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

Monday, March 06, 2006

St. Pio and bishops who have coddled pederasts

Anybody who thinks the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests is a recent thing should think again. To judge by the record, the Church has had to face this problem for at least a millennium and almost certainly more. In his marvelous, 11th-century Book of Gomorrah, for example, St. Peter Damiani denounced just that sort of filth among the clergy and even took the Pope to task for not dealing with it forcefully enough. Randy Engel's fine, two-part article on the subject draws chilling parallels to what happened in the latter part of the twentieth century. But I have known that for a long time. I also knew that in his early career, Padre Pio—"Saint" Pio since 2000—was persecuted by the bishop of his diocese, Archbishop Pasquale Gagliardi of Manfredonia. What I didn't know was that that bishop openly favored admitted pederasts among his clergy and was regularly accused of that crime himself. That's according to Michael Brown's article at Spirit Daily; I trust Brown because he was a responsible secular journalist even before he undertook his current ministries, and remains just as professionally responsible now. To me, that whole affair from the World-War-I era is quite significant for today.

Theologically orthodox seminarians and priests formed during the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s frequently complained of having to kowtow to a "Lavender Mafia" in order to be ordained and permitted to function. I know—repeat, know—that such complaints were justified because I experienced the problem both when discerning a vocation in youth and when I later taught in three different centers of priestly formation. If such dhimmitude did not always take the form of approving homosexuality, the actual Catholics in seminaries and religious houses were at least expected to keep quiet about their opposing sodomy—even and especially granted that they were only following the official teaching of the Church. If they didn't, they were slandered, marginalized, and in many cases shown the door. That is what Pasquale Gagliardi tried, with some success until he died, to do to Francesco Forgione, by that time universally known by his name-in-religion 'Pio'. Spreading various accusations, including sexual ones, Gagliardi induced the Vatican, through the holy and generally quite effective Cardinal Merry del Val, to restrict Pio's functions and ministry more and more severely until Pope Pius XI had a vision that put a halt to the persecution. It's as if Gagliardi smelled the odor of sanctity and couldn't stand it.

But what was Pio's reaction to the persecution, which kept a firm clamp on him for nearly twenty years and hardly ever ceased altogether until he was old? It was to obey the bishop. Pio never denounced Gagliardi despite his evident devastation. He just did as instructed through his superiors. His attitude was "the will of one's superiors is the will of God."

Catholics today generally find that attitude incomprehensible. Most seem to want bishops as bad as Gagliardi, of which there have been several in the US recently who were forced to resign, prosecuted and jailed. Perhaps some should be. But we cannot let our disgust with the sins of our legitimate superiors cause us to reject the God-given authority of the episcopate. Like St. Peter Damiani, we should denounce abuses and insist on measures to correct them. We should seek to punish the guilty. But abusus non tollit usum: a bishop is a successor of the Apostles, with the same authority that Jesus gave the Apostles as recounted in the Gospels. We should never forget that, even when a successor of the Apostles is headed down the path of perdition himself.
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