Penance is a Therapy Too

News today of yet another Catholic priest caught with his pants down. Last week a priest in Pennsylvania in a car with a fifteen year old boy he’d contacted through Craigslist. The priest gave the pitiful reply, “But I asked him three times if he was eighteen.” Then in Newark a priest is busted sending explicit texts to young guys. Now in Cleveland a 68 year old priest is caught soliciting sex from an undercover cop. In addition to his crime, the priest has HIV. This follows the story a few weeks ago of the priest in Minneapolis-St Paul (who had already been caught cruising gay pick up places twice) being caught giving booze to underage boys, showing them porn and then molesting them. The Vicar General knew about the guy and thought all he needed was a “strong priest support group.”

I have been largely silent on this matter. I try not to criticize my fellow Catholic priests, and don’t want to criticize the bishops. They all have enough critics. But how long does one stay silent? How long does one suppress the rage and fury one feels at this idiocy? How long are we expected to put up with a constant stream of immorality and filth from men who should have been removed from the priesthood (or left of their own volition) long ago? How long do we continue to put up with the incompetence, stupidity and moral idiocy of their superiors who still seem to turn a blind eye to what is obvious to everyone else, continue to cover up , sweep under the carpet and come out with inane comments like, “We must remember we are all sinners…”

I’m also fed up with the therapeutic approach. “Oh, I know, let’s send Father Foolaround to St Bleedinheart’s Therapeutic Center.” That would be a nice big house in the country where he gets three square meals a day and gets to sit around telling some aging hippie therapist how much his mother didn’t like him. They might even be vewy vewy severe with him and not let him drink while he’s there.” He could probably also have some aromatherapy, massage and a nice long talk with Sister Sandals about how terrible and lonely his job is.

What’s wrong with the old fashioned approach? If he broke the law just call the cops. If it is just scandal, but not illegal, then send the guy to St Rock’s monastery on some island in the Diocese of the Arctic. Let him embark on a regime of extreme physical mortification and penance for the good of his soul. If he’s addicted to porn and homosexuality and drink and who knows what else he’s probably got some demons hanging around. They only come out by prayer and fasting. Hand him over to some old drill sergeant of a monk (if there are any left) who will help him cast out the demons, enter the spiritual battle and use prayer, fasting and penance to overcome.

What everyone seems to have forgotten in our therapeutic (we’re all victims) age is that these problems are not just “psychological addictions” caused by either your mother not loving you much or your mother loving you too much. There is a spiritual dimension. There are spiritual battles to be fought. What we have forgotten is that there is a therapeutic dimension to penance. A harsh penance is meant to purge the sin and crush the enemy, and that’s not only therapeutic, it’s probably the only therapy that will work.

Do you remember that scene in The Mission where the DeNiro character has to carry a net full of his weapons and tools of slave trading up the river and up the waterfall to the mission camp? There’s therapeutic penance for you.

Here it is for you:

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