71 Accusations; How Many are Guilty?

This Sunday morning (5 August, 2018) our priest read a letter to the congration at Mass from the Very Reverend Ronald Gainer, Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.   The letter, giving the names of 71 male religious (priests, seminarians, deacons) accused of child molestation, has been widely reported in news media: see here for the pastoral letter, here for the press release, here for the list of accused religious, and here, here and here for online articles on this.  The letter precedes the release (blocked heretofore by order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court)  of a Grand Jury proceedings initiated by the Democratic Attorney-General, Josh Shapiro (but more of that below*).   Newspapers have anticipated this Grand Jury report with, shall we say, great expectations:

“The state Supreme Court disclosed recently that the grand jury had identified more than 300 “predator priests” in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Pittsburgh. Those dioceses minister to more than 1.7 million Catholics. The 900-page report could be made public within days.”
—AP, in Philly.Com, August 4.

Before going further let me say first that this post is not going to be a defense of priests who are child molesters.  Nevertheless, it is a legal principle that a presumption of innocence is made until guilt is proved by trial or other legal action.  (Please correct me Don, if this isn’t so.)   And I am told by a lawyer friend that Grand Juries do not proceed this way;  those named in accusations are not allowed to speak in their defense, have legal aid or confront accusers.

If one examines the list and puts the accused into categories, the story becomes much less impressive than the tagline “71 predator priests” might imply.   Of those 71,

  • 10 are accused of multiple acts of indecent behavior and are alive;
  • 3 are accused of possessing child porn and are alive;
  • 4 are accused of a single act of indecent behavior and are alive;
  • 3 are accused of inappropriate behavior (kissing) or inappropriate communications and are alive;
  • the remaining 51  either died after the accusations were made, were accused after they died,  or were accused in other dioceses, but not in Harrisburg (the point being that there is no way to validate the truth of these accusations).

Let me also add that these accusations go back to 1947.    There are currently (if I’ve counted correctly) 270 priests in the Harrisburg Diocese, including retired.   If I assume an attrition and replacement rate of 5 per  year (that’s conservative), that corresponds to about 600 priests serving during 1947-2017.   So dividing (10+3+4+3) by 600 gives a percentage of about 3%, if one assumes that each of the accused was guilty.   Is this  percentage higher than it would be, say, in the Anglican Church, or amongst male teachers in the public schools?

To my knowledge, the Diocese—even before Bishop Gainer’s tenure—has been scrupulous in removing priests from duty when acknowledged acts of indecent behavior have been made.   One priest, a Vicar in a neighboring parish, was removed from duty (and not put elsewhere in the Diocese) after a proven accusation of misbehavior in another diocese had been made.

I want to emphasize again that we want 0% of inappropriate behavior; we want our children to be safe.   But we want them to be safe not only in our Churches, but in our schools and on the streets.   I can tell horror stories of boys corrupted by a local basketball coach, and one remembers the Penn State football assistant coach.   Let’s not make a blanket assumption that the priesthood has been totally corrupted because of headlines engendered by a political opportunist.

*Josh Shapiro is the second Democrat to hold the office of Attorney-General in Pennsylvania after a long line of Republicans (the first is awaiting jail after being convicted of malfeasance in office).   The office is regarded as a stepping stone to the Governorship and Shapiro owes a debt to left-liberal organizations that helped put him in office.  His letter to Pope Francis was published in our local paper today: he requested that the Pope intervene to help publicize the Grand Jury verdict.  As my wife put it, “I wonder what those two ___ make of each other.”



You Are a Thief and a Murderer

I don’t travel to a lot of different parishes, but I’d imagine you’d come across plenty of “Happy Talk” in most of them with an emphasis on things like peace, love, joy and tolerance; where the spiritual battleground seems more like a spiritual playground. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that in the past few decades we have lost about half our priests, two thirds of our nuns, Mass attendance is way down and the confession lines are now strikingly shorter than the communion lines.

Catholic families are being destroyed at about the rate as non-Catholic families. They abort, contracept, sodomize, fornicate and divorce at about the same rate as everyone else, but some say all this is “progressive”. I’d argue that calling someone who supports these things “progressive” is like calling a cannibal a chef.

Now don’t get me wrong; a Christian clearly has good reason to be joyful. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”(John 15:11), but next week (Holy Week) is perhaps the best time to reflect on our sins and the sins of the world, go to confession and do penance.

The following is based on a reflection I happened across from St. Bernard of Clairvaux; a doctor of the Church, which convinced me that I was a thief and a murderer—in a spiritual sense. See if it persuades you.

As is often the case, we need to start with some basics. Our souls consist of a will and an intellect. To love God is the highest act of the will and to know God is the highest act of the intellect. In this life, we can choose to move our will and intellect either toward God or toward “self”. Are we really thieves? How so? Since we were made by God and for God, we do not own ourselves. Therefore, when we commit acts of selfishness we are thieves who try to steal ourselves away from God. The only things we can truly claim ownership to are our sins and our vices.

How can we be murderers? Well, think about what murderers do. They kill a person and try to conceal the crime, perhaps by burying the victim in the ground. Likewise we too are murders, since we kill our souls via sin, which is of far more value than our body. What do we do once we kill our souls? We try to hide the crime by burying our souls under mounds of filth. Gluttony, greed, addictions and perversions of every sort hide the fact that we are dead. Even everyday “innocent” distractions like texting, gaming and social media can prevent us from seeing the crime that has happened.

So here are some questions to Catholics that never go to confession or maybe go once per year because they really don’t do anything bad. To those that firmly believe “I’m okay and you’re okay”……

  • Have you committed any selfish acts? Yes?
    • You are a thief! Go to confession.
  • Have you committed the kind of sin that kills the soul? Yes?
    • You are a murderer! Go to confession.
  • Have you injured your soul with any type of sin at all? Yes?
    • That is assault; you are an assailant! Go to confession.

Just go to confession, because I’m not okay and you’re not okay. You’re not likely to hear these things in a typical Sunday homily because they are unpleasant realities; but I’m a realist, and there is a rather blunt phrase we use where I work to remind us of harsh realities and their consequences. When someone does something they should not have, and the consequence is finally actualized, the phrase we use is…. “You’ll have that”. And any “Happy Talk” can wait until the reality is dealt with.

Have a good Holy Week.