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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
13 Mar 2002
Random Thoughts on Boston, Palm Beach and Related Matters

One priest's take on scandal, scrutiny and accountability

BOSTON - Recent judicial proceedings in Boston have returned public attention to the scandal of priests sexually abusing children and of inadequate and inappropriate responses from bishops to that crime. In the weeks of intense public scrutiny of the Church surrounding the Geoghan case, many voices of criticism have been raised to suggest that the discipline of celibacy is the reason why so many priests become sexually active in sinful and even criminal ways. This is most emphatically not the case, and the available statistical evidence shows that pederasty is no more common among Catholic priests than any other population group. No, it is not the discipline of celibacy which leads priests to sexual misbehavior and predation and neither is it an uncontrollable psychological compulsion in most cases; it is the lack of personal discipline in the lives of many priests which leads to sinful and criminal behavior-a lack of discipline which extends to nearly every part of a priest's life. And this lack of discipline points to the true difficulty: priests are not faithful to their priestly commitments when they are not first faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Since the summer of 1968, a guild of dissent has been a regular feature of life in nearly every diocese, seminary and religious community in Europe and the United States, and the presence of organized opposition to and determined rejection of the teaching of Humanae Vitae has created a culture of promiscuity and mendacity in the presbyterate which serves to allow priests who do not believe what the Church teaches about human sexuality to occupy decision-making offices at the highest levels and to give aid and comfort to other priests who are not living as chaste celibates and have no intention of even attempting to do so. Once a priest is sincerely convinced that the Church is engaged in teaching false doctrine on contraception and human sexuality, he can quiet (and finally kill) his conscience while he engages in sexual activity of any sort, and when the number of such priests reaches a high enough level in a diocese or religious community, the common life and ministry of the presbyterate is corrupted and all but incapable of being reformed without dramatic intervention from outside. In such a climate and given the aggressive homoeroticism of Western culture, a loosely organized network of homosexual priests (usually working closely with radical feminists who yearn for women in the priesthood) quickly gains influence over or even control of the machinery of diocesan governance and communication, and a conspiracy of silence protects those who are known to be sexually active.

...priests are not faithful to their priestly commitments when they are not first faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
The lack of chastity does not cause genuine pedophilia in priests, but the vast majority of priests accused of sexual molestation are not true pedophiles-that is, men attracted to pre-pubescent children. In truth, these men are simply deeply frustrated homosexuals who seek sexual satisfaction from teenage boys who are maturing physically but not emotionally and so present a readily available sexual target. This behavior is sometimes called ephebophilia to distinguish it from genuine pedophilia, but such a distinction can distract us from an essential truth: most of the accused priests are not gripped by a compulsion or psychosis which the will is incapable of resisting; most of them are simply homosexual men who have not been converted from sinful behavior by receiving the Gospel as a call to radical discipleship. These priests live in a homosexual subculture of clerics who regularly socialize and vacation together and who protect each other from discovery. The social atmosphere of support in this degenerate clerical subculture assists the members in justifying their behavior and avoiding any call to repentance or accountability.

Also since the cultural upheavals and sexual revolution of 1960's, the Church has largely followed the lead of secular thought in the use of psychology and related disciplines to address behavioral problems among priests, and there have no doubt been some useful advances in our understanding of the various neuroses and psychoses to which the human mind is vulnerable-pathologies such as genuine pedophilia. At the same time, a large and growing body of scientific literature shows clearly that many of the assumptions of secular psychology contradict truths about the human person known from right reason and divine revelation. Professional associations of secular psychologists, for example, have been in the vanguard of the sexual revolution and have played an indispensable role in the transformation of attitudes about masturbation, pre-marital sexual activity, homosexual desire and activity, and the sexual attraction of some adults to adolescents. In light of this dimension of psychology's role in the formation of contemporary culture, the Church should exercise extreme caution in the use of counselors and psychologists for the evaluation and "treatment" of sexually active priests. Many (perhaps most) secular psychologists believe that the virtue of chastity as the Church understands it is not only not possible to attain, but is also harmful if sought as a norm for human affective behavior. If psychologists begin with such an assumption, how can they possibly assist priests in the search for affective maturity, sexual integration, and peaceful lifelong chastity as celibates?

These priests live in a homosexual subculture of clerics who regularly socialize and vacation together and who protect each other from discovery.
A fundamental question raised by the situation in Boston concerns the way bishops relate to their priests and respond to their moral failures, and this issue also touches the question of discipleship. In the years since the Second Vatican Council, many bishops have excelled as corporate executives, fund raisers, and personnel managers. But if these functions define a bishop's relationship with his priests, then a virus is introduced into the Body Ecclesiastic at its head. A bishop who relates to his priests as a manager rather than as a father in God and brother in Christ teaches them to regard the Church as a bureaucracy, and there is no reason why bureaucrats should sleep alone. Moreover, widespread confusion about the differences between the service of the ordained and the service of the laity in teaching, sanctifying, and governing the Church encourages many priests to wonder why some "ministers" must be celibate and others not. This two-fold assault on a priest's sense of his identity and mission makes it much easier for him to surrender to the Zeitgeist of our culture and rationalize his sexual misbehavior, and this is true for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

In sum, the evangelists need to be evangelized and challenged to ask themselves not why they became and remain priests but why they are and remain Christians. Only in the context of a life of radical discipleship do the sacrifices and counter-cultural witness of priestly living make any sense to the priest himself, and an essential component of this task is the personal evangelical witness of the bishop. If priests must approach their bishop as employees do their employers, then we should not be surprised when priests behave as employees in a hedonistic, sex-saturated society rather than as disciples of Christ seeking to leave everything behind to follow Him. The bishop must be a devoted disciple of Christ, a fearless herald of the Gospel, and a true minister of the sacraments rather than a cautious manager of the local branch of Catholic Church, Inc. Only when the bishop is able to challenge his priests, from his own life of discipleship as well as from his office, to follow Christ in the obedience of faith will significant renewal be found in the presbyterate. But for this to happen, the bishop must first truly understand the real, human situation of his priests and be able to speak to them with courage and authenticity about pornography, homosexuality, promiscuity, and masturbation in the context of the struggle for self-mastery. This task cannot be delegated to others, and the bishop must speak as a witness to the Gospel, not as an acolyte for secular psychology. This does not mean, however, that the bishop should spout pious platitudes; we need simple, straightforward, honest talk about sexual desire, the realities of modern life, the search for chastity, and the cost of discipleship, and priests should hear such words from their own bishop.

What is not needed is more conferences and small group discussions moderated by secular psychologists (including priests and religious) who are purveyors of the therapeutic culture of secular psychology. The struggle for chastity is part of the quest for holiness, not a search for wholeness, and the anthropology behind the secular approach is antithetical to much of what the Church knows about the human person. Gaudium et Spes proclaims the Church to be an expert in humanity, and so she is. We should be more self-confident in explaining to our own people (including priests) the truths we believe about the human person and less ready to rely upon trendy and questionable theories and techniques of secular psychology. And the place for this self-confident reliance on Christian anthropology to begin is in the seminary. Too many seminaries are refuges for the sort of homosexual subculture described above, and in such places the seminarians are gradually seduced by and initiated into the culture of promiscuity and mendacity which poisons the priesthood. Seminaries conducted by religious congregations are particularly apt to succumb to the homosexual subculture because of the ease with which a determined guild of dissent can control a religious community or secular institute, and for this reason they should receive exceptionally close scrutiny.

The claim that the bishops were "just following the best professional advice available" is fatuous at best and disingenuous at worst.
Because unchaste homosexuals are almost exclusively the offenders in the cases we know about and because the guild of dissent is largely constituted by unchaste homosexuals, one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that our problems could be solved by excluding from ordination all men who experience stable and exclusive homoerotic desire. But to reach such a conclusion would be to miss a key point. The existence of persistent homoerotic desire in a seminarian or priest does not mean that he will be unchaste, that he will violate children, that he will be effeminate, or that he will be unable or unwilling to teach the Gospel in its integrity. If the Catechism is to be believed (and surely it is), a homosexual who freely follows Jesus in the Way of the Cross can find his affliction a path to holiness. Yes, among homosexual bishops and priests there are many scoundrels, but there are also many saints. To try to protect the Church from the scoundrels by simply turning away all homosexual seminarians would also deprive us of the saints.

Many upright homosexual priests are among our most effective pastors, while many unchaste homosexual priests are bold apologists for the gay rights movement. The chief difference between the two is genuine belief in revealed religion and the power of grace to shape virtuous human lives in the truth of the Gospel. The crisis in the Church is not caused by the what arouses the erotic desire of priests; the crisis is caused by what priests believe and how those beliefs shape their lives. Those priests who reject evangelical truth about human sexuality and then shape their lives according to the doctrines of the sexual revolution constitute the guild of dissent, and it is the guild of dissent which presents the continuing threat to the good order of the Church and the impediment to beginning in earnest the New Evangelization.

Ecclesia semper reformanda. The Church today needs a renewal of priestly living founded upon radical discipleship, and for such reformation to occur, we must have bishops who are bold evangelists because they are first of all dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ-men who are able to inspire others by their witness to repent of sin and believe in the Gospel. The qualities now looked for in candidates for the episcopate seem not to serve very well this dimension of the bishop's office, and in consequence too many bishops function as managers rather than live as disciples and evangelists. Until and unless this changes, we should not expect more priests to find peaceful chastity as a way of life; we should expect more priests to be arrested for sexual crimes.

One final consideration. Many of the priests who sexually abused boys were "treated" by "experts" who then certified that they could be returned to duty, and it is commonly asserted that this was a reasonable thing to do at that time based on the understanding in the recent past of sexual deviance. If the offending priests, however, had been embezzling money instead of having intercourse with boys committed to their care, they would never have been permitted to remain on the job. The claim that the bishops were "just following the best professional advice available" is fatuous at best and disingenuous at worst. These clerical criminals were given gentle treatment because of the special protection extended to sexual misbehavior by the guild of dissent. Until and unless the guild of dissent is stripped of its influence in the naming of bishops and the administration of dioceses, seminaries, and religious communities, the culture of promiscuity and mendacity will continue to thrive and clerical sexual crimes will go unaddressed until and unless civil legal authorities become involved.

That two child molesters should be elevated to the episcopate is bad enough; that a confessed child molester should be appointed to replace a confessed child molester is grotesquely negligent.
PALM BEACH - While he was a high school seminary rector in the 1970's, Anthony O'Connell sexually molested at least one teenage boy enrolled in his seminary for three years. In 1988, O'Connell agreed to accept episcopal ordination, despite knowing that he was a child molester. In 1996, O'Connell participated in a money settlement with the boy he molested (by then a man) arranged by the Diocese of Jefferson City. In early 1998, Keith Symons resigned as Bishop of Palm Beach after confessing that he molested five teenage boys while he was a priest. In late 1998, O'Connell agreed to be translated from the Diocese of Knoxville to the Diocese of Palm Beach, despite his knowledge of his own confessed molestation of a minor and the circumstances of his predecessor's resignation. Finally, no one in the Diocese of Jefferson City prevented O'Connell's transfer from Knoxville despite their knowledge of the settlement made two years earlier.

That two child molesters should be elevated to the episcopate is bad enough; that a confessed child molester should be appointed to replace a confessed child molester is grotesquely negligent. The simple facts of this shameful episode demonstrate several systemic problems in the selection, appointment, and translation of bishops:

  1. The bishops and priests responsible for identifying and vetting candidates for the episcopate are not asking the right questions of and about priests deemed suitable to become bishops.

  2. Priests being considered for episcopal ordination need to be questioned in detail (and preferably under oath) about their own sexual histories before they are finally selected for the episcopate.

  3. Bishops being considered for translation to another see should be questioned in detail (and preferably under oath) about their own sexual histories before a decision is made.

  4. The personal and professional qualities sought in candidates for the episcopate need to be subjected to careful reevaluation. What traits in a priest indicate that he will be able to teach, sanctify, and govern a diocese with personal courage and evangelical zeal?

  5. More effective ways of identifying priests worthy to become bishops must be found. Given the now evident corruption of this process among clerics, these more effective ways will necessarily involve wide consultation of the lay faithful in some form.

Even more than from their priests, the People of God rightly expect from their bishops both clear teaching and upright living of evangelical truth. Priests being considered for the episcopate should have this just expectation of the Church brought home to them in the most forceful and personal way before they are permitted to accept appointment. A single and sudden telephone call from the nuncio with the offer of episcopal ordination and without adequate time for consideration of the offer and its consequences clearly does not permit the sort of serious reflection necessary for a priest to make a prudent and responsible decision. Anthony O'Connell should never have been offered episcopal ordination, and having been offered it, he should never have accepted it. And having been consecrated and installed in Knoxville, he should never have accepted translation to Palm Beach. And yet in each case, that which should not have been came to pass. This scandalous and shameful case demands a careful review and reform of the entire process of identifying, testing, and selecting priests considered worthy to be bishops.

Fr. Jay Scott Newman, JCL
Greenville, SC

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