The pervasiveness of sin

The pervasiveness of sin

A couple of weeks ago a priest in Swampscott, Mass., just down the coast from here, was arrested for, according to police, in a restaurant soliciting a 12-year-old girl and her mother for sex. At the time, the whole thing sounded weird and I wondered what we weren’t being told. Now we know. The priest admitted to cops that he was so drunk at the time that he isn’t sure what he said.

Okay, people are allowed to make mistakes. The sinner can be forgiven. But I have to wonder: what was the quality of the ministry of a priest who went out drinking with a buddy, and got so drunk in a restaurant, no less, that he propositioned a woman and girl? Was this a regular occurrence? What about a priest capable of propositioning a girl and her mom, drunk or not?

I’m not being facetious. I really am wondering. I think many people compartmentalize their sin, leaving them able to put on a good show in the rest of their lives. I’ve had priests hint to me that most lay people would be surprised at the pervasiveness of sin, but also its elusiveness, i.e. the ability of most to function in society despite it, to be able to be righteous in most things even as they commit other sins. And I mean be righteous, not just put on a hypocritical facade.

I think some people who nodded knowingly when known dissenting priests were exposed as perverts were then taken aback when famously orthodox priests went down as well. “But, but .... he’s orthodox!,” they sputtered, as if that were a talisman against sin. Yet the particular sin of those priests never seemed to show itself in their preaching or other ministries.

So I wonder if that priest had a good pastoral quality, whether his homilies were good, and so on. Just wondering.

  • Some pastoral quality.  He did more than proposition her.  She didn’t know that he was a priest and she had the cops called on the basis of what he said and motioned to her.  She didn’t even know he was a priest because he was in a regular shirt. 

    I’d have called the cops too, priest or no priest.

    We have got to get the criminals and perverts out of the priesthood.

  • When I first heard about this I thought he must have been drunk and doing an imitation of that scene from the Blues Brothers. 
    As for his homilies, I’ll bet they either sounded pretty good but were vauge or he was one of those priests who presented himself as being too smart or too hip for the church.

    Years ago I went to Mass and was horrified by what the priest was saying in his homily. The gist of his homily was that the church was just being behind the times on its teachings on sexual purity.  I was disturbed enough to leave and never went back to that church. A few years later sure enough that priest made the news because sexual misconduct with a underage girl.

  • dymphna, surprise, surprise, surprise.

    Biggest problem with homilies: The priest is presenting his own views instead of the teachings of Christianity.  The priest you heard was talking about what he might see fit to do, not what the church teaches.  You recognized that.

    In fact, often the priest’s own views are presented along with a healthy share of his (supposedly) *star* personality and a few dismally bad jokes, to boot.  It’s all about entertaining the folks.  ack.

  • Dom,
    You want to know about the quality of the ministry of the priest who does this and how come *orthodox* priests are getting in trouble?


    It gets to everyone.  It looks sooo good and it’s sooo hard to stop once you start!

    Priests are not the only ones affected.  When you work for a parish you really get to see that failures abound everywhere-it’s just that we hold the pastor and the staff up on a higher level because after all-they are the ones telling us to be holy and live out the Gospel message.

    When I worked in a different archdiocese than I do now I was appalled at how many youth ministers were sleeping around.  And when the scandal broke, how many of these same people said how horrible and terrible it was.

    Sin abounds because we think we like it.  Even someone on the “left” side of the parish could actually be more holy than I.

  • I’m sorry-I just realized you asked more about the quality of their ministry.

    Maybe it could be attributed to the fact that though a priest is living in sin, the grace of the sacrament he adminsters is unfettered-the bread still becomes Jesus’ body.  The sacrament of Reconciliation still is in effect.

    Even when we sin-big ones or little ones-God’s grace is mightier.  Ministry still happens.  I don’t believe that it is as good because the minister needs to have a pathway to God and the Holy Spirit that is cleared of sin which clouds our thinking and our judgement.  Ministry still happens: but think how much better it would be if the sin were not blocking the movement of God.

  • This issue, especially in the face of the current Scandals, are why the ordinary lables of “liberal” versus “conservative” no longer serve us. There is either “faithful” or “unfaithful.” Even then all of us have fallen short. We take our cues as to what is important from our material lifestyle choices, or which political party we belong to, rather than a criteria which transcends such preoccupations.

    When it comes down to it, ALL of us are hypocrites. When everybody on the lecture-and-book-signing circuit, when every member of a so-called “reform” group, when every “Catholic weblog” (yours truly included) can admit that, we all might be on to something.

    But until then, God help us all…

  • The problem is that once somebody is making “you can do what you want” noises, they’re much more likely to choose that themselves……

    That’s what the original observation by dymphna was.  I run from people advocating what they’d like to do instead of what the Church teaches…for the same reason as dymphna did.  They’re on their way to what they are talking about….

  • David, we may all be hypocrites, but that doesn’t make future choices foregone conclusions. 

    As in: Oh heck, I’m a hypocrite anyway, so I might as well go get drunk and gamble away the house…??????? I don’t think so.

    Just because we are hypocrites, we should be careful, but we can and do still make the occasional good moral decision, and that is desirable.  The Church is supposed to help us make good decisions, I would hope.  Listening to a priest in the process of rationalizing his sins is not my idea of help.  I think he should be teaching for the Church instead.  Especially from the pulpit that the Church sanctions.

  • I think part of the problem is a misunderstanding of what a hypocrite is.  After all, if we can say we are all hypocrites, how useful is the term.  A hypocrite is not someone who says something and then fails to live up to it-  A hypocrite is someone who says something but does not really believe what he is saying.

    For example, if I say that people shouldn’t drink too much and then years later I go on an all night bender, this doesn’t make me a hypocrite just a fallen human being who is capable of screwing up (very capable).  For me to be a hypocrite I would have to say that people shouldn’t drink too much, but think to myself that I myself am able to drink as much as I want.

  • “A hypocrite is not someone who says something and then fails to live up to it-  A hypocrite is someone who says something but does not really believe what he is saying.”

    Both definitions have been associated with the word. I was using the first, which is simply an acknowledgement of our fallen nature. It’s like the old story of a kid who doesn’t want to go to church because he doesn’t want to be around “all those hypocrites,” to which the wise man responds, ” well, there’s always room for one more.”

    The second definition describes a more dangerous condition, obviously. Because it’s more than just trying to do good and occasionally failing; it’s making a conscious decision not to do good in the first place, and then lying about it.

    All that being said, I wouldn’t change what I wrote.

  • A good observation on definitions, Rich.  This is exactly what I am talking about too. 

    A priest who pontificates about his own interpretation of the Church’s teaching, rather than presenting the Church’s teaching directly, is a problem.  Often times, he is playing the sophist in some way, pretending to be speaking for the Church while making a special case of some sort for himself. 

    We’ve seen this over and over again.  It’s an embarrassing sort of public rationalization, in truth.  It’s also a very bad sign.  RUN and don’t look back when you find one of these.

  • To Dom’s original question about Fr. Gillespie: I had the good fortune of attending many of the Masses he celebrated at his previous assignment, at St. Monica’s in Methuen. I really liked Fr. G! I felt his preaching was really good, and I never sensed any dissenting views from Church teaching. One of things I liked most, was his desire for a very reverent celebration of the Eucharist. Every motion of his at the altar spoke of his reverence for and deep belief in Christ becoming present in the Eucharist at the consecration. There was always a sense of the vertical in his Masses, as opposed to the horizontal, if that makes any sense. There was also a humility about him, which made him really connect with people, including myself, as you can see. I am deeply saddened to hear of his actions in Chelsea.

  • Thanks, Dano. To add to that (and to also answer Dom’s question):

    I met with a family today who belongs to Saint John the Evangelist parish in Swampscott. (I used to belong to that parish myself, in fact.)

    They echoed Dano’s description of both Father Gillespie’s preaching, reverence, as well as his refreshingly Christ-focused attitude toward liturgy.

    Kelly <——-rather curious as to how in the world “dymphna” and “michigan catholic” know about Father Gillespie’s sermons…

  • To get to Dom’s point, I think there’s a culture evident in some priests of a “secret identity” they assume by dressing in non-clerical clothing and going to an area where they are not recognized as a priest, but taken for just another middle-aged guy.

    If he had the normal instincts of a human being or a Catholic in the state a grace, Jerome Gillespie, middle-aged guy, would have seen in that woman and daughter, some other middle-aged guy’s wife and daughter.  He may have been drunk, but he was sober enough to flee the scene when told that the police were called.

  • It doesn’t sound right to me. It sounds to me like there is something seriously wrong with the Catholic Church of today. This is not an isolated case of one religious individual. Something went wrong with the Church after Vatican II.

  • I think I’ve said this before….  When Billy Graham started preaching he checked into the reasons why his predecessors, many of whom he greatly admired, had ended their careers in scandal.  Because as a matter of fact, most if not all of the great evangelical preachers of the early twentieth century, had.  We Catholics on the whole don’t know who these people are/were but they were BIG in their time and considered tremendous forces for good. (Who is Billy Sunday?)  The main reasons were sex and money.  So Graham arranged that he would NEVER be alone with a woman and that outsiders with reputations to protect should deal with the money his organization raised.  And there never was a scandal about him.  But he himself said that it wasn’t because he was a better person.  (Billy Sunday was a great preacher taken down by some sex scandal.)  David Hocking (Protestant radio type from fifteen years ago) cheated on his wife.  The opportunity was there (because he was such a good, if protestant, preacher and women wanted his advice) and the temptation great and he fell. 

  • Patrick wrote:

    I think theree about the “secret identity” thing, but there might be some truth in it.

    One of Father Gillespierying to excuse anyone’s behavior by discussing Protestants who fell.  I was trying to point out that the reason why one man (Billy Graham) did NOT fall when everyone else around him did, was that he took action based on the idea that he was himself a sinner.  He protected himself by assuming that in the wrong circumstances he would fal,l and never getting into them.  And he enlisted everyone around him in his efforts. 

    This priest should never have been out drinking, without his collar, etc.  And whoever was with him should have been a better friend as well.  I’m just suggesting that thinking clearly ahead of time about avoiding the possible occasions of sin would have helped. 

  • I say to my own kids and my students that attending Mass, reception of the sacraments, a prayer life, what I call the ordinary response to the universal call to holiness is all a means to obtain grace to resist temptation.  We’re not invincible to temptation, but with grace we become stronger than sin.

    By the way, “I was drunk at the time” is an excuse not an explanation.

  • It is a fallacy that Shanley set up NAMBLA. He did not. He was at a meeting at which some people discussed the formation of such a group. Shanley may have been one of those people, but there is no proof of it. In any case, to say “a Catholic priest who set up a group called the North American Man Boy Love Association” is to state an error in fact.

  • I’ll just throw out a few notions about sin, since it is one of the few subjects about which I can speak with some expertise.

    People argue that children behave better if they are held to a dress code.  What is a dress code?  Something that makes him conspicuous, that makes his behavior more noticed, that makes it more difficult to blend in to the crowd, as he is undoubtedly trying to do when he whines that “everybody does it, everybody says it,  everybody wears it, everybody listens to it”, etc.

    Priests used to have a very strict dress code.  It has only been in the last few decades that it has been ok to “blend in” with the rest of the sinners by wearing their clothes instead of the black garb and collar that makes one’s behavior more conspicuous, more restrained, more role model conscious, if you will.

    But trading in the collar for the turtleneck and the black shirt and pants for t-shirts and jeans is only one emblem of a much deeper pattern of post-conciliar behavour among priests.  There has been a general desire among priests, blessed and even encouraged by their superiors, to take the priest off the pedestal, to reduce the distance between him and the rest of us, and turn him into a “he’s cool, but he cares” man of the people.

    It is a disgusting spectacle to witness the lengths to which some priests have taken this rather stupid and gutless idea over the years.  And, just as slob dress is an emblem—and to some extent an enabler—of slob behavior, it is also, I believe, an emblem of a certain spiritual slackness on the part of one who should recognize his status as the vessel through which Christ passes Himself to us in the Eucharist, and do everything possible to live UP to that indispensible role, rather than living DOWN to the expectations of the lowest common denominator parishioner.

    It shows up in so many ways, from the subtle affectations of bishops who adorn their pectoral crosses with national or ethnic “colors” as though it were an automobile bumper, to the outrages of priests who dress like Joe Sixpack, drink like Joe Twelvepack, and proposition women and children in restaurants before, presumably, barfing on their shoes and passing out.  All such behavior is different in degree but not in kind, and it all shouts—to me at least —that many of our post-conciliar priests and bishops are playing a role rather than living one: at bottom, they’re not serious men.  They don’t believe its real.


  • A few weeks ago, a friend and I went out to dinner with a friar.  We all wished he had worn civvies that evening, because his friar’s habit tends to function as a kook magnet, even more than a diocesan priest’s black suit.

    After we got to the Italian restaurant, a very devout and patriotic but eccentric woman latched onto us.  She thinks she’s being led by God to spread the message of how Catholic-friendly George Washington was; her devotion even went to the point of putting portraits of George and Martha under her images of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart.  She kept coming back, chatting and showing us clippings, five times in all. 

    So if you see a priest wearing lay attire, please don’t assume he’s failing in his duties based on that fact alone.  Maybe he’s just trying to eat a little spaghetti and have a conversation in relative peace

  • Fr. Ethan,
    As you have probably heard, the devil likes to visit a priest in his room every night.  It is not said that they always stay in that room.

  • Kelly, if you see a man with a dripping knife standing over a dead man in the street, and you know they were both stone raving drunk 30 seconds ago, then you know that at least one of them is in mortal sin.  By definition.  Don’t be cute.  It’s not that rare.

  • Kelly, if you see a man with a dripping knife standing over a dead man in the street, and you know they were both stone raving drunk 30 seconds ago, then you know that at least one of them is in mortal sin.

    You, Michigan Catholic, are in error in the above statement. I know no such thing.

    Let’s take it a step further. If I actually witnessed the man with the dripping knife actually stab the dead man, I STILL do not know that he is in the state of mortal sin.

    This is crucial for you and for me to understand, Michigan. Again: neither you nor I are in any position, ever, to assume the state of another’s soul.

    Similarly, if I may go on, neither you nor I are in a position to assume a person is in the state of grace.

    I believe on another thread I begged for prayers for the repose of the soul of the recently deceased Sister Lucia of Fatima. The same logic applies.

    Only God can judge. I cannot.

    Look at it this way. Let’s say the dripping gun man dies immediately after you and I “know” he’s in the state of mortal sin. Do we pray for his soul? By our logic, it would do no good, because we know that death in the state of deadly sin forbids salvation.

    Do you see what this means? By claiming to “know” that someone is in the state of mortal sin we are claiming divinity.

    NOT a good idea.

    Providentially, today’s (Monday’s) readings:

  • slightest indication of danger to the soul. For this reason the good priest would never allow her to minister to him, even in his extreme necessities.

    At an advanced age, after he had been 40 years in the sacred ministry, he fell gravely ill, and was soon almost at the point of death. As he lay in this condition, the good woman, wishing to discover whether he still lived, bent over him and put her ear to his mouth to listen to his breathing. The dying man, perceiving her, indignantly exclaimed, “Get thee hence, woman! Get thee hence! The fire still glows in the embers. Beware of kindling it with straw!” As she withdrew he seemed to gain new strength, and raising his eyes, he cried out with a loud voice, “Oh! Happy hour! Welcome, my lords, welcome! I thank you for deigning to visit so poor a servant. I come! I come!” He repeated these words several times, and when they who were present asked him to whom he spoke, he said with astonishment, “Do you not see the glorious Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul?” And, raising his eyes, he again cried, “I come! I come!” and as he uttered these words he gave up his soul to God.

    An end so glorious was the result of a prudent vigilance which cannot be too highly extolled; and such confidence at the hour of death seemed a fitting reward for one who during life had been filled with a holy fear of God. (St. Gregory, Dial. 4,11, quoted by St. Louis de Granada, The Sinner’s Guide, ch. 32).

  • Kelly,
    The first problem with seeing man #1 stab man #2 is that he has violated natural law in a way that is immediately evident by definition.  This is why stabbing is not only immoral but also of overwhelming pertinance in cultures around the world.  It’s self-evident, based on the construction of human beings, which are not designed for being stabbed or stabbing others.
    It takes strength & consciousness to stab someone, draw dripping blood, and then stand over the deed—too much strength to have done it “by accident.”
    It’s mortally sinful because: 1) God is the designer of the man not meant to be stabbed and also the man not meant to be stabbing, and 2) scripture says that murder is immmoral in the Decalogue, if you admit that it would be kind of odd to go stabbing people without at least some intent to harm or kill.  It is elective, even for a drunk.

    The second reason why it would be mortally sinful is that drinking oneself that drunk is elective and caused by violating one’s nature in a way forbidden by moral law.  It’s again a violation of natural law.  Getting so drunk that you put yourself in mortal danger or violence is a sin in itself.  Being that drunk is no excuse at all.

    Scripture speaks very badly of drunkedness also, in several places.  As an example, Romans 13:13: “13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.”

    Have you ever read about Matt Talbot?  Interesting story.

  • There are never times when you can point and say 100% surely that so and so went to hell.  You never know if they had a fraction of a second at the end that they used to consent to God.

    BUT, you can tell sometimes when mortal sin has occurred.  Gassing people in the chambers at Auschwitz every day, day after day, was a sinful act for the commander in charge.  To the degree that he was able to resist and did not, he is guilty of that mortal sin.  As was his commander and so on, all the way to Hitler himself.

  • Michigan,

    Please stop treating me like some illiterate child. I am, thank you very much, pretty much aware of what constitutes sinful behavior.

    I’m going to assume it’s not deliberate, but you keep missing my point. Let me try one more time:

    While we are able to identify sinful behavior we are unable to judge the state of another’s soul.