Director of the Thomistic Institute calls a spade a spade
Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., Director of the Thomistic Institute and Assistant Professor in Systematic Theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., presented a lecture titled “Priestly Sins: Purifying the Church After the Scandals” in Jenkins-Nanovic Hall.
After former cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, was removed from public ministry on June 20, 2018, more and more cases of sexual abuse were brought to light. It was even revealed that prelates, bishops and cardinals, of the Church hid such cases out of fear. Victims have suffered immensely and this has been a very difficult time for Holy Mother Church. Story after story continue to emerge. What are we to do?
We need to start thinking about the fact that priests are people too, just like you and I. They are fallen human beings too. They are not perfect. “Priests can sin. They go to confession,” Fr. Legge first remarked.
St. Benedict taught “constant conversion of life.” Conversion is not a one-time event. The greatest saints, then, realize that they are sinners. And from that realization, they come to realize that they have nothing but God and what He bestows them.
“I think grappling with the particular danger or the particular pathologies that present themselves in priestly sins when they are not part of this pattern of conversion of life and repentance, is actually very helpful for the Church and for us to deliberate as a group. It both helps us diagnose the problems that need to be solved in the present moment, and also because, on a more helpful note, it’s a more negative image that points us to the positive,” Fr. Legge asserted.
“Will it cause more scandal to shine a light on it [the causes of the abuse scandal]?” asked Fr. Legge. “No.” “We’re never going to clean up the mess unless we shine a light on it…” Fr. Legge continued, “if we pretend they don’t exist or try to cover it up, we’re going to multiply the injuries and injustices to the victims.”
Fr. Legge then laid out the starting point of the recent abuse scandals in the news: “There have been sexually active priests and bishops.” This stain taints the reputation of all Christians. “The persistent problem here has been with homosexual priests … Most priests who persist [in] infidelity with women eventually leave the priesthood,” Fr. Legge observed. “Priests who cheat on their vocation with men, or other clerics, often continue to live a double life.” This is part of the problem. These sins of [sexually active priests and bishops] are “graver because they besmirch what is holy.” Their sins are especially grievous because they are a sacrilege against the Holy Orders these men have received.
It is especially more grave when a bishop, or other prelate of high office, uses his office in a perverse way, Fr. Legge said. The sins of bishops and priests are not private sins. (In fact, no sin is private). Bishops and priests should be exemplars of holiness.
There are deeper pathologies underlying these sins. The culture says chastity is impossible. But a human being with God’s help, with the help of His grace, can really become holy. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “Chastity is at the heart of what Jesus teaches,” Fr. Legge said. Chastity is, moreover, a work of grace; it is subjugating sexual desires to reason. St. Paul writes, “For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful” (2 Cor. 12:10).
“When a priest is in grave sin, he makes a sacrilegious Communion,” said Fr. Legge.
People are led to a crisis of faith due to these issues.
One daughter of lust, according to St. Gregory the Great, is the blindness of mind. This leads to a cycle of vice which includes passiveness, greed, and worldliness. It is no mistake, then, that the sexual abuse scandal has gone hand-in-hand with the financial abuse scandal in the Church. Where there is a problem with chastity, it leads to problems all the more. Abuse of authority, hypocrisy, you name it. Sin, like weeds, start with a few in number but quickly begin to become an overwhelming sea of unhealthiness for a garden.
“We want bishops to act like loving fathers, not corporate managers,” said Fr. Legge.
Fr. Legge then visited solutions to alleviate these issues in the Church.
First he clarified what are not solutions to these issues. The first was “clericalism.” What we really have is a lack of clarity when it comes to sacrilege, the abuse of sacred action/authority, chastity, and failing to discipline those who have abused others and their office.
Another non-solution was the “congregation/conciliarist model.” In other words, we need to tell the clergy to get their lives back together.
The third non-solution was “married clergy.” Chaste celibacy is a gift, for it renders one capable of loving God more. “Chasity opens one to spiritual fecundity,” said Fr. Legge.
What will purify the Church, however, is the grace of God. We need to pray for the grace to become saints. We must especially pray that bishops might bear the crosses of their office and that our prayers may aid them in the carrying of those crosses. Only through the grace of God can the Church be purified.
Bea Cuasay is a junior studying Philosophy and Constitutional Studies. She enjoys drinking delightful peppermint tea in these frigid months. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org