decent guy. Then he paused and added "Seems like an awful lonely life." That kind of struck me because it seemed so likely to be true.

We had a pretty good homily about the horribleness at Mass this morning. I'm curious to know if anyone else did.


We did not. Our priest (not the usual one--long story) talked about the reading from Ephesians, and did a great job of it. But we did have a letter from Archbishop Lopes, the bishop of the Ordinariate, on The Subject. It was good. Not quite as hard-hitting as I think it should have been, but still good.

The comments to this entry are closed.