Letter from the Camp

This year the diocese ordered-up a stale corporate-management-inspiration package for our convocation of priests. Delivered by a well-meaning “executive coach.”

The PowerPoint included Viktor Frankl, confined at Dachau. And his inspiring words about selflessness.

Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl

To be honest, being here at this diocesan priest conference feels like some kind of brainwashing camp. Back before the world learned about the McCarrick affair, I had some tolerance for churchy platitudes and bad Catholic jokes, on occasions such as this. But of course all that tolerance went out the window in the summer of 2018.

Last October’s priest convocation felt surreal and shameful–the priests of the diocese spending three days together, with no open discussion of the elephant. Namely, our disillusionment, and the disillusionment of our people.

This year, doing the same thing–carrying on, as if there were no bankruptcy of Catholic credibility–it feels like we have fallen to the Kool-Aid-drinking-cult level.

What is the Roman Catholic Church? We would say, we priests: This Church is the Church of Christ, founded and sustained by the incarnate Word of God. We would say: In our parishes, we and our people practice the original Christian faith, the original Christian religion. We receive grace from heaven through Jesus’ sacraments.

But: How can we fail to reckon with this fact: Our answer to this question–What is the Catholic Church?–our answer does not correspond with the perception of most reasonable people. Most people with self-respect would not willingly associate themselves with our institution. At all. Because our institution has apparently endless closets full of disgusting secrets and unacknowledged catastrophic failures.

Kool Aid

Perhaps you may ask, dear reader: What should we do at our priests’ convocation, if not carry on as if none of this ever happened?

Well: It’s not just McCarrick. In our own humble ecclesiastical province, a bishop retired uneventfully a year ago, at the appointed age. Now he stands accused of the serial sexual abuse of multiple vulnerable individuals.

How about it we openly acknowledged the courage of the particular victims who have spoken out against Bransfield? And against McCarrick?

Shouldn’t we honor their bravery? Young priests and seminarians tried to blow the whistle decades ago about McCarrick, only to find themselves shushed, muzzled, and treated like dirt. While McCarrick ascended, untouched, to the College of Cardinals.

Now, the pattern repeats itself. Two former seminarians have sued the Church over bishop Michael Bransfield’s abuses over the course of the past seven months. Meanwhile, no one in East-coast Catholic Church, Inc. pays attention.

How about in our own diocese? Have we acknowledged with true gratitude the victims who found the courage to speak about their abuse in 2002? Only to be treated as liars by bishop Sullivan, as pariahs by bishop DiLorenzo, and as an overly emotional special-interest group by bishop Knestout?

So the question remains: have we even begun to solve our institutional problem? We not only haven’t solved it. We continue to pile up wreckage.

Now, a few years back, I would have said about this boring priest conference, underway at a Marriott: The Kool-Aid they’re handing out here tastes bland enough, like Evian or Perrier. Whatever.

This year, the bland Kool-Aid tastes more like milk gone bad. Or maybe poison.

10 thoughts on “Letter from the Camp

  1. Forgive??!? No one is asking to be forgiven. They none of them even acknowledge that they’ve done anything wrong.

  2. Why are you the only one who speaks truth to power?! If the Bishop were to suspend you how many of your brother priests would intercede on your behalf? (Just a rhetorical question.) Thank you again for still asking the question. Come to think, is it a Catholic hierarchy SOP to not answer questions? Seems to me there is someone in a very important job who does the same thing.

  3. Ann, Forgiving a person or an organization does not necessitate that the person or organization admit to any wrongdoing. It is an act I offer to someone else whether they know they need it or not. And thus, a grace falls on them, even unbeknown. Whether that grace is received or not, whether that grace bears fruit in the person or organization needing to recognize a fault is almost irrelevant. By offering the forgiveness in the first place, I receive grace, the grace of humility, patience, understanding, perseverance, courage, and any number of other graces that are important to my own spiritual growth. So forgive, even when it seems pointless or unfruitful.

  4. It is sad that priests can rise to bishop, cardinal, even perhaps pope WITH a record of allegations, proven or not. My personal feeling is that if any priest has any allegation at all, they should be disqualify them from further promotions no matter how effective of an administrator they are. It may seem unfair especially considering that such a rule could be misused to prevent an innocent and hard working priest from rising simply by mustering up a false allegation to disqualify them.

    Further it is unfortunate that someone who is retired cannot step into public view and admit his failings. He’s retired, and the church won’t take away his retirement anyway, so what does it matter if he ‘fesses up. He’ll still have steak for dinner. And at least the faithful would see a glimmer of truth, honesty, and hopefully remorse.

    It is difficult to understand why our active bishops are not more vocal. I guess like the public school officials and the corporate executives, we humans prefer the safer route of hiding rather than being open.

    First rule of marriage – I cannot change the person to whom I am married. I can only love them. If I do not choose to love the person to whom I am married, I will most likely end up divorced. So, I choose to love the church. What else can I do, Jesus is here in the Eucharist in a way that I cannot find anywhere else, and complaining to my fellow Catholics doesn’t improve the situation.

  5. My dear Fr. Mark,
    I appreciate and support your candor. Are you fearful of removal from priestly duties for speaking negatively of the hierarchy of the Church?
    What should a suffering and a confused cradle Catholic do?

  6. After a life time of “longing” to be Catholic, I made the decision to convert about five years ago, and have never regretted it. And while I grieve for the problems of the past that haunt us today, and the recent problems that continue to come to the open, there is no way I am willing to even consider deserting my Catholic faith. Like Simon Peter, (John 6:68,69, “…”Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” I found the true faith when I became Catholic.
    It is unfortunate that priests cannot openly talk about the problems at their meeting.
    I am thankful for Fr. Mark who is willing to speak about these problems. I have a prayer for priests (posted on the door of my refrigerator), which I pray every day.
    I don’t have answers, only hope, and the belief that my beloved Catholic church will survive this crisis. I find my strength for life in the Mass, in the Eucharist.
    May God have mercy on us all.

  7. Elizabeth…. in all charity… you sound a lot like the hiarchy of the church… Fr. mark should speak the truth… someone has to and im really sorry you seem to think he should keep quiet… we need more priests like Fr. mark and honestly we need more laity to react the same way father mark has…. otherwise… things will never change for the better and jesus and his blessed mother will continue to shed tears over many things that have happened.

  8. Do any of the priests have an opportunity to speak or contribute to the agenda or is it all dictated by the bishop? If the latter, maybe everyone should call in sick next time. It’s called a boycott. What is he going to do, find replacement priests ?!

  9. I guess that is why Saint John Fisher is a saint and Saint Peter Damian. Stay close to Jesus. We all see through this obfuscation.

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