healing, and more healing

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 14, 2005

On July 23, 2003, Fr. Raymond Larger of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was arrested in a public park for groping and exposing himself to an undercover policeman. Two days later he pleaded no contest, was convicted, fined, given a year's probation, and -- after neighborhood activists reported his arrest to the Archdiocese -- placed on administrative leave.

On May 12, 2004, on the recommendation of Larger's therapist, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk returned him to ministry, saying that the Church demands and he expects priests to live in celibate chastity, but insisting "the Gospel also calls for healing and forgiveness" -- which occasioned some uncongratulatory remarks from your Uncle Di.

On July 13, 2005, Father Ray was back in the news again:

He was indicted for three counts of rape, two counts of sexual battery and a count of sexual touching, charges carrying a maximum prison sentence of 41 1/2 years. Larger is accused of befriending a 12-year-old boy, who now is 21, and engaging in sex with him in 1995 through 1997 -- at a time when the boy's mother was battling cancer.

Larger emphatically denies the charges. Says the news story: "The archdiocese, as it was required to do under the 2003 plea deal with former county Prosecutor Mike Allen, reported the allegations against Larger that led to the indictment." To be clear: based on what's given in the media reports, there's no reason to think the Archdiocese had prior knowledge of the accusation and played cover-up. I don't find fault with the Archdiocese for knowingly hiding a pederast but for knowingly giving a pervert a ministerial placement.

Look at it this way. Anyone who's been paying attention knows that therapists are not infallible in gauging the likelihood that sexual miscreants will relapse after treatment. They miscalculate. The situation is further complicated by the fact that many therapists are themselves gay or ideologically gay-positive and, viewing celibacy as unnatural, concern themselves not in helping a man stay chaste but in helping him limit himself to "appropriate" occasions of sexual expression. In terms of what the Church requires of a priest, a therapist's recommendation that he return to ministry is meaningless -- meaningless, that is, without extraordinary reason to believe the therapist in question dissents from his profession to the extent of having sympathy for Church teaching and discipline.

Good-willed adult laymen, then, aware that Father Ray admitted to cruising the parks, may well forgive him his sin -- i.e., not hold it against him -- but may still remain entirely skeptical about the "healing." The empirical evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the likelihood that Ray is still (as the Brits say) wired back to front. They may accept him as a "massing priest" and may even trust him with pedestrian confessions, but not a lot more.

However, not all adult laymen are good-willed. Some will have quarrels with the Church based on their own personal problems. For them, a priest who is constrained by his past to preach an attenuated Gospel, or who by his sulkiness gives permission to dissent, or who panics when confronted with a parishioner's crisis of conscience, may be sought out precisely because of his weakness. Thus he compounds their spiritual danger.

Moreover, not all laymen are adults. Think of the effect on ordinary teenagers, who will undoubtedly know of Fr. Ray's adventures in the park. It will be a rare homily, reading, or prayer that, when spoken by Fr. Ray, does not supply some double entendre that makes them snort, bend, and shake with laughter. And think of the indirect impact on perplexed younger children, who don't understand what their sibs are giggling about but intuit the context of amused indecency. No matter how solemnly their parents repeat the "healing and forgiveness" line, the teenagers will provide full explanations at a later moment. The priest has ceased to be a pastor and become a joke, and to intone Thou Shalt Not Laugh only makes it funnier.

It doesn't have to be this way. A morally courageous priest can, like St. Augustine, make his sins public before the police or the press force him to do so, all the better for him to witness to the action of God's grace in his life. By playing his cards face up, he'd be saying, "Here's the man you're getting. I was wrong. The Church is right. The hardness of God is more merciful than the softness of men, and I intend to testify to that truth by the history of my sins and by my penance." You can go forward with a guy like that. What you can't take seriously is a twink who apologizes only for those faults that are already public knowledge and that came to light against his own efforts to the contrary, who, indeed, not only pouts at his restrictions but turns the tables on scandalized laymen, accusing them of unchristian hypocrisy or hardness of heart.

The Church never had perfect priests, and doesn't need them now. What she must have is pastors who tell the truth, including the truth about themselves, especially when it's difficult to do so.

(tip to Amy Welborn)

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Meg Q - Jul. 18, 2005 8:54 PM ET USA

    Mmmmmm . . . Torquemada pancakes . . . . ;^)

  • Posted by: - Jul. 18, 2005 5:51 PM ET USA

    I think we need Torquemada Pancake Breakfasts at all Knights of Columbus in North America as a way of frightening the ninnies into resigning.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 15, 2005 8:49 AM ET USA

    Ludicrous!! If the Knights of Columbus cave into this extortion that council should be disbanded for being cowards. They can go somewhere else besides the Parish hall to have their meetings. They should also start dropping parishoners Life Insurance policies if they can demonstrate that they're not "Catholics in good standing" which is a requirement to be a Knight and to hold a Life Insurance policy. Put the pressure back on the pastor.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 14, 2005 5:49 PM ET USA

    My anger and frustration are growing not abating. I should be on the path to healing and forgiveness but I get madder and madder. This is CURRENT stuff not some nutty therapist recommendation from the unenlightened 1980s! They are still covering up and havent learned a thing. My pastor told the Knights of Columbus that they all had to take the classes on preventing sexual abuse-even tho the Council doesnt have a youth program and yet gay priests are everywhere here in Los Angeles!

  • Posted by: - Jul. 14, 2005 12:49 PM ET USA

    WRT "healing and forgiveness", I believe I know what forgiveness is, but it doesn't mean forgetting, otherwise their would be no final judgement, and it doesn't mean such things as putting a thief back in charge of the treasury; and it is something that needs to be asked for not demanded by a third party. But I find the use of the word "healing", when used by ecclesiastics to be incoherent, meaningless, and unredeemingly sentimental.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 14, 2005 12:27 PM ET USA

    Di's comments on Larger's personal moral abdication are right on. Yet -- forgiveness notwithstanding, I squirm at the manner in which the bishop has foisted a fast-tracked rehab/return to ministry on the faithful, obliging them to assume 100% of the risk from this man's weakness. Is it merely due to the shortage of priests (?). How very utilitarian...

  • Posted by: - Jul. 14, 2005 11:27 AM ET USA

    If you read the article on the WCPO website, there is a (perhaps unintentional) turn of phrase that speaks volumes. The last line of the story is as follows: "Larger is out on bond and has been placed on administrative leave, again." I wonder if the placement and punctuation at the end of the sentence is not meant to be indicative of the tiredness we all feel at the repetitive failure of the hierarchy to deal with this issue forthrightly, and with finality -- once and for all.