we're on a learning curve here

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 26, 2008

Back in January of 2005, Boston priest Jerome Gillespie, while drunk, accosted a woman and her 12-year-old daughter in a restaurant. Stiff charges were knocked down and eventually dismissed; the Archdiocese says: "Father Gillespie is currently assisting parishes on an interim basis. It is expected that he soon will receive a formal assignment within the Archdiocese of Boston." Here's an excerpt from the Globe's account:

In 2005, most of the charges were dismissed, but Gillespie admitted sufficient facts, which is not the same as pleading guilty, to a charge of annoying or accosting a person of the opposite sex. A judge continued the case, without a finding, for two years, and said the case would be dismissed if Gillespie completed a substance abuse evaluation, underwent a comprehensive mental health evaluation and a sex offender evaluation, and completed any treatment recommended as a result of those evaluations, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. ... The charge was dismissed in 2007, Wark said.

SNAP is denouncing Gillespie's return to ministry on the grounds that he represents a potential threat to children. Ironically, this plays into the Wilton Gregory maneuver, which succeeded brilliantly in keeping the wrong men in their jobs. By this ploy, the mantra "It's about the children" was used to divert public outrage into channels marked-out by the bishops' child protection programs, such that any attempt to uncover the "failures behind the failures" -- e.g., in the bishops' own appetites and conduct -- was dismissed as a distraction from the real issue.

Now in spite of SNAP's saber-rattling, most people won't believe Gillespie is a Geoghan. And that's where the Wilton Wobble kicks in. If Gillespie is not likely to commit any sexual felonies -- if it's NOT about the children -- is he therefore suitable for priestly ministry? Especially dismaying -- six years after the Boston Meltdown, and less than a week after Pope Benedict's stressing the moral and spiritual failures at the bottom of sexual abuse -- is the canned 1987-style justification by the Archdiocese for Gillespie's return to work. "The archdiocese noted," reports the Globe, "that not only were the charges dismissed, but that the priest submitted to court-ordered evaluations for alcohol, psychiatric, and sexual problems."

These are psychological evaluations. Gillespie could get satisfactory scores on them and his spiritual life might still be a shambles. Was there no penance exacted, no reparation offered? Perhaps Gillespie truly is ready to resume priestly work; but shouldn't the Archdiocese make it clear that the green light involves more than his therapist and his parole officer, that there was a failure in Christian life that needed to be remedied?

In its statement yesterday, the archdiocese cited alcohol in describing the incident as "inappropriate remarks he made while intoxicated."

Inappropriate? Had Gillespie been a welder with a noseful, his lawyer might describe his remarks as "inappropriate" (his wife wouldn't). But surely somewhere in the bureaucratic apparatus of the Archdiocese of Boston someone could be found -- if only a receptionist or a cleaning lady -- who recognizes that notwithstanding his intoxication Father Gillespie, a Catholic priest and pastor of souls, offended against more than standards of good taste by importuning a 12-year-old and her mother. The courts don't want to jail him for it, fair enough. But don't his parishioners need to hear that there were moral failings to confront, spiritual disorders to be put right, deeper debts to be paid?

The archdiocese responded by defending the cardinal's commitment to protecting children.

The learning curve is flat.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2008 12:47 PM ET USA

    Hilarious: "The Learning Curve is a Mobius Strip" Amen to Pseudodionysius for that one!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 29, 2008 9:10 AM ET USA

    It is my hope that Fr. Gillespie receives pardon for his sins. However, that does not mean he should continue in his office as priest. Forgiveness of sins and being allowed to continue in one's priestly office are two different things.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 28, 2008 11:20 PM ET USA

    For some Bishops one must wonder if there is any learning curve at all. A learning curve implies some learning taking place. In some dioceses there is no objective evidence of that.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 28, 2008 9:00 PM ET USA

    We may not know what penance he or anyone is given, but public sin should at least be addressed with public humility (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). Easy forgiveness, cheap forgiveness, is the bane of our society. It undermines the real need to take responsibility for our own actions and to recognize that sometimes just saying sorry isn't enough. We need repentance and conversion as well, and sometimes that needs to be obvious to everyone.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 28, 2008 3:11 PM ET USA

    What about the 12 year old involved? Isn't she consider one for the "children" Dallas was all about? That would seem to neutralize the "Wilton Wobble".

  • Posted by: - Apr. 27, 2008 5:20 PM ET USA

    Fact is, you have no idea what penance was assigned to Fr. Gillespie or anyone else - just as nobody knows what penance was assigned to you the last time you went to confession. Nor does anyone ever speak of it. Isn't that what the Church expects of its priests (including bishops), and isn't it what you have come to rely upon? Redemption is available to all, regardless of the verbiage used to describe someone's rehabilitation. If you want it for yourself, allow it for others.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 27, 2008 11:41 AM ET USA

    Isn't part of the scandal of the bishops response to the scandal the naturalism involved in the responses? Even the Holy See did not assign Cardinal Law any penance or an injunction to go to a monastery. Rather he was rewarded in a very real sense. This is part of the crisis that Pope John Paul II referred to when he noted the battle between the anti-church and the Church. The anti-church is organized naturalism with many allies.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 26, 2008 2:55 PM ET USA

    The Learning Curve is a Mobius Strip: The perfect metaphor for a community turned in upon itself.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 26, 2008 1:08 PM ET USA

    Sounds like the promise of 'accountability' is another pipe dream for the seriously spiritually challenged.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 26, 2008 12:26 PM ET USA

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said. If a priest, even weakened by alcohol or even in gest, propositions a mother and daughter for oral sex, then there is serious doubt that he is worthy for the exercise of HOLY orders. I'm totally open to the possibility of conversion in his case, but I think the burden of proof is on him and the Archdiocese to demonstrate such a conversion before he returns to ministry. We need holy priests.