Rampant Sin and Cold Love

Priests need to stop accompanying sin and call out the abusers and heretics in their midst.

A few years ago, I wrote a column about “Father Smith,” whose degenerate conduct still remains a source of deep sorrow to me.

As I wrote there, I cannot understand how a holy priest and good man descended into the depths of depravity and became part of the evil which came shriekingly to light in and about 2002, and even after.

There is, tragically, much more to that particular and general ignominy. The Father Smiths who preyed on adolescents, and others, had “friends.”  And their friends had friends. And some of those friends knew what “Father Smith” was doing. In turn, they did and said nothing to halt the monstrous evil being perpetrated by “friends,” predators in priestly collars.

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Fifty years ago, Irving Janis wrote about Groupthink, the psychological drive for consensus within a group. “Groupthink” impedes or prevents the kind of independent thinking and analysis that prompts members of the group to ask, “We are not going to do something really stupid here, are we?” Groups of priests are subject to the same psychological stresses as are others in, say, business or government. The “groupthink phenomenon” may well inhibit their asking, “We aren’t going to do—or tolerate—something really evil here, are we?”

In colleges with honor codes that have non-toleration causes (meaning that students or cadets must report instances of lying, cheating, or stealing), there is often resistance to what is seen, mistakenly, as “snitching,” or informing on someone, even a friend. But there is a verity above friendship—justice, which may oblige one to put cold (but bona fide) principle ahead of warm (but, in this instance, guilty) people. When “good” priests failed to report the predations of malevolent priests, they “groupthinkingly” sinned grievously.

By their cowardly silence, they aided and abetted perversion. By their willingness to tolerate sexual predators—to look the other way, to hear and to see no evil (cf. Psalm 1:1)—they gave aid and comfort to the enemy.  

In this case, the enemy to whom they gave succor was not an armed menace to the Republic (see the Constitution, Article III, Section 3, which defines “treason”), but the greatest Enemy of us all (see 1 Peter 5:8). The priests innocent of sexually violating the young, but who knew of the depravities, nevertheless were guilty of manifest grave evil themselves in tolerating such evil. They were, in fact, traitors, for they betrayed the Gospel; they disavowed our Lord as surely as did Judas.

But in current favor is the noun accompaniment, which may imply or endorse a go-along-to-get-along attitude. In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More, who refused to sign a statement saying that King Henry was head of the Church in England, was asked by a friend to sign it “for fellowship.” Bolt has More reply: “And when you go to Heaven for following your conscience and I am consigned to Hell for not following mine, will you come with me for fellowship?” Whom do we “accompany,” and how far do we go? Can it be that St. Paul was right in agreeing with the admonition: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33)?

The Church has traditionally taught nine ways of cooperation with evil: commanding it; consenting to it; counseling it; concealing it; praising it; provoking it; partaking in it; remaining silent about it; and, by sophistry, defending it. Not only, though, do we read or hear little today about these nine ways of cooperating with evil, we study the contemporary Catechism in vain (see #2447) to find the work of mercy that the Baltimore Catechism (item #192) used to list as the first spiritual work of mercy: to admonish the sinner. 

The USCCB website does manage to tell us that “we must strive to create a culture that does not accept sin,” while warning us to remember that “we all fall at times”; that we must be humble and not arrogant; be non-judgmental, certain to remove the beam from our own eye before we care about the splinter in our brother’s eye; and, naturally, the bromide that “We should journey together to a deeper understanding of our shared faith.”

This is morally flaccid, spineless, and jejune. It is small wonder that we, too, often have episcopal and presbyteral “leadership” that accommodates the culture, that does not speak out about the evil of our day, that will not denounce heresy masquerading as “development of doctrine.” Forgotten is Ezekiel’s warning that if we do not denounce the evil in others then we will accompany them to perdition (see 33:8; cf. Lamentations 2:14).  

  • No more of the evidently outdated notion that we must “convince, rebuke, and exhort,” whether the time is convenient or not (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2). 
  • No more of the adjuration in Leviticus—“Rebuke your neighbor[s] frankly so you will not share in their guilt” (19:17).
  • No more of the “old-fashioned” teaching of St. Paul that, with love and “replenished with all knowledge, . . .you are able to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14, Douay-Rheims).
  • No more of Luke that, “if your brother sins, rebuke him” (17:3)
  • No more of the Proverb that “wounds from a friend may be accepted as well meant” (27:6; cf. Psalm 141:5).

So, we have a Maciel, whose followers utterly misunderstood what loyalty truly demands; a Martin, whose writing and speaking about homosexuality directly contradict the Magisterium, but whose followers (and those who invite him to speak) think is morally stylish and oh-so au courant; and a “Father Smith,” whose “friends” had neither the backbone nor the will to report to the police for prosecution.  

We will thus continue to have “gay Masses in churches festooned with rainbow flags, and “gay-friendly” Catholic campuses, and parades honoring saints laced with gay marchers and featuring a beaming cardinal of the Catholic Church.

This is theological scandal, which “damages virtue and integrity” and “may even draw [people] into spiritual death” (CCC #2284). Thus, we have the warning found in Hebrews: “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (12:15; cf. 3:12). This admonition is based upon the “root of bitterness” described in Deuteronomy (29:18-19), in which the dangers of moral infection are described.

The “Father Smith” of my youth was part of what was subsequently called a “priests’ ring,” which preyed upon boys. Were there then no brother priests to denounce him? Or were those who knew (but were not part of the actual ring) so concerned about being “humble and non-judgmental” that they supinely—and smilingly—ignored the monsters in their midst?

Or were those many instances of cooperation with evil—the silence and the concealment—just plain cowardice? And did anyone tell those who participated in the evil by looking the other way and saying nothing that, as cowards, they, too, would buy their tickets to Hell (see Revelation 21:8)?

There is, then, a pressing question today for us. The sin around us is rampant. Has it made our love of God and of God’s commandments grow cold? Are we so eager for popularity (cf. John 12:43, Galatians 1:10, and 1 Thessalonians 2:4) that we will not admonish the sinner? Are we so afraid of being called “traditional,” or “old-fashioned,” or “biased” that we abandon what is good and true and beautiful—that we become traitors to the Gospel—to preserve the good opinion of our “friends”?

Is this what we teach, what we preach, what we exalt? Do we betray our Lord to keep fraudulent “friends,” to sit on a dais, to march in a parade, to host a sacrilegious event in our parish, sycophantically to sponsor speakers who deny or denounce or disparage the Faith? I’d rather just have the thirty pieces of silver.

[Image credit: Shutterstock]

  • Deacon James H. Toner

    Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of Morals Under the Gun and other books. He has also taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He serves in the Diocese of Charlotte.

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