Right from the Beginning

The answers to the sex-abuse scandal, so elusive in 2002, were obvious to one priest 50 years earlier.

In March the National Catholic Reporter made available some correspondence of Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, who was able to call a spade a spade even without the benefit of post-graduate research in the human sciences.

As early as the mid-1950s, decades before the clergy sexual-abuse crisis broke publicly across the US Catholic landscape, the founder of a religious order that dealt regularly with priest sex abusers was so convinced of their inability to change that he searched for an island to purchase with the intent of using it as a place to isolate such offenders, according to documents recently obtained by NCR.

Father Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paracletes, an order established in 1947 to deal with problem priests, wrote regularly to bishops in the United States and to Vatican officials, including the pope, of his opinion that many sexual abusers in the priesthood should be laicized immediately.

In a September 1952 letter to the then-bishop of Reno, Nev., Fitzgerald wrote: “I myself would be inclined to favor laicization for any priest, upon objective evidence, for tampering with the virtue of the young, my argument being, from this point onward the charity to the Mystical Body should take precedence over charity to the individual and when a man has so far fallen away from the purpose of the priesthood the very best that should be offered him is his Mass in the seclusion of a monastery. Moreover, in practice, real conversions will be found to be extremely rare.… Hence, leaving them on duty or wandering from diocese to diocese is contributing to scandal or at least to the approximate danger of scandal.”

How things went wrong

The Fitzgerald correspondence has in fact been known for some time. The Washington Post surfaced it six years ago, and the “Off the Record” section of the Catholic World News website carried several comments on the late priest’s thoughts in 2003.

What may appear as Father Fitzgerald’s prescience most of us would call common sense. He differs from today’s experts on pedophilia in that he brought a Christian perspective to his work, showing concern for the salvation of his own soul and those of the priests in his care. And he was right where the St. Luke Institute approach was wrong. Had bishops and superiors taken Fitzgerald’s advice to heart, there would have been some weepy expriests to care for, but there would have been no sex abuse crisis.

So what happened? The bishops were persuaded to abrogate their moral duty and hand over the problem to the fix-it folks. Self-described experts— like Father Michael Peterson, before he died of AIDS—convinced the clergy that moral revulsion at child abuse was un-Christian vindictiveness and theirs was the truly caring approach. The results are obvious.

More recently a new set of self-appointed experts (who, coincidentally, have the same conflict of interest as Father Peterson) are urging senior churchmen to abandon Catholic teaching on sexual morality in favor of the “scientific” solution of coaching the faithful in condom use. Like the pedophilia pros, the condom promoters attempt to portray Christian doctrine as obsolete, punitive, and conducive to misery. Like the pedophilia pros, the condom promoters have been willing to cook the stats to make their programs appear more successful than they are in reality.

In the 1950s, the orthodox Catholics whom progressives stigmatized as moral meatballs were skeptical that 12 weeks of therapy could turn a pederast back into an effective minister. Those meatballs were right. Today the orthodox Catholics stigmatized as moral meatballs reject the “dogs in heat” model of the human being, in which condoms are viewed as a matter of elementary hygiene; they believe that monogamy and fidelity can be accomplished by almost every person, regardless of circumstance. Once again, some of the clergy are being persuaded by the force of fashion to cede their moral duty to the experts. Once again, it’s the meatballs that have it right.


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