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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  • Kit

    A nice long sting in jail might also be nice.

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      A sting in prison would simply reinforce their sense of victimhood and their perception of the normativity of their behaviour.
      The psychobabble they’d receive in prison is exactly the same drivel they’re getting in Religious Institutions already, which Fr L is showing to be completely misguided.

      Read Theodore Dalrymple’s, Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that makes the Underclass, if you want evidence, especially the first Chapter, ‘The Knife Went In’, which explains how most prisoners – especially serious criminals – consider their Will bound and so victims of their passions and crimes, and not perpetrators, and political correctness simply reinforces this view.

      Dalrymple was a Prison Doctor/Psychiatrist for many years.

      • Me

        It doesn’t matter — THEY ARE NOT ABOVE THE LAW!

        Why does “Father” Longenecker insist priests are above the law? Why? Very, very strange that he suggests criminal sexual assault should NOT be reported and that priests should not be held accountable under the law. What is up with that? Does his bishop know he is suggesting priests who engage in criminal sexual assault should not be IMMEDIATELY REPORTED TO THE POLICE?

        They will now. Picking up the phone right this second. And I’ll call a few reporters in his home town, too. People should know their parish priests is suggesting criminal sexual assualt perpetrated by a priest should NOT be reported to the authorities.

        • frdlongenecker

          You’re putting words in my mouth. I never suggested those guilty of criminal activity should not be reported. I’m talking about those cases where the priest’s actions were immoral but not illegal. To clarify I have added a sentence to the original post to make it clear that when the law is broken calling the police is exactly what should be done.

    • Dale

      I think that is Fr. Longenecker’s basic intent behind sending the priest to “St. Rock’s monastery on some island in the Diocese of the Arctic.” The extreme physical mortification and penance which the priest would serve as a substitute for the rigors of prison life, but with the extra spiritual benefit of conversion.

      I think what Fr. Longenecker proposed is similar to what authorities and lay Catholics expected the bishop would do, at least expected it for the longest time. And this is why they, wearily and warily, often stepped back to allow the bishop to handle matters. That it rarely, if ever, happened is part of the sense of betrayal which has enraged or dismayed ordinary Catholics.

      • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

        Good point, Dale.
        I think this is probably what’s undermined my faith and trust in them the most. ‘They’re only human’, only goes so far…

      • FW Ken

        I think you are right, Dale, but in the years many bishops were trained, mandatory reporting was not in place. I’ve read of instances where the police were called and did nothing, not from negligence, but because due process and rules of evidence often makes prosecution untenable. The police once notified the archbishop of San Antonio that one of his priests committed “custodial interference”, when the priest had raped a boy at gunpoint. Criminal justice and law enforcement are crazy fields in which to work. Finally, it’s always struck me as odd that bishops take the heat for not calling the police when people call them about criminal acts. If a teacher knows a priest is molesting a child, the teacher should have called the police. Is that right?

        I do think that people going to bishops with suspicions is appropriate, but then you are into the realm of gossip, possibly. And the diocesan investigation may be as hamstrung as the cops would be: he said, she said is a familiar scenario, no less in the Church as in police work.

        This is not to excuse guilty bishops. It’s easy to dismiss instances of true guilt, however, when everyone is being tarred with the same brush.

    • Chesire11

      I agree that jail time is warranted, but that is beyond the purview of ecclesial authorities. It is within the bishops purview to cooperate with the civil authorities, care for the pastoral needs of the victims, and remove the priest from occasions of sin, and impose penance.

      The problem is that through cowardice, incompetence, or gross indifference, some members of the hierarchy have shied away from the hard duties of their position, and allowed a cancer to persist withing the Church.

  • Kevin O’Brien

    And if we do penance and reparations, even for the sins of others, that helps. For example:

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      Sadly, this is one of the ‘old practices’ that’s been moth-balled in the quest for relevance and ‘ecumenism’.

    • Chesire11

      Amen! We are one Body with many parts, and if we, in our sinfulness, would hope to avail ourselves of the Treasury of Merit, we must be willing to take onto ourselves, and do penance and reparation for the sins of other members of the Body. If our priests and bishops have faltered or fallen, we must not separate ourselves from them, but must bring grace to them, and healing to their victims.

      Prayer, penance, and reparation – we ALL have a duty here.

      • OneTimothyThreeFifteen


  • Chatto

    I always enjoy your made up names for places and people, Father. St. Bleedinheart’s Therapeutic Centre – brill. The rest of the post was good as well.

  • teechrlady

    You’re sounding like Voris. Good!

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      Sedevacantists and their ilk are the dissenters who sound most like the voice of the Church, that’s why people are so easily deceived. Most ‘Traddies’, in my opinion, are the most dangerous group in the Church at the moment, because those called ‘dissenters’ are risible and completely incredible (in it’s actual sense). The ‘Traddies’, however, ride on the fumes of the ‘Old Church’ and so seem (sound) in continuity with it. That’s the big deception. Satan is subtle, as Genesis teaches.

      I wonder how longer Voris will survive? He’s become so shrill and desperate since he pooed on everyone else in the blogsphere. Have you noticed how manic posts on ChurchMilitant.TV YouTube have become recently? Several a day. He looks like he’s gonna crash and burn.

      teechrlady, if orthodoxy is at the price of charity – i.e., because one realises there are problems with the ‘Church of Nice’, one sells oneself as ‘Church of Nasty’, as Voris does – then one’s going to have problems. He’s reaping what he’s sown. His statue of ‘St Michael’ doesn’t help. It looks more like a black angel of death. (Just Google “angel of death” in Images, to see what I mean)

      It’s actually quite tragic because, for me, he’s becoming yet another icon of what can happen to someone of such wonderful zeal and passion for our Lord when they go off the rails in their paranoia or belief in their Promethean skill as saviours or evangelists through the worship their followers have lavished upon them, like John Corapi…

      In short, simply sounding like someone does not mean the same intention and meaning is behind something said. Mimesis – making something appear like the real thing – is the skill actors rely upon, for starters.

      If you read Fr L elsewhere, you can see clearly he’s nothing at all like Voris – in any way.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    …Many Catholics can’t even abstain from a biscuit or two for an hour before Mass without accusing ‘the old men in dresses at the Vatican’ of curtailing their rights, draconian control freakery, and just how bad they’re done by…

  • Slocum Moe

    These guys all have problems with inappropriate expressions of their sexuality. It’s a common enough problem among Catholic priests who vow celibacy. It’s certainly a violation of their vows, a criminal offense and justice must be served. They probably should have stuck with masturbation. I think that’s probably what most priests who aren’t sexually active with others do.

    You seem to be a heterosexual, married and to have entered the priesthood via a loophole unavailable to most. It’s no guarantee that you aren’t also a sexual predator but at least you have a societally sanctioned, sexual outlet available to you. Lucky you.

    • jfee

      Urrrrrrmm… Slow Moe, I don’t think you have a very good grasp of the issues involved. You’ll find most predators have had TOO MUCH porn and whacking off and want something stronger.

      Also, I don’t think Fr Longenecker implied in anyway that he was trustworthy BECAUSE he was married. Just look at all the abusers who are married, or, even, are getting heaps of sex from heaps of girls. Look at all the married scout masters, BBC personalities, football couches, cricket umpires (there was a massive scandal in Australia only a couple of years ago) who turn out to be sexual predators. That’s without mentioning the “uncle Burts” of this world.

    • FW Ken

      That’s why Catholic priests have a lower rate of offense than men in general, most of whom are married. One hesitates to suggest that self-control is actually possible, but it is.

      Last time I said this, I had to get the asbestos suit out, but what the heck. Most discussions benefit from facts. You have listed 3 cases, Father, which leaves 39,597 American priests who aren’t acting out. More, accurately, some of those haven’t been caught. I guarantee more are out there. The unasked question, however (if you want to debate celibacy) is how priestly chastity compares to marital chastity. How would priests keeping their vows compare to married men keeping theirs? I know, I know: priests and higher standards, blah blah blah.

      Of course, the real scandal was always failure to deal with these men when they do act out. You listed one case where the diocese was clearly negligent, but even in that case, he never got caught molesting kids until he got caught molesting kids. Parents should always remember that. The nice man showing your child a toy on the to shelf at Wal-Mart may be copping a feel. I know a fellow who couldn’t tell you how many boys he molested that way.

      I say this because we can make ourselves crazy looking for perfection. We don’t have to but the New York Times view of the Church.

    • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

      Hi Slocum.
      Is there such a need to be so cynical? Sorry to say it, but you seem to misunderstand our teaching on celibacy and sexuality, in general. There is no ‘loophole’ unless priesthood is primarily about what you do with your willy.

      When I deal with atheists and Protestants, I try to make damn sure I don’t misrepresent their position, or else I’ve lost before I’ve begun. It’s a tip I learnt from a Protestant Apologist who, sadly, only seems to go against his own principle when talking about Catholicism…

  • ArgyleEuphoria

    This may sound like a stupid question, but why aren’t there firewalls on the rectory wifi? And shouldn’t priest’s computers be setup to the diocese’s network? I doubt these priests are logging on at Starbucks to indulge in filth.
    The culture is too pervasive–it is virtually impossible to avoid pornography online. Any weakness is too easily exploited to become an addiction then an obsession. I get priests are people too and deserve privacy, but this sexual immorality is killing the Church. We cannot renew the Church with the poison of unworthy priests.

    • FW Ken

      Firewalls and external controls won’t solve the problem. Priests come from the laity. We need reformation, then the priests who come forth will (more likely) have a shot at succeeding in their celibate vocation, as married folk will have a better shot at succeeding at theirs.

  • Manny

    I like your solution. If these priests are in a second time offense, then the bishop who turned a blind eye should be stripped of his rank. I can’t blame any person in authority if these are first time offenses.

  • windjammer

    Father L, you are spot on. However, this appears to be a much, much bigger problem than anyone in or out of the Church wants to admit let alone face. It’s a hierarchical problem in a hierarchical organization which our beloved Church clearly is. Randy Engel has pretty much explained it in her mammoth researched and documented book published in 2006: “The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church”. She gives a thorough history of the problem in the Church right up to and including the current scandals. She names, names and documents it. She is Catholic and well respected. The book is not a hatchet job. It’s over 1300 pages, has several thousand footnotes and took her 17 years to research it and write it. It is thoroughly documented and contains references which the reader can check for oneself. It’s sad, disgusting, and makes ones eyeballs want to explode.

    Your reaction in this commentary is indicative and justified. Righteous indignation is warranted. What to do? How to address it? Seems to me that besides prayer and fasting, moral courage is what is most needed. The silence has to be broken and it can only come from within…Meaning the faithful priest and Bishops have to expose this openly and honestly. Easier said than done for sure. Where I live a former seminary rector was quoted as saying (paraphrase);…”If all the homosexual priests were removed you would have to close 70% of the parishes..” He’s exaggerating…but not by much!

  • Nan

    RE: St Paul and Minneapolis, please do not sensationalize this. The priest did the right thing by pleading guilty and is in prison. Note also that the story begins under another bishop and there have been several Vicars General in the meantime; new Abp’s first 2 appointments to the position are now bishops. The third unfortunately resigned after allegations of mishandling clergy sex abuse cases; at the time it seemed to be the right thing to do but with more information available seems to be an overreaction.