While the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, they certainly are rattling those bars. Recently I saw an article comparing the crisis in our Church as the Ecclesial equivalent of our own 911. This is problematic in that Sept. 11 was an attack from without, and our crisis is an attack from within, by the very people who should be Shepherding not wounding the flock.
I want to address three main points:
- Homosexuality is not Pedophilia.
- The problem we are seeing in these scandals is the result of Lust, which can be seen in heterosexual as well as homosexual scenarios.
- Any lustful act by an adult with a minor is not only a sin but a crime needing acknowledged, punished, and compensated for all those wounded.
There seems to be a couple of camps people are in concerning the illumination of deplorable things once held secret by those in leadership within the Church.
The first, is an attitude of deflect and deny that implies, and often blatantly states, that things are not really so bad. The insistence that we have had worse in days gone by, and the Church survived, so try not to overreact and lets get back to business. Even verbiage from the top down calls for silence and a deeper focus on matters that are really important, such as the environment, which seems such a hollow response from those proponents, and Shepherds of Jesus Christ and his mission. While not taking away from the value of environmental efforts nor the need to tend to those things, the trail of tears of those hurt within the Church is enough to merit a definitive acknowledgment that actually respects the wounded by calling the sin what it is followed with actions that show it will never happen again.
The second perspective taken concerning the sexual scandals is almost a hyper obsession that focuses only on the festering wound. I may lean more towards this if truth be told, but there is a growing concern I want to mention that I know, once articulated, will unfortunately be taken out of context and even brushed off. Even as an adult I am learning how to speak what I really think about such matters without worrying about pleasing others, which, by the way, is what I usually want to do. I hate conflict, can’t stand being around fighting, and have a total intolerance for a lack of effort in reconciliation. How can we take matters seriously without losing ourself in anger that may not always be righteous? So, this article is a willing step out into the land of here is what I really think.
I was sitting with a gentleman recently who posited this idea: Every bishop in the USCCB should resign. I certainly am not opposed to the complete overhaul of the organization, nor opposed to insisting that those who are guilty or have hidden matters of abuse be called into accountability and made to resign, but the idea of making a blanket statement that puts all Bishops or clergy on the side of guilty and corrupt seems terribly extreme with little charity. Why punish the innocent? We don’t just jettison the beauty of the entire priesthood because of a few bad eggs. Balance is usually the hardest thing to master when dealing with difficulties. Extremes are easy.
With all of that being said, here is my concern. In our desire to rid the Church of sin and those which have wounded innocent bystanders, often under age children, I am concerned that we are opening a door to further persecute men who have given their lives to Jesus Christ in full, continuing to long to be in communion with Him, and have embraced chastity, but are still willing to acknowledge that they are of same sex attraction. I have seen articles that talk about the homosexual culture within the formation of priests, an abundance of examples from those who have been in seminary, and of course all that has come out in the news, seem to imply that we have a great problem needing to be remedied. I do agree we have a great problem that needs to be remedied, but the issue is lust and not necessarily just homosexual in its expression. I worry that this emphasis is furthered by many who are still unsure as to what to do with that ‘sinner’ who calls them self gay.
The matter at hand, as I see it, is a lack of temperance; an unwillingness to control appetites, and that some examples are homosexual in nature is only one side of the coin that has come to light. Unfaithfulness to the vow of celibacy is as terrible as infidelity in a marriage. The commitment made is one that should be kept. A commitment in a sacrament is so important because it reflects Christ and brings about Jesus in a tangible way that helps people grow in the universal call to holiness.
In addition, I also think it is worth noting that just because someone is identified as homosexual does not mean that they are pedophiles. This is so often overlooked. Pedophilia was done more by heterosexual men and not homosexual, according to Greg Walton's recent vlog . The leap from same sex attraction to pedophilia is not new, but if I as a straight man find that ambiguity irritating how terrifying to the man or woman who their entire life has felt God made them in such a way as to have an attraction to the same sex?
The problem with those in Church leadership marking and making advances on young seminarians, some under the age of legal and allowable consent, is not only problematic because of a lack of chastity, but it is a problem for leaders to use power to make advancement and coerce an impressionable young man or older man, is not only unacceptable, but deplorable. So, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature, to use authority to influence any impressionable soul to commit an act degrading them as persons is horrifying. At no point is it acceptable for any adult to sexually solicit a child, act on it, or manipulate situations allowing for it. Yes, this has happened in the Church from priests towards children, but it has happened with teachers, coaches, and unfortunately even family members. Anything that hurts a child must stop.
Let me switch directions for a moment so that I can unpack this idea a bit more. My wife and I spend a lot of time in our diocese working with people preparing to get married. One of the realizations we made years ago was that most of the couples wanting the Church to bless their marriage were already living together in relationships with kids. These were not the countless couples living together indifferent to the Church and her desires for marriage as a sacrament; rather, these were those wanting the blessings of the Church. In other words, these couples were already being family, lovers, dreamers, and involved in every dynamic of one another’s life but wanting to come to the Church and do things ‘right.’ I often wonder, so why get married now? Why do you suddenly care about the Church and her opinion? I am so thankful they have decided to do so. There are a multitude of reasons, but the point is that most don’t see living with someone before marriage as being a problem, or sin for that matter, at all. In fact, the Church teaches that it is a sin to engage in pre-marital sex, regardless to the orientation of a couple.
That all people are doing so does not change the fact that sex before marriage is a sin according to Christian teaching. Pre marital sex by adults is not criminal, of that lets be clear. There are priests that have had children from relationships with women in their church, priests who have left their vocation to be with women that they fell in love with, and even priests who remain priests and act out on sexual urges, both homosexual and heterosexual. These are moral tragedies (remember, they themselves willingly took a vow of celibacy and had years to decide to or not), but not illegal. When it involves an underaged, impressionable child, not only is this a moral calamity, but it is a crime needing to be punished. Somehow, in our desire to apply criminal actions to those worthy of prosecution and our desire to see our priests live out joyfully the vow of celibacy, I am worried that we are pointing our fingers at the whole and making general statements, almost willing to ignore the fact that many have not only practiced temperance but have helped others avoid sinful acts. Just because a person struggles with a sexual sin does not make them unusual.
Sexual sin (Lust), is just one of the seven deadly sins. We hear little about pride, envy, greed, wrath, gluttony, or sloth because those areas of sin may have found their way into our lives. Let’s say a heterosexual observer is justifiably angry at all of the sexual scandals and wants change. It is so easy to point the finger and make a general observation from a few news stories that homosexuality is the problem. But it isn’t simply a homosexual problem. The problem is lustful acts done by a person who may and be gay or straight. Again, in what has come to light we can see many areas where chastity was not lived out. We expect more from our priests. But to say someone is inclined to have an interest in children because he is gay is incorrect. I am worried that is where a lot of attention is made, and there are plenty of stereotypes which would have us believe that all of the priesthood is filled with predators. I had a youth leader as a teen in the Protestant church I was a part of get arrested for soliciting a prostitute who ended up being an undercover cop. The call he made to confess to me was one I won’t forget. He never went into ministry again. This matter of lustful acts is not simply a Catholic thing. It is a human reality, and God is inviting us to live in a way that is different.
We need healing in our Church right now, and, in particular, we need healing from a variety of sexual sins. This includes not just the priest with same sex attraction acting upon that in contradiction to his vow of celibacy, but also those who are heterosexual and have not lived chastely. Regardless the orientation, crimes must be punished if committed, but to single out one group and say that all are worthy of dismissal and punishment because a number have fallen is wrong.
I have a son who is interested in the priesthood so don’t think for second that I am just blindly writing an op-ed piece with little invested in its outcome. I want my son to go into seminary and priesthood with confidence that there are amazing holy and Godly men who will model not only how to be a priest, but also the virtue of how to be a great man. The idea that he, or any other young man, could enter into formation and be manipulated or influenced or even forced into an immoral act is infuriating, and I can assure you that my blood boils at the mere thought of that. I recently talked to my son about the scandals and about how there would be many who might look at his choice to explore the priesthood as ridiculous. He simply said, “I don’t care what people think about me.” He is stronger than I am.
The need for chastity is obvious in light of the things that are coming to light. For those who have fallen and struggled with chastity, both within and without the priesthood, God’s mercy has been offered to all. In those cases, some families have fallen apart, yet God has forgiven them. In other words, the consequences are real, regardless the sin. But when it comes to the hurting of underaged children or hiding and covering up or moving a perpetrator into areas where they can hurt again, justice must be served. Shine the light.
So, what does this mean? We need to shine the light in the darkness and root out every crime, make restitution for every one who has been hurt, and publicly denounce these crimes with a commitment to never do this again. But, we must not go after every man who has willingly or even unwillingly come out of the closet because we assume that just by their orientation that they have or will harm another. Love looks at things differently.
- If you have been the victim of abuse from anyone in the Clergy, please report it, even if the priest has passed away. Why? Because you matter, and justice must be served.
- If you aren’t praying for your pastor, please start now. They need your prayer and support.
- Be careful not to cause more hurt by lumping all clergy in the same bundle. There are some incredibly holy and faithful priests that are living heroically.
- Just because someone has same sex attractions does not mean that they have acted out on them in a way that has harmed another. You are not the Holy Spirit. Even in the criminal law system people are assumed innocent until proven guilty. Quit assuming people are guilty just because of their orientation. If you are a heterosexual, people don’t have to assume you’ve slept around even though you are married and many men have been unfaithful to their marital vows.
- Lust and giving in to sexual impurity is a sin both to clergy and laity alike. Walking in purity and embracing chastity is something that will not accidentally happen. We need to remind one another of the importance of those virtues.
- Be careful of extremes. Don’t assume the worst but don’t ignore the obvious. Report but don’t distort. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean they are a criminal.
- Love one another. In all of this we must love one another.
- Remember, Jesus is the reason for our faith. We all still need him as our Savior.
- Talk to your family about the importance of chastity, purity, and the beauty of the human body. As parents it is important to remind our children of their worth and protect them.
- Don’t give up. I know it is hard to be Catholic with all the junk that has come to light, but you are a part of the healing that is underway. Light shining in darkness is important for healthy growth. I am cheering you on.
If you want to ask questions or converse more, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org In addition you can check out the article this month in the FAM magazine (Sept. 2018), along with the video dealing with these scandals.