Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How can priests become so depraved?

In the wake of all the news about perversion and coverups among clergy and the hierarchy of the Church, one of the questions so many wonder about is, how can these men become so corrupt?

(By the way, I'm not talking about all sin, or even all sins against chastity. Some are entirely private, and some involve an Internet connection. These are grave sins, and can be a doorway to worse. But I'm talking about the sorts of things we're reading about in news reports: anonymous sex, ongoing relationships with others, male or female, preying on others who are less powerful, whether priests, seminarians, or minors.)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I came up with five answers:

1) You know what you're doing is wrong, but you have given up on actually overcoming these sexual sins, and you reached a kind of compromise: "I'll only do this and this, but not that." Maybe this works for some, but I suspect it doesn't in many (if not most) other cases. I'm guessing that somewhere down the road, the cleric tries this again: OK, you can have this, but no more!

Why not leave the priesthood? You might rationalize that you're doing good in other ways; or that your sins don't really hurt anyone; or that people need you; or that people will be scandalized; or that you don't know what you'll do if you leave; or you have a lot invested in the priesthood -- you have a pension; or embarrassment about having to explain why you left.

2) You are deluded. You tell yourself you're going to change, and you are making some effort. You go to confession; maybe you periodically straighten up for awhile, only to lapse back. Any little victory is hailed as "progress." But the bigger picture is that you aren't really getting better, and you may be getting worse. For for whatever reason (pride, shame, fear), you don't get help. Here I might point out that since the 2002 "Dallas Charter," priests probably feel no safety in going to their bishop, because bishops are no longer "fathers" to their priests. They are, rather, employers, surrounded by lawyers and accountants.

3) You don't believe the Church's teachings that you are violating; either you don't believe the sins are all that bad, or you don't believe in mortal sin, or the necessity of confession; or all of the above. Perhaps you don't believe much of anything anymore. Perhaps you think you are owed something?

4) You have gotten used to living a compartmentalized life. One part of you is the priest; the other part is devoted to perversion. It's hard to imagine, but it happens.

5) You have actually surrendered to evil. This can happen implicitly: you surrender to the perversion and the mindset that goes with it. Justifying that perversion and considering it good. If you are interacting with others who share your perversion, you buy into their mindset and celebrate what you're doing. And the explicit way of surrendering to evil? I shudder to write this, but: you give into the devil.

This is my list; perhaps it's incomplete. Would you add anything?


rcg said...

I think Satan works harder on priests for obvious reasons but mainly for the leverage it has on turning additional people away from the Church and God. It is probably a little of each of these but each man makes his own hemlock. It seems that we hear a lot about how homosexual relationships are just another form of expressing love. I have also heard that sex is ‘natural’ and no one is hurt. There is no acknowledged injury from consensual sex. Aside from the lethal injury to the soul, which some will deny exists, there is no acknowledgement of emotional and psychological injury since it is inconvenient and may indicate that damage to the soul that we must deny.

Jackie said...


I too have been thinking about this topic. I agree with your list - which seem to me to be focused on the internal reasons. The area that I've been thinking about is what about the formation and culture of priests that allowed this to continue. Here's my list:

1. Keep your head down/don't rock the boat - I suspect that even good, holy priests learned - don't rock the boat, keep your head down - just get ordained; just to get to be a pastor. That's a lot of years of learning/doing one behavior to then change once ordained or once a pastor. This certainly works against learning fraternal correction - holding your brothers accountable to being holy. And certainly, not being willing to, as James says, go, go with a group, go to the Church. And, the bishops were priests that learned the same thing and learned it well enough to be a bishop.

2. I agree that Bishops have certainly become less Father and more manager - but a Father confronts too. A Father holds accountable - ( and cares, helps to make better, etc.). But those skills simply haven't been cultivated in priests or expected of priests to their brothers. (I think this is a lack of charity.)

3. Leadership - Leadership starts with an understanding of how you fit into the organization and what allegiances you have and their priority. I lead people and manage things BUT at some point I have a conflict between this person that reports to me or that I'm a colleague of AND the overall mission of the organization. How do I choose? Certainly in the military and corporate world, my overall allegiance is to the mission and at some point, the behavior of the person is too high a risk to the mission that I have to do something. I have to confront my friend and maybe turn in my friend. I don't see that understanding in the culture of priests.

I don't see 'spreading the love and truth of Jesus Christ and His Church' is more important than my friendship with Father So & So. (This could be at the level of calling out bad bahaviour (drunkeness, violations of chastity or calling out a lack of growing in holiness - My brother, are you praying your office? Or hows your prayer life?). Certainly the culture of and expectations of a place like West Point - that started on Day 1 with the Honor Code and expected 18 - 22 years to keep the 'A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate anyone who does.' It wasn't perfect but we held one another accountable. I don't see a similar culture among priests.

The current culture that has been in existence for at least 50 - 70 years. It must be changed.

Know that you and all of your brothers and the bishops are prayed for.

Wayne said...

I think both you and Jackie have hit the nail on the head with both the internal and external causes of how we've come to this point. I would also add, however, that ever since the cultural revolution of the 60's our society has been slowly (and perhaps more quickly in the last 20 years or so) declining in our understanding of what it means to be a man. Being a young man myself, I can see the effects in my own life of being marinated in the cultural view that men should not try to take a stand or try to defend women or try to excel in the workplace or even try to be the head of the household. Ultimately, this culture makes weak men who don't know how to lead, how to hold themselves or their brothers accountable, and perhaps even how to be humble enough to say they need help.

When men are weak, they easily fall.

idatom said...

6) You would not listen to Bishop Sheen's advise to all priest;
That they spend one hour before The Tabernacle each
day, not counting your time at mass, for for the sake of chastity.

Doug said...

Father, I think another point is that the overall culture of the world and the Church is the failure to believe in the realism of Hell. Too many people simply do not believe that Hell exists and that souls will go there if they do not repent and live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The root of this may be the failures of proper catechistic formation in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Even now, too many priests are hesitant (reluctant?) to preach on this topic – that if one does not avoid sin and repent, that they *will* go to hell. I think there is a tendency to believe that the message of mercy and love helps the congregation feel better, but the reality is that if the priest isn’t challenging his flock and holding them accountable, he really isn’t leading them to heaven.

There aren’t many fire and brimstone homilies these days. How many of these predators ever heard a homily specifically condemning the sin of homosexuality and how it would lead them straight to Hell if they acted upon this deviancy against not only the natural law, but the laws of Jesus Christ? Did they learn what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah and not just the names, but what really happened there? Of course, we believe in the saving grace of Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation, but if there is no repenting and turning away from sin, the ultimate end isn’t good. And forever is a very long time.

When our Blessed Mother appeared to the young shepherd children at Fatima and showed them images of Hell, they were profoundly affected. They gave up their meager lunches as reparation. They wore rough ropes as penance and reparations, they prayed constantly for the conversion of sinners. These were very young kids!

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Pray for Us.

Unknown said...

You trust in God's mercy. You can't or won't bother trying to change your ways, so you just keep indulging and trust that God will understand and be merciful. That is in itself a cardinal sin, presuming upon God's mercy, but, well, maybe God will forgive you for that too.

Anonymous said...

I think that #4 is especially likely. I have known only one abuser priest. He seemed to have an extraordinary ability to "compartmentalize" the evil -- as if these heinous acts were committed by another person. I am not trained in psychology, so I don't pretend to understand how this happens, only that it does. Perhaps this ability for denial is part of the spiritual / psychological illness that allows a priest to abuse in the first place. I find it very unsettling, almost incomprehensible.
-Cincinnati Priest