Problem? What problem?
Retired Cleveland priest Dan McBride pleaded guilty to exploring praxis-centered ways of being church. With an underage youth. He got three years, suspended, and his photo in the paper. An article by Kevin Hoffman in the Scene paints a squalid picture of gay prostitution, drugs, boy-swapping, and contemporary moral theology. Especially the moral theology:
They compared notes on seeing clergy in gay bars. Then Burkhart stammered as he asked McBride a personal question: "So, whenever you had sex ... were you bound to go to confession and confess it before you said Mass?"
"Well, you were supposed to, yes," McBride said.
"Do you think all these priests do?"
"No," McBride said. "I think they changed their minds and decided it's not a sin."
The conversation with Fr. McBride above was secretly recorded by Lt. Douglas Burkhart, himself gay and the head of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Dept. Sex Crimes unit, and as such it's not easily dismissible. Hoffman portrays McBride as a bumbling, half-pathetic queen, easily gulled by a low-life manipulator ("McBride bought me a six-pack of Bacardi Silver, Newport Lights, and a CD") and to that extent an object of pity.
All beside the point.
Who has been chiefly wronged by the Father McBrides? Believing Catholics. Some -- no one knows how many -- of our pastors have "changed their minds and decided [gay sex] is not a sin." Well, do they announce this fact to us? Did McBride put a notice outside his confessional as a warning to his penitents: "PLEASE NOTE -- THIS CONFESSOR HAS DEPARTED FROM CATHOLIC MORAL DOCTRINE"? Don't bet on it. The contracepting couples and tormented adolescents who came to him for counsel or absolution almost certainly thought they were dealing with a Catholic, as opposed to a former Catholic, priest.
We can respect, grudgingly, a cleric who comes to believe the Church is wrong and who forthrightly admits his apostasy and departs from his ministry. We can view with sympathy a mentally damaged old man who clings to a sporadically indulged Catholicism while repeatedly overmastered by homosexual temptations. But McBride and (if we are to believe Thomas Gumbleton) the many, many, many bishops who share his "change of mind" deserve neither the respect nor the sympathy. They are defectors in place. They cynically exploit the Church because the clerical life provides the two things they want most: comfort and cover.
An overstatement? Take an afternoon and study the debates and voting patterns of the USCCB/NCCB over the past twenty years. On any issue for which there exists an official Vatican line (be it liturgy, medical care, education, religious life, morality generally), can you find a single instance in which the majority of the U.S. bishops has not worked to soften or emasculate the Holy See's stance? Well, you may find an exception or a near-miss on refugee policy or third-world debt, but the more theological the problem the more problematic the American thrust. Not a coincidence.
(Thanks to Mark Shea for the head's up)
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