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Priest: ‘Prayer & Fasting Not The Answer’

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, talking about the McCarrick mess (EWTN News screengrab)

I received this from a parish priest, and post it with his permission:

Ever since the Pennsylvania report we have been hearing bishop after bishop exhort the church to join with them in prayer and fasting for victims and for the church.  We have also heard them call priests to maintain their vows of celibacy and recommit themselves to greater spiritual discipline in the face of this crisis.

As a Catholic priest, I absolutely believe in prayer, fasting, celibacy, and spiritual discipline. But in this particular instance, I believe the bishops’ call amounts to deflection from the core of the crisis, and will not solve anything nor get at the heart of the problems we face as a church.

For one thing, when bishops tell priests that they need to maintain their spiritual discipline and stay true to their vow of celibacy, they are essentially saying that every priest is a potential abuser.  They are saying to every priest, “If you stop praying or stop adhering to your spiritual discipline you too might end up exploiting children.”

That’s ridiculous!  That’s not how people become abusers.  A person either has that psychological pathology or they do not.  One of the things we need to have a serious discussion about is the connection between homosexuality and child predation.  Psychology used to connect homosexual and this sexual perversion by the term ephebophilia.

What many people don’t understand about this phenomenon in the church is that in the past, a priest had almost unlimited access to children, and was implicitly trusted by everyone, even other clergy.  For years no one would ever believe, or wanted to believe, that a priest would ever do such horrible things to children.  But what they didn’t understand about abusers is they will do almost anything to gain access to children.  And the priesthood afforded them this access and the trust to be able to be alone and groom them.

It wasn’t until the reforms of the 2002 Dallas Charter that procedures were put into place that gave priests far less access to children.  In today’s churc,h abusers simply don’t have the opportunities that they used to have.  The safe environment reforms have been a tremendous advancement for the safety of children in the church.  Since 2002, incidents of child exploitation in the church have decreased dramatically.  If people really want to look at the data regarding child abuse, they will find that the most dangerous place for a child is their own home and their own families.

When bishops tell the laity and clergy to fast and pray and do penance for past abuse, they are just passing the buck and spreading the blame.  This is another misstep for bishops.  They are calling on the church to make atonement for past sins.  While I’m not denying there is value in those actions, it is not what people are principally concerned with right now.

First of all, people want to know that their children are safe in the church.  Second, they want to know that bishops are no longer covering up instances of exploitation.  Third, they want to know that bishops are held accountable just like everyone else in the church if they fail in their responsibilities and also if they abuse.

To date, the bishops have spoken of doing these things, but they have not taken any concrete actions.  A friend of mine asked, “Why isn’t Cardinal Wuerl on administrative leave pending an investigation into what he did or didn’t do?  That would have happened to every single priest in a similar situation.”  I told him the truth: “Bishops are not subject to the same rules as priests or laity in the church.”

However, Cardinal Wuerl could voluntarily agree to put himself on administrative leave and call for an investigation.  He could invite the Vatican to investigate his situation.  So could all of the prelates involved in the McCarrick and Pennsylvania scandals.  But they won’t.  The reason they won’t is because bishops want to maintain their power and do not believe they have to answer to anyone except the Holy Father.  They will not do the right thing for the church and step aside to allow an independent investigation.

Again, as a priest, I certainly believe in the power of prayer. however, I am sick and tired of hearing bishops use prayer as a spiritual weapon to get themselves out of a tough spot.  Furthermore, no one believes or trusts them anymore anyway.  The only way back from the abyss is action.

The People of God certainly believe in the value of prayer and penance. However, what we all want is for people in power to be held accountable when they fail.  To that end, there need to be bishops who willingly submit their resignations and that includes the whole lot of them.  Wuerl, O’Malley, Tobin, Dolan, etc.  All of them.  Their credibility is gone.  These guys are old, and have no time to earn back that credibility.  Step aside, men, and do what is best for the church.  If you do not, I hope the Holy Father will do for us what you will not.

The priest adds, in a follow-up conversation

The two things that should happen probably won’t: 1) dealing with the disproportionate number of homosexuals in the clergy and, 2)bishops actually getting fired. Neither will happen for the same reason — because they are the same people, and they have connections, and are protected.  Unfortunately, I just don’t see any real change coming.  The real wildcard is Francis.  So far he has been quite the disappointment.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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