Holier Than None–UPDATED

Why are we so shocked when priests go rogue? After all, holiness isn’t applied with chrism.

In the same week that a good part of the Catholic blogosphere was convening in Texas for the Catholic New Media Conference, and the Republicans were convening in Tampa for whatever it is they were convening for, and Hurricane-then-Tropical-Storm Isaac was convening to make the folks of the Gulf even more miserable, my external and internal news feeds filled up with reaction to two stories of priests, well, losing it. Pleading vacation time with the Awesome Grandson and attendance at the Dodger game honoring the Awesome Vin Scully, I was going to skip posting on these stories. But I got to wondering, and I need to share my wonder.

When Priests Go Bad, Case #1

You’ve probably heard more than you want to about the story that broke a couple of days ago concerning author, psychologist, and EWTN TV personality Fr Benedict Groeschel. Interviewed by the EWTN-owned National Catholic Register on his life’s work, the 78-year-old former Capuchin and founder of the diocesan community called the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal dropped something of a public-relations bomb in mid-column. In response to a question about the clergy abuse scandals, Fr Groeschel—who has worked in treating those removed from ministry due to charges of abuse—made comments that seemed quite clearly to express sympathy for those accused of abuse and, just as clearly and even more problematically, to blame the victims for being “in many cases” the seducers. Deacon Greg Kandra, whose post at The Deacon’s Bench was the first I heard of the Register interview, quite rightly yelled “INCOMING!” The predictable pickups of the story by the National Catholic Reporter, the HuffPost, the NY Times, et al. triggered the usual sh*tstorm from the usual combox denizens, who can be (to my mind) forgiven for behaving as trolls will behave when we chum the waters this thoroughly for their feeding-frenzy pleasure.

The story took some twisty turns when the staff at the Register (possibly reacting in a panic in the absence of their editor, though of course there were the dire hints that the paper was reverting to the kind of we-protect-our-own-at-any-cost tactics practiced under its former owners, the Legionaries of Christ) simply pulled the interview. Damage done, of course, because cached copies of Internet articles have a longer shelf life than Twinkies, but still. Then we got disclaimers from Fr. Groeschel’s community, from the Archdiocese of New York (as a society of diocesan right headquartered in New York, Fr. Groeschel’s community reports to Cardinal Dolan as its superior), from (belatedly) the National Catholic Register’s editor, and finally from Fr. Groeschel himself. All pleaded age and infirmity—Fr. Groeschel has suffered a stroke in the past and was said to be recovering from a recent fall—for the lack of clarity that led the remarks to give such an uncharitable, incorrect, and scandalous impression.

When Priests Go Bad, Case #2

Unless you hang out in certain corners of the Catholic blogosphere that intersect with this one only once in a blue moon (which this is, btw), you’ll probably not have heard about the ongoing War of the Wizards launched this week by Fr Peter West of Human Life International against my Patheos blogbrother Mark Shea. In the Catholic New Media equivalent of slapping Mark’s face with a mailed gauntlet and issuing a challenge for pistols at 20 paces, Fr West took to his personal Facebook page to issue a warning that there was “something deeply wrong with Mark Shea,” and Catholics who cared about their immortal souls had better steer clear of him. Fr West’s fatwa was ostensibly issued in response to a blog post of Mark’s, now several months old, in which he praised the virtues of a recently deceased Seattle Catholic—the virtues being particularly noticeable and worth remarking upon by Mark because the man in question lived with another man. (For Mark, who has only recently been coaxed off the ledge of calling homosexual activists Gay Brownshirts, this was grace worth remarking upon indeed.) Fr West has now decided that Mark is leading the faithful into hell by not being sufficiently nosy about the state of the dead man’s chastity. Or so it began, anyway. By the end of two days, Fr West had fueled and refueled the accusations, accusing Mark Shea of being not only (1) insufficiently judgmental of people with same-sex attraction, but also (2) insufficiently pro-life and (3) insufficiently supportive of Romney-Ryan. (Who knows, there may be other counts on which Mark is insufficient by now—I haven’t checked in at least 15 minutes—but those will do for starters.)

In the tradition of Fr Z, but with a whole lot less stinging elegance, Fr West is not content to make allegations about Mark Shea’s insufficiencies. He’s waded knee deep into his own comment threads (peopled as they are by names long familiar from the days of the Corapites) to whip up the hounds, cheering on personal invective and tossing out a few more crumbs of chum when the waters threaten to still themselves. He’s taken on Mark directly in Mark’s own combox. This guy is the Black Sheep Dog with all his own teeth.

I’m Shocked, I Tell You, Shocked. Not.

My first reaction to both of these examples of priests going rogue was shock. Not shock at the rogueness, mind you, but shock at the shock these antics elicited. Among my colleagues at the Patheos Catholic Channel, there was profound disbelief and hurt over “so holy a man” as Fr Groeschel saying such terrible things. Newly ordained Fr Michael Duffy posted a moving “How long, O Lord?” reflection about why the Church isn’t further along on this. Others, especially converts who had been consoled or inspired by Fr Groeschel over the years, were simply confused, finding their own faith challenged if even the shepherds could be so wrong. Or there was the other side of shock—anger at what was perceived as lifelong hypocrisy, a kind of Yeah, I knew it flung in the face of the holier-than-thou, as Max Lindenman does in this post.

The vitriol in Fr West’s charges, as well as in the remarks of his followers, has been an unpleasant surprise to many, though of course not to Mark Shea. He’s a veteran of the celebrity-priest vendettas, having taken on the supporters of former Human Life International director Fr Tom Eutenauer, Legionaries of Christ founder Fr Marcial Maciel, lone ranger (but never Army Ranger) Fr John Corapi, bishop-battler and Republican party-liner Fr Frank Pavone, etc, etc, etc.

Me, I’m neither shocked nor surprised. And not because I’m so old and cynical that I suspect all religious leaders of Tartuffery. It’s true that I was never personally a fan of Fr Groeschel’s (or of any celebrity priest, and that includes a whole range of otherwise unobjectionable and even gifted folks like Fr Robert Barron and Fr James Martin and chef/karate champ/breakdancer Fr Leo Patalinghug), but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he was sincere, if unnuanced and disingenuous, in his comments, which are hardly shocking to anyone who’s (a) lived through the scandals and recognizes that Fr Groeschel’s take was the Church’s take, in all ignorant sincerity, for decades, and still is the take of a lot of people who can’t get their heads around the complexities of human sexuality and power dynamics or (b) anyone who’s willing to read beyond the sound bite and admit that it’s just possible that not every priest involved with a teenager was a predatory devil incarnate; one or two or 10 of them might even have been poor sexually immature sons of bitches who only knew how to look for intimacy among their (psychological) peers, and (c) anyone who suspects that not every person who ever accused a priest of abuse was a victim; one or two or 10 of them might have been poor lonely 18-to-25-year-old sons of bitches looking for affection, who later recoiled in shame from admitting complicity, or (sound the alarm, she’s blaming the victim) even predators themselves.

This, of course, as Mark Shea said yesterday, is That Which Cannot Be Spoken—very much like another recent That Which Cannot Be Spoken, which is that possibly one or two or 10 women seeking abortion because of rape were never raped, legitimately or illegitimately, at all. But we can’t say this stuff, because we risk being tarred as tools of the oppressor, demonspawn, morally blind, co-dependent enablers, whatever. Republicans. Racists. Homophobes. Conceding that not all abuse cases are alike does not mean there are not predators and victims. It does not mean there is a Hideous Homosexual Conspiracy to overthrow the Church, as Rod Dreher had to go and throw in when he was doing pretty well reflecting on the Groeschel Incident. It does not mean excusing the poor sons of bitches or failing to hold them accountable. But if you can’t get your head around that, I will plead the Groeschel defense. I’m not 78, but I took a bad fall on a concrete pool deck this week so maybe I’m just rambling.

I’m not as willing to give Fr West the benefit of the doubt, though God knows I’ve had my own go-rounds with Mark Shea, who has decided I am funny enough that he will kill me last. I surely don’t think Mark needs any help defending himself. I think the public face of Human Life International ought to behave better, but then that’s not something HLI seems to worry about putting in the job description for its public faces.

No Higher Standard

Benefit of the doubt or not, though, I have a problem with our holding priests to some kind of higher and holier standard of behavior beyond those things peculiar to their vocation. How could a priest do that? has always been the cry of the naive. I know so many Catholics—and know of so many more, according to studies—who left the Church because an individual priest, or the priesthood in general, failed to maintain balance on a pedestal.  (Nuns and religious brothers, and more recently permanent deacons, get this too, but in smaller doses.)  And I just don’t get it. I’m no more shocked when a priest goes rogue than I am when any other Catholic betrays the faith with a public fall from grace or a long slow private slide into apostasy. I try not to judge priests who fall, as I try not to judge any other sinner but myself—I am not successful in this by any means, but that’s my problem. And I pray for them all. I prayed for John Corapi daily during the time when I was helping to expose his falsehoods; I still do. Not because I was a groupie or even a subscriber to his odd mixture of traditionalism and cowboy moral hucksterism, but because he’s just one more poor son of a bitch before God.

The thing is, we sin when we put priests on pedestals and idolize them. I think that’s what Jesus cautioned against when he told us to call no man father. Yes, priests are due the respect of their office—as is every person made in God’s image. But holiness is not applied with chrism and the laying on of hands. Holiness is something each one of us is called to through the priesthood of Baptism, and asked to live out and grow into according to our state in life. Priests are holier than none by virtue of being priests. If they achieve holiness, it is by the same virtues available to each of us. Priests are no less vulnerable to temptation, to sin, to ignorance, to uncharity, to pride, to concupiscence than any of us, and when they reveal that vulnerability it shouldn’t shake our faith. The Apostles themselves, handpicked by Christ, were the frailest of vessels, proud and angry and violent and doubtful and betraying and just plain falling asleep on the job. If we see these things in the green wood, what will happen in the dry?

I regret, deeply, the potential for scandal when a priest goes rogue. But I think that potential would be lessened if we allowed ourselves to see priests as human, with all the complexity and inbuilt brokenness that entails. No excuses, but no attacks of the vapors either. Accountability. Prayer. Forgiveness. What we ask of any sinner, holier than none, is all we are entitled to ask of priests. And of ourselves.

UPDATE (9/6/12): EWTN has announced the retirement of Fr Groeschel as host of its Sunday Night Live program. (I read it first as Saturday Night Live, which gave me pause.) And at the suggestion of Bishop Loverde of Arlington, and through the kindness of Steven D. Greydanus, who acted as an intermediary, a rapprochement of sorts has been achieved between Mark Shea and Fr Peter West. As for your never-humble-enough servant, I’m recovering from being called many terrible things that I freely admit I am (fat, old, disgusting, etc), giggling a little at being called things I’m not any more (a liberal shill), still unrepentant for my part in fact-checking the Corapi legend (for which sin, apparently [as I never commented there], I have been blocked from Fr West’s Facebook page), and extremely repentant for the harm done to your sensibilities by my casual use of mild profanity. Mea culpa.

  • calahalexander

    I love you, Joanne. This is a great post.

  • http://www.thewordinc.org Kevin O’Brien

    Great post. “Because he’s just one more poor son of a bitch before God.” Excellent line, especially as a kind of “thesis statement”.

    But you’re a tad off here. While we may be sinning to idolize celebrity priests or “EWTN Rock Stars” as I call some of them, this yearning is a sign that we seek holiness in ourselves and others. When a man becomes a priest – or even when a man becomes a Christian – we are expecting more than mere hypocrisy. We are expecting him to become holy – because that’s really the point of following Christ, after all – to become like Christ.

    • joannemcportland

      Kevin, you are so right about the root of the problem: our yearning for models of holiness, or even for association with holiness to rub off on us. That is why we make celebrities of priests. There have been great saints who have survived that crucible: Philip Neri, Anthony of Padua, John Paul II among so many. But the cost to them and to us is great. Not for nothing did the Tempter present Jesus—and all who would follow him—with adulation and power.

      • Frank Weathers

        It’s a tough gig, maybe the toughest. The Communion of Saints agree…

        A fine thing it would be for soldiers if they lost their captains! These preachers and theologians have to live among men and associate with men and stay in palaces and sometimes even behave as people in palaces do in outward matters. Do you think, my daughters, that it is an easy matter to have to do business with the world, to live in the world, to engage in the affairs of the world, and, as I have said, to live as worldly men do, and yet inwardly to be strangers to the world, and enemies of the world, like persons who are in exile—to be, in short, not men but angels? Yet unless these persons act thus, they neither deserve to bear the title of captain nor to be allowed by the Lord to leave their cells, for they would do more harm than good. This is no time for imperfections in those whose duty it is to teach. —St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Chapter 3.

    • Joseph H. M. Ortiz

      I reckon Ms. McPortland’s post quite well-said, balanced, comprehensive. But I think she goes too far in saying that “we sin when we put priests on pedestals and idolize them.” Idolizing priests is indeed foolish; and foolishness is indeed a vice: but, in and of itself, it’s an intellectual vice, not a moral one; hence an act of foolishness is not of itself a sin, except in a wide sense of an “intellectual sin”.

      • Alison

        I see your point, but I would say the sin here is one of intellectual, possibly moral, sloth: we expect our leaders to be better people than we are. We expect them to be invincible, to be perfect. Then when they fall, we sin again by vicariously taking enjoyment in their fall, in some cases, snarkily saying, “Ha-ha, I told you so. I KNEW she or he was a (fill in the blank with whatever sin fits the incident)!” This lack of reflection on our own moral failures is often indicative of the sin of pride, of refusing to call oneself out on one’s own faults and failings while simultaneously condemning someone else for theirs. Jesus had a word for that: Hypocrisy.

        In the interests of fairness, I am not Catholic. However, I see things like the incidents with Groeschel and others happening in my Evangelical world all the time. For every Ted Haggard-type story, there are far too many other people hurt by our leaders’ sins whose stories never go public. We Evangelicals often fall prey to the same “Celebrity pastor” mindset that the author is writing about, only to engage in the same condemnation when they do fall.

        The author is right. Not just where priests are concerned, but in the broader scope of leadership. We need to be gentle with our leaders, and acknowledge that they are made of the same stuff as we, and capable of the same sins as we. Even farther, when a leader fails, let it be a time of acknowledgement of our own failures, and a time of repentance for our own sins. Then we will not fall prey to the idolization of our leaders that is the sin of sloth (making them be righteous for us, while we hold ourselves to far lower standards), and the sin of pride for condemning them when they fall.

        • arod

          That was so very well put. We need to be reminded of our faults on a daily basis and carry these “crosses” accordingly.
          Thanks for your insight.

  • Andy

    As always Joanne, beautifully written. As a priest with only 8 years ordained, I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that they hold me to a much higher standard. No matter how many times I have told them to remove me from the pedestal, they only respond with, “but you’re a priest.” News flash, I didn’t get into this way of life to be worshipped and adored; I did it to serve God. Another news flash: I’M HUMAN! I make mistakes. Perfection died on the Cross (and rose again) 2000 years ago. The rest of us do the best that we can. Were I to hold everyone that wants to celebrate reconciliation to the same standard I’m held to, I’d have plenty of reading time in the confessional.

    Second, priests (Brothers, Sisters and bishops) who actually pick a side in a political race through support of a political party do no one any favors. By choosing sides, you alienate those who do not agree with you. A proud liberal Democratic priest will surely alienate most of his conservative Republican parishioners; and vis versa.

    All I can say about the Greoschel debacle because my blood pressure is still through the roof is this…Well, nothing actually. I’m too aggravated with everyone involved.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Brilliant, Joanne. Thank you for this.

    And yes, I agree with Mark She: he should definitely kill you last.

    Dcn. G.

  • http://www.thewordinc.org Kevin O’Brien

    Joanne, you have inspired me to write a blog post about this blog post! http://thwordinc.blogspot.com/2012/09/holier-than-we.html

  • dennis hopp

    blah, blah, blah, etc, etc, etc, you don’t get it? Do you? blah blah blah, the same BS all the time. The PRIEST is HUMAN. That’s NOT the problem, it’s the cover up by the Bishops that is the problem. Look at Bishop Finn in Kansas MO. I could write a book about people like you.

    • Skittle

      Are you accidentally replying to the wrong blog post, or did you decide to guess what the topic was without reading this blog post, and then reply to it?

      • Max Lindenman

        I hope he does write that book, and makes sure to include plenty of “Blah, blah, blahs.” Publishers can’t get enough of them.

  • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com DeaconJR

    Hi, Joanne–these types of disagreements always sadden me, because the heart of Christian charity can be found in our willingness to give our fellow members of the Body of Christ the benefit of the doubt, perhaps even sitting down face to face, privately, to resolve difficulties rather than fanning the flames in the public arena.

    Public in-fighting does such harm to us. Our call, in Christ, is to *see* Christ in each other. The rest, seems to me, is mere commentary.

    God bless you,

    Deacon JR

    • Louise

      Deacon JR, I could not agree more. This post made me very sad. Joanne, I have always enjoyed your posts although I suspect we have few views in common. However, I don’t think this post exemplifies the many things I have previously admired about your writing. I really don’t know how else to express it except to say that it made me very sad. I live in a country where Catholics are a tiny, tiny minority and are widely despised, and it saddens me to hear the same kind of rhetoric I hear from those who hate Catholicism come from the mouths of my fellow Catholics. I think that the Deacon is right – one of the key elements of Christian charity is giving other the benefit of the doubt, and so I assume that you wrote this with the very best of intentions, but I fear that these type of posts harm the whole body of Christ, as well as the people who were the direct targets.

      God bless

      • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

        I’m confused. I didn’t see any hateful rhetoric in this post. Can you clarify?

        • Louise

          Sorry I was unclear; I didn’t mean that you had been hateful, but that some of the arguments and lines of thought that you took are also common among those who hate Catholics, mainly that you shouldn’t expect priests to be holy (with the clear implication being that priests aren’t in fact good at all and we should expect nothing from them). I am sorry if this has been your experience, but there are many good and holy priest whom I have met, and I feel that it is unfair to suggest that there are not. There are many flawed ones, and their presence in the Church is unfortunate and hurts the church, but in my opinion, many of the pieces on Patheos about the Fr. Groeschal and the Mark Shea incidents go behind the cases in point to suggest that all priests are bad/unholy/unvirtuous and I don’t think it is very helpful either. I certainly don’t think you were intentionally being hateful; it just makes me sad to see on a Catholic blog the same kind of arguments and insinuations that I have to hear every day from those who are not fond of the Church.

  • kateri b

    Profanity only serves to liken your commentary to the facebook and combox invective you criticize. Definitely no points for “stinging elegance.”

    • Jack

      I second that. There’s more in McPortland’s article about trying to be clever than there is substance.

    • Jack

      Good comment – profanity and liberal go together.

  • Gia

    Not sure why, in an otherwise insightful post, a slap at the GOP was necessary . “whatever it is they were convening for”? Assuming it was the same thing that the DNC is now convening for, but without Sandra Fluke and the head of NARAL as speakers. There was no need here to mention politics, so why do it?

    • Jack

      Good comment! As I said in responding to another comment: More of an attempt at trying to be clever.

  • Max Lindenman

    You’re as right as rain, Joanne. One thing I’ve noticed — the priests people tend to look up to are the ones who think the way think, who say the things they’d say, given the gift, the time and the platform. In fandom is a degree of thinly veiled self-adoration. In small doses, it’s healthy, but when its object proves unworthy, it can lead people into swamps of denial. For that reason, the only people who belong on pedestals are:

    1) Fictional characters;

    2) Bloggers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin James Martin, SJ

    Dear Joanne: You’re spot on. We priests and religious (both men and women) are of course liable to the very same faults, temptations and plain old sins that everyone else is: perhaps even more so since people do tend to put us on a pedestal (that is, when they’re not condemning us all as child molesters), and that can lead to pride. But ordination and vows do not erase one’s humanity. Once, on the way out of Mass, a parishioner said to me, entirely seriously (and this is verbatim), “What’s it like to be so holy?” And I said, entirely seriously, “I wouldn’t know!”

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  • Joen Fagan

    BUT – we are told that at ordination the priest has been transformed and is now next to God so he is indeed super-special. I have no trouble accepting that priests are human but I’d be a lot happier if the RCC didn’t keep saying how special they were and if the fallen priests didn’t tell the abused children that “God wants me to do this.” or some variant. When they go to confession, do any confessors tell them to go see a therapist super quick?

    • Fr. Andrew, OFM Conv.

      I’ve recommended that more people see a therapist through confession than I can count. People are hurting when they come into the confessional and while I like to think I’m very sympathetic, I’m not a therapist. So as gently yet firmly (if that makes sense) I try to encourage those who are really hurting to seek professional help.

  • http://www.bede.org Stefanie

    You said it, Joanne. And you said it well. As the ‘resident practicing Catholic’ of my extended family, it hurts my heart when these things occur and then here comes all the fall out. Once I was at Disneyland (do weird stuff like this), reading Pope Benedict’s book on Jesus (of Nazareth, Part 1). Another Catholic woman at an adjoining table began talking to me about how I simply ‘had to’ follow Father Corapi — she told me his whole conversion story, etc. It was if I wouldn’t/couldn’t be a good Catholic if I didn’t purchase a book/cd/dvd by Father Corapi. Puh-leez. But I listened and agreed with her on many things and she lamented about the lack of ‘true Catholics’ and then the rest of her extended family joined her and we went our separate ways.
    I am always leary of Catholics who tell me “I gotta read” or “I gotta follow” whomever (except for Jesus, of course). I’ve been around enough Catholics — clergy and non-clergy — to know in a profoundly personal and humble way — that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Even the Pope goes to Confession. So should we.
    Onward, Christian Soldiers!

  • Mike

    Perhaps everyone of us needs what I have- it’s called a pedestal kicker outer. In my case, it’s my wife. Whenever I or others place me on a pedestal for perhaps doing something kind maybe even good, and I begin to relish the moment, she has a wonderful way to quietly inform me that if I don’t step down off that pedestal, she will have no problem kicking it out from underneath me, which will most likely be a bit more painful. So some friendly advice, seek a good pedestal kicker outer and for those you love be willing and brave enough to do some kicking out on them when called for.

  • GP

    The recently installed Archbishop of Manila, Philippines shared during his homily at his installation Mass “love your priests but don’t spoil them.” We should always remember this.

  • Sr Helena

    I see the notion of “putting priests (and religious) on a pedestal ” in the context of the words of Jesus, ” to whom much is given, much is required.” I don’t understand it to mean that a priest/religious is above every one else in holiness. It is true that a distorted view , especially among the laity exists, and the author of the article was right to point that out. Holiness is measured by our union with God’s will and who but God can truly judge that? But we have objective, revealed and absolute truths, and I believe it is from the perspective of defending these truths that Fr West was obligated to speak. In fairness, one cannot accuse someone of being a “rogue” for carrying out the office to which one is called. One may accuse Fr West of being stubborn or unyielding, or even often provocative, but never a rogue.

  • Jasper

    God, what a disgusting post.

  • Linda Smith

    Dr. John Haas teaches (“The Catholic Priest as Moral Teacher and Guide”) that “no one should therefore be startled to read in the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” from the Second Vatican Council that the common priesthood of all the faithful and the ordained, hierarchical priesthood differ not only in degree, but also in essence … .”
    Among the holy people of God, consecrated and conformed to the likeness of Christ, are others who have undergone another consecration, resulting in another, objectively more profound conformity to Christ himself. … through absolutely no merit of their own, have been chosen and set apart for the service of God. … Clearly this is not meant in a subjective, moral sense. We know all too painfully, and none more painfully than the man who is a priest, that they are not by any means necessarily ‘moral moral than thou’. But they have been set apart, consecrated, ordained, for the service of God and their fellow Christians. To effect what they have been called to do, they have been specially empowered by God. … The priest stands in the midst [of the people of God] in persona Christi, acting in the very person of Christ, Because such power far exceeds man’s natual endowments, he must be empowered from on high… . this consecration given the priest in ordination is as permanent as is our baptismal consecration and goes by the technical term indelible character.”

  • Lucia Mejia

    “But we have objective, revealed and absolute truths, and I believe it is from the perspective of defending these truths that Fr West was obligated to speak. In fairness, one cannot accuse someone of being a “rogue” for carrying out the office to which one is called. One may accuse Fr West of being stubborn or unyielding, or even often provocative, but never a rogue.”
    @ Sr Helena. I agree, Fr West does not seem to fit the description of “rogue”. But Fr West’s manner of “defending these truths” was objectionable in that he was wholly lacking in charity and he encouraged others to join in his inexcusable treatment of another human being. I do not believe his brutal treatment of Mark Shea was in keeping with “carrying out the office to which he was called”. IMO, it is not fair to excuse him as “obligated to speak” when he chose such a despicable manner of ‘fraternal correction’. Several of us asked that he curb his uncharitable behavior to no avail. I’m happy to see that his FB page with that sad example of behavior unbefitting a priest has now been removed and Fr West has started a new page with a clean slate. I pray that the rabid anti-Shea contingent that joined in the fray over the past several days does not follow Fr West to his new page.

    • Lucia Mejia

      I’m wrong about Fr West’s page being removed. A friend has informed me that he can access the page and that my comments criticizing Fr’s manner of ‘correction’ are now gone. Apparently, Fr West has blocked me. My comments were respectful in content. Fr West claimed his kick fest against Shea was nothing more than open discussion. Guess he means it’s open as long as no one calls on Fr West to be accountable for his own behavior. It looks to me like “there is something deeply wrong” with Fr West. May God have mercy on him.

    • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com DeaconJR

      I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

      For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Joanne M.’s people, that there are rivalries among you.

      I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Shea,” or “I belong to Fr. West,” or “I belong to HLI,” or “I belong to Patheos.”

      Is Christ divided? Was Fr. West crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Shea?

      God bless you,

      Deacon JR

    • Sr Helena

      I understand your anger and disillusionment with Fr West but the posters on that page were all adults, with free will, and so it is not fair to heap all the blame on one person. We are all accountable for our words and actions and should take responsibility for our reactions.

      • Lucia Mejia

        Sr Helena: Yes, the posters on the page are of adult age and the ones who were particularly nasty tend to frequent Catholic FB pages spreading discord. However, the FB page belongs to Fr West and he has full control over what remains there. It’s interesting that he chose to block me and my comments when I respectfully challenged his lack of charity. The bottom line is that all the posters will have to answer for their own words, but Fr West will be held accountable as well for starting up such a nasty display and for encouraging (by acts committed and acts omitted) others to be uncharitable. Sister, I see that Fr West has you listed as his sibling. I understand your defense of your brother and also that you are probably feeling some turmoil about this matter. I am praying for all involved in this situation. Peace be with you.

        • Sr Helena

          Thank you, Lucia!

  • Phil Clouser

    Excellent read. I have known for years that a Priest is not a superman. He is the same man as I, with the same desires, faults, strengths and temptations as I. The difference, I believe, comes in responsibility. I am responsible for my own soul. As a husband and father, I am also responsible to an extent, for the souls of my family members. A Priest or a Deacon, by dint of their ordination, becomes responsible for the souls of his parish, and so on up the line, to the Pope responsible for all the souls in the world. It’s a tremendous load to put on the shoulders of anyone. There is a flip side to that; we lay people also share the responsibility for the souls of our ordained men. We must pray for them and yes, sometimes offer correction (gently) in the form of a polite suggestion, or even a question as though we wondered about something. Our priests and deacons have accepted the responsibility; we need to accept ours!

  • http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com priest’s wife

    second to last paragraph = perfection

  • Donna G

    Your repeated use of profanity was vulgar and unnecessary. And boring.

  • Jasper

    “Several of us asked that he curb his uncharitable behavior to no avail.”

    will you demand the same for Shea?

    • Lucia Mejia

      Yes, Jasper. I have not condoned Mr Shea’s lack of charity and I have stated (in the appropriate forum) that Mr Shea’s writing contains enough error that he should not be considered a valid resource on Catholic teaching. Ms McPortland’s article is about what has been posted on Father West’s FB page and that is what I addressed. I don’t take the side of either gentleman. Both have given us poor examples of Christian behavor. Uncharitable attacks are inexcusable whether they be on a blog site or a priest’s FB page. I will also add that I found the use of profanity by Ms McPortland in this article to be uncharitable and unnecessary. People who are young and immature use profanity to be rebellious and to shock others. I expect higher standards and a bit more maturity from adults.

      • S. Murphy

        “Did you hear her? Did you hear her? Oh, the monster overbearing!
        Don’t go near her, don’t go near her: she is swearing! She is swearing!”

  • deacondog

    Have we ever heard a priest or bishop specifically talk about this subject. Of course no. I used to have a pastor that would say priests are just like everyone else. Then he would then go on to act like a primal donna.

    The seminaries are noe making this issue worse than ever

  • Jack

    Joanne McPortland uses some pretty extreme metaphors in responding to Father West’s criticisms of Mark Shea. She starts with the subtitle in her article “When priests go bad, Case # 2.” Then we get to the line “Media equivalent of slapping Mark’s face with a mailed gauntlet and issuing a challenge for pistols at 20 paces.” Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My! All this violence. This charge might better be considered as having come from her and being directed at Father West.

    In the current atmosphere this country – and the world – is in, with the Church being attacked from so many directions it’s unfortunate that a priest has to be called a rogue because he comes to the Church’s defense for what it stands for. The charge for who is the “rogue” appears to be misdirected.

    McPortland characterizes Father West as waging a sort of “war” on her “Patheos blogbrother Mark Shea” because he takes issue with Shea’s attitude of homosexual habitation and abortion and whatever other Catholic Church teaching Shea is in conflict with. I’ll have to go over McPortland’s article more thoroughly when I have time before I do a thorough commentary. To use McPortland’s expression, there’s much “twaddle” I’ll skim over and so many tangents away from the only point I’m interested in. I don’t yet know if they are caused by Father West or by her. I’ll just stay on the one point for now.

    If you saw someone driving down a highway toward a bridge that’s out and someone was warning him of what’s ahead and someone else was encouraging him to enjoy his trip, “While you can,” who would you say was giving the more compassionate advice?

    • joannemcportland

      Hey, what’s all this “McPortland this” and “McPortland that”? I can hear you, you know. :)

    • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

      Mark Shea is not in conflict with the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality, or any other matter. He assents to Church teaching 100%. Why are you bearing false witness against him? Your condemnation rings false given that it is based upon lies.

    • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

      you mean Shea’s insistence that homosexual acts are immoral (always), insistence on marriage being between one man and one woman and strident defense of human life from conception to natural death? He’s has so many conflicts with Church teaching I’m surprised you stopped with just those items…

    • Mark Shea

      “McPortland characterizes Father West as waging a sort of “war” on her “Patheos blogbrother Mark Shea” because he takes issue with Shea’s attitude of homosexual habitation and abortion and whatever other Catholic Church teaching Shea is in conflict with. ”

      I am in conflict with no Church teaching. I oppose abortion and, indeed, the deliberate destruction of all innocent human life. The Church has not doctrine about homosexuals co-habiting except “avoid the near occasion of sin”. I agree with that. I do not agree that we can safely assume that any homosexuals who cohabit are engaged in sin. I reject homosex as a sin, gay “marriage” as an ontological impossibility, and civil unions. That you accept without question the rash judgment and calumny that I am in conflict with Church teaching illustrates the damage to my reputation Fr. Peter has successfully accomplished.

      • Maria

        Mark, please don’t take this as a criticism because I am genuinely interested : what is your position on heterosexuals co-habiting? Would you apply the same arguments you have made here about homosexual co-habiting or do you consider it different? Again, I am genuinedly interested in your response and am not having a go. Given the tone of this conversation, I just wanted to clarify that.

        • Mark Shea

          Again, it depends. I lived on a dorm floor with men and women. Is that cohabiting? I never committed fornication with any of the girls on the floor. As a general rule, I’d say a man living with a woman (particularly when they are sexually attracted) is asking for trouble. But I would not *assume* fornication is occurring, though I’d not be surprised if it did. But I also have known several people who did share mixed sex living arrangements (typically in a group home arrangement) that were chaste. Basic rule of thumb: If you don’t mean to go to town, why get on the bus?

          • http://thebodyguardtob.wordpress.com DeaconJR

            “As a general rule, I’d say a man living with a woman (particularly when they are sexually attracted) is asking for trouble.”

            Okay, I think this is a helpful comparison–isn’t a man living with a man or woman living with a woman (particularly when they are sexually attracted) asking for trouble as a general rule?

            God bless,

            Deacon JR

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Very interesting. I agree we shouldn’t put priests on a pedestal just because they’re priests. But I do think it is important to nurture and promote good pastors who can articulate Christ’s message. You seem to make an exception for Fr. Barron. Well, we need more Fr. Barrons. I loved the original Fr. Corapi before he evolved into what he became. He connected with a certain segment of the population. He may not have been your cup of tea, I understand that. He drew people to Christ’s message. Some people don’t think much of Thomas Merton, but others do. There’s room for different types of preaching so long as it’s consistent with Catholic teaching.

    I’ve never heard of Fr. Peter West and I’m not on Facebook to check the dispute out. However it doesn’t surprise me that someone would be irritated with Mark Shea. When Mark Shea delves into politics he does so with the most cynical eye possible. I don’t begrudge someone who puts himself outside of the right/left divide, but his attitude is that anyone who is in the right/left divide is a moral reprobate. Both parties in his view have elements which are depraved and immoral. His criticism of those who participate in the left/right is of the most uncharitable kind. If one supports one of the two political views, he smears him with the immorality tag. Well, at least 80% of the country fits into that left/right divide. Now that’s not necessarily bad in itself. I belong to a political forum where the discussion is rough and hardball and accusatory. I can take elbows in a debate. I can also participate in places where I may disagree politically but hopefully still meet the writer half way. Your blog for example, or Max Lindenman’s blog. My positions might be closer to Mark Shea’s positions than either yours or Max’s, but I can’t stand Mark Shea, at least when he talks about politics. Given the context of Mark Shea’s blog – that being a religious blog – his smearing of immorality toward 80% of the population if not more comes across as sanctimonious and holier-than-thou. He sets himself up as the paradigm of morality, the judgment seat of righteousness, while everyone who disagrees with him is a morally inferior. That’s what irritates people about him.

    • Mark Shea

      but his attitude is that anyone who is in the right/left divide is a moral reprobate.

      Sorry if a come across that way. Actually, my attitude is that I am a moral reprobate: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2012/06/rene-girard-and-the-vengeance-fantasy.html

      • http://jscafenette.com Manny

        Fair enough Mark. I should have added in my comment above (and I sort of kicked myself after I posted it for not doing so) that when it comes to non political topics I find you compassionate and endearing and informative. I can’t help my reaction to the way you approach poltics. I’ve sworn off reading them.

  • Pat

    I don’t think calling someone a “poor son of a bitch” is really profane. There’s a sense of pity — or compassion — attached to it when it’s used this way. I thought it sounded kind and caring.

    • joannemcportland

      Pat, that’s how I intended it. In my Irish family, another way to say it is “He’s more to be pitied than censured,” from an old Victorian ballad, and I apologize to anyone I offended by my use of what to my thinking was a fairly mild epithet.

  • Mary-Teresa

    Fr. Groeschel has stepped down from the Sunday evening weekly show.


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  • http://www.protechwriting.com/ ljcjr

    I think we may sometimes attribute too much religious VOOM (to steal a phrase from Dr. Suess) to priests. I’ve known many over the years and can count on one hand those who I thought “holy” or worthy of paying serious attention too.

    I also went to a Franciscan high school where I saw close up how the brothers were very little different than other men.

    But for those priests who seemed close to God in their lives and actions, I certainly did, and still do, pay close attention.

    As for the remaining religous, I listen to them too; you never know when the spirit will touch them as well.

  • elizabeth

    Great article. I do think though that we r required to expect to see the workings of Christs Grace in our priests & in His Church generally. Otherwise, how can it be Christs Church? Its not all about life after death.

  • Concerned Catholic

    Typical denial that ensues when a loved or respected person abuses others. These comments from Fr Groeschel are deplorable and seeking to mimimize them we act as an accessory to his sin. Sure, liberals and the media capitalize very hypocritically on this. But really, is that more alarming than the reality of an epidemic of child molestation and cover-up? Really? Shouldn’t Christians be so angry about that and resolved to stop it that they set any indignation over the hypocritical media on the back-burner? Perhaps the concern is over luke-warm or fallen away Catholics, or prospective converts- must do the damage control and point out the hypocrisy so they won’t be too scandalized. Ridiculous. Put yourself in their shoes. Moral courage in standing up and facing this problem may have impressed them. Finger- pointing and whining about the media puts them off. They see that for what it is – not really caring about the victims at all. That’s what it is.
    The facts are that most of those abused were BOYS very young boys. So talk of seduction is not only ridiculous but highly suspect in that it reveals much about the person who said it – that they would try to make innocent victims culpuble in any way. That is a classic abusive mindset. As for why the scandal happens -we know that a high ratio of homosexuals are pedophiles – there are more heterosexual ones only because there are more heterosexuals in the world. But the ratio amongst homosexual men is much higher. Then, although this may be antedotal, I challenge any reader to evaluate what I say here with full use of their capacity for intellectual honesty and still deny it: many even most of the older priests are effeminate in speech and manuerisms which at least lends strong creibility to the charge that many of them are in fact homosexual. That and the fact that priests have admitted that seminaries on the 60′s and 70′s reflected and encouraged a homosexual lifestyle. This is also something that leftists don’t bother denying but even loudly assert when their angle in argument is to prove that celibate lifestyles are hypocritical covers for those doing the very things they tell homosexuals not to do. Point is that this is a very serious problem on the Church and we know what’s causing it but no one really cares to stop it. Not really. You know what blog entries like yours mean to victims of abuse? Despair. I really hope that any victims reading this or any of the other enabling posts or comments on the interenet can see past it to realize that God is not like that. God is not an excuser of evil and He will only forgive the repentant, not the proud who make excuses for sins, even demonic sins. God loves the poor and oppressed and He will see their abusers avenged – of that you can be 100% sure. Evil men may escape the hands of justice in this life but they cannot escape the Almighty. Mercy is one thing – being an accessory is another. Learn the difference.

  • Joe

    I absolutely believe, as a catholic working on my salvation that our priests play a important role on our journey through their leadership and guidance. Ask how many members feel the same if they attend a communion service vs attending a mass and that sense of being at Cavalry, spiritually. Or how about the indelible mark thats placed on the soul of an ordained catholic priest must amount to more than you seem to refer. Lets pray that they become even holier. God Bless.

  • http://www.lewiscrusade.org John C. Hathaway, OCDS

    One point I’ve made over and over about the “Fr. Groeschel controversy”: Holiness and Inerrancy are different things. Just as papal infallibility does not mean the Pope is free from personal sin, so too a person who is holy can make intellectual errors–Aquinas made 3.5 really big ones as far as I’m concerned–and Fr. Groeschel wasn’t even guilty of an intellectual error, just stating a nuanced point in a public forum when the public doesn’t like nuanced points.

    It is also wrong to compare Fr. Pavone to Euteneuer, Corapi and Maciel. Fr. Pavone was never accused of any moral wrongdoing. He was only ever accused of engaging in a rather extreme form of what Mother Angelica called “Franciscan accounting”: possibly technically illegal but morally sound. Plus, while he used the proper channels, Fr. Pavone complied with his bishop’s instructions. Personally, I think that a priest’s primary job is obedience, and there’s something wrong when a priest thinks he’s “needed” in any given practical ministry, but Fr. Pavone handled things the right way. Fr. Euteneuer seemed to be handling things the right way except he blatantly lied in public statements. For Corapi did everything exactly the wrong way, even if he was innocent of what he was accused of. Fr. Maciel was a monster.

    As for Father West, I’m trying to figure out how such a strict Republican/NRLC type activist, who “defriended” me on Facebook for saying abortion and contraception are equal, got hired by an organization that was specifically founded to go against the NRLC/GOP approach, and which was founded to put equal emphasis on abortion and contraception.