Dear fellow clerics and religious in Christ,
I know that most of you are hard-working and striving for holiness like I am. Most of us have our little sins we strive to conquer but sometimes fail. Maybe even a few among us are saints, although I doubt I am. Every day, we pray and we strive to help the people of God in our assigned ministry, be that a parish, school, seminary, chaplaincy, chancery, further studies, etc.
Resign if Breaking Promises of Celibacy
However, some among us have greatly broken their promises of chastity, and others have turned a blind eye or covered up. These men lower the priesthood, create credibility problems for the Church, and most of all harm each member of the people of God.
If you are sexually active as a priest, religious or bishop, please realize the gravity. It is not an act where you say, “I love you,” to the person you’re sinning with, but an act where you say, “I despise you!” to the whole Church and each of her members. You promised fidelity to the Church like a husband promises fidelity to his wife. Infidelity is unacceptable. If you are sexually active, please resign your position now!
(Obviously, I don’t include spousal sexual activity of deacons, Eastern-rite priests, and former Protestants ministers with the proper dispensation.)
Every day you remain in ministry, the people of God suffers. It is a shame that the people of God have to find out about sexually active priests, especially priests who are sexually active in ways that wouldn’t even be moral in marriage. Don’t kid yourself that the promise of celibacy was only that you wouldn’t get married or wouldn’t have a kid; you promised no sexual activity, period, ever, with a woman, a man or a child.
If your sexual activity was a consensual one-time failure with a consenting adult, there may be the opportunity for you to return to ministry after dealing with whatever underlying issues allowed you to fall so grievously. If the activities was with a minor, nonconsensual, or habitual, please inform your Bishop so you can be removed from the clerical state. If you are a bishop, please retire and explain why in your letter of resignation to the Pope. If it was nonconsensual or with a minor, please also turn yourself into the police.
Continence is possible. Millions of priests and religious have lived fruitful and healthy lives of continence before you and many continue to do so.
Resign if Covering Up
If you have ever covered up for a sexually active clergy or religious, also please resign your position! You harm the body of Christ by having such men continuing as priests. Some cases may be small where you can come back into ministry later on, but please excuse yourself from any position of authority for life. Other cases will require removal from the clerical state and/or jail time.
If you are part of any kind of network of priests who hide each other’s sexual sins, please not only resign but reveal the others.
If that doesn’t motivate you, please think of your eternal destination. Jesus will forgive any sin if we go to him with sincere repentance, and welcome that former sinner into Heaven. However, if we have mortal sins we do not repent of, Hell is the result. I sincerely hope all of you convert so as not to perish.
For the Rest of Us
I hope that only a minority of priests have been sexually active or covered up for others. So, the rest of us might ask what we can do? I think we need to cooperate with any investigation: by bishops, by lay people, or by civil authorities. We can also inform the proper ecclesiastical – and in some cases civil – authorities about any priests or bishops doing what was described above. (If you don’t feel safe talking to your own bishop, the best option for ecclesiastic issues is to contact the Apostolic Nunciature in the USA.)
We cannot let this problem continue. We must end the secrecy and silence. We must stop using euphemisms like “boundary violations” for serious sexual misconduct. “Boundary violations” are supposed to refer to things like arm wrestling a teenager or driving alone with a woman outside our family, not sexual assault.
The Church needs a cleaning and it’s going to be difficult. Nonetheless, we will end up far better if we do a thorough cleanup now rather than stop and be satisfied with a superficial resolution. Unless we dig deep and clean our whole house up, these problems will flare up again. We cannot let this happen. We must clean house today!
Never Lose Hope
In this situation, we should never lose hope. The church survived through the Renaissance papacy and the following years brought out some great saints like Thomas Moore, Ignatius of Loyola, and Teresa of Avila. We are each call to be saints in our own way. Holiness has always been and still is the ultimate solution to all the ills of the Church.
Not only do we have the historical record to show the church survived, we have the promise of Jesus who says, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Times like this should be a reminder to cling closer to him.
Seeking holiness and clinging to Jesus should not take our eyes off the need to clean up our own house. If each of us promised chastity in the ordination rite or profession, we should uphold our own chastity and help others live theirs. At times, this includes holding others accountable for their failings in this or their hiding of others in this regard.
The Church is the bride of Christ. Let’s strive to make her as spotless as possible. Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, LC
- This was written several months back so is not a response to recent news.
- The picture of the back of a bunch of priests and bishops heads was chosen to represent priests and bishops in general, not to implicate any. (The exact Mass is simply the first I found like that which I could legally use.)
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