Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Perspective from My Friend, the Catholic Priest

I have a drinking buddy who's also a Catholic priest. (No, that's not the beginning of a joke. I really do).

The other day, I posted a Facebook status that said:
"I cannot read any more priestly pedophile stories. Now that I have a child, that type of news affects me like never before."
My Catholic priest friend didn't comment on that status, but he sent me a private email which was very interesting, and illuminates the stress and depression many priests who are genuinely good people must be going through at this time. That may sound strange coming from a non-believer like me, but I went to Catholic high school and have fond memories of the church, and I have sympathies for my friends, despite their religious background.

My Catholic priest friend wrote me:
"These stories are hard for anyone to read, I suppose, in your case because you have a child, in mine because I have loved the priesthood and the Church and am horrified by the enormous evil that has been wrought and so inadequately addressed over the years.

The last few days have been enormously depressing for me, despite my own personal successes in preaching and the beauty of our Easter liturgies, I have found it difficult to be optimistic about where things are headed and difficult even to focus on my own work.

While I meant what I wrote on your post last week that some of this stuff was being distorted and overblown with respect to Benedict, other things that I have read (chiefly through the obsessive and unfair Andrew Sullivan's blog, but not his work itself) have made it difficult to defend the institution even in light of the changing standards of history, etc..

I'm blessed that my own religious community has had good leadership in this regard. In the last 25 years I'm aware of only one case that we've had involving children, and as soon as the complaints surfaced we removed the guy from his work, investigated, and kicked him out of the priesthood. We handed him over to the police, fully cooperated, and refused to pay his defense. Quite right, too--we were convinced of his guilt, after all. He is now in jail. Any cases are too many, but as with family and school, so in the church to a certain degree they cannot be totally avoided--what is essential is to be vigilant about dealing immediately with any hint of threat so as to protect children. (We do have extensive screening for candidates and so forth, but it's not easy to totally predict who will have these tendencies in life).

Anyway, sorry to prattle on, but your status update has been on my mind since I saw it first come up."
It is quite unbelievable and sickening what's been going on with the Catholic church. These scandals damage or destroy so many people's lives in different ways, but it's important to remember how it also affects normal, good Catholics, including the priests.
I can see why you have this guy as a friend and drinking buddy. I feel sad for him and others like him who truly want to serve.
I grew up Catholic as well and went to Catholic school.My family and I have known some creepy priests as well as laypersons, and it was always just kind of known/understood that you were supposed to avoid them -but as kids we never quite knew specifically why. Then the scandal broke somewhere around my senior year and many of us rolled our eyes and had an 'A-ha!I knew it!' moment, right before allowing ourselves to get really angry and unceremoniously leave the church. I wonder if many Catholics who no longer attend church feel the same way my family does-the wonderment of why so much skeeviness is tolerated and why it's just up to to flock to murmer enough to keep kids safe without ever coming out and open.
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