Sacrilege–Preliminary Thoughts

I’ve been reading Leon Podles’ book, Sacrilege, this weekend. I’m not done, and so this isn’t my review, but I need to vent a little. What I’m reading has made me angry–reminding me of people I knew and trusted, and of the institution I once trusted.

I’ve just read a portion recounting the number of high officials in the Diocese of Springfield, MA, who were implicated in sexual abuse of minors, including Bishop Thomas Dupre and Fr. Francis Lavelle. I knew Fran because he was director of the Newman Center at UMass and received two of my brothers into the Catholic Church. Dupre confirmed them. I later saw Fran at campus ministry meetings, and I saw (and chatted with) Dupre at USCCB meetings I attended. Springfield is but one example of a diocese where a network of abusive homosexual priests promoted and protected one another–even in the case of suspected murder.

I thought of Fr. Jim McShane, who was my supervising chaplain in the Vermont National Guard–he was also diocesan youth director at one time and scouting chaplain. Podles talks about case after case of priests who were assigned to such positions by bishops who knew them to be abusers.

Tonight I learned on the Bishop-Accountability webpage that Fr. Jack Hunt, my boss at St. Patrick’s in Watertown, NY, has been removed from ministry. He’s another priest who spent much time in campus ministry and on the seminary faculty.

I trusted these folks. I trusted Cardinal Law, whom I first met in 1992.

And there are others I could name, since removed for other forms of sexual misconduct.

Podles thinks both liberals and conservatives have valid points–the root problems include the preponderance of homosexuals in the priesthood (including gay subcultures in dioceses and seminaries, and gays who promote and protect each other) , as well as psychological immaturity and narcissism, and a clericalism that feeds off all of these things. But to say they had an “illness” is to misdiagnose. This is why bishops felt they could shunt them off to therapy and then return them to parishes–they failed to acknowledge that these priests weren’t just “sick,” they were engaging in gross criminal conduct and depraved sin. Podles also notes that sacrilege (obscene anti-religious actions that I don’t want to mention here) often played a part–and there are indications of diabolical activity in many cases.

I’ll have more to say, but let me urge you, whether you are Catholic or Protestant or agnostic, read Podles’ book. I don’t think you grasp the big picture. I don’t think you understand the fullness of what these men did–and how the system protected them.

The system is the problem. This clericalist system is entrenched even in those dioceses that aren’t reeling under the weight of accusations and settlements–including the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, for which I worked for nine years. Cardinal DiNardo is an exemplar of the kind of cleric who allowed this stuff to happen–one who may talk tough before the cameras, but who is fundamentally more concerned about keeping everyone happy than confronting error and injustice in his chancery or in his parishes, as any lay person, in or out of the chancery, has discovered when they brought concerns to him. The message is always the same: “I don’t want to hear that. Don’t come to me with stuff like that.” Podles underscores that’s the kind of bishop Rome likes, and has appointed repeatedly over the past twenty years.

More later.

2 thoughts on “Sacrilege–Preliminary Thoughts

  1. Bill-Thank you for this insightful preliminary peek at the book. I am buying it to read, in large part because of your entry here.

    In your last paragraph, however, I had to read your comments about DiNardo several times for clarity- at first read, it sounds as if you are saying that he, as an exemplar, has allowed sexual abuse to run rampant. I don’t think that is what you really mean, since there is no real evidence to support that statement. I think you were trying to say that his attitude towards things, which you describe, is typical of clericalism, an attitude that, in others, led to disastrous results regarding the scandal. Am I correct?

Comments are closed.