"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Another fine priest squelched

Having listened to many of his podcast homilies as well as to the ecclesiastical scuttlebutt about him, I believe that Fr. Robert Altier is one of the finest priests in America. That is why I am disgusted that his bishop, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul, has reigned him in even further.

Still young (45) for a priest, Altier undertook "deliverance" as his first major priestly ministry years ago. A good way of describing that would be "informal exorcism." While the permission of the local ordinary is required for the exorcism of people who, after extensive testing, are found to be diabolically possessed, any baptized Christian can engage in deliverance ministry short of that. Sometimes without proper study and guidance, lay "charismatic" Catholic groups have been doing it on their own for decades; with proper study and guidance, they can be quite effective. And in a recent post at Pontifications, I explained how and why deliverance ministry in general and exorcism in particular are becoming more common among clerics with the full backing of the Vatican. But one of Flynn's earliest acts after becoming bishop was to shut down Altier's delieverance work; according to Altier, Flynn's stated reason was that "he didn't want any priest in his diocese doing this." Not, mind you, that Altier had been doing it badly; apparently the objection was to a priest doing it at all. I don't get it—unless Flynn doesn't take literally Jesus' talk of Satan as a real and active personal force. Unfortunately, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he doesn't.

And now Altier is not permitted to broadcast his homilies. Why not? Well, in them he has sometimes been critical of the American bishops, indeed of the clergy as a whole. The criticisms I've encountered seem to me entirely justified. I should even say that a few, such as the one about the U.S. bishops' handling of the sex-abuse problem, weren't strong enough. But apparently it isn't enough for Altier to pull a few punches; he is not to throw any at all.

That's all very well from one standpoint. I can understand why an ordinary would not one of his presbyters, a direct subordinate, publicly criticizing the episcopate and, by implication, that ordinary himself. But as I so often find, there's a double standard at work here. Priests and theologians who publicly dissent from official Church teaching about certain controversial topics, mostly moral ones, are rarely disciplined in many dioceses, including Flynn's. But let a priest, in the name of theological orthodoxy and moral integrity, criticize the Church's leadership for failing to exercise that leadership well, and he's quickly muzzled. Why is that, I wonder? Can this be the reflex reaction of a guilty conscience?
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