Not So Many Moons Ago
There are many cases which the report didn't cover, but among the most extraordinary things not covered today by my colleagues in print and broadcast is this.
St. Charles Borromeo Seminary enacted a policy of not admitting celibate gay men -- and expelling those found to be gay -- in 1988. It is the very same policy many are advocating for the universal church.
However, of the names revealed by the archdiocese today in its first full disclosure of priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors, four men ordained for Philadelphia since that policy was in force -- one in 1989 (removed after two years in ministry), one in 1993 (removed after four months in ministry), and two in 1996 -- have been removed from ministry.
Of these four, two were involved in homosexual misconduct, two in heterosexual misconduct. Two of the men have already been laicized, one died in 2004 (while still in restricted ministry) and the final case -- a 1996 ordinand removed from ministry in 1999 -- is pending before the Holy See.
In sum, it's all heartbreaking, regardless of what or when or how it happened. I have known many of these men in my time, both those who have been accused of abuse and those on the administrative side. And this will confirm for many who haven't known them the worst and lowest possible expectations of what the church is and the church does.
Of all the things that has to change, it's renewing the concept of true priestly identity and mission that must be Job One. And bringing an entrenched clerical culture back to basics may not be the easiest thing, but from here on out, it must be the most important thing -- for the simple reason that it's the truly good priests who inspire holiness. The nicely-dressed ones only inspire "Oooh"s and "Aaaah"s.
"All human believing is a believing-with," Ratzinger writes about the role of the priest, "and for that reason, the one who believes before us is so important."
In this town, the role of the priest as sacrificer, as believer, as servant of the Body has long been lost under the morass of a glorified, cultic crust, which concealed much and often neglected that call to genuine service even more.
If there's good to be found in all this, it's that the opportunity for a renewal presents itself, urges itself, as never before. Whether the challenge is taken up or not is anyone's guess -- but it'd be a blessed gift for the bicentennial of the establishment of this local church in April, 2008.
Yet nobody said it'd be easy: My enthusiasm was just dampened in talking to two people in the pews who both basically said, even now, "Our priests would never do this and the kids were asking for it."
Exaudi et libera nos, Domine, ex hoc exilio nostro.