Fr. Rutler and Other Sinners

Fr. Rutler and Other Sinners December 2, 2020

I don’t always agree, even remotely, with what Rod Dreher has to say, but today he hits an awful lot of nails on their heads, in this fantastic reflection on sin, mercy, and the frailty of faith.

To clarify before you go read it: I don’t think that the sins of Catholic priests are a good reason to leave the Church.  I do think, though, that Rod’s story is one that every evangelist needs to hear.

A few excerpts that were exactly where this blog post would have gone if Rod hadn’t gotten there first:

As I have gotten older, though, I have become no less committed to my principles, but I have become more tolerant of people’s frailty.  . . .

. . .  But I find myself pitying him more than I ever would. Why? Because, as I said, life is long and life is hard. The things people do out of loneliness, anger, sadness, grief, humiliation, and so forth, and their inability to carry the pain that that suffering brings — it’s so, so much, the things people carry.

What a gift the Christian mechanism for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration is. I get mad at wrongdoers who expect their wrongs to be forgiven without any evidence of real repentance. But for those who are truly sorry for what they did, I am grateful that we have the command by Christ to show mercy.

So I want to talk about this a little.


What I want to say is that the Catholics you know — the ones in the spotlight, publishing, preaching, running ministries — they are horrible sinners.  Not just some of them.  Every single one, every single day.

Some of us know it about ourselves.  We wake up in the morning relieved that the sins we committed in our dreams were not real and we thus dodged a few harrowing bullets, only to commit seven fresh sins before breakfast.  And maybe a few more during.  All of which are no mere nightmare.*

If I seem to care over-much about the gift of salvation, it’s because I need it.  Need.  Not: Kinda nice perk.  Need.

So that’s half of us.  We’re wretched and we know it.


The other half of us are wretched and we don’t even know it.  We think we have it together.  We admit we have a few weaknesses, but those weaknesses are just heroic strengths in disguise, or endearing quirks.  Overall we’re a pretty good lot, and other people should be more like–

–pause here, people who know me, to wipe up the coffee you just snorted–

Anyhow.  People who think they have it together.  Some people labor under that delusion all of the time, others of us just oscillate that way when we manage to avoid any particularly glaring sins for thirty wakeful minutes at a stretch.


I don’t know Fr. Rutler at all.  I’ve never seen him, never read him, certainly never met him.  (Haven’t been avoiding him, I just don’t watch much TV.)

I do know that the privacy of private sins is confounding.  You can sincerely believe your private sins are gravely sinful, commit them habitually or spasmodically, and repent just as often.  I also know that any sin, public or private, is easy enough to rationalize and justify.

If the allegations are true, it’s unlikely they are isolated.  As with the recent scandal of David Haas, if Fr. Rutler did in fact grope a woman and watch porn in her presence, it is unlikely it’s the first time he’s pulled such a stunt.  There is likely a trail of “open secrets” and bystanders and victims who didn’t dare make a scene.

I also know that false accusations and fake videos do happen, and therefore it is too early for most of us to know the facts of the situation.


What are to learn from all this?  Some choices:

(1) You could chuck the notion of morality.

Find ways to rationalize, minimize, and justify sins until you’re down to just Hitler and also that guy in your department who voted for the wrong party, even after knowing better.

This doesn’t work.  Sooner or later, the problem of sinners floats back to the surface.

(2) You could walk away from all the hypocrisy.

That’s an understandable choice. I’m sympathetic.

Maybe you aren’t really convinced the Catholic faith is true, you were in it for some other reason — because of your spouse, or your heritage, or the welcome you received at a local parish — whatever your reason is.  {No shame in that, by the way — the doors are open to all. Thank you for being here.  You belong here.}

Maybe you know the Faith is true, but you just can’t take the deceit and the indifference and the lechery anymore.

I get it.

I really truly understand.

Walking out is not a tenable choice, though, if you know the Catholic faith is true and wish to be a person who acts in accordance with your beliefs.

(3) You could be Catholic and bitter.

See: “Seven sins before breakfast” . . . this is not a good way to live.  It happens, but like all sin, it needs to be fought.

(4) You could make the decision to become a vessel of mercy.


Not a vessel of squinting-and-failing-to-notice.

Not a vessel of “it could have been much, much worse.”

Not a vessel of Crucify Him!


Mercy hurts.

Mercy is the nails in your hands and the spear in your side.  That’s what mercy is.


I have no way of knowing what sins Fr. Rutler needs mercy for.  But I know that, like you, he needs it.  Needs.

And that is something you can do for him, even now.

Not easy, but at least it is good.

File:Baldy Hill from Snowslide Valley, Craigieburn Range, Canterbury, New Zealand.jpg

Photo: Low-angle sun on the top half of Baldy Hill from Snowslide Valley, Craigieburn Range, Canterbury, New Zealand, via Wikimedia, CC 4.0.  It’s the image of the day, but think of it as the metaphorical Mountain of Mercy if that helps you.


*Oh but if they’re only venial sins, it’s okay, right?  No.  Not right.  As the St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism puts it so succinctly: Even the most venial sin is “worse than the measles.” But, praise God, though there remains no cure for the measles, there is indeed a sure and certain remedy for what ails your soul.

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