Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Why Catholic Bishops Can’t Solve The Crisis

They can't even bring themselves to think and speak about it clearly
Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 8.49.27 AM

A Catholic reader writes about the USCCB’s meeting, calling it “utterly pathetic and depressing.” More:

The lecture from [retired L.A. Cardinal Roger] Mahony is simply beyond belief.  The fact that he had the temerity to speak at all is bad enough; the fact that no one rose to challenge him shows the depth of the clericalism you diagnose.

Has the word “homosexuality” even been uttered apart from the squishy remark by [San Francisco Bishop Salvatore] Cordileone and the indirect reference to [pro-gay celebrity Jesuit] James Martin? Even then, it’s only in a ‘sociological’ or empirical way, whether they should commission a new study to determine whether homosexuality is a causal factor in the abuse.  Must we await a pronouncement from “science” in order to know or say anything about this?

This completely misses the more basic point and the deep root of people’s anger.  It is not that homosexuality necessarily inclines one disproportionately toward abuse, though I have seen this charge invoked from the left as a way to de-legitimate those who are raising questions about homosexuality in the priesthood. Still to my knowledge, no one who is serious is making this claim, despite the fact that the instances of abuse are overwhelmingly homosexual.

It is rather that the open secret of pervasive, barely acknowledged homosexuality in the priesthood and among the bishops imposes a double life and compulsory dishonesty on the entire Church, making it all but impossible to think deeply or speak truly about the crisis of faith at the root of this thing, not to mention the more proximate causes of abuse.

If we were at all serious even about the diagnosis of clericalism, we would take a hard look at the connection between pervasive homosexuality among the clergy, the pervasive dishonesty which necessarily accompanies it, the self-referentiality of the bishop’s deliberations and the apparently irresistible temptation to substitute procedural and managerial thinking for real theological introspection.  What relationship might there be between this open secret and the superficiality of our responses?  In other words, we ought to think about the deep relationship between homosexuality and clericalism.  They are not the opposites that they are made out to be.

It has become a public mantra (and one hears this from both sides), that we shouldn’t “use” the abuse crisis to advance a theological agenda.  And I agree if by “theological” what you really mean is “political”, which is, sadly, most often the case — especially on the left.  But this is the quintessence of managerial thinking:  to reduce the abuse crisis as a brute fact and treat it as a discrete problem admitting of a discrete fix–if only we can get the right policies and structures in place.  Whereas I maintain that we cannot even really understand the crisis of abuse if we treat it “merely” as a crisis of abuse and refuse to understand it theologically.  We have to look inward (and upward), and I don’t know whether we remember how to do that.

Yes. The problem is not homosexuality or clericalism, but the way the two depend on each other. Even the “good” bishops who perfectly well see the problem of unchaste gay priests (and perhaps bishops) can’t bring themselves to talk about how it is killing the Church, because their clericalism is such that they won’t speak ill of each other.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Mississippi, the Department of Homeland Security raided the Diocese of Jackson’s offices in connection with an investigation of an allegedly HIV-positive priest who is suspected of bilking parishioners. The claim is that Father Lenin Vargas (really, that’s his name) told parishioners that he had a rare form of cancer, and was being sent by the diocese to Canada for specialized treatment. He set up a Go Fund Me to help pay his bills. In fact, he was being sent to Canada for psychological treatment of some sort. From the newspaper account:

One of the informants said Vargas actually went to Southdown Institute of Toronto, Canada, which among other things, is a sexual addiction facility for priests.

In March 2015, the Diocese of Jackson furthered Vargas’ cancer story by sending out email to priests in the diocese. Two informants said they believe the diocese was aware of Vargas’ diagnosis when he was sent to Canada.

“The Diocesan email stated that Vargas would be leaving for extensive treatment in the near future, and that he would be gone for a few months. What the email failed to state was that Vargas was not going away for cancer treatment. As a result, Vargas continued to raise money for his supposed cancer treatment. Your affiant (Agent Childers) believes the email was sent in order to perpetuate the cancer story, to hide Vargas’ HIV condition and protect the Diocese of Jackson  from negative publicity,” the affidavit said.

In addition to the GoFundMe account money, St. Joseph parishioners and others donated more than $33,000 to Vargas and most of the money was spent on personal expenses. Two informants said that as of this year, Vargas was still claiming he had cancer.

If this account proves true, then the Diocese of Jackson not only let this creep con parishioners with his fake cancer story, they also let an HIV-positive, sex-addicted priest minister to people. Some spiritual father he is!

This is why many Catholics don’t trust bishops. Can you blame them?

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Father Martin praises Pope Francis for queering the Church. Excerpt:

The Jesuit priest noted that Francis’ words and actions show the pope’s commitment to advancing homosexuality within the Church. “What Pope Francis says and does, right?” he said. “What he says about LGBT people and what he does in terms of who he appoints,” he added.

Martin’s statements about Pope Francis deliberately appointing “gay-friendly” bishops and cardinals — such as Joseph Tobin — become all the more significant when read alongside statements made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in August about Pope Francis going around normal processes to make such appointments.

About this, Viganò wrote: “The appointments of Blase Cupich to Chicago and Joseph W. Tobin to Newark were orchestrated by McCarrick, Maradiaga and Wuerl, united by a wicked pact of abuses by the first, and at least of coverup of abuses by the other two. Their names were not among those presented by the Nunciature for Chicago and Newark.”

There’s video of Father Martin’s entire presentation at the link.

UPDATE.2: The more I think about it, the angrier this makes me.

If the information in the Homeland Security affidavit filed on Friday proves true, then Bishop Joseph Kopacz knowingly allowed an HIV-positive priest who was so compulsive about sex that he required medical treatment to serve in a parish. If I were a parent of altar boys in that parish, I would be at the chancery waiting to have it out with the bishop when he returned from Washington.

Mind you, there have been no allegations that Father Vargas had sex with minors, so that presumably gets him a pass under the Dallas charter. But how would you feel about your son serving as an altar boy under that HIV-positive sex maniac? How would you feel about the fact that your bishop considered a priest like that fit to serve as the spiritual father for your parish?

What kind of bishop even thinks that way? Ever, much less after 2002. What kind of bishop has the nerve to expect his people to trust him after something like this?

You think new guidelines and procedures would protect the laity from a dirty priest like Father Vargas, when even his bishop considers him fit for ministry?

From the paper: “Childers’ affidavit said the diocese had knowledge of Vargas’ felony and concealed it by not making it immediately known.” Yes, keep it all hidden, Your Grace. Make sure the people don’t know how corrupt your class is.

Bishop Kopacz had better hope that the allegations in the affidavit don’t hold up in court. Otherwise, he’s going to have to deal with the white-hot anger of Mississippi Catholic mothers and fathers.

Relatedly, behold the legalistic mind of a pro-gay Prince of the Church at work yesterday in Washington:


UPDATE: From a reader:

I was a parishioner at St. Joseph while Fr. Lenin was there but right before his “cancer” diagnosis. He always seemed so nice at mass, confession, and other times I met him, although he seemed disorganized sometimes. He seemed rock-solid on orthodoxy, was traditional and solemn. I remember his first Sunday there, people admired him because he would not eat at the pancake breakfast after the early morning mass because he had to say the next mass soon and so was still fasting. He wore a cassock, which I heard people say was an indication he was solid. He posted to Facebook about the recent scandals and was fairly forceful. It’s really a shocker. He was even stealing money from the collection plates, according to the Starkville Daily News.

UPDATE.2: Man. What a sorry lot.


Too afraid to upset Pope Francis by asking him — merely asking him! — to explain to the faithful how that pervert McCarrick, the pope’s great friend and ally, got away with it.

UPDATE.3: A reader comments:

I’m someone with (some) inside knowledge of this situation, not so much in the current moment, but of the background and history. I was present for Fr. Vargas’ ordination in Jackson. The year he was ordained, it was the culmination of a recruiting effort some years prior where three Mexican seminarians were brought into the diocese.
The vocations director at the time when the seminarians were brought into the diocese later left the priesthood and was laicized after an addiction to pain killers proved to be too much for him to overcome.
All three of those seminarians, whose ordinations I attended, have had some sort of scandal since then, with Fr. Vargas being, it seems, the worst case. One has left the diocese and the ministerial priesthood, though I’m unsure of his status currently (i.e. if he’s been laicized). The other had a scandal with an adult woman, but has since returned to ministry.
On the whole, looking back now, it seems a person probably unfit to be selecting seminarians picked three men who have, to put it mildly, all struggled to live the life befitting someone called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
The reason I write here is to comment on another aspect of the scandal you raised recently, namely the geographical solution and the recruitment of foreign seminarians.
You see, after Fr. Vargas was ordained, he led the effort to recruit more seminarians from Mexico. He seemed to me perfect for such a job at the time: he was very articulate, excellent in both English and Spanish, and seemed a consummate professional, the very type of person you’d want to help get more seminarians into a diocese with such a small number of priests and seminarians.
But now I can see what you pointed out: the danger of selecting seminarians from another country as there may be a less effective screening process. I don’t doubt for one second that the seminarians were given some sort of screening, but who would have been the person to persuade the bishop for a final decision? Almost certainly the best bilingual priest they had at the time, Fr. Vargas.
I don’t know, since it’s been a few years now since I moved out of the diocese, what became of the seminarians Fr. Vargas recruited, and I don’t want to impugn all foreign vocations. God knows the Jackson diocese would have nearly no priests at all without the sacrifice of so many Irish priests who came to their service decades ago, and I’m sure there are some fine priests and seminarians at the moment who came from Mexico.
But it still remains that you can look at Fr. Vargas’ situation as something which goes beyond his own perfidy. The vocations director who recruited Fr. Vargas and two other Mexican seminarians had his own issues, and one wonders how things might have turned out if a more solid priest had been the one responsible for finding the foreign vocations, rather than a man who would soon be selling insurance.
Another thing: the former vocation director who had a major role in Fr. Vargas coming to the diocese left his parish suddenly, never to return. The parish in question? Fr. Vargas’ own, in Starkville. Pray for that parish. They’ve had it rough over the last 12 years.

UPDATE.4: A reader finds this letter from Fr. Vargas to his parish back in August: