playing church

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 05, 2005

A Covington diocesan priest has trespassed against the Sixth Commandment. His accomplice in sin was an adult woman. Bishop Foys's response?

"A year ago an allegation of inappropriate behavior with an adult woman was made public against your pastor, Father Mark Witte," the bishop's letter said. "At the time, we pledged that a thorough investigation would be undertaken. This has been done. Father Witte has also willingly undergone a thorough evaluation. The entire matter was submitted to our Diocesan Misconduct Review Board.

"As you know, Father Witte has admitted to having violated boundaries with adult women in the past and has expressed his regret and apologies for the pain this has caused," Foys' letter continued. "He has undergone outpatient counseling in the past two years."

Read the entire story, searching for any mention -- even oblique mention -- of sin, or penance, or reparation. You won't find it. Instead, we get all the Dr. Joyce Brothers buzzwords: inappropriate, evaluation, treatment, boundaries, regret, counseling, renewal. There's zero indication that Fr. Witte's wrongdoing and correction are understood to have importance in the supernatural order. An atheist dean of a dental school detailing remedial measures for an erring atheist faculty member might have made the same statement in the same words.

It's no surprise that many progressive Catholics have forsaken any interest in God. Fine. But why continue the charade? Why don't they simplify things and eliminate the middleman? If only psychologists can explain and correct evil, if sin has become an embarrassing anachronism, who needs the clergy or hierarchy? Your daughter runs with a bad crowd? Put her on the pill. Your husband tumbled his secretary? Send him to outpatient therapy. You need to kill time on Sunday mornings before the pre-game shows begin? Buy a couple Disney videos. For those transient "spiritual" needs, get an inflatable acolyte and read to it from the heavy-breathing passages in "Faithful Citizenship." And there are always Sr. Joan Chittister's reflections in the NCR.

Not being a progressive, I believe that if I didn't go to Mass I'd go to hell. I acknowledge the need for the clergy. But the clergymen (for the most part) to whom I must resort to discharge my Sunday duty laugh at my scruple as a child's bogey-myth. Hence the paradox: I think I'm damned unless I subject myself weekly to Fr. Witte's floor show, which he in turn uses to mock my fidelity as infantilism. Moreover, I'm under orders from my bishop to pretend that this floor show is the Mass the Universal Church wants me to have. No one can sincerely believe this, of course. My gentler, more tolerant friends urge me to make a good faith effort at bad faith: better to pretend a candle is lit, they say, than to curse the darkness.

Only a bishop, however, can light the particular candle in question. That's another hugely inconvenient doctrine that I, as a Catholic, am compelled to believe. My bishop may have no belief at all about the apostolic nature of hierarchical governance and sacramental validity, but it's greatly to his advantage that I do. That's what he means when he reminds us that we are, after all, an Easter People.

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