One of the issues I address in my personal memoir, "Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love," which has caused a significant degree of controversy among certain Roman Catholic circles, is the way the institutional church deals with priests. I highlight especially those moments of personal crisis when priests need the most support, from everyone in the spiritual family they grew up in and gave their lives to, and often find everything but support.
Recently, I read "An Unexpected Life," a book by Monsignor Dale Fushek of the Diocese of Phoenix. The charismatic founder of Life Teen and organizer of Pope John Paul's 1987 U.S. visit describes his work with youth, shares his stories of the priesthood, his attraction to figures like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa (an admiration we share) and provides a unique perspective when he refers to his work as Vicar General (a bishop's right hand) and pastor of one of the most prominent parishes in his local church. He served Bishop O'Brien of Phoenix, who also was ousted after a hit and run incident where a man died after being accidentally run-over by the bishop. I found it interesting that Father Dale avoided telling many of the "difficult" and "painful" stories in his life and in the lives of his brother priests, yet anyone who has been involved in the Roman Catholic Church, at any level, can certainly read between the lines.
His book got me to thinking about close to a dozen priests who have been very prominent dynamic leaders and have also ended up in a very "unexpected" place in their lives as priests and, above all, human beings. Some are indeed accused of criminal behavior and fell into the "zero-tolerance" policies propelled by the U.S. Bishops' fear of the media and public perception that the institutional church protected "pedophiles" or abusers of young adult men in their late teens -- which is also a crime -- but it is not the disorder known as pedophilia. Others disappeared due to sexual situations with adults, and still others because of money issues or an inability to succumb to the institution's desire to control their lives and their ministries.
Recently, Roman Catholics have seen the disappearance and/or disciplining of several prominent priests:
- Father Thomas Euteneuer: One of the greatest leaders in the pro-life movement the Church will ever know. He raised millions and millions of dollars for Human Life International and travelled the globe promoting the Church's anti-contraception and anti-abortion agenda. He was certainly looked at as a future bishop and someone who was smart, capable and extremely competent in his work. Father Euteneuer was a regular on EWTN: The Eternal Word Television Network founded by Mother Angelica. He disappeared quietly, when his bishop in the Diocese of Palm Beach "called him back to his diocese," and then the truth came only after reporters insisted on knowing his whereabouts. There were serious allegations of inappropriate behavior with women during rites of "exorcism."
- Father John Corapi: The priest with a uniquely deep voice who went from fancy real estate agent, former drug user and military man to a religious congregation and was ordained by Pope John Paul II. He became a hero of the extreme right within the Roman Catholic Church for his talks with an intensely conservative tone and masculine demeanor. He also appeared on EWTN almost daily and was, perhaps, one of the most watched TV hosts on the English network. He developed an incredible media ministry to promote the Church's message, but when he was accused of wrongdoing with an adult female, there was no due process, and Fr. Corapi just got fed up and moved on. He describes his disillusionment in a recent video, which every devout Roman Catholic should watch. Again, it describes very well what many priests experience when the hierarchy does not show them the support they expected.
- Father Michael Manning: A popular TV priest evangelist since 1972 and member of a religious order dedicated to preaching. His television preaching shows have been seen by millions on TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). In April 2011, after some correspondence between Manning, 70, and his lover (also his second cousin) was discovered by a San Bernardino newspaper, he admitted to their sexual relationship and asked for a leave of absence. Unlike the others, he has "somewhat" reappeared and seems to have very flexible and compassionate superiors who allowed his ministry to continue after a short one month break.
- Father Frank Pavone: The founder of "Priests for Life" (as one of his seminary classmates once told me, "I thought every priest was for life"), an organization that has also grown its budget, outreach and ministry way beyond what can be controlled by any particular bishop -- and this is where the problem for Father Pavone begins. He has not been officially suspended or removed from ministry, but he is being publicly scolded for not "obeying" in the way things are managed. His bishop in Amarillo is certainly much more progressive than he is, so there could be some ideological clashes there, but the issue is money and how Father Frank Pavone chooses to administer the funds of the organization he founded, runs and fund-raises tirelessly for.
Father Pavone and his supporters have said that the media has "changed the story" and that he is not suspended, but what Priests for Life does not seem to understand is that his bishop's letter does use the word "suspended" and people in the media are not expected to be Canon Law experts. This is what the Bishop of Amarillo wrote the Roman Bishops of the United States:
I have decided to suspend Father Frank A. Pavone from public ministry outside of the Diocese of Amarillo to take effect on September 13, 2011. For an indefinite period, I am withdrawing my permission to him to minister outside our diocese and am calling him back to spend time in prayer and reflection. My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priest For Life (PFL) organization. The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight
Yet, while all this seems to be happening now, we seem to have a bad memory and we forget this apparent animosity of the Church toward priests that are well known, charismatic figures and strong leaders has been going on for a long time. Regardless of the crimes they may or may not have committed, let's look back to the 1980s, 1990s and into the year Boston seems to have made the whole thing explode in 2001-2002.
How many people remember these charismatic figures?
- Father Ken Roberts: The author of "Playboy to Priest," an incredible speaker, TV Host on EWTN and an internationally known face for the priesthood and for promoting the alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorie. He was accused, removed and never heard from again.
- Father John Patrick Bertolucci: Perhaps one of the most recognized voices in the Charismatic Renewal in America. He was a priest of the Diocese of Albany, professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, author and frequent speaker at conferences. Because he was such an effective professor in Steubenville, he would take turns between ministering in his diocese and teaching.
- Monsignor Euguene Clark: Rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, famous for his strongly opinionated books, television and radio reflections. He was abruptly removed (at the age of 79) after he was videotaped with his secretary leaving a hotel, allegedly, after her husband suspected an extramarital affair.
- Father Ricardo Castellanos: The founder of Word and Life (Verbo y Vida) International Television Ministry and pastor of a small mission he turned into one of South Florida's largest mega-churches. Father Castellanos was the Billy Graham of Latino's for more than a decade. His preaching crusades filled stadiums all over Latin America. He was abruptly removed from his parish and from every form of ministry in May 2002.
- Father Francis Mary Stone, MFVA: A Franciscan friar that was host of the popular EWTN TV Show "Life on the Rock." The program was once really directed at attracting youth under the leadership of lay man Jeff Cavins. Later, it was not very youth oriented at all. But Father Francis Mary tried, and I am sure he put his heart and soul into doing a good job -- and for a long time he did. Father Francis Mary, whose name is David Stone, eventually announced he was marrying a widow he helped in counseling. He is now being attacked by the same ultra-conservatives that used to defend him because they claim he is now "New Age" for selling a product that is somehow endorsed by Deepak Chopra.
The list of disappeared priests could go on and on, including many like my own pastor growing up who was not known beyond our area, but has also been "put out to pasture" in terms of his own priestly ministry. It may be good for us to remember that before these men are priests, they are human beings. Each of them -- known and unknown -- has made a unique contribution to the Church and their communities. It is not our place to judge their particular issues or problems. Yet, for some reason, I really do believe it should be our place to reflect and ask: What is it that makes good priests, like the ones listed here and countless others end up in these situations? How do the leaders of the institutional church and "devout" church-going people deal with these human realities? Is there something in the system itself that may need fixing?
Our answer to these questions will only serve to create a healthier church and a healthier priesthood.
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