Catholic priest found dead in rectory

The Archdiocese of Mobile announced the death of Rev. Ernest Hyndman, Jr., the pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church in Bay Minette. His body was found in the church rectory Tuesday morning. No foul play is suspected. Church officials say he apparently took his own life.

“Father Ernie”, as he was known to friends, attended St. Dominic Catholic School, Mobile and McGill-Toolen High School. He graduated from McGill in 1982, and attended Spring Hill College, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English in 1986.

After serving as editor of “The Catholic Week” newspaper, he entered Notre Dame Seminary, New Orleans in 1992. In 1996, he was ordained a priest and served for 2 years as associate pastor at Holy Family Parish, Mobile, and then as pastor for 11 years.

While assigned to St. Dominic Church in Mobile in 2006, Hyndman shot himself in the arm. Police reports at the time say Hyndman told officers he had been depressed. Fr. Hyndman left St. Dominic on medical leave granted by the Archdiocese.

Mobile Archbishop Thomas Rodi led benediction and the Rosary at St. Agatha Church in Bay Minette Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Sex abuse scandals and the secularisation of sin

Last week the Irish taoiseach, Enda Kenny, openly criticised the Vatican for what he said were attempts to frustrate the Cloyne inquiry into child abuse, thereby launching a row between Ireland and the Vatican that led to the Vatican recalling its Irish ambassador. But why are the governments of historically papist countries suddenly at war with the Holy See?

The reason behind this is wider historical shift, namely our changing view of the nature of sin. Acts such as child abuse that were once, just 20 years ago, perceived as terrible sin that needed be hidden and treated secretly, are nowadays valued as what they actually are: disgusting violations of the law.

This is the symptom of a major cultural change. During the cold war, the Vatican was considered the moral arm of western values and, to some extent, a part of the anti-communist security system. The need to shield Europe from the Soviet Union granted the Catholic church indulgence from civil authorities for the behaviour of some of its members and priests. The fact that many communist regimes actively persecuted religion, and tried to defame Catholic priests and bishops as paedophiles, to some extent gave political justification to such indulgences.

Even if the public did not wilfully ignore these scandals, they allowed them to be handled in the shadow of dioceses. But now communism, as an ideological and military enemy, is over. Cultural paradigms have changed. American strategic, military and financial monopoly is strongly and dramatically on the wane. At the same time, the moral monopoly of the Vatican is deeply under scrutiny too, if not finished. As a consequence, public opinions in the western world require the Vatican and Catholic bishops to treat sexual crimes for what they are, and to collaborate with the judiciary.

The first signs of the secularisation of sin came in 2002, from the US. A sex abuse scandal in Boston, which eventually led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and large compensations for the victims, indicated that the old Vatican culture of secrecy did not work any more. But at the time the Holy See either couldn’t or didn’t see the signs. It tried to dismiss and downgrade the scandal as an “American problem”, connected with the diversity of US catholicism and culture, and disconnected from the reality of worldwide catholicism.

Actually, what happened in Boston was only the start of the moral tidal wave that would hit the Vatican at global level in the years to come. What we are seeing now is just the long tail of the scandals that emerged at the turn of the millennium: a very old problem, but perceived today in a totally different way. That even the Irish government is now rebelling against the Vatican is a symptom of this big cultural change in state-church relations.

The Vatican’s refusal to accept this new situation speaks volumes about its inherent culture of secrecy. And it frustrates the courageous steps taken by Benedict XVI to fight the Curia’s habit of shrugging off scandals as “plots against the church”.

This struggle will go on for a long time, and it will be a painful one. But if the Vatican does not come to terms with the secularisation of sin, the foreseeable perspective is a unilateral rewriting of the relations between some states and the Holy See. If the lack of co-operation to fight the scandals continues, secular authorities will be tempted – forced, even – to act against the Vatican by infuriated public opinion. And that would be a negative outcome for the west as a whole.

A Frock Does Not a Priest Make

Roy Bourgeois is a former missionary, a Nobel Prize nominee, a Vietnam vet with a Purple Heart and a Maryknoll priest, who founded and now presides over SOA Watch, a grassroots organization that is seeking to close down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

WHINSEC (formerly “School of the Americas”) is an academy for torture whose alumni include Manuel Noriega; many of Augusto Pinochet’s generals; the leaders of the 2009 military coup in Honduras; and Roberto d’Aubuisson, the commander of El Salvador’s notorious death squads — the same death squads that executed tens of thousands of Salvadoran civilians, including three nuns and the church worker they raped before murdering. (Two of the nuns were friends of Father Bourgeois.) That same year, SOA-trained assassins murdered Archbishop Romero. The name of the school has changed but the work of father Bourgeois and others continues to be consecrated to putting WHINSEC/SOA, which continues to train assassins, out of business.

Roy Bourgeois made the front page of this past Saturday’s New York Times, and I was glad for the good news at hand: 157 priests signed a statement in support of Father Roy Bourgeois, whom the Vatican has begun to defrock. The 157 have not necessarily signed on in favor of women’s ordination — but rather to protest the punishment of a priest for speaking out on a matter of conscience.

The Vatican began its crusade to defrock Father Bourgeois in November of 2008 with the threat of excommunication. (Read Bourgeois’s response.) In April of this year, Father Bourgeois received his first “canonical warning,” which was signed by Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, the Superior General of the Maryknoll order. The Maryknoll have a tradition of taking the Christ-like part of the priest’s vocation seriously; therefore, we can assume that Vatican made Father Dougherty an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Usually (and especially in recent years), when we hear about the defrocking of a Roman Catholic priest, an accusation of sexual misconduct is involved. Not so in this case. Had Father Bourgeois raped an altar boy, he would not now be hanging on to his frock by a thread.

Father Bourgeois has been ordered by the Vatican to recant — to formally, publicly, withdraw — his support for women’s ordination. If he refuses to cave, Bourgeois will be laicized by Ratzinger & Co. Father Bourgeois’s transgression, as the Vatican sees it, is not merely that he is a proponent of women’s ordination, but that he has been present at the ordination rites and liturgies.

According to the New York Times, Father Bourgeois explained why he cannot recant in an interview this past week:

“I see this very clearly as an issue of sexism, and like racism, it’s a sin. … It cannot be justified, no matter how hard we priests and church leaders, beginning with the pope, might try to justify the exclusion of women as equals. It is not the way of God. It is the way of men.”
I have been following (and writing about) the persecution of Father Bourgeois for a while, and it seems to me that the Vatican’s determination to crack down on priests who support the ordination of women, when seen alongside its (relative) indifference to the plight of adults who were raped as children by Catholic clerics, is self-serving and twisted. Even the Knights of Columbus set are beginning to be troubled by this bizarre juxtaposition, and that more and more Catholics are beginning to see the pontiff and his team as a gang of mean, power-drunk perverts who aren’t all that interested in God.

Sure, there are ultra-conservative, lockstep Roman Catholics who take a strict construction approach to embracing dogma and doctrine. They’d follow the Borgia pope to the letter, too. But most Catholics are not that, and even the most conservative of us — because we tend to agree that the current Vatican teaching which upholds the obligation of Catholics to discern is correct — are, to some degree, pick-and-choose Catholics.

Even Catholics who oppose the ordination of women are beginning to notice that there’s something not quite right about defrocking a missionary veteran with a Purple Heart as hundreds of bishops who pimped out children continue to minister amok, frocks intact.

The July 23 Times piece quotes Christopher Ruddy, an associate professor of theology at the Catholic University of America, as saying the following:
“I don’t think anything will come of it…”

Ruddy goes on to explain that church teaching on the “nonordination of women” may come under the heading of “infallible teaching.”
Maybe Professor Ruddy is right about the infallible teaching aspect. But I think a lot has already “come of it.” More than 150 signatures is something. These priests have publicly confirmed what people in parishes all over the world know: that there is widespread support among practicing Catholics for the ordination of women.

I sat beside a friend who is a Catholic priest this past weekend at a dinner party. We were talking about women’s ordination. One of his remarks should shed a particular light: “[The Vatican] won’t even talk about it.”

We have all experienced some version of this kind of refusal to talk in our personal lives. An argument transpires. Logic falters, stubbornness sets it, fear of losing the argument takes over and the one losing the debate walks away.

That the Vatican won’t ordain women might possibly be a matter of infallible doctrine. The refusal to engage, however, is not. The refusal to even engage is a sign of weakness. The refusal to engage is evidence of bigotry and fear.

The argument against women’s ordination is a lousy one. Arbitrary and flimsy, it’s a variation on “because we said so.” The prohibition is a man-made “law” grounded in medieval, temporal politics. It’s man-made policy based on broad interpretations and misinterpretations of select, ancient, translated, retranslated and mistranslated texts. The argument against women’s ordination is fueled by greed and a juvenile fear of the power, strength and sexuality of women.

In street terms: the pontiff and his boys — they got nothin’.

The pontiff can take his shot at Bourgeois, but he won’t land a punch.

According to the Vatican’s own doctrine, it is God who turns men into priests. “Defrocking” Father Roy Bourgeois will not render Father Bourgeois any less a priest. The dress does not make the man a priest.

So Ratzinger and his boys in lace will just have to be satisfied with the hope they might yet rob a 72-year-old Nobel Peace Prize nominee of his medical insurance and modest retirement plan.

And they probably will be because that’s who they are.