Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

hangin' in there after 2 strikes

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 23, 2010

Father Joe Pat Breen has apologized for telling the world that the Church “made a mistake on birth control” and arguing that Catholics are not obligated to obey the Pope, the Nashville diocese tells us. In making that announcement, the diocese also lets it slip that Father Breen is a second-time offender.

Today it’s Bishop David Choby requiring the wayward priest to apologize. The diocese tells us: 

In addition, he has agreed to no longer voice his private concerns publically or in the media as required by a document presented to him by Bishop Edward Kmiec in 1993. 
So back in 1993 he was spouting his own “private concerns” until his bishop blew the whistle, whereupon he agreed to stop. But obviously he didn’t stop, as his recent notoriety demonstrates.

“The Church expects him to work in unity with its authentic teaching as handed down through the pope and the bishops,” Bishop Choby now says. Is that really what a reasonable person would expect? Given his track record, it seems far more likely that Father Breen will encourage dissent from Church teachings; the only question is how vigorously he will dare to express that encouragement.

Bishop Choby’s affirmation of Church teaching is good, strong, and welcome:

It is simply wrong to state, as Father Breen has repeatedly, that one’s conscience frees an individual from the truth revealed and instilled in Church teaching. A deep understanding of Church teaching is, in fact essential to a fully formed conscience, and helps guide an individual in making the distinction between one’s opinions and a decision based soundly on the foundation of a rightly formed conscience. One who chooses to act contrary to Church teaching acts outside of the revealed truth of God’s will.

Nevertheless the fact remains that Father Breen, who has at least twice crossed the line into open dissent, remains a pastor. He expects to be pastor of St. Edward’s church until his scheduled retirement at the end of 2011. And what he “expects” of the diocese is much more likely to be fulfilled than what the Church “expects” of him. 

Any American priest who is credibly accused of abusing a child is immediately suspended from ministry, under the terms of the US bishops’ policies: one strike and you’re out. Father Breen has now been accused twice of what one might call doctrinal abuse, and the evidence to support the charges is voluminous. Still he remains on the job: not just as a priest but as a pastor of souls. Our bishops have learned to take the welfare of children seriously, and for that, thank God. Now if they will just take doctrine seriously, too…

Bishop Choby gave Father Breen one more chance, one more time. “In recognition of his many years of good work among the people of his parish, I want to give Father Breen every opportunity to correct the errors in his teaching, and gracefully enter retirement,” he said. The “many years of good work” could be called into question, but that’s not the way we operate, now is it? One recalls another prelate’s statement of support for a priest who had encountered a bit of trouble:

"Yours has been an effective ministry, sadly marred by illness." 

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