Scranton, Pa., Area Priests Dish out Their Criticisms

By Mark Guydish
Times Leader [Wilkes-Barre PA]
Downloaded January 17, 2003

Given a chance to write anonymously, some Diocese of Scranton priests offered strong criticism of their leaders, their training and the media.

"We no longer expect much of our bishops," one priest wrote.

"There is definitely an anti-Catholic bias on all accounts in the media," another said.

"Seminaries are becoming very politically correct in their teachings," a third wrote. "This is a big problem for the American church."

These and other responses came from priests who participated in a survey conducted last year by Muhlenberg College and the Allentown Morning Call newspaper. It was part of a national survey spearheaded by the Los Angeles Times.

The mailed survey asked wide-ranging, multiple-choice questions, including queries about the state of the church, priests' sexual orientation and responses to the priest misconduct scandal that filled headlines last year.

At the end of the survey, priests were given space for comments. Muhlenberg College Professor Christopher Borick, who conducted the local survey, recently provided copies of the comments from 24 Diocese of Scranton priests. They give a glimpse at opinions the priests usually keep to themselves.

The priest who said little is expected of bishops elaborated more on his survey. "In response to the needs of the times they - with few exceptions - reach for yet another program, offer some pop-psychology observations that would do credit to a rationalist rather than a person of faith, and fret about preserving their power within a dying structure."

A lack of clear guidance from - and accountability for - church leaders was a frequent theme.

"There is no one who is able to articulate a vision or help us to pursue it," one commented. "Each of us tries, with the help of a few others, to frame some vision for ourselves."

"Bishops who cover up for abusing priests should also be immediately removed," another suggested. "This may be chaotic, but it's fair."

"In many instances, the bishop was following the recommendations of doctors and or lawyers," another pointed out. "The sex thing was considered a moral weakness."

The media was a common target, with one priest contending coverage of the scandal pushed bishops into a corner when they met in July to respond to the problem. The media's "cry for zero tolerance ... created a situation where the church cannot speak out in the name of rehabilitation and forgiveness."

Questions about priests' sexual orientation, and whether there is a "homosexual subculture" in seminaries, also sparked strong responses.

"We should deal with the problem, but try not to label people - priests or anyone else - solely or even mainly by sexual orientation," one priest wrote in a lengthy comment. "That's only part of who people are. ... We need to foster healthy sexuality and self-acceptance for all orientations."

"On the issue of a 'homosexual subculture,' " another wrote, "generally I believe that when I was in the seminary in the 70s, such a subculture existed along with all the other subcultures - jock subculture, clerical subculture, liturgical subculture, cheating subculture, etc. - and this was OK. However, as the hierarchical church became more fearful and strident, the subcultures became more secretive."

One priest wrote that some priest candidates who come from "dysfunctional" families help create "an unhealthy clerical culture that feeds a level of compulsiveness, addiction, unhealthy coping mechanisms and sexual collusion."

The same priest noted, "In much of my relations with priests, we have little to talk about and are very suspicious of one another, including bishops and superiors."

And one priest was blunt and succinct with several recommendations including "vote for the bishop we want. Stay to hell out of people's bedrooms. Get a life (bishops)."

Some other comments:

a.. "The Catholic church has created a good deal of its own problems by ignoring ritual, history, music, tradition and watering down what people get. Many priests wrongly presume that people prefer the 'express Mass' or the 'late-night monologue' type homily, rather than offer a well-prepared, meaningful liturgy.

a.. "Many of us (myself included) must spend an inordinate amount of time on finances, fund raising and just paying the bills. It can be discouraging and stressful.

a.. "If women are ordained, clericalism will make a return. There is no love in the movement, only a thirst for power.

a.. "Dismissing those who aren't prosecuted for a crime only leaves a sick individual without supervision to make it on his own in society, and possibly to commit the same crimes against children.

a.. "For some reason, Jesus Christ chose men, fragile at that, to share in his work of redemption. Why Christ did not choose angels or at least saints is a wonder."
Mark Guydish, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7161.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.