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Hanging Tough When The Clergy Fails

A faithful reader who is an orthodox Catholic writes to share his anger and anguish over the continuing scandal with the militantly conservative Legion of Christ. From the report: [1]

A high-profile American priest in the Legionaries of Christ has acknowledged having had a sexual relationship with a woman and fathering her child, adding another chapter to the growing scandals surrounding the controversial religious order.

Fr. Thomas Williams, known for his work as a TV commentator and popular spiritual writer and speaker, issued a statement today confirming he had fathered a child with a woman “a number of years ago,” and said that he and the superiors of the order have decided that he will take a year off without any public ministry “to reflect on my commitments as a priest.”

“I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurt by this revelation,” Williams said in the statement.

Out of what he described as “respect for the privacy of the woman and her child,” Williams declined to identify the woman or provide other details. He confirmed, however, that the relationship had occurred while he was already a priest and a member of the Legionaries.

“Her” child? You dirtbag, that’s your child too! The reader who sent this report in says that the Legion ought to be fully suppressed by Rome (his language was a lot more colorful). I keep seeing that stance voiced by a number of Catholic conservatives. The Washington Post reports [2] that the Legion knew that their celebrity priest was a babydaddy, but kept it silent.

On her blog, Erin Manning says the Legion is like a dysfunctional family [3]. Excerpt:

If we think of the Legion as a dysfunctional Catholic family, their tendency to keep insisting that everything is fine and that these matters have nothing whatsoever to do with the Legion itself starts making a terrible kind of sense–the same kind that we recognize when a dysfunctional family closes ranks and pretends to the outside world that nothing is wrong. But if we think of the Legion as a dysfunctional family, it becomes harder to understand why some powerful members of that family are still calling so many of the shots.

The human stain, again. The corruption of the best is the worst. My reader is going through a very difficult time of disillusionment because of the Fr. Thomas Williams scandal, and from talking to someone close to him who is a Legion priest. He has my prayers. I spoke tonight with someone who left the Roman Catholic church in the wake of the abuse scandal (N.B., the Fr. Williams situation does not involve sexually abusing minors) because she said she had followed the Church’s teachings to the letter, but reflecting on all the burdens the Church put on the laity in light of the corruption it allowed its own bad priests to get away with — well, she just flat-out walked, and never looked back.

In ages past, perhaps it was easier for those in charge of churches — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant — to be more tolerant of clergy misconduct, because they had reason to believe that the laity wouldn’t leave. Those days are over. I’m not saying it’s good or bad that they are over — I have mixed feelings, actually, and I say that as someone who walked as well — but they are over, and the toleration of lies and corruption like this will take a harsh toll.

As I’ve written before in this space, the sins of clergy don’t obviate the truths the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, or any other church proclaims. But they can make it difficult to continue to believe in, at least as strongly as one once may have done.

Clerical sin — serious clerical sin — is not the province of one religion, or one church. The readers of this blog are religiously diverse, both in terms of their particular church, and where they fall on the ideological spectrum within their churches. I doubt any reader who has been engaged with his or her faith for a serious length of time has failed to be disappointed, or even scandalized, by clerical behavior. Let me ask you: how did you hold your ground when put to the test, if you held your ground at all?

My own story is fairly well known, so I won’t rehash it here. I will only say that as an Orthodox Christian and fallen-away Catholic convert, I now have the same point of view that many of my cradle Catholic friends have, and which I didn’t understand: I protect myself from being scandalized by clergy behavior by not allowing myself to trust them or the institutional church very deeply in the first place. I wish I could say that I also protected myself by deepening my personal prayer life, but that would be untrue. I should be doing this, but I am not the believer I should be.

UPDATE: I don’t really follow the nonsense involving the Orthodox Church in America’s synod any longer. I spoke to a fellow Orthodox Christian who pointed out this [4] from the synod’s spring meeting:

In response to a proposal of Metropolitan Jonah, diocesan bishops with five years’ tenure will be elevated to the dignity of Archbishop. Hence, His Grace, Bishop Nikon; His Grace, Bishop Tikhon; His Grace, Bishop Benjamin; and His Grace, Bishop Alejo were congratulated on their elevations. Statements will be issued to their respective dioceses concerning this decision.

So, in the OCA, the title “Archbishop” means simply “Bishop With Five Years’ Experience.” The OCA is melting down, many of the laity have little to no confidence in the judgment of the synod or even the basic integrity of many of its members, and yet this is what these guys care about? Giving each other titles? It’s like an incompetent army pinning medals on themselves. Meanwhile, the laity look at things like the Diocese of the South demoting an upright and beloved priest over the publicizing of a letter he wrote [5] asking church leaders not to promote a bishop who admits to having taken e-mails that did not belong to him! It’s crazy. These bishops are just playing church, it seems to me. My Orthodox friend said that he knows several Orthodox Christians who have become so disgusted by the ongoing scandal that they’ve stopped going to church for the time being. Said my friend, of the bishops, “I can’t get over how long this mess has been going on, and how determined they are to avoid getting their house in order.” I know this particular believer is part of a parish that has suffered a great deal from all this. It’s all well and good to say that people ought to hold on to their beliefs no matter what the clergy, especially the bishops, do. But it doesn’t always work out like that in reality.

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30 Comments To "Hanging Tough When The Clergy Fails"

#1 Comment By Glaivester On May 17, 2012 @ 10:03 am

A friend of mine once said, “don’t make your faith dependent on people*.  They’ll disappoint you every time.  Place your faith in God, and trust in Him.”

*With the obvious exception of the human being who is also God.

#2 Comment By Christopher Larsen On May 17, 2012 @ 10:06 am

I hate to say this. I am not Roman catholic. I know sexual sin is sexual sin. But given the pedophilia scandals in the Roman Church, I can’t get that worked up or upset about a heterosexual sex scandal involving an affair between a  priest and an adult woman. Things are so bad in the Roman Church that the revelation of heterosexual activity by a Roman priest is something I feel almost positive about.

#3 Comment By Joe_Magarac On May 17, 2012 @ 10:10 am


I doubt any reader who has been engaged with his or her faith for a serious length of time has failed to be disappointed, or even scandalized, by clerical behavior. Let me ask you: how did you hold your ground when put to the test, if you held your ground at all?

I had it pretty easy:  my grandparents were Slovak peasants who grew up with a pretty world-weary approach to the priesthood and who passed that approach along to me.  It’s hard to explain, but it involves respecting priests for what they do – convey God to us through the sacraments – while withholding judgment on who they are.  My grandma simultaneously loved her parish priests and teased them mercilessly about their foibles.  Watching her, it was easy to understand that priests are humans who can do something divine.

Growing up, lots of dysfunctional priests came through my parish – one ran off with the art teacher at the parish school (who left her husband and children to be with him); another reeked of bourbon and cigarettes and died very young; still others spent time in the state pen for a couple of altar boys.  Thanks to my grandparents and to these experiences, the only thing that I expect from priests is to convey God in the sacraments.  I don’t expect that they will preach well, be personable, or live holy lives.  If they do, it’s a bonus, but it’s not a requirement and it’s not why I go to Mass on Sundays.

#4 Comment By JonS111 On May 17, 2012 @ 10:23 am


As I’ve written before in this space, the sins of clergy don’t obviate the truths the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, or any other church proclaims. But they can make it difficult to continue to believe in, at least as strongly as one once may have done.”

I have a question about this – as an agnostic Jew, I don’t have a particular dog in this fight, aside from outrage at the acts of sexual abuse, but I don’t have a knee jerk hostility towards religion either.

That said, while I certainly agree that the truth of Christianity is not contingent on the behavior of the clergy, at some point, does not the conduct of, not individual clergy, but the catholic hierarchy, reflect on the Church’s claim to Apostoolicity?  The last Bishop of Rome invested Fr. Maciel with incredible power and authority, and he created a large, vibrant institution that he used to abuse children and protect himself.  

More generally, growing up Jewish, not observant but very familiar with the Old Testament, I always found the concept of an Apostolic church to be deeply strange.  The old testament, among other things, strikes me as a document that is deeply distrustful of earthly institutions.  God knocks down the tower of Babel, allows the temple to be destroyed, and sends the plagues against Egypt.  

A constant theme in the bible is the corruption of powerful people and institutions.  Sometimes this is portrayed over multiple generations: The Pharaoh of Genesis is portrayed as a just ruler, the subsequent Pharaohs oppress the Jews, until finally the Pharaoh of the exodus attempts genocide.   Solomon builds the temple but his heirs lose it.  

Sometimes this happens to individuals.  Saul becomes corrupted by power, as does, to a lesser extent, David.  

Given all of this, how can any religion based on the bible be willing to believe in an institution that is unconditionally invested with God’s blessing. 

#5 Comment By carlolancellotti On May 17, 2012 @ 10:29 am

“I protect myself from being scandalized by clergy behavior by not
allowing myself to trust them or the institutional church very deeply in
the first place.”

Sorry, but that statement conflates too many different things and so is seriously confusing. I totally trust that the institutional Church will teach me the true faith and sound morals, because that’s what Christ promised it would do. I also trust that people in the clergy, just like all baptized Christians, are members of the body of Christ and so are sacramental signs of the presence of God in the world. I have no reason to believe that for some reason they will be, on an individual basis, morally better people than anybody else. Why on earth would you expect that? If anything, I would expect them to be the target of the most sustained temptations on the part of the evil one…

#6 Comment By rssdbs65 On May 17, 2012 @ 10:43 am

“As I’ve written before in this space, the sins of clergy don’t obviate the truths the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, or any other church proclaims.”

Many of these truths are not directly taken from the Scripture, but are interpretations derived from Biblical teachings. The clergy, in many faiths, are those who interpret. At some point, wouldn’t you begin to wonder if those interpretations have been biased in the wrong direction by those in charge if they continue to display behavior that is not consistent with the professed faith?  Especially when you note that…

“n ages past, perhaps it was easier for those in charge of churches — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant — to be more tolerant of clergy misconduct, because they had reason to believe that the laity wouldn’t leave.”

Steve

#7 Comment By reflectionephemeral On May 17, 2012 @ 10:54 am


I now have the same point of view that many of my cradle Catholic friends have, and which I didn’t understand: I protect myself from being scandalized by clergy behavior by not allowing myself to trust them or the institutional church very deeply in the first place.

I don’t think that it’s unfair to compare this view to that of Garry Wills– that the Church isn’t entirely what the hierarchy says, it’s also what those in the community do and believe. And things change over time. Sometimes we look back and say that enduring groups and institutions, even ones we like a lot, were wrong about certain things. 

This makes some sense, from a historical perspective. No one anywhere thinks that reading Darwin should be banned, or that the New World should be split between Spain and Portugal, or that Galileo deserved to be punished for saying the Earth orbits the Sun. 

Like the humans that comprise them, religious institutions are products of their time and place, capable of good, evil, error, self-interested reasoning and action. 

This line of reasoning might go a bit further than I meant it to. Does it leave us trusting a church about as much as we trust Colgate-Palmolive? 

#8 Comment By thomas tucker On May 17, 2012 @ 11:25 am

First,  don’t see this as “toleration of lies and corruption.”  This story, as far as I am aware, is one of a priest who did something he shouldn’t have done, who committed sin, and who has apparently repented.  This is different from someone who lives a double life on an ongoing basis with no remorse or repentance.
Second,  I wonder what your friend saw  as “burdens” laid on her by the Church.  To me, if you see teachings or disciplines as burdens, instead of as aids to growth in holiness and liberation, then there is a problem with your spiritual life and your discipleship, and your view of the Church.
You are right, though, about how we should look at clergy and religious leaders.  We previously idolized them, to their and our detriment.  It is far better to have a realistic understadning that they are as subject to temptation and as capable of sin as we are.  Thus should we pray for them even more than we do.

#9 Comment By thomas tucker On May 17, 2012 @ 11:43 am

I will add, though, that this priest should have taken time off for discernment once it happened, and  either owned up to it then, or avoided high-profile public ministry  by working as a simple parish priest or teacher.  As always, the cover-up makes things look even worse once the publicity occurs.
And the fact that the LC order would allos that to happen goes along with it being dysfunctional, and illustrates the need for this order to be suppressed.

#10 Comment By turmarion On May 17, 2012 @ 12:03 pm


I spoke tonight with someone who left the Roman Catholic church…because she said she had followed the Church’s teachings to the letter, but reflecting on all the burdens the Church put on the laity in light of the corruption it allowed its own bad priests to get away with — well, she just flat-out walked, and never looked back.
(my emphasis)

This, I submit, is also why a lot of laity are blasé about SSM, contraception, divorce, and other such issues.  Obviously, from the perspective of strict logic, the validity of the Church’s teachings is unaffected by any amount of misbehavior by its clergy; but it should be obvious that such behavior, and even worse, the glaring failure of the institutional Church to lift a finger to do anything about it, is a less-than-ringing endorsement of the Church’s teachings on sexuality.  Strict logic aside (since when does that move people, anyway?), if the Church wants to have an iota of support on the issues it’s pushing, it needs to have a massive housecleaning.  I’m not holding my breath.

As to holding one’s ground:  I have been both disappointed, disillusioned, and scandalized by the Church.  Neither I nor any of my loved ones have been affected by sexual abuse, thank God, but I know people who have.  Priests I know personally have been defrocked, have run off with married women, have served jail time for sexual abuse, and have illegally busted into diocesan mailing lists, so I’ve had a ringside seat to lots of nastiness.  As an ironic aside, the one who ran off with the married woman and the one who stole the mailing lists were two of the most conservative priests I know–though some liberal ones took some big falls, too.  Anyway, I’m pretty much like you–I trust the institutional Church and its leadership about as far as I can throw them, and as long as they’re in broad daylight.  The Church, after all, is not the clergy, it’s the Body of Christ–all of us–and as St. Paul says, we all have different functions, but none is higher than the other.  The function of the clergy is 1.  to provide the Sacraments, 2.  to teach the Faith, and 3.  guide and govern the People of God.  

Frankly, I think they do a pitiful job on 2., but I’m theologically pretty well-versed, and so I take up the slack for my daughter in that regard.  3.–well, don’t make me laugh!  As to 1., if they can do that, then we’re copacetic. 

I tend at this point to look at the institution as a chipped, cracked, and dirty cup.  Water is essential to life; but if you’re going to drink it, you have to have something to hold it in.  The cup is therefore necessary, but we sometimes forget that the cup is not the water.  Thus, the cup may be cracked, chipped, etc., but if it can perform its function of holding the water, you can pretty much ignore it and get on with life.

Of course you could just cup your hands and scoop up the water–the course of those who leave organized religion altogether in the wake of such stuff.  I’d (weakly) defend the institutional Church by saying that even a chipped and dirty cup is a little more efficient for holding water than my hands–even a tainted institution is still the conservator of a long tradition of great holiness–but I can respect those who want to dispense with cups altogether, so to speak.

#11 Comment By JohnE_o On May 17, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

In ages past, perhaps it was easier for those in charge of churches —
Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant — to be more tolerant of clergy
misconduct, because they had reason to believe that the laity wouldn’t
leave. Those days are over. I’m not saying it’s good or bad that they
are over — I have mixed feelings, actually…

You have mixed feelings about people having the right to choose to leave a religious organization and then exercising that right as they see fit?

#12 Comment By MattSwartz On May 17, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

This is sad, of course, but how unhinged must someone be to suggest that one man’s infidelity, with a woman above the age of consent, is sufficient cause to suppress an order?

Priests have been acting out in this manner probably for as long as there have been Priests. They should be punished publicly, or fired, or both. But let’s be real: this is many orders of magnitude less bad than the child rape scandals.

This is going to sound snotty, but I’m thinking just now of the qualifications for elders that the Apostle Paul gave to Timothy:

  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant,
sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach

This isn’t merely a glib “if they could get married, this wouldn’t happen” thing. It’s about keeping the family and the Church on the same page.

#13 Comment By carlolancellotti On May 17, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

Are you willing to believe in a people who is unconditionally invested with God’s blessing , in spite of its grave sins and constant betrayals?

That would be the Old Testament, if I recall correctly…

#14 Comment By CarolineWalker On May 17, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

It grieves me that many parishioners walked out when our pastor was removed in 2006 for allegations of past sexual misconduct. 5 years later, our parish is blessed to have two faithful, tireless priests; 24/7 Eucharistic Adoration; and four ACTS retreats a year. I think sometimes great renewal follows such convulsions — those with eyes to see can see this happening in the Catholic church. Vocations to the religious life among the more orthodox orders is fairly exploding. Pope BXVI is meticulously involved in naming bishops to lead dioceses to transformation.  
During that time of tumult, I received a word in prayer — “Be Faithful.” I try to remember that every day. And Matthew 16:18. 
To leave the faith because of human weakness, because of sin…well I wouldn’t want someone to have that kind of power over me, frankly. 

#15 Comment By capecodder2010 On May 17, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

 “Thanks to my grandparents and to these experiences, the only thing that
I expect from priests is to convey God in the sacraments.  I don’t
expect that they will preach well, be personable, or live holy lives.
 If they do, it’s a bonus, but it’s not a requirement and it’s not why I
go to Mass on Sundays. ”

“The function of the clergy is 1.  to provide the Sacraments, 2.  to
teach the Faith, and 3.  guide and govern the People of God. ”

These and other comments seem to echo viewpoints of readers elsewhere on the blog.  To wit “In short, the Church is important, the Church is way screwed up, but because the Church is important, we’ll take the lessons, disregard the bad stuff, and that way the Church will remain important, which is agreeable to me (despite all the bad stuff, which I really have not control over, due to the hierarchy of the Church).”

I grew up and remain (mostly) Episcopal, with visits to a UCC when I visit Dallas.  But in looking at the Roman Catholic Church, the local priest *was* in many places, not only the leader of the congregation (or flock) but the imputed leader in the community (more so in places like Ireland, than the US), unless it was a very Catholic location — ie/South Boston).

But the Church turned a blind eye to transgressions by its priests.  Marriages could be annulled with the proper payment to the proper priest, or the Vatican or whatever.  Not much religious law in that!!

Parishioners were told to obey and be quiet.  Despite the problems, and a restless laity, that is still the case.  The Pope (who is infallible) is trying to bring back Fr. Maciel via un-excommunication. 

So while the deliverers of the Word are shameless in disregarding the Word in their own sordid lives, the sheep (the parishioners) are supposed to believe the Word even though the Holy are un-Holy?

Joseph Heller could write a sequel to Catch22 on all of this.

Meanwhile, until the Roman Catholic “Church” can fix itself, no one, Catholic, Protestant, or other should place any value coming from Archbish0p Dolan, the bishops of Maine, Washington State, and elsewhere on the inherent ‘evils’ of gay marriage, gay relationships, ‘the family’ and the like.

They are the emperors who have no clothes.

#16 Comment By NeilorSomeoneElse On May 17, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

“I protect myself from being scandalized by clergy behavior by not
allowing myself to trust them or the institutional church very deeply in
the first place.” 

This isn’t necessarily a problematic attitude, although I know that it isn’t ideal.

Part of the struggles with clerical sexual abuse and other forms of corruption must involve recovery of the virtue of hope. Hope is not faith – assent to divine reality, but, as Aquinas puts it, the “desire to see that which he [or she] believes.” If we recognize that we must hope, we can grasp that things are still, here and now, personally and corporately, incomplete and inadequate. We can’t yet “see,” not least because of sin. I think that a lot of Catholics – myself included – haven’t wanted to think about hope. Hope is often quite difficult because it means acknowledging the painful reality of present imperfections. So we’ve imagined that orthodoxy, here and now, is sufficient. (BTW, one telling absence in Catholic sermons that isn’t often noted – the absence of eschatology.)The problems with the Legion show that orthodoxy, however necessary, can always co-exist with self-deception. Traditionalism, clericalism, and the fostering of vocations can all co-exist with self-deception. I don’t think that’s always been clearly recognized. You can save the liturgy and still destroy the world. While the present is a very painful time, it can serve as a preparation for what might come: a bad pope – perhaps even a scandalous pope. Yves Congar, I believe, once noted that recent Catholic ecclesiology was shaped in a time when there wasn’t an obviously bad pope. So, what happens when there is?

#17 Comment By Erin Manning On May 17, 2012 @ 1:40 pm

Thanks for the link, Rod!

I think that something you wrote yesterday is key here: we have to avoid seeing the clergy (of any faith) as Embodied Argument either.  It’s just as unrealistic to expect, say, all Catholic priests to be paragons of virtue, wisdom, and holiness as it is to expect all Catholic priests to be secretly violating their vows of chastity or of abusing children.  The reality, like it is for all of us, is both messier and more balanced.  People sin, all of us, some of us spectacularly, and all sin is betrayal–it’s just easier to see it when there’s that added layer of hypocrisy than when there isn’t.

To me, though, the real concern is whether the Legion has actually learned from the Maciel debacle.  Given that Reuters is reporting that Legion officials knew about Fr. Williams’ situation since the beginning of this year (and did not apparently consider it necessary to remove him from his public appearances until just now), I think it’s a fair question to ask.

#18 Comment By sealawr On May 17, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

I frame the issue by two questions:

1.  How much corruption and admisntraitve maagerial incompetence shoudl I put up witn in an institution to whcih I belong?

2.  Is my answer different when the “institution” is the Churhc I was born into almost 60 years ago?

As a general rule, I would not remain in an institution that condoned and concealed widespread sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct.  If I was a member of any secular insittution that exhibited the same conduct of the Catholic Church—widespread institutional child sexual abuse and obstruction of jsutice—I’d separate myself in a hearbeat.

but… the Church is different.  I do hold it to a higher standard, but if I separate, I have nowhere else to go.  I accept the Chruch’s teachings about all other religions and all other Christian denominaitons.  As a cradle catholic of almost 60 years, I am in an untenable posision.  I believe the Catholic Church is the One True Church.

The widespread abuse and the wisepread corrption would have to reach extreme and intolerable levels far above what I would tolerate in any secular institution before I’d separate myself formthe Catholic Church.

For me, those levels were reached by the conduct of various bishops (McCormack) in Boston, the conduct of Flynn in KC and Rigali in Phialdeplhia and the Vatican’s (by this, I mena the Pope and several cardinals) corrupt reponse to Maciel and the Liegionaires.  The Church is incapable of self-correction in this area.  The Church is corrupt to the core.

I can’t be part of a church that is corrupt to its core.

#19 Comment By Clare Krishan On May 17, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

Matt no quibbles with you that “one strike and you’re out” is hardly a workable standard – indeed who of us would be left standing, that’s the whole point of Divine Mercy, we are ALL in as dire a need of it as ALL clerics. However the Legionaries have a particularly — how shall I say — curious attitude to clerical formation. Considering their founder has been declared a fraud, you’d think they’d now be helping members purge his warped POV from their worldview?

Well, no. They seem institutionally incapable of a pretty basic catholic concept: contrition and amendment. A still current webpage on a Jerusalem venue promoting  their Spiritual Renewal for Priest program — run in concert with the V atican and the Sacerdos Institute
of the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum(*) — thinks this pre-VII bon-mot of a Mexican paedophile is the best snippet of faith wisdom worthy of quoting on the sacerdotal office:“With this course of priestly renewal in Jerusalem,
the Legionaries of Christ put into practice the second article
of their constitution, as well as the following statement of
their founder:
“The priest, in the broadest and most profound
sense, is nothing but the reproduction of Christ himself. The
substance of his mission literally comes down to the salvation
of souls and the glorification of the Father” (29th March
1956).
But in answer to Rod’s original query – Peter’s “to whom should we go?”suffices. Read Ratizinger’s “Called to Communion” for his take — sympathetic to Dante’s purgatory cantos — on the whore of Hosea scriptural typology and we recognise the perversions of the Bride of Christ when she hankers after temporal glory, its ugly, really it is, no doubt. And yet, she is Christ’s only betrothed. There is none other. And we are called to be her faithful children. To leave the succor of the sacraments knowingly is a grave sin. I would posit many poorly catechized have no clue what it is they do in lapsing (I was that way for more than a decade) so we hope and pray for their return – something even Dan Savage knows in his heart of hearts (listen in on the “This American Life” NPR podcast quoted here: [6] )_____*  the university whose Dean of Theology is none other than… wait for it… your guessed it … American T.V. celebrity priest Fr. Williams – appointed a mere six years after his own ordination. Some deep formation happened in a mighty big hurry? Perhaps, surely possible, but not vary ‘traditional’ in a conventional catholic sense IMHO.

#20 Comment By NeilorSomeoneElse On May 17, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

 You are right that clergy are not “Embodied Arguments.” But how sustainable is it to be an active and theologically literate Catholic and think that your bishop has a self-serving agenda, that the conference of bishops as a whole is likely to make very bad prudential judgments for similarly manipulative reasons, and that your parish priest is not a good source of spiritual direction –  perhaps insofar as he clings to pious and unrealistic fantasies about an over-idealized church? Let us assume that you think that all of this has happened for structural reasons – it isn’t one bad bishop or one bad priest, but you find yourself having to speak of “clericalism” and other systemic distortions. 

(I’m not saying that I think this way. But I know people who do.)

Strictly speaking, it isn’t impossible to remain Catholic in these circumstances. The Eucharist is still the Eucharist. But it is much harder to be a disaffected Catholic than a disaffected Methodist, right?

In the midst of all this scandal, I think that we do need a language for alienated Catholics. One should be able to be a “tragic” Catholic, so to speak. Instead, one is still supposed to speak of “tradition” and so on in hushed and reverential tones, as though nothing has happened …

#21 Comment By Jamie O’Neill On May 17, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

 A wonderful metaphor.

#22 Comment By sealawr On May 17, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

[7]

1.  What took so long?

Why wasn’t this authority used more often and much sooner?

#23 Comment By Jacob Selvia On May 17, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

If God were going to choose a heartless, cynical and incompetent bureaucracy to administer salvation, why not the Department of Motor Vehicles? They only demand your attendance annually. 

#24 Comment By KGB_Agent On May 17, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

It’s a sign of the evil times in which we live when I can read that story and the first thing that pops into my mind is “Well, at least it was a woman.”
 
I converted to Catholicism seven years ago. I don’t expect every priest to be perfect; that wasn’t so even among the men Jesus Christ Himself handpicked to be his Apostles. As you said, the truth of the Christian faith isn’t obviated by the misbehavior of the clergy. But it does wear on you. Ever so gradually, a whisper in your ear grows louder: “The priests don’t take this stuff seriously. Why should you?”
 
It’s not even that the clergy are bad men, though some assuredly are. I get the sense that for many of them the priesthood means organizing canned food drives, marching for immigration reform, attending shut in outreach committee meetings… in other words, they’re social workers who can’t date. Not that any of those things are bad, but the priest is ordained to offer Mass and forgive sins. Everything else is secondary. If I had a nickel for every homily I’ve heard that boils down to “Jesus was a nice guy, so we should be nice too,” I could buy myself a nice steak dinner. I have no personal acquaintance with clerical evil such as the sex abuse scandal, thanks be to God. My disappointment lies more with how so many Catholic priests have a talent for rendering the one true Faith a colossal bore or something fit only for old women and children. 
 
How do I hang tough? For a while I simply repeated the words of St. Peter: “To whom else would I go?” I fulfilled my Sunday obligation but not much else. I tuned out the homily, tried to ignore the happy-clappy 1970s atmosphere, and did my best to focus on the reality of the sacrament. To touch on another post of yours, it’s even more difficult when you’re single since you largely have to go it alone. Long story short, I eventually dropped out of the Novus Ordo scene and have only been attending the FSSP parish in my diocese. That parish is packed with young people and young families. I would never describe myself as a good Catholic, but the priests there make me desire to be one again. It’s remarkable how much of a difference it makes when your priests take their personal sanctification seriously.

#25 Comment By JonS111 On May 17, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

The premise of the Tanakh is that God’s covenant with Israel is irrevocable.  Of course, what this often means is that God punishes Israel for their failure to keep up their end of the bargain.  But that’s God’s covenant with his people.  As somebody who is not religious, I definitely see the appeal of the Gospels, proclaiming that God has a new Covenant with all who would accept him.  That makes sense.

What does not make sense is ignoring the very prominent message that the Tanakh conveys about institutional power, a message that, if anything, the Gospels take further.  Moses never gets to see the promised land, Jonah gets swallowed by a fish, Saul loses the anointment of God, David receives serious punishment for that business with Bathsheba and Uriel (who, it is worth noting, was not an Israelite but a Hittite).  Things end quite badly for King Ahab.

Jesus spends a good amount of time railing against the religious establishment of his day as well.

But suddenly the Catholic Church is beyond reproach?

#26 Comment By JonF311 On May 17, 2012 @ 8:59 pm

Well, for once you and I are in total agreement. Our liturgy even has a hymn which inlcudes a erse “Out not your trust in princes and sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” That includes princes of the church, with whose skulls, we are told, the road to hell is paved.

There’s also this Russian joke: Is a young man has a beautiful voice and a good mind we make him a deacon. When he loses his voice we make him a priest, and when he loses his mind– a bishop.

#27 Comment By JonF311 On May 17, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

I trust that the Church has sacraments which bring me God’s grace no matter how wicked their ministers. I trust that there are many people in the Church seeking God as I am.  I trust that the Church houses Beauty and Truth from beyond the world. I trust that the hierarchs are more learned and experienced than I am in many religious matters– but not necessarily more virtuous (though I can hope as much) and definitely not gifted with superhuman infallibility.

#28 Comment By carlolancellotti On May 17, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

My point was that the Catholic Church understands itself precisely as an “exension” of the people of Israel. Is the people of Israel beyod repreach? Not at all. Is it still God’s people no matter what. Sure. From the Catholic perspective the same can be said of the Church, including its hierarchy.

#29 Comment By P Gustafson On May 17, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

“I protect myself from being scandalized by clergy behavior by not allowing myself to trust them or the institutional church very deeply in the first place.” 
Funny I was just thinking I’ve rarely seen someone who is so deferential to religious authority. You leave one church that wants to do your thinking for you for another. 

#30 Comment By SecularMisanthropist On May 17, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

It’s an interesting statement because it makes you wonder what aspects of it Rod has mixed feelings about. To me freedom of conscience is purely good with no downsides.

-MH