Thursday, May 23, 2002

From the evidence, it looks like Milwaukee Archbishop Weakland engaged in a consensual homosexual affair with a student at Marquette, and than paid him $450,000 to keep quiet about it. He was on Good Morning America referring to it as "sexual abuse" or "date rape", but that doesn't square with the evidence right now.

It seems we have two sins here:
  • Weakland's affair
  • The payoff

Call me "soft on affairs" if you will, but the second sin concerns me monuementally more than the first. But of course, they're interconnected. Without the affair, there would be no need for a payoff. That's the conservative argument against having gays in the priesthood, and I suppose there's some merit to that.

The liberal argument is that if we weren't so darn hung up about sex, then there would be no need for a payoff, and I suppose that has some merit as well. I suspect Andrew Sullivan will be making this argument in the next day or so. Try as we might to screen priests, it's inevitable that some of them will fail, since they're human just like all of us, and then what?

That's the big question. And that's one reason why I'm not so excited about "zero tolerance" policies. Because like it or not, most of us would like to preserve our positions. If the consequence of failing is removal from the priesthood, then priests who fail will be desperate to cover their tracks, and thus we'll have more "under the table" settlements.

So what do we do with a priest who has failed? Demanding some form of public penance would probably be a good place to start.

I think a real problem that many of the Catholic Bloggers have hit on the head is clericalism -- the priesthood is seen as a place of power rather than service, and priests jockey for more political power. An affair could derail those ambitions, so it must be covered up. If all our priests simply wanted to serve, then it wouldn't matter to them if they were defrocked; they could continue to serve God and the Church is some other way.

To conclude a bit of a rambling post, the first sin (the affair) will probably always be with us so long as we have frail humans in the priesthood, though it probably can be reduced significantly. But the second sin (the payoff) is avoidable, and points to a real problem in the Church. As we continue to search with the Holy Spirit's guidance for sensible policies, I think we ought to focus on how we can keep the first sin from leading to the second.
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