The unhealthy distraction of Msgr. Byrne

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 31, 2017

A dozen years ago, a prominent priest of the New York archdiocese wrote in Commonweal that “my early questioning of celibacy has been confirmed.” Celibacy, announced Msgr. Harry Byrne, was a “distraction.”

Today Msgr. Byrne, now retired from ministry, was indicted on 37 counts of child pornography. We don’t know how his case will be resolved. (Since Msgr. Byrne is now 96 years old, there’s a good chance it never will be.) But we do know this: a priest who thinks of celibacy as a “distraction” or an annoyance—who is not constantly working to shore up his spiritual defenses—is far more likely to lose the battle.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: grateful1 - Nov. 02, 2017 11:28 AM ET USA

    We need to pray for his repentance.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - Nov. 01, 2017 7:24 AM ET USA

    What seems most unfair about this is that the media portray priests like this as progressive when they are advocating for the elimination of celibacy, but then as part of the establishment (he was "chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York from 1968-70") when accused of committing some terrible act. In the first case, they imply that he would have been a better priest if not for the distraction of celibacy. In the second, they imply that celibacy's repressiveness drives priests to abuse minors.