Anniversaries and Things that Don’t Change

Last year on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), we had our first ‘virtual’ Mass. We meditated on this:

By believing in Christ, we share in His experience. The eternal Father has made Jesus the heir of all things. Our Lord receives His inheritance as the gift that it is. He offers it back to the Father as a sacrifice of love.

By believing in Jesus, we share in this divine communion of the eternal Father with His incarnate Son. Through thick and thin, we have our share in that communion.

On St. Joseph’s feast day last year (March 19), our bishop here publicly accused me of harming the Church’s unity. He provided misleading evidence to support the charge. Shortly thereafter, he suspended me from ministry and locked me out of my house. I have had to celebrate Holy Mass in solitude ever since. It’s been a year now since I celebrated Mass “with the people.” Not easy.

…Now, imagine the Lord sent an angel to speak with me. “Mark, you’ve had a rough year. What’s one thing we can do up here in heaven, to ease the burden for you a little?”

If that happened, I would not even have had the presumption to ask: “Can you make the Georgetown Hoyas win the Big-East tournament in Madison Square Garden?”

Georgetown Hoyas Big East tournament champions

Our Father in heaven knows the good things we need, before we even ask Him. 🙂

On the other hand, I might have asked: “Could you have the bishop call me on Holy Thursday? And make him say, ‘Mark, it’s the day of the priesthood. I have thought things over. It’s been a year since the problems we had. I will give you your place back now.'”

Problem is, he might then say: “April fool!”

…A couple weeks ago, we kept the 1,985th anniversary of St. Peter’s arrival in Antioch, Syria, in the third year after the Lord Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. The word “Christian” originates from Antioch, which served then as the capital of the eastern Roman empire. Peter governed the Church from Antioch for a few years. Then he went to Rome and governed the Church from there. He suffered martyrdom under emperor Nero and thereby established Rome as the Apostolic See, the See of St. Peter, the city of the pope.

We keep an annual feast on the anniversary of Peter’s arrival in Antioch, February 22. To celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, Dom Prosper Gueranger wrote:

Our Lord will not receive us as His children, unless we shall have lived in union with Him by the ministry of pastors lawfully constituted. Honor, then, and submission to Jesus and His vicar! Honor and submission to the vicar of Christ, in the pastors he sends.

Dom Prosper Gueranger
Dom Gueranger

…Yesterday the Vatican made an announcement, and a reporter at WFXR in Roanoke called me. The Vatican announcement hardly came as a surprise–namely, two people of the same sex cannot get married by a Catholic clergyman, and no bishop, priest, or deacon can “bless” the “union” of two men or two women.

The Vatican announcement did not engage the underlying question: Are physical relations between two people of the same sex always a sin? Church teaching has taken for granted from time immemorial that such relations cannot be right. But these days the question sits squarely on the table, with a lot of devout Catholics proposing that the answer might be more complicated. The magisterium of the Church has not addressed the matter since 1986.

One thing I said to the reporter that didn’t make it into the broadcast is this: I think a lot of people find it hard to credit the Vatican with honesty and good will on this subject. The prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who issued the decree yesterday, himself ducked a subpoena to testify in a French court about his role in covering up sexual abuse by a Lyon priest.

Just in time for this little controversy, I finished reading Confessions of a Gay Priest by Tom Rastrelli. It is one of the most compelling and heartbreaking books I have ever read.

Rastrelli and I are contemporaries. He opens his book with the story of how a squirrel got electrocuted on a transformer outside the cathedral shortly before his ordination ceremony was to begin. They continued in candle light, without air conditioning. That was in June of 2002.

Tom Rastrelli photo credit Frank Miller
Tom Rastrelli (photo by Frank Miller)

I had heard the whole story before, because I was in the same cathedral exactly a year later, for the ordination of a good friend of mine. Everyone was talking about the hot, candle-lit ordination of the year before.

Rastrelli and I both studied for the priesthood under the Sulpician Fathers, he at their seminary in Baltimore, me at their seminary in Washington. We both went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in August, during our seminary years, and stayed with the priests there. Rastrelli and I know dozens of people in common.

In his book, Rastrelli communicates his experience of sexual abuse at the hands of priest “mentors” with crushing humility and honesty. He thought he was in love; in fact, he was being abused.

Rastrelli is such a good writer that he conveys all the confusion, all the self-doubt. As he put it in an interview about his book, “Most victims don’t know they’re victims at the time. That’s how predators operate, by that kind of mental manipulation.”

When you finally reach the end of Confessions of a Gay Priest, and then consider the stunning way in which the Church has not dealt with the McCarrick scandal, or with the sex-abuse problem in general, you’re left with this: The Catholic clergy is one big closet of confused, compulsive, and dangerous self-hating gays.

A lot of people think that, and we have given them good reason to think it.

Rastrelli has given us a gift. A painful one to receive, to be sure. I cannot exactly recommend reading the book; it made me both cry and vomit. But I salute Mr. Tom Rastrelli as a mesmerizing writer, a brother seminarian I wish I had known in person, and a truth teller with a message we need to consider with the greatest care.

Meanwhile, your humble servant believes more than ever that: the Holy Mass celebrated at our altars–the altars of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church–is the religion that God Himself gave us, by sending His only begotten Son to be our brother.

Someday things will make more sense. In God’s good time.

Laetare pic 2021
Laetare Sunday, 2021

6 thoughts on “Anniversaries and Things that Don’t Change

  1. I know that God has a plan for you and for other priests in similar circumstances. I pray that it may be His will to return you to the people who are so in need of true priests. In the meantime, you remain in the thoughts and prayers of all of us who desire to see your suspension ended, and your return to our parishes as our priest. Thank you for sharing the photograph. I did see you on Channel 8 last evening.

    Re bishops, David Carlin, author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America, wrote an article titled, “Our Fourth-Century Christianity,” which was posted on The Catholic Thing, 2/19/21. The article was about the decline of “…the religiosity of the average Christian believer….,” and addressed the history of the church over hundreds of years, including the decline of monasticism, and the need for “… models of true Christianity so that we may remember what true Christianity is.”

    His closing sentence was this: “One last thing: We should not look to our bishops to be leaders in any revival. Only rarely in the long history of Catholicism have bishops been the leaders of our many Catholic revivals. Which leaves…who?”


  2. Judy, I’ve asked you before: where are the priests you refer to in similar circumstances to Mark’s? As far as I can see, they don’t exist.
    So—we have only one priest standing up for transparency and honesty, and a clergy that, in a description not far from the truth, can be called “a closet full of self-hating gays.” (Mark’s words.) With a clergy like this, why would Knestout ever think he should restore Mark to his churches? With a clergy like this, bishops can do any mean-spirited, dishonest, vicious things they want and hear no protests. And bishops have been doing many mean-spirited, dishonest, and vicious things—as Mark has written about and himself experienced.
    Ann White

  3. How could teachings change from black to white? Sexual morality runs throughout the Bible, from Old Testament to New and is consistent? All this abuse is the result of priests violating these laws of God and using sex selfishly to harm others. Why did Jesus specifically and spectacularly choose St. Paul? I’m very confused by your statements to the press.

  4. Hi Fr. Mark and others. As an openly gay man, happily married to my husband and in a lifelong, monogamous relationship, I am glad that you are having a conversation about this issue.

    I’d also toss out another wrinkle that you might ponder: As persons of goodwill discuss inclusion, it’s important to ask, “What is it that you are including others in?”

    In my case, I was thrilled to be married in the Episcopal Church, and to have my relationship blessed in a parish that is a descendant of the one that George Washington attended. That was not long before I ran headlong into a mendacious rector (he was not only the priest who blessed my relationship, but also has committed perjury in our now ongoing litigation) and an abusive bishop with the audacity to say that she won’t address perjury unless criminal charges are filed. Needless to say, at this point I am sorry I ever walked through the door of the church, let alone was married there.

    Thus, I think Fr. Mark touches on a key issue—perhaps the church (and I don’t refer to any one denomination or faith) is best served by removing the log from its own eye, then worrying about who gets to fully be part of the life of the church.

    Finally, please don’t read this as an attack on the Catholic Church. I have far too much respect for the church for that, but I do hope that this issue will warrant further prayerful discussion.

  5. Mr. Bonetti, You make a wonderful point about “removing the log.” Mark noted that many find it hard to credit the Vatican with honesty and good will on this subject. The Catholic Church has a massive log to remove from its eye: dishonesty on just about every subject.
    Ann White

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