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Letter from an L.A. priest

There is a high toll in personal anguish in the Los Angeles archdiocese among both the laity losing their jobs -- or resigning on principle because of the financial cutbacks -- and among priests battered by the sexual abuse crisis and the U.S. bishops’ “one-strike-and-you’re-out” response decided on at the bishops’ Dallas meeting in June.

For Los Angeles priests, given the archdiocese’s continuing upheavals, as well as undoubtedly for other priests nationwide, the toll on their reputations and priestly lives appears very high indeed.

In this letter (from which NCR has permission to quote) by a Los Angeles priest to his priest friend in another state, the L.A. priest writes:

I have never been one to fear, but the present situation has put us all in a condition of constant terror. I now take precautions I never would have dreamed of before, and I trust no one.

I have always loved my life as a priest, and over the years I think I have been a good priest and able to touch a lot of people’s lives. But if I were 18 again, and had to do it all over, there is no way in hell I would get into this. Not with the way things are now. The only reason I stay is because my people truly depend on me, and my heart goes out to them.

If there were to be a split between the American church and the church of Rome, I do not know at this point which I would choose. In fact, I would probably just get out of the whole thing altogether. The hypocrisy of it all is appalling.

On the one hand, the American bishops are publicly making high-handed distinctions between the “good priests” and the “bad priests” (oh, the follies of Western dualism!), disregarding the fact that many of these shamed and cast-out brethren were among the finest, most effective and hard-working priests around; the bishops must shake in their silver-buckled boots when making such statements, knowing that they themselves (as indeed every person born) have things in their past that would be very compromising to reveal.

The holier-than-thou, judgmental pose they have taken is the most sickening aspect of this whole sordid affair, and if they are so anxious to cast out everyone who may be a potential financial liability to them (and only an idiot would fail to see that this is the true motive), perhaps they should consider resigning themselves -- all of them, except perhaps that brave Christian remnant who voted against the Dallas charter.

That is the one side. On the other hand, we have Rome, which may make some sort of gesture now to salvage what is left of the legal rights of priests and give at least lip service to the cause of Christian forgiveness, yet continues stupidly and in a typically Roman and anachronistic way to use the situation to issue still more anathemas against homosexuality (a favorite crusade of this papacy). They, as always, miss the whole point and will use anything to push their own frightfully flawed agenda, alienating the very people who should be finding support and comfort in the flock.

The fact that we now have a feeble pope, and that everyone over there seems to be taking advantage of that situation, does not help in the least.

So, we are caught between two fires, really, and neither is very inviting. Thank heavens God is so much bigger than all of that.

I am not optimistic, but for priests these days realism is synonymous with pessimism.

National Catholic Reporter, October 11, 2002