THE CODE OF PASTORAL CONDUCT -- implemented by various U.S. dioceses, including Greensburg, which issued it to us priests at our October, 2012 Clergy Convocation -- has put some priests on the edge, leaving them feeling especially vulnerable and without any hope that their Diocese or their bishop, would be willing or even able to stand up for them.
They can point to some of their colleagues whose lives have been put on ice, and whose careers have been apparently ruined for good. They are without a diocesan assignment which would give their lives priestly meaning.
On the other hand, diocesan priests understand that their bishop is obligated to remove those accused, for the good of the whole, for institutional integrity. After all, diocesan priests are among the major stakeholders, in a business sense, in any diocese. In that sense they have to feel grateful that their bishop has removed a man from ministry since his alleged comportment has threatened the well-being of everyone in the diocese.
But to whom can an accused diocesan priest turn for support? I heard ne priest who works in recruiting for the diocesan priesthood counsels those who seek to enter the diocesan program for seminarians, that the applicant consider securing a professional degree (excluding philosophy or canon law) before ordination. Thus should they suffer an accusation which would justify their removal from ministry, they would have something else to fall back upon, even if not what they had thought was the will of God for them: serving God’s people as an ordained priest.
I heard another priest say to a gathering of his fellow diocesans: “IT'S A SCARY SITUATION … WE NEED A UNION." Let’s examine that idea. First, we understand that diocesans are not “regulars,” that is to say, they don’t below to a religious order which provides for a supportive community that is about more than just ordination to the clerical state. While canon law does address the obligation a bishop has to those he accepts for ordination, with the recent stress brought about by the whole sexual abuse crisis, more and more bishops understand the liability a priest can represent for his diocese. One diocesan bishop in Pennsylvania even said before at a convocation of his priests: Priests are too expensive. We have to make do with those we have already.
So to where can a diocesan priest turn? Let’s look at what’s happening in the past two years:
1) In Ireland, Father X is removed from his parish because a credible accusation of having fathered a child while serving as a missionary in Kenya. He is a Religious. Neither his religious superior nor the bishop of the Irish Diocese where he had been working in a parish at the time of the accusation did anything more than remove him from ministry. The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) decided to take up the case. Their Legal Team went to work. They arrange for DNA testing at considerable expense to the Association. The results show conclusively Father X is not the child’s father. The bishop comes to the parish to reinstate him. Newspapers cover the event where the bishop gives thanks to the Almighty for clearing Father’s name. No mention of the leg work done by the ACP but The Irish Times quotes Father X thanking the Association, without whom he would still be in hiding. Since that time membership in the ACP has understandably increased tremendously. The men know they have someone who will stand behind them, insofar as possible
2) In the USA several recent cases are worthy of note:
a) Fr. William Rowe of the Belleville Diocese is stripped of his faculties for having made alterations to the New Roman Missal. The Association of US Catholic Priests, after reviewing Fr. Rowe’s situation, write him a letter of moral support, without trying to intervene with his bishop, knowing the futility of it. But a fellow diocesan gives him lodging and non-priestly work to do, which the bishop had the good sense not try to close down.
b) Fr. Robert Harrington, long-time prof of moral theology in his diocesan seminary, along with Fr. Jack Martin and another priest assigned to Saint Mary’s parish, inner city Elizabeth, NJ are given a summary order to aban-don the parish by the end of January, 2013. True, Harrington has been serving as pastor from a wheelchair, suffering from diabetes but is deeply admired by parishioners and people well beyond the parish. The Archdiocese says it has found misuse of parish funds, namely, that an account with a substantial balance was not transferred to the Archdiocese.
The laity set up an online petition which asks that the Archdiocese con-sider extenuating circumstances and meet with the parishioners. Since Fathers Harrington and Martin are both members of the AUSCP, the Association invites its members to consider supporting the petition which is endorsed by a well-respected retired Archdiocesan priest, Fr. Tom Ivory who is also a member of the AUSCP. Before it was over, more than 50 U.S. priests have put their names on the petition, while Father Martin got invitations from twenty-four pastors of the Archdiocese to accept their invitation to live and work in their respective parishes. Father Martin admits the show of solidarity had worked wonders for him while giving Fr. Harrington a boast in his morale, even if at the end he had to cede the parish to an administrator.
c) Fr. Tony Flannery, cssr, a case that is too complicated to review here, but can be found on the ACP’s website, www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie. When Flanney was disciplined, The ACP published a declaration on this same website, claiming that Fr. Flannery did not deserve the treatment he had received. In turn The AUSCP -- The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests -- appreciative of the long-standing leadership of Fr. Flannery on matters of concern to the universal church, wrote the following message: “We want to join the ACP in support of Father Tony Flannery in the hope that his many years of dedicated faithful priestly min-istry be respected in the discussion with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. We are concerned about similar penalties imposed on American priests such as Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Fr. Bill Brennan, S.J. Not all of our members may agree with the statements of these priests, but they deserve to be treated more compassionately by Vatican officials. The fact that their penalties are more severe than those imposed upon bishops and priests involved in recent pedophilia scandals certainly raises questions of fairness and justice. We stand in solidarity with our brother priests in the sense of “Presbyterium Ordinis” from Vatican II and ‘Pastores Debo Vobis” from Blessed Pope John Paul II, and we assure them of our prayerful support and remembrance in our Masses.”
Over 150 members of the AUSCP endorsed this message. The Irish in turn published the message and the names of the adherents on their website. Interestingly, The Australian Council of Priests shortly thereafter, sent a similar missive to the Irish. It is said that about 40% of Australia’s priests are members of the Australian Council which does not have an NFPC-type organization, but rather, The Council, which is based on individual membership.
While it is too early to tell what will be the final resolution of the Fr. Flannery case, he is basking in the knowledge that his legacy as a respectful, if dis-sident son of the Church has been secured, and this, even if his congregation, the Redemptorists, is obligated to dismiss him from their Society as have the Maryknollers in the case of Roy Bourgeois.
Priests need a union? (A labor union being the implication.) God forbid. But it can also be said: Blessed are the organized, and woe to the non-organized. For the latter -- once removed from ministry -- shall shuffle off into their own solitary goodnight, unsung and un-remembered, least of all by progeny, biological or spiritual.
Effective solidarity among the clergy of a single diocese is increasingly difficulty to realize. The same cannot be said for national organizations such as the Australians, the Irish, The Austrians, The Swiss, The Basques The Salvadorans and now the Americans. Admittedly those who take out membership in these associations are not likely to advance in their clerical careers as understood by the ambitious and which Victor Hugo so clearly scorned in the course of his novel, Les Miserables. CEO’s of any institution based on the division between capital and labor are going to look unkindly on their workers who are organized. This is true of Holy Mother the Church, despite the many fine things it has said about the rights of labor to organize. But the same Holy Mother the Church provides in Canon Law for associations such as the AUSCP. It’s canonically legal. Let ecclesiastical ambition take the back seat. Or as Jesus would ask: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink? They said: We can. He replied: My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit on my right and my left, this is not mine to give…”
Fr. Bernard Survil, Greensburg, PA
24 February, 2013.