Culture of Clergy Needs A Course Correction

Click here to read: “Monica Yant Kinney: Dystunction among the vicars of Christ,” Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist, April 1, 2012


Only a priest with zero fear of repercussions would lie about ordering gay porn on a parish TV, as the Rev. Michael Murtha did even as his pastor presented evidence in the form of a Comcast bill.

And only a cleric bothered by and resigned to his profession’s aversion to conflict would investigate a colleague who was collecting sadomasochistic pornography, then refuse to confront the priest, who lived in the room next door.

“It was immoral. It was personal,” said the Rev. Joe Okonski. “I didn’t feel I was the person to address him on that matter.”

22 thoughts on “Culture of Clergy Needs A Course Correction

  1. I probably will get some people angered at my following reflections on this Palm Sunday, April 1st, 2012. But as I was reflecting on the meaning of this day liturgically, I was thinking that instead of parishoners carrying palm reeds into the church, maybe there should be a a procession of victims of abuse, walking before us and pleading for justice for the innocence of their lives that has been taken away by priests and covered up by bishops and administrators to protect “the temple.” Sometimes, celebrations can distract us from real problems. Although Palm Sunday is a lead into Holy Week and focuses on the suffering and death of Jesus followed by his Resurrection, there are many people in our church who cannot face this week without remembering their own suffering and pain, at the hands of colorfully garbed clerics who assaulted them over days, months or years, sanctimoniously leading the community into the church to begin a week long series of rituals. Wednesday of this week is “Spy Wednesday” recalling the betrayal by Judas of Jesus for silver. Holy Thursday recalls the memorial of Eucharist, sharing this meal to celebrate and remember the life and words of Jesus. John’s Gospel of this supper does not include the Eucharistic Memorial but the meaning of servanthood, Jesus washing feet as an act of love, hospitality and caring, telling his followers to do the same, follow his example. But, really, there was no real establishment of “priesthood”. Jesus had already challenged the temple priests. And St. Peter reminded all of the followers of Jesus that “you are a royal priesthood”. As a “priest” myself for 50 years and as a physician assistant working with the homeless for 30 years, I would rather wash and care for homeless feet or even do dishes than wear celebrative vestments now using a liturgical translation of which I can hardly recognize the words of the present usuage.

    1. Judas abandoned Jesus because money was more important to Judas than honor, just like the Catholic church abandoned children for money.

      The difference is that Jesus was a grown man, and Jesus could make the decision Himself about whether to forgive Judas. Imagine how furious God & Jesus will be at people who sacrificed children for money.

      Imagine also if God isn’t stupid, and He allows the victims to determine the eternity of everyone in the Catholic church who was involved in these crimes. If I just gave God that idea, He is free to use it without worry about me getting lawyers and taking Him to court for copyright infringement.

    2. Rev. Wintermyer,

      The title of this thread is “Culture of Clergy Needs a Course Correction”. The clerical culture needs a course correction because it is the sole cause the sexual abuse crisis (and the cause of innumerable other factors that affect the health and well being of our Church and its members).

      I welcome reconfiguring Holy Week rituals so that symbolic messages are sent to victims, to the faithful who care about them, to the faithful who are uninformed and/or in denial, and to priests who fail to understand “servanthood.” I welcome all faith-based, symbolic expressions of mercy, hope, love, sorrow, regret… However, I would consider such faith-based efforts to be shallow, manipulative and playing on the emotive nature of human beings were they to occur without practical, concrete, reason-based efforts to reform the culture of the priesthood. For me, a “corrected” clerical culture demands a synthesis of faith and reason.

    3. Knee jerk reaction!!! I am a victim, and the last thing I would do would be to walk in front of your into any catholic church for any reason! Why would I want to? How dare you even suggest this? Further, today, April 2 is Palm Sunday. Third, please try to remember that there are more ex-catholics walking around in the US than there are catholics. And remember why. I apologize in advance to my comments, I rarely react with such anger, but being passive is what got me in trouble with a priest in the first place.

      1. Kay, You are entitled to your reaction but yesterday was April 1st and Palm Sunday. Father’s daring suggestion may offend some, but it is welcome to so many who want to hear the clergy minister on this subject. It would be need to be followed by concrete changes in culture, but awareness is how change begins.

  2. Father, if the Palm Sunday procession should be led by abuse victims, perhaps ‘Spy’ Wednesday should be portrayed as hierarchy paying 30 coins for ‘cover- up’ and holy Thursday foot washing exemplified by victims ministering to victims, Good Friday might well consider the Passion of Jesus AND the experience of victimized children.

    I am not sure we are ready yet for Easter.

  3. The Rev. John ; I LOVED WHAT YOU SAID ! . It speaks of your personal relationship and your special encounters with our Lord. SUCH A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF (MAYBE) WHATJESUS WOULD DO THIS HOLY WEEK.

    Easter will come for all of us, when the children are exoneratedand, not before

    There can be no Easter Mass, if there is not at least “one new rc “to be baptised into the rc church. That’s the man made rule. I wonder who it will be, that would want this sacrement from this evil place? .

  4. Rev. John …What denomination are you retired from?? YOU DON’T SOUND LIKE A RC PRIEST! LET US KNOW. THANKS.

  5. Glorybe1929: Yes I am a catholic priest in the Roman Church and the Roman Rite, I am not from this diocese, but moved here recently. One of my main reasons was and is to support a dear friend of mine who was abused in this diocese in the 50’s but did not open up to this abuse until the 2005 grand jury report was presented. Msgr. Lynn had interviewed him and stated clearly that he believed his story but that is as far as anything went. I went with this friend to visit Cardinal Rigali and seek some sense from him that he really understood the tragedy of this “sacrilege” against my friend. But in reality, that was a waste of time.
    HaditCath… You are correct. Serious “secular values” of Justice and the demands of reason to challenge the type of authoritarianism which we now experience is absolutely necessary. My great guide in this challenge is George Wilson, SJ’s book Clericalism: The death of the Priesthood. I have suggested this book to many priest friends of mine as well as bishops but I see no real interest in this subject from too many in the clerical state.

    1. Rev. Wintermyer,

      I’ve read Wilson’s book three times!

      You’ve absolutely broken my heart this evening with your remark that you see no real interest in the subject of clericalism from too many in the clerical state. I’m going to bed and weeping myself to sleep.

      My brothers, my brothers. How could you forsake me?

      1. I Will Prevail!


        I wish I did not understand the quantum physics behind certain things;
        It makes me fear other things even more…
        On the other hand, knowledge is power:
        Enlightened, I can liberate myself and mine from those fears,
        And with that freedom, the brilliance that lies within us shall manifest.
        As our gifts of intelligence, empathy, creativity, compassion,

        Adaptability, passion and wisdom start to show,
        Our Light will shine more and more brightly,
        And our love for each other will be all we need

        To ensure it never dims again,
        But only grows brighter.
        How bright will their Light shine…

        If I do this right?
        May our Light become a beacon

        To others who are lost in the Darkness.
        May it help them to find their own Light.
        There is no choice between Darkness & The Light.
        Darkness is but the absence of Light.
        My Light will never again be dimmed,
        I will prevail!

        – Marianne Williamson

  6. Hadit and Father, do you suppose that a reform of the culture of the priesthood, just as a substantive sexual abuse resolution, may come externally…ie profound deterioration in numbers of the ‘faithful’ and greatly toughened civil and criminal abuse legislation, both …occurring throughout US.

    Reconfiguring Holy Week rituals, may well be a sign pointing to the need for clerical reform, and abuse legislation. Neither of which has occurred.

  7. DearHadit, please, I apologize for disturbing your sleep last night. Also, please note that my nights have not been too peacefilled either. I am not complaining about my priesthood because I have tried throughout my life to live what I thought JWD. I have intervened in many persons’ lives who have been spurned by ecclesiastical authority. I have encouraged many people to be adults and use their sense of true humanity to live the meaning of what Jesus was trying to tell all of us. Love and truth go together. Without love there can be no truth, and without truth there is no love. Diarmuid O’Murchu speaks of this in his book,” Adult Faith: growing in wisdom and understanding.” His latest book (2011) crossroad pub, “Christianity’s Dangerous Memory: A rediscovery of the revolutionary Jesus” .

    1. Rev. Wintermyer, while the truth hurts, strong people use it to inform and enliven reason. If hurt is a necessary component to enlightenment, bring it on…

      kay4justice, Joan and Susan, attempts to change the culture of the priesthood via, say, a reconfiguration of faith-rituals cannot precede real, concrete efforts to reform it. Such a faith-scenario would amount to a cruel act intended to enlighten and sooth the faithful and clergy at the expense of victims who will feel re-victimized by all of the patronizing. Mercy and love cannot precede justice! The Church must first provide victims with justice, which necessarily includes a reformed priesthood, before it extends a merciful and loving hand to victims.

      No, Joan, I do not see the culture of the priesthood changing due to exterior factors. Nothing exterior to it will bring it to its senses. Rather, pressing exterior factors will cause it to more aggressively protect and insulate itself. Its myopic interest is Tradition and its continuity.

  8. Hadit, I m not sure that a Holy week liturgy with a focus on victims was even meant to Reform clerical culture. Rather I think it was an application of liturgy to the present trial situation in Philly, in the hopes of raising parishioner awareness.

    I don’t think any victim who would be hurt by such an event should go near it with a ten foot pole. Rather, some parishioners might reconfigure their understanding a bit, or as Susan says ‘awareness is how change begins’.

    Reforming clerical culture is way beyond my pay grade, and quite probably my life span, and
    A continued membership exodus may well further insulate these guys, rather than shape them up….Frankly, I have kind of given up on it.

    I do think the exterior pressure of this trial, will help protect children in Philly and elsewhere. I think dioceses throughout the nation will be ever more careful about abuse issues, predator passing on et al. I am hopeful that prosecutors nationwide will carefully check out their Phillys to see if convening a Grand Jury is appropriate. And I want that serious legislation mandating clergy reporting of suspected abuse, heightened child endangerment laws and the opening of SOLs windows.

  9. haditCatholic,

    Bob Hoatson states that “What they described in court was the clerical culture, a culture so depraved that shutting it down immediately should be reviewed by independent agencies. The porn, the stalking of high school boys, the abuse of children inside and outside of rectories and churches, the sadomasochistic and sexually…”

    He also points out the dangers a young man entering religious life faces from predator priests and brothers. in addition, he notes that it is not isolated to any religious order or diocese. That was what I found while I was in religious life.

    I was sexually approached by priests when I was a seminarian. The difference was that I was in my mid forties, and recently retired from the military. A firm, “I’m not interested,” always put a quick end to that nonsense. If it had not, it would have resulted in a priest with a broken nose, or some missing teeth. Most kids don’t have that option.

    While it is not a crime, consenting priests engaging in sex acts with each other is not uncommon. I certain don’t seek spiritual direction from such individuals. Unless you know a priest very well, I would not trust my soul (or anything else) to him.

    Bob Hoatson is right; the clerical culture must be eliminated. it can’t be repaired!

    1. drwho13,

      I’ve always appreciated the unique insights you bring to C4C due to your time in the seminary. Hardly a day goes by that I do not think about today’s seminarians, and how they are being formed in the culture of clericalism. In your opinion, what is the difference between eliminating the clerical culture and reforming it? Trying to get a handle on the semantics… Thank you.

      1. Can we stop calling it “clericalism” and start calling it “false idolism”.

        Catholics have created words that diminish honesty, like “inappropriate touching” when they really mean child rape.

        “Clericalism”, as I understand it, means that priests worship other priests, and want parishioners to worship the priests. Priests also sign an oath of obedience to their bishop, which I think is part of clericalism. Also, bishops sign an oath to the pope.

        Of course, every one of these practices overrides the First Commandment. God wanted everyone to follow His rules and not the rules of anyone else that wanted to override God. God had reasons.

        Can’t any Catholics believe that God could even get the First Commandment right?

      2. Hadit,

        You asked my opinion; “… what is the difference between eliminating the clerical culture and reforming it?”

        Well, if one defines clericalism as how and by whom the Church should be lead and directed, in the case of Catholicism, elimination is impossible, unless the prelates decided to eliminate it themselves. That will NEVER occur, because for them power is everything, and they certainly are not going to downsize themselves out of existence.

        Reform on the other hand, MAY occur, but only to the extent required to ensure that the real power remains in the hands of the prelates. They may throw the laity a few crumbs ( i.e., allowing altar girls, etc.), if they believe that doing so is necessary to ensure their full control in matters of significance.

        “Catholicism is totalitarian in the best sense of the word. There is not a facet of life which does not come under the purview of God and which is not ministered to by the Catholic Church. The response to the Totalitarian State cannot be met with partial commitments or half measures; the answer must be total.”

        Due to the fact that one’s response to the RCC cannot be met with partial commitments or half measures; the answer must be total, thus elimination, or meaningful reform of clericalism, can not take place within the church. To do so, would destroy the totalitarian nature of the Church, and that church would it would be vastly different than the RCC that exists today.

        That’s why the action of Martin Luther is known as the Protestant Reformation, not the Catholic Reformation.

        IN SHORT – Any reform or elimination of clericalism instituted by the laity would in fact render that church non-catholic, so the elimination OR reform of clericalism is by definition NOT possible.

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