Tag Archives: priesthood

A NUN’S DANGEROUS TALK

A NUN’S DANGEROUS TALK 

The Vatican has banned even discussing female priests. That hasn’t stopped Sister Joan Chittister

chittisterJoan Chittister might seem an unlikely type to defy the Pope, let alone get away with it. Her dress is sensible, her voice matter-of-fact bordering on clarion, its timbre reminiscent of the kind of sister who for better or worse acquainted generations of parochial schoolers with Catholic discipline. But the liberal church activists who came to hear Chittister speak last week at a Los Angeles conference knew better. They were aware that Sister Joan, her vows notwithstanding, is a longtime feminist firebrand in the midst of a daring gambit. “If Scripture has nothing at all to say about the ordination of women,” Chittister asked, “on what basis do we use Jesus as our right to obstruct it?” Her audience thought for a moment, clapped and finally broke into cheers.

Female ordination may be one of the last live bones of contention between the Roman Catholic Church and its U.S. flock. Most American believers have long gone their own way regarding birth control or abortion. But that is not an option when it comes to who celebrates the sacraments, even though 71% of American Catholics surveyed in a May 2000 Gallup poll favored having female priests. Still, Rome has not budged on the issue. In 1994 Pope John Paul II emphatically restated the ban in a pastoral letter, and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared his decision “infallible” and “not…open to debate” [due to the constant teaching of the church]. The gag order, even more than the edict, drove church liberals to distraction.

So much so that Chittister, 65, found a way to flout it that the Vatican could not ignore. The tussle began last spring, when Rome learned that the resident of the Mount St. Benedict monastery in Erie, Pa., had agreed to address the first international conference of a group called Women’s Ordination Worldwide in Dublin. The conference clearly challenged the debate freeze, and there were even rumors it might “ordain” its own female priests. Accordingly, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life sent a letter directing Chittister’s prioress, Sister Christine Vladimiroff, to issue a “precept of obedience” forbidding Chittister to attend on pain of undefined “just penalties.”

At least one other superior receiving similar orders complied. Vladimiroff flew to Rome to discuss the issue. She returned unswayed, and on the night before Chittister’s departure for Ireland, Vladimiroff handed her a letter–co-signed by 127 of Mount St. Benedict’s 128 active nuns–stating that she would not relay the command. The grounds: Mount St. Benedict is run on a model of “co-responsibility” rather than a “superior-subordinate” model, and prayerful consensus did not support the travel ban. “Silencing is inappropriate. It’s patronizing and treats adults as children,” Vladimiroff told TIME. “I cannot ask myself to be complicit” in it.

Several other female Benedictine monasteries added their support. Thirty-five of Mount St. Benedict’s younger nuns pledged that if Chittister were punished, they wanted to share her penalty. Chittister flew to Dublin and in an act of nervous bravado told the crowd, “We’re not going to let a little letter from Rome get us down.” There were no ordinations.

And then Rome blinked. Papal spokesman Joachim Navarro-Valls stated that there were no plans for disciplinary measures “in this case.” A spokeswoman for the Dublin conference crowed that “the Vatican has conceded that it can’t enforce” the ban or discussion and that the conference has opened “a door that the Vatican thought it could keep closed.”

Well, maybe. “In this case” hardly constitutes a white flag. “What ever happened to obedience?” complains a ranking Vatican official. “This is a cancer. Do you let it grow?” And yet, having first threatened Chittister and then appearing to honor Vladimiroff’s principled refusal, the Holy See, should it reverse course again, risks looking like a faceless male bureaucracy intent on crushing a pair of modern Joans of Arc.

Chittister revives the duel each time she speaks out, as she did last week in L.A. Says a cautious Vladimiroff: “I believe we were blessed with a grace to see the issues clearly, and I’m hoping that the Vatican may also be blessed with new insights into the most loving way to deal with it.” But, she adds, “I worry for me. I worry for the community. And I worry for the church, whom I love.”  (source)

CHITTISTER: “The church has historically discussed slavery, usury, the divinity of Jesus. Why would you not discuss issues pertinent to women?”

Pope Francis’ closing of the Synod

Pope Francis’ closing of the Synod

[Vatican Radio’s provisional translation of Pope Francis’ address to the Synod Fathers]

Dear Eminences, Excellencies, Brothers and Sisters,

4FrancisWith a heart full of appreciation and gratitude I want to thank, along with you, the Lord who has accompanied and guided us in the past days, with the light of the Holy Spirit.
From the heart I thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, Bishop Fabio Fabene, under-secretary, and with them I thank the Relators, Cardinal Peter Erdo, who has worked so much in these days of family mourning, and the Special Secretary Bishop Bruno Forte, the three President delegates, the transcribers, the consultors, the translators and the unknown workers, all those who have worked with true fidelity and total dedication behind the scenes and without rest. Thank you so much from the heart.

I thank all of you as well, dear Synod fathers, Fraternal Delegates, Auditors, and Assessors, for your active and fruitful participation. I will keep you in prayer asking the Lord to reward you with the abundance of His gifts of grace!
I can happily say that – with a spirit of collegiality and of synodality – we have truly lived the experience of “Synod,” a path of solidarity, a “journey together.”

And it has been “a journey” – and like every journey there were moments of running fast, as if wanting to conquer time and reach the goal as soon as possible; other moments of fatigue, as if wanting to say “enough”; other moments of enthusiasm and ardour. There were moments of profound consolation listening to the testimony of true pastors, who wisely carry in their hearts the joys and the tears of their faithful people. Moments of consolation and grace and comfort hearing the testimonies of the families who have participated in the Synod and have shared with us the beauty and the joy of their married life. A journey where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations. And since it is a journey of human beings, with the consolations there were also moments of desolation, of tensions and temptations, of which a few possibilities could be mentioned:

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.

Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as St Ignatius called it (Spiritual Exercises, 6), if all were in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace. Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parresia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).

And this is the Church, the vineyard of the Lord, the fertile Mother and the caring Teacher, who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves to pour oil and wine on people’s wound; who doesn’t see humanity as a house of glass to judge or categorize people. This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. This is the Church, the true bride of Christ, who seeks to be faithful to her spouse and to her doctrine. It is the Church that is not afraid to eat and drink with prostitutes and publicans. The Church that has the doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent, and not only the just or those who believe they are perfect! The Church that is not ashamed of the fallen brother and pretends not to see him, but on the contrary feels involved and almost obliged to lift him up and to encourage him to take up the journey again and accompany him toward a definitive encounter with her Spouse, in the heavenly Jerusalem.

This is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.

And, as I have dared to tell you , [as] I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.

We will speak a little bit about the Pope, now, in relation to the Bishops [laughing]. So, the duty of the Pope is that of guaranteeing the unity of the Church; it is that of reminding the faithful of their duty to faithfully follow the Gospel of Christ; it is that of reminding the pastors that their first duty is to nourish the flock – to nourish the flock – that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep. I made a mistake here. I said welcome: [rather] to go out and find them.

His duty is to remind everyone that authority in the Church is a service, as Pope Benedict XVI clearly explained, with words I cite verbatim: “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ… through the Pastors of the Church, in fact: it is he who guides, protects and corrects them, because he loves them deeply. But the Lord Jesus, the supreme Shepherd of our souls, has willed that the Apostolic College, today the Bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter… to participate in his mission of taking care of God’s People, of educating them in the faith and of guiding, inspiring and sustaining the Christian community, or, as the Council puts it, ‘to see to it… that each member of the faithful shall be led in the Holy Spirit to the full development of his own vocation in accordance with Gospel preaching, and to sincere and active charity’ and to exercise that liberty with which Christ has set us free (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, 6)… and it is through us,” Pope Benedict continues, “that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).”

So, the Church is Christ’s – she is His bride – and all the bishops, in communion with the Successor of Peter, have the task and the duty of guarding her and serving her, not as masters but as servants. The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” (Can. 749) and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (cf. Cann. 331-334).

Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families.

One year to work on the “Synodal Relatio” which is the faithful and clear summary of everything that has been said and discussed in this hall and in the small groups. It is presented to the Episcopal Conferences as “lineamenta” [guidelines].

May the Lord accompany us, and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Joseph. And please, do not forget to pray for me! Thank you!

When a Priest Falls in Love

Mandated celibacy is a form of violence done to those called to ordained ministry but not to celibacy.  While these priests can have a profound sense of Call, celibacy never really finds a home within their hearts, regardless of the spiritual facade their bishops or spiritual directors attempt to wrap it in.  Celibacy is something they try to tolerate but deep down an intense loneliness prevails.  The thought of growing old as a celibate, and someday retiring in a home for priests, brings more pain than comfort.  Although their loneliness may diminish at times, it is often in the background of their lives, a kind of darkness that will not go away.
 
Priests who fall in love can feel imprisoned within the priesthood as they watch others freely celebrate their love and openly show affection for their significant other. They cannot deny that their love is a holy experience and find themselves perplexed as to why it has put them on a collision course with the priesthood, when, in fact, being in love has brought them new joy and enthusiasm for life. They experience a deep yearning within, not simply for sex, but for the union of two hearts and souls lived in the sacred mystery of love and companionship for the rest of their lives. Mandatory celibacy, however, forces them to face difficult choices. They can secretly embrace this love in the dark and shaming shadows of mandated celibacy, force this love out of their lives, or extract themselves from the priesthood and pursue the relationship. None of these choices seems appealing, but true freedom is found in the latter.

If a priest is in love, it’s hard for him to understand why this love is disqualifying him from the priesthood, especially in light of I John 4:8 where we read that “God is love”. So, why is love an impediment to ordained ministry? Yes, we all know the old party line “Celibacy frees you to love everyone”, but, we also know it’s not true. Married people can and do love others just as passionately as celibates.
 
The fact is, when celibate priests fall in love they find what has been true all along: they are owned by an ecclesiastical institution which has turned romantic love into a force of evil and has an odd obsession with controlling their sexuality, to the point of bordering on a kind of a master/slave relationship. Disguised in religious jargon and contrived theology, mandatory celibacy is really about radical patriarchy (male domination) and  misogyny (whether it be in ordained priestly ministry or as wives of priests, women are perceived as inferior and an evil influence).
 
On the other hand, Christ has no interest in mandated celibacy and even cured Saint Peter’s mother-in-law in respect for Peter’s marriage.  Understanding this, the transitioning priest is justified in separating the will of God from the practice of the ecclesiastical institution.
 
For a reflection about the decision to marry click here. To see the positive role women would have on the priesthood, click here.
 
What about the vows and promises taken on the day of ordination? Things change and change is healthy and inevitable in the maturation process. To live in a dynamic relationship with God is to live in the midst of change. We could not stay in the priesthood because it prohibited changes God was calling us to make. The papacy has made mandatory celibacy and other teachings into idols to which many of us could no longer bow.
 
How can one find visionary leadership in a church that’s reluctant to change? Most of its bishops, especially during the past forty years, were chosen precisely because of their aversion to change and their willingness to attempt to restore the church to some former golden era. Pope John XXIII, Vatican II and countless dedicated priests and bishops worked hard to pry open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air only to find them being closed by a new generation of priests who refer to Vatican II as “Vatican too much”. There seems to be little room in this new Church for reasonable, Spirit-guided change, so many priests find it necessary to leave. Their journeys, prayerfully embarked upon, are inspired by the Holy Spirit. One of the oldest teachings of the church is one’s obligation to live according to the dictates of their conscience.
 
In a healthy maturation process, one moves from the locus of authority from being external to internal.  Author and  Methodist minister, James Fowler, in his book “Stages of Faith” proposes a staged development of faith across a person’s lifespan. Fowler’s first stage is called “Undifferentiated Faith” where an infant’s experience of reality is not distinguished from fantasy.  As the child develops the capacity for concrete thinking, she then moves toward stage two called the “Literal Stage”, where she starts distinguishing reality from fantasy. In this stage, God may be perceived as an old man living in the sky, while heaven and hell are viewed as actual physical places. Here, one believes that if they follow the rules, God will give them a good life.  But they begin to grow out of this stage when encountering conflicts and contradictions to what they hold to be true. The perplexing question, “Why do good people suffer?” begins to challenge them at this stage.
 
Around puberty, a person moves into Fowler’s third stage, “Conventional”.  As in the previous two stages, authority is still located outside of one’s self.  Here, people are not fully conscious of having chosen to believe something, because they are not engaged in any analytical thought about their faith.  It’s called “conventional” because most people at this stage see themselves believing what everyone else believes. They are reluctant to change their beliefs because of their need to stay connected to their peer group. Many church leaders may consciously or unconsciously attempt to keep people in this stage by discouraging analytical thinking about their faith. They imply that questioning one’s faith in itself shows a lack of faith. They prefer people stay in a sort of perpetual childhood where authority is located in themselves and their religion in order to continue exerting control.
 
Many men who leave the priesthood find it is necessary in order to further mature and progress to the next stage. In stage four, “Individuated Reflective” faith, young adults become aware of their freedom and burden to begin to sort through their beliefs, accepting or rejecting them. Here one’s sense of authority moves from the external to the internal.  A person is better able to govern themselves and is less dependent upon rules. The literalism of religious stories begins to give way to deeper meanings. The strength of this stage is the capacity for critical reflection, but the weakness is that a person may “throw out the baby with the bath water”, claim to be atheist, and fail to enter into the next stage.
 
Stage five is the “Integrating Faith” of middle adulthood. Here a person is able to expand their worldview beyond the “either/or” position of the previous stage, toward a “both/and” point of view. People in this stage are willing to cross religious and cultural boundaries to learn from people they may have previously avoided.  Here one believes in God, but not as a literal being living in the sky, and Heaven and Hell are no longer seen as physical places.  They re-examine their beliefs, while at the same time accepting that it is beyond their ability to comprehend. They realize truth can also be found in other religious traditions besides their own and no longer need to accept their faith on a literal level only.  This stage of faith makes it difficult to follow one’s conscious when church leaders insist their way is the only way.
 
Many priests find it necessary to separate themselves from the controlling tendencies of the ecclesiastical institution in order to mature in faith.  The same process is necessary for anyone experiencing the desire to mature when their tradition attempts to hold them  back.  Conservative religion is built upon unhealthy psychology. See this link for more discussion about the maturing process and faith.
 
When leaving the priesthood, it is wonderful, but not always possible, to have the support of family and friends. I found it very difficult to talk with my brother priests about leaving, even after being in a support group with some of them for over 12 years. I heard how they referred to other priests who had left and knew confiding in them would bring more pain than support. Besides, I might have been whisked off to a counseling program if they had reported to the Bishop that one of his priests was about to jump the fence.
 
I’m still amazed that I didn’t feel free enough to discuss something as important as leaving the priesthood with guys I had been meeting with in my “support group” for so long. For me, it became apparent that whatever fraternity we had was a mile wide and an inch deep. But, I think something else was at work. Leaving the priesthood is so taboo that even discussing it with “faithful” priests is perceived as sinful. Deeper still, even the thought of leaving is avoided by those who are repressing it, giving credence to the saying “Sow a thought, reap an action”.
 
If a priest is serious about leaving, it will be helpful for him to associate with others with whom he  can honestly discuss his fears, hopes and dreams.  It is important that he confide in people who are not brainwashed with Catholic fundamentalism, which eliminates his Bishop / Superior and most if not all his priest friends and other conservative Catholics.  The most understanding people I found were from the Corpus organization.  If he can find a Corpus group meeting in his area, that would be a great help. Corpus is comprised of priests and women religious who have transitioned out of ministry as well as other Catholics who are interested in significant change within the church. He may also want to find a good counselor who is supportive of his journey.
 
On the day of my marriage, as I spoke my vows to my beloved, I felt nothing but joy and happiness in the freedom to live my personal life out from under the oppression of mandatory celibacy. These vows made much more sense than the previous ones I had made in front of my bishop seventeen years earlier. The purposes of those were obedience and control, while the purposes of these were for love and companionship. Making the two mutually exclusive is an abuse of ecclesiastical power, an injustice to priests, and contrary to the will of God as found in the scriptures and first thousand years of Catholic Church tradition. The sixteenth century reformers were correct when they taught marriage is a divine right that no ecclesiastical law can negate. When you read the arguments against the practice of mandated celibacy these reformers made, you will find little has changed during the past 500, or so, years. You can find their arguments by clicking here.
 
Abused children are not the only victims of the sex abuse crisis in the Church today. Every priest in active ministry is a victim. Prior to leaving, I remember walking through an airport wearing my collar, when a mother pulled her young child closer to her as I approached. That hurt, and it had everything to do with the stigma of mandated celibacy.
 
Mandatory celibacy defines a priest primarily by sex and places an inordinate amount of attention on his sex life. When the typical lay person meets a priest, they perceive him first and foremost as a “celibate” and have an internal dialogue that goes something like this: “Is he really celibate? I wonder what he does with his sex drive. Is he gay? He must masturbate a lot. God, I hope he’s not a pedophile.” If he’s attractive, they think, “Father what-a-waste”, and, if not attractive, they think, “No wonder he went into the priesthood”. Those who think this occurs because our society is preoccupied with sex are mistaken. It’s always been this way. People are now just more willing to talk about it. The fact remains that, because “celibate” primarily defines a priest by his sex life, he is viewed and understood primarily by sex and for this he suffers now, more than ever. Priests are not “celibates”; they are “human beings”.
 
Priests who leave to marry are not looking only for sex.  From some of the emails received, many Catholics seem to think their quest is all about sexual union.  They cannot seem to see beyond sexual intercourse to the quest that a priest has for love,  emotional intimacy and nurture.  For them, it is all about f**king, which reveals what their marital lives must be like and one can only feel sorry for their wives.  The primary quest for priests who leave to marry is mutual love and intimacy with their spouses of which intercourse is only one part.  I find it offensive when someone implies that a priest leaves because “he can’t keep it in his pants”.  No, the issue is “he can’t keep the rock wall around his heart”.
 
The term “mandatory celibacy” implies that a priest is to abstain from sexual activity.  It objectifies sexual intercourse and separates it from the union of heart and soul that a healthy marriage entails.  “Mandated celibacy” gives the impression that f**king is what marriage is all about and tends to turn women into sexual objects.  Yet, that is not what most priests are after.  They simply long to have another person to love and share their life with like any other normal human being.  Mandated celibacy shames priests for having this desire, and because celibacy is all about sexual abstinence, their sexuality is shamed too.  This is a dark cloud that hangs over the priesthood, which all priests are forced to enter upon ordination.  They are forced to publicly declare that they will forever deny this important part of their lives.  This isolates them and makes them into an oddity that people often pity more than respect.  The problem is forcing celibacy upon priests.  The dynamic would change if celibacy was optional.
 
People may object by saying, “But celibacy is optional. No one was forcing you to be ordained.”  But you are mistaken.  Our Call is from God and it was profound.  The Church has imposed celibacy upon God’s call.  Mandated celibacy was not part of the early Church (Jesus cured the mother of Saint Peter’s wife. Mark 1:30-31)  and never became a law until around 1000 AD.  Mandated celibacy is not the will of God and it has caused tremendous problems in the Church.
 
It’s ironic that church officials, obsessed with controlling priests’ sex lives by mandating celibacy, have themselves created this sex abuse crisis. For centuries, they have constructed a mystical facade around celibacy and their efforts brought welcomed protection and privilege. But, like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, this crisis has pulled back the curtain and no amount of incense can hide the little man pulling the levers.  Mandated celibacy is far more integral to this crisis than the Pope and bishops are willing, or perhaps able, to admit.
 
Click here for a reflection about how mandated celibacy hinders healthy sexual integration. Click here to see the statement extolling the superiority of priests by Lacordaire and how it has created an atmosphere of clericalism, which has allowed sexual misconduct to become more prevalent within the priesthood. Click here to see how celibacy is a necessary component to a  clerical culture that enables sexual abuse. Click here to find where the ultimate responsibility should be placed for this crisis.  Click here to find a history of sex, choice and Catholics.
 
The Vatican’s public response to this crisis was the promise to screen out gay candidates for ordination during their seminary preparation. With this statement, they made homosexual priests the scapegoats in this crisis, even though they know pedophilia is a separate issue. They have taken the easy way out by exploiting society’s homophobia and sacrificing these priests on the altar of self-preservation. This is a far cry from Jesus, who stood with the marginalized and was crucified because of his solidarity with them. It’s revealing that the Vatican intentionally tied pedophilia to homosexuality in order to exonerate mandated celibacy and avoid having to make the systemic changes necessary to find real solutions. For more about scapegoating homosexual priests, click here and here.
 
Recently, the hierarchy paved the way for the ordination to the priesthood of numerous married Protestant clergy.  Most of these clergy left their denominations over the issue of homosexuality.  Their primary desire was to find hierarchical support for their homophobia, and sadly, they have found it within Catholicism.  History will soon prove the Catholic Church wrong on the issue of homosexuality as it has on so many other issues.  Even then, the hierarchy will continue to proclaim itself “Infallible” and those in the pew will again look the other way in order to maintain their illusion of faith.  Click here to see how the Bishops have lost credibility with the majority of Catholics when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.  Click here to read a story about the pain the Bishop’s homophobia has caused one man and how their teaching causes many gay people to commit suicide.
 
I have known I was gay from the time I was four years old, even though I could not articulate it to myself, let alone anyone else.  I thought everyone felt the same as I did, but gradually as I grew up and then went to school and observed others, I realized slowly over time that I was different.  And so did my classmates when I reached a certain age because I did not have, nor have any desire to have, a “girlfriend.”  Naturally, I became the butt of jokes from my male classmates from a very early age.  I became an altar boy at the tender age of seven and noticed immediately the profound respect I had from the older people in the parish that I never had before.  When I announced to my classmates at an early age that I thought I wanted to be a priest, it helped to stop the ribbing (at least from the Catholic ones), now; at least, they saw a reason why I stayed away from girls.  When I entered minor diocesan seminary with other students, we were surrounded by men who gave us an attention, respect, and honor that I had never experienced before.  Never once did they question my sexuality or make me feel uncomfortable.
 
Within the Roman Catholic priesthood, a high percentage of bishops and priests are bisexual or homosexual.  One should not be surprised at this.  As the priest cited above attests, the acceptance and respect shown to celibate priests is a strong drawing card for boys who feel alienated and demeaned because of a homosexual orientation that they themselves probably don’t understand.  The seminary environment is, itself, conducive to nurturing the emotional needs of homosexual men.  From the moment a man enters the seminary, he is surrounded by men and expected to associate primarily with men throughout his formation.
 
From the time a man enters the seminary and throughout his priesthood, special friendships with women are discouraged and often perceived as scandalous, while associations with males are, of course, acceptable.  Eyebrows are raised if a priest goes out to lunch with a woman, but he can live with other men and vacation with other priests, with no questions asked.  If he is gay, this is also a drawing card, as it would be for a heterosexual priest if the situation were reversed and he could freely, without raising any eyebrows or suspicion, associate with women.
 
In no way do we want to imply that an all male environment influences men to become homosexual, because sexual orientation is genetically predetermined.  However, within a male environment, it is understandably easier for a homosexual or bisexual man to have his intimacy needs met than it is for a heterosexual man.
 
Because homosexual relationships are frowned upon in most areas of society, welcomed in very few and completely rejected in others, the priesthood is, and has been throughout the history of mandated celibacy, a refuge for gay men. But, there is another reason why gay men are attracted to the priesthood, they are very good at it.
 
During our years in the priesthood, we found homosexual priests to be some of the most pastorally gifted and successful people in ministry and learned to respect them deeply.
 
Although it is easier for gay priests to have their intimacy needs met, they risk public ridicule if their sexual orientation becomes public knowledge.  Therefore they must keep their sexual orientation “in the closet,” and that is more easily done within a community of celibate males.
 
If the Church’s hierarchy were honest, it would acknowledge the high percentage of priests who are gay and affirm their ministry.  Instead, they appear to be ashamed of these priests and attempt to deny their existence.  In so doing, they are contributing to society’s homophobia and encouraging gay priests to view their God-given sexuality with shame.
 
Some cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests in ecclesiastical offices responsible for homophobic polices are themselves gay, which shows to what degree they will sacrifice their integrity in order to maintain their power.
 
The history of the Church indicates that even some popes have been homosexual.  The hierarchy is well aware of the high number of homosexuals that minister within their ranks.  Sadly, their policy has been to be dishonest and deny it. Gay priests are also expected to join in this falsehood and be dishonest about who they are.
 
Regardless of whether priests are homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, the real problem lies with the hierarchy’s seeming inability to deal with human sexuality in an emotionally healthy way.  Their outlook exemplifies an Augustinian view where sexual orgasm is perceived as a defiling act rendering the priest impure.  This sick, medieval view of sexuality is the heart of the problem and the foundation upon which mandatory celibacy rests.
 
It is very difficult for priests to integrate their sexuality in a healthy manner when it is perceived as an alien force within them.  My moral theology class in the seminary taught that masturbation (or even so much as thinking about it with delight) was serious sin.  My professor summed it up in these words: “If you are celibate, no orgasms!”  This came from a very conservative moral theologian whom the Church had elevated as an authority on human sexuality in one of the largest seminaries in the United States.  The message that came through to us seminarians was:  “Your sexual drive is evil and alien to who you really are and must be repressed, or you will be punished by God.”  This resulted in seminarians running off to confession every few days with sex as the major “sin” with which they were preoccupied.  Teaching such as this is psychologically damaging and harmful to healthy sexual integration.  This is why there will always be some sort of sexual crisis within the priesthood, and the responsibility for it needs to be placed at the very highest echelon within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
 
A priest who is gay and has transitioned created a blog intended to be a safe place where gay or bisexual priests (currently serving or have served) in the Church, can find support. He states, “It is my hope that, through the process of sharing the challenges that exist for being gay and priests, support and encouragement can be found regardless of dispirited rhetoric and dictums from the Church’s hierarchy, which oppresses gay and bisexual men into feeling lonely and shameful. This blog is intended to allow a healing process to exist, whereby priests can find understanding, hope and a sense of peace.” Click here to find the blog “Make It Known”.
 
For an excellent in depth discussion about homosexuality and the Catholic Church, see this article in Commonweal.
 
The experience of falling in love is overwhelming for anyone, but especially for a priest.  When love erupts in a priest’s heart, he realizes everything he has worked for is put at risk – his ministry, reputation, the esteem of parishioners, other priests, his bishop and possibly family and friends.  He risks losing his job, home, health insurance and, sadly in some dioceses, his retirement.  On top of all this is the fear of spiritual condemnation by the Church who claims to wield the power of God Himself.  So, rather than romantic love being a treasured gift from God, it becomes a threat to a priest’s very survival and puts him in crisis.
 
Even though they know this, most priests still yearn for a significant other with whom they can have a close, intimate relationship.  If gay, they long for a male, and if straight, a female companion who will see beyond the curtain of their professional lives into their hearts and embrace them with tenderness, nurture and unconditional love.  Their primary desire is not for sex, but for the warmth, tenderness and nurture that a healthy relationship of love offers.  Unfortunately, mandated celibacy makes all of this “sinful”, or at least, the near occasion of sin, which priests are trained to avoid.
 
It is true that there are priests who are primarily looking for sexual gratification and are willing to use others for this purpose.  But these priests are emotionally troubled and do not represent the majority.  Those who have been recipients of their abuse would call them criminals and possibly even attempt to sue them or their diocese or religious order for their behavior.  Mandated celibacy can and often does attract dysfunctional men who are emotionally and sexually confused.  Furthermore, it can arrest what would have otherwise been healthy psychosexual development because it prohibits the very intimate interaction necessary for this development.  This is particularly true for priests who are “lifers”, i.e. they entered the seminary during high school when the psychosexual factors of their lives were being formed.
 
Women who fall in love with priests—and the same is true for gay men who fall in love with priests—often find a sort of “schoolboy” mentality, which is indicative of men whose psychosexual development has been arrested.  But it is also a product of the environment in which priests live for all the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph of this section above.  A priest in love must keep it hidden and often the first person he tries to hide it from is himself.  What love he is able to show cannot be overt, and like a schoolboy he is awkward trying to express it, feels shame if anyone notices it, and if asked would strongly deny it exists.  What is going on in his heart is euphoric and at the same time frightening.
 
Rather than run from this love, priests may find it helpful to have a good trusted counselor with whom to discuss it.  They may find that attempting to run from love is actually running from God’s greatest gift and something they will someday regret.  On the other hand, careful discernment is necessary to see if he and his companion have the emotional maturity to make a marriage work.
 
Because mandated celibacy prohibits this relationship, proper discernment while in ministry is difficult.
 
If a priest finds that he would like to pursue the relationship, he may be better off leaving the priesthood.  In this way, he can be honest and express his love in the light of day, rather than in the shaming shadows of celibacy, where now his lover is also required to live.  I fail to understand why a priest would expect the person he loves to also live in this oppressive environment that perceives their relationship to be sinful.  She is susceptible to verbal and other emotional abuse if word gets out that they are in love.
 
Such is the sad situation of the Roman Catholic priesthood.
 
In order to leave, the priest needs to look at everything he does as a stepping stone out of the priesthood.  This begins in his own heart with a clear intention to leave, i.e. “Sow a thought and reap an action.”  Finding emotional support is helpful, but if he is looking for priest friends or his bishop to validate his desire to leave, he will be disappointed.  He must believe, not only in God, but also in himself.
 
To someone outside of Catholicism, they may think, “What’s the big deal?  If you want to leave, just leave!”  But it’s not that easy.  Click here to see more reasons why it’s hard to leave.
 
He can leave with or without going through the laicization process.  If he and his beloved want to continue within Catholicism, get married and receive the sacraments, he will need to be laicized and this process can be lengthy, but it can occur after he leaves.  Further information about being laicized is available on this website’s blog, “The Laicization Process”.
 
The first step to transitioning out of the priesthood is for the priest to have a theology that allows him to leave.  He must also perceive that he has the internal resources necessary to create a new life elsewhere.  Even if he finds that this particular love relationship does not end in marriage, it has served to help him mature and begin a new phase of life.  Once a priest tastes the sweetness of intimate romantic love, it becomes the benchmark for other relationships.  He has been to the mountain top of romantic love, where, perhaps to his surprise, he has found the presence of God and a whole new dimension of life.  It changes everything and he begins to see forced celibacy for what it is – an oppressive ecclesiastical law that stands apart from the will of God.  Of course, the situation would be completely different if celibacy was optional.
 
It takes tremendous courage for a woman to confide to a priest that she is in love with him, or for a priest to confide to a woman that he is in love with her.  And of course, the same would apply to gay relationships.
 
When a priest is in love, his love is often expressed with innuendo and under the table, so to speak, which is indicative of the schoolboy dynamic.  If the woman has reached a point in the relationship where she wants to be honest and express her love to him, she will be hurt if it is not reciprocated.  The rejection may occur for several reasons:
 
  • The priest is not in love with her and she has read more into the relationship than was there. In this case, he must ask himself if he intentionally led her on.  If this was the case, he joins the ranks of other abusive priests.
  • The priest lacks the courage to admit his love for her, though he may come around to it in time.
  • The priest may truly love her, but not enough to face the possible ramifications of developing a deeper relationship.  At least, he should admit this.
  • The priest truly loves her, but is too steeped in Catholic theology to ever seriously consider leaving because he fears putting either of their souls in jeopardy.  He feels that by remaining a priest he is practicing “sacrificial love” and awaits their perfect union in Heaven.  In this situation, in the mind of the priest, the ecclesiastical institution has become divinized.
 
By discussing the nature of their relationship, the woman has been the mature one by admitting her love, no longer willing to play schoolboy games.  She has been honest and called him to honesty too.  Like so many women in the history of humanity, she is the hero but is often viewed as the villain.  To all the women who have been hurt by priests who love them but are afraid to come out from behind their collars: your honesty, integrity and courage are an inspiration.  He is a slave of the institution.  Hold your head high and move on to a man worthy of your love.  Healing will come in time.
 
A priest in love normally wants the relationship to continue under the table, because of the crisis it involves for him to be honest about it.  Often when in love, his denial is primarily to himself about the blossoming love relationship, but he cannot deny the joy he feels while in her presence.  It’s time for him to man-up and face the truth.  It may be costly but such is the price of true spiritual growth and maturity.
 
He needs to wake up and see how he has been brainwashed by the Church and embrace this love as a gift from God.  Regardless of what the Church says, this is the real conversion where he takes responsibility for his own life.  Just as he found Christ present in ministry and now in romantic love, he will find him also present and guiding him into the future.  Faith is confidence assurance about things hoped for and conviction about things unseen.(Hebrews 11:1)
 
Mandated celibacy forces a priest to live a sort of schizophrenic relationship with himself when it comes to romance and nurture.  Intimacy lurks beneath the surface of his life and he dreams of someday finding someone with whom he can share it.  If he does come across someone that causes the violins to sound off, he feels both attraction and fear of where it may lead.
 
This can be a challenge for married couples as well, who find their hearts being touched by someone other than their spouse.  It is less an issue if their need for love and nurture are being met with their spouse, and this involves much more than sex.  But, for a priest, there is no one filling this void in his life.  While it is true that some find their needs for intimacy met in their spirituality, many do not.  Christ longs to bring these priests love, nurture and intimacy through another human being and they have a right for this.  Ecclesiastical law can never nullify the divine law to marry and experience the union of two people coming together as one.
 
There are women and priests in love who have made a mutual commitment to somehow live this love within the context of the priesthood.  Some of these relationships are celibate and some are not.  I don’t know how, over the long haul, they do it.  They live in fear of their love becoming public and must sometimes have to lie to keep it hidden.  I don’t think living  this way is emotionally, spiritually or physically healthy.  Yet, some have managed to make it work.  Love will have its way, even if it must be lived within the shaming shadows of celibacy.  However, priests who ask their beloved to live in this way must examine themselves to see if it is truly mutual or the result of a lack of empathy.  In some countries, a priest having a concubine is tolerated, perhaps even expected, but that is not the case in the United States.
 
Only in the Roman Catholic Church is God’s gift of love perceived as evil.
 
Some priests find their needs for love and intimacy met within their life and ministry but many do not.  An obvious solution to this would be to make celibacy optional.  Unfortunately, the Church is entrenched and blind to this, and it’s time for priests in love to move on with their lives.
 
Ecclesiastical leaders eager to pass judgment on priests who seek companionship need to understand that they have turned God’s gift of love into a force of evil.  This is one of the greatest perversions of religion today and they would do well to remember that turning God’s gift of love into a force of evil is the real sin.  By so adamantly maintaining the current law of mandated celibacy, they are mainly responsible for the pain suffered by priests and women in love and for whatever scandal might ensue from these  relationships.
 
A question women who fall in love with priests must ask themselves is, “Am I part of a fantasy world he is creating?” Most priests have no intention of leaving the priesthood, but welcome a romantic relationship, whatever the degree, because it provides relief from the loneliness of the priesthood. Women involved with these relationships can find their lives on hold sometimes for years only to find the relationship to be going nowhere.
 
If a priest is really in love, he would leave. Period. No, “Well, if only…” Or,  “I would leave if ….”  Many women who enter into the world of mandated celibacy and romance end up deeply hurt.  Romance and the priesthood are indeed an oxymoron.  If a priest is unwilling to be honest and discuss the relationship with the one he loves, it is an indication that the relationship is going nowhere.
 
Father, if you are in a romantic relationship, whether gay or straight, you are fortunate.  Giving and receiving romantic love is a huge part of what it means to be a human being.  It is an experience where the presence of God cannot be denied if one is honest about it.  If you are still active in the Catholic Church, no one needs to tell you how complicated the relationship is given the fact that you have to live it within the shaming shadows of mandated celibacy.  It is unfortunate that now the one you love must also try to express their affection within this oppressive system.  Your options are to force this love out of your life, or strive to secretively nurture it within the confines of the priesthood, or leave and live the relationship openly in the light of day.  True freedom is found in the latter.  Romantic love opens up a whole other world.  Your superiors will demonize this relationship, but how can love be evil?  Realize they and their predecessors have turned romantic love into a force of evil, which is the ultimate corruption of religion.  How can their corruption of romantic love be the will of God who identified himself with love?  Because mandated  celibacy is not the will of God, you are free to leave.   (source)
 

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

The Trouble with Celibacy

The Trouble with Celibacy

In Africa, Catholicism’s best growth market, many priests have little use for Rome’s chastity mandate.

By Lisa Miller | Newsweek Web Exclusive |  07 April 2010

LisaMillerIn 1998 a Roman Catholic nun named Marie McDonald wrote a brief and painful summary of her concerns to her colleagues and superiors. It was labeled “strictly confidential.” She was worried, she said, about the sexual abuse of nuns by Roman Catholic priests in Africa

The memo—titled “The Problem of the Sexual Abuse of African Religious in Africa and in Rome” was concise. “Sexual harassment and even rape of sisters by priests and bishops is allegedly common,” it said.  Sisters, financially dependent on priests, occasionally have to perform sexual favors in exchange for money. McDonald analyzed the causes of this widespread violation of chastity vows and then made this plea: “The time has come for some concerted action.” According to the National Catholic Reporter, which made McDonald’s memo public in 2001, Vatican officials did take steps to rectify the problem, but publicly, their stance was chillingly familiar. “The problem is known and is restricted to a limited geographical area,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman at the time. This is an isolated incident, in other words; we’ve got it under control.

Even as new cases of child sexual abuse by clergy emerge each day in Europe and the United States, abuse in the regions where Catholicism is growing fastest—Latin America, Asia, and, especially, Africa—are still largely ignored. In the West, the focus has been on the violation of minors, and on the role of celibacy in engendering this problem. In Africa, the problem is somewhat more complex. Though many good priests do adhere to their chastity vows, says the Rev. Peter Schineller, a Jesuit priest who has spent 20 years in Africa, sex between consenting or semi-consenting adults is commonplace. Transgression against chastity vows by priests run the gamut from harassment all the way to fathering children; it’s not criminal necessarily, but it’s certainly against doctrine. “The violations are huge,” says Schineller. As the Roman Catholic hierarchy continues to crow over its success and vitality in the global south—the growth rate in Africa and Asia has been about 3 percent a year, twice the rate worldwide—the African church may put mandatory clerical celibacy to its harshest test yet.

Sexual coercion is just part of the story. The 2001 investigation by the National Catholic Reporter uncovered three separate reports of sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests. The story described priests raping religious sisters and then paying for their abortions; sisters fearing to travel in cars with priests for fear of rape; sisters appealing to bishops for help only to be told to go away. “Even when they are listened to sympathetically,” wrote McDonald, “nothing seems to be done.”

Much less well documented is a broader problem: priests with unofficial “wives.” In Africa, “there’s a tremendous problem with the vow of chastity in regard to women,” says Schineller. “Statistics are hard to get, but it’s a reality. Bishops are sometimes involved with it, but mostly they simply have not faced it. It’s kind of a hidden thing. Laypeople want priests, so they put up with the priest having a friend.” About four years ago, Schineller worked with the bishops of Nigeria to produce a pamphlet warning parish priests about the dangers of violating their chastity vows. “There are consequences for all of this,” he said.

Schineller believes that priests all over the world fail to maintain their celibacy—more, he says, than anyone wants to admit—but that Africa presents priests with a unique set of problems. In Africa, parents have a higher social status than childless adults. “To be a man in Africa—it varies from culture to culture—but it is expected that you will have children and a family. To be a celibate male is not a high value.” Also, he adds, priests are often very isolated: they get lonely. “Priests are separated, living out in the bush. Family expectations are high, temptations are strong.” And women, as Marie McDonald put it in her top-secret document, hold an “inferior position.” “It seems,” she wrote, “that a sister finds it impossible to refuse a priest who asks for sexual favors.” (It’s easy to imagine that holds true as well for women who are not nuns.)

Nuns hold a unique place in this sexual landscape. In a universe where AIDS is widespread, sex with nuns is thought to be safe; some imagine it might even have positive, healing powers. Priests who might have visited prostitutes see religious sisters as a healthy alternative. “One of the most dangerous myths in history,” adds Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, “was this: if you were suffering from a serious sexual disease, sex with a virgin would cure it. That had awful consequences.”

The Vatican has known about these sins and crimes for some time. When Benedict XVI traveled to Africa in 2005, for example, he addressed the question of celibacy explicitly. He urged the bishops there to “open themselves fully to serving others as Christ did by embracing the gift of celibacy.”

Indeed, Benedict holds celibacy so high that last year he excommunicated a Zambian priest, the Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, for being married. Mbewe now heads a breakaway sect of married Catholic priests in Uganda called the Catholic Apostolic National Church, according to The New York Times. “The creation of the splinter church underscored the increasingly vexing problem of enforcing celibacy for Roman Catholic priests in Africa, which has the world’s fastest-growing Catholic population but where there have been several cases of priests living openly with women and fathering children,” the Times wrote. One wonders at the priorities of a man who failed to defrock a priest in Wisconsin who molested hundreds of children but acted so decisively in the case of one who married a consenting adult.

Lisa Miller is NEWSWEEK’s religion editor and the author of  Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife .  (source)

More  Resources:

Celibacy as the MAIN REASON for the lack of vocations
Priests talking about celibacy
The Tradition of Abusive Dishonesty
The Trouble with Celibacy in Africa
When a Priest Falls in Love

Sexual Abuse Survivors as the Unsung Heroes of Church Reform

Sexual Abuse Survivors as the Unsung Heroes of Church Reform

by Thomas Doyle  (02 August  2014)

Thomas_P_Doyle2A letter sent by the Vicar General of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana to the papal nuncio in June, 1984, was the trigger that set in motion a series of events that has changed the fate of the victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and clergy of all denominations. The letter informed the nuncio that the Gastel family had decided to withdraw from a confidential monetary settlement with the diocese. It went on to say they had obtained the services of an attorney and planned to sue the diocese.

This long process has had a direct impact on much more than the fate of victims and the security of innocent children and vulnerable persons of any age. It has altered the image and role of the institutional Catholic Church in western society to such an extent that the tectonic plates upon which this Church rests have shifted in a way never expected or dreamed of thirty years ago.

I cannot find language that can adequately communicate the full import of this monstrous phenomenon. The image of a Christian Church that enabled the sexual and spiritual violation of its most vulnerable members and when confronted, responded with institutionalized mendacity and utter disregard for the victims cannot be adequately described as a “problem,” a “crisis” or a “scandal.” The widespread sexual violation of children and adults by clergy and the horrific response of the leadership, especially the bishops, is the present-day manifestation of a very dark and toxic dimension of the institutional Church. This dark side has always existed. In our era it has served as the catalyst for a complex and deeply rooted process that can be best described as a paradigm shift. The paradigm for responding to sexual abuse by clergy has shifted at its foundation. The paradigm for society’s understanding of and response to child sexual abuse had begun to shift with the advent of the feminist movement in the early seventies but was significantly accelerated by the mid-eighties. The paradigm of the institutional Church interacting in society has shifted and continues to do so as the forces demanding justice, honesty and accountability by the hierarchy continue their relentless pressure. The Catholic monolith, once accepted by friend and foe alike as a rock-solid monarchy, is crumbling.

The single most influential and forceful element in this complex historical process has not been the second Vatican Council. It has been the action of the victims of sexual abuse.

There are a few of us still standing who have been in the midst of this mind and soul-boggling phenomenon from the beginning of the present era. We have been caught up and driven by the seemingly never-ending chain of events, revelations, and explosions that have marked it from the very beginning and will continue to mark it into the future.

It has had a profound impact on the belief systems and the spirituality of many directly and indirectly involved. My own confidence and trust in the institutional church has been shattered. I have spent years trying to process what has been happening to the spiritual dimension of my life. The vast enormity of a deeply ingrained clerical culture that allowed the sexual violation of the innocent and most vulnerable has overshadowed the theological, historical and cultural supports upon which the institutional Church has based its claim to divinely favored status. All of the theological and canonical truths I had depended upon have been dissipated to meaninglessness.

Some of us who have supported victims have been accused of being dissenters from orthodox church teaching. We have been accused of being anti-Catholic, using the sexual abuse issue to promote active disagreement with Church positions on various sexual issues. These accusations are complete nonsense. This is not a matter of dissent or agreement with Church teachings. It is about the sexual violations of countless victims by trusted Church members. It is not a matter of anti-Catholic propaganda but direct opposition to Church leaders, policies or practices that enable the perpetrators of sexual abuse and demonize the victims. It is not a matter of defaming the Church’s image. No one has done a better job of that than the bishops themselves.

For some of us the very concept of a personal or anthropocentric god has also been destroyed, in great part by an unanswerable question: If there is a loving god watching over us, why does he allow his priests and bishops to violate the bodies and destroy the souls of so many innocent children?”

Those of us who have been in twelve step movements are familiar with the usual format recommended for speakers: we base our stories on a three-part outline – what it was like before, what happened, and what it is like now. This is the format I want to use as I look back on thirty years and try to describe where I think we have been and where we are going. Much to the chagrin of the hard-core cheerleaders for the institutional Church, there is no question that the victims and survivors of the Church’s sexual abuse and spiritual treachery have set in motion a process that has changed and will continue to change the history of the Catholic Church. The Catholic experience has prompted members of other denominations to acknowledge sexual abuse in their midst and demand accountability. It has also forever altered the response of secular society to the once untouchable Churches.

What It Was Like Before

The basic facts need no elaboration. The default response to a report of child, adolescent or adult sexual abuse was first to enshroud it in an impenetrable blanket of secrecy. The perpetrator was shifted to another assignment. The victim was intimidated into silence. The media knew nothing and if law enforcement of civil officials were involved, they deferred to the bishop “for the good of the Church.”

A small number of perpetrators were sent to special church-run institutions that treated them in secrecy and in many instances, released them to re-enter ministry. The founder of the most influential of these, Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, firmly believed that no priest who had violated a child or minor should ever be allowed back in ministry and should be dismissed from the priesthood. He made his unequivocal beliefs known to bishops, to the prefect of the Holy Office (1962) and to Pope Paul VI in a private audience in 1963. He was ignored.

What Happened

The Lafayette case involving Gilbert Gauthe was the beginning of the end of the default template. I suspect that none of the major players in the case had any idea of the magnitude of what they were involved in. I was one of them and I certainly could never have imagined how this would all play out.

The Lafayette case sparked attention because of the systemic cover-up that had gone on from before Gilbert Gauthe was ordained and continued past his conviction and imprisonment (see In God’s House, a novel by Ray Mouton, based on the events of this case). Jason Berry was singlehandedly responsible for opening up the full extent of the ecclesiastical treachery to the public. Other secular media followed suit. The story was picked up by the national media and before long other reports of sexual abuse by priests were coming in from parishes and dioceses not only in the deep south but in other parts of the country (Required reading! Lead Us Not Into Temptation by Jason Berry).

The report or manual, authored by Ray Mouton, Mike Peterson and I, is the result of our belief that the bishops didn’t know how to proceed when faced with actual cases of sexual violation and rape by priests. Many of the bishops I spoke to at the time admitted they were bewildered about what to do. None expected the series of explosions that were waiting just over the horizon. I asked several if a document or short manual of some sort would help and the responses were uniformly affirmative. Some of the bishops I consulted with were men I had grown to respect and trust. I believed they would support whatever efforts we suggested to deal with the developing, potentially explosive situation. Peterson, Mouton and I did not see it as an isolated, one-time “problem.” Rather, we saw it is as a highly toxic practice of the clerical culture that needed to be recognized and rectified.

Some of the men I consulted with and to whom I turned for support and guidance, in time became major players in the national nightmare. The two most prominent were Bernard Law and Anthony Bevilacqua, both men whom I once counted as friends.

It was not long before I realized that the major force of opposition was the central leadership of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the General Secretariat in particular. We had initially hoped the Bishops’ conference would look at the manual and consider the action proposals that accompanied it. The main blockage was, I believe, at the level of the general secretariat and the executive leadership. It was bad enough that they simply ignored the effort to help but they delivered a serious blow to their credibility when they made public statements to the effect that they knew everything that was in the manual and already had programs and protocols in place. When questioned by the media about this they were forced to admit that these protocols and policies were not written down.

Throughout this period the three of us were hopeful that the opposition was not representative of the entire hierarchical leadership. We wanted to believe that the pushback from the Conference was the reaction of a small group and that it was based on a turf battle between the Bishops Conference and the Papal nuncio. Our realization that the reactionary attitude was more extensive began when the bishops, through the office of the general council, publicly accused Mouton, Peterson and I of creating the manual and the making the recommended action proposals because we saw the growing problem as a potential source of profit and hoped to sell our services to the various dioceses. At this point the three of us had to accept the painful reality that episcopal leadership was far more interested in their own image and power than in the welfare of the victims. It was becoming very clear that in the Church we were trying to help, integrity was a scarce commodity.

At the recent Vatican celebrations for Saint John XXIII and former pope John Paul II, George Weigel and Joaquin Navarro-Valls created an outrageous fantasy about the role of John Paul II, claiming that he knew nothing until after the 2002 Boston debacle. This was a blatant lie. John Paul II was given a 42 page detailed report on the sex abuse and cover-up in Lafayette LA during the last week of February 1985. It was sent as justification for the request from the papal nuncio that a bishop be appointed to go to Lafayette to try to find out exactly what was going on. The report was carried to Rome by Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia precisely because the nuncio wanted it to go directly to the pope and not be sidetracked by lower level functionaries. The pope read the report and within four days the requested appointment came through. The bishop in question was the late A.J. Quinn of Cleveland who turned out to be a big part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

Quinn visited Lafayette two times and accomplished nothing. We were suspicious of his intentions by the end of 1985 and quite certain by 1986. In 1988 he wrote to the nuncio: “The truth is, Doyle and Mouton want the Church in the United States to purchase their expensive and controvertible leadership in matters relating to pedophilia…The Church has weathered worse attacks…So too will the pedophile annoyance eventually abate.” (Quinn to Laghi, Jan. 8, 1988). Archbishop Laghi didn’t buy it, evident from his cover letter to me: “While I do not subscribe to the conclusions drawn in this correspondence, I want you to know of some of the sentiments expressed in some quarters…” (Laghi to Doyle, Jan. 18, 1988). In 1990 Quinn addressed the Canon Law Society of America and advised that if bishops found information in priests’ files they did not want seen they should send the files to the papal nuncio to be shielded by diplomatic immunity. Quinn, a civil lawyer as well as a canon lawyer, was then subjected to disbarment proceedings as a result of his unethical suggestion.

The papal nuncio, the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, was supportive of our efforts and was in regular telephone contact with the Vatican. There were very few actual written reports sent over although all of the media stories we received were transmitted to the Holy See. Cardinal Silvio Oddi, then the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, visited the nunciature in June and asked to be briefed. I was deputed for the task. By then we had more information on the rapidly growing number of cases in all parts of the country. I recall that by that time we were aware of 42 cases, which I naively thought was a very significant number. I prepared a lengthy report that was not only detailed but also graphic in its content. I read the report to the cardinal and responded to his many questions. At the end of the meeting at which only he and I were present, he announced that he would take this information back to the Holy Father. “Then there will be a meeting of the heads of all the dicasteries [Vatican congregations] and we will issue a decree.” I understand that he did take the information to the pope but there never was a meeting of the heads and no decree ever came forth.

Our efforts to get the bishops’ conference to even consider the issues we set forth in our manual, much less take decisive action, were a total failure. Looking back from the perspective of thirty years direct experience, I believe they acted in the only way they knew how which was completely self-serving with scandalous lack of sympathy for the victims and their families. There were individual bishops who were open to exploring the right way to proceed but the conference, which represented all of the bishops, was interested in controlling the fallout and preserving their stature and their power.

We sent individual copies of the manual to every bishop in the U.S. on December 8, 1985. By then we still had hope that perhaps someone would read it and stand up at the conference meetings and call the bishops’ attention to what we had insisted was the most important element, namely the compassionate care of the victims.

In October 1986 Mike Peterson had flown to the Vatican to speak with officials at the Congregation for Religious and the Congregation for Clergy. He was in a better position than anyone else to expose this issue to them because he knew how serious and extensive the problem of sexually dysfunctional priests was from his experience as director of St. Luke Institute. He returned from Rome dejected, angry and discouraged. I remember picking him up at the airport and going to dinner. They not only were not interested but brushed his concerns off as an exaggeration of a non-problem. Mike was willing to keep trying with the American bishops. He arranged for a hospitality suite at the hotel where the bishops were having their annual November meeting. He invited every bishop to come and discuss the matter of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy. There were over three hundred bishops present. Eight showed up.

Between 1986 and 2002 there were several important developments in the unfolding history of clergy sexual abuse. I would like to mention a few that influenced the historical process.

1. The bishops addressed the issue secretly in their annual meetings. The direction was consistent: defense of the dioceses and the bishops. There was never any mention of care for the victims.

2. The media continued to cover the issue from coast to coast generally showing sympathy for the victims and outrage at the Church’s systemic cover-up.

3. Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the US bishops in June 1993 which clearly revealed his attitude.

4. The bishops formed a committee in 1993 and produced a four-volume handbook. The handbook and the committee had no appreciable impact.

5. There were increasing cases of sexual abuse brought before the civil courts. There were also several very public explosions during this period: the Thomas Adamson related cases in St. Paul; St. Anthony Seminary, Santa Barbara CA; St. Lawrence Seminary, Mt. Calvary WI; Fr. James Porter, Massachusetts; the Rudy Kos trial, Dallas, 1997. None of these jarred the bishops loose from their arrogant, defensive position and none served as a sufficient wake-up call for the broad base of lay support for the bishops.

6. The “problem” which John Paul II declared was unique to the United States, was amplified in other countries: Mt. Cashel, St. John’s Newfoundland, 1989; Brendan Smyth and the fall of the Irish government in December 1994; the exposure and forced resignation of Hans Cardinal Groer, archbishop of Vienna, September 1995. So much for the U.S. as the scapegoat!

7. SNAP was founded by Barbara Blaine and The Linkup by Jeanne Miller in 1989.

8. The first gathering of clergy abuse victims took place in Arlington IL in October 1992, sponsored by the Linkup. The main speakers were Jason Berry, Richard Sipe, Andrew Greeley, Jeff Anderson and Tom Doyle.

9. In 1999 John Paul II ordered the canonical process against Marcial Maciel-Degollado, founder and supreme leader of the Legion of Christ, shelved. In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged the truth of Maciel’s crimes against minors and removed him from ministry. In 2009 the Vatican announced that Maciel had led a double life, having six possible children with two women.   [Benedict XVI delayed the investigation of Marciel until he had fast-forwarded the canonization of John Paul II without any taint of his favoritism of Marciel.]

The pope made a total of 11 public statements about clergy sexual abuse between 1993 and his death in 2005. The letters showed little comprehension of the horrific nature of the problem and no acknowledgement of the bishops’ enabling role. The culprits were, in the pope’s eyes, secular materialism, media sensationalism and sinful priests. He never even acknowledged much less responded to the thousands of requests from individual victims.

The U.S. bishops issued a handful of press releases and a number of intramural statements, most of which came from the office of the General Council. To their credit their general counsel sent out a memo to all bishops in 1988 which contained suggested actions which, had they not been ignored by the bishops, might have made a significant difference.

The bishops’ approach in the U.S. and elsewhere followed a standard evolutionary process: denial, minimization, blame shifting and devaluation of challengers. The bishop’s carefully scripted apologies expressed their regret for the pain suffered. Never once did they apologize for what they had done to harm the victims. Likewise there was never any concern voiced by the Vatican or the bishops’ conference about the spiritual and emotional damage done to the victims by the abuse itself and by the betrayal by the hierarchy. It became clear by the end of the nineties that the problem was not simply recalcitrant bishops. It was much more fundamental. The barrier to doing the right thing was deeply embedded in the clerical culture itself.

January 6, 2002 stands out as a pivotal date in the evolution of the clergy abuse phenomenon. The Boston revelations had an immediate and lasting impact that surprised even the most cynical. I was not surprised by the stories because I had been in conversations first with Kristin Lombardi who wrote a series based on the same facts for the Boston Phoenix in March 2001 and later with the Globe Spotlight Team. The continuous stream of media stories of what the bishops had been doing in Boston and elsewhere provoked widespread public outrage.

The bishops’ cover-up of sexual abuse and the impact on victims were the subject of special reports by all of the major news networks and countless stories in the print media. Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report and the Economist all published cover stories about the “scandal.” The number of lawsuits dramatically increased and the protective deference on the part of law enforcement and civil officials, once counted on by the clerical leadership, was rapidly eroding. Grand jury investigations were launched in three jurisdictions within two months with several more to follow. It was all too much for the bishops to handle. They could not control it. They could not ignore it and they could not minimize it or make it go away.

The most visible result of the many-sided pressure on the hierarchy was the Dallas meeting. This was not a proactive pastorally sensitive gesture on the part of the bishops. It was defensive damage control, choreographed by the public relations firm of R.F. Binder associates. The meeting included addresses by several victim/survivors (David Clohessy, Michael Bland, Craig Martin, Paula Rohbacker), a clinical psychologist (Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea), a lay theologian (Scott Appleby), a Catholic author (Margaret O’Brien Steinfels). The tangible result of the meeting was the Charter for the Protection of Young People and the Essential Norms. The impact of Charter and the Norms has clearly been mixed. The lofty rhetoric of the bishops in the charter has not been followed up with action, to no one’s surprise.

The Essential Norms have not been uniformly and consistently followed. As proof we can look to the steady number of exceptions from 2002 whereby known perpetrators are either allowed to remain in ministry or are put back in ministry. The National Review Board showed promise at the beginning, especially after the publication of its extensive report in 2004. This promise sputtered and died as the truly effective members of the board left when they realized the bishops weren’t serious, and were replaced by others who essentially did nothing but hold positions on an impotent administrative entity that served primarily as an unsuccessful public relations effort to support the bishops’ claim that they were doing something.

Sexual violation of minors by clerics of all ranks has been part of the institution and the clerical culture since the days of the primitive Christian communities [source?]. Over the centuries the stratified model of the Church, with the clergy in the dominant role and the laity relegated to passive obedience, has held firm and allowed the hierarchy to maintain control over the issue of sexually dysfunctional clerics who, by the way, have ranged from sub-deacons to popes.

The paradigm shift, evident in the institutional Church since the years leading up to Vatican Council II, laid the foundation for a radically different response in the present era. The victim/survivors, their supporters and the secular society have shaped and guided the direction and evolution of the clergy sexual abuse nightmare. The Vatican and the bishops throughout the world have remained on the defensive and have never been able to gain any semblance of control. Those very few bishops who have publicly sided with the survivors have been marginalized and punished. The general response has been limited to the well-tuned rhetoric of public statements, sponsorship of a variety of child-safety programs, constant promises of change and enlightenment and above all, the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in attorneys who have used every tactic imaginable and many that are not imaginable to defeat and discredit victims and prevent their clients from being held accountable. The apologetic public statements, filled with regret and assurances of a better tomorrow, are worthless from the get-go, rendered irrelevant and insulting by the harsh reality of the brutal tactics of the bishops’ attack dogs.

While the institutional Church has essentially remained in neutral, various segments of civil society have reacted decisively. Between 1971 and 2013 there have been at least 72 major reports issued about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The early reports (three in the seventies) were about sexual dysfunction in general among the clergy but since 1985 they have been about sexual abuse of minors. Some of these have been commissioned by official bodies and are the result of extensive investigations such as the U.S. Grand Jury reports, the Belgian Parliamentary Report and the Irish Investigation Commission Reports. They come from several countries in North America and Europe. A study of the sections on causality has shown a common denominator: the deliberately inadequate and counter-productive responses and actions of the bishops.

Entering the Third Phase

The unfolding of the events in this contemporary era can be divided into three phases: the first begins in 1984 and culminates at the end of 2001. The second begins with the Boston revelations and extends to the beginning of 2010. The present phase began in March 2010 when the case of Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee revealed that the Vatican was directly connected to the cover-up. In this case, in spite of the pleas of an archbishop (Weakland) and two bishops (Fliss and Sklba) that Murphy, who had violated at least 200 deaf boys, be laicized, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with Ratzinger as Prefect, refused. Instead, he allowed the culprit to live out his days as a priest.

The three phases are arbitrary demarcation points based on the level of exposure of the Church’s true policies and actions. The difference is only in the depth and extent of information discovered about the bishops’ responses to decades of reports of sexual violation by clerics.

In 1993 and 1994 Pope John Paul II attempted to persuade the world that sexual abuse by clergy was an American problem, caused primarily by media exaggerations, materialism and failure to pray. At the conclusion of his first public statement on sexual abuse, a 1993 letter to the U.S. bishops, he said, “Yes dear brothers, America needs much prayer lest it lose its soul.” It is ironic that this comment came from the leader of an organization that had not so much lost but gave up its soul. By 2014 there was no doubt anywhere that geographic boundaries are irrelevant. This highly toxic dimension of the institutional Church and its clerical sub culture has been exposed in country after country on every continent except Antarctica, where there are no bishops, no priests, and no minors. The presence of God is found in a few scientists, some U.S. military and a lot of penguins.

The focus had finally shifted to the Vatican. In September 2011 the Center for Constitutional Rights assisted in the filing of a case before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In January 2014 the U.N. Commission on the Rights of the Child delivered a blistering criticism of the Vatican’s response to sexual abuse by clerics. In May 2014 the U.N. Commission on Torture issued a report equally critical of the Vatican’s handling of sexual abuse claims and its opposition to U.N. policies. This is truly momentous. The world’s largest religious denomination has been called to account by the community of nations.

What Its Like Now

The foregoing paragraphs have provided a sparse but factually correct description of the second element of the 12 Step presentation, “What Happened.” Now I would like to shift the focus to “What Its Like Now.” Any conclusions at this point, thirty years later, are obviously very temporary since this is not the end of the issue but simply a milestone along the way.

I’d like to summarize by asserting that in spite of all that has happened since 1984, I do not believe there has been any fundamental change in the hierarchy. It may be true that individual bishops have either changed or have been compassionately supportive all along but in general the hierarchy is behaving today just as it did in 1985. The dramatic events in St. Paul-Minneapolis are the latest example of this intransigence. After all that has been revealed over these thirty years, one would think that the constant exposure of the official Church’s duplicity and dishonesty as well as the vast amount of information we have about the destructive effects of sexual abuse on the victims and their families, would cause some substantial change in attitude, direction and behavior. The bishops and even the pope have claimed they have done more to protect children than any other organization. There may be some validity to this claim but what is also true is that there has not been a single policy, protocol or program that was not forced on them. In 30 years they have not taken a single proactive move to assist victims or extend any semblance of compassionate pastoral care. Programs and policies promoting awareness or mandating background checks do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of suffering victims. The bishops as a group have done nothing for them either because they will not or more probably because they cannot.

There seems to be little sense in continuing to demand that bishops change their attitudes or at least their behavior. We have been beating our heads against the wall for a quarter of a century and the best we can hope for is that the sound will reverberate somewhere out in the Cosmos and eventually cause a stir before the end of time or the Second Coming, whichever comes first.

Fatal Flaws within Church Structures

The institutional Church’s abject failure has revealed fundamental deficiencies in essential areas, all of which have been directly instrumental in perpetrating and sustaining the tragic culture of abuse:

1. The erroneous belief that the monarchical governmental structure of the Church was intended by god and justifies the sacrifice of innocent victims “

2. The belief that priests and bishops are superior to lay persons, entitled to power and deference because they are ontologically different and uniquely joined to Christ.

3. A lay spirituality that is dependent on the clergy and gauged by the degree of submission to them and unquestioned obedience to all church laws and authority figures.

4. An obsession with doctrinal orthodoxy and theological formulations that bypasses the realities of human life and replaces mercy and charity as central Catholic values.

5. An understanding of human sexuality that is not grounded in the reality of the human person but in a bizarre theological tradition that originated with the pre-Christian stoics and was originally formulated by celibate males of questionable psychological stability.

6. The clerical subculture that has propagated the virus of clericalism, which has perpetuated a severely distorted value system that has influenced clergy and laity alike.

Has Pope Francis brought a new ray of hope? I believe he is a significantly different kind of pope but he is still a product of the monarchical system and he is still surrounded by a bureaucracy that could hinder or destroy any hopes for the radical change that is needed if the institutional Church is to rise about the sex abuse nightmare and become what it is supposed to be, the People of God. The victims and indeed the entire Church are tired of the endless stream of empty statements and unfulfilled promises. The time for apologies, expressions of regret and assurances of change is long gone. Action is needed and without it the pope and bishops today will simply be more names in the long line of hierarchs who have failed the victims and failed the church.

I believe there is reason to hope, not because of the engaging personality of Pope Francis. This pope’s overtures to victims are grounded on three decades of courageous efforts by survivors. Without these efforts nothing would have changed. Survivors have changed the course of history for the Church and have accelerated the paradigm shift. If the Catholic Church is to be known not as a gilded monarchy of increasing irrelevance but as the People of God, the change in direction hinted at by the new pope’s words and actions are crucial and if he does lead the way to a new image of the Body of Chris it will be due in great part because the survivors have led the way for him.

Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.D.A.C.

Annual SNAP Conference, Chicago, Illinois

August 2, 2014

Further Sources

Frontline interview with Tom Doyle

Cardinal O’Malley Challenged

The Beginning of Lent, 2014

Dear Cardinal O’ Malley,

JackSheaI am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I write not to challenge the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on women’s ordination. Rather, my concern is the theological explanation of this teaching— theology being, as Anselm said, “faith seeking understanding.”

Two years ago, I wrote to all of you with the same request. At that time, I was teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. The teaching on women’s ordination was extremely important for many of the students—women, of course, but men as well—and a number of them were simply leaving the church because the theological explanation that was offered made no sense to them. Before my letter, I had already stepped aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained. After my letter, Jesuit-run Boston College terminated me as a professor. My provincial, with the urging of several archbishops, has given me two “canonical warnings” threatening me with being “punished with a just penalty” for voicing my concerns.

In case you are wondering who is writing to you, I am an Augustinian priest, solemnly professed for over 50 years. Before serving at Boston College (2003-2012), as Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Care and Counseling and Dual Degree Director (MA/MA and MA/MSW), I taught in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University (1981-2002). My areas of expertise are in pastoral care and counseling (Fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors) and the psychology of religious development (Ph.D., Psychology of Religion), areas that today would be considered practical theology. I also have graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, pastoral counseling, and social work.

I mention this background because as a practical theologian I too have questions about the theological explanation of why women are not ordained. In all of my study, in all of my training, in all of my counseling experience, and in all of my years of teaching I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are not fully able to provide pastoral care. Likewise, I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are deficient in religious development or maturity. From the perspective of practical theology— a theology of the living church, a theology that takes experience seriously—I find absolutely nothing that does not support the ordination of women to priesthood.

It seems that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document on the ordination of women that the Vatican and the bishops keep pointing to, is actually an historical explanation of the issue. It looks back at what it we think Jesus was doing in appointing the 12 Apostles. An historical explanation, however, raises a number of questions. Was commissioning the 12 a unique event? Did Jesus mean to ordain the way we understand ordination today? Was it the intent of Jesus to inaugurate ministry only males could carry out? Did he ever say this? Was Jesus only doing what he thought would work best in the patriarchal culture of his day? What was it about the religious role of the scribes and the Pharisees—all of whom were male—that so incensed Jesus? Was Jesus patriarchal? Did he see women as inferior to men? Did Jesus envision women in ministry? Finally, what about the history of ordination in the last two thousand years, an amazingly checkered history that clearly includes women?

The problem with historical explanations is that they suffer from an incomplete logic. They cannot complete the circle. On their own, they cannot say that “what was” also “had to be.” On their own, they cannot say that this particular event must have this particular meaning. History necessarily involves interpretation. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, for example, gives a paradigmatic meaning to the commissioning of the 12 Apostles. Could not another perfectly logical interpretation of the meaning of that event be that a number of patriarchal men—then and now—were and are dead set against women having any authority over them?

If history is not a good proof, it does have many valid uses. A very brief look at the history of slavery, the history of racism/religious intolerance, and the history of women’s inferiority in the church is helpful in challenging our tendencies to absolutize as well as in chastening some our hallowed self-evaluations. Each of these three issues is about what makes us equal and fully human. Each is the cause of incredible violence—often in the name of God—violence that is beyond all telling.

  • Slavery—That men, women, and children would become slaves either by conquest, retribution, or inferiority was seen as something almost “natural.” Strangely, Jesus and St. Paul did not seem to have had a lot of problems with it. For centuries the permissibility of slavery was seen as part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Over time, however, and in conjunction with racism and religious intolerance, the thinking in the church changed dramatically. Now, the inherent evil of slavery is part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.
  • Racism/Religious Intolerance—Jews came to be seen as “perfidious” and were severely persecuted. Muslims were “infidels” and had crusades led against them by the popes. It is fair to say that for centuries the inferiority of Jews and Muslims was part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Later, with the colonization of the Americas and then of Africa, the question was whether or not these native peoples were really human beings with souls like those of European males. It took a long time with immense suffering, but eventually the utter abhorrence of racism and religious intolerance became part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.
  • The Inferiority of Women—Women’s inferiority was seen as “natural” by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians— arguably the two most influential in the West—not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways. No thinking in the church is more virulent and intractable than the patriarchal strain that so disrespects women. When the Vatican reasoned in the 1970s and 1980s that women could not be ordained because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” it was affirming an “ordinary infallible teaching” with roots incredibly deep in the substrate of our church.

A theological explanation weighs any issue against the core of the Christian message. It obviously takes historical events and their interpretations into account, but the focus is on those understandings of the Christian faith so central that our Christian identity and the very meaning of the faith are at stake. In their ordinary infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained in the church because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” the Vatican and the bishops were offering a much- needed theological explanation of the issue. It was an explanation meant to complete the circle, an explanation meant to settle the question of women’s ordination in terms of Christian identity.

Unfortunately, this teaching that “women are not fully in the like- ness of Jesus”—qualifying, as it does, as a theological explanation —is utterly and demonstrably heretical. This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus. This teaching says that women are not made  whole by the saving favor of our God. This teaching says that the “catholic” church is only truly “catholic” for males. In time, many Vatican officials and bishops rejected the ordinary infallible teaching they had just affirmed. Now they say: “Of course, women are fully in the likeness of Jesus in the church.” Respectful words to be sure, but are they real?

We revere Jesus as priest, as prophet, and as ruler. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they fully share in the priesthood of Jesus—but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they speak for God as Jesus did—but women are completely without voice in the church; as if they were children they cannot read the Gospel at the liturgy and are forbidden to preach the Word. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, then they [should] fully share in the formal authority of our church. . . .

Sincerely,
John J. Shea, O.S.A.