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Our Own Penance

To add to the tragedy of pedophile priests (Signs of the Times, 3/18), there have been no words of sorrow, no admissions of complicity, no words of compassion from the pope or his Vatican officials addressed directly to the victims (and their families) of sexual abuse by priests. The victims have been stonewalled and ignored. The only thing we hear about is damage to the church.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly exhorted us that there is no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness. In order to make just amends, we must begin by doing our own penance at the highest level in the church. Anything less only adds to this continuing injustice that eats away at any credibility we may yet have.

(Rev.) Charles E. Irvin
Manchester, Mich.

Hyper-sacralized

In his article, the Rev. Robert Kress justifiably identifies lack of adequate responsibility and supervision of the priest as serious structural defects in our Catholic Church (3/11). The priest can compensate for this critical lack by building into his ministry feedback on his own behavior and performance. To a limited extent he can obtain this orally by simply asking for it.

Unfortunately, most of the faithful, because of the hyper-sacralized status the priest still enjoys, would balk at telling a priest what he could do more of and what he could avoid doing. But an anonymous written survey makes the laity more comfortable with giving feedback. Such a mechanism has already begun to appear in some parishes.

F. T. Murray
Menomonee Falls, Wis.

Forgiving, Not Stupid

One of the problems bishops in the past had controlling priest pedophiles was that Rome had tied their hands (Signs of the Times, 3/18). The defrocking of priests for serious sexual offenses was reserved to Rome; and since priests were thought to be priests forever, they had to be put somewhere, employed somewhere, because of the theology of priesthood. Therefore hide and transfer, coupled with the notion that a retreat (spiritual conversion) and transfer would solve the problem. Certainly before 1985 no one knew that pedophilia was an incurable condition, and local bishops were caught on the horns of a cruel dilemma when Rome refused to move from its position. Priests had to be put somewhere. Now we know, and there are no more excuses.

A priest against whom credible accusations of child abuse are made must be relieved immediately of his duties and the information reported to local authorities and to a special commission set up by each bishop for internal investigation. If either of these investigative bodies finds the priest guilty, the local bishop should defrock the priest and help him find another profession while also helping him to find appropriate psychological help. We are a forgiving but not a stupid church. Such people should never again be able to exercise ministry in the church.

No more cover-ups. No more transfers. No more putting up with priest pedophiles. A complete housecleaning is in order once and for all, but only after a fair and complete investigation and hearing.

Peter J. Riga
Houston, Tex.

Mental Helath

So the church leaders want to screen out homosexuals as candidates for the priesthood (Signs of the Times, 3/18). To what is this a response? Abuse of minors? Then they had better screen out heterosexual men as well. Girls are abused right along with boys. Consensual sex with adults? Then they had better screen out heterosexual men as well. Some straight priests have affairs with women, just as some gay priests have affairs with men. Pedophilia is not about sex, nor is violating one’s vow of chastity (be it a vow of matrimony or ordination). Healthy humans, straight or gay, do not use other humans as objects of gratification. So screening should be done on the basis of mental health, not sexual orientation. Measuring life on a yardstick, sexual orientation accounts for about three incheshardly significant. The sexual orientation of a priest should be completely irrelevant.

Thomas H. Elliott
Phoenix, Ariz.

Healing Work

From reports in your publication, as well as many others, it appears that the acknowledgment of sexual abuse by the Archdiocese of Boston is resulting in a witch hunt (Signs of the Times, 3/18). This concerns me, because I do not believe any good will be accomplished through the current prevailing attitude of get even. Having worked for many years with victims/survivors of abuse, I am acutely aware of the individual’s need to confront the abuse within the self, to speak about it, to feel the anger deep within, to grieve the loss of innocence resulting from it and to go beyond it into today. What happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago is relevant only to those individuals who have not dealt with it within themselves in a healthy way and to those who perpetrated the abuse. Individuals who have done the necessary healing work are living full lives today, regretting the past, not needing to shut the door on it and also not needing to dwell on it.

Also, the attitude of the hierarchy that financial settlements or hierarchical statements from the pulpit or in the news media will truly benefit the victims or cure the illnesses resulting from the abuse is misguided, to say the least. Perhaps the victims would be better served by having appropriate therapy, paid for by the diocese, support groups sponsored by the diocese and other forums for greater understanding of the dynamics and effects. The public dismissal of priests who perpetrated the abuse, the shunning of them in many dioceses will only push individuals further into secrecy. Parish/academic work would be inappropriate for those individuals who are pedophiles. But there are ministries within the framework of the church that would allow them to make amends for their sins/crimes and also to go on. If approached by victims, these men could also be willing to listen, to accept responsibility and to help in any way they can.

The other piece of this witch-hunt attitude is the confusion between pedophilia and homosexuality. It has come to my attention that some believe the vow of celibacy is at the root of the sexual abuse of children, or that individuals who are pedophiles are homosexual. Neither is true or accurate. Pedophiles are incapable of an intimate/fulfilling sexual relationship with any adult. Many professionals consider them asexual in that sense. Mature homosexuals do not prey on children/adolescents for sexual pleasure. They find it in healthy relationships with other adults of the same gender, or they remain celibate by choice. So a gay priest is no more likely to be a pedophile than is a heterosexual priest.

Catherine O’Conor
Waquoit, Mass.

Prison Insight

Thank you for your article Parole Revisited (3/4). I am a deacon involved daily in prison ministry at San Quentin State Prison in California. The parole violation return rate in California is over 80 percent. I find it interesting that the bulk of parole officers are former corrections officers who belong to the California Corrections Officers Association, one of the strongest unions in the state. It would seem that returning men and women to prison keeps their fellow officers employed. The system simply is not working, and the public needs to be aware of how it is wasting its money. Many of these men could be better served by having an opportunity to get treatment for their alcohol/drug problems as well as myriad mental health problems.

(Deacon) George Salinger
San Carlos, Calif.

Pastoral Godsend

Thank you for the much-needed piece by Gerald Fagan, S.J., (3/18) on past and present Catholic teaching about limbo. The Catechism of the Catholic Church alludes to an interesting theological reason for rejecting the limbo theory.

Limbo implies some sort of two-tiered final goal for human beings. One is eternal life with God. The other is a natural happiness apart from God where people go who through no fault of their own cannot reach the top level.

There is, says the catechism, only one final goal, one desire of happiness for all people, life with and in the God who created us. We may attain that goal or reject it by our own choice, but there is no half-happiness somewhere in between. God having created us as he did, there is, so to speak, no going back. The ultimate goal of every human existence is the same, to share the happiness of God in his presence (Catechism, No. 1718-19).

As with the old injunction Don’t touch the host! the teaching church has done a masterful job imbedding limbo in Catholic consciousness. As Father Fagan suggests, an authoritative statement of current teaching about what happens to unbaptized children, and why that teaching has changed, would be a pastoral godsend.

(Rev.) John Dietzen
Peoria, Ill.

Spiritual Formation

I was amazed to see the cover of your March 11 edition. And more amazed to read the article by the Rev. Robert Kress, entitled The Pastor as C.E.O. After 50 years in church ministry, I have experienced only three parishes where I could say the vast majority of parishioners were committed to living the Gospel of Jesus and building the kingdom. In these parishes, baptism was understood and lived. Eucharist was celebrated and lived. The people were bread broken and wine shared. They washed feet and healed wounds. There was an energy, a peace, a joy and a call to ministry, that reached out and touched lives. Good liturgy was a top priority.

How did this come about? The priest-pastors were pastors, true spiritual leaders. The business roles in the parish belonged to staff, the nonordained. The pastors were not C.E.O.’s. In these parishes the staff had three prayer days/reflection days a year and two study days. The spiritual development of the staff was a priority, and the people recognized the benefits. Because of the parish vision, the council, commissions and committees worked effectively. The spiritual formation of adults was a priority.

Parishes where the pastors were or tried to be C.E.O.’s showed all the signs of lifeless, routine religious practice. The sacramental life of the community lacked the transforming power that good liturgy provides. May our parishes be blessed with true spiritual leaders and leave C.E.O’s to the corporate world.

Theresa Byrne, O.P.
Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Insistent Voice

In her effort to defend her Islamic faith (3/4), Karima Diane Alavi totally ignores America’s mortal danger and misstates the reality of U.S. engagement in the Islamic world.

Why does Ms. Alavi not call upon the imams and mullahs of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and other Middle Eastern states to denounce in a single, powerful and insistent voice the hijacking of their faith, as she puts it? If Muslim leaders in America can do it, why can’tor won’ttheir counterparts in the Muslim world do likewise? It is they who, in the name of their peace-loving faith, should denounce Saddam Hussein for using his nation’s resources for his unholy weapons and for bringing conflict to fellow followers of the Prophet.

Would the West abandon the sanctions if Islam pulled together like this to regain control of its faith and its renegades? The West would be overjoyed with such a deal. Where are these voices of Islam?

James W. McCulla
McLean, Va.

Comments

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(Rev.) Paul DiGirolamo | 1/26/2007 - 3:36pm
I want to thank you and Catherine O’Conor of Waquit, Mass., who wrote a letter to America on “Healing Work” (4/8). Her sentiments clearly expressed a common-sense and equitable canonical approach to the present problem. Further, her opinion not only clearly reflected my own thoughts but the thoughts of several other priest friends. We are most grateful for her positive contribution in such a media atmosphere of muckraking and veiled anti-Catholicism.

Clement Belter | 4/5/2002 - 4:13pm
Most priests are wonderful people. Some are loners, monks in a church that is a living, vibrant community. I wonder if all of our priests even have spititual directors. Is someone of their own caring about them when they are not seen or heard at doicesesan functions. I belong to several groups and when I'm absent for a while, some one will call me to sort of check up on me. There's not that many priest's in a diocese, secular priest's that is. It is sad when these sort of immoral actions happen. I have been telling my parishioners to love them all and to be responsible for them. The priest needs to know that they are loved so that when a great temptation is facing them, they have the support of Jesus, in us.

Clement Belter | 4/5/2002 - 4:13pm
Most priests are wonderful people. Some are loners, monks in a church that is a living, vibrant community. I wonder if all of our priests even have spititual directors. Is someone of their own caring about them when they are not seen or heard at doicesesan functions. I belong to several groups and when I'm absent for a while, some one will call me to sort of check up on me. There's not that many priest's in a diocese, secular priest's that is. It is sad when these sort of immoral actions happen. I have been telling my parishioners to love them all and to be responsible for them. The priest needs to know that they are loved so that when a great temptation is facing them, they have the support of Jesus, in us.

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