Sex, drugs and the holy Catholic church

Posted: May 03, 2002 12:00 AM
Gross. Imagine using such a banal slang word to describe such a historically austere and gravitas-saturated institution as the Catholic Church. But here we are, and "gross" is the first word that comes to mind each time I read of another slipper dropping in the Catholic Church's discommodious defrocking. In the latest Catholic bulletin, the now-notorious Rev. Paul Shanley has been arrested and charged with three counts of child rape with force. Shanley is alleged to have raped Gregory Ford of Boston between 1983 and 1990, beginning when Ford was 6, at St. Jean Parish in Newton, Mass. Shanley is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. But pages from his recently released diary, in which he describes his chronic affliction with venereal disease and his helping kids to use drugs, make it tough to suspend judgment. Toss out those diet pills, America. All you need to shed those winter pounds are a couple of appetite-suppressing excerpts from Shanley's diary, reportedly written in the 1970s when he was a street priest in Boston: "Much of my life these last few years has been choosing not twixt good and evil, but the less of the two evils ... my God, I've even taught kids to shoot up properly," wrote Shanley in one entry. In another, he wrote: "One of the first things I do in a new city is to sign up at the local clinic for help with my VD." As I said, gross. And to think I was about to reiterate my stance against capital punishment. OK, I'm still against capital punishment, but the priest known as Shanley is testing my faith in the likelihood of a more rational mankind. Unlike Shanley - and apparently the Vatican - I'm not stuck choosing "twixt good and evil." In the case of pedophiliac priests, evil is as clear as Mother Teresa's conscience. Evil is preying on children. Good is kicking out priests who molest a child
even once. Good is zero tolerance. The Vatican can't bring itself to invoke a zero-tolerance rule, opting instead for the Christian imperatives of forgiveness and "healing." By all means, let the bad boys of the priesthood get therapy. Let them seek forgiveness from the Almighty. And let them "heal" themselves through penance, good works, whatever. But not in the church. Not while wearing the cassock and collar. Why is this so hard to get? I've been following the church scandals along with the rest of the world these past few months and haven't felt the need to comment. Some things really are black and white, and surely this is one. What's to comment except to say: Yes, kick the devil out! Yet, U.S. cardinals, after meeting recently with Pope John Paul II, came up with a frankly wormy position statement, saying they would seek to dismiss any "notorious" priest found guilty of "serial, predatory, sexual abuse of minors." Let me get this straight: The litmus test for a bad priest is "notorious" and "serial"? Not with my child, monsignor. What can the church be thinking? The gauntlet is down, and it's dirty from so much traffic. The people are restless. The faithful are skeptical. Now is time for the church to take radical action, not that evicting pedophiles is exactly radical, for crying out loud. Earth to Rome Now having vented sufficiently, I'm certain beyond doubt that the vast majority of priests are lovely, celibate, devoted men of the cloth. I've known many and am descended of a few. In honor of those men - and out of simple decency - the Vatican should insist on zero tolerance for sex offenders. By failing to take the clear hard line against pedophiles in the priesthood, the Vatican has damaged its moral authority, perhaps irrevocably.