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A Calling in Crisis

Conversations with Catholic priests

(Page 5 of 5)

For these men, part of their quest is finding a healthy expression of intimacy and companionship within their community of priests as well as with parishioners and others outside their Dominican order. These days, that presents at least two challenges: the vow of celibacy and relations with children.

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Greeting parishioners after mass, Fones often is hugged by children. But how that kind of affection may be perceived is never far from his mind now.

"I suppose the way that it has affected me is a realization of the need not to be alone with a child," he says. "People hand me their babies, kids will come up and hug me, and I feel comfortable with that. But if that were to happen to me [alone] in the sacristy, I would immediately leave and take them back to mom and dad."

"Human beings need to be touched, they thrive because of that touch," he says. "It's a real tragedy today that we look on that touch with fear and suspicion."

Some critics are suspicious, too, of the role that celibacy may play in sexual abuse. In his article, Kennedy suggests that the "psychosexual maturity of seminarians and priests" is a subject that needs much more attention by those who approve men for the priesthood and oversee their careers.

While acknowledging that "these waters remain dangerous," Cozzens writes that the "emotionally mature" priest can have intimate friendships that "actually enhance his ability to live a healthy and holy celibate life."

"In moments of authentic, celibate intimacy, one is, at the same time, one with God and all of creation," he says in "The Changing Face of the Priest."

For the priests here at the St. Thomas More University Parish, the issue is very personal, very profound, nearly ineffable.

"Being married seemed like a good idea, but I could never visualize it for myself," says Orique. "I love the rhythm of our lives – the prayer, the study, the services. I don't think I could have a wife and children with everything I do."

Digging deeper, he says: "I see that there's a freedom in celibacy. My love is not exclusively to one woman in my life. There's a freedom of my affections.... We don't give up sex because it's bad. It's a good thing. But we give it up because we seek a higher good."

* * *

On a Monday morning, the priests talk about how to address the sexual-abuse issue with their parishioners. During their early-morning devotionals, Fones prays "for all victims who suffer abuse, especially at the hand of the clergy.... For healing of them and for their families."

By the following Sunday (Palm Sunday), he's written an article for the church's weekly bulletin and addressed the issue in his homily.

The contemporary scandal is like the "scandal of the cross," he tells the congregation that Sunday marking Jesus' entry into Bethlehem shortly before the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

"The scandal of the cross for the disciples was the seemingly utter failure of Jesus' mission as he was wrongly judged ... and his life ended as though he were a criminal," he says. "It is a story with betrayal falling upon betrayal."

"Our contemporary scandal, the abuse of minors by priests and the inability of our church to honestly and directly deal with that abuse, is also a story of betrayal," he continues. "In both stories of betrayal, there is a common thread of fear."

"People fear for their lives, or simply fear for their way of life.... For many Catholics, our current crisis has shaken their faith, ... " he says. "Yet in spite of human sin and reluctance to change, Jesus will never abandon us. Let's pray our current crisis, this moment of truth, may be a moment of conversion in which we embrace Truth...."

A few days later, he's uncertain of his words' impact. "I got positive responses from a few people who appreciated the subject being broached," he says. "I never know if silence from others means they agree or disagree."

But he has spoken from the heart, as Orique did – weeping – when he spoke at the church's daily afternoon mass, telling parishioners "how much it pained me that someone could betray the trust of so many ... being a cause of harm rather than a source of healing."

They have spoken openly and from the heart, and these days, it seems, this is the best thing to have done.