The Clerical Old Boy Network: A Modest Proposal

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Jun 27, 2003

This from a Dallas Morning News article on the clerical culture:

Most bishops grew up in an era in which priests learned to unquestioningly trust and look after the interests of brother priests. They formed a fraternity of faith whose human weaknesses were fodder for club gossip but no one else. When adversity struck, they staunchly defended the brotherhood with a Three Musketeers zeal: All for one and one for all. They were the holy ones, the vessels of Christ on earth, and nothing could be allowed to tarnish their image.

This does not reflect my own experience as a clergyman. I've been more impressed by the opposite tendency: how often two priests can live in the same house and share the same table and shower and washing machines, each working to build a church the other is working to destroy. That said, it remains true that, with doctrinal unity no longer a factor in ecclesial cohesion, a pedestrian frat-house affability partially fills the void.

Many Catholics -- lay and clergy alike -- said the dismantling of clericalism is necessary to overcome the leadership failures that contributed to the scandals. But no blueprint exists on how to undo a culture that took centuries to create and permeates the church.

Well, in default of a blueprint, let me put forward this modest proposal: bishops' and priests' pensions, retirement benefits, and health insurance should come from the same fund used to pay the victims of child abuse (settlements, court-awarded damages and counseling fees) and used to pay legal fees for accused clergy. That way clerical calls for healing and reconciliation would not be empty rhetoric, but each clergyman would show concretely that where thy treasure is, there thy heart is also. If the costs attendant on clerical sexual abuse led to bankruptcy, the first to suffer would be the group chiefly responsible for the harm and chiefly responsible for the cure. Moreover, if the prospect of retirement included the possibility of bagging groceries at Stop-&-Shop to pay the rent, it might also lead to a "renewed" notion of priestly fraternity and episcopal collegiality, whereby we clergymen were less bashful about calling our brethren to accountability, and that before the situation ended up in the criminal courts building.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 30, 2003 6:03 PM ET USA

    Many a good & serious priest who reported the seducers to their bishop was not only told to keep quiet, but was in fact ruthlessly defamed [to destroy his credibility], and even driven to serious illness, or hounded out. Meanwhile, preditor priests, under the wings of Judas-bishops, continued merrily on their raping way, not to mention being rewarded with posh assignments. Scripture says the wages of sin is death. Not so the R C Church, USA. GOOD BYE, GOOD MEN deals with some of this.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 29, 2003 4:54 PM ET USA

    The blueprint is already in place. It is called the Penal Code. Child molesting is a crime. Conspiracy to conceal a crime is a crime. Obstruction of justice is a crime. Lying under oath is a crime. The proper response is well defined. Furthermore, the Catechism speaks against commiting evil (coverup) to obtain good (church is not scandalized). Paragraph 1753 and surrounding. My modest proposal is to send all the priests and bishops back to school to study the Catechism.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jun. 27, 2003 9:12 PM ET USA

    Dear Father and Frank, Greetings in the Holy Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Why should the innocent suffer the most??? Ridiculous by fallen human standards; But Jesus, The Innocent One , offered His unblemished life as the "Atonement." Ave Maria...May God pity us and give us the strength to do what must be done, Amen!

  • Posted by: Frank165 - Jun. 27, 2003 8:07 PM ET USA

    Fr. Mankowski (what does the "Fr." stand for?), why ??? in the name of all that is good would you want to penalize the good clergy because of the tiny minority that are the evil ones? Many good priests advised their bishops regarding the dysfunctional priests and were "advised to butt out". Why should they be penalized??