By Fr. Wilson (articles ) | Oct 10, 2003

In my diocese (Brooklyn), the vicar general makes a huge effort to see to it that he knows where priests "released from diocesan assignment" are, and that contact is kept up with them. Years ago, there were 150 Brooklyn priests in that status -- some teaching, some serving in dioceses elsewhere, some not in assignments. The Bishop began recalling the externs to work here, so I'm sure there are fewer today.

Unfortunately, there are some priests who simply cannot be in assignments, because of the havoc they wreak. If you have a healthy priest or two living with someone who is deranged, you're going to end up with three very stressed priests.

But I have no idea how one would devise a system for keeping track of these guys. As careful as our VG is with this, we still had the case this week of a Brooklyn priest arrested for obscene phone calls, whose apartment was awash with pron, Nazi paraphernalia and bags of bills looted from a Long Island church's collection plate. He had been released from diocesan assignment since 1968, by which time he had been ordained four years and had had three parish assignments. Obviously, he was a disaster in parish ministry. Released to teach, he did so, living in a residence he inherited from his folks.

How do you keep tabs on a guy like him? As I've said, I think our VG is scrupulously careful about this, but surely you can't send in swat teams of chancery staffers to sweep through a private residence. It's a daunting task. I'm glad it isn't my job.

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 11, 2003 7:03 PM ET USA

    St. Theresa relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to guide her novices. St. Francis of Assisi knew the internal dispositions, both the strengths and the weaknesses of each of the original ancient friars, and even perdicted their destinies. St. Anthony, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to anticipate the elopement of a discouraged friar and was able to reverse the situation. Quiz question, What is the common element? Try Holy Spirit. JP, Charismatic, and I don't dance at Mass.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 11, 2003 10:29 AM ET USA

    We have to consider that if a priest is neurotic or anti-social then he is having some spiritual (and mental) problems and we need to take a long-term view. The bishop, as his spiritual father, owes it to the priest to provide for him in a way that helps him achieve his salvation. That may mean reining him in, perhaps in less draconian ways, but with a firmness that true charity would require. Leaving a neurotic to his own devices isn't charitable whether or not he causes the bishop problems.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Oct. 11, 2003 10:05 AM ET USA

    Was Johnston given a lifetime employment guarantee? Brooklyn pushed him on Newark and Rockville Center and enabled this shameful career and washed their hands of him. Isn't it clear that had Johnston worked behind a desk as an office-worker or delivering cases of Pepsi to grocery stores, or something that didn't involve the care of souls -- he would not only have a lot more money to spend on his hobbies (guns, Nazi, gay porn), but he'd have his precious 401K as well?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 11, 2003 5:58 AM ET USA

    But I'm talking about priests who haven't done anything wrong as far as anyone knows, but are neurotic or anti-social. There had never been any morals complaints about this latest priest arrested here.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 10, 2003 8:24 PM ET USA

    Well, you could put them all in a secluded monastery with someone serving as warden, er, abbot. Take roll every day and offer a highly-structured environment. Occasionally, you could let them go say Mass (but not hear confessions) in a nearby parish under proper escort. Should they refuse this life (even though they have vowed obedience) you could defrock them and thus properly relieve the diocese of responsibility for them. However, you'd have to learn how to be the "bad guy" without caving in.