Coping with scandal: what everyone can do

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 24, 2018

Perhaps the most prescient article that I ever published in my years as an editor, and certainly the most controversial, is The Gay Priest Problem, by Father Paul Shaughnessy, SJ, which appeared in the November 2000 issue of Catholic World Report. The concluding section of that piece, offering some advice to the faithful, seems newly relevant today in the wake of the McCarrick scandal:


Each of us, according to his station in life, can make a modest contribution to the renewal.

WHAT ROME CAN DO:

Require Heads on Platters. No man should be made a bishop, and no bishop should be promoted, unless he embraces authentic Catholic doctrine about sexual morality and leads a morally upright life. But the first condition is too easy to fake; anyone can give lip service to the teaching. Therefore no man should be elevated unless he has a track record as a head-cracker and has cleaned up problems of sexual wrongdoing, by dismissing gay seminarians or seminary faculty, for example, or by getting rid of miscreants at a university chaplaincy. The reason is that gays are perfectly prepared to let one of their own number mouth Church teaching if by so doing he earns a promotion, but if a man exposes their iniquity and acts against it, they will retaliate fiercely if there is any ammunition to be had, any wrongdoing, that is, in their adversary’s past. They will do the necessary vetting out of vindictiveness. Keep in mind that this goes for heterosexual mischief as well. Rome should make it clear that, before a man can be considered episcopal material, he needs scalps hanging from his belt. God knows there is no shortage of opportunities.

WHAT BISHOPS CAN DO:

Do Ask, Do Tell. The policy should be made explicit that homosexuals are not admitted into the seminaries. Inter alia, this will result in an increase in vocations, and those of the right kind. Ordained priests found to be homosexual should be given the option of seeking reparative therapy by which they may be freed from their disorder, or else obliged to cease ministry. The time for gentler solutions is past.

Abolish General Absolution. It doesn’t take great imagination to guess who has the deepest investment in absolution without confession. End it.

Restore Simplicity to Priestly Life. Physical comfort is the oxygen that feeds the fires of homosexual indulgence. Cut it off. When you enter a rectory, take a look at the liquor cabinet, the videos, the wardrobe, the slick magazines, and ask yourself, “Do I get the impression that the man who lives here is in the habit of saying no to himself?” If the answer is negative, the chances are that his life of chastity is in disorder as well. It goes without saying that reforming bishops should lead by example in this department and not simply exhort.

WHAT LAYMEN CAN DO:

Challenge Priests Uneasy with their Priesthood. When a priest leaves the rectory not wearing clerical garb, one needn’t automatically assume that he does so to engage in unnatural vice. It may be natural vice. But there is almost never a good reason for a priest to wear mufti away from home. Confront him. Don’t be taken in by the excuse that it’s his day off. You don’t take a vacation from your priesthood any more than you take a vacation from your marriage. A pastor who sees that a parishioner has left his wedding ring behind on his “boys’ night out” has the duty to ask for an explanation; by the same token layfolk should not be shy about confronting priests who put off the outward signs of their priesthood. It could be that monsignor doesn’t want to get his collar caught in the gear puller while replacing the main bearings on the parish van; if so, he’ll be delighted to explain.

Use your Checkbook as a Carrot and Stick. Remember that when your pastoral associate flies to Rio during Mardi Gras you’re footing the bill. Don’t be silent partners in corruption. When a scandal involving a priest hits the papers, first, cut out the pertinent news article; second, write a check for $100 to the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns); third, when you receive a request for donations from the outfit in which the scandal occurred, enclose the article in the return envelope along with a photocopy of your check to the MCs and a note to this effect: “My previous contributions were intended for the support of my pastors and the propagation of the faith. From now on you can pay for your own K-Y jelly and your own AZT. I will resume my donations when you have cleaned the stables.” They’ll get the message. Just as important, when a bishop or religious superior shows some spine by a gutsy dismissal or intervention, send him a note telling him what you think, and include a check as well.

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: timothy.op - Jul. 27, 2018 12:56 AM ET USA

    While unchaste gay clerics clearly have and continue to inflict untold damage on the Church, which must absolutely be stopped, this does not implicate clerics who experience same-sex attraction but are faithful to the vow of celibacy. Though the former group may be all too numerous, I still believe the latter are yet more numerous. Tarring them with the same brush will not help anything at all.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Jul. 26, 2018 8:07 AM ET USA

    Some very good advise and all the more surprising that a SJ priest is the source. A few points: I have never seen General Absolution used nor have I ever heard of it used. I do believe the format for confession needs to be improved. I know people who admit they don't know what to confess so do not go to confession. Ordained priests found to be homosexual should be removed from the priesthood. Oh, and did I mention remove homosexual priest from the priesthood?

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 25, 2018 3:05 AM ET USA

    Sadly, 18 years later the problems of homosexual activism and activities among the Catholic clergy still remain unresolved. The orders to clean up the house would have to come from the Vatican.

  • Posted by: leticia.cadiz4543 - Jul. 25, 2018 2:18 AM ET USA

    Just want to say Mr. Phil Lawler is outstanding in his comments on this particular issue. He does not mince words and says it the way it should be. I always look forward to his commentaries.

  • Posted by: Monserrat - Jul. 24, 2018 4:42 PM ET USA

    The option of (verifiable) reparative therapy or cessation of ministry for homosexual priests is an excellent one, though I doubt many bishops would comply. As a former seminarian, it was discouraging to see so many obvious homosexual candidates for the priesthood, in good standing with their bishops and accepted by the rector, knowing that there were others who were not so obvious. Church policy on excluding homosexuals from the seminary should be unequivocal,which in practice, it is not.