Disgrace to glory

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A seminarian prays during a Holy Hour for vocations (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
A seminarian prays during a Holy Hour for vocations (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

Msgr. Owen F. CampionI know it. I feel it. The Holy Spirit heard my prayer. Already heartsick after reading the Grand Jury’s report from Pennsylvania on the horrific record of sexual abuse of youth by clergy, within an hour I received telephone calls from two young priests.

As they confided in me their deep sadness over the report, an awful thought came to me. They trusted me, as the victims once trusted their abusers. I asked the guidance of the Holy Spirit in replying to them, hoping to be worthy of their trust, of my priesthood and of the Lord.

I know enough about modern seminaries to realize the context from which these calls come. Young priests have gone through a process of training very different from that in which my generation prepared for the priesthood. (Maybe this is why we never hear the junior clergy accused of child molestation. It is always about the older men.)

This is one difference. When my group was studying, celibacy was just part of the package. Little was said about it. More often than not the Church looked with suspicion on psychiatry. True, some dioceses required seminarians to be evaluated by mental health professionals, but most did not.

This has radically changed. Seminarians are once again taught that lifelong virginity is in itself a vocation, as the Lord said in the Gospel. It’s not just a tradition or a tactic to avoid distractions from ministry.

Seminarians today are expected to think long and hard about marriage and indeed about sexuality, their sexuality. Every seminary retains psychiatrists and psychologists to help the seminarians in this process. These professionals also look for pathology, although no test so far can predict pedophilia.

Knowing how sexual failings among priests run counter to what the junior priests have been taught to treasure, I tried to respond, asking guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Somehow, leaping into my mind was what I learned in Church history about the reaction to the Protestant Reformation. At that time, the Church was reeling, and it was no wonder. People had ideas about theology that conflicted with Catholic teaching, but corruption was everywhere in the Church. Even popes were outrageously immoral. It surely was very hard to respect heads of the Church who had no regard for virtue. It equally must have been tempting to loathe priests, because so very many were dishonest and sinful.

Then — and I noted this to the young priests with whom I was talking — something wonderful happened. A great number of priests stepped forward, unwilling to let the devil have his way. St. Ignatius Loyola revolutionized religion. St. Vincent de Paul’s care for the poor, sick, imprisoned and downtrodden gleams even yet with the very brilliance of heaven in Church history books. St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle and St. Peter Canisius magnificently served the best interests of youth. St. Louis de Monfort inspired untold thousands to seek first the kingdom of God. St. Peter Claver and Padre Bartolome de las Casas demanded that even kings treat every human being as God’s own. St. Junipero Serra, St. Isaac Jocques and St. Jean de Brebeuf went to the ends of the earth to sweeten the lives of people with the love of Christ. Many died as martyrs.

With them were religious like St. Pascal Baylon, the great apostle of the Eucharist, and laywomen, such as St. Louise de Marillac.

Facing the outrages that they saw, they had to have been disgusted, perplexed and indeed angry, but they realized that Christ is the “way, the truth and the life.” Nothing else suffices. By their very lives, they changed disgrace into glory.

Please, God, so shall we today.

Msgr. Owen Campion is OSV’s chaplain.