At Jane Austen’sPride and Prejudice, there is a poignant scene when the Bennet family discovers that Lydia Bennet has run away with the vile Mr. Wickham. Sisters Elizabeth and Jane Bennet console each other, as they both know that Lydia’s recklessness is going to hurt their own chances of a favorable marriage.
“Oh, Jane, if we had been less secretive, if we had said what we knew about him, it couldn’t have happened!” ”
“It might have been better,” her sister replied. “But exposing anyone’s past faults without knowing what their current feelings were, seemed unjustifiable. We have acted with the best of intentions.
What the two sisters knew and had not widely shared was that Mr. Wickham had secretly created an attachment with a wealthy young heiress. His plot to marry her would both constitute revenge on his brother, but also cover his frivolous spending habits. Today, Jane and Elizabeth’s concerns seem insignificant compared to the kind of scandals we continue to see in the Church.
Many years ago a woman confessed to me that she had been the mistress of a priest for a very long time. The revelation did not have the desired effect. I think she was looking for sympathy as the long term relationship ended because he moved on to someone new.
I spent the next few days reflecting deeply on all the people whose lives were linked to this priest – families, singles, consecrated religious, children, adolescents – and I suddenly understood why I could not see significant fruits among them. These persons. His work was fruitless.
More than anything, I wanted to enumerate to this woman and to him all the things that had been held up in the community by their relationship – anemic homilies, a lack of vocations, empty benches, darkened minds, listless hearts, sickness. mental and so on. to. I could see everything in my mind, the very things that happen when a priest betrays his vow to live chastity. His actions have affected, in one way or another, every man, woman and child in the community.
And yet, I didn’t know what to do. Am I exposing it? I spoke to him directly and to his superiors as he also secretly requested money from the faithful to finance his double life, but he remained unrepentant. But what could I do other than pray? He’s been dead since, so the matter died with him.
Over the years how many of us have been in this type of situation, have acted with the best of intentions, remaining silent for lack of a better way forward when it comes to clerical malfeasance. What we are experiencing now, however, goes far beyond an unfaithful priest here or there, but involves a whole network of men. For years we have seen more and more abuse and betrayal uncovered and brought to light, but it is clear that we have not yet hit rock bottom. There will certainly be more.
The recent unsavory revelations about Mgr. Jeffery Burrill and his resignation as secretary general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops drew widespread criticism over privacy, tabloid tactics and distracting allegations, despite the legal avenues used to expose it. There seems to be little discussion of the spiritual cost to the Body of Christ when a man uses a gay hookup app on a daily basis. We have become accustomed to seeing our priests as civil servants and that if they do the job – or better – bring in a lot of money, no matter how they spend their free time. This attitude has served those who have a lot to hide. Terms like collegiality, confidentiality and consent quickly silence the spread of any dirty laundry.
But what we have forgotten is the idea of fertility. It is no coincidence that fertility is now lacking at the spiritual level. It has been practically abandoned by the culture and even the devotees. With a few exceptions, Catholic couples generally practice contraception and abort with the rest of the population. But fertility isn’t just about having babies. Fruitfulness is about leading souls to God, seeing a manifestation of God’s grace here on earth, and ultimately leading souls home to heaven.
Fruitfulness is a major theme in the scriptures – think of the parable of the sower of good seed (Mark 4: 1-20) or the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13: 6-9). Marxist influence over the last century has slowly allowed it to replace notions of power and control in our consciousness. This first happened in the radical feminist movement of the 1960s, where ambition, ‘having it all’ and not being weighed down by children set the stage for where we are today. But sin is spreading and seeping wildly into the lives of men too, especially men who are placed in positions of power, luxury living lies provided by the faithful, which can with little effort come to pass. pass for pious servants.
Fertility, like a well-tended garden, shows itself. It has fruit, and that fruit finds a way to manifest itself in our material world. It animates the heart; it inspires the mind; it arouses wonder in the depths; it makes us want to reach for the good, the true and the beautiful.
It is the spirit that animates the Song of Songs and this desire of the soul thirsty for God. And it is the appeasement of this thirst when we meet God in the Eucharist, in the confessional, in our charity towards others and the charity of others towards us. These are things that power and control can never replace. These are things that just ticking a box can never give a soul. These are the elements that are the true calling card of the Church – fruits in the form of building, wonder, joy, peace, excellence, and true charity. Fortunately, we still have the testimony of good priests and bishops who live this fruit and shine brightly in these corrupt and complacent times.
It is silence that maintains and sustains men who have abandoned their vows in power. But changes of mind, as everyone in 12-step programs knows, usually don’t happen when going up high, but only when everything falls apart. It is a mercy for a man to see his weakness, to see that without God he can do nothing.
Our silence no longer serves these men, but perpetuates the lie that somehow it was their own action, skill and personal charm that got them to this point. And, of course, they are not the real enemy, but the devil who both tempts and accuses them. As a Church, we may be allowed to hit rock bottom so that we can know the truth about ourselves and can begin to rebuild again.
Like the Bennet sisters, we too should sit in horror as we witness the sterility of priests living without any regard to their vow of chastity. What we suffer from goes far beyond the loss of favorable marriages (although there are many singles who suffer exactly from this burden). The Church is now experiencing the bitter fruit of wasted authority (which certainly did not begin with Bishop Burrill). As the Body of Christ we all suffer from broken families, missing children who should have been on our pews but were aborted or never conceived, adolescents whom we carefully raise but lose faith when they set foot on a university campus. . We are suffering from the disappearance of priests, missionaries and cloistered and consecrated women. And we suffer from corrupt politicians who act with impunity, especially towards unborn children, knowing that few high-ranking Catholics will challenge them. It is the rotten fruit that comes when vows are broken, both matrimonial and priestly.
The solution is simple: faith, obedience, purity, ardent prayer, the Eucharist and closeness to Our Lady. But until as a Church we understand this, the Body of Christ will continue to suffer tremendously. The scandals won’t go away, we’ll just get used to it.
Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of priests whom the Church honors on August 4, summed it up best: “A priest goes to heaven or a priest goes to hell with a thousand people behind.