Cardinal Sins: Catholicism and the Question of Priestly Celibacy

It’s time to Break It Down!

In 1859, Charles Dickens penned the classic A Tale of Two Cities.  The opening paragraph, one of the most famous in all of literature, reads thusly:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

For whatever it’s worth, recent events in the Catholic Church summon for me thoughts of those pointed analogies.  Of course, I must first admit I approach this conversation from the perspective of a non-Catholic.  As such, it’s perfectly fine for all the practicing members of the Faith to dismiss my views as the feeble rant of someone without a clue.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here goes.  Last Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger)left behind Vatican City, the Papal Ring, and his red Pradas; becoming the first Pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to do so of his own volition since Pope Celestine Vin 1294 (719 years ago).  He is expected to return to the Vatican City and live out his retirement in the newly renovated Mater Ecclesiae monastery.

There has been rampant speculation and numerous conspiracy theories about why, after more than seven centuries, a Pope chose to opt out.  To be fair, this Pope has a number of health challenges, and he cited those maladies as the basis for his decision to leave his elevated station.  Still, in full disclosure, much of the chum being circulated about reasons, at least tangentially associated with the Pope’s departure, is downright salacious.  Theories comprise a generous mixture of sex, lies, hypocrisy, secrecy, and of course, money.  No word of videotape…yet!

Christendom acknowledges acts against God as sin.The most objectionable elements of these acts are often referred to asCardinal Sins, Capital Vices, or The Seven Deadly Sins

The Roman Catholic Church divides sin into two categories: venial sins, in which guilt is relatively minor, and the more severe mortal sins.  In order to eliminate any confusion, theCardinal Sins referred to in this post are Cardinal Sins because…they were committed by Roman Catholic Cardinals; not birds, not the Baseball Team, or the Football Team, but men; Roman Catholic Priests.

This post points to two highly placed Catholic officials, and examines the different ways they are responding to their virtual perp walks.  So it is, rather than, A Tale of Two Cities, a tale of two Cardinals; prelates from different continents, but both influential heavyweights in their own spheres.

On the American Left Coast, the Archbishop of Metropolitan Los Angeles, José Horacio Gómez, removed Cardinal Roger Mahony of all his public and episcopal duties in the Archdioceseof Los  Angeles, on January 31, 2013.  The Archbishop took this action after the release of personnel files documenting priest sexual abuse cases during Cardinal Mahaony’s tenure.

In 1985, Pope John Paul II appointed Mahony Archbishop of Los Angeles; he made him a Cardinal in 1991.In July 2007, Mahoney and the Catholic Church in Los Angelesapologized for abuses by priests after 508 victims reached a record-breaking settlement worth $660 million, and an average payout of $1.3 million per plaintiff.  At the time Mahony described the abuse as a “terrible sin and crime.”  That agreement dwarfed a similar settlement paid by the Archdiocese of Boston, where Massachusettslaw places a legal dollar cap on how much a non-profit group can be required to pay.

Deliver Us From Evil, a 2006 documentary chronicles accusations that Cardinal Mahony knew that a priest serving under him, Oliver O’Grady, a native of the Republic of Ireland, had a two decades long history of sexually abusing and molesting children (including one infant), but that he failed to keep him away from children.The film claims that in a 1984 (was this Orwellian?) a Stockton police investigation into sexual abuse allegations against O’Grady was reportedly closed after diocesan officials promised to remove the priest from any contact with children.  Instead, Mahony reassigned O’Grady to a parish approximately 50 miles east, in San Andreas, where O’Grady continued to molest children.By 2012, authorities obtained internal Church documents showing Mahony had organized the movement of sexual predators across jurisdictional boundaries to complicate any possible prosecution.  In 1987 he prohibited a priest from seeking therapy for his urges on the grounds that a therapist might report the crimes to police.

The New York Times, in January 2013, editorialized: “No member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy fought longer and more energetically thanCardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angelesto conceal the decades-long scandal involving the rape and intimidation of children by rogue priests. For years, the cardinal withheld seamy church records from parents, victims and the public, brandishing endless litigation and fatuous claims of confidentiality.”

The only additional piece of information you need to know is, “This man is one of the 115 Cardinals who will be part of the Papal conclave to elect the next Pope.”

Cardinal Keith O’Brien was Britain’s highest ranking Catholic leader…until Monday of last week.  He has been accused of improper conduct with priests – an unprecedented first head to roll in the sometimes tawdry passion play that has ensued in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign.

O’Brien, who was also the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, resigned from those posts too.  For the record, the Vatican maintains that Pope Benedict accepted his resignation purely because he was nearing the retirement age of 75 – not because of accusations…wink, wink.  However, O’Brien issued a statement saying he would skip the conclave because he did not want to become the focus of media attention at such a delicate time for the Catholic Church.

In addition, O’Brien said through a spokesman, he is contesting the allegations of reported in a British newspaper, Sunday, February 24th, that three priests had files complaints to the Vatican alleging that the Cardinal acted inappropriately with them.  The newspaper did not name the priests, but said their allegations date back to the 1980’s.The behavior was not detailed in the story.

This is the first time a Cardinal has recused himself from a Papal conclave because of personal scandal.  The episode follows closely a grass roots campaign to shame another Cardinal, Roger Mahony, into refraining from participating because of his role in protecting sexually abusive priests.  As noted above, however, Cardinal Mahony has, in defiant fashion, opted to ignore the calls for him to decline participation in the conclave to elect a new Pope.

An interesting, if not key distinction in the behavior of the two Cardinals is that in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahoney has been shown to have covered up the indiscretions of other priests (a category of violation that has historically shielded accused bishops of sanction), whereas, in St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal O’Brien has been accused personally of improper behavior.  It seems likely; this difference in focus is the basis for the difference in the two men’s decision on whether to attend the conclave to elect the Pope.

There are undoubtedly a great many sociological evaluations and assessments delving into why these issues are plaguing the Catholic Church.  Without exhausting the full range of possibilities, one observation screams so loudly, it is difficult to ignore. 

Mark Dowd, a former Dominican Friar and currently a freelance writer, wrote in The Guardian last Monday, that a series of respondents were interviewed through a program called Queer and Catholic.  He notes that:

“We interviewed clerics and ex-seminarians in the UK, US and Rome and uncovered a huge irony: the very institution that teaches that the homosexual orientation is “intrinsically disordered” attracts gay candidates for the priesthood in numbers way in excess of what one would expect, based on numbers in society at large. One seminary rector based on his own experience told me the number was at least 50%.”

For its part, the Catholic Church’sposition is certainly not that there are no gay priests.  Rather, their vows should trump their nature.  That may be the design, and in a perfect world, that might be precisely as it would play out.  Alas, in the real world scenarios with which we are faced, we are left to ask, “How’s that working for you?”

That Pope Benedict XVI, frail though he admits he is, has by retiring, positioned himself to return to his long held academic pursuits, is at least in some ways a positive outcome of this Papacy.  It had been more that 700 years since a Pope took such an unusual course.  May the Pope Emeritus enjoy his remaining time, and immerse himself in pursuits that will continue to accrue to the love of his life; the Catholic Church.

That the Catholic Church finds itself roiled by controversy of such a prurient nature is a most unfortunate circumstance for the institution.  By all appearances, the combination of contemporary folkways and mores, in conjunction with the will of many people who call themselves Catholic will serve to make complicated all efforts to resolve the many dynamic issues related to this matter.  Yet, at their core, Catholics are believers, and it is written in Mark 9: 23: Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

So, In a Dickensian kind of way, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.Meanwhile, it is also time we took a closer look at “Cardinal Sins: Catholicism and the Question of Priestly Celibacy.”

I’m done; holla back.

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