Sunday, October 6, 2013

Witness and Belief

Rod Dreher  brings up some current sex scandals in the Church, some of which I've written about recently on this blog.

One involves Fr. Riedlinger in New Jersey.  Riedlinger was a favorite of Msgr. Rossi, who is the rector of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC - enough of a favorite that Riedlinger claimed he would "vacation" with Rossi (who is a much older man).  Riedlinger would be introduced by Rossi to young seminarians, and Riedlinger would then proceed to hit on these guys and turn the talk around to gay sex.  Some of the young seminarians would complain about this, and their complaints would go unheeded.

Eventually, two of them instituted a "sting" operation against Riedlinger.  Timothy Schmalz and his roommate Ryan posed as a 16-year-old boy on Facebook, and "friended" Fr. Riedlinger, who soon turned the conversation toward sex.

The messages show Riedlinger needed little or no invitation to steer the conversation to sex. He spoke of past encounters and the size of his penis, encouraged Josh to enjoy sex with his boyfriend and repeatedly told him how alike they were in their thirst for pornography and sex.
“I love u dude. Ur a sick (expletive) like me,” Riedlinger wrote.
Riedlinger occasionally sent a message saying he was near Newton, suggesting a get-together. On those occasions, Schmalz declined to respond and made up an excuse later.
The conversations culminated in a graphic, six-hour texting session in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2012. The next day, Riedlinger asked to do it again.
Schmalz and his roommate cut off contact two days later and forwarded the transcript and other materials to [Trenton Bishop David] O’Connell [Riedlinger's ordinary].
On Aug. 7, the bishop wrote back, thanking them for the documents and saying he had personally escorted Riedlinger to a hospital for in-patient treatment. The diocese, citing federal health law, declined to say where Riedlinger was treated or how long he remained in the facility.
Schmalz and Ryan said they continued to press the diocese to notify parishioners at St. Aloysius [the parish where Riedlinger had been assigned], saying they worried Riedlinger might have spoken to other teens the way he spoke to them.
Two months ago, the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator, Maureen Fitzsimmons, flatly told Ryan in an e-mail that O’Connell would not do so, according to a copy of the correspondence.
Riedlinger, not so incidentally, was teaching sex ed to middle school students at St. Aloysisus.  He would often brag to Schmalz and Ryan that the boys he was teaching were "phyiscally mature", some even having "facial hair".  "It raised alarm bells," noted Ryan.


Dear readers, I can understand sexual crimes and perversions.  I really can.  Many abusers were abused themselves as children, and if there's anything all of us should be humble about, it's the trouble our gonads can get us into.  Few of us can throw stones at someone who behaves in a sick or reckless way sexually. Yes, child abuse is over the line, and horrific.  But there is something worse.

And that is not the sin of the flesh - awful as it is; but the sin of pride, the spiritual sin of those who cover up this stuff, who place kids in harm's way, and who smugly defend their own actions by attacking not only whistle blowers, but also normal people who want this nonsense to end.

Case in point: the way the pastor at Fr. Riedlinger's church handled the situation.  Instead of telling the parishioners that Fr. Riedlinger was trying to have sexual contact with someone he thought was a 16-year-old boy, and letting his flock know that the middle school sex ed students might have been victimized by a priest who liked to talk to 16-year-olds about the size of his penis and who brags about being a "sick (expletive)", Pastor Kevin Keelan ...

chastised parishioners for asking questions about Riedlinger’s removal, saying in the church bulletin that "blabbing" was a sin and that they were not entitled to more information.

Now, friends, if I were to doubt the story in the Star Ledger about Fr. Riedlinger, the sting, Bishop O'Connell, etc. - that one sentence would convince me the whole thing were true.

That kind of moral bullying (used more typically by female Catholic parochial school principals than by pastors) is so completely characteristic of what happens in the day-to-day operations of the Catholic Church that it confirms the whole scenario.  This is exactly how authority figures act in the Catholic Church and this is exactly why so many people are losing their faith.

Rod Dreher writes (my emphasis) ...

The knowledge that he has been sexting with what he thought was a teenage boy about his penis and such does not render the ordination of Fr. Riedlinger invalid, nor the sacraments he confects. This is true, and an extremely important truth to hold onto, because it protects the integrity of the holy sacraments. But honestly, in terms of spiritual authority, who wants to take anything a cretin like that says about Jesus seriously? In terms of authority, every word coming out of his mouth is suspect. Similarly, when Archbishop Nienstedt troubles to teach his flock about holiness, what kind of credibility will he have, if it is established that he buried the evidence of a child-porn priest, and misled police investigators? And: Bishop Finn.
In the future, the kind of bishops and priests who rebuild confidence in the Church’s spiritual authority — and I’m not just talking about the Catholic Church, but all churches — will be the kinds of bishops and priests who testify to the truth of Christianity by the integrity of their lives. 


And so, fellow sinners, we can't change our bishops or our priests.

But we can change ourselves.

We can make reparations for the sins of these men - and we can "testify to the truth of Christianity by the integrity" of our OWN lives.

I, for one, have not been very good at that.  I suspect that neither have you.

Let us pray for one another, and let us realize that even though personal sanctity is hard to achieve, one thing is within our grasp.

Basic human decency.

Let's begin with that.  And let's pray our priests and our bishops do, too.


Tom Leith said...

Catholics can't understand big words like "detraction" anymore, but it is a sin. Or maybe it is Americans who simply don't get that. I'm not sure.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Tom, are you saying that for the pastor in New Jersey to have divulged what Riedlinger did would have been "detraction"?

Kevin O'Brien said...

If so, note what the article you linked to says about the common weal.

I think it's also important that we have a sense of what we're really up against in the clergy. "Strengthening the public conscience" as the article refers to it. And while the article applies that to the work of historians, it certainly falls under the kind of knowledge that needs to be shared to reform the Catholic Church.

True detraction is intended to defame; that's not the intention here.

Tom Leith said...

Well, there's nothing about intent in the definition of detraction, and removing a man from a post isn't "passing sentence". What do you think? I think I know what the pastor thought (and he was there).

Tom Leith said...

And when are you going to call out Timothy Schmalz and his roommate Ryan for lying to Fr. Redlinger?

Kevin O'Brien said...

I can't tell you what I think about the pastor. It would be detraction. Seriously, it would - as there's more information I could relay about him, but I don't see the good it would do.


Intent does enter into the question - in any act. It is part of what defines an action.

To deliberately spoil the good name of another is detraction. To seek to protect the common weal or to "strengthen the public conscience", even if it involves harming the good name of another, is not detraction.

In the latter two examples, you have double effect. If you are on the school board, and you know a candidate for employment has a history of abusing kids, you divulge this information. Speaking the truth is not a sin. Two effects spring from telling this truth: 1. children are protected and 2. a man's good name is sullied. The first is intended; the second is not, though it is foreseen, and, though harmful, proportional to the first.

Also, Tom, Bishop O'Connell kept Fr. Riedlinger on for two years at St. Al's, even though seminarians had been complaining and Riedlinger (of all people) was teaching sex education to under-age boys. When Riedlinger was finally removed (by means of the sting), it was business as usual.

But even the "victim" in this case suggests a way to handle it that would avoid even the appearance of detraction ... "Had the bishop informed the parish that he was being removed for ‘inappropriate behavior’ and not for a period of ‘discernment,’ it would have both upheld Riedlinger’s privacy and taken a step toward the transparency the church pledges," Schmalz said.

At any rate, the least the pastor could have done would have been to let parishioners know that their sons may have been approached by Fr. Riedlinger and possibly victimized. This is concern for the public weal, not detraction.

Tom Leith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Leith said...

No Brother Kevin -- read again -- to disclose to someone who did not know them the sins or even mere faults of another without an objective necessity is detraction. Period. Full Stop. . It is one thing to make a denunciation to a competent authority and quite another to broadcast one's suspicion or even direct knowledge.

Children probably were protected by lying in order to "sting" Fr. Redlinger, but they're not protected by telling everyone why he's been reassigned -- he has already been removed from the situation while his fitness for service is discerned.

"Transparency" is precisely the issue -- like it or not, the man has rights especially before legal processes have gone forward. If there is a canonical or civil proceeding (and there probably should be from the sound of it) that may be made public at the point it begins. "Fr. Redlinger has been accused of several canonical and civil crimes. If anyone possesses information that may have a bearing, he will under obedience disclose it to Fr. Inquisitor at ..." But I'd expect you to be screaming bloody murder at the introduction of evidence obtained by lying.

I do not mean to excuse the (by now notorious) failure of Bishop O'Connell to act sooner or with greater diligence, only to point out that the "sting" should probably not have been done at all, much less made public, and the pastor was probably right to try to quash tittering before legal processes get underway.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Brother Tom, you're misreading! You're spending too much time with your reactionary buddies at the Oratory!

First of all, the article you link to is an encyclopedia article that gives one theological perspective on the sin of detraction.

Secondly, you can't take a definition from the article and use it against other things revealed by the article. If the article is true, then its own context must be honored.

If revealing bad things about another is always detraction, then the common weal and the public conscience would not be factors, for we must never do evil that good may come.

So even without reading other articles, but merely by reasoning out what the Catholic Encyclopedia article says, it's obvious that "detraction" is a species of "telling the truth".

Since "telling the truth" is not (generally speaking) a sin, then what makes "detraction" sinful? The harm it intends another.

The object of an act helps define an act.

For example, if you want to have sex with a woman and you are both unmarried, you want to "fornicate".

If you want to have sex with your wife, you want to commit the "marital act".

The object of the act takes what appears to be the same thing (sexual intercourse) and quite literally makes it something else. "The Marital Act" is not "fornication". The mechanics are the same, but the objective is different, making the act itself a different thing.

In a similar way, if you have the objective of harming another (a bad end) by means of telling the truth (a good means), that makes such an act "detraction". Your object in this case defines the act, which is a sin.

If you have the objective of helping another (a good end) by means of telling the truth (a good means), this is not "detraction", and even though the reputation of another may be harmed, this unintended side-effect may or may not be excusable, given the circumstances. It may not be prudent to tell the truth if it harms another, even if your object is to assist the common weal or the public conscience; but even if not prudent, it is not, strictly speaking, "detraction".

In short, neither the Catholic Encyclopedia article, nor any serious thinking-through of the article, can lead one to claim that any time a person reveals a damaging truth about another that "detraction" has thus been committed.

Be careful not to "proof text" things like this. As I say, even reading the whole article makes it clear that the narrow definition does not fit the whole phenomenon the article is attempting to tackle.

Anonymous said...

Either way, the seminarians behaved exactly like Live Action.

Dr. Eric

Tom Leith said...

I did not claim that any time a person reveals a damaging truth about another that "detraction" has thus been committed.

I do claim that there must be an objective necessity to reveal someone's sins.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Tom, we're in agreement about "detraction", then. But in this case, and cases like it, there is definitely an objective necessity.

Dr. Eric, you are correct, sir.

jvc said...

I'm "shocked, shocked" to see that someone in leadership in the DC archdiocese facilitated some of the alleged acts.

Tom Leith said...

Well, I'm glad we have that cleared up. To recap then: even if we have pure intentions, the test of action with respect to revealing the offenses of another is Objective Necessity. All the nonsense above about whether there may be more than one theological perspective on the sin of detraction, "double effect" and so-forth is just that. There is no difference between what the seminarians did and what the lying Live Action liars do when they lie. You think the conditions under which "one may lawfully make known the offense of another" exist; I am not so sure and give the benefit of the doubt about this to the pastor and the tribunal handling the case.

A very high-ranking clergyman once told me (in effect) that "we" are not up against anything in the clergy; rather, he is and I should pray for him and the success of his work. My judgments about it don't matter very much (as in "not at all"), which is a hard thing for me to take, but I'm trying.

Kevin O'Brien said...

'You think the conditions under which "one may lawfully make known the offense of another" exist; I am not so sure.'

Yes, you are. That's the definition of Objective Necessity. In this case, it was Objectively Necessary for the pastor to reveal the sin. No question.

And I stand by everything I wrote. It is not a mere theological squabble. Your notion of what Detraction is, based on an encyclopedia article, is flawed.

At any rate, Brother Tom, the argument is not about the sting. I concede that the same issues apply to the sting as apply to Live Action videos.

The argument is about whether the pastor had Objective Necessity to divulge the sins of Fr. Riedlinger. Any person can see that he clearly did, that this is a question of the Public Weal and the safety of parishioners who may have been abused by the man.