OUR CURRENT CRISIS
The Purification and the Spring: Another Look at Our Current Crisis
Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound (cf. Rom 5:20). So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church"
Pope John Paul II, Homily, April 23, 2002
"A new missionary age will arise, a new springtime for the Church"
Pope John Paul II, Homily, May 11, 1991
I woke up to a horrible headline in our local newspaper: "Virginia Priest Again Accused of Abuse."
My heart sank.
I went to Sunday Mass knowing that something probably had to be said in the homily about the current situation in this Diocese- even though I just wanted to hear the scriptures broken open so that I could be refreshed for the coming week of work.
However, any preacher or pastor HAD to mention this horrible news. After all, in the last weeks alone two priests have been forced to resign over past sexual abuse with young boys in this Diocese. Now, this headline uncovering another allegation, this time an allegation of a priest drugging a seminarian and raping him!
The priest/homilist did a good job. He tied the events into the Biblical readings and led the faithful back to a response of faith. I could tell how burdened he was by all of this just by observing his demeanor. So, when we left the sanctuary, I greeted him and tried to encourage him--as best I could.
"It's Clergy Reform father, Mark 4: 22--nothing is hidden that will not be revealed... God loves His Church" I said. He smiled a slight, hardly detectable smile -the kind of expression that people make when they are actually not comfortable with what you have said but do not know quite how to respond.
"This is not the first time in our history that this has happened. The purification is a necessary part of the Spring-time!" I continued, with a tone of encouragement and consolation in my voice, "...we will get through it all." I walked away from him knowing that I needed to add him to my growing prayer list this week.
Though I am a deacon of this Diocese, I do not serve in this parish. I returned here two years ago after having spent three years in a neighboring diocese while studying and advising a political campaign. I knew when I returned that this diocese was going through a lot of struggles. I wanted to help.
Little did I realize how profoundly the events of our current crisis would move those struggles into a kind of fourth gear. What is happening in this Diocese is only now beginning to unfold... and unfold it must. I believe that the words of the gospel text are particularly appropriate "...what was spoken in secret will be shouted from the housetops".
Truth is the greatest antidote to the poison of sin and the light is the greatest way to expose the darkness.
This is not the first time I have shared such sentiments with this local pastor. I am not sure that we see all of this in quite the same way. However, he is a good man, a good priest and ... he has a good heart.
What perhaps makes it even more difficult for him is that he knows some of the very men who have been dismissed from priestly ministry.
I believe that all of the revelations concerning clergy who have committed these egregious sins (and succumbed to the basest of sexual deviance- by committing criminal, immoral acts against children), demand an honest assessment of the condition of our beloved Church, at least in some segments of the more devastated parts of the vineyard.
That is what I will attempt in this article. I admit that I will address these difficult issues in very broad and general terms. I will also be simple, plainspoken and perhaps "painfully" honest. My goal is to help move us forward through the process of purification and into the springtime.
I have always loved the old parable "The Emperor has no Clothes." Most of us heard it as children. It was about a fictional kingdom where a tailor had convinced the king and his entourage that he would weave him the finest garment for the day of his coronation. He convinced the whole kingdom that the material was so fine they couldn't see it -all except one little honest boy.
The parable stands for the timeless insight that sometimes "children" (those who are unconcerned with how they are perceived) are the ones who best expose the truth. That little boy in that parable was the only one to point up to the balcony on the day of the coronation and proclaim to all present the embarrassingly painful truth that "The Emperor had no clothes." The rest of the crowd just stood and acted as though the emperor truly had the finest linen cloth when he was actually as naked as the day he was born.
Well, we need those kinds of plain comments about our current crisis. The problem is serious and it has deep roots. It must be exposed in light of the truth. We are in the midst of a crisis of fidelity.
Our Current crisis and the Culture of Death
I recently wrote an article entitled "Our Current Crisis: TRUTH and the Homosexual Issue". It was similarly plainspoken. I received an overwhelmingly (though not unanimously) positive response.
All I did in the article was to state what the Catholic Church teaches on this vitally important and controversial topic. That can easily be found in the Sacred Scriptures, the Tradition, the Catechism, and papal encyclicals... all of which are confirmed and taught by the "Magisterium", the teaching office of the Catholic Church.
The problem is that some of her clergy are not teaching (nor living) what she teaches.
I believe that there is a common root between many of the "controversial" issues that seem to be at the foundation of much of our contemporary crisis. Pope John Paul II, standing in the unbroken trajectory of 2000 years of Church teaching, has prophetically labeled the current cultural climate that has given us the horrid fruit of unrestricted abortion, creeping euthanasia, a growing disregard for the dignity of every human person (no matter how young or old, little or big, or no matter what their race, creed, economic state or social status), a "culture of death".
So it is.
This "culture of death" has crept into the sanctuary of the Church and that is the heart of problem that has led to the current crisis.
At the foundation of this "culture of death" is a failure to respect the dignity of every human person simply because they are human persons, created in the very image of God. There has grown a kind of "commodification" of the human person. People are increasingly seen as something that can be used. That approach is a part of the malady of the age. People, rather than being respected and honored as having been created in the "Image of God" are treated as "products", as commodities to be used and abused.
Following from this error, the human body, rather than being respected, honored and seen as an integral part of the person, is reduced to an object, something to be "used", abused or molested. This is at the root of the sin of pornography as well as the sexual acting out of what is often begun "in the heart" in acts that the sacred scriptures call the "sins of the flesh."
The Pope refers to abortion as the "cutting edge" of this culture of death. It truly is the most blatant example of the "use" of another person. We no longer protect our smallest members but rather encourage mothers to participate in destroying their own child in the former sanctuary of the womb, the first home of every person. As a society, we hide our perfidy under the banner of the mantra of "choice" and we have made our evil act "legal".
The push for trafficking in parts of aborted children, if not stopped soon, could add our nation to the terrible list of past "cultures of death" who have littered the landscape. We could find our once beloved land of the free listed alongside of past societies that have sacrificed their young to "Molech." Will we soon join these societies that we once deplored, by "consuming" our young?
The truth is that some choices are always and everywhere wrong and intrinsically immoral. They constitute a violation of both God's law and the natural law, even if they are (perhaps because of our own temerity as citizens) "legal" under current positive law.
It is always and everywhere wrong to use people and treat them as objects, no matter what the purported "end" or goal of the use. This is a form of utilitarianism, a philosophical approach that is absolutely at odds with the Catholic Christian worldview.
This error lies at the foundation of the faithful Catholics' absolute rejection of the creation of human embryonic life for experimentation that ALWAYS leads to the death of the human embryo. No matter how these techniques are dressed up as "science" and no matter how they "promise" to prolong our lives (a claim as of yet unproven) they are immoral.
Faithful Catholics (indeed all Christians, people of faith and people of good will) support adult stem cell research and other scientifically legitimate and moral research that does not destroy life. We support both good science and the common good. However, we always reject the destroying of life for the use of another.
This error lies at the root of faithful Catholics rejection of artificial contraception. Contracepted sexual activity (no matter how the argument in favor of artificial contraception is dressed up in the finest "theological" sophistry by dissidents within our own Church) is never a complete gift of self. It is not open to life, not unitive and not pro-creative. Rather, it involves a "use" of the other.
Contraception is immoral because it impedes authentic love as the full and complete gift of self NOT because the Catholic Church is "unenlightened" or is somehow against sex. Rather, it is the full understanding of the beauty and the dignity of sexual relations in marriage that makes the Catholic Church the actual guardian of the truth about the beauty of sexual love!
That is why the Church rightly rejects artificial contraception and insists on the proper use of "natural family planning" within marriage. It is NOT because she is opposed to sexual relations. That would be heresy. Rather, because she proclaims the dignity, beauty and splendor of conjugal love between spouses as a "sign" of the complete gift of self.
Sexual relations belong only within the embrace of faitful, chaste marriage and are a part of the sacramental nature of Christian marriage. Marital sexual relations, rooted in the love that is the gift of self to the beloved, are to be always open to new life and thus become a participation in the mystery of communion, sharing in the creative and redemptive nature of the Christian mission.
If the Church is to be the "Culture of Life" and "civilization of love", Christian families are her smallest members and missionary units.
This wonderful Pope has written more on these subjects than any Catholic leader in Church history. He has developed a marvelous body of teaching on the beauty and dignity of human sexuality and marital love as a participation in the nuptial mystery. That body of teaching was outlined in two years of catechesis and is compiled now in a marvelous work called "A Theology of the Body."
He is also rightly called the "Pope of the Family" reaffirming and restating the truth that Christian families are a "domestic church" and that all baptized Christians are called to holiness according to their state in life.
Chastity is the baptismal obligation of all Christians. Married Christians are called to live a pure and chaste marriage. They are called to be faithful.
Those who respond to the call of vowed celibacy, forsaking one "good" (marriage) for another (vowed celibacy) in order to be more available for service are to be faithful. They stand prophetically as a sign of the kingdom.
I am a married clergyman, a deacon. I have been married for twenty six years and my wife and I have five children. I have grown tired of the notion often raised during our current crisis that somehow the "real problem" is celibacy. Usually you can tell the perspective of the commentator based on the way this question is asked.
There is a world of difference between asking whether married men should once again be considered as candidates for the order of priest and asking whether "priests should be able to marry." In the Eastern Church there are both married and celibate priests. Celibacy is a gift, a charism and a wonderful sign. It is not the "problem."
The problem is infidelity. The problem is sin.
The Current Crisis as a participation in the "culture of death"
This brings up the "third rail" of our current crisis. Many Catholics (indeed other Christians) may agree with the plainspoken words above that expose both abortion and contraception as a part of the "culture of death."
However, we must take our discussion a step further.
We must be honest like the little boy in the fable. Many of the incidents that are being reported among the very small minority of clergy who have sinned against their vowed celibacy (and caused the current crisis) involve homosexual acts. In many instances, the activities in which they engaged constitute "pederasty", a term derived from an ancient Greek word that referred to sexual relationships between men and boys. That has been the case, so far, with every instance in my own diocese.
In every instance these actions are also a participation in the very "Culture of death" that the Church is meant to expose, oppose and convert.
The teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality is clear, compassionate, and true. Homosexual "orientation" is "disordered". However, homosexual temptation (even "orientation"), like every other sexual temptation, is not sin.
However, homosexual acts are ALWAYS sin.
Homosexual acts can NEVER participate in the very meaning and "end" (in the philosophical and theological sense of the word - "goal") of authentic love. The sexual expression of that love is reserved for marital conjugal acts. This is the very essence, design and purpose of sexual relations in the plan of God.
The Catholic Church clearly and rightly proclaims that every marital sexual act must be both unitive (fulfilling the divine mandate of marriage that the two "shall be as one") and procreative, or open to life.
Homosexual sexual acts are NEVER procreative and can never be truly unitive.
While the Church rightly teaches that we must respect the dignity of every person, including "homosexual" persons (meaning those who are "attracted" to the same sex-though I am beginning to question the wisdom of the use of this term) it clearly and unequivocally teaches that homosexual acts are always and everywhere intrinsically immoral and sinful.
Homosexual sexual acts always participate in a "use" of the body of another for self centered "gratification" and in that sense are not love. They participate in and perpetuate the "culture of death".
Such sexual activity, when forced on a child by one in a position of power (particularly by a priest) is even more corrupt, it is an act of evil in its most heinous form. It constitutes a spiritual plundering and the attempt to destroy a soul.
CONCLUSION: PURIFICATION AND THE SPRINGTIME
I know that I will receive many letters concerning this plain spoken article. I received many after having written "Our Current Crisis: HOMOSEXUALITY and Truth."
Not speaking the truth is never compassionate. Those who struggle with homosexual temptations need to hear this truth as well. There is hope for everyone in the Lord. His Church presents the way, and the pastoral resources, for people who struggle with homosexual temptation (and "orientation") to find freedom and fulfillment. However, they must listen to the Church, not to those who purport to speak in her name and then tell lies.
What the Catholic Church teaches on this subject is true. As an old priest friend of mine once said, "...things are true not because they are Catholic; they are Catholic because they are true".
The egregious nature of the current sexual behavior and abuse among a small minority of clergy is clear to anyone who accepts the unbroken teaching of the Catholic Church. That teaching will not change because it is true.
Homosexual sexual acts are always a matter of the "use" of another. They are always sin. They treat the body (of both parties) as an object. They are therefore a participation in the "Culture of Death."
Perhaps this is part of the reason why it is so vital that this sin be exposed, right now; at the beginning of what many believe is the great new missionary age of the Church. This time of "clergy reform" is happening right at the beginning of what Pope John Paul II calls the "new springtime of missions."
Perhaps the exposure of the current sin among our clergy is not "accidental" in its timing. Perhaps it is a part of the purification. This is not the first time in our history as a Church that clergy reform accompanied a great renewal.
I tried to remind my priest friend this morning that what is occurring in this Diocese (and beyond) truly is "clergy reform". I reminded him of the words of the Lord in the Gospel of Mark: "For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open" (Mark 4:22).
There have been other times in the history of the Church when the clergy have been corrupted. God seems to always begin His Spring cleaning in His own house. Perhaps, as the Apostle Peter wrote to the Church of the first millennium during another great missionary age: "... the time has come for judgment to begin with the House of God." (1 Peter 4:17)
After all, we believe that every man, woman and child ever created is called to live in that House. We need to make it a place where they can truly find redemption, rest and safety; and discover the fullness of their destiny in Jesus Christ.
I know that this priest is devastated by all of this. So am I. However, I truly believe that the reason this is all being exposed is because we serve a wonderful and merciful God of love. He wants an end to every kind of "use" of persons so that every living person can come into the full healing and love that is the fullness of the redemption found in Jesus Christ.
He wants His Church to be a true culture of life and civilization of love.
The perpetrators of these abuses must be stopped and face the consequences of their acts. That is mercy for them as well. They know that they have sinned and hiding will not free them from the bondage.
The victims must be helped with healing and restitution. The Church must be purified in order to rise to the challenge of her missionary task in this Third Christian Millennium. That means that her clergy (Priests, Bishops and Deacons) must all be "holy" as the Lord Himself is holy.
If the Church is going to lead this contemporary age out of this contemporary "Culture of Death", she must truly become a "Culture of Life" and a civilization of love. Her clergy must be men who love, live and serve as the One who founded this Church loved, lived and served.
Nothing less will do.
They are, after all, His messengers and His arms in a contemporary world that desperately needs His love and redemption.
"Bring on the purification Lord, save your people, protect your children and let the Spring begin to bloom!"
Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues. He is a features editor for Catholic Online and the Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/Founder, 757 546-9580
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