Celibacy and Stonewalling | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Celibacy and Stonewalling

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To the editors:

Jason Berry is, of course, not responsible for Kurt Mitchell's illustration of his article on a child abuse lawsuit against Cardinal Bernardin and the Chicago Archdiocese ("Sins of the Fathers: Pedophilia in the Priesthood" [May 24]). Nevertheless, Kurt's gifted hand cast a Mephistophelian shade over any consideration of child abuse by disturbed priests.

Author Berry is justly esteemed for his balanced expose of the Lafayette [Louisiana] diocese scandal. He is, also, Reader fans deserve to know, the writer of an unimprovable biography of Charles Evers, Amazing Grace. He has also joined others in Up From the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II, a book that may be the next best thing to having grown up in "Noarlins" over those years.

I take exception to the notion, given body in this Berry piece by psychologist Eugene Kennedy, that the steamy, clerical culture of obligatory celibates is somehow (1) the matrix of child-abuse offenders, and (2) an adequate explanation for the stonewalling belligerence of diocesan officials.

(1) I am one of those Roman Catholics who feel prompted by the Spirit in our insisting that the hour has arrived for the Vatican to permit married men to be received into Holy Orders. Our argument covers those who are to become diocesan priests. That is: we never include the vowed priest of the Jesuit, Dominican, Franciscan and all other male Orders or Congregations.

The choosing of a spouse is, indisputably, an inalienable human right guaranteed both in Natural Law and by the positive law of a Universal Declaration. A lay congregation astute in the laws of human development has become increasingly reluctant to concede that any instance of coerced celibacy is other than an unacceptable appropriation of a right no man can be obliged to forfeit.

Roman Catholics may need to assent to the one and the same insight of (a) their own Byzantine and Eastern branches in union with the pope which have never refused the sacrament of Holy Orders to a married man (though no marriage is allowed after ordination), and (b) the wide range of Protestant and Reform brethren who have never discerned an incompatibility between the joining in holy marriage and ordination to ministry.

Examined as a voluntary ascetic practice, celibacy remains a potent witness to the intrusion of God's all-sufficiency into the life of any human, male or female. The Roman perception of this charism may be more highly developed, perhaps, than is the aggregate intuition of their Separated Brethren. Though, here, too, a scholar is shamefully ignorant if he can not quote dozens of Protestant authorities on the evangelical witness of chosen celibacy.

Christian tradition to one side, Hindu and Buddhist authorities can be cited, as well, for the commonweal value of celibate service.

The point is: for the psychically able who somehow know themselves called to this choice, there are only spiritual riches and health for themselves and for those they serve in whatever denomination.

Now, this teaching stands in the plainest contradiction to the mass culture of the United States at this time. It seems to me a courtesy of the fairminded critic to state early on and up-front that he or she carries a bias against even voluntary celibacy. An au courant commentator may need to admit being half convinced by the Freudian axiom that celibacy is an unnatural condition and demonstrably the result of repressive substitutions.

(2) The stonewalling reflex is NOT a uniquely clerical phenomenon. Chicago archdiocesan officials bang down the brass gate on a complainant not at all because they are twitchingly celibate men and women. Were Jason Berry to attempt to press a complaint against a corrupt Chicago police officer above the rank of patrolman, he would soon confront state-of-the-art stonewalling. In that case, all of the blockers throwing interference would, to a person, be blessed with reputationally better-than-average heterosexual appetites.

For that matter, the wretch who would presume to press a complaint against his lawyer, his surgeon, his dentist, or his Union certified plumber will soon enough master the definition of collegial solidarity. Chances are there will not be a single sex deviant among the guild authorities who will consciously set out to subvert the complaint of an offended client.

To a self-important bureaucracy, any client is expendable.

This is the way the Pentagon copes with the whistle-blower. This is the way the Oval Office responds to bull's-eye critics. The just released transcript of the balance of the Watergate tapes reads like a Mafia enforcement session.

Have we already forgotten Lieutenant Colonel North, he of the Eagle Scout demeanor, who knew well how to set up deniability for his commander-in-chief . . . ? Records were shredded, documents were altered, phony chronologies were made up on the spot. Still . . . the Marines, not once in their history, have been accused of being frustrated celibates ripe for imploding into steamy, tropical deviance.

In a careful reading of "Sins of the Fathers," I caught one whiff of a Pulitzer Prize story. There is a pregnant allegation that is oddly left unexamined in one of the last paragraphs of Berry's narrative. An Andrew Greeley quotation adverts to rumors, one of which has the Cardinal pressuring the Cook County state's attorney in order to trump up an indictment of the protesting parents in the child-abuse case.

I have trouble accepting the likelihood of that allegation. A Damon Runyon prelate leaning on a Mick lawman won't fit the Bernardin known to most of us.

Frankly, as a street-smart native of Chicago's south side, I don't sense the first nanogram of probability in that rumor.

My personal hunches aside, I find the mere possibility that this rumor might be reporting a fact to be so disturbing that I'm baffled why this grenade got lobbed at the third last paragraph.

If this tantalizing rumor can NOT be supported by fact, I have to judge Father Greeley's very citing of the rumor to be an instance of irresponsible pandering to malicious gossip.

By including this Greeley quotation, it follows that Jason Berry has lent his own word processor to an ugly innuendo by which the Cardinal is made to appear an offender against the public order by a magnitude of evil that eclipses any instance of child abuse.

This is because the manipulation of public authorities by a bullying citizen is the very evisceration of the Social Contract: Whosoever tampers with the scales of Justice defiles the source of community life.

Sexual crimes, however heinous, do not cancel the community's very ground of moral indignation. Quite the contrary, every known sexual offense against a juvenile can be guaranteed to arouse the highest pitch of civic outrage.

Or so I see it.

These objections of mine have not distracted me from the evidence of Jason Berry's legwork nor from his admirable boldness in daring to report what has been self-defeatingly suppressed in the American Catholic Church.

Paul John Pruchnicki

Kankakee

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