Last week, two news stories simultaneously broke that reminded the world that the Church is still undergoing a serious period of hardship due to disregard of the priestly vow of celibacy. The Legionary priest Thomas Williams admitted to an old affair from which a child was born, and the Vatican announced the dismissal of the former Bishop of Antigonish, Raymond Lahey from the clerical state, a year after he pleaded guilty to possession of Child Pornography. Both scandals were adjudicated by the priest’s respective authorities in generally the same way – that their public ministry be suspended so that they may focus on a personal period of prayerful penance.
One must note that “laicization” in the Catholic Church cannot remove the indelible mark on a priest’s soul resulting from ordination. For the most part, suspension of ministry means loss of official titles and powers of a priest. He is not unbounded from the vow of celibacy. Bishop Lahey’s penance requires him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in reparation for the harm he has done and for the sanctification of the clergy
The priestly scandal seems like it will never end, and as Cardinal Dolan has said, it might be preferable in that way. Certainly, it compromises the Church’s ability to speak with moral authority, but in another way it forces the average Catholic to work harder to find moral clarity and understand the true gravity of scandal. The actions of these priests are examples of a tiny minority of “bad apples”, but from the entire history of the Church, we’ve always had failed leaders; from as early as Judas. What I note is the patience and charity given to all sinners – the hope that one can reform and be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven given the right conditions for true contrition.
It was reported that Bishop Lahey had an ongoing relationship with an illicit partner that he hoped to return to. We should instead pray that his intentions are united with the will of the Lord and the Church. The consequence of sin is public and we all suffer from the bad decisions of just a few individuals. Thus we join him and all priests convicted of scandal in their penitential moments to pray for the reparation for the harm that all scandal has caused; for strengthened and pure vocations to the religious life; and hope for Bishop Lahey and Fr. Williams to regain the discipline demanded of their original vocation – to be a child of God the Father and to remain in His light.