Clerical Faith Abuse

Thomas J. Euteneuer
Feb. 10, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

Second only to the Diocese of St. Petersburg's scandalous silence on the killing of Terri Schiavo last March was the abuse of the Sacrament of Matrimony by Michael Schiavo and his erstwhile fiancée Jodi Centonze on January 21st. My first reaction to the news that Schiavo had gotten married in a Catholic Church in Safety Harbor, FL was that this was really a joke and that no bishop or priest would ever have allowed such a mockery. One distinction that the priest who married Schiavo and Centonze may not have picked up in his seminary studies is that it's not only immoral but it's against ecclesiastical law to kill your wife in order to marry another woman (see canon 1090). Father must have skipped that lecture in his canon law class.

Then it occurred to me that the silence of the bishop and priests of this diocese about a raw judicial homicide in their own backyard made other abuses possible. This is always what happens when the Church leaders refuse to be Shepherds and drive away the wolves who want to devour the flock. Soon the wolves become the flock.

We have been rightfully concerned and indignant about the clerical sex abuse scandal in the Church. Even one solitary case of such abuse is unconscionable, and how can we calculate the damage to the faith of so many children, families and thousands of others whose faith was pushed over the shallow cliff it was hanging on before the scandal? Regretfully there are so many who are just looking for an excuse to bash the Church and/or leave it with a loud bang. As a priest I am conabusecerned about their faith and their souls, but I can hardly do anything about the clerical sex abuse that caused all the wreckage.

But should we not also be concerned about the clerical faith abuse that takes place every week in our parishes by men in black impersonating Catholic priests? The abuse can be liturgical, doctrinal or behavioral, but it's all very real and takes a heavy toll on the faithful. And yes, it is true that priests are held to a higher standard; bishops more so. Those who accept Holy Orders should be well aware of that dynamic before they dare to offer their hands for anointing; if they can't hack it, the priesthood is not the place for them.

We should also pray for the salvation of the clergy who allowed the church wedding of Schiavo-Centonze because they have some serious accounting to do before the High Priest on Judgment Day. They cannot claim ignorance of the Church's clear teachings, nor can they say it was someone else's job to keep wife-killers from committing sacrilege.