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Applets & Oranges

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 20, 2003

An Orange County Roman Catholic priest has been accused of having child-pornographic images on his computer, yet the Diocese of Orange continues to let him serve as a priest, using legalistic excuses why child porn doesn't fall under the diocese's "zero tolerance" policy. The diocese doesn't want you to know who the priest is, where he is serving or whether he is anywhere near children.

So begins an editorial by Steven Greenhut in today's Orange County Register. According to Greenhut, one Fernando Guido found kiddie porn on a laptop previously owned by a priest of the Diocese of Orange. He notified the diocese, which did the right thing insofar as it referred the matter to the police. The police decided not to pursue the matter, according to Guido, because the porn images may have been only pop-up ads. The priest was permitted to resume ministry. But now it gets interesting.

In his letter to the DA, Guido explains his frustration: "I am deeply disappointed at the diocese because they decided to only give him 'psychological help.' But if history can teach us anything about these types of cases, one can see that this does not help. Many of the priests who have been convicted of child molestation or rape were given psychological help at one time or another. I would have wanted to see him ... removed from any activity where he has contact with minors. I just see him as a walking time bomb." ... Guido said the diocese told him the accused priest admitted having "sexual immaturities."

There are lots of holes in the story as reported, and it isn't clear whether the "psychological help" in question was diagnostic or therapeutic in nature, or whether the diocese has taken disciplinary measures with respect to priest in question that it hasn't made public. From the information given it's far from obvious -- to me, at any rate -- that the diocese violated its Zero Tolerance policy.

And that's the point. No policy, however meticulously enforced, can exhaust the number of ways in which a priest may render himself unserviceable as a minister of the Gospel. The Orange County Register pushes the pedophilia button as hard as it can in the editorial, and frames the story as a children-at-risk shocker. But even if the man in question is not a sexual threat to children or to anyone else, his dalliance with porn means something is seriously wrong with his heart, with his priesthood. We don't expect the newspapers to bother about what makes a good priest, but we might well expect the diocese to care.

Writing about the laws of prosody to be followed in composing poetry, Dr. Johnson said, "Rules may obviate faults, but can never confer beauties" -- i.e., a poet may dutifully avoid any blunders in meter and scansion, and still come up with a bad poem. Analogously, the policies which the bishops enact in response to the Crisis may eliminate clergy who commit sexual felonies. That does not mean that the priests will be holy men. That does not mean that the spiritual harms caused by priests will be diminished in any measure whatsoever. The culture of moral defeatism that penalizes crimes but tolerates objectively disordered sexuality has enfeebled the priesthood and the episcopacy as well.

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