Category: Sexual Brokenness

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Fruit of Scandal

‘For you became sorrowful as God intended…Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done’ (2 Cor. 7: 9-11).

Like you, I strain to see good come from Church-mishandling of abuse. And I’m not sure if mandates from the top down—even decisive, far-reaching ones—will satisfy. We must pray, bearing with her exposure; we who wait expectantly will be doubly blessed when we behold beauty emerging from the broken ground. I am doubly blessed as I write this. During a trip to a state where the Church has been rocked by criminal investigations, I began to see life signs.

First, the abuse scandal has prompted a renewed commitment to healthy communion among priests. I was privileged to attend a chastity group run by a priest for priests. A handful of men have forged deep bonds through their differing vulnerabilities—same-sex attraction, porn temptations, inclinations to unchaste relations. These brave men are equally diverse in their stations in life. Some are young and newly-ordained, others at midpoint, still others retired. All led out humbly with their frailties and have forged a fraternity of mercy and accountability that is glorious, free of competition and drab shoptalk (aka grumbling). Authentic, attuned care prevailed.

I witnessed the fruit of their communion, as I had met most of them a couple years earlier. This round they were more focused, more earnest to ensure that their weaknesses become holy strengths; instead of isolating in fear, these men are learning to connect with humble courage.

Second, I had the honor of meeting Paul, the Dean of Students at a large seminary in that state. He is extraordinary—open, humble, holy. And grateful that the seminary is flourishing, with this year’s class being the largest one in twenty years. Amid the scandal, solid young men are being summoned by God to become a new standard of integrity.

Paul and his team have a lot to do with that. Among the main priorities of the seminary is cultivating a culture of transparency. Mentors are activating the students themselves to set up a variety of small groups in which peers provoke one another to holy self-giving. I asked Paul if a ‘gay-identified’ student could make it in the seminary. ‘His brothers would never let him get away with it. He would have to lose the ‘gay’ rap and get on track towards integration like everyone else.’ Awesome.

Paul continued: ‘We work especially hard to discern the emotional maturity of students, to ascertain that they are growing in their capacity to form healthy relationships with both men and women. They need to wrestle with what it means to make a fruitful commitment to celibacy. That may mean taking a break from the seminary in order to figure out what they really want. Seminary should be a place where people come and go. We pray that some will return, better able to say ‘yes’ to God in a healthy, fruitful way that will endure.’

What Paul emphasized was that seminary is not just about individuals discerning a lifetime commitment to the Church but also the Church discerning a lifetime commitment to them.

For the first time, I witnessed the fruit of scandal. From the fire of abuse, a repentant Church is emerging. She is at once sorrowful for her sin and zealous to glorify Jesus, each member doing its part to become one chaste bride.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

Download PDF
bearing the cross

Bearing

Though I love the benefits of Jesus’ cross, I am tempted to hate sharing in that cross with Him. It hurts to bear up under the burden He invites us to shoulder, namely grief over His Church.

During prayer for the healing of our corporate compromises, I realized: what I most value as a Christian—killing sin through swift confession before it kills me, my marriage, or another; living out loud in community in order to grow beyond same-sex attraction into real fruitfulness—is not enough believed or practiced in my Church. For this I suffer, a grief Jesus has invited me to bear. I am not alone but alongside other members who share these values and love the bride enough to grieve too.

This Lent He invited us into a little share of His cross; would we bear this for an hour or so each week in prayer? We discovered we couldn’t shake that burden after the meetings ended. It stayed with us, and seems now like a heart condition. Indeed, we carry it for her cleansing. Perhaps St. Paul’s mysterious reference in Col. 1:24 to bear in one’s body a share in Jesus’ suffering for His body applies here. Who knows? We pray on.

My friend Dana recalled her experience of a 14-mile procession she and friends made one Good Friday with a large wooden cross—each took turns shouldering it: ‘As I carried the cross, it sunk into me and its weight increased. It became a part of me; I realized that it was Jesus inviting me to walk with Him to help carry His cross. What seemed too heavy became doable with Him.’ Christ in us: to suffer, and to hope for glory (Col. 1: 27). That reminds me of Bonhoeffer’s words: ‘We know too little in the church today about the peculiar blessing of bearing. Bearing, not shaking off; bearing, but not collapsing either; bearing as Christ bore the cross, remaining underneath, and there beneath it, to find Christ.’

Having looked hard together at a scandalized Church, we have done more than meet to pray; rather, we have received a spirit of prayer with which to pray unceasingly for her. Over the long haul. Change takes time and occurs as prayer like underground wells spring up on the earth and accomplish the impossible.

We pray for witnesses of transformation in the sexual arena to arise and take their places alongside leaders who welcome, guide, and amplify their experience of an empowered Gospel.

We pray for the eloquent truth of Pope Emeritus Benedict—‘Sexuality has an intrinsic meaning and direction which is not homosexual…its meaning is to bring about the union of man and woman which gives humanity posterity, children, future. This…is the essence of sexuality’—to fuse with the fatherly compassion of Pope Francis. May that fullness of mercy and truth compel Christians to turn from sexual sin (beginning with clergy) toward the arduous, splendid process of becoming chaste.

We pray for courageous leaders who eschew politics for the transformation of souls. Might orthodox leaders refuse clericalism by equipping lay men and women to serve the broken; might the unorthodox be routed lest the Church’s mercy be diluted further by the call to ‘accompaniment’ without repentance or discipline.

Might we, horrified by our own sin, find beneath the cross that no sin can ever be alien to us (Bonhoeffer) and in mercy cry out for all sinners–bishops and busboys, popes and plumbers. Might God grace us to bear holy grief and the hope of glory long after Lent.

‘We do not want you to grieve like those who have no hope…’ (1 Thess. 4:13).

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

Download PDF
securing a fathers foundations

Securing a Father’s Foundations

In prayer with our Lenten group, I saw a flag pole waving an image of the Lamb of God; at a closer glance I could see its base had decomposed to the point that the pole began to waver then slammed to the ground, hurting many and scattering others. Last week, I revisited this vision of a predatory priest at a parish funeral of a middle-aged man, abused as a teen by a priest, who drank himself to death; his wife and kids are fighting hard not to abandon the Church altogether.

A priest’s faulty foundation damages everyone. How much of a fault-line is same-sex attraction among the celibate priesthood? How does such attraction relate to clerical abuse? How can we best help priests with this foundational problem?

We can say that Catholic clerical abuse is unique in its contrast to other institutions as it is primarily a male problem. The Boston ‘Spotlight’ scandal and the aforementioned John Jay Report involved 78-85% male teens; a most recent study of clerical abuse came out last fall and includes both the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report from 2018 and the LA Times Survey of Homosexuality among Priests (‘Is Clergy Sexual Abuse Relate to Homosexual Priests?’ D. Paul Sullins: sullins@cua.edu, The Catholic University of America; published by The Ruth Institute, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, president.) The study found that ‘the abuse of boys is very strongly related to the share of homosexual men in the priesthood…easier access to males among older victims was an enabling factor.’

Now a disclaimer: I distinguish persons (including priests) with same-sex attraction from men preying upon children. Most same-sex attracted men have no sexual history with minors.

However, the adult male sexuality of teens combined with their youthful vulnerability can be tempting to some men, especially in a culture of secrecy over one’s attractions and a nearly male-only community of formation. Further, more than a few Catholic priests were abused as teens, a combustion of shame and lust that stalled development and can tempt one to furtive replays. F. Martel writes ‘In the Closet of the Vatican’ that ‘the culture of secrecy needed to maintain the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed abuse to be hidden and for predator’s to act’ (p. 93).

Faulty foundations. Add to this how the celibate requirement of the priesthood provides one with a seeming ‘pass’ from reckoning squarely with conflictual desires. No woman needed; no need to work out who one is in relation to her. I have witnessed many persons with same-sex attraction who assume a celibate ‘call’ rather than a mandate to look deeper at the meaning of their desires—an invitation to a fuller repentance unto spiritual maturity and sexual integration.

My friend Jim—a 6-year candidate for the priesthood–never thought he could be more than an abstaining, same-sex attracted celibate. He then considered: ‘how can I authentically lay down natural fathering if I’ve never longed for a wife and family?’ Through a healing community, he is discovering who he is in relation to woman so he can decide with a whole-enough heart if God is calling him to natural or spiritual fatherhood.

The point should be clear: any priest seeking a secure foundation on which to spiritually father both men and women needs to work out his life as a sexual man in the light of Jesus and His healing community. That means knowing himself, growing in security and purity as a man through connectedness with other men, and learning the good rhythm of his need for the woman’s gift. Clear and consistent growth in integration has never been more essential for the priesthood and for the integrity of Jesus’ Church and His children.

Amid it all, I have high hopes for men with same-sex attraction who love Jesus and who committed to integration along with others who are equally committed to mastering their traditional idolatries (usually porn addiction). I highly recommend Drs. Kleponis and Fitzgibbons’ ‘The Distinction between Deep-Seated Homosexual Tendencies and Transitory Same-Sex Attractions in Candidates for Seminary and Religious Life.’ Download this most important document, for it highlights what I have discovered after 40 years of pastoral ministry in this area: that the person, not the depth of his moral problem, determines his destiny.

Men who live in the light of truth—that God neither created them ‘gay’ nor saddled them with desires that cannot be mastered with incisive care and community—can ‘transition’ into the fathers of God’s design. On the other hand, Catholic priests who insist that they are ‘gay’, that there is nothing to heal, and who seek to reinforce their queer natures with likeminded others are the ‘deep-seated’ ones–toxic influences who obscure the highway to holiness and make a crooked path for generations-to-come.

So we pray:
1. For an end to a culture of secrecy in all priestly and religious formation, for truthful and merciful onramps on which candidates can work out disordered desires, gender identity formation, childhood trauma, and sexual addiction.
2. For conscientious commitment to helping seminarians ensure that they are becoming mature expressions of their sexual gift and not fleeing sexual conflicts.
3. Hope for priests to overcome homosexuality through persistent repentance unto Jesus’ expert care and community; admonition and discipline to fathers who advocate for LGBT ‘selves’ and invoke the authority of the Church to do so.

May we not protect the foundation of any priest built on sand. Yet we prayerfully honor and ask protection upon those fathers who in weakness have surrendered to the Rock. Long may their flags wave, upright and true!

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

Download PDF
Humble Priest

Humble King

I sent out a series of questions to my favorite priests and Rev. Msgr William J King who runs a Living Waters group in his parish responded. Excellent priests exist and deserve our prayers.

“Dear Andrew, your email is a source of grace. Thank you.  It is a blessing for me to be spiritual director for a few priests and to work with the accountability group that you have met.  These inform my responses, below…

1. How has the ongoing exposure of your fellow priests impacted you?

I grieve for them, for many priests are disillusioned especially by a perceived absence of concern and fraternal encouragement from their bishops. Personally, I share that disillusionment and I am, frankly, angered by the dearth of leadership shown by our bishops.  I am different, I suppose, than most priests, since I spent 28 years in diocesan administration, with 24 of those years directly involved in these cases.

2. How can we the laity pray for you in this season?

Pray that we never lose confidence in a loving Father who called us to priesthood and sustains us in the likeness of His Son.  Pray that we never withdraw from being Christ to others, with confidence and hope and love instead of fear.

3. What for you is the worst aspect of this exposure? the best?

The worst aspect by far is the unrelenting, unremitting, unrepentant single-minded focus of the secular media on decades-old abuse within the Catholic Church, while turning a blind eye to current abuse in schools and other churches.  The obvious bias is ignored.  I wonder, where are the Catholic leaders who ought to be standing up publicly and pointing out this obvious and unjust focus?  Can anyone really and truly believe that abuse of minors, or inept handling of reports of abuse, occurred only in the Catholic Church and nowhere else?  Yet, this laser-like focus continues, without distinction between cases 40 and 50 years old, and cases today which are handled totally differently.  The unremitting reportage in this vein is having a clear impact on our people, even our most loyal parishioners, whose loyalty and confidence in the leadership of the Church is eroded by the constant reporting and repeating of stories involving old cases.

The best? I am completely confident that our loving Father will raise up saints in the midst of this crisis — saints to lead us into a new era of holiness and purity.  This crisis is also purging the Church of toxic clericalism, which starts with the implicit notion that priests and only priests should perform certain functions, and leads to a desire to focus on the institution of the Church rather than the people. This was one of the principal mistakes we made who were involved in handling these cases — we looked to the safety of the institution instead of feeling, truly feeling, the hurt and vulnerability of the survivors of abuse.

4. Might you give us keys you employ to stay present to Jesus and others amid what may be a new temptation to discouragement?

I beg the Father for the grace to see others as He sees them, not as I do.  When I offer the Mass, especially in holding the sacred body of Christ and His most precious Blood, I consciously call to mind the victims or survivors of abuse and pray that Our Lord unite their pain to His.

5. How have the rumors of a ‘gay’-infested curia impacted you? Is there a homosexual problem in the priesthood or do you perceive this to be a smear campaign?

The rumors are based on fact. My experience in diocesan administration has brought me into contact with this reality.  I am angered by this objectively, and yet I have seen the loneliness and isolation of priests in curial positions and other positions within the Church. At times I have given in to discouragement, to the point of entertaining (only briefly) the idea of pursuing a profession or career other than priesthood. The Father’s faithfulness calls me home as soon as discouragement enters my feelings, and I am grateful for that. I find myself refocusing my priestly ministry away from diocesan and Church matters and more toward individuals, and so I am extremely grateful for the spiritual direction in which I am engaged, and for ministries such as Living Waters in which grace is evidently overpowering the negativity.

6. As men not immune to temptation, has this crisis prompted you into finding new or renewed ways of ensuring clarity and accountability in your own commitment to chastity? Might you describe how you go about this?

I hear a renewed invitation to personal prayer and to prayer on behalf of brother clergy and for survivors of abuse. I find myself more ready to turn feelings and thoughts of impurity into intercessory prayers for victims of sexual abuse and pornography — a prayer for those whose purity was injured involuntarily..

7. Explain any risk you see in this season of priests fearing exposure for moral weakness and thus being more likely to hide from authority.

Priests are in fact reluctant to seek help from their bishops, fearing that self-disclosure will lead to removal from ministry. This fear, sadly, is based on actual action against priests who have self-disclosed and sought assistance in recovery.

8. How can priests best facilitate a culture of accountability and healing that will prevent sexual immoralities?

Priests must find other priests, and trusted laity, with whom they can be themselves: socialize, find enjoyment in healthy relationships, as well as discuss their own vulnerabilities.  Priests are, almost universally, lonely and overwhelmed by their inability to do everything they believe they must do in order to be “good” and effective priests.  This is a result of a misguided metric of what “success” means in priesthood: home visits made, classrooms visited, parish income, Mass attendance, hospital rounds, filling the obligation of the Liturgy of the Hours — when any of these fall, priests too often judge themselves to be failures and “self-medicate” their feelings of inadequacy through impurity, unhealthy relationships, pornography, or alcohol. This culture of equating overwork with success can be undone only by cultivating healthy and mature friendships within the priesthood and among laypeople. A healthy and life-giving prayer life follows, but I believe that it is the fruit of healthy and life-giving personal friendships, which can them model and promote a healthy friendship with God, and the embrace of a loving Father.

9. What good do you pray will result from this season of exposure?

A better-focused leadership in the Church, less concerned with the size and health of the institution than with the holiness of the people and faithfulness to the Father in abject dependence on His Providence.”

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

Download PDF
praying for priests

Radiance from the Ruins: Praying for Priests

What had been alien to me—a black-coated mystery, heady and aloof, men in rectories, celibate yet suspect—became engaging and vital through actual priests who loved me well. Priests I know possess an attuned compassion that has deepened my trust in Jesus through His Church. No priest has enough time and resource, yet his faithful ‘yes’ to me has been the occasion more than once where I’ve seen the Father multiply his loaf and fish many times over.

The priest brings a feast—he offers up the sacrifice of Jesus at the altar; he makes the Mass a real meal, the center of Catholic worship. Maybe that’s why some of the devoted defer to him slavishly, and become nearly infantile before his ‘power.’ Rather than treating him as an icon of the divine, they make him an idol.

The idol has fallen. He lies before us in pieces, a divided human being, poured out and bleeding, possibly infectious. Of course not all priests abuse; the majority has not. No matter. We don’t discriminate. Hit nearly every day by another stinking wave of abuse allegations, we wonder what lurks beneath every cassock. The brave collared servant racing through the airport or post office provokes our grim reaction: ‘I wonder what he’s hiding…’ He is no fool; he sees your mistrust. Wise priests offer that up to Jesus as a prayer for real victims.

Every priest today shares in the suffering of little ones sacrificed on the altars of demonized colleagues—both living and dead. They know what they represent to us in our disillusionment. They pray more; they take the hit.

Pray for them. They laid their lives down for this Church that we visit weekly at best. They live there. Do they not experience our shared disappointment in her many times over?

As I consider the prayer needs of priests, I see clay oil lamps with simple globes of glass. Might we first pray for the source of that light—Jesus—to be alive and well in every priest? Might we pray for a special unction in this season for each priest to ‘go boldly to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help him in his time of need’ (Heb. 4: 16)? His need for Jesus has never been greater.

Then we can pray about the projections of others upon his ‘lamp.’ In my prayers, I see dirt hurled at him, unholy judgments we fling upon a human being who deserves our respect until he proves unworthy of it. We sin against God’s servant when we assume the worst about him; we darken his globe like mud spattering a house or street light. Pray for Jesus Healer to make know to his heart any way he has been darkened from without, by groundless accusation. Pray also for the fresh washing of his globe by undiluted mercy—cleansing of the blood and water so that he is able to make Jesus known to others in a clear, undistorted way.

Then we can pray for his heart, his source, where he can welcome the Source and stay true and undivided in his moral life. These abuse scandals have revealed the vulnerabilities of priests to immorality—not just on the extreme end with children but with adults, with pornography, in their own fallen imaginations. Might we pray for a fresh humility—an inspired fire upon the sacrifice of his life, that might compel him to give account to wise friends and elders? No more Jesus alone—He invites us to share our divides with His members. Let us pray for priests to willingly discover new and challenging communities where they lead out in moral weakness, discover love as never before, and learn to refuse a host of counterfeits that breed in isolation.

Lastly, I ask that we pray for priests to discover a new impetus for sharing their humanity with us. Unspoken rules of ‘prudence’ have rendered most priests big on ‘teachiness’ and low on self-disclosure. Today we need the witness of how to live the truth-in-love; how do priests actually work out their integration as celibates? We all benefit from our leaders sharing a bit how they stay at once pure and open to Jesus’ members. Apart from well-worn prohibitions, what do we do with longings for love when there is no genital outlet? Pray for priests to wisely and candidly let us in a little to their process of sanctification.

As for the faithful who have fawned a bit too much over ‘father’ and who now are levelled by his cracked, clay foundation: pray for that priest. And repent of the childishness that made the jar an idol. He is just a man with a call that requires our prayers. We each have a priest in us that needs to arise on behalf of our beloved priests. I for one want to help them shine.

‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side…struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be revealed in our body’ (2 Cor. 4: 7-10).

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

Download PDF
1 2 3 27
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: