Thursday, August 19, 2021

When they try to tell you to shut up...

They may have something to hide.  (Updated 7 September 2021)

Pope Francis famously said the very rigid have something to hide - I agree.  It's not just trads however.  In the news this week, Bishop Tomé Ferreira da Silva, 60, of São José do Rio Preto, Brazil, resigned over explicit images of him masturbating in a hook-up conversation with another man on his cell phone.  I wondered if he knows Monsignor Jeff Burrill - or is this just SOP among gay clergy?  Yet that's not what this post is about.

When they say you're being uncharitable...

They probably have something to hide.  That happened with a priest I knew.  (Actually, it happened with many priests who read my blog when I used to write critically on the subject of gay priests.  Who are not gay BTW, but same sex attracted.)  Sometimes my posts would be facetious and I'd get called out, other times I would be reminded of my own past, asked how I'd like it if it was exposed?  It had been, so been there, done that.  It wasn't until I began pointing out a few indiscreet conversations made by my priest friend, that I began to get these rebukes to shut-up, as well as corrections in the form of reprimands, accusations of being holier than thou, and eventually the silent treatment until finally complete 'unfriending' in the social media sense.  

Guilt ensues.

Naturally, I felt I was the bad guy - his manipulative, shaming technique worked.  I shut up, stayed away and second guessed every gut feeling I had.  I felt I was going against a holy priest, a mystic, a founder - one whose vocation it was to establish a safe place for priests.  He wanted to help priests who suffered with same sex issues and associated behaviors.  It was a magnanimous undertaking and well funded, backed by bishops, who was I to question?  It wasn't my place to do that.  Case closed.

A monk who alleges abuse came along.

I don't know the monk.  His name is Fr. Benedict Andersen.  His story reminded me of my own experiences.  I never lived with the priest I was referring to above, but Fr. Andersen's story is somewhat relatable, as well as convincing, based upon my limited impressions. Yet one must remember, Andersen's story is one sided - and although he made it a matter of public discourse, the findings of the visitation are not public.  I'll link to the story immediately below, and then editorialize a bit afterwards.

"Almost nothing about Fr. Benedict Andersen’s experience of the Catholic Church has been typical.
He was baptized a Catholic, but raised in evangelical communities, and spent most of his twenties in the Orthodox Church. He became a priest in 2014, but was never formally a Catholic seminarian, and was not yet a solemnly professed member of his monastery when he was ordained.
And all of his experience as an adult Catholic coincides with his time at Silverstream Priory, a well-known Benedictine monastery, of which Andersen was a founding member.
Unusually, he took the habit at the same time he returned to the full communion of the Catholic Church — he “went to confession, made a profession of faith, and a couple minutes later I was clothed in the habit,” he recalls.
Some of that is unusual enough to raise the eyebrows of canon lawyers. “As I’m learning, a lot of things were not done in the right Silverstream Priory,” Andersen told The Pillar.
Andersen now says he is in another unusual situation: he is out of ministry and without priestly faculties, living thousands of miles from his monastery, and accused of a canonical crime he insists he didn’t commit.
The priest claims that since he spoke out about years of troubling behavior within his monastic community, he has been ostracized, accused of violating the confessional seal, and been left without a ministry, a home, or a way forward.
That’s another unusual thing about Andersen: While his monastery, Silverstream Priory, is frequently praised by Catholics as an example of thriving Benedictine religious life, the priest says it was for him also a place of harassment and manipulation, which he reported to his bishop in April 2020, and to official visitors soon after that." - The Pillar 


What do I think?

First, there is so much wrong with this story. When M. Teresa sought permission to found the Missionaries of Charity, her bishop grilled her on the responsibility she would have for the souls of those who would sign on.  She was responsible for their welfare, for their vocations - for their souls.  Thus I cannot understand Fr. Mark.  The editors of The Pillar article seem to express a level of skepticism over the formation and what I at first thought was a rush to ordain Fr. Benedict.  Although I understand his seminary formation was in an Orthodox setting, I wondered about his formation as a Roman Catholic seminarian, especially regarding moral theology.  That said, the Bishop of the place accepted him and validly ordained him.

Fr. Kirby was a Cistercian monk at the Abbey of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, shortly before the community was suppressed.   Before that, he was living in a Cistercian monastery in Canada.  I first met him at the Sisters of Jesus Crucified when he and another fellow were seeking to establish their own Benedictine community in the mid-1970's.  He was not ordained as yet, but later, he and his friend were ordained.   The story by Fr. Benedict led me to speculate on several points, which I have since removed simply because the subject objected to what I had written.  I apologize.

"A person's reputation may be injured in various ways, notably by detraction and calumny or slander. Detraction is the unjust violation of the good reputation of another by revealing something true about him." - Fr. Hardon

The Pillar article speaks for itself and encapsulates nearly every detail of Benedict's complaint against Fr. Kirby and his foundation.  He expressed hope that Kirby could be replaced.  

"Andersen said he hoped Kirby would be removed or resign, and that the Silverstream Benedictines would be encouraged or directed to join a federation of Benedictine monasteries, for the sake of some stability as they grew, and to provide temporary leadership for the young, small, and — in his view — dysfunctional Silverstream Priory." - The Pillar

That's rather devastating, coming from a co-founder of a community. It's one thing to reveal all of this to the Visitors and the diocesan authorities, it's quite another to do so publicly.  This is far more damaging than anything I could ever have said, even my writing about it here.   

I think, seeing the visitation appears to be open ended, enough damage may have been done that the community will be suppressed.  The irony in not lost on me, since the former Prior set out to found a refuge for priests suffering crisis - at least that was his intent in Tulsa.  Like I said, there is so much wrong with this story.

Is the truth is coming out?

In my experience, I sometimes thought some religious people leave established monasteries to make their own foundations, just because they want to do their own thing, adding in all the trappings of tradition and sacred atmosphere they prefer, to make them feel more religious.  Surrounding themselves with like minded people, if they can recruit them and form them into their own image of what they believe monastic life should be.  

As Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, is quoted as saying about the investigation of new religious foundations: “Therefore, much more attention should be paid when discerning the need, benefit and usefulness for the church when approving associations whose canonical recognition is underway.” - Source

Of course, this is all just my opinion, based upon my own experience and observation.  I may be wrong.  


  1. Terry, I think you have valid insights to many of these issues. We forget the sexual impulse has forever been the strongest one that men have problems with. Visiting my so in England this week on a road trip through Wales I learned of a monastery on the island of Caldry off the seaport town of Tenby. A Cistercian monastery from 6-15th centuries. Dissolved by Henry8th but started again in 1920s by “Anglican Benedictines” only to go bust when they all converted back to RC. Now once again a Cistercian House. A beautiful Arts & Crafts style building of historic importance. Researching it I found 2 recent scandals. One a predatory monk another a sexual abuser hiding out there. I point this out only to say this is a problem long with us and likely to remain in years ahead. It takes a vigilance on the part of authorities that still seems lacking everywhere. The good thing is the abused have more of a voice then in times past. As for the adults who choose consensual behaviors like those you note there is no other choice but to remove them from any official office. All this only strengthens my preference for a married clergy to be active in Church governance.

    1. Sounds like a wonderful trip! I envy you. Yes, I just told a friend online that this behavior extends to the first centuries of monastic life - the desert fathers have anecdotes regarding these problems. It is why so many attempts at a more idiosyncratic monastic life ends badly.

  2. Some of the folks you have painted inside the egg haven't fared too well. The human heart is very weak, fickle and deceptive. Lord have mercy.


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