Coping with scandal: what everyone can do
Perhaps the most prescient article that I ever published in my years as an editor, and certainly the most controversial, is The Gay Priest Problem, by Father Paul Shaughnessy, SJ, which appeared in the November 2000 issue of Catholic World Report. The concluding section of that piece, offering some advice to the faithful, seems newly relevant today in the wake of the McCarrick scandal:
Each of us, according to his station in life, can make a modest contribution to the renewal.
WHAT ROME CAN DO:
Require Heads on Platters. No man should be made a bishop, and no bishop should be promoted, unless he embraces authentic Catholic doctrine about sexual morality and leads a morally upright life. But the first condition is too easy to fake; anyone can give lip service to the teaching. Therefore no man should be elevated unless he has a track record as a head-cracker and has cleaned up problems of sexual wrongdoing, by dismissing gay seminarians or seminary faculty, for example, or by getting rid of miscreants at a university chaplaincy. The reason is that gays are perfectly prepared to let one of their own number mouth Church teaching if by so doing he earns a promotion, but if a man exposes their iniquity and acts against it, they will retaliate fiercely if there is any ammunition to be had, any wrongdoing, that is, in their adversary’s past. They will do the necessary vetting out of vindictiveness. Keep in mind that this goes for heterosexual mischief as well. Rome should make it clear that, before a man can be considered episcopal material, he needs scalps hanging from his belt. God knows there is no shortage of opportunities.
WHAT BISHOPS CAN DO:
Do Ask, Do Tell. The policy should be made explicit that homosexuals are not admitted into the seminaries. Inter alia, this will result in an increase in vocations, and those of the right kind. Ordained priests found to be homosexual should be given the option of seeking reparative therapy by which they may be freed from their disorder, or else obliged to cease ministry. The time for gentler solutions is past.
Abolish General Absolution. It doesn’t take great imagination to guess who has the deepest investment in absolution without confession. End it.
Restore Simplicity to Priestly Life. Physical comfort is the oxygen that feeds the fires of homosexual indulgence. Cut it off. When you enter a rectory, take a look at the liquor cabinet, the videos, the wardrobe, the slick magazines, and ask yourself, “Do I get the impression that the man who lives here is in the habit of saying no to himself?” If the answer is negative, the chances are that his life of chastity is in disorder as well. It goes without saying that reforming bishops should lead by example in this department and not simply exhort.
WHAT LAYMEN CAN DO:
Challenge Priests Uneasy with their Priesthood. When a priest leaves the rectory not wearing clerical garb, one needn’t automatically assume that he does so to engage in unnatural vice. It may be natural vice. But there is almost never a good reason for a priest to wear mufti away from home. Confront him. Don’t be taken in by the excuse that it’s his day off. You don’t take a vacation from your priesthood any more than you take a vacation from your marriage. A pastor who sees that a parishioner has left his wedding ring behind on his “boys’ night out” has the duty to ask for an explanation; by the same token layfolk should not be shy about confronting priests who put off the outward signs of their priesthood. It could be that monsignor doesn’t want to get his collar caught in the gear puller while replacing the main bearings on the parish van; if so, he’ll be delighted to explain.
Use your Checkbook as a Carrot and Stick. Remember that when your pastoral associate flies to Rio during Mardi Gras you’re footing the bill. Don’t be silent partners in corruption. When a scandal involving a priest hits the papers, first, cut out the pertinent news article; second, write a check for $100 to the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns); third, when you receive a request for donations from the outfit in which the scandal occurred, enclose the article in the return envelope along with a photocopy of your check to the MCs and a note to this effect: “My previous contributions were intended for the support of my pastors and the propagation of the faith. From now on you can pay for your own K-Y jelly and your own AZT. I will resume my donations when you have cleaned the stables.” They’ll get the message. Just as important, when a bishop or religious superior shows some spine by a gutsy dismissal or intervention, send him a note telling him what you think, and include a check as well.
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