Priests, celibacy and sex

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick listens during a news conference in Washington in this May 16, 2006, file photo.

By Thomas Reese, SJ

Recent news stories about financial settlements with adults who had sexual encounters with a bishop show that the issue of sex abuse in the Catholic Church is not limited to the abuse of minors. When Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was suspended from the priesthood after being credibly accused of abusing an altar boy, it was also revealed that financial settlements for his actions had been made earlier with two adults.

The church has adopted a zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of minors, but how should it deal with other sexual activity by priests?

The requirement of celibacy for priests in the Catholic Church is a topic of debate in the church today. Many, myself included, think that priestly celibacy should be optional, as it is in other Christian churches. Pope Francis has signaled that he is open to considering the ordination of married men but wants the request to come from national bishops’ conferences.

But Francis is also very strong is stating that in the meantime, celibacy must be observed. He would not throw out every priest who violated celibacy; individual lapses can be forgiven. But a priest who is incapable of observing celibacy should return to the lay state, Francis wrote before he became pope, especially if there is a child who has a right to a father.

Not everyone agrees with Francis. Some are less forgiving and would expel from the priesthood anyone who even once violates his promise of celibacy. Others argue that celibacy has never been universally observed and bad laws should not be enforced. In some cultures, bishops know that many of their priests do not observe celibacy and simply ignore it as long as it does not become public or as long as the parishioners don’t complain.

It is unknown how widespread are violations of celibacy. There are lots of anecdotes, but little data. I personally believe that most priests, especially in the United States, observe celibacy. But how are we to think about those who do not?

There is universal agreement that those who have sex with minors should be prosecuted as criminals and expelled from the priesthood. But what about violations with adults? Are there other sexual violations that should be treated by the church with zero tolerance?

Rape or other criminal violations should, of course, receive zero tolerance. These violations should be reported to the police and prosecuted under the law. There is no place in the priesthood for such criminals.

But what about other cases of sex with adults? Many Americans don’t think sex between consenting adults is an issue. But they and the church need to learn from feminists and the #MeToo movement. They have taught us about the danger of sex between adults who are not in positions of equal power.

For the church, this would clearly be the case of a bishop or priest having sex with a seminarian or a bishop having sex with a priest. The relationship here is even greater than that between an employer and employee. A bishop is supposed to be a father to his priests and seminarians. The church needs a zero-tolerance policy toward such abuse. Any bishop having sex with a seminarian or priest should lose his office, as should any priest having sex with a seminarian.

There also are many lay people employed by the church. Surely, the church should follow the highest standards in protecting lay employees from sexual harassment from their supervisors, whether priests or lay. Here the church should adopt best practices developed in the secular world.

There are also pastoral relationships that need to be examined since often the people a priest deals with are very vulnerable.

For centuries, the church has recognized this problem with regard to confessors and penitents. As a result, priests are excommunicated if they absolve their sexual partners.

Secular professionals, such as psychologists, recognize these dangers as well. Clients can be very vulnerable and dependent on their therapist. The feelings and emotions that come up in counseling can be exploited. The church can learn from other professions about best practices.

And what about sex with an ordinary parishioner?

The church needs a frank discussion of these issues with input from the laity. Sex between a priest and adult can be more than simply a violation of celibacy. It can also be a violation of professional ethics. With the advice of laity with expertise in these areas, the church needs to adopt best practices and hold itself to the highest standards. The church needs the help of laity not only in developing standards but also in enforcing them. No profession, including the clergy, is good at policing itself.

Complete Article HERE!

Two trainee priests sent back to Ireland after being found in bed together

Future of the seminarians unclear after they are sent home from Irish College in Rome

In August 2016 the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he would no longer send trainee priests from the diocese to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, because of a worrying ‘atmosphere’ at the national seminary.

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Two seminarians at the Irish College in Rome have been sent home by the rector after being found in bed together

It is understood both men had been drinking earlier at an event marking the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul V1’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned artificial means of contraception

It is unclear whether either man will be permitted to resume studies for the priesthood. A spokesman for the Catholic bishops said it was “not appropriate to comment about individuals” when asked about the matter.

In August 2016, the Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said he would no longer send trainee priests from the diocese to St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, because of a worrying “atmosphere” at the national seminary.

He said he intended instead sending trainees from Dublin to the Irish College in Rome as it offered “a good grounding” in the Catholic faith.

As regards Maynooth, he said “there seems to be an atmosphere of strange goings-on there, it seems like a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters being sent around”.

Speaking in Krakow, Poland, where he was attending World Youth Day, he said: “I don’t think this is a good place for students. However, when I informed the president of Maynooth of my decision, I did add ‘at least for the moment’.”

His decision followed anonymous allegations then being circulated about seminarian activities in Maynooth, including that some had been using a gay dating app.

Earlier in 2016, there was controversy at St Patrick’s College when a seminarian who claimed he found two colleagues in bed together was dismissed.

It followed an inquiry into allegations by the two seminarians alleged to have been in bed together that he was bullying them and talking about them.

More generally at the college it was claimed that a core of seminarians were active on the gay app Grindr and that some had been engaged in sexual activity with priests of the Dublin archdiocese.

In 2009, a complaint was made to Maynooth authorities by a seminarian from Dublin alleging sexual harassment against another adult at St Patrick’s College. An internal inquiry found the allegation unproven.

The complainant was asked to return to Maynooth but felt he could not. When he took the allegation to senior church figures outside Maynooth, it was proposed to him that he might go to Rome and complete his studies there. He decided not to do so.

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Keith O’Brien obituary

Former leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland who resigned after revelations about his relationships with young priests

Keith O’Brien in Rome in 2012. He was a vehement opponent of gay marriage, labelling it as ‘grotesque’, and was accused of breathtaking hypocrisy after his fall from grace.

The charge of hypocrisy, if proved, can destroy the career of any cleric, and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who has died aged 80, was caught out spectacularly failing to practise what he had so vehemently preached. As the leader of the Catholic church in Scotland from 2003, he opposed very publicly, and in often intemperate language, all efforts to end discrimination against those in same sex relationships. Gay marriage, he said, was “grotesque”.

But then, with the media spotlight on him in February 2013 as the only British voter at the forthcoming conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope, it was revealed that O’Brien himself had had a homosexual relationship. His subsequent fall from grace was as spectacular as it was unprecedented. The Vatican, usually to be found denying such revelations and standing by senior clerics against all odds, effectively sacked O’Brien overnight and banned him from attending the conclave. (It turned out that they had known of the allegations against him since at least the previous year but, sadly typically, it was only when the charges were made public that action was taken.)

From denial of impropriety between 1965 and 2001 with four priests and seminarians, O’Brien first admitted in general terms to sexual conduct that had “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. He was then revealed to have had an enduring relationship with one of the men in question right up to the time when he was taking to public platforms to denounce others in similar same-sex partnerships.

At first, O’Brien simply retreated to a retirement home in East Lothian, but his continuing presence in Scotland fuelled the row about his past behaviour. Allegations were made of cronyism, financial misconduct and a culture of secrecy. It was revealed by another Scottish bishop that, in 2012, O’Brien had blocked plans by his episcopal colleagues to commission an investigation into claims of child abuse by priests going back 60 years.

The Vatican stepped in and ordered O’Brien to leave the country. It sent in its own investigator, and appointed, Leo Cushley, a Motherwell-born Vatican official as O’Brien’s successor in the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. To Cushley fell the task of repairing the damage done by the O’Brien scandal which, he said, had “distressed many demoralised faithful Catholics and made the church less credible to those who are not Catholic”. In March 2015, Pope Francis formally accepted O’Brien’s resignation, but allowed him to keep the title cardinal, while ordering him not to set foot in Scotland, nor to say mass or appear in public.

It is tempting to dismiss O’Brien as a prime example of the sort of double standards in matters of sexual morality that has for so long plagued and discredited a Catholic leadership fond of promoting a set of near-impossible standards in intimate relationships for the laity that has alienated so many of the faithful. And, indeed, he was. But O’Brien was not an out-and-out reactionary, nor was he always so out of touch with reality. The very day before he was outed, he had spoken up bravely, forcefully and sensibly against his Church’s cherished official line that married men could not be priests.

With hindsight, he may even have been making a veiled reference to his own private circumstances when he said: “It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

It was a remark that arguably chimed better with the humane Keith O’Brien that many had come to know and respect in the years before he became leader of the Scottish Catholic church. As the number two figure in the hierarchy north of the border from 1985, he had won a reputation in church circles and beyond as a thoughtful, grounded and occasionally outspokenly liberal figure.

The change in O’Brien’s public persona happened overnight. The Vatican’s announcement in 2003 that O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, was to become Scotland’s third cardinal since the Reformation, was inevitably followed by a round of interviews. In them, he reiterated what he had said many times before – that there needed to be more discussion within the church on contentious subjects such as clerical celibacy and contraception. He would welcome a fresh look at church teaching on the latter, he told reporters.

Within hours of these remarks being published, however, he was busy backtracking. During a routine service in St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, he surprised worshippers by reading out a personal “profession of faith” that, it was said, had been forced on him by the Vatican. In it he pledged 100% backing to the church’s ban on all artificial contraception and its insistence that priests be male and celibate.

O’Brien thereafter never returned to his previous concerns for dialogue and did not depart from the letter of church teaching in his public pronouncements, right up to his remarks on priestly celibacy on the eve of the papal conclave. And while he maintained his former genial ease when speaking in pulpits, on platforms or in TV studios, his message became ever more uncompromising and, some said, political.

In 2007, marking the 40th anniversary of the introduction of the Abortion Act, he warned pro-choice Catholic legislators that they could not regard themselves as full members of the church and provocatively (and insensitively, some said) described the termination rate in Scotland as equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”.

His greatest political triumph came in 2008, when his strongly worded and high-profile intervention into the rapidly escalating clash between church and state over embryo experimentation forced a climbdown by the prime minister, Gordon Brown.

O’Brien, a former school science teacher, described proposals in the human fertilisation and embryology bill to allow scientists to create part-human, part-animal embryos for use in stem-cell experimentation, as “Nazi-style experiments” and “a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life”. Within days, the Labour government had capitulated and conceded what it had previously been refusing – a free vote on the most contentious clauses for MPs.

It caused O’Brien to be held up by traditionalist Catholics south of the border as a rebuke to their own leaders. The English and Welsh Catholic church, a separate entity in the eyes of the Vatican, had by contrast tended to adopt a softly-softly stance in the political arena, working increasingly behind closed doors in Whitehall and Westminster to raise concerns with ministers and anxious not to be seen as out on a limb. O’Brien’s success in forcing Brown into a U-turn may even have caused his English and Welsh counterparts to take a more robust stance, notably in opposing gay marriage, albeit to no avail.

The son of Alice (nee Moriarty) and Mark O’Brien, he was born in Ballycastle, County Antrim. His father, who had served with distinction in the Royal Navy during the second world war, was unable to find work on being demobbed, a result of the sectarianism in Northern Ireland workplaces at the time. The family was forced to emigrate to Scotland. The memory lived on with O’Brien who, as cardinal, tackled head-on what he called Scotland’s “secret sectarianism”, and attended Celtic-Rangers matches with other church leaders to try to calm the religious rivalry that traditionally accompanied such games. He even pushed – unsuccessfully – for the Act of Settlement to be amended to remove the bar on a Catholic monarch because it was a tacit endorsement of anti-Catholic prejudice.

O’Brien completed a degree in chemistry and mathematics at Edinburgh University and was ordained a priest in 1965. He initially combined being a curate with teaching in the local Catholic high school in Cowdenbeath, but from 1972 had his own parishes in first Kilsyth and then Bathgate. In 1978 he was named spiritual director of St Andrew’s College at Drygrange, and then in 1980 rector of St Mary’s College, the junior seminary (since closed) at Blairs. It was at these institutions that what he later referred to as “drunken fumblings” took place with younger men in his care.

In 1985, he was named to succeed Cardinal Gordon Grey as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. It was not until Grey’s death in 1993, however, that Rome had to name a new Scottish cardinal. While O’Brien had a good working relationship with his only other rival for the honour, his Glasgow counterpart, Archbishop Thomas Winning, the two were very different characters. Winning was a spiritual pugilist, a self-conscious prince of the church, a man of firm and traditional opinions, qualities which won him the nod from Rome.

Operating in Winning’s shadow had its advantages for O’Brien. In 1996, when Roddy Wright, the bishop of Argyll, was engulfed in scandal on account of his relationships with women, it was technically O’Brien’s responsibility to sort out the mess, but Winning took charge – and on this occasion the flak for the Church’s hypocrisy.

And in 1999, at a synod of European bishops, while Winning was patiently engaged in lobbying Vatican officials, O’Brien was able to win plaudits for coming clean in public about the degree of Rome’s control and interference in local churches. He told reporters, in relation to a joint pastoral plan of the Scottish and English bishops that Vatican officials had vetoed, that “we [bishops] know that we are vicars of Christ in our own dioceses, but the bishops here in Rome don’t think that”.

However, with Winning’s sudden death in 2001, O’Brien’s turn as cardinal had come – and with it the behaviour expected of those in this exclusive club of 120 or so international leaders of the Catholic church. He was not entirely orthodox. He celebrated his consecration in Rome as a cardinal, for example, by waving the Scottish flag in St Peter’s Square, a typically exuberant and relaxed gesture captured in a picture that graced many newspaper front covers around the world.

But in public, he ceased to express doubt or admit that anything other than the official church line had merit. He became a formidable political operator, helped by the fact that the new Scottish parliament was located in his diocese. He was courted in particular by Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, who was anxious to break the traditional close link between Scotland’s Catholics and the Labour party. In 2006, O’Brien appeared to endorse aspirations for Scottish independence, though he later played down the remark.

In private, friends said, O’Brien remained the same man he had always been – laid-back, self-deprecating, funny – but those who had hoped this persuasive prelate might be a force for reform in the upper echelons of the church were disappointed.

He lived out his retirement in exile in Northumberland and then Newcastle, but his name will remain as a rebuke to the church’s sometimes overbearing claim to moral authority in all matters.

He is survived by his brother, Terry.

Complete Article HERE!