Skip to comments.Can the Bishops Heal the American Church?
Posted on 06/04/2002 3:03:30 AM PDT by maryz
The Catholic Church in America is at a watershed. The current crisis is the culmination of decades of bad management, errant theology, and sinful behavior. It is partly about sex and partly about bishops. It is also about deluded therapies and an institutional Church that often goes flopping along with the mainstream on moral issues. The crisis is mostly, however, about active homosexuals in the priesthood. Anyone (including an archbishop) who does not admit this is simply part of the problem.
The media have framed the issue as one of pedophilia that is, the sexual abuse of prepubescent children. But the large majority of the cases in question involve not pedophilia but the sexual abuse of teenage boys. Sexual attraction to male adolescents is technically called ephebophilia. But dont expect Mike Wallace to use this term on 60 Minutes. Not because it is a mouthful, but because the media prefer not to treat homosexual behavior as the issue. Still, it is issue, and if the hierarchy does not root it out if it takes the easy approach of instituting new procedures for dealing with abuse only after it has occurred then the devastation is going to continue.
In the Wake of Humanae Vitae
Let me tell you a story. Two decades ago, a friend of mine attended a large social gathering sponsored by a diocese in the Northeast. At one point, all the local seminarians arrived, and as the music was cranked up, they all began to dance with one another. My friend expressed puzzlement to somebody familiar with t he way things were under the local bishop, and the reply was, Of course, all the seminarians are gay.
The institutional Church has been deeply corrupted by the sexual revolution. Ralph McInerny was absolutely correct in his April 2002 End Notes when wrote that many of our problems can be traced to the widespread theological dissent against Humanae Vitae. That 1968 encyclical was the defining moment of modern American Catholicism. It put famous theologians into open rebellion against the Holy See. It made heterodoxy normative in many, if not most, Catholic institutions. In the wake of the dissent, many in the clergy began to issue permission slips to the laity for all sorts of sexual behavior. So why not give one to themselves?
I hope we are beyond the point where any discussion of homosexual behavior that is not entirely favorable is deemed homophobic. We are not talking here about priests with a homosexual orientation who are struggling to live the virtue of chastity. We are talking about active homosexuals who have broken their vows. We are talking about a lifestyle that is often marked by compulsive behavior. Homosexuals have a more serious problem with promiscuity and lack of restraint than heterosexuals (see, for example, Spence Publishings Homosexuality in American Public Life, edited by Christopher Wolfe). Forty percent of homosexual sex today is reportedly unprotected this after two decades of safe-sex instruction. Active homosexuals also constitute a relatively high proportion of sexual molesters. And they have been welcomed into the Catholic priesthood.
How did this happen? At some point in the early 1970s, a gay insurgency within the Church began to gain control of at least part of the official Catholic apparatus. Once in place, this network expanded. Many seminaries were turned into pink palaces where young, devout, heterosexual men felt distinctly vulnerable. And this is not just a diocesan problem: Many religious orders run seminaries with openly homosexual cultures.
Is it surprising, then, that these scandals have occurred? If you allow into the priesthood men who in many cases have already chosen to flout Catholic moral teachings and are disposed to mix sodomy with their ministerial rounds, which include contact with teenage boys, there are going to be incidents of sexual abuse.
Where the Bishops Went Wrong
Ant lets be clear about this: There is no greater scandal on this planet than a priest sexually violating a minor. Christ used the strongest possible language to condemn the abuse of the little ones. Such acts are the equivalent of spiritual and psychological murder. There are often perpetrated on confused youths who hunger for a father figure and never fully recover from the betrayal of trust.
Just as scandalous has been the handling of these incidents by bishops and administrators. And this brings us to a larger problem in the American Catholic Church. For decades, our episcopate has been in the hands of mildly pastoral men who (with honorable exceptions) chose not to see what was happening on their watch. This is true even of some visibly orthodox bishops. It is good and honorable to uphold Catholic doctrine in the public arena, but it is much more difficult to confront diocesan officials who dissent from Catholic teaching. Even in so-called orthodox dioceses there can be found legions of heterodox administrators who have ruined seminaries and made a hash of CCD and Pre-Cano programs. This is where the courage of many bishops fails: They would rather get on with their administrators some of whom may be openly contemptuous of the magisterium than be a sign of contradiction. They simply let things happen.
The grossly negligent response of certain bishops to incidents of sexual abuse is of a piece with this Im okay, youre okay style of episcopal management. Sexual predators have been shifted from parish to parish, their crimes buried in chancery files, and the families of victims in some cases bullied or bought into silence. Bishops have treated the threat of bad publicity, rather than the predators, as the problem. Their response to these wolves loose in the sheepfold has been bureaucratic rather than spiritual and moral.
Even now, I am not sure that some bishops really get it, given the solutions they are venting after meeting with Pope John Paul II in Rome. The crisis is not going to be solved just be instituting new procedures, or tightening up reporting or using more psychological testing. It will disappear only when bishops understand the responsibilities of their office and are not afraid of striking at the root of the problem which is going to involve, among other things, firing vocations directors, cleaning up the seminaries, and defrocking (with Romes permission) a number of priests. We are not talking about witch-hunts, and due process is important. But why should so many teaching centers of the Church be in the hands of people who not only reject Catholic doctrine but dont seem to mind priests breaking their vows?
One of the benefits of the current scandals is the exposure of the therapeutic culture that has invaded the Church. The Catholic landscape is dotted with therapy centers that purport to treat sexually abusive priests. These centers give bishops the illusion that they are doing something about the problem. But they are often staffed with experts who are sympathetic to the gay agenda. These therapists are quick to label their patients as normal and harmless after a few months of counseling and send them off for a new parish assignment. It is worth noting that in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association officially decided to stop treating the homosexual orientation as a problem. In any event, anybody who knows anything about sexual pathologies knows that the rates of recidivism are high after treatment. The credulity of those who have bought into these programs for so long is truly astonishing.
What the Bishops Must Do
The current crisis presents an enormous opportunity for reform and renewal within the Church. There is also a great potential for error. One popular proposal is to allow priests to marry. But there is a good reason why celibacy is a Church discipline. On a practical level, the Church discovered early on that diocesan priests could not fully do justice to the vocation of priesthood and the vocation of marriage, both of which involve a total gift of self. Also, think about it: If the Church were to allow priests to marry, within a decade or so there would be a lot of divorced priests some clamoring for remarriage. If the sexual revolution is going to adversely affect single priests, it will certainly affect married ones.
There are things the hierarchy can do right now to address the crisis, and there are other policies that will take years to implement. First, the American bishops have to admit that this is their problem, not Romes. One of the ironies of the current crisis is that for years parties in the American Church, including bishops, have complained about Vatican interference, implying that they have more to teach Rome than vice versa. But the moment the scandals broke, the cry became, Why doesnt the Vatican do something? The Catholic Church is not an American corporation, and the bishops are not functionaries of the pope; they are the heads of the Church in their diocese and are fully responsible.
And they need to do a serious housecleaning. They need to ask a number of incorrigible offenders to leave the priesthood. They may have to close some seminaries or transfer their management to orthodox orders. I recently talked to their one young man who described life in the East Coast seminary from which he was expelled for orthodoxy: lavish parties, plenty of liquor, never any silence, an openly gay vice-rector, a liturgy professor who assigns Protestant textbooks on the Eucharist and refers to the Blessed Sacrament as bread and transubstantiation as a theory. The only good news was that not all his fellow seminarians were gay: One had a girlfriend who regularly visited his bed with the tacit approval of his superiors.
In the case of the abuse of minors, there should be a one strike and youre out policy. The severity of this approach does not violate the Catholic understanding that all sinners are capable of change and repentance. It is simply a prudential recognition that a disproportionate number of sex offenders are likely to bide their time and strike again. We have a duty to protect our youth, and this means we have no business experimenting with more therapies and simply hoping for the best.
The bishops should also consider incorporating Rev. John Harveys Courage program in seminaries and treatment centers. Courage is a spiritual support system that helps men with a homosexual orientation to live an interior life of chastity. It works. Yet Catholic bishops and administrators are often hostile to Courage, preferring programs that are more to the taste of gay activists.
The bishops might also consider finally implementing the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which, among other things, are an antidote to the clericalism that still plagues the Church in this country. In too many dioceses, there is an impenetrable clerical culture that does not involve orthodox lay Catholics with real expertise in areas like management and organization and theology, for that matter. I am not suggesting the clericalization of the laity, but it is important for both clergy and laity to grow out of the habit of viewing the church as a juridical machine run by a self-enclosed hierarchy. The current crisis would not have been so bad if the hierarchy had worked with consultative lay bodies that act as a reality check.
Like the Sons of Noah
What is the proper response of the laity to the crisis? Above all, it should be one of prayer and trust in God. We should also examine ourselves as Catholics. The laity constitute 89 percent of the Church, and these scandals among the clergy did not occur in a vacuum. Do we pray for priests? Do we foster vocations among devout and intelligent young men? Are we supportive of parish priests, who have very difficult jobs and often only hear complaints? Are we charitable toward their human failings?
Sometimes it is a good thing for the laity to behave like the sons of Noah, who covered their fathers nakedness with a cloak. St. Catherine of Siena, who lived in a time of great crisis in the Church, reports Christ as saying in one of her mystical dialogues: It is my will that the sins of the clergy should not lessen your reverence for them . . . because the reverence you pay to them is not actually paid to them but to me. Our outlook in these matters must be supernatural. Our attention should primarily be on God rather than the sins of others.
That said, the Church has serious work to do in putting its house in order. St. Catherine also wrote: It is essential to root out from the garden of the Church the rotten plants and to put in their place the good ones.
I think Sims makes some very good points, though I wish he had been more forceful and less diffuse.
I don't recall ever having heard of Archbishop Flynn before. According to the blurb in the WSJ, "Archbishop Flynn is arachbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse." Maybe some of you know more about him.
It is time for the Laity to grow-up. We KNOW, or we should, which priests are trustworthy. We KNOW, or we should, which Bishops are trustworthy and Orthodox. We do NOT need Rome or the Bishop's Conference to tell us what to do.
It is OUR job to teach the Faith to our children. It is OUR job to assure our children are in a safe school if we do not homeschool. It is OUR job to either tithe to our local parish if it is orthodox or we can tithe to those in our communities that are worthy of help. It is OUR job to inform ourselves and other Catholics in our communities about those in the local Hierarchy and to PUBLICLY oppose heresy, schism, and evil as it presents itself and, more importantly, to publicly praise those acts and persons who are orthodox.
We have GOT to stop relying upon others to solve our problems
It is time for these seminaries to be "outed" - I am sick and tired of the veiled references to "northeast" seminaries or "often referred to as the pink palace" seminaries... time to out them and reveal just which ones they are. We cannot fix the problem if we don't know where to start.
Thank you Mary for posting this column. It was quite good and I was heartened to see the word "homosexuality" used - I'm sick of the word pedophilia as it has almost nothing to do with this current situation. I just read an entire "Time" Magazine article (on the web) entitled "Can the Catholic Church be saved" - the article was silly and never once used the word homosexuality. Can't hurt anyone's feelings.
Even in so-called orthodox dioceses there can be found legions of heterodox administrators who have ruined seminaries and made a hash of CCD and Pre-Cano programs. This is where the courage of many bishops fails: They would rather get on with their administrators some of whom may be openly contemptuous of the magisterium than be a sign of contradiction. They simply let things happen.
GRRRRR... The changes were so gradual over the years that someone like me hardly noticed (I'm 42) and when I did experience vague discomfort, I thought it was ME that wasn't with the times - I wondered where my comforting, other-worldly, never changing Church went.
I am so mad this morning!
Wasn't Bishop Flynn the one who was sent to clean up the Gilbert Gauthe mess? I thought he was a "good guy"?
Did you see this? "Holy See Relaunches Reconciliation Bid with St. Pius X Fraternity"
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn was born May 2, 1933, in Schenectady, New York. After receiving B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Siena College, Loudonville, NY, he attended Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 1960, in Albany, NY. Then-Father Flynn served as an associate pastor, pastor, high school teacher, retreat master, and spiritual leader in several various assignments in the Diocese of Albany. He also served as the Dean, Vice Rector and Rector of Mount Saint Mary's Seminary from 1965-1979.
Ordained Bishop on June 24, 1986, Bishop Flynn served as the Bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana until being named Coadjutor Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, in February of 1994. On October 1, 1995, Archbishop Flynn succeeded Archbishop John Roach as head of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
Archbishop Flynn currently serves as Chairman of the Saint Paul Seminary Board of Trustees, Saint Paul; Chairman of the University of Saint Thomas Board of Trustees, Saint Paul; President of the Saint John Vianney Seminary Board of Directors, Saint Paul; and on the College of Saint Catherine Board of Trustees, Saint Paul. Archbishop Flynn is also a member of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) Committee for Black Catholics; the USCCB Committee on Sexual Abuse; and the USCCB Committee on the Charismatic Renewal.
Hope the church heeds these words of wisdom?
Well, Courage probably beats Dignity hollow. And I rather think Johnston is making the suggestion with reference to homosexuals already ordained.
Me, too. It's makes them sound more like Page Six or something rather than serious writers -- "Which well-known northeastern seminary . . .?"
The changes were so gradual over the years that someone like me hardly noticed
My own impression was changes were so fast and furious in the 70s your head would spin; I didn't have a clue about the homosexual subculture, but there are some things I remember now that make a bit more sense knowing it.
Can't help you on Flynn -- as I said, I'd never heard of him.
And I did see the article on St. Pius X Fraternity -- It was heartening to me. I felt sorry for LeFebvre at the time -- I though he was only driven to what he did by a more extreme form of what I was feeling. And all the far more destructive people who were allowed to run free at the same time!
The Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger bent over backwards to accomodate this disobedient man. A deal was arrived at to which he signed his name. The next day he recanted and, not long afterwards, ordained his own Bishops. The SSPX thinks it is the Catholic Church and that Rome is in Schism; it thinks the Mass of Paul VI is invalid or so deficient that assisting at it does not fulfill one's Sunday Obligation; it thinks the Ecumenical Vatican Two Council taught heresy; it thinks it can erect a mirror church with its own Jurisdiction, Mnistry, and Canon Law etc etc.
It is amasing how this great Shepherd, Pope John Paul II keeps seeking out these lost sheep and the lost sheep respond by attacking the Shepherd and refuse to enter the sheepgate until the Vicar of Christ submit to them, the schismatics, and admit that Vatican Two taught error and is not binding , that the normative Mass is deficient and/or invalid, that the Catechism teaches error, that Canon Law must be reconsidered etc etc
Click here to read what they believe in their own words
Q. Aren't you being disobedient to the wishes of the Holy Father?
A. Yes, I am. However, you must understand that although obedience is good - Faith is better and is a virtue of higher rank. Our parents, our Priest, our Bishop or even the Pope cannot command me in obedience to do something against God or my soul. No power on earth is absolute. No one can command me to go to or partake of a Protestant service. "We must obey God rather than man." That was the answer of the Apostles when they were dragged before the Sanhedran.
Q. Why can't I go to the New Mass?
A. For some people it is obvious why a Catholic may not participate in the new service - the, so-called "Novus Ordo Missae." Others just can't see the reason. In Holy Mass we offer and worship Christ who is our sacrifice. In the new service is offered bread and wine, the work of human hands and the fruit of this world. In a word, the Novus Ordo Missae is a Protestant service which has been deceitfully handed to our non-suspecting Catholic people. Unbelieveably, it has been done by our bishops "in the spirit of Vatican II."
Q. Do I fulfill my Sunday obligation by going to the New Mass?
A. No. The Church obliges Catholics to keep holy the Sundays and Holy Days by hearing one whole Mass if they are able to do so. If there is no Mass available, but only the New Mass, I must skip it and keep Holy the Lord's Day by doing the next best thing.
I also believe he is the Archbishop who let Richard Sparks, the author of the notorious "Growing in Love" curriculum personally introduce this curriculum to the Catholic educators in Minneapolis-yes, I've seen the actual materials, and they mention d*ldoes, bestiality, and other such things that are sooo important for Catholic school children to be versed in. If I sound like I'm ranting-I am. I will post links to my wild claims when I settle down a bit.
It couldn't have been stated more clearly and precisely!
According to Goodbye! Good Men, Mt. Saint Mary's is one of the most orthodox and non-gay seminaries in the U.S.
This is an absolute MUST!
I agree with you that JPII is a great shepherd, but while he has been trying to gather all the lost sheep (a wonderful and holy thing to do, IMO. I hope and pray for the reconcilliation of the Orthodox and flocks like the SSPX), JPII has been letting priests/teachers/bishops who are much less orthodox than the flocks JPII has been "echumening" with, teach and preach to the Catholics already in the fold. This has resulted in the mess that we are in now - starting before JPII but freefalling for the last 30+ years. I feel bad saying that, but I always remember that you should take care of your own house before you take care of someone else's. How can we be the light of the world with the state that the Church is in? IMO, the best way to echumenize others is to be a perfect example of Catholic Christianity.