A CATHOLIC priest has admitted that the Church has traditionally treated woman very badly, and effectively still does.
Fr Kevin McNamara of Moyvane, Co. Kerry made the admission during a documentary about the decline of Catholic traditions within the Church today.
“As a church we have been very, very, very hurtful to women and still are,” said Fr McNamara in The Confessors, which aired on RTE One on Monday night.
“The Church is all male, all the time. We really need to look at that,” he added.
“We should put our hands up sooner rather than later.”
He went on to admit the devastation he felt at the flood of revelations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy.
“I actually cried my way through a Mass at the height of the child sexual abuse [scandal]. How people in authority could have blatantly told so many lies, or opted not to tell the truth,” he said, before adding that staying quiet about such atrocities was “the devil’s work”.
With the tagline “a study of sin and redemption as told by Irish priests through the prism of the Confession box”, The Confessors features accounts from 15 priests – of all ages and from all corners of the country.
It also features a priest who says he won’t wear a dog collar for fear of being attacked outside work, and priests who admit that confessional boxes go more-or-less unused for most of the year.
The lights inside Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church in Pearl River were on later than usual on Sept. 30, so a passerby stopped to take a closer look.
Peering inside, the onlooker saw the small parish’s pastor half-naked having sex with two women on the altar, according to court documents. The women were dressed in corsets and high-heeled boots. There were sex toys and stage lighting. And a mobile phone was mounted on a tripod, recording it all.
The eyewitness took a video and called the Pearl River police, who arrived at the church and viewed that recording. Officers then arrested the Rev. Travis Clark, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul since 2019, on obscenity charges.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced the priest’s arrest Oct. 1 but would not give specifics about why he was arrested. Nor would the police.
New details, however, have emerged in court filings that paint a lurid picture of a priest recording himself engaged in sexual role play while desecrating a sacred place within the church. Public records additionally show that one of the women, Mindy Dixon, 41, is an adult film actor who also works for hire as a dominatrix. On a social media account associated with Dixon, a Sept. 29 post says she was on her way to the New Orleans area to meet another dominatrix “and defile a house of God.”
Dixon and Melissa Cheng, 23, were booked on the same count as Clark, 37. Police said the charge stems from from “obscene acts [that] occurred on the altar, which is clearly visible from the street.”
Clark, who was ordained in 2013, had recently been named chaplain of Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell, in addition to his duties at Saints Peter and Paul. At the high school, he succeeded Wattigny, who had resigned from that position this summer over inappropriate text messages sent to a student. Pope John Paul II’s principal on Tuesday sent a letter to school parents criticizing Aymond for waiting until last week to tell him that Wattigny had been under investigation for those texts since February.
The archdiocese announced it had suspended Clark from ministry the day after he was arrested.
Attempts to contact Clark, Chen and Dixon weren’t immediately successful. All three have bonded out of jail pending the outcome of the case.
The archdiocese would not comment Thursday on Clark’s arrest, saying authorities were investigating the matter.
In Roman Catholic tradition, the altar is among the most sacred of church spaces, serving as the focal point of the Mass and the place where a priest consecrates the Eucharist during the sacrament of Holy Communion. According to church law, known as canon law, when sacred places are violated they must be “repaired by penitential rite” before they can be used again in the Mass.
Days after Clark’s arrest, Aymond went to Saints Peter and Paul and performed a ritual to restore the altar’s sanctity.
The Rev. Travis Clark also served as chaplain of Pope John Paul II High School
The church is vague on the specific acts that would constitute a desecration, but the Code of Canon Law says a violation of a sacred place occurs “by gravely injurious actions done in them” that are “contrary to the holiness of the place.”
That description appears to apply to the alleged tryst as outlined by police in documents filed in Louisiana’s 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington.
On Sept. 30 just before 11:00 p.m., an unidentified person was walking by the church on St. Mary Drive and looked inside through windows and glass doors because the lights were still on. Police allege that the person “observed and had video of Ms. Cheng and Ms. Dixon” using plastic sex toys while engaging in intercourse on the altar with Clark, who was still partially wearing his priestly attire.
The person called the police to the church. Officers arrived to see two women clad in corsets and high-heeled boots by the altar, with “lights set up around them as if they were filming some type of event,” the documents said.
Clark wasn’t on the altar, but an officer who knew Clark to be the church’s pastor tried to call him on the phone. Police then ordered the women to let them inside and, in addition to the lights, noticed a mobile phone as well as a camera, each mounted on tripods.
Attorney for student’s family alleges he was ‘grooming’ the teen for sex; church denies texts had sexual references ‘or innuendo’
The women reportedly told police they were there with Clark’s permission and were recording themselves in “role play.”
Clark soon arrived at the church and reportedly gave a similar account to the police, describing Cheng and Dixon as his guests and friends, police wrote in documents filed in court.
Officers determined everything that had happened was consensual, but they arrested Clark, Cheng and Dixon on accusations that the three had broken a law prohibiting people from having sex within public view. Police said they confiscated the sex toys and camera equipment as evidence.
Clark was later released from jail on a $25,000 bond. Cheng, of Alpharetta, Georgia, and Dixon, of Kent, Washington, posted bonds of $7,500, records show.
Each could face six months to three years in prison if convicted of obscenity.
Aymond sent a letter to parishioners at Saints Peter and Paul on Monday saying the Rev. Carol Shirima would replace Clark beginning Oct. 11.
In rare rebuke, principal of Slidell school blasts archdiocesan leadership for not telling him before Friday
Pearl River Mayor David McQueen said the arrest shocked the town. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of talk, they’re kind of hush-hush about it,” McQueen said.
McQueen said he was aware that the two women had been in Pearl River earlier this week to give statements to police.
Town Council member Kat Walsh, a lifelong member of the church, echoed McQueen. She said parishioners, especially those who are more deeply involved in the church, are the ones who were the most upset by the arrests.
Clark was well-liked by the congregation and considered easy to get along with, she said, and seemed to work diligently with different groups within the church.
“What upsets me is, why did he have to do that there?” Walsh said. “I’m upset for all of us, the parishioners of the church. Why there?”
For my generation she was Margaret, without the nun’s habit; for the previous generation she was Sr Benvenuta, in full canonical clothing. For both generations her office in UCD became a place where secrets could become shared and thus diminished burdens, opprobrium eschewed and independence of mind encouraged.
I came to appreciate Margaret MacCurtain’s tenaciousness over 30 years and let me pay tribute to her on the occasion of her 90th birthday; to applaud her humanity, humour and brilliant teaching, and also her stubbornness, determination and creative subversion.
MacCurtain’s life and work reflect the second wave of the feminist movement in Ireland that emerged in the late 1960s, a reminder that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the announcement of a commission on the status of women. The commission’s report was published in 1972 and, alongside its many recommendations, expressed the aspiration that women would retrieve their own history.
MacCurtain was drawn towards the idea of the sun coming through a gap ‘because a gap between the fields in Ireland is usually a hostile gap’
MacCurtain embraced this challenge with gusto, despite the fact that, as she recalled: “Writing women into Irish history became a subversive activity for women historians in the 1970s. The universities were not ready for an innovation which, in the opinion of the historical establishment, possessed neither a sound methodology nor reliable sources.”
Despite such hindrance, as MacCurtain has recalled, there was a sense of optimism and determination about challenging this resistance in the 1970s, and for MacCurtain this involved building alliances within and outside academia. At a debate in UCD in October 1971, MacCurtain shared a lecture theatre platform with Mary Anderson and Nell McCafferty. Anderson suggested each of them make a short opening statement about the personal difficulties under which they laboured as women.
Anderson said: “I am a bastard.”
McCafferty said: “I am a lesbian.”
MacCurtain said: “I am a nun.”
McCafferty recalled: “The audience erupted in yells of pure, unadulterated pleasure. The exchanges that evening were a runaway train of untrammelled speech.”
That train ran into many barriers in subsequent years as there was still much resistance to equality and vocal women, but MacCurtain underlined the significance of translating alliances into meaningful retrieval of women’s history. Her mission was a way of giving meaning to her assertion, the previous decade, that the question of education “now lies within the domain of justice”.
MacCurtain remained a historian of the Reformation centuries; it gave her a wider sense not just of divisions in Ireland but also of common inheritances, including the heritage of the Middle Ages. But the spirituality that interested this Dominican sister most was non-sacramental; she recognised the greatness of Patrick Kavanagh and his epic poem The Great Hunger (1942) because he brought out both the longings and spirituality of the small farmers. Kavanagh had laid bare frustrations and suffocations, but also the moments of discovery:
“Yet sometimes when the sun comes through a gap
These men know God the Father in a tree:
The Holy Spirit in the rising sap,
And Christ will be the green leaves that will come
At Easter from the sealed and guarded tomb.”
MacCurtain was drawn towards the idea of the sun coming through a gap “because a gap between the fields in Ireland is usually a hostile gap”, and “you don’t go though gaps easily”.
MacCurtain was the nun coming through the gap when it came to the retrieval of the history of Irish women and wider questions of justice and equality, and it was a hostile gap from which she had to emerge.
That is why, as well as being full of humanity, and carrying an older, Celtic spirituality, she had to be tough and brave in order to open up what she described as “a locked room in the memory . . . the time comes when you have to take it out and honour it”; to go beyond a self-centred quest “for a meaning to ‘my’ life”. She was a champion of what became one of the most important aspects of the women’s liberation movement: personal testimony born of personal experience; and, as she recognised, “there was no break in the development of Irish feminism”.
I thought of all these things as Lyra McKee was laid to rest after that extraordinary funeral on Wednesday; the funeral of a gay woman, from a Catholic background in Belfast, who found a home, love and, ironically, a horrible death in the Derry cauldron as a ceasefire baby, after which the failed politicians were shamed into standing exposed.
Margaret MacCurtain campaigned for an Ireland in which McKee could find solace and purpose. MacCurtain championed what she called “that larger dimension of history, that seeks to reconcile and synthesise the past, rather than divide people into camps and set antitheses between ethnic groups and religious sects”.
McKee had to emerge from a hostile gap to do that too; real leaders lead when they emerge from that gap, despite the vicious snipers who stand in their way.
A Redemptorist priest who has been suspended from active ministry for the past eight years has described comments by a senior Vatican Cardinal as “like Trump” amid a deepening row over potential reforms in the Catholic Church.
Fr Tony Flannery, a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests and an advocate of the ordination of women priests, made his comments after a report this week in the National Catholic Reporter quoted Cardinal Luis Ladaria of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) as saying it had done “everything possible” to come to some type of resolution with him, but this had been unsuccessful.
In the same article, Cardinal Ladaria defended his office’s request that Fr Flannery sign four strict oaths of fidelity to Catholic teaching, saying while this was “very unpleasant”, it was required to maintain fealty to Church guidelines.
The Cardinal was quoted as saying: “We have tried always to maintain our respect towards Fr Flannery, but the duty that we have, according to the arrangement of the church, is to protect the faith and therefore to indicate some things that do not conform with this faith.”
Fr Flannery, 73, had said that unless he signed the oaths he had been informed he should not return to public ministry.
The row has now deepened, with the ACP tweeting a link to the NCR article and stating it is “very disturbed” by the comments as to the nature of the engagement with Fr Flannery.
It said if the report had quoted the Cardinal accurately “then it must be said, that he is misleading Catholics and the public. This is disturbing.”
Fr Flannery himself tweeted on Tuesday night “Ladaria is a Jesuit; he knows what ‘dialogue’ entails. He must know this statement is false. This has upset me this evening”.
He told the Irish Examiner he has no intention of leaving the priesthood or the Redemptorists, but could not rule out the possibility that he might be fired.
He said in eight years he had had no direct correspondence from the CDF and so the Cardinal’s assertion to the contrary was, in his view, “totally false”.
“The only thing I can compare that to is Trump,” he said, adding that what was said is “clearly contrary to all the evidence”.
Fr Flannery said there are “polarised positions” in the Church and in the Vatican itself on possible reform, but that the recent issue over the oaths of fidelity “in tone and content is like something from the 19th century”.
“To some extent this is like the end of the road in dealing with the Vatican,” he said.
In a comprehensive statement issued earlier on his website by way of response to the comments made by the Cardinal, Fr Flannery said the CDF under Cardinal Ladaria or his two predecessors “never communicated directly with me”.
“How do you dialogue with someone when you won’t speak to them?” he asked.
He said he was “totally unaware” of any other discussions held at a higher level and added: “All I ever got were demands for statements and signatures, and lists of punishments meted out to me. In fact the very first I knew of the whole process was, in 2012, when I was presented with two documents, outlining my ‘heretical’ writings, and the sentence being imposed. And the Cardinal says they have done everything to dialogue with me.”
The National Black Sisters’ Conference issued a “clarion warning” to U.S. Catholics saying church members and leaders have not done enough to speak out against the sin of racism.
“In this moment of dual life-threatening pandemics; COVID-19 and racism, the voice of the church in America is, for the most part, eerily silent when it comes to the racial unrest in this country,” said the Sept. 16 statement by the national organization of more than 150 Black Catholic women religious and associates in the United States.
The group said they felt compelled to “hold up the light,” referring to an old spiritual with the same title, where light is held aloft to “expose the darkness of evil and sin, thereby destroying its power.”
“We are holding up the light,” the sisters said, “against the sin of racism that is still alive and well in the Catholic Church today.”
They said this has been happening “since the first Catholics set foot on this continent, armed with papal bulls sanctioning and blessing the enslavement of Africans and the removal of native peoples from their lands, all in the name of Christianity.”
This continued, they added, during the civil rights movement when Black Catholics continued to experience “racism, segregation, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement, police brutality, and socioeconomic inequality in society and in the Catholic Church,” while church leadership, “for the most part, remained silent and disinvested.”
And now, during this current moment of racial unrest, the sisters maintain that Catholics are not doing enough.
“Very few bishops have spoken out in support of the peaceful demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement; very few have called out the racism and hypocrisy of many white Catholic priests and laity. Sadly, the leadership of the church is not addressing the slaughter of Black lives in the streets of our cities by those sworn to serve and protect as a pro-life issue,” they said.
The sisters also questioned why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hadn’t “publicly issued a strong statement in support of the courageous actions of their brother bishops,” referring to Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, as well as other bishops and priests who have shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In response to the sisters’ statement, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, said: “We have great respect for the women religious who do so much for their communities, the laity and the church at large.
“We invite the sisters to be in conversation and deeper collaboration with their local bishops, many of which have spoken out boldly in confronting racism as an attack against the sanctity of life and contrary to who we are and are called to be as disciples of Jesus Christ.”
In a statement to Catholic News Service, he added: “In response to the strife, anger, anxiety, and anguish felt by people due to ongoing racism in our church and society, dioceses and entire conferences of bishops have had listening sessions, webinars, calls for prayer and fasting and task forces formed to confront racism.”
The bishop, who led the bishops in writing their 2018 pastoral, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” added that laity-led efforts responding to racism have been taking place across the country.
But he said that “until racism is eradicated from our church and society, it is impossible to say that any one of us has done enough,” and he said he welcomed “the light the sisters hold up to shine upon us all.”
Another focus of the sisters’ statement was the need to view efforts against racism as a pro-life issue, quoting Pope Francis who said: “We cannot close our eyes to any form of racism or exclusion while pretending to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
To that end, the sisters pointed out that every year tens of thousands of Catholics gather in Washington to demonstrate against abortion. They questioned if they would ever see a time when “tens of thousands of Catholic will gather to protest the sin of racism, which aborts the lives of millions of people of color every day in this country?”
“If we as Catholics are truly to ‘Open Wide Our Hearts,’” the sisters said, referring to the pastoral, then Catholics must “hold up the light of Christ against the sin of racism. We must speak the truth not only in love, but we must speak the truth forthrightly about the complicit, systemic and structural racism that continues to exist in the American Catholic Church today.”
If Catholics don’t commit to this, the sisters said, “it will make a fallacy of all that we profess as members of the one body of Christ.”
Until racism is eradicated, the sisters said they would “continue to hold up the light” for the church they love and “to which we have dedicated our lives.”
In May, the sisters issued a statement about recent deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police and said they would not remain silent about it.
They said that if the bishops’ pastoral on racism is to “have any moral legitimacy, then our episcopal leaders must give more than lip service to addressing the sin of racism that is destroying communities of color around this nation. As Christians, as Catholics, as people of faith, we must do more than just pray; we must model Jesus’ message to love one’s neighbor.”