The crisis: Déjà vu all over again

The crisis: Déjà vu all over again

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky  | Aug 31, 2018

[This is an abridged version of a letter I wrote to ecclesiastical authorities after the Boston Globe revelations in 2002. I received no response. I think the letter—after sixteen years—remains painfully relevant today after the McCarrick debacle.]

The “priest crisis” cannot be limited to priests on the front lines. The problem has its roots in the episcopacy and in chanceries all across the country. It is more accurately a “bishops crisis.” The hierarchy has too often failed to promote authentic Catholic truth and justice. Over the years, there is clearly a pattern of cover-up and lies by an unexpectedly large number of bishops.

The bishops insist that they were on some kind of “learning curve” with respect to disciplining sexual offenders. But this is nonsense. In the 1960s, a bishop in Louisiana excommunicated Catholics who were members of the Ku Klux Klan. The bishops rightly recognized racial hatred as unworthy of a Christian and demanded swift and certain justice.

But many bishops did not have the same passion for justice when it came to clerical sexual abuse. The toleration for homosexual activity by priests who have exploited adolescents (very few of the abuse cases were outright pedophilia) is inexplicable unless the bishops were crippled by deliberate ignorance, gross apathy or cowardice. The ugly possibility of blackmail also cannot be ruled out.

Not a single bishop has resigned because of incompetence or mendacity. Why not? Are bishops compromised or do they fear that their bishop friends will be compromised if gay priests or other sexual predators are punished? The litany of bishops who have resigned or are under a cloud for homosexual behavior is growing: Bishop Emerson Moore, a notorious homosexual in clerical ranks who eventually died of AIDS, Bishops Zieman, Ryan, O’Connell (who was the chairman of the NCCB’s committee on marriage and family), Symons, Lynch, and Archbishop Rembert Weakland. Archbishop Weakland, you may recall, often held high profile positions in the NCCB (now the USCCB). Before their sinful lifestyles became public, did their secrets motivate the cover-ups?

The Dallas guidelines for bishops do not deal with non-criminal sexual sins such as fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. The guidelines do not even deal with the root cause of these sins: dissent from Church teaching on human sexuality. Why not? Dissent is not a sin of weakness. It is an act of the intellect which increases the gravity of sin and the risk to souls. It makes sense that any priest or religious who dissents from Church teaching in matters of human sexuality should also be removed from pastoral ministry.

In the past, offending priests—that is, priests who have become real or potential embarrassments to the bishops—have been “treated” for “psychological disorders” instead of punished for sin. After months of pampering in country-club psychological therapy treatment centers, they were recycled to sin again. I am aware of one of the major treatment centers that used to advise gay priests to “be discreet” in the practice of their homosexuality when they returned to ministry.

I’ve read the spiritual and psychological clinical risk-assessment of the infamous child molester Father Geoghan who was treated at Saint Luke Institute in Maryland. I recall being appalled at the neglect of the most basic questions of Catholic morality. As I read the report, I wondered how the psychological assessment would vary from a completely secular evaluation.

Many bishops, through their chanceries, systematically lied to victims and their families. Sometimes payoffs were clearly made with the hope that everything would be kept from the media spotlight while the offending priests were reassigned.

While there should always be an episcopal concern to avoid detraction, fear of the media should not become an excuse to allow sexual perverts to continue in the sacred ministry. When there is a choice between just punishment and unintended publicity, just punishment for crimes against God should have been the priority.

Just as the bishops feared media exposure back in those days, that pattern of fear continues today. Because justice was not administered when the crimes were committed, the bishops have now become merciless in the punishment of priests. The policy is particularly devoid of mercy because, as a “one size fits all” policy, it does not make the distinctions necessary to address the real problem: homosexual priests who seduce and even rape young men. The policy would equate this crime with the imprudence of a young newly ordained priest innocently kissing a 15-year-old niece.

During my early years as a priest, a shut-in woman accused a hard-working, elderly priest of making a sexual advance on her. I used to bring the woman Communion. She was very pious and sweet. Who could doubt her? The husband confronted the priest and the priest fell to his knees, claiming innocence, tortured in grief. According to the husband—who told me the story—the priest suffered for nearly a year until the woman at long last began to show certain signs of Alzheimer’s disease. How would that priest fare in the current climate of “guilty until proven innocent.” We now face the absurd and frightening prospect of bishops disciplining priests for simply not being able to disprove allegations.

I am praying that we return to a Church of Christian truth, justice, and mercy. For too long we have suffered under a media-driven hierarchy more concerned with protecting personal privilege and power. Not only has the credibility of the bishops been shaken, the very credibility of the Church is at risk. How can we expect a truly evangelical Church when too many bishops have turned a blind eye to the heinous crimes detailed in the media? Will the bishops at the November [2002] meeting be upright and strong enough to address the bishops’ crisis forthrightly? Will the bishops have the courage to insist that any bishop who has lied to his people should resign for the good of the Church?

We need a return to Christ through the just rule of law in truth. That’s the only “pastoral solution.” Hence, I write in conscience.

[September 23, 2002]

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. Father Pokorsky also serves as a director and treasurer of Human Life International.
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One comment on “The crisis: Déjà vu all over again

  1. There are a couple of important issues relating to this crisis to keep in mind. In the past, prelates took advice from psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists, and were led to believe that psychological counseling and therapy sessions could rehabilitate and reform pervert priests. They were wrong for the most part. Deviant, obsessive-compulsive homo sex perverts who pretend to be priests generally do not get better or cured by psychological counseling and therapy.

    Second: they spiritualized the issue too much. Because violations of the Sixth Commandment are mortal sins in moral theology, Confession was thought to be sufficient. In addition, the priesthood itself is a sacrament and prelates as well as the Vatican were too confident in viewing the priesthood as permanent for men who turned out to be sexual criminals with an obsessive-compulsive addiction to and inclination toward homo sex perversion (who, as such, were unqualified for the priestly state and office to begin with due to irregularity and mental defect, an ONTOLOGICAL disqualification from Holy Orders and the priestly state).

    It also became obvious that some of these deviants were never believing Catholics in any real sense and may likely have been atheists or diabolically oppressed if not possessed. They were disqualified from the priestly state due to excommunication. In other cases, due to heresy. It is a heretical idea that there is something normal or OK with this kind of perverted behavior as some modernist homosexualist “priests” argue and believe.

    There is some value to reviewing the mistakes made between the 1940s, 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s,
    during this unfortunate period in church history. Obsessive-compulsive sex perverts generally don’t get better. It would be wonderful if God granted the grace for miraculous cures of this perverse affliction to all who suffer from it, but apparently that does not happen that often.
    Given that, the insurance risk is too high for deviant sex perverts to be allowed to be ordained or to continue in priestly life once their perversion has been discovered. The only reliable solution is laicization. Once discovered they must be removed from seminaries and the priesthood. With regard to that it is irrelevant what causes the condition psychologically,
    developmentally, genetically, or from peer pressure or subcultures. Those are debates for a psychiatrist’s office or lecture hall AFTER laicization. The Church does not need to debate what causes it to reach a decision regarding laicization or other canonical penalties.

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