20 C+M+B 22
Happy New Year, dear reader.
The publisher sent me a mock-up of the dust cover for Ordained By a Predator: Becoming a Priest in the Middle of a Criminal Conspiracy. We have reached the final pre-publication stages..
…I will give a talk in Indianapolis next week. I’ll post the text here as soon as I finish typing it up.
…Also, Dr. Christine Bacon invited me to speak yesterday with her group of “Standers,” Christian spouses struggling through serious marital problems, holding onto their vows.
Here’s the talk I gave, if you’re interested in reading…
TALK TO THE “STANDERS” January 4, 2022
Christine and I met back in November, at a prayer rally dedicated to restoring the institutional integrity of our church, the Roman Catholic Church. She interviewed me for her podcast, and she told me about you, the Standers. She and I realized that I fit in, even though I have never been married.
I didn’t know the term “Stander” until I met Christine, but in fact I have worked with Standers for years. Faithful Catholic spouses who have been abandoned in their marriages. Also in many cases separated from their children, either completely or much of the time, by the custody arrangement. These Christians have sought out the parish priest (me) for support and guidance under these difficult circumstances. This has led me to meditate on this painful path in life, a living Way of the Cross.
Everyone know about our “Way of the Cross” prayer? Every Catholic church building has fourteen markers along the walls, indicating the Lord’s Jesus’ Way of the Cross through Jerusalem, from Pilate’s judgment seat to Mount Calvary. We pray by going from one station to the next. The whole thing also symbolizes the Christian life, following the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, through suffering and death to eternal life.
Having to follow the Standers’ path, that Way of the Cross: it elevates the natural vocation of marriage into a supernatural one. Christine refers to this in the list of Standers’ practices, #10. I’ll come back to this idea of seeing through the natural to the supernatural.
First let me explain how I fit in with the group. I was ordained a priest in 2003, at age 32, after seven years of preparation for the priesthood. I was in love with the Church; the Church is the ‘bride of my youth.’ Then I served as a parish priest for 17 years–six years as a “parochial vicar,” or associate pastor, helping the senior pastor, then eleven years as a pastor.
It was my married life. We Catholic priests promise celibacy, and I have never regretted doing that. Of course I am well aware that Protestant churches have married pastors. One of my best friends is an Episopalian priest with a wife and young son. He is an excellent shepherd for his people, to be sure. But for me, and for us Catholic priests generally speaking, our pastoral lives are all-encompassing, work life and family life all rolled into one thing. No sex, of course, but lots of love, mutual support, and joy in the Lord.
I spent my thirties and forties living that life, and I got pretty used to it. Celebrating the Masses, the baptisms, weddings, and funerals, preaching and teaching, hearing Confessions, visiting the sick, and families in their homes, running the parish office. A full, happy life. I had hit my stride, so to speak, as a Father.
Then it all came to a sudden, abrupt end.
Let me explain how. It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. I’m sure you can relate to the complicated aspect. I don’t imagine anyone ever winds up being a Stander without something complicated happening.
Almost four years ago, I learned–and the world learned–a terrible secret about the Cardinal Archbishop who had ordained me a priest. He was a sex abuser. A criminal. He and his confederates had managed to cover up his crimes for thirty years. He sexually abused pre-teen boys, teenage boys, and young men in their twenties and early thirties. He had abused people that I knew. But I knew nothing about it until almost twenty years later.
I learned this stunning truth about the man who ordained me, as well as the even-worse truth about how other bishops and the Vatican covered it all up for decades. All while he himself, and other Cardinals and bishops, were promising the public that all the Catholic sex-abuse cover-ups were over.
I was devastated to learn all this, as were many, many other Catholics. I’m a writer, so something in me realized that I had to write my way through the interior crisis I was going through. I had to find a way to plow forward as a parish priest and keep giving my people what they needed to be getting from me. Again, I think some Standers will relate. Shattering crises can occur in family life. But the kids still need to be fed, and helped with their homework, etc. Children deserve stability, right?
I already had a weblog, had had one for ten years. I put the texts of my sermons on it, for people to read, if they wanted to. I began using the blog as my forum to deal with what I was going through, with the sex-abuse crisis in our Church.
I won’t lie. I said some pretty angry things, in some posts over the course of the following year, as more and more of the truth about the cover-up came out. I published at least one post that I wish I had toned down before I put it out there.
But generally I tried to be reasonable and calm. I admitted that I knew little of the facts that I was trying to understand. Plus, I assumed that I was using an appropriate forum of free speech to express myself. I certainly never told anyone in the parishes that they should read my blog; I never even mentioned it. Most of the people I dealt with on a day-to-day basis knew nothing about it.
That is, until the bishop stepped in. Turns out that he, or someone reporting to him, had been paying careful attention to everything I had written, and had found some of it inappropriate. Without any discussion of the subject matter of the posts, the bishop ordered me to remove my blog from the internet altogether, the whole thing.
We priests promise obedience to our bishops, so I initially complied. I hoped that we could find a compromise, if we could talk the whole thing over. But as time wore on, and the bishop never responded to me, I found that I could not live with myself under the circumstances. After all, the bishop here is himself a protégé of the Archbishop who ordained me, the criminal.
Within days after I turned my blog back on, the bishop removed me as pastor and then suspended my public priestly ministry completely. He has the authority to do this, and he used it. I could hardly believe it; still can hardly believe it, that he reacted like this. But he did. I appealed to the Vatican, and got nowhere.
Almost two years have passed since then. Now I have a completely different kind of life. Much more solitary than before. I have become a kind of Stander, holding onto the priestly life, but without a flock, without any ministry. The praying that we Catholics generally do as a community–Sunday Mass, Christmas Mass–I do alone. Or rather: I celebrate with the Lord, the angels, and the saints for company.
After all, I am a priest, and I will always be one. That’s what we Catholics believe about Holy Orders. Even if the bishop who ordained me should have been in jail that very day. Even if one of his protégés has isolated me from the Church community. None of that changes the supernatural reality. I remain a priest.
Again, like you: I hope and pray for reconciliation, to be able to go back to “family” life as a priest. But, at least for now, I am powerless to do anything about it. Only the Lord knows how long this situation will continue.
The supernatural reality. Maybe a few verses from the first letter of St. John will help us connect with it. St. John, who stood at the foot of the cross, and then saw the Lord risen from the dead. He writes:
We have gazed upon the Word of life, and have heard Him… To you we proclaim this, so that you may share our treasure with us. That treasure is union with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
…Abide in Him, so that when He appears, you may have assurance and not shy away from Him in shame. You are well aware that everyone who lives a holy life is a child of God… The world does not recognize us, because it has not recognized Him. Now we are children of God; what we shall be has not yet been manifested. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is…
…We know what love is from the fact that Jesus Christ laid down His life for us… Let us not love merely in word or with the tongue, but in action, in reality. By that we shall know that we are born of truth, and we shall calm our consciences in His presence.
…This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. Who is victor over the world, if not he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.