When Colin McEnroe condemns what he calls pedophilic priests – often -- Catholics should join in the condemnation, although they may quibble with the word “pedophilic” as it has been applied to Fr. Richard Foley on McEnroe’s blog “To Wit.” The clinical definition of pedophilia involves sexual relations with pre-pubescent children. Fr. Foley has been accused of having improper sexual relations with teenage boys; that would make him a predatory homosexual or a child abuser.
If McEnroe wants to condemn a church hierarchy that winked at the behavior of pedophiliac priests like Fr. John J. Geoghan of Boston and by so doing enabled that behavior, Catholics should send up a hearty cheer for McEnroe. Gehogan was convicted on a charge of molesting a 10 year old boy, though this was but the tip of his personal erotic iceberg. But it’s important to maintain proper distinctions even in condemning priests. Geoghan, murdered in jail by a homophobic prisoner, was a pedophiliac; Fr. Fr Paul Shanley, another notorious and noxious Boston priest, was an aggressive homosexual.
Shanley began a ministry among down and out teenagers in Boston and developed a rapport with the media that later would stand him in good stead when he began his decent into predatory homosexuality. Shanley was present at the formation of the North American Man/Boy Love Association and also bedazzled boys by plying them with booze and driving them around in hot cars, like Fr. Foley.
But McEnroe is not content with condemning Foley in his March 25th blog titled “Connecticut Doubt.” McEnroe’s blog is, of course, a vigorous attack on those who support the position of Connecticut Catholic bishops on the distribution of Plan B in Catholic hospitals, and McEnroe here seeks to attack the position of the bishops on that issue by attacking the fitness of the church to pronounce on moral issues. He does this by pointing to the scandal in the Catholic Church involving pedophile priests, homosexual priests and child abusers, asserting that a church that abets such behavior lacks the authority to pronounce on ethics and morals.
“Reminded yet again of the way the Church countenanced the abuse of living, sentient boys,” McEnroe writes, “we may be forgiven if our stomachs churned while Feldman insisted on the church's moral right to parse microscopically the activities of unimplanted cell clusters drifting in the bodies of rape victims.”
Barry Feldman, the vice-president and counsel for St. Francis Hospital, recently testified before a legislative committee that reported out a bill that would force Catholic hospitals in Connecticut to distribute Plan B to rape victims who test positively for ovulation. The Catholic bishops in Connecticut so far have refused to allow the four Catholic hospitals in the state to distribute Plan B only when test show the patient is ovulating; otherwise the pill is administered in Catholic hospitals. Most recently, Catholic decision makers were in discussions with pro-Plan B proponents in an attempt to find a mediated solution that would not involve unnecessary inconvenience for rape victims or an order from the state to Catholic hospitals that would force Catholics to violate the cannon law of the church, the punishment for which, in the case of those who facilitate abortions, is excommunication.
Now, it is not possible to talk rationally about this controversy without mentioning the reason why the Catholic Church is adamant in refusing to dispense Plan B under the very narrow circumstances described above -- that is, only when it has been determined that ovulation may be occurring. But McEnroe manages to do so with his usual sneering aplomb.
Because Foley molested teenage boys under his charge, sodomizing one of his victims, Feldman’s testimony before a legislative committee contemplating a bill that would force Catholic hospitals to provide Plan B to rape victims may be safely discounted. Why? Because this business of losing moral authority is catchy. Neither Feldman nor Bishop Mandell have molested boys, and yet their moral authority has been irretrievably corrupted because, to take a concrete example, two Boston priests – one a pedophile, the other an abusive homosexual with a taste for vulnerable young boys – had caused a scandal in a Catholic Boston diocese. Feldman is not fit to give testimony to a legislative committee on Plan B because he is a lawyer for Catholics, and all Catholics, including the vast majority of priests who are as offended as McEnroe at the moral corruption of Shanley and Gehogan, are deeply implicated in the scandal; that implication has, in McEnroe’s blog, now extended it’s boney finger in Feldman’s direction.
The problem with tarring people with such a broad brush is that others very well may follow suit and, for example, condemn all gays because of Shanley’s behavior. That would be wrong. We do not say that all gays have lost their moral authority to present themselves before legislative committees to argue in favor of gay marriage because Shanley, who also spent some time recuperating at St. Thomas’ Seminary and later ran a gay bed and breakfast in California, was a sexual predator who took advantage of young teenagers in his charge. We do not say this because it would not be true. Some gays in Boston who knew what Shanley was doing objected to his behavior to church officials who had turned a deaf ear to them. Shanley’s unorthodox views on sex got him a great deal of approving press coverage, and when a bishop finally cornered him, he hinted that he would turn the media against the bishop. We do not say that Boston’s media has lost its authority to pronounce on morals because Shanley was able to use his favorable press to seduce young boys, some of whom were uncertain about their sexual identities. We do not say this because it is not true.
We want to say the truth and shame the devil, as Cardinal Newman once put it – even if the truth is that the devil has got hold of a priest. That being the case, we want to be able to condemn the priest and his abettors, even if they are bishops.
But McEnroe’s undifferentiated condemnation of the Catholic Church is wrong, and it would be wrong if a bishop did it too. Bishop Mandell is not Cardinal Law. The Catholic Church’s authority to pronounce on matters of faith and morals does not depend upon the moral probity of its fallen away priests. A teaching of the church is authoritative when it is theologically true. There is little or no connection between the Catholic Church’s position on Plan B and Foley’s disgusting behavior. Some Catholics, by no means all, do not wish to be cut off from the grace of the sacraments through excommunication because the state of Connecticut has forced them to violate the laws and rites of their church.
That’s the truth. Unfortunately, one searches for it in vain in McEnroe’s sometimes amusing reflections on Catholics.