Saturday, June 1, 2002

Bishops and Christmas Trees

Opinions and Observations

The recent meeting of Catholic Bishops in Dallas has gotten mixed reviews. They have not gone far enough, says one group: they have gone too far, says another. Others are quite content with the outcome. The Bishops themselves seem relatively satisfied and have gone back to their jurisdictions with self justifying plaudits convinced that they have done what was necessary to “ restore the trust and credibility” of the Catholic laity.

But have they? No one disagrees that the sexual molestation of children is appalling and disgusting. Such behaviour must stop and can never be condoned. No one disagrees that predatory priests must be removed from ministry permanently. This is the obvious position of the Holy Father, himself. No one disagrees that true “cover-up” behaviour is more than inappropriate in Catholic leaders –(such as Bishops). No one misunderstands the psychological and spiritual scars of real victims.

Yet, as Cardinal Dulles, bravely stated as a non-Bishop and non-voting member of the Conference, the document is “ seriously flawed.” Where, for example, was any distinction made between pedophile conduct and ephebophilic ( read homosexual) conduct?Why Was such a fundamental point allowed to be passed over so smoothly? Was there a fear of the so-called “gay” community and its possible retaliation against certain dioceses? Are Bishops afraid to confront such a reaction? Or worse, is there fear that same sex conduct has occurred with men who now wear the Bishop’s ring and who fear possible exposure? Gov. Frank Keating has stated that he will seek “corrective action” even “…to the most powerful Bishop.”

Is Archbishop Weakland’s behaviour with a grown man for an extended period terrifying some of our leaders? Weakland’s behavior was NOT molestation of children. Allowing the focus to be on CHILDREN ( with a very little nod to homosexual behavior with teen age boys ) would take the spotlight off the dominant fact that a huge proportion of the misbehaviour is done by homosexual priests. The statistical evaluation that approximately one half of 1% of all priests in the country shows the horrendous volume of this abhorrent activity. Yet, 96+% of this number represents homosexual behaviour. Perhaps, statistically insignificant, it is,nonetheless, appalling if even only one child or teenager were involved.

The unmentionable datum that the scandals are basically about homosexual priest s is known and publicized by Philip Jenkins, Cal Thomas, Lowry of the NY Post, Msgr Clark, Fr. Benedict Groeschel and hosts of others. How come the Bishops don’t know it? By its very silence, IT SHOUTS OUT !

But beyond this obvious evasion, there are several factors which are feeding into the distrust, and sense of betrayal of the Catholic laity. The general perception is that the Bishops reacted in panic. This was not pro-active behaviour but re-active. This was a document written not by brave men but by frightened ones who desperately seek the approval of the public by responding frantically to the demands of noisy self interest groups. Even the garrulous Bill O’Reilly of the O’Reilly Factor (Fox News) “ opines”… that there “….is not ONE credible voice with moral authority in the current American Catholic church.” Apart from the intrinsic absurdity of that statement, it does reflect the perception of many American Catholics today.

The general disappointment stems from the belief that Christian leaders should, primarily, seek the approval of God not men. There is a yearning for an American Thomas Beckett with the fortitude to confront the symbolic Henry II and speak forth Christ’s truth , justice and mercy to the world. American Catholics are not seeking Henry Viii style Bishops who crave the approval of the secular world. People are looking for John Fishers who dare to be non-conformist even at personal cost.

Cardinal George, on his return from a visit to the Holy Father, stated his disagreement with the Zero Tolerance policy since it would release us from the obligation to think! He thought that each case of priestly misconduct should be reviewed and analyzed individually—especially the case of the “ per modum unius.” Yet, even he, in the final count, voted for the controverted Article Five which substantively downplays forgiveness and the possibility of personal reform through God’s grace.

Many Bishops admitted that while they personally disagreed with the harshness of the document, they voted counter to their interior convictions. Shades of Mario Cuomo and the Janus-like position of “ While I am personally opposed to abortion, I publicly support it.”What happened to the classic Catholic notions of mercy, repentence, and the possibility of permanent reform of life. What happened? Why did so many Bishops vote for the “ flawed document” knowing its weaknesses?

On the other hand, Bishop Joe Sullivan, of the Brooklyn Diocese, made an impassioned and forceful statement against the implicit harshness of Article Five. He was vigorously applauded by the Bishops as he argued for forgiveness and at the same time pointed out that the document preaches“ unforgiveness.” If so many Bishops, in their consciences, believed in the power of God’s grace to “ convert” people to righteousness, why did they vote the opposite?

Bishop Hubbard of Albany lamented that this document will signal to many the abandonment of these priests by the Church. His position was specifically in relation to the ONE TIME OFFENDER of years past who has demonstrated his personal reform. This reformed priest has done everything required of him by the Church, by the Law and by his conscience. He has lived impeccably and effectively as a GOOD priest for years. He is loved by his people, some of whom are aware of his long ago transgression. Apparently, some Catholic people share the Christian understanding and compassion of Hubbard and Sullivan more than many Bishops.

This author, as a licensed practicing Psychologist, has treated several of these one time offender priests.All of these men have responded with sorrow and vigor and generosity to the call to repentence. They have ALL succeeded in the reform of their lives. None of them is a pedophile. All are ephebopiles—i.e. their transgressions came from from their homosexual orientation and were directed at TEEN age MALES! All of them struggle successfully with their personal disorder.

The Bishops have such information at their disposal. Why, then, did they so vote? What are they afraid of ?

To accept repentant priests who have reasonably demonstrated their successful rehabilitation and who pose no threat to CHILDREN might be criticized by the noisy minority who seek sometimes not the protection of children primarily but their own agenda . Many observers note that much of the frenzy is not about children but about other hidden matters. We read between the frenetic lines the itch for power, the ordination of women, the abolition of mandatory celibacy and the legitimization of homosexual “ love.” Consult Freud and his ideas on latent motivations!

Ironically, in this frenzied crusade for blood we have at the same time a plea for more priests to offer the Eucharist. Clearly no one can, under even such pressure, ease requirements for the priesthood and ordain ephebophiles. Pedophilia is not the basic problem! Ephebophilia is . It is with the more probable predators that we have concern--- i.e.- the self identified and previously active homosexual applicant!

We all know of the many celibate and chaste homosexual priests who are not ephebophilic. These are not of concern.

However,in the book, GAY PRIESTS written by Dr. James Wolf,in 1991, a study of 101 homosexual priests was presented in which ALL interviewed homosexual priests believed that homosexual activity is NOT against the will of God. Only 9% of them would advise lay people to follow the Church’s teaching on sexual morality! The review of the book by Leonard Kennedy CSB in Crisis magazine (March 1991) suggests that Bishops had better move to end the cynicism and duplicity that homosexual behavior by priests is consistent with “ being a good priest.” Did Bishops listen? Why not ? What goes on?

Can Bishops knowingly Ordain this kind of candidate?

It is clear enough from clinical evidence that the psychic eneregy needed to contain homosexual drives is far greater than that needed by the straying heterosexual. This is even more telling when it involves the ephebophilic homosexual. The narcissistic wound is far deeper. Within the context of the Catholic priesthood it is insanity to put these men into contact with adolescents whose own raging testosterone levels are screaming for discharge with any available agent.

Some observers have noted there is no demonstrable link between homosexuality and the abhorrent behavior which has absorbed us for months. At least, they say, on a “causality” level. This may be a legitimate observation yet on a CORRELATION level a much stronger case for linkage can be made. Stat 101 would indicate that given the high incidence of homosexual priests “ hitting on” teen age boys, one might safely conclude that homosexual orientation is a highly probable factor in the whole picture. 96+% is a stat which cannot be dismissed lightly.

One might recall the strenuous lobbying efforts made by the tobacco industry to throw doubt on the causality factor linking cigarette smoking and lung cancer. They had some success but they failed to discredit the huge correlational factor involving the link between active smoking ( and now even second hand smoke) and carcinoma of the lung. Or can one use simple common sense? May I ask whether or not the King is wearing clothes? Perhaps, there really is an elephant in the front parlor !

Even so, it could be reasonable to place the ONE time offender into ministry within safe paramaters.

The priest who has faithfully and holily served the Lord and the people of God for years—even with his ONE transgression of 10/15/20 years ago—deserves his second chance. This man is no threat to children. He is usually not a pedophile. His risk is minimal but to compare him to Geoghan/Shanley types with their repeated unrepentant sociopathic behavior is ludicrous. THEIR cognitive and moral stances are significantly different !

The classic Catholic notion of gratia supponit naturam requires one to assess the “ naturam.” How wounded is the “naturam”? The Geoghan/Shanley types are so ill that NATURALLY God’s grace i s impeded. Such men must be ousted permanently and hopefully their types are never admitted to seminaries in the first place! The one time offender who has demonstrated, beyond doubt, that he has fully cooperated with God’s grace can be re-assigned—with appropriate caution.

Recently, one of my priest patients who had one such tragic sin 15 years ago who has done his months of rehab in a major facility for nine months, five years of follow up and many years of counseling with me, was yanked from his position of relatively high importance . He was told to be out of the rectory by 3 pm that afternoon. I asked where would he spend the night—he replied “I don’t know.”

He declined the offer of hospitality in my religious house, believing he could not stay anywhere in the Archdiocese. He spent the weekend in a motel—saying Mass by himself in the room.He has been told he will be laicized. He is living out of his car shuttling to houses of friends week by week. He is given no money for lodging, clothing, food or laundry -- only a monthly stipend—which is below the national poverty level!

What does such a man do? No family. No real contacts.

At 53 years of age, how does he support himself?

This man has been impeccable for the 15 years, doing penance, regretting bitterly his five minutes of stupidity, and being a model priest. Do the Bishops see this as justice? Charity? Setting things right? Does the sudden request of the victim for “ big bucks” tell them anything?

Are the Bishops using sinful, weak priests as scapegoats? Are the Bishops so anxious to take the spotlight off themselves and to restore “credibility” that they are willing to be so merciless even to include the rehabilitated, deeply repentant one time offender?

The term “ MANAGEMENT LEAVE OF ABSENCE’” is being translated ( in some people’s minds) as “execution.” When a priest is “ temporarily” and publicly removed from his parish during an investigation, he instantly loses forever his good name and reputation. His years of good work are negated because he ( in the present climate) is guilty until and unless proven innocent. In effect, he is “ dead” in relation to his priestly career. These priests are now disposable— since the “public” so decrees the lot of these tragic ( and sometimes innocent) men. With this enthusiastic Green Light, are the Bishops men of Compassion or people pleasers? We can recall the mob screaming for blood before Pilate ! Are the Bishops—in a sense playing the Pilate role? Many People are so asking ! What say ye, Your Excellencies?

How do you handle spurious charges? Do you know the uneasiness of your vulnerable front line troops? Will you “investigate” your priests on ANY allegation? Why was the word “credible” dropped from the document? Does it not consistently open the gate to any angry, distorted, money seeking “ Martian”? Have you heard of the suicides of your priests? Have you heard of Benedict Groeschel spending an afternoon dissuading a one time offender from taking his own life?

Rationalization is defined as attributing noble motives to base acts. In effect, the Bishops “ rationalize” their stance thus: “ We regretfully sacrifice these men ( the one time offenders) ONLY for the restoration of trust and credibility for the Catholic people. WE can do nothing else.“

Yet, much of the Catholic reaction has been the opposite. People are calling for the resignation of cardinals and bishops NOT because of the sins and weaknesses of a relatively small number of priests but for corruption, hypocrisy and cowardice of some of our leaders. The merciless and unforgiving stance of the Conference was horrific to many Catholics’ Faith and shattering to their Trust ! Recently, a woman from New York City entered the Church—not because of weak and evil priests—but because she sees the Catholic Church as a FORGIVING CHURCH.

It is said that talk is cheap. One can preach about the power of God’s grace , the call to reform and to change .We are invited to admire the repentance of sinners like Augustine and Magdalene but when a Bishop ACTS as if he did not really believe in God’s grace, perhaps HE should resign and go himself to the monastery to find faith.

With few exceptions, what the Bishops have done, in fact, was to react in panic, rush into something without real thought and truly lose the respect of all, including priests who increasingly hesitate to view their Bishops as “Father in God.”Cardinal Dulles is a man of faith, intelligence and COURAGE. Plaudits to the gutsy dissenters, Bishops Sullivan and Hubbard, champions of justice and compassion.

God bless the warrior Bishop Fabian of Lincoln, Nebraska who sees that we have allowed through timidity and human respect the growth of the CULTURE OF DISSENT. To speak thusly requires courage in this climate of P.C. tolerance, nevertheless theologic and moral dissents are major factors in the infidelity! So, speaks John Neuhaus and others. Why was not Michael Novak invited to explain what really happened in the last 30 years? Were the Bishops fearful that he might hit home? Why were some ones invited who simply chided the Bishops to give over POWER to them? Why were people allowed to lobby for the ordination of women a case closed by the Holy Father? Why was some one allowed to urge Bishops to disregard Rome? Why? Why?

At the Episcopal ordination, as the Mitre is placed on his head, the new Bishop is told that this symbolizes the HELMET OF SALVATION! He is told that he is to be the shepherd of his flock! Why, then, did the Bishops sit there and applaud as they were castigated or worse? Were those “ crocodile” tears they shed as they listened to the carefully chosen victim presenters?

At a recent gathering of priests psychologists in New York, the discussion centered around the psychic scars attendant upon sexual molestation of children and minors.

One eminent priest therapist asked whether ONE grab of a kid’s bottom is enough to ruin him for the rest of his days? No one assented to that observation but all agreed that the serial, pattern molestation is incalculable in its long lasting effects. Put this in the context of the one time offender versus the very sick pattern of the Geoghan and Shanley types.

The Document from the Conference is not the Last word. Hopefully, its flaws will be removed and its strengths extended. Hopefully, too, Bishops will become like Thomas a Beckett and will love and encourage their priests who now feel discouraged and lonely and frightened.

Oh – yes - about the title of this piece—

A priest friend asked me if I knew what Bishops and Christmas trees have in common. When I answered NO, he said:

“In both, the spheres are strictly ornamental”

Written as opinion and observation in New York city,June 2002

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