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“A Very Negative Witness Is Being Given”

A revealing story appeared in Britain’s Guardian (Dec. 29, 2003) titled “Priestly Celibacy Rule ‘Is Ignored.'” Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, former Master General of the worldwide Dominican Order, is quoted as saying: “It is clearly the case that in many parts of the world, celibacy has actually largely broken down — in many countries in Latin America, parts of Africa, to some extent in the United States….” Fr. Radcliffe rightly says that “a very negative witness is being given.”

You know about the homosexual problem in the U.S. priesthood. We’ve seen news reports — and heard on the grapevine — that many religious orders are especially infested with active homosexuals. It would seem that the Dominican Fr. Radcliffe knows more than we do.

He also says: “We have to…either…provide celibate priests with considerably more support or we have to explore the possibility of them being married.” We’re not clear, however, on how you “support” priests to observe their vows of celibacy. Does Fr. Radcliffe mean groups such as Courage? But in many dioceses Courage is unwelcome. Then there are priests who don’t want to abandon their secret sins. You have to want to give up your sins for groups such as Courage to have any effect. Also, we’d imagine that priests who are truly celibate may be turned off by such encounter groups, might even regard them as occasions of sin.

Maybe Fr. Radcliffe should have said that bishops and superiors need to forcefully and repeatedly call upon their wayward priests to clean up their act — or else! And maybe there’s a reason why Fr. Radcliffe didn’t — or couldn’t — call for such housecleaning.

Consider the words of John Lapham, once a prospective seminarian: “After being questioned repeatedly by a seminary recruiter what my stand was on homophobia and homosexuality, I finally got to the point and told him that any priest practicing homosexuality should report to his superior and ask to be relieved from his duties until he has successfully dealt with his problem.” Yes, this is unlikely to happen, but for his candid answer he says he was unceremoniously rejected by the seminary: “My prior invitation to join the order was withdrawn by means of a voice mail message on my answering machine just 3 hours later” (Lapham’s account and that of many others can be found on goodbyegoodmen.com/feedback.html, which consists of responses to Michael S. Rose’s book Goodbye, Good Men).

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