Tag Archives: Seminary

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.’

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Behold the Lamb 4: Refining Fathers

God always honors His Word and sacraments even if His servants act dishonorably. For example, I once had a pastor whose stellar preaching (some of his word-pictures still shed light for me on complex truths) coexisted with a trail of confusing seductions he initiated with women in our congregation. God’s Word prevailed (through our efforts and a long wait)–he was finally disciplined–but until then the congregation breathed toxic air. God sustains the faithful but sheep still suffer from sleazy shepherds. How much better for fathers of the faith to prepare for leadership through the splendid, humbling task of becoming chaste?

Here’s the rub. Due to the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, in which entire dioceses have been brought to their knees by multi-million dollar settlements for victims, the Church is now super wary of any sexual vulnerability in her priests and religious. In the sexual arena, avoiding litigation seems the Church’s greatest goal; she fumbles at forthright, compassionate dealing with her fathers and mothers who actually need help in order to become chaste. ‘Just be chaste, don’t be known’, she conveys today.

To misquote Simone DeBeauvoir: ‘We are not born chaste, we become it.’ How else do we grow into integrated men and women unless we come into the Light with our misdemeanors before they become felonies? How many priests and diocesan workers do I know who fall regularly into masturbation/porn cycles, habits born of disintegration that keep them disintegrated, hobbled by shame and wounded in their self-gift? Having sinned weakly, does each one have a responsibility to come boldly to the throne of grace? Of course!

But that requires context for church leaders, especially those who always handle the confessions of others. Does the Church provide clear, merciful, powerful, and effective relationships through which these ones can break fear and silence and quicken the journey toward self-mastery and gender integration? Today’s Church, though clear on the requirement of priestly chastity, fails to invite most priests into the messy process of becoming chaste. In part due to the litigious mess she is in. I can almost guarantee you that the majority of priests will not take a seminary course on sexual integration this year.

That is at least short-sighted. Failing to provide wise preventative measures for her weak servants sets the Church up for further scandals and reveals an unloving, unreal expectation toward them. Everyone, especially her saints, is sexually broken! Lust in its myriad forms touches all of us. So must we as the Church provide real life opportunities for leaders-in-formation to be rightly formed in the sexual arena, without fear of being buried for being broken. Better to breakdown in the arms of the saints than to break another through lust.

My wife Annette is right. She claims that ‘the best preparation for ministry lies in discipleship: persons gathering long enough with safe, powerful saints in order to know themselves honestly in their sexual and relational depths, and to be known by Jesus through these members of Christ.’

At first I thought she was overstating her case. She was not. We as the Church must guarantee that our ‘Fathers’ do not go–it-alone. We have seen what happens when they do. Fathers and Fathers-to-be especially need refining love. Bring it on God.

‘Make Your Church wise and tender and strong toward her servants. Help her to love them like a good mother and father, only better. Reveal Your almighty tenderness to prodigal elder sons and daughters, O God; give them a fighting chance to come clean and become whole. You can only love us if we expose ourselves to love. Make Your Church a place of where we can come broken, boldly.’

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