I am writing this article with tears in my eyes thinking of the accusations of those who claim priestly celibacy is the reason for pedophilia. Without question, pedophilia, which destroys the uncorrupted purity of an innocent boy or girl, is an abominable transgression and mortally offends God, but it is not fair to say celibacy is the cause of this horrible crime.
I was shocked by media proposals that the Catholic Church should review her policy on celibacy, suggesting it be abolished. The scandals that have come to light recently in North America and Germany have brought shame and deep anguish to all Catholic priests, and many people think all of us are guilty of this felony. Most of these crimes occurred many decades ago as the sexual revolution also affected some priests, and bishops now have imposed zero tolerance policies to avoid such sacrilege and are obliging the clergy to reveal the disrepute of predators who wear the same clerical collar.
I repeat, I am ashamed and sorrowful, but I hope and wish that the vow of priestly celibacy and chastity remains firm and undefiled. I feel that fellow priests all over the world are renewing their promises of holiness and rectitude.
Predators commit a twofold criminal action – it is a transgression against divine law, and against the candour and purity of the victims whose immaculate innocence, Jesus said, are like angels who see the face of God: “It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me to be drowned by a millstone around his neck in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).
Jesus was intolerant in his reprimand of scandals: “If your hand or your foot causes you to fall into sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands and two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire” (Mt 18:8; Mk 9:43).
How can we remain models for our people in the face of these horrible events? The only way to restore trust in the very field where some priests and bishops have failed is by the exercise of celibacy because we priests are called to emulate the chastity of our model, Jesus Christ. We try very hard to imitate him, so it would be seriously wrong to lose heart. The overwhelming majority of us are generously dedicated to our ministry and have respect and love for our flocks which they deserve.
Looking at our parishes, at our gatherings of the entire presbyterate, I am amazed at how faithfully, day after day, we serve the needs of the people entrusted to our care. The criminal actions of a few individual cases have been exploited by the media as if the whole Church is irremediably corrupt.
Although even one case of this kind is too many, we also must consider that many of these facts occurred 50 to 70 years ago and that most of the clergy today are faithful to their promises.
With dismay, I listened to a young priest lament that perhaps we should not wear our collar so no one would recognize us. “People look at us as though we are monsters!” he said.
I replied: “Father, now, more than ever, we must uphold the sign of our priesthood without shame. To be discouraged and to withdraw from public view is to surrender to Satan’s ambush.”
The more the media scrutinize the actions of priests who are guilty, the more we must show that our conduct as good priests reflects the life of Jesus. I also promise you that, after this ordeal is over, and it will be over soon, our respect and reputation will be restored.
The best way to destroy mistrust is to show that our vocations are genuine. Our parishioners appreciate our dedication. They love us. But on the other hand, they must also see the permissiveness of the past and the cover-ups have ended.
The Holy Father has convoked the presidents of all the episcopal conferences to determine what is to be done to purify the past. We must always remember that Jesus, the God of mercy, will also protect the prodigal son who, having repented, has asked to be treated as the least of his servants. Penance, remorse, prayers, and fasting will renew our beloved Church, his bride.
Our priestly future in this archdiocese is strong and vibrant. The presence of the Holy Spirit is purifying our parishes. We are blessed with new conversions and with those returning to religious practice.
There is a feeling among the faithful that our efforts, our prayers and sacrifices, are the spiritual ladder which will help them ascend to God.