The level of chaos and crisis in the Church now is overwhelming, and it only promises to increase. I have been thinking, praying, and reading through a lot of what’s out there, and I want to provide a mini-series of thought on the matter. This will consist of three posts:
5 Things To Know About the Crisis
As a Catholic Psychologist, I work very closely with the Church. I am, of course, held to a high moral and ethical code of confidentiality, but you can imagine the kind of pain and suffering psychologists hold for our patients. I know where people are coming from right now. I also know that this is a situation that has been painful for the church for a very long time and therefore see this as a good, albeit painful moment for the light to come streaming into the darkened house. I am writing as a faithful son of the Church, deeply in pain at the recent facts that have come to light. I offer these observations as a humble attempt to contribute to the conversation that will hopefully move us through this crisis to the great hope of renewal on the other side. I hope to offer support to the good priests and bishops suffering through this with the rest of us.
People are angry, rightfully so. Whenever there is trauma and grief, anger is one of the natural responses. However, the horrifying details of the abuses that have occurred by our priests and bishops are really the symptoms of the problems in the church, not the cause. (I wrote more about this here.) I want us to remain angry, but angry all the way, for all of the reasons. My hope and prayer is that we purify our anger, and stay angry, until the tables are fully overturned and all the millstones are hung. Here’s what we need to know and keep in mind through this process.
1. This is about Humanae Vitae. Yes we need to call it evil, because it is, but in our epoch of church history evil has taken a particular form. Humanae Vitae represented the major split in the priesthood between those who understood the battle of our times and those who didn’t. This divide was severe and long-lasting.
Here’s the 20th Century in a nutshell.
Sexual Repression -> Sexual Revolution -> Humanae Vitae -> Theology of the Body.
There’s also the concurrent rise of communism there and the Marxist call to destroy the family in order to make people dependent on the state, but that’s for another post. Humanae Vitae was the fork in the road for our priests. Some of them understood the meaning of sexuality and how evil contraception was, because it subverted the meaning of our very bodies and even their own choices for celibacy, and some of them simply did not get the connection. That ignorance led many to reject Humanae Vitae, either overtly or covertly. That set many priests on a path away from virtue and holiness and towards mere organizational institutional ministry. They survived because there were still enough of the faithful filling the pews to show up every Sunday regardless of how impotent the priest was in his celibacy. Today, we are in the same exact position we have been in for 50 years. Even though St. John Paul II clearly taught, from the magisterial authority as the Vicar of Christ himself, as Pope Paul VI did in 1968, that the penis and vagina go together for a reason that is as important as the Incarnation itself, many priests and Bishops STILL refuse to learn, let alone teach what the Theology of the Body is actually all about. By the way, this is NOT A COINCIDENCE that the McCarrick scandal comes to light after the 50th anniversary of HV being written. (It’s also not a coincidence that it is 100 years since Our Lady of Fatima appeared and warned the world that this is exactly what was going to happen. Again, another post.)
2. This is about homosexuality, and we need to make it ok to talk about that. Yes, I am going to get flack for this, and no, I don’t mean to offend homosexually oriented people in general. If you are reading this from outside the perspective that homosexuality is a disorder, please hear me out for a moment. I value the dignity of the human person, which is founded on the freedom of each person to choose his or her own path. If you choose to follow your understanding of right and wrong, and live your best life possible, I applaud you. I, however, choose to be Catholic, which means I believe homosexuality is disordered. That is essentially part of what being Catholic means. (Read point number 1.) Penis and vagina go together for a very specific reason, as created by God. That’s the Catholic belief, no matter who is affected by it. I’m not trying to be mean or lack understanding. I don’t judge non-Catholics for not believing that. I respect your freedom to not be Catholic. But please respect my freedom to be Catholic. There are many, many sins that we all, hetero and homosexual alike can fall into by not realizing that the penis and vagina go together for a specific reason. I don’t discriminate as to which sin should be called out. Contraception is one of those sins, as was the main focus of Humanae Vitae, as is masturbation, pornography, and adultery. So I am an equal opportunity whistleblower. I have many non-Catholic friends and patients (and yes, homosexual ones), and I love them all, even if we disagree on certain things.
Christ taught very clearly that these acts are wrong and we can debate whether or not he was right another time. Right now we are talking about what is happening within the Catholic church, so that is where I’m coming from. Respecting freedom of religion means accepting that we are allowed to talk about what homosexuality means within our church according to our belief. We need to separate those two things in order to be able to talk about them. We are not making this into a critique on homosexuality for the world in general when we are pointing to homosexuality as a core failure within the crisis in the priesthood. Men who are impotent or have been castrated are not allowed to be ordained priests, therefore it should be blatantly obvious that men who have no desire to use their penis as God created it should ever be allowed into the priesthood.
Here is a brilliant quote from Pope Benedict he wrote as Cardinal Ratzinger in Light of the World to explain this point:
“Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction which is not homosexual. The meaning and direction of sexuality is to bring about the union of man and woman and in this way give humanity posterity, children, future. This is the determination internal to the essence of sexuality. Everything else is against sexuality’s intrinsic meaning and direction. This is a point we need to hold firm, even if it is not pleasing to our age. The issue at stake here is the intrinsic truth of sexuality’s significance in the constitution of man’s being. If someone has deep seated homosexual inclinations—and it is still an open question whether these inclinations are really innate or they arise in early childhood—if, in any case, they have power over him this is a great trial for him, just as other trials conflict other people as well. But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.
Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation. Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway. For, in the end, their attitude toward man or woman is somehow distorted, off-center, and, in any case, is not within the direction of creation of which we have spoken. The Congregation for Education issued a decision a few years ago to the effect that homosexual candidates cannot become priests because their sexual orientation estranges them from the proper sense of paternity, from the intrinsic nature of priestly being. The selection of candidates to the priesthood must therefore be very careful. The greatest attention is needed here in order to prevent the intrusion of this kind of ambiguity and to head off a situation where the celibacy of priests would practically end up being identified with the tendency to homosexuality. Well, that is just one of the miseries of the Church (homosexuality in the clergy). And the persons who are affected must at least try not to express this inclination actively, in order to remain true to the intrinsic mission of their office.”
3. This is about celibacy. In this current scandal, homosexual acts of misuse of the penis are at the center. While pedophilia and pederasty are deeply horrifying elements to what is going on, they are not systemic. Homosexuality is a more systemic issue that needs to be addressed at the highest levels. This is because, as illuminated in Theology of the Body (which remember is downplayed or even rejected by many priests and bishops), celibacy exists for a reason. The point of celibacy is for the celibate man or woman to live in this world in a supernatural embrace with God that supersedes the need for the natural expression of our sexuality with another person. By doing so, a celibate man or woman becomes a WITNESS. The celibate witness proclaims to the world that “God is real! The Gospel is real! God is so real that I can give up sex, marriage and a family, and still be JOYFUL! There’s actually a God on the other side of this relationship that is sustaining me!” The celibate wants people to look at him or her and see the Gospel alive in a person, as if his or her very existence is saying, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand!” While there are cases here and there of priests that act out sexually with women, there are far more cases of priests acting out homosexually. This is because the priesthood consists only of men, who are not married, and who are not expected to be in romantic relationships with women. This, of course, attracts many homosexually oriented men for better or worse reasons. IF a man who experiences same-sex attraction is serious about virtue and pursuit of holiness and witnessing the Gospel and restores enough order back to his psychosexual development that he feels attracted to women (and starts at the very minimum with a firm ability to live the 10 commandments), there is room for that in the discussion. However, that is most of the time certainly not what is actually happening, as evidenced by recent revelations. The majority of homosexual priests (as is true for the heterosexual ones who don’t live the teachings of the Church especially in the Theology of the Body) are actually witnesses to the ANTI-GOSPEL. Without sounding crazy, these men are all anti-Christs. Their proclamation to the world is, “When I don’t satisfy myself sexually, I am unsatisfied and miserable. There is nothing more than what we see here and now. God does not satisfy.”
4. This is all old news to the bishops. This is the most horrifying revelation that the faithful Catholics in the Church need to hear loudly and clearly. This was all already known and predicted in 1985! Here is a report that was published and distributed to the US Bishops in 1985. It clearly outlines the reality of priest abuse scandals, the grave error of trying to send priests to treatment and then reinstate them in different dioceses, and the astronomical expense such actions caused, and was predicted to cause, both spiritually and financially. It is infuriating to read. The bishops issuing statements now are acting like politicians. They are giving soundbite statements curated by PR managers and working to defend themselves. Whether anyone knew about McCarrick or not really doesn’t matter. They’ve all known the evil that is present in our hierarchy for a very long time and have done little if anything about it. The report tragically ends with the statement that, “This work has been undertaken in the hope of contributing in some way to a solution in dealing with probably the single most serious and far-reaching problem facing our Church today.” That was in 1985.
5. Virtue is not a standard to which priests are held. For decades we have been frustrated with the quality of the majority of the priests that lead the faithful. The small number of faithful Catholics who care about following all Church teaching are constantly bickering about types of masses, types of prayer, what the “real” reason is that so many people leave the church or only show up on Christmas and Easter. Behind a lot of the tension is an awareness that many priests are poor witnesses to the joy of the Gospel. Without knowing exactly why, many faithful Catholics feel beat up. We are expected to live lives of virtue, but our priests are selfish, uncharitable, poor examples of prayerfulness, poor managers, sometimes mean, and usually out of touch with real life. Many priests get together and drink expensive wine and eat fancy dinners. They tell crass jokes and listen to unedifying music. They spend hours watching garbage TV, wasting time on Facebook, or looking at porn. Yes, many priests struggle with porn. I know that because a colleague conducted a major worldwide anonymous research study of priests that surveyed the problems most priests are dealing with (as of yet unpublished.) Bishops are not doing anything about this general lack of virtue, because most Bishops are part of the problem. Maybe they are overwhelmed with administrative duties that make being a pastor look easy, but they are still just as guilty for not prioritizing holiness. This superficial way of life is trained into them in seminary. Many men enter seminary because they fall in love with Jesus and want to give him their lives. But then virtue is not formed in the seminary, and it is certainly not encouraged after ordination. Bishops publish expected benchmarks for capital campaigns, but not a word is spoken about holy hours. Bishops congratulate administrative success, but not hours spent in the confessional. A priest told me his seminary professor taught, “Whatever you do to take care of your “needs,” do it in a different parish, and don’t get caught.” Another priest told me that when his roommate in seminary was caught sleeping with another seminarian, he was told, “don’t sh*t where you eat.” Most priests reading this will not disagree. Even if there are individual cases of good formation, these mediocre mentalities are the norm.
Good homilies are the fruit of deep prayer lives and scripture study. Holy priests are the result of a serious pursuit of union with Christ. It’s that simple. Look around. What is our church made up of? I challenge each one of you to ask your priest how many holy hours he prays each week. Ask him how many days he prays all of his liturgy of the hours even. Priests are supposed to be witnesses of the joy that comes from a deep prayer life and commitment to virtue. Is yours? Don’t be mad at him if not, because chances are, it was never expected of him in his formation in the first place. One priest told me he was taught the basic premise of human formation was summed up with, “Don’t be a dick.”
Formation is a serious crisis issue. The document on formation of the priests clearly states two important points that are largely ignored. First, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation are all founded on human formation. You have to be a good human before you can be a good priest. Most bishops want priests (numbers) and don’t look too carefully if the men showing up are good humans. (As long as their records are clean-ish) Most priests wouldn’t last 3 years married, nevermind have the human formation to live a supernatural vocation. Second, formation is not supposed to end at ordination, but continue for the rest of the priest’s life. There is no legitimate ongoing formation- especially human formation- for priests after ordination. How do I know this? Because it was the number one observation of almost every priest surveyed in the international anonymous survey of priests. Since “grace builds on nature,” virtue will never be formed in these men who can’t even be decent human beings – until expectations change.
I will end on the much needed positive note that – obviously – not all priests should be thought of in this light. In fact, I hope to instill even greater awe at the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and the courageous witness and the true interior suffering of the great priests you and I both know. They are doing it mostly without support from the institutional Church.