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Priestly Ministry Today, An insider’s view: Kevin Hegarty

Last June, October seemed a distant prospect. I agreed quickly to a request from the A.C.P. leadership to speak at the Annual General Meeting. As the time approached I felt full of trepidation. For me, speaking to an audience of peers is daunting. Looking at his troops drawn up for the Peninsular War the Duke of Wellington exclaimed: “I don’t know what they will do for the enemy but, my God, they frighten me!”
In offering these random reflections I don’t pretend to any great expertise. I have not written any books. In the main I will tell my own story, if only because it is the one I know best.
Like most priests in Ireland I am merely a hod carrier for the Kingdom. We have no real input into leadership decisions. We in the ACP found that out once again when the hierarchy dismissed our concerns about the conservative theology and the exclusivist male tone of the new Roman Missal as first premature and then irrelevant. Ogden Nash in the Unknown Citizen wrote: “When they were for peace he was for peace; When they were for war he went.” That’s us.
Most of my working life has been spent as a school chaplain and priest in a parish – I resist the term ‘parish priest’ because for me it has some pejorative connotations. I have lived largely in the Mullet peninsula in Mayo, where in the words of the Saw Doctors’ song ‘the Atlantic kisses Ireland’. ‘Labouring in the vineyard’ some of my sentimental colleagues call it. I am often amused by the way in which priests use biblical clichés to obscure reality.
The Mullet peninsula is a place of stark beauty, even in winter when the wind and rain can have a Siberian asperity. But a vineyard? Only global warming of epic proportions will create a vineyard under Erris Head.
So my experience is rather limited. What I have to say has no validity beyond my experience. It is not a work of theological or sociological analysis. Nor do I have a grand plan that can cure our ills. I recall the old fable where the hippo falls hopelessly in love with the butterfly. He goes to the wise old owl who advises him he must become like the butterfly if he is to have any luck in love. He goes off happily but realises as he tramps along that he has no plan as to how to bring this about. So back he goes to the owl who dismisses him saying that he only outlines policy, he does not implement.
Elaborate plans can be beyond our ability to realize. What was it that Woody Allen said about God – something to the effect that no, he is not dead, but living quietly in Paris and working on a much less ambitious project.
Loving the sea air, as I do, a few days after our last meeting in Portlaoise I walked Cross Beach near my home. It was the 7th of June, the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination. Beside Cross Beach is Cross Abbey, a fragile, elegant, medieval ruin, tottering precariously on the edge of the Atlantic, a reminder that all things pass. It looks out on the wondrous island of Inis Gluaire where according to legend the bell for St. Brendan’s Mass freed the children of Lir from their feathered imprisonment. Conscious of the day that was in it my thought strayed to a poem of Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach, where I reflected on the following lines:
“The sea of faith was once too at the full and round earth’s share,
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d,
But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath of the night wind down the vast edges
Drear and naked shingles to the world”
The words struck a chord with me. Substitute Cross Beach for Dover Beach and Catholicism for faith. In my thirty years as a priest the sea of Catholicism has receded. I have heard its long, withdrawing roar.
As a priest I have worked in a crumbling church. In 1981 it seemed as if it might be different. Ordinations were still frequent enough not to inspire any great excitement beyond a photograph and a paragraph of purple prose in the local newspaper. Our bishop Dr. McDonnell ensured that the four of us to be ordained did not lose the run of ourselves. To put it mildly he was not noted for liturgical enthusiasm. He had made the economic use of words into an art form. He introduced the ceremony thus: “This is a great day for the diocese of Killala. Four young men are to be ordained to priesthood. Now let us call to mind our sins.”
In retrospect 1981 was a placid time for Irish Catholicism. The golden glow of the papal visit still enveloped the institution. Now we recognise it to have been the last Ard Fheis of traditional Irish Catholicism. It induced a sense of complacency mixed with hubris – a deadly combination, as many sports teams have reason to know. The Irish people, it seemed, would remain semper fidelis, always faithful, without the complications of fresh thinking and renewed structures.
So, what happened? The historian George Dangerfield once wrote of the strange death of liberal England. We have witness the slow and sometimes strange last agony of traditional Irish Catholicism. Basking in the reflected glow of papal adulation and believing that the words of that awful hymn – a title for which there is much competition – that ‘he has got the whole world in his hands’ also applied to them, Church leaders left out of their calculations the effects of social change. In the age of the sat nav they hung on to antiquarian maps.
Since the late 1950’s Ireland had been going through a profound transformation. Sean Lemass as Taoiseach abandoned the tattered remnants of deValera’s arcadian vision. (Dev’s grandson seems bent on gathering them around him again!) Factories spread through the land. Lemass sought to broaden our horizons by applying for membership of the European Economic Community. With a stroke of his ministerial pen Donagh O’Malley changed Ireland. He open up the avenues of second and third level education to thousands what had been excluded. RTE was established, bringing to an end what Professor Tom Inglis called “the long 19th century of Irish Catholicism”. One of my earliest memories is of television aerials sprouting like mushrooms on a humid autumn day in my home town of Ballina. People talked with varying degrees of agitation about what they had seen and heard on the Late, Late Show. The insights of feminism began to enter the national consciousness. Pop music came to dominate the airwaves – for Bridie Gallagher read The Beatles – and proved as popular as the pious continental devotions imported during the reign of Cardinal Cullen in the 19th century. John Montague caught the flavour of a changing world in his poem ‘The Seige of Mullingar’ about an early 60’s fleadh cheoil:
At the Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar
There were two sounds, the breaking of glass and the background pulse of music.
Young girls roamed the streets with eager faces, shoving for men. Bottles in hand, they rowed out a song, Puritan Ireland’s dead and gone,
A myth of O’Connor and O’Faolain.
Despite the promise of the Second Vatican Council to dialogue respectfully, imaginatively and generously with a changing world, the Church in Ireland failed to evolve a strategy that could learn from and contribute to the new consciousness.
The nature of the Church’s structures was a barrier to productive conversation. For the institution that had evolved over the previous two centuries – notwithstanding its considerable achievements – was authoritarian in structure, destructively clerical and obsessed with a narrow sexual morality. It is out of sync with the creative impulses of modernity. In its heyday it was impervious to dialogue. One might recall the forlorn efforts of Sean O’Faolain who passionately wanted a positive engagement between the Church and the artist. In a prophetic essay, published in 1947, in his book ‘The Irish’ he wrote: “In Ireland the Church holds her power by the old medieval bond of faith. She does not need political techniques as the Church in other more secularised countries does. In Ireland today priests and laity rest at ease. Only one group is held at arms length, the writers and intellectuals. (The writers know) that the intellectual struggle is upon Ireland’s doorstep. They want questions to be raised and answered. The Church relies on the weapon of rigid authority. It could do that as long as it was concerned with an Ireland protected and sheltered from the world. They see clearly that this isolation is now a dream. The tragedy of all this is, of course, that the priest and writer ought to be fighting side by side, if for nothing else than the rebuttal of the vulgarity that is pouring daily into the vacuum left in the popular mind by the dying out of the old traditional life. But there can be no such common ground as long as the priest follows the easy way of authority instead of discussion.”
O’Faolain was right. The intellectual challenge was on the Church’s doorstep. And the Church was not up to it. Used to the ‘easy way of authority’ it could not envisage the way of mutual dialogue. An authoritarian hierarchical structure is contemptuous of intellectual challenge and is fearful of leaps of the imagination. The consequences have flowed. You know the usual list. Church attendances have plummeted. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have dropped so sharply that an ordination now excites almost as much awe as the sighting of the rare, red necked phalarope in Offaly in the summer of 2010. The continuation of vocation level at that which prevailed from the 1930’s to the 1960’s would have been unhealthy. It is, however, I suggest a sign of a Church in crisis that so few men and almost no women are prepared to offer it life time vocational service.
There is torpidity about the Catholic Church in Ireland today. Take the preparations for the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress. Whatever else can be said about the Dublin Congress of 1932, and much can be said, it was a festive fusion of triumphant Catholicism and Irish nationalism that engaged hearts and minds. Now earnest emissaries from the Congress office are travelling throughout the countryside valiantly trying to drum up some enthusiasm. I am reminded of the observation made of Willie Whitelaw, when he was making a tour of constituencies as deputy leader of the Tory Party that he was going around ‘stirring up apathy’. Or the exhortation of a now deceased Bishop of Meath, who in advance of the canonisation of Oliver Plunkett in 1975 asked the prosaic priests of his diocese “to horse up some piety” for the event.
The Church’s official theology of sexuality fails to resonate with the actual experience of human intimacy. Most Catholic couples ignore Humanae Vitae’s prohibition on contraception. I believe that Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald was right when he claimed that this encyclical was crucial in the undermining of the Church’s authority. People began to lose confidence in an institution whose teaching on this matter was so out of sync with their experience. It’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for clerics is of the same ilk. Its teaching on homosexuality has been heavily criticised, understandably, I suggest, for its insensitivity. And then there have been the scandals of the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious, followed by obfuscations, cover up, and carefully worded apologies. Howard Bleichner wrote in ‘A View from the Altar’: “By any measure the sexual abuse scandals have struck the Catholic Church in the U.S. with the force of a tsunami, dealing the Church the worst blow in living memory”. Equally so in Ireland. The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports, in their cumulative and compelling detail, highlight the acute level of dysfunction in the Church. I don’t sense that the majority of Catholic leaders in Ireland have actually got the extent of the breakdown in trust that these reports have engendered. The reports may not now dominate the daily headlines, but their effect has not gone away. I reckon that if Irish catholics had a democratic way of reflecting their feelings on the subject, Church leaders would suffer a defeat as cataclysmic as that administered to Fianna Fail in the recent general election. Church leadership now seems divided and rudderless. Not since the 19th century has there been such public disagreement among the bishops. Cardinal Cullen’s tridentine temple has come tumbling down. For those of us whose lives were shaped by the influence of free speech, democracy, accountability and respectful academic dialogue the Church has been a cold house for the last 30 years. For those of us who believed in the Vatican II style Church, and its prospects influenced my decision to study for the priesthood, there has been lots of disillusion.
It seems to me that there are two kinds of Catholic Churches in Ireland – the parish community where I work and find fulfilment and the institutional Church from which I often feel alienated. As a priest in a parish I am part of the biggest number of clerics. We go about our work quietly in the way evoked by Seamus Heaney “drinking tea and praising homemade bread”. We rarely make the headlines beyond the community notices buried at the back of the local paper. At a time when the institutional Church is in crisis we have held on to some shreds of credulity for it. As Bishop Willie Walsh has written: “People distinguish between image and reality. The reality for them is the priest they see on Sunday, the priest who visited mother in hospital, the priest who cried with us when we lost our child, the priest who didn’t pass our door even though we were not married in church”. We are still welcomed participants in local events. We are the ones who share the joy of couples and families at baptisms, weddings, first communions and confirmations. We are often privy to people’s pain. At times of death we are the ones who, in the words of the poet, Thomas Kinsella, “seek to give spiritual discipline to shapeless sorrow”. Many of us are involved in local organisations that help build community. We are the ones who usually turn up to things, even if we sometimes doubt the value of our presence. We resemble the priest of whom the Norwegian poet Knut Odegard wrote:
“Uncle Knut was a priest. He was a practical man, but Latin was Greek to him. He died after his retirement, he stood and dug the site for his new house when his heart gave way.
He was more an electrician than a preacher. He began all his speeches by saying ‘I’m not one for long speeches’, and he was right about that.
He did not really have much to teach his parishioners; they had their own troubles with their births, with their love and death. And he did not have words for such things.
But he had learnt how to repair electric wires and he visited people in their homes. And mended short circuits and defective fuse boxes, he screwed lamps into place.
And wherever he had been, there was light”.
So I am happy to live in a community where I feel respected and valued. You make friends. You learn from them. They learn from you. In theological terms it is a kind of incarnational exchange. And as the number of priest decline I wonder how long it will last. I recently heard a bishop glibly indicate our future. Soon priests, he said, will be operating a kind of West Doc service, living in a central location, offering basic services to several parishes. The intimate connection between priest and his people will be lost; our sustaining force.
John Butler Yeats once wrote of a priest who told him that on his return from a period away a parishioner was glad to see him back as she said “While you were away there was a colour of loneliness in the air”. The colour of loneliness will soon envelop our parish communities. It is a desolate vista. There must be a better way.
Graham Greene has written of the door which opens in childhood and lets the future in. In the sphere of religion that door for me was the Second Vatican Council. It promised a Church which would engage positively with the human condition in the modern world. It would contribute to the dialogue out of the wisdom of its lengthy tradition, but also learn from contemporary insights. I long for a Church in this mould. We need a new Council of the Church if only to recall for us the insights of the last one. As Seamus Mallon described the Good Friday agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners, so might the new Council be.
As the theologian Edward Schillebeecx has written:
“I do not begrudge any believer the right to describe and live out his belief in accordance with the old models of experience, culture and ideas but this attitude isolates the Church form any future and divests itself of any real missionary power.”
Such a Church would open its doors to married priests and women priests. It would benefit from secular insights like, for example, on human intimacy and democracy. It would work at developing a healthy and an holistic theology of sexuality.
Unfortunately this is not happening. The glad, confident morning of the Second Vatican Council was a short one. In the aftermath hope was choked by the Vatican Curia. For over 30 years the Church has recoiled from reform and returned to the incense filled ghettoes in defence of its traditional hierarchical structure. Its procedures are archaic and cumbersome and precious, utterly out of sync with the ways of the democratic world. It is suspicious of lay involvement. Only those who are seen to conform to its narrow views are admitted to the temple. So bishops are chosen on the basis of being in favour of compulsory celibacy, adherence to clerical dress, docility to papal teaching and above all against contraception and the ordination of women. Loyalty is defined in old narrow terms. And it is so fearful of the feminine. Misogyny is dressed up in theological abstractions.
So there you have it. I started with Mathew Arnold. I will finish with him. He once wrote of wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born. That is how it has been for me as a priest of the Catholic Church.
So I travel in hope, though I have not much hope. Given our fruitless pursuit of the Sam Maguire maybe that is the peculiar fate of the Mayo man. Cardinal Gibbons was a Mayo man who rose to be a liberal Cardinal in the 19th and early 20th century U.S.A. Of him it was written that he kept the door open to the future. Perhaps that should be the central imperative of the Association of Catholic Priests. Who knows where it might lead. As Leonard Cohen sings: “there is a crack in everything; that is how the light gets in.”
Kevin Hegarty

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  1. Thank you Kevin. That was magnificent. Every catholic in Ireland needs to read this. I’ll be making copies!

  2. ”The Church’s official theology of sexuality fails to resonate with the actual experience of human intimacy. Most Catholic couples ignore Humanae Vitae’s prohibition on contraception. ”
    I’m not so sure about that. I (and I am a youth myself) hold to the Catholic teaching on sex. SO many young people like myself are not seduced any longer by the world of impiety and sin, of contempt for chastity, and scorn for the Commandments of God. HV only re-stated the constant teaching of the Church. There is an enthusiastic ‘creative minority’ quietly striving to live the teachings of Christ as presented to us by Holy Church. Pope JPII’s Theology of the Body has captivated so many young people.

  3. Paul Burns says:

    Bravo, magnificent. Keep up the good work. ‘There is nothing to fear but fear itself’.

  4. Eamonn Keane says:

    Most of what I have read in reports on proceedings from the ACP’s recent annual conference paints a very negative picture of the quality of life for priests in Ireland today. This image of priesthood contrasts strongly with that presented by Monsignor Stephen Rossetti in his new book Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests (Ave Maria Press, 2011).
    Msgr. Rossetti is a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse and is currently serving as associate dean for seminary and ministerial programs at the Catholic University of America (CUA). A licensed psychologist, he has a PhD in psychology from Boston College and a Doctor of Ministry degree from CUA. Msgr. Rossetti has won many awards and authored several highly successful books including: I Am Awake (Paulist Press, 1987), Fire in the Earth (Twenty-Third Publications, 1989), Slayer of the Soul: Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church (Twenty-Third Publications, 1990), A Tragic Grace: The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse (Liturgical Press, 1996), When the Lion Roars: A Primer for the Unsuspecting Mystic (Ave Maria Books, 2003), The Joy of the Priesthood (Ave Maria Books, 2005), Behold Your Mother: Priests Speak About Mary (2007) and Born of the Eucharist: A Spirituality for Priests (Ave Maria Books, 2009).
    Monsignor Rossetti is a former chairperson of Maryland Psychological Association’s ethics committee. From 1996 to 2009 he worked at the Saint Luke Institute in Maryland where he served as its President and Chief Executive Officer. The Institute provides a psycho-spiritual based education and treatment program in conformity with the teaching of the Catholic Church for clergy and men and women religious.
    During his tenure as President and CEO of St. Luke’s, Msgr. Rossetti continuously sought to draw attention to the devastating effects of sexual abuse on victims and he implemented a policy of recommending to dioceses and to religious orders that priests or religious who sexually molested minors never be returned to any unsupervised work or contact with minors. In 2005 Msgr. Rossetti was asked by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to help establish a St. Luke Centre in Manchester.
    In his published work, Msgr. Rossetti is ever insistent on the importance that priests live their commitment to celibacy with integrity. He points out that despite the challenges faced by priests today, when lived with integrity in imitation of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme model of the priesthood and who chose to live it in chastity and celibacy, the path of the ordained priesthood is one that leads to happiness. As a married person, I might add that like the sacrament of matrimony, the life of the celibate priest will bear fruit joyful service to the extent that it is lived out in fidelity to its own intrinsic demands.
    In his new book, Why Priests Are Happy, Msgr. Rossetti, in basing his observations on the surveying of 2,500 priests, affirms that ordained priests in the Catholic Church are among the happiest members of society. In an interview with Zenit.org on October 5, 2011, Msgr. Rossetti said:
    “There have been a number of studies in the United States over the last few years with exactly the same findings: About 90% of priests report that they are happy. In my study, it was 92.4%. In a similar study, when the National Opinion Research Center recently conducted its scientific poll of 27,000 Americans, they found that clergy in general were the most satisfied and happiest of all Americans. This is especially remarkable since over 50% of Americans report being unhappy with their jobs.”
    In response to a question from Zenit which asked how celibacy relates to a priest’s happiness, Msgr. Rossetti replied:
    “This was also an interesting finding. Those priests who felt called by God to live a celibate life and who experienced celibacy as a personal grace, despite its challenges, were much more likely to be happy men…The good news here is that over 75% of priests have found celibacy to be a positive part of their lives. This percentage is likely to rise even higher in the future. It is the youngest priests who most strongly support mandatory celibacy. So, contrary to a secular mentality, support for priestly celibacy will likely rise in the future among priests in the United States. It is disappearing as a ‘hot button’ issue among priests in the United States. But this is challenging. It is one thing to accept celibacy as a necessary part of a priest’s life, but it requires a much deeper level of spirituality to experience celibacy as a gift from God and a personal grace. It requires a depth of living that is profound.”

  5. If all this is true, and it seems to be — I felt that torpidity as long ago as 1977 –, then what is to be done?
    Creative, independent initiative, open discussion, a church that is dialogal, exploratory, in sync with contemporary culture and its doubts and questions, interesting… can we not cultivate such a way of retrieving the inspiration of our faith amid the ruins of the past?

  6. Thank you Kevin – you, and men like you give me great hope for the future!

  7. I agree with other commenters that this statement deserves praise. I am particularly pleased to read this: “In the sphere of religion that door for me was the Second Vatican Council. It promised a Church which would engage positively with the human condition in the modern world. It would contribute to the dialogue out of the wisdom of its lengthy tradition, but also learn from contemporary insights.” Yes, Vatican II had much to say about dialogue. And yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny called for dialogue with and cooperation from clergy toward the goal of protecting children by improving state laws. About the Vatican’s “Response” to the Cloyne Report, yesterday’s Irish Times reporter wrote, “It suggested the way forward was through continuing dialogue and co-operation. ‘With confidence, I require and expect to have the complete and unreserved co-operation of the church authorities and everyone in our society to that end,’ he said” (Irish Times, Oct. 5, by Marie O’Halloran). Neither Archbishop Martin nor any other churchman, as far as I have read, has voiced agreement with the Taoiseach’s initiative. Why not? Can there be any conscientious reason to reject it? If “church authorities” issue no reply, will the ACP make a statement?

  8. It’s too bad Mr. Keane didn’t do his homework before writing his panegyric for Rev. Rossetti, or take heed of the gospel passage Matt.7:15 about ravening wolves in sheep’s clothing. Following is an article with addenda that deserves some thought before lending a willing ear to Rossetti’s message.
    Sex Expert Is Bad Choice for Priests Convocation
    A major factor in the U.S. bishops’ mishandling of priestly sex abuse was their reliance on a clique of “experts” whose psycho-sexual babble subverted the truth. Many of those “experts” have links to Alfred Kinsey whose experimental data was gathered using pedophiles and criminals who raped and molested little children including infants. To read Judith Reisman’s expose of Kinsey is to see the diabolical in action.
    Unfortunately bishops continue to defer to these “experts” and their institutions.
    Bishop Paul Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington subjected every parish priests to a two and a half day convocation on the “Joy of the Priesthood” held outside the diocese at the Carroll Valley Resort in Fairfield, PA. The meeting was keynoted by none other than Fr. Stephen Rossetti head of the notorious St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, MD. Rossetti, acclaimed as an “expert” by the media and the bishops, is frequently sought for interviews. He joins other “talking heads” like Fr. Richard McBrien and Fr. Andrew Greeley as a media darling. And like his brother priests, he rarely faces any hardball questions, for example about the immoral tests used at St. Luke’s or some of his appalling views. Rossetti’s interviews often have the gloss of orthodoxy in sharp contrast to his links to the Kinsey cohort and his insistence that homosexuality is not the problem, the family is. Perhaps Rossetti is the source for Arlington’s Victim Assistance Coordinator telling religious educators that children are “safer with homosexuals than heterosexuals.”
    Why was Rossetti selected to speak to the Arlington priests? One possibility is Bishop Loverde’s desire to convince the priests (and through them the laity) that the abuse scandals had nothing to do with homosexuality, Rossetti’s mantra. The announcement of Rossetti’s selection also coincided with Bishop Loverde’s efforts to impose classroom touching programs on the children of the diocese. He told the priests of Rossetti’s participation in a letter after several contentious clergy meetings about the impending implementation of Good Touch Bad Touch. Opposition from clergy and laity sank that program, but the bishop has publicly and repeatedly expressed his determination to impose a classroom program during the latency period on little ones as young as four years old. Rossetti is a natural propagandist to further that goal. When the bishop and chancery officials said parents couldn’t teach their children at home because they “might be abusers” they were simply echoing Rossetti’s belief that everyone is a latent pedophile, especially mothers.
    In an article entitled “Salt for their Wounds” Leslie Payne provided this appalling information:
    In the introductory essay that opens his book, “The Myth of the Child Molester” (which was written before he came to St. Luke’s), Father Rosetti suggests that most people have pedophiliac urges, but are able to repress them. He believes that most instances of pedophilia are never discovered, and this is especially true of the pedophiliac acts committed by women. Rosetti is particularly suspicious of mothers, explaining that it is “easier for a mother in our society to disguise inappropriate contact with youngsters as maternal acts of cleaning, grooming, and dressing.”
    Father Rosetti also stresses his belief that there is no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. In his concluding essay, “Challenge to the People of God,” he reiterates his theory that most people have some degree of sexual attraction to children. He quotes a 1976 study by the late psychologist Robert Stoller, which concluded that it is not possible to find “a line on the continuum of sexual behavior that could separate normal from perverse.” He faults the Church for cultivating “a climate of repression and/or obsession,” which he says leads to deviant sexual behavior.
    This is the man invited to discuss the “joy of the priesthood” with our beloved shepherds.
    Below are excerpts from two articles that challenge Rossetti’s view on treatment of homosexual priests.
    The first is by Dr. Germaine Grisez, questioning whether Rossetti’s goal is to reorient the homosexual priest abuser to more “age appropriate” lovers.
    Stephen J. Rossetti, A Tragic Grace: The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1996), explains that most of what he calls “child sexual abuse” is not pedophilia. In arguing that the Church should not regard clerical sexual offenders as incurable, Rossetti says (88):
    The statement, “Pedophilia is incurable,” is misleading. First of all, most perpetrators of child sexual abuse are not pedophiles. In a Saint Luke Institute sample of 280 priests who had sexually molested minors, only 20 percent were actually pedophiles. Pedophilia is a clinical term referring to someone whose sexual orientation is towards a prepubescent child. It is true that psychotherapy usually cannot change one’s sexual orientation. The minority of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are actually diagnosable pedophiles. . . .
    The majority of perpetrators are involved with postpubescent children. All things being equal, they are more amenable to treatment. One of their goals is to develop satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers.
    Thus, in contrast with pedophiles, Rossetti describes ephebophiles: “There are others who are ephebophiles, i.e., sexually attracted to postpubescent children” (67).
    Melvin C. Blanchette, S.S.S., and Gerard D. Coleman, S.S.S., “Priest Pedophiles,” America, 25 April 2002, claim that ephebophilia is one of “five basic sexual orientations.” They define it as follows:
    A fixated ephebophile possesses a primary sexual desire toward children between 14 and 17, with the adolescent victim being at least five years younger than the perpetrator. This category becomes especially complicated when the victim is a 14- to 17-year-old boy, and the adult male’s attraction might be one of homosexuality rather than ephebophilia.
    In fact, there are two reasons to doubt whether an adult male’s sexual interest in adolescent boys or young men often, if ever, manifests a basic sexual orientation distinct from homosexuality. First, if one looks for “ephebophilia” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, one does not find it. Second, as Rossetti says (88), pedophiles are not amenable to treatment because “psychotherapy usually cannot change one’s sexual orientation.” But, Rossetti also points out (68): “Many times adults who are sexually aroused by minors may also be aroused by adults as well.” Other things being equal, Rossetti says (88), ephebophiles are “more amenable to treatment,” for they can learn to “develop satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers.”
    In other words, men who have engaged in criminal sexual behavior with adolescent boys and young men can be treated effectively, because no change in sexual orientation is necessary. Such men generally, and perhaps always, simply are homosexuals who have found underage partners attractive and conveniently available, and have been willing to commit crimes. With treatment, they can stop committing crimes and enjoy “satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers.” “Age-appropriate” is a telling statement. Priests should and usually do enjoy satisfying nonsexual relationships with many of their spiritual children, from the cradle to the grave. Only unchaste relationships must be limited to age-appropriate peers-to consenting adults. Rossetti apparently considers that limitation is a successful treatment outcome.
    Every sexually abused person is a victim. In some cases, victims do not understand what is going on and/or are unable to resist; in such cases, those abused are simply victims. But in most cases clerical sexual offenses are not only abuse.
    In an interview published on the USCCB website, Frederick S. Berlin, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, and a consultant to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse from its inception to 2000, was asked: “What would be the range of sexual activity that you would find in priest pedophiles?” Dr. Berlin answered:
    In priests, we rarely see the physical or assaultive kinds of behavior. It’s very rare to see rape other than statutory. The most common thing we see with priests is that they enjoy the company of youngsters, like the companionship, want to do good for them, and then, unfortunately, as a bond develops emotionally, begin to feel sexually tempted and persuade the youngster to go along with sexual activity. That’s the most common scenario that we see in a priest. Of course the youngster, in respecting the priest and in feeling that the priest is not going to lead him astray, is at a tremendous disadvantage [italics added].
    In many cases, victims’ own statements also make it clear that they were troubled about the ongoing sexual activity in which they were involved with a cleric, whose dirty secret they kept because he had lured them into making it their own. Such victims cooperated in the sexual activity: they were seduced.
    In my judgment, therefore, the bishops of the United States ought to recognize and state publicly that a large and important part of the clerical sexual offenses to be dealt with are seductions by homosexual clerics of adolescent boys and young men.
    In the second Fr. John Harvey, founder of COURAGE, echoes the question in an excerpt from his article, “Ongoing Reflections on Priest-Bishop Scandals.”
    by Fr. John Harvey
    From the many recommendations that Grisez submitted to the Ad Hoc Committee, I shall comment on a few in this article. He takes issue with Stephen Rossetti’s A Tragic Grace: The Catholic Church and Child Sexual Abuse…
    Rossetti, for example, says that acts with post-pubescent children by the “majority of perpetrators” are “more amenable to treatment”. One of the treatment goals “is to develop satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers.” But what does Rossetti mean? According to Grisez, Rossetti holds that no change in sexual orientation is necessary for the “perpetrators” – actively homosexual men; consequently, “with treatment, they can stop committing crimes with underage men and enjoy ‘satisfying relationships with age-appropriate peers’ [Rossetti’s expression]….”
    “Priests should and usually do enjoy satisfying non-sexual relationships with many of their spiritual children from the cradle to the grave. Only unchaste relationships must be limited to age-appropriate peers – to consenting adults. Rossetti apparently considers that limitation a successful treatment outcome.” Here Grisez regards Rossetti as justifying such adult homosexual relationships by priests who formerly were involved with teenagers. Rossetti needs to clarify his position. One wonders why he uses the word “perpetrators” when he is referring to homosexual priests.
    Mary Ann Kreitzer
    Woodstock, VA
    In the Diocese of Arlington, VA

  9. Kevin, thank you for that insightful and I suppose, somewhat sad reflection on the Ireland in which we all grew up. So much of what you said connected with me. I remember well the day Donagh O’Malley used his ministerial pen and changed the world for many of us. In Donegal there were no Christian Brothers — you could now debate if that was a good or a bad thing — but it meant that secondary school education was the preserve of the children of the well-off until Donagh’s master stroke.. My old Parish Priest– now retired -used get Intercom sent over to him here in Scotland and he would pass it onto me. So I knew who you were before this week. Like MM I will also be making copies and passing them on. Thank you again, Kevin.

  10. Eamonn Keane says:

    Dear Amos,
    Thanks for your fraternal rebuke.
    I had not known that Germain Grisez and the late Fr. John Harvey had raised serious questions in regard to Msgr. Rossetti’s work regarding the diagnosis of the causes of clerical sexual abuse and their treatment. I regard Professor Grisez as one of the great moral theologians of the last 50 years. I have benefitted much from reading the books authored by Fr. Harvey on homosexuality. In founding the Apostolate “Courage’, which seeks to provide people struggling with same-sex attraction a spiritual and social framework for striving to live a chaste life, Fr. Harvey did a great service for people of homosexual orientation.
    Professor Grisez and Fr. Harvey were right to press Msgr. Rossetti to clarify his position on what should be considered a successful conclusion to a course of clinical treatment and pastoral care for a priest who had been engaging in sexual activity with teenage boys. They pointed out that transition to involvement in homosexual relations with adults for such a sex abuser could not be regarded as a proper resolution of the problem, something they believed Msgr. Rossetti to be advocating.
    Having said all this, I think nevertheless, Amos, that some of the conjectures you make regarding Msgr. Rossetti are unjustified. For example, the fact that he was invited to address a gathering in a particular diocese does not mean he thereby supports the introduction into the diocese of a terrible program such as ‘Good Touch Bad Touch’. Nor does it mean he supports the introduction of sex education programs rooted in Kinsey-type ideas that are morally corrupting and in violation of the latency period in child development.
    Overall, from my limited reading of Msgr. Rossetti’s work, he appears to me to be someone who has many useful insights to share on problems afflicting many priests in English-speaking countries. I believe he is committed to upholding the teaching of the Catholic Church in its integrity, including its teaching on hot-button issues such as sexuality. His views in this regard were made evident in an interview with Paul Gray in the November 7, 2002 edition of The Record, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Perth in Australia, when in responding to a question about clerical sex abuse and the demand by some commentators that the Church change its teaching on sexuality, he replied:
    “There are several levels of problems and crises going on…One is child abuse itself — whenever anyone does it, it’s a terrible thing, but when a priest does it, it’s particularly despicable…There’s a well of anger against the Church for a variety of issues, and one of the issues is the Church’s teaching on sexuality. People say they don’t like the Church’s teachings, and they get angry. One reporter said to me, ‘isn’t the Church abusing the people by its teaching on sexuality?’ My response to that is that teaching the truth is never abusive. You might not like it, and it might be counter-cultural, but I think that society’s approach to sexuality is bankrupt. I think the Church has an important message to bring when it comes to sexuality. I think that sexuality is a wonderful gift from God, but it must be used in a way that’s appropriate to one’s state in life. There are boundaries and limits.”

  11. The Perfect Priest
    The results of a computerized survey indicate the perfect priest preaches exactly fifteen minutes. He condemns sins but never upsets anyone. He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also a janitor. He makes $50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $50 weekly to the poor. He is 28 years old and has preached 30 years. He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.
    The perfect priest smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.
    If your priest does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their priest, too. Then bundle up your priest and send him to the church on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 priests and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure.
    One parish broke the chain and got its old priest back in less than three weeks.

  12. kevin clancy says:

    kevin hegarty, we are indebted to you for a magnificent breath of fresh air!

  13. Mary Burke says:

    Thanks, Kevin! What a great piece!
    You’ve given your answer to those who unjustly removed you from Intercom all those years ago.
    And where are they now?

  14. Priestly Ministry Today, An insider’s view: Kevin Hegarty
    This is a thought provoking piece from a man who is on the inside of the Irish Catholic thing. I am not sure how it all works over there but I know you have had lots of dicfficulties with the child sex attacks and you highlight a bunch of unhappiness in a Stalinist like system. I have met some happy and some unhappy chaps from the organisation and my thought is if it aint what you want, why not try soemething else? Changing direction when you spot the wagons headed for the buffers is good sense. I dont know if this helps or not? Take care, David

  15. I am a former parish priest, American of Irish ancestry. I have no doubt that the Hibernian organization is as dull, unimaginative and reactive as you paint it. However, I have to say that the kind of church you hope(d) has been tried, and the results are not encouraging.
    I am speaking of the American brand of Anglicanism, the Episcopal Church, referred to here often as “Catholic Lite”. It has adapted to every change in the “modern” world. It is the Church of Vatican II. It has everything you’d want…except parishioners. It continues its annual haemorrhaging of membership, unabated by every new cooperation with the world around it. If its rate of decline continues, in 25 years it will disappear.
    I just don’t see, and no one has been able to make a good case to me, why what fails for the Episcopals –and the UK Anglicans are in even worse shape– would work wonderfully for the Catholics?
    My own vocational trajectory was much influenced by the Council. But I have to ask this of Fr Hegarty: Was the vision you fashioned for yourself out of that heady time a real and possible vision of Roman Catholicism or was it a utopian illusion of yours which time and experience has shown to be at least one-sided?
    It is not altogether different from a marriage partnership. As long as you hold on to a vision of who your spouse can be and ought to be, despite daily evidence to the contrary, you will be miserable. Once you let go of the projections and illusions you have covered her with and love her as she is…life is not so grand, but it is much more real, more kind and happier.
    Here endeth the lesson.

  16. Graham English says:

    I live in Sydney and this article has just been pointed out to me.
    My word it is a fine piece! Thank you Kevin.

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