The Betrayers

(Homily for Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

This Sunday we hear Jesus’ third vineyard parable. Filled with violence, it has an ominous tone. On one level – certainly the most profound one - it has been fulfilled in Jesus' Passion. Still, it applies to every generation of Christians. Jesus foretells that some of those working in the vineyard will rebel against the owner (God himself) and use it for their own purposes. It is hard not to see the parable as a prophecy of our clergy sex abuse scandal.

In his book From Scandal to Hope, Fr. Benedict Groeschel examines the roots of the scandal. He details how disloyalty spread through seminaries, universities, chanceries and parishes. The most notorious case was Fr. Paul Shanley who helped found the North American Man-Boy Love Association in 1979. He lectured in seminaries, once with a bishop in attendance, maintaining that “homosexuality is a gift of God and should be celebrated” and that there was no sexual activity that caused psychic damage, “not even incest or bestiality.”

For sure, Paul Shanley is an exteme case by almost anyone’s standards, but the gospel of sexual liberation was often presented in a more disarming manner. Commenting on Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the sixties, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus noted:

“It became a cliché in activist circles that there were many more Bible passages condemning inequality of wealth and other injustices than there were condemning sexual misconduct. Conventional religion was routinely assailed for being inordinately preoccupied with 'morality from the belly button down.' Among liberals to this day these are derided as 'the pelvic issues.'” (Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.)

With such groundwork, Fr. Charles Curran had little trouble getting seventy-seven theologians to sign a protest against Humanae Vitae, an encyclical which reaffirmed marital chastity. A few years later the Catholic Theological Society (CTS) published Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, a study which made room for cohabitation, adultery and homosexuality.

Those days blur in my mind – I was a young priest quite busy in parish ministry – but I remember that the people saying those things were serious minded and, yes, that they were offering much “wiggle room” for sexual expression. I do not think it is a coincidence that the four men recently removed from ministry in Seattle were, like me, formed in that milieu. Indeed, they committed their crimes at the time the CTS was bringing sexual morality "up to date."

The chickens have come home to roost. We are paying the price – in lawsuits, public humiliation, loss of credibility, innocent men accused and repentant men discarded.* The media gave us a glimpse of enormous destruction to the vineyard. They did so selectively and with great relish because the scandals discredit a teaching authority they, by and large, find annoying. But this attention has had a consequence they probably did not intend. It has alerted Catholics to the widespread pillaging of the vineyard which ultimately means the destruction, that is, the damnation of souls.

In his epilogue, Fr. Groeschel asks, “Does all this scandal shake your faith in the Church?”

He answers, “I hope so, because ultimately your faith should not be in the Church. Ultimately your faith is in Jesus Christ, and we accept the Church. We support the Church. We believe in and belong to the Church because Christ established it on His apostles.”

We see that in today’s Gospel. The owner of the vineyard is God – and he will care for his Church, not by a committee document, but raising up saints, men and women who will properly tend the vineyard.

From Scandal to Hope merits reading by all who care about Christ’s Church. For me the book provoked serious self examination – and repentance for damage I did, either by misdeeds, by my words or by indolence. I conclude with this provocative paragraph:

“The vast majority of people – clergy, religious, and laity – who have contributed to the present weakened state of the Church are almost totally unaware that they have done so. I count myself among them. They never wanted to do this. Indeed, many of them spent most of their time trying to lead a good Christian life despite the confusion arising from moral sloppiness, a failure to identify mortally sinful behavior of many kinds, and the de facto denial that each one of us will stand before the Lord were ‘he will repay every man for what he has done.’” (Mt 16:27)


*Fr. Groeschel describes a priest, patently innocent, whose life was ruined by an accusation. He also discusses the more perplexing problem of what to do with priests who are guilty of crimes against adolescents, but who faced their crimes, repented and gave a couple decades of ministry from which time no new charges have emerged. That seems to be the case of four Seattle priests removed from ministry this year.

Fr. John Harvey, founder of Courage, had this to say:

I should like to focus in on what I regard as roots of the current priest scandals. But I must first clarify the nature of the problem. The problem is not "pedophile priests", a term flung around by radio announcers and talk show hosts. As Philip Jenkins, an Episcopalian from Penn State University points out in his book PEDOPHILES AND PRIESTS (1995) , only less than .5% of priests were found to be involved in pedophilia, which means sexual actions between an adult and a boy or girl below that age of puberty; while 98.5% of the priest scandal cases were active homosexual priests engaged in sex with adolescent boys (Please note: In saying this, I am not excusing the sin of pedophilic behavior or minimizing the harm to the victim.)

This latter group are called "pedophiles " by the press and in this way they avoid the use of the word "homosexual". The chances of a pedophile learning to control his behavior are very little, while it has been shown that men who engage in sex with male youth often recover the ability to be chaste. Compared with the 47,000 priests in the United States who remain faithful to their vows, the number of homosexual priests involved with adolescents is relatively small; nevertheless "it can no longer be denied that the church has a serious problem of homosexual-oriented clergy who are not living chaste celibate lives." (The Catholic Difference From Scandal to Reform: The Nature of the Crisis by George Weigel -Internet).

For complete article: Courage to Tell the Truth

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-seventh Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Trust No Matter What Week 2
2011: In the Midst of Troubles
2008: He Leased It to Tenants
2005: Have No Anxiety At All
2002: The Betrayers
1999: Usurpers of the Vineyard

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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