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First Steps in Pastoral Restoration

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 30, 2003

The scandal concerning the Diocese of Portland discussed below ought to be shocking to Catholics, and that for two reasons: first, on account of the staggeringly depraved crimes of the priests involved -- of which their abuse of the sacrament of confession is far and away the most serious; second, on account of the lenience of the bishops. Can any bishop expect single-handedly to solve a problem of this magnitude? Perhaps not. But a bishop who had the will to tackle the corruption could take these minimal steps:

  • He would black-flag the priest known to be involved. If canon law required that his salary be continued, he would willingly pay the price provided he was removed from ministry.
  • He would call in the vocation director who approved the malefactor for a pointed conversation. He would make a list of all priests recruited by the same man and examine them closely for irregularities of doctrine and lifestyle. He would suspend those who proved refractory.
  • He would make great efforts to find out what occurred during the bad priest's formation. Who ran the seminary he attended? Who was the spiritual director? Who were his instructors, especially in moral and sacramental theology? What other priests of his diocese studied under the same men? Do they give evidence of similar problems?
  • He would communicate his problem to other bishops and superiors of religious orders, asking them for help in identifying other priests in collusion with his own villain and in identifying patterns of corruption.
  • He would communicate the problem (in suitable terms) to the laity of his diocese, possibly through the diocesan newspaper, as a way of soliciting information about harm done by the offending priest and in order to reassure the faithful that their spiritual well-being was important.
  • He would make an extensive pastoral visitation of the parish at which the bad priest worked, speaking with as many parishioners as possible, looking for evidence of moral and spiritual damage wrought, especially in areas such as homilizing, counseling, marriage preparation, and RCIA. He would immediately take concrete steps to remedy doctrinal and spiritual defects, such as bringing in rock-solid Catholics -- from another state, if necessary -- for parish missions, retreats, and catechesis.
  • He would personally do penance in reparation for the scandal.

NB: any bishop -- however poorly situated, however obstructionist his chancery and hostile his prebyterate -- could take these actions, which require nothing more than a concern for souls and a capacity to be appalled by sacrilege. It is unlikely that all of them would meet with success, but each would communicate to the faithful that their salvation was more important to the bishop than his comfort or his career.

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