- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

It's building, day by day. The headlines (New York Times: "Church and its Faithful Reel"), the rhetorical questions (CNN: "Has the Catholic Church been changed forever?"), the terrible tales of pornography and rectory sex. The message is too blatant to be subliminal, too repugnant to be spelled out, just beneath the headlines: Catholic priests are pedophiles. Your sons are in danger. Beware of priests.

This is no defense of the priests who did unspeakable things to boys who looked to them for guidance and example. There should be no misplaced sympathy for them, as they face legal and later, eternal, justice. Predator priests should be turned over to the police by their bishops and be subject to the same treatment as lay offenders. And there can be no doubt of the pain suffered by youths, many now middle-aged, who had their worlds turned upside down by monstrous wrongdoing at the hands of people they trusted.

Now that that has been said, there are some uncomfortable questions that deserve answers.

I have seen widespread, well-deserved condemnation of the predators, not of their actions. Is there a "hate the sinner, love the sin" mentality here? Could the same newspapers and networks harrying the Catholic Church with such gusto fear alienating the gay community? It wouldn't be the first time.

Does the priesthood disproportionately attract homosexuals? Unlikely, in a church that condemns homosexuality unambiguously. Then why are there not more stories of girls abused by clergymen, or for that matter, of boys abused by nuns? Are heterosexual priests stronger-willed? More mature? Abler to put aside the urges they have vowed to quell?

Some compare priests' isolation to that of prison inmates who force themselves on other men because they are the only partners available. But priests are not in contact exclusively with boys. Nor are they incarcerated. Some found celibacy untenable and abandoned their vows and self-imposed sensual confinement. Others want to.

As surely as there are good people who are homosexuals and bad people who are priests, there must be bad homosexual priests. Is that not who is to blame here? Why is only their vocation and not their orientation being discussed? How can instant critics of the church know that celibacy, and not homosexuality, is the culprit?

The Catholic Church hierarchy offended God as greatly as any priest by seeking first to ignore the problem, then to shuffle pedophiles around, finally to buy the silence of their victims with payouts contingent on not discussing their cases. This is unworthy of the soldiers of Christ, who Himself expelled money-lenders from His place of worship.

Unexamined by the media is this question: Are the victims who are now renouncing that promise giving back the money? (The Times confined itself to reporting that one such man "chose to come forward.") Do they feel entitled to tell their story and keep their payoff? If their promise of silence is as worthless as a priest's broken vow, are their painful recollections worth more? Why are none of the Catholic Church's accusers asking this question?

Catholics must ask themselves if they can bestow forgiveness on those who, through the sacrament of reconciliation, forgive us our sins. Is it within our power as Catholics to overcome our anger, forgive those priests who have sinned, and return our focus to the work of salvation that now, more than ever, is the ultimate goal of all mortal?. To use the well-worn phrase: What would Jesus do?

These contrarian thoughts belong to a Catholic whose early contact with priests consisted largely of being cuffed for offenses of which I was wholly guilty. Or a manly squeeze of the arm when (less frequently) I had done something well. I learned from both. The priests I knew and know had problems, but they did not do not ensnare young people to assuage their misery. Not all priests are as honorable as those I knew. Many are, and they deserve our prayers. The Catholic Church, with a 2000-year track record of sainthood and suffering, will transcend this crisis of faith.

John Moody is a senior vice president of Fox News and author of a biography of Pope John Paul II.

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