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An impenitent penitent and his political supporters

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 20, 2014

During a sacramental confession, a priest says something to which the penitent objects. The penitent lodges a complaint. The priest, bound by the seal of confession, cannot defend himself; he cannot say anything at all. If the angry penitent can find someone willing to listen to his complain, it becomes a one-sided argument. We don't even know whether the priest actually said what the penitent accuses him of saying.

Still, in a recent incident described in a Washington Post story, the penitent himself has said enough to give readers an understanding of what probably happened. Ronald Plishka, the penitent, is a self-identified homosexual, apparently (from what he told the Post) active and planning to remain active. If he said as much in confession, then the priest, Father Brian Coelho, could not absolve him, since a valid confession requires a purpose of amendment.

What we have here, then, is an increasingly familiar phenomenon: a Catholic who wants the sacraments, but wants them administered entirely on his own terms—someone who wants the consolations of a faith that he no longer professes. It’s a sad story, and doubly said because Plishka, as described in the Post story, seems to have been surprised to learn that he could not have absolution for the asking, that he might be required to adhere to the teachings of the Church he claims to embrace.

But there is an ominous aspect of the Post story, too. The Washington Hospital Center, where Plishka was a patient at the time of the incident, has announced that chaplains like Father Coelho are expected to “adhere to our values,” which include unquestioning support for homosexual patients. “Our Department of Spiritual Care has reinforced our expectations with this particular priest and his superiors,” the hospital said.

What happens the next time a patient at the Washington Hospital Center complains that a priest urged him to cease his homosexual activities? Will he be removed from his post as chaplain? And if that happens at the Washington Hospital Center, how many months—or weeks, or days—will pass before military chaplains face similar problems?

There will not be a frontal assault on the religious liberty of Catholics in the US. The pressure will be more subtle; the restrictions will come at the margin. But the pressure is mounting, to bring the Church under political control.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: FredC - Feb. 23, 2014 4:17 PM ET USA

    The patient must have signed in as a Catholic or requested a priest come; otherwise, the priest would not have been there. The patient initiated the action. He asked for it.

  • Posted by: Leopardi - Feb. 22, 2014 10:28 AM ET USA

    Of course there is NO obligation to conform to WHC "values" in this context! That's the reason "outside" help is solicited to comfort patients according to the precepts OF THEIR OWN FAITH (and we're asked what that faith is pre-admission). Otherwise a hospital administrator or the guy in the next bed could do it.(or a 'candy stripper')

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Feb. 21, 2014 11:00 AM ET USA

    And where is our good Cardinal Wuerl...?

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Feb. 20, 2014 7:55 PM ET USA

    What did one expect. Must sue the Wahington Hospital Center on the implication of Freedom of Religion. This is another sly move by a homosexual who has no intention of following the doctrines of the Church. This smells like a set up. It needs to be fought.