End Notes: It Didn’t Just Happen

Bishops are the successors of the apostles—several times removed,in most cases. Listening to official statements prompted by the outing of priestly pedophiles has been a lot like hearing Lent described in terms of dieting rather than fasting. New guidelines are in place, we are told; past mistakes will not be repeated. One would have thought that the relevant guidelines had been around for millennia. But then one of the most alarming aspects of this genuine crisis in the Church is the absence of a Christian perspective on it.

“When the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church first encountered sexual abuse of children and young adults by our clergy, we saw it as a moral failing to be addressed by penance…. Today, heightened seminary screening processes attempt to identify and weed out unhealthy candidates for the priesthood. Workshops are designed to help people define and understand boundaries, with the assurance that the law will address those unable to abide by them.” Thus spake Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Gregory regards it as progress to stop talking about sin—of course he can’t say the word; he prefers “moral failing”—and penance. Dear God, how medieval. And wouldn’t you love to sit in on a workshop designed to help people define and understand boundaries? Designed by whom? On what basis? And what in God’s name is meant by defining boundaries anyway? How about recognizing those set up by natural and divine law? Obviously, the bishops are enamored of techniques, manipulation, and tests, all designed to weed out “unhealthy” candidates for the priesthood. And in what would health consist?

Asked about that, Bishop Gregory once said bishops have to be “wary of those who seek to save the Church. Be cautious of those who too quickly and almost universally find enemies or clandestine motives in those ‘out there.'” In short, if this view prevails, the future of our seminaries is going to be like their recent past—the past that has gotten us into this mess.

 

Michael S. Rose’s Goodbye! Good Men has just been published by Aquinas Publishing Ltd. It tells how Catholic seminaries have turned away two generations of vocations from the priesthood. The shortage of priests, in other words, is artificial and contrived. The kind of weeding out the bishops seem to favor has insured that orthodox young men with a robust faith and spiritual life have either been kept out of seminaries or treated like pariahs if they got in and then were driven out. How would you like to be asked how many times you masturbate by some gatekeeping shrink when you applied for admission to a seminary? How would you like defiance of Church teaching on the ordination of women to be a condition for admission? How would you like your normal abhorrence to sexual perversion regarded as a sign of moral obtuseness?

There are seminaries in this country that are notorious for their predilection for sexual perverts. One is known as the Pink Palace. No one reading Rose’s book will be surprised at what is now all over the media. Our bishops have known about such scandals all along, and they have treated them in the three-monkeyed manner they now treat pedophiles. Good men have been systematically weeded out. It is not simply that the moral theology taught in seminaries is very likely opposed to Catholic doctrine and that the Mass is not a prominent part of the day; the behavior in many seminaries has turned them into Augean stables.

It is not enough to turn hitherto sheltered offenders over to the public prosecutor. The bishops have to get to the root of the problem. And the root of the problem is that many of our seminaries have been producing clueless clerics. And now we have bishops resigning. This didn’t just happen. Not long ago Bishop Robert Lynch mused that “we almost have a hang-up with sex. We expect people to live up to such a high ideal of sexual conduct, and we don’t allow any failure. And when some do fail, we don’t always handle it right.” Lynch recently succeeded Bishop O’Connell, who resigned when he was accused of pedophilia. “I would say that I was extremely ill-advised and naive in that approach,” O’Connell said, showing that like Lynch he has got the hang of the new moral theology.

It is time for the bishops to wake up and be bishops. Conversion is called for. Weight-watchers won’t do it. This kind is driven out only by prayer and fasting.

Ralph McInerny

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Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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