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Friday, March 2, 2012

What to do with Sylvia?

Those of you who read Deborah's Gyapong's article on the SCCB have been 'introduced' to the subject of my trepidation regarding Sylvia's Site.

Initially I hesitated whether to list it or not. It took a few weeks for me to move. Finally I added it. It has been on for a few weeks now. Today I finally got what might not be correctly characterized as a 'complaint', but rather as a 'concern', a 'misgiving'. The person who made his/her concern noted is someone that I know to be virtuous and a lover of the Church. I trust the opinion of people like this. His/her main concern is that of libel, 'misdirection,' swaying public opinion unjustifiably. That's a big thing. I live and work in a small town, at a small school. Reputation is everything. One stray, unmeasured word can do so much damage. This I know.

Now, on the one hand, I'm not directly responsible for what any of you write, really. I'm not talking about the law of man; I'm talking about the law of God - what really matters. On the other hand, as I was also quoted as saying in Gyapong's article something like: I am a theologian for you, more or less. My status implies responsibilities. I know it does. I know I have responsibilities at least equal to all of yours. Would you knowingly propagate falsehoods, heresy? I wouldn't. Do I have a duty to expose every error? Of course not.

I think at this point my feeling is this: let's keep talking about it. I am all ears.

I have read some of Sylvia's postings fairly closely. The key issue here is the presumption of guilt. I don't think she actually presumes guilt. I think she sometimes gives the impression of guilt, but an impression is not an out and out statement. Further, I don't think Sylvia makes the reader aware that there are all sorts of legal and ecclesiastical 'middle grounds' between innocence and pedophilia. I actually know of some people who exist in that middle ground. I have no doubt that pedophilia is a virtually incurable destructive disease of the mind, but pedophilia is not the only reason why a priest would ever be moved. I have been very closely connected to two priest who have had to move. One was absolutely falsely accused of misconduct by a disturbed woman. His bishop moved him to another parish for sake of his sanity. I tend to think the other was truthfully accused, but I have absolutely no proof of it.

Here's a little known fact: when I was a young man, somewhere between 18 and 21, a priest put his hand on my leg when I was sitting next to him in the context of spiritual direction. It was above the knee, but not very far above it. What was this? Yes, it made me uncomfortable, and it was at least a venial sin of imprudence, but was it more than that? Should I have phoned the bishop? In hindsight I am thinking that I should have. But making a call to a bishop is not the same as posting on a public blog.

Maybe I am biased: I know a lot of victims of abuse and more than a few young men and priests with some sexual dysfunction. I have a great deal of compassion for people who suffer honestly, but very little for those who sin egregiously and hide in the shadows, preying on the weak and innocent. It yet bothers me that when a priest is accused of a crime there is a presumption of guilt today and his story makes the front page, but for everyone else it is the back pages of the paper. Does Sylvia do this? I am thinking not. But again, I am all ears.

I suppose we owe her a fair reading too, a reading under the presumption of innocence.


  1. Catholic bloggers presume priests and bishops to be guilty all the time, for a wide variety of things.

    Just sayin'!

    1. Beyond the issue of faithfulness, her website is very useful as a source of information.

    2. Yes, but how right is it to be consistently pointing to the failings of others, clergy or otherwise?


  2. Yes, but how right is it to be consistently pointing to the failings of others, clergy or otherwise?

    It is charitable to point to failings for the good of the faithful. What if there had been a blogosphere before the Reformation?

  3. Let's distinguish the subject of our conversation - the Church, various guilty priests, or all priests?

    A good priest is not responsible for the actions of bad priests, just as a good father is not responsible for the actions of bad fathers. Am I, as a member of the Body of Christ, responsible for the actions of various pastors? Of course not. So how is criticism of me for things I didn't do charitable?

    If the subject is the laxity of the shepherds for allowing evils like this to proliferate, then I think criticism is charitable.

    We need to be careful of the subject of our comments. And, once more, everyone deserves a fair hearing, which includes a presumption of innocence.

    No one deserves to be tarred with the "Catholic Church this" or "the priesthood that." This is the 'form' of bigotry and it can be practiced even by orthodox Catholics against their own Church.

    Until you've been accused of something you didn't do you won't notice how hurtful sloppy language can be.

    When I announced that I wanted to be a priest someone very close to me said, "I hope you don't become like one of those child abusers." It was a family member. People are intrinsically stupid.

  4. Dear Colin and Suzanne,
    I could not keep my reply to 100 words or fewer. :) So I wrote a blog posting on my site - What Are We Waiting For? - in case you're interested in continuing the discussion. I hope I have been charitable and have presumed innocence, as Colin says.

  5. A man is just a man.
    where god has his church, the devil will have his chaple, a strong post thank you

  6. we'll get higher and higher straight up we'll climb...dreams are made of