Saturday 4 October 2014

When Priests Just Make Stuff Up

Yesterday I had commented on the Facebook combox of an eminent Catholic journalist writing about divorce-and-remarriage, and a stranger chimed in to say he couldn't see what the fuss was. He had been to Catholic churches in New York, Baltimore and Boston where the divorced were singled out for special welcome and invitation to receive communion, whether or not they had remarried. Didn't this show that the Church was inconsistent? Or were the churches he attended playing by different rules?

As he mentioned two of the churches by name, I realized at once that they were being run by a certain religious order rather infamous in traditionalist circles for playing by different rules, and when I asked outright, the chatty man happily confirmed my suspicions and talked about what great men they were. They had really helped him a lot.  When his wife of 20+ years finally divorced him, a priest of this order in Boston, after insisting he first get married to his next wife civilly, "married" them in a subsequent ceremony. (Scare-quotes his own.) The civil ceremony was performed by an ex-nun. (Incidentally, I wouldn't make this up.)

The man had not received, or even applied, for an annulment. Indeed, from his remarks on Facebook, it seemed he hadn't any idea whatsoever what the process entailed or cared about, i.e. his and his first wife's fitness /freedom for marriage when they made their vows. He figured that with X kids and 20+ years, the annulment process didn't apply.

Since then, he had asked three priests about his status, and they had all said, in effect, that he should stop thinking about it and get on with enjoying his life as it is.

It was all I could do to stop myself from finding which Boston priest this may have been. It would have been so easy to ask this chatty, open, naive fellow, "Hey, you know X? He taught me Y! Or do you know Q? How about that.Was he the one that did your "wedding"?" But as it happens the poor chap has thought twice about what he did tell me, for his remarks have disappeared from the comment stream. A word to the wise: don't tell journalists your business over Facebook.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard of a clandestine, invalid, illicit, possibly sacrilegious, "marriage" being performed by a member of this religious order. The first story, which was infinitely worse, was told to me cheerfully and openly, by someone who knew it should be kept on the QT, but thought there was no harm in a right-thinking fellow traveller like me knowing about it.

Now, on the one hand, he was right because I never told a soul. But on the other, I was utterly scandalized and have never thought of the priest the same way since. The question "Who do you think you ARE?" comes to mind. More questions: "How DARE you?! How DARE you use your status as a priest to trick troubled souls into thinking they are married in the eyes of God and His Church?!"

Naturally the troubled souls adore Father Rebel, who looks to them like a bright star in the black gloom that is the Roman Catholic Church as it is presented by The New York Times, The Toronto Star and The Guardian. And as Vatican II left many born before it completely confused as to what had changed and many born after it very badly catechized, such poor souls depend on approachable, friendly-looking priests  ("special" priests who strike them as being different from your ordinary run-of-the-mill priests they fear or resent or find dull) to tell them what finds favour in the sight of God.  And Father Rebel, for whatever reason--to shore up his ego, or because he no longer believes the Catholic faith, or because he is worn down by the sufferings of others, or most likely all three--leads them astray into delicious-looking but forbidden pastures.

Having, with a click, found out my interlocutor's profession, I am struck at how simple educated, professional, capable people can be. They can be as trusting of a priest as any mediaeval peasant--indeed, perhaps more so. I've seen mediaeval bedroom farces which feature womanizing priests; such bad priests were laughed at, rather than made the heroes of dramatic sagas. And who knows what crazy stuff mediaeval priests, who weren't necessarily well educated, came up with. Oh, actually, the Council of Trent did. The Council of Trent knew very well what was going on with its shepherds and flock and took steps to correct abuses and negligence.

Thus, when people talk to me of their hopes for a Vatican III--which they always assume will be an extension of their misunderstandings of Vatican II---I am wont to think or say that I am awaiting Trent II.

And once again I implore Roman Catholic readers to study and write about their faith. Start with the Baltimore or (in the UK and Ireland) the Penny Catechism if you're completely confused. In these troubled  times, we need an army of Saint Catherines of Siena.

All that said, I feel fantastic. I've long wondered if I really ought to have left Boston, and whether it wasn't a total failure on my part that I did. But after "talking" to this chap over Facebook, I realize that there really was nothing else I could do. It was that bad. In fact, it was worse than I thought.


  1. Thank you, Seraphic.

    A story.

    I attended a wedding held at a Catholic Church. I knew the celebrant to be a dissenting priest. And lo and behold, the couple vowed not to "raise our children according to the law of Christ and His Church" (or whatever the vow is) but "to raise our children according to our own values". I mentioned this to a Very Important Foreign Cleric, and he asked me to contact both the priest in question and my bishop to inform him of this.

  2. Goodness! I wonder what their "own values" were.

  3. Auntie Seraphic,

    If you are referring to the order I think you're referring to, at least in this province, on the other side of the country from your interlocutor, the members of said order that I know would probably be horrified at the proposal. Maybe it's the weather? I do know that they are in several cases here in CA fighting with their lay university boards (who is being backed up with the forces of the State) to stop paying for the abortions of the students under their care.

    Not everyone in that order is like that. I'd even say the majority, though I doubt most trads would largely still trust them.

    But I could be wrong and you may not be referring to the order I think you're referring to.

    Cojuanco the Trad-ish

    P.S.: I've always been partial to the Compendium to the Catechism. Same format as Baltimore, but takes into account Vatican II.

  4. The order I am thinking of does have some widely diverging opinions and even theologies, I believe, in its various geographical areas and even within some communities. Many of its members are good, sound men. Some of its members are nuttier than a fruitcake. The good get tarred with the same brush as the bad, which is a shame.


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