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The Year of the Priest rolls on. I just don’t think that this is what the Pope had in mind!

A New York Times article that ran on 15 October tells the story of “a mother, a sick son and his father, the priest”. The priest a, Franciscan Friar, was able to work his way into the family, taking advantage of the woman by using his position as “spiritual director” and marriage counselor after the woman’s marriage fell apart. He eventually ended up “sharing a bed, meals, movie nights and vacations with the children”.

The relationship finally ended up producing a son. The Franciscans eventually acquiesced to providing child support after convincing the woman to sign a confidentiality agreement. The relationship between the priest and the woman came to an end when another woman confronted the woman who gave birth to the priest’s child because she too had a long term sexual relationship with the same priest.

The priest in question did get to go to a program run for priests with sexual disorders in New Mexico. Can it be the Servants of the Paraclete that worked with this priest? ( This is the same organization that helps American Dioceses with their “Pedophile Relocation and Protection” issues.) The recidivism rate for the graduates of these programs seems to be quite high.

The woman is seeking assistance for the son who was the product of this union. Now 22, the young man has been diagnosed with terminal cancer on the one hand and is fighting the Franciscans on the other for help with the medical bills. While they cry poverty and claim they are doing more than the law requires (a familiar battle cry of the Catholic hierarchy), the order is providing some financial assistance until the man turns 23. The priest is doing nothing.

Despite the fact that the order was aware of this man’s playboy lifestyle, it appears that they did not sanction him in any way. In fact, he was successful in being selected for positions of greater authority and responsibility, with the order knowing full well about his extracurricular activities. This guy even was in a position to teach seminarians about how to stay celibate.about his relationships with women. I think he maybe teaching the priests of the future how to score.

This story is not all that surprising, and the fact that the New York Times ran with the story at all is pretty remarkable. But what I found to be the most fascinating bit of information in the story is that a landmark study in 1990 by the scholar A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine, existed that documented this phenomenon in the church. That study found that 20% of Catholic Priests were involved in “continuing sexual relationships with women” and another 8-10% had “occasional heterosexual relationships”. An earlier study by Sipe concluded that 30% of Catholic priests had a homosexual orientation. Other studies put that number closer to 50%. The studies also suggest that up to 98% of those priests are sexually active.

You do the math. That puts 5-6 out of 10 priests who are sexually active with partners presumably over the age of 18. Throw in the 5-8% who have a pedophilia orientation and it seems that the number of priests living up to their vow of celibacy, regardless of their sexual orientation, is the minority of Catholic Clergy.

It seems to me that the Catholic Church may not be encouraging this kind of behavior, but they are definitely not taking steps to curb it. They are passively accepting it, allowing  vulnerable adults and children to be put at risk.  The priest in this case was finally suspended from his duties by the Catholic Diocese of Superior over this past weekend according to a brief article by the Duluth News Tribune. I note that the Franciscans were not the organization taking this action.

There are many that will say the woman in this case knew what she was getting into by having a sexual relationship with a priest. It is always easy to blame the woman who seduced the priest away from God. But this is a clear case of a philandering priest (with other girlfriends) taking advantage of his position to push his advances on a woman he was supposed to be counseling. If he was a psychologist, he could lose his license for such behavior. No, the faithful will brand the woman as the one to blame. They will forgive the priest for being “all too human”. There will be no consequences for him. Unfortunately, the damage will continue to permeate every facet of this woman’s life. And in this case, the consequences are visited on the son as well. The son is terminally ill and the father just sloughs it off. 

The priest, for his part, did send the young man a card during his medical battle with brain tumors. That has to count for something, right?

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Michael Baumann


Credit: Michael Baumann at "Off My Knees"

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