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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Worse, or just better exposed?

I wonder: are priests as a class getting worse, or is it just that clerical sins are now more often exposed?

First, in 2002, we had the huge blowing of the cover off the sexual abuse of (mostly) young males. Nearly all the pending cases now are many years old, though no less sad for that. Yet since then there's been a steady trickle of discomfiting reports. In 2004 there was Fr. Ryan Erickson, who committed suicide and was later identified by the judge of jurisdiction as a double-murderer. This year there was the priest charged with indecent exposure for jogging outdoors in the nude; it seems that wasn't the first time his behavior had been found questionable. Now we have a priest arrested on charges of stalking Conan O'Brien. Apparently the two had been classmates at Harvard, so there might or might not be more to this than meets the eye. And I'm leaving out not a few other reports from around the world. What is going on?

I've known hundreds of priests in my lifetime. The vast majority seem to be good men striving for holiness and serving God's people. Nonetheless I was sexually abused by one, and rejected a number of others for being either aggressively gay, heretical, or both. Given the image of the priesthood many laity had before Vatican II, it would seem that there is more vice and just plain weirdness in the priesthood today than there was then. But I am not so sure that's the reality.

If St. Peter Damian is any guide, things were pretty bad around the turn of the first and second millennium. If things had been much better around the time of the Protestant Reformation, little reform would have been necessary. Perhaps these things just go in cycles. Or perhaps things never really were much better than they are today. The sins and crimes of priests might just be better reported, as almost everything today is, at least when scandal is involved. Scandal, after all, is a good generator of ad revenue, especially when sex is involved.

I suppose we can't really know, and I doubt it really matters. What matters is that Satan never sleeps, and among his chief objects of interest are people whose lives are formally dedicated to God's service. (I sometimes think that my not having such a vocation is what gives me any real hope of salvation.) That reality has not changed. Given that people dedicated to God's service are people, we should not be surprised by the consequences.
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