protecting children--from what?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 14, 2011

Father Joseph Waters, the rector of the cathedral is St. Petersburg, Florida, seems to have an unfortunate knack for exposing himself to criticism. But leaving aside past controversies, the latest round of criticism—coming from parents who are upset about what the priest might have said to their children during confessions—appears wholly unjustified, even dangerous. 

According to the unhappy parents, Father Waters asked questions about masturbation and pornography when he heard the confessions of middle-school students at the Cathedral School of St. Jude. Some parents say these questions endanger “the safety of our children.”

Father Waters is quite rightly refusing to reveal anything at all about what took place in the confessional, but he insists that he was fulfilling his duty as a confessor. The diocese supported him, expressing “the utmost confidence” in the priest. The parents remain unsatisfied.

We don’t know what happened, and it’s certainly possible for a priest to ask inappropriate questions on those topics. But the facts, as presented by a local TV station, suggest a problem with the parents rather than the priest. Parents should always protect their children from harm-- including the harm done by sin. Insofar as the priest was seeking to protect children from sin, he and the parents should have been working together. 

Masturbation and the use of pornography are epidemic problems among American adolescents. If he raised these questions in a way that disturbed innocent students, then Father Waters deserved a rebuke. But if he feared that a young Catholics might be developing a habit of serious sin, he was right to press the question. 

One of the many devastating effects of the sex-abuse scandal is the tendency to raise the alarm whenever a priest mentions sexual matters, especially with children. But in a society that is steeped in sexual sin, good priests must raise those questions—especially when they are trying to form the consciences of impressionable young people. 

Many children of middle-school age are still quite innocent. But many others are not, and even the most innocent will soon face the full flood of sexual temptations. Magazine kiosks and cable TV will invite them to view pornography; sex-ed counselors will encourage them to masturbate. It would be tragic if parental pressure discouraged priests from leading young people away from all those temptations.

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: annedanielson4099 - Jan. 15, 2011 4:51 PM ET USA

    Although a Good Priest should be able to respond appropriately in regards to sexual matters that may be confessed in the Confessional, a Good Priest would not raise sexual matters in the Confessional. It is only logical to assume that innocent children would be concerned, as they should be, if a priest raised sexual matters in the Confessional.

  • Posted by: quinn1971 - Jan. 15, 2011 10:20 AM ET USA

    The source of the problem evidenced by the parents not the priest, is the loss of the sense of any sin. With Catholics contracepting and aborting at the same rate as non Catholics what's a little porn and self abuse? When's the last time anyone heard Humanae Vitae or any sexual morality preached from the pulpit? We need to pray more for our Bishops and priests.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2011 5:17 AM ET USA

    I read the article; why am I not surprised to see SNAP embroiled? Sheesh. So the one lady can't remember when a priest ever asked her about sexuality in the confessional? Maybe that's the problem? Maybe they should have? Just a thought....

  • Posted by: tcardine - Jan. 14, 2011 7:03 PM ET USA

    The real harm is the disrespect and lack of prudence on the part of the parents. If the children said something that disturbed the parents, the parents should have accepted this as an opportunity to open a discussion that is important to have with adolescents. Causing a big stink, displaying outrage toward a parish priest - as seen through a child's eyes - equates to disrespect of the Church and the Catholic faith.