Our Fathers

If you are inclined to see the Catholic Church as a reactionary force, working against the righteous tides of history, science, progress, and human rights, your worldview will rarely, if ever, be challenged in our media or popular culture.

On the contrary, you should find satisfying affirmation in a catalogue of anti-Catholic books, films, and news reports multiplying at a nearly inconsumable rate. You will read of Catholicism’s rigid intolerance. You will be told of the insular hierarchy which crushes dissent. You will hear whispers of ancient conspiracies – to defraud, to molest, to restrict, to stifle, even to kill. All of this “evidence” will seem so complete, so compelling, that you will likely see no need to further examine your basic assumptions.

If, however, you are like me and inclined to see the Church as force for good, with allowances for shortcomings here and there, then you should prepare yourself for an uphill cultural experience. Expect to be labeled a liar, a hypocrite, or worse. Expect to have your views mocked – often loudly and publicly – by people with otherwise tolerant dispositions. Expect to develop a thick skin.

Expect to be expected to keep it to yourself.

I was never wounded by the Catholic Church, so I have no grievance or axe to grind. In fact, the Church has been extraordinarily patient with me, welcoming me back after decades of wandering. When I have been in pain, the Church has given me comfort. When I have doubted, the Church has offered me gentle assurances. When I have sinned, the Church has delivered not judgment, but forgiveness.

Moreover, my interactions with the clergy have been nothing short of delightful. I bet you don’t hear that everyday. Of course I have read about the sexual abuse and the cover ups. Of course I am appalled. But priests are human and, like all of us, they make mistakes.

So here’s a radical thought: criminal priests should be prosecuted, but the priesthood should not be criminalized.

That’s a view not likely to find voice in the media. Nor is it likely to be accepted even by those for whom interpreting offense has become a career. No, the prevailing view among the elite and cultured classes is that Catholic priests are weirdoes, repressed individuals who can’t quite figure out the real world (or control their perverted urges) and who withdraw into this all-controlling, exclusively-male club as a preventive defense against their own frustrated demons.

For subscribers to this view, the sexual-abuse scandal represents not an aberration, but rather the true face of Catholicism. To some, the crimes of these priests, and the failures of the Church hierarchy, offer gruesome confirmation of a truth long assumed: Catholicism is a cult with appeal only to the culturally backward and the intellectually lazy.

Culturally backward because the Church preaches abstinence, forbearance, self-control, and self-respect, at a time when these virtues are considered quaint, unworldly throwbacks. Intellectually lazy because, well, anyone who has done any thinking for themselves since they were, oh, ten years old, would see that the Church is simply peddling a fairy story, right?

The Archdiocese of New York recently ordained five new priests in a ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Each has a compelling story. None could be described as culturally backward or intellectually lazy.

Father Vincent J. Druding’s journey to the priesthood began during six days spent volunteering at the World Trade Center in the days after 9/11. Father Christopher Argano entered the seminary after ministering to prison inmates as a college student. Prior to joining the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Father Louis Marie Leonelli, C.F.R. considered himself a pagan. His primary interest was writing music – rap music.

Each of these new priests has answered a call to service and committed themselves to a lifetime of helping others through this messy, often painful thing called life. It is not a glamorous job – the work is done mostly in schools, hospitals, prisons, funeral homes, shelters, and clinics – and the benefits are hard to put a dollar figure on. It is a vocation without a vacation.

Father Argano has a theory why so many nominal Catholics have turned away from the Church, and how to win them back.

“Maybe they’ve been hurt by the Church, or maybe they have serious objections they’ve ever had answered for them before,” he told Catholic New York recently. “It’s our opportunity to do that now…We never judge those people…We reach out to them, and call them back, call them home to the Church with compassion, understanding, and love.”

That might make a nice movie, don’t you think?

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