Friday, September 04, 2015

When a priest is accused ...

Sad Injustice.

Ed. note:  When a priest is accused, the accuser has his identity protected.  That makes sense if the accuser is a minor, but anonymity for an adult-survivor?  I'm not so sure.  I say that because the accused priest, even when found innocent of the charges, carries around the stigma of having been accused - while the false-accuser goes away untainted.  The priest's name is on a list - despite the accusation being ruled 'unsubstantiated'.  For instance, a former bishop, now deceased, continues to have his name on the list - though he was acquitted of all charges, found innocent, and the accusations unsubstantiated.  While the calumniator retains anonymity and walks away free and clear.  For priests, the process is very often not fair.

The accused.

That said, there is news this week of another priest in the Archdiocese who remains suspended, his case sent to Rome for evaluation.  It's a puzzling case.  It was just one incident, supposedly he rubbed the stomach and chest of a snoring teen on a mission trip several years ago.  No sexual or genital contact involved.  I read one report suggesting the priest 'enjoyed it' - not sure if that was his testimony taken out of context, nor do I know what that would mean for the case.  That said - nothing else happened, he has never been accused of any other misconduct.

On the other hand, a couple of years ago another well respected priest was suspended because a woman accused him of inappropriate touch when she was a young girl.  The girl used to sit on his lap when he was a seminarian and visited the family.  I'm not sure how that has been resolved.

My intention here is not to point fingers, accuse, condemn, judge - nada.  I simply wanted to point out a couple of incidents concerning allegations of misconduct, while wondering aloud if some thing may have been missed in formation.  Touchy-feely stuff should have been covered under decorum lessons:  How to walk manly, watch your hand gestures, don't stand like a little teapot, and so on. I think it used to be that way - probably in preparatory seminary.


I was reading up on the vice of effeminacy recently and came across some very interesting commentary in Tanquerey's classic work, The Spiritual Life.  I hope educators and spiritual directors still reference works like this, since moral theology is much more nuanced than the moralizing one gets from the average Catholic university graduate.  At least a close study of some of the masters of the spiritual life can help dispel some of the generalities one often comes across online.  ;)   But I digress.

Since I can't find the particular text online, I'll have to copy the section I felt shed some light on the subject, as it refers to the dangers those vowed to celibacy can face, not only between the sexes, but as concerns children.  It's all related - since men (and women) are tempted in diverse ways - the devil wants to trip us up.

That said, I'll post the sections without further comment - except to say - I'm confident the Church, theologians, spiritual formators have always known this stuff - which is why I have to wonder if there may be some neglect in contemporary formation regarding chastity and the occasion of sin - and not just for those SSA guys who find themselves tempted by fellow seminarians walking around in towels after showering.  (Eye roll.)  What?

The Moral Virtues 1111. B) The flight from dangerous occasions.

The mutual attraction that exists between the sexes creates dangers for those vowed to celibacy.  Hence useless meetings must be dispensed with, and when meetings are necessary, the danger must be made remote.  This is why the spiritual direction of women should be conducted exclusively in the confessional. (Fr. Wenthe)  Two things we have to protect - our virtue and our good name. - Tanquerey

The following point may be even more controversial - yet it demonstrates prudence and the great need of humility and self-knowledge - which was apparently lacking in a couple of the accused I mentioned I mentioned at the start.

Children of graceful appearance, of a joyful and affectionate nature, may likewise be a source of danger.  One loves to look at them, to caress them, and if one be not on guard one may be led to familiarities that perturb the senses.  
This disturbance is a warning given us by God, to make us understand that we must desist and that we have proceeded too far.
Let us recall to mind that those children have Guardian Angels who look upon the face of God; that they are members of Christ, living temples of the Holy Trinity.  Then we shall more easily treat them with a holy reverence while we show them real affection. - Tanquerey

Perhaps it's naive of me, but I've often wondered if sexual misconduct, inappropriate touch, or boundary violations involving priests and celibates were simply contemporary problems, but the Tanquerey excerpts clearly show it is not.


  1. Not a contemporary problem by any means, nor even specific to Christianity. The Buddha (or at least early Buddhism) gave some no-nonsense pointers to his followers and monks:

    I laughed out loud at the Buddha's shrewd uncovering of all the rationalizations that can go on about this stuff, including a sense of religious entitlement (e.g. #4).

  2. Thank you for posting that beautiful painting by Sorolla. He's one of my favorite artists, I fell in love with him the year I was to go away to college and had purchased a huge poster of "Under the Awning" of his daughters at the shore. So beautiful the priest appearing as a father of a multitude in the painting above. I recently learned from Dennis Preggers University, that the 2nd Commandment was ment, do no evil in the Lords name. I gasped when I saw how that was connected to the clergy's scandal.


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