Corrupt Clergy

A closer look at our Saint’s sermons reveals that unfortunately there is nothing new under the sun
November 07 2018 | by

ON AUGUST 14, 2018, a 1,400 page Grand Jury report was released naming over 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania (United States) who sexually abused children over seven decades. The report, compiled from more than 2 million documents after an 18-month investigation, covered six of the state’s dioceses (investigations had been done into the other two dioceses previously) and alleged that the hierarchy of Church leaders covered up the abuse. The report is explicit in detail and identifies about 1000 children as victims.

Despite the report implies that most of the priests were involved in pedophilia (sexual interest in prepubescent children generally 13 years of age and younger), most of the victims were post pubescent males. This abuse is termed ephebophilia (sexual interest in mid to late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19).


Old problem


Most studies of abuse cover the past 70 to 100 years, leading people to believe that clergy sexual abuse is a recent, modern problem. However, the sexual abuse of minors is far from new; unfortunately it has been one of the great horrifying constants throughout every age.

The Church, although a divine institution and a repository of the holy, is also made up of sinful and weak human beings. Anthony was very conscious of the weaknesses of people and their failings, and, loving the Church as much as he did, he insisted on the necessity of conversion, of a change in the lifestyle of members of the clergy and religious. Some of his accusations may raise a few eyebrows, but we must keep in mind that our Saint’s purpose was primarily to change the morals of every part of society, whether religious or civil.

One of Anthony’s starkest rebukes against corrupt clergy is present in his sermon for the IV Sunday after Pentecost: “‘And he spoke to them a similitude: Can the blind lead the blind? Do they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master; but everyone shall be perfect, if he be as his master [Lk 6.39-40]’ The ‘blind’ is the wicked prelate or priest, deprived of the light of life and knowledge. So Isaiah says of the blind prelates of the Church: ‘All ye beasts of the field, come to devour, all ye beasts of the forest. His watchmen are blind. They are all ignorant: dumb dogs not able to bark, seeing vain things, sleeping and loving dreams. And most impudent dogs, they never had enough: the shepherds themselves knew no understanding. All have turned aside into their own way; every one after his own gain, from the first even to the last. Come, let us take wine and be filled with drunkenness: and it shall be as today, so also tomorrow, and much more [Is 56. 9-12].’” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals II, translated by Paul Spilsbury, Edizioni Messaggero Padova, pp.92-93).


Beasts and demons


Anthony explains the meaning of these images: “the beasts of the field are the demons, the beasts of the forest are the movements of the flesh, which devour the Church and the faithful soul. Why is this? Surely because the watchmen of the Church are all blind, deprived of the light of life and knowledge. They are dumb dogs, with the devil’s sop in their mouths, and so unable to bark against the wolf. They see vain things, because they preach for money; seeking contrition from souls while shamefully saying, Peace peace. And there is no peace [Jer 6.14; Ezek 13.10]. … They have all turned aside into their own way, not that of Jesus Christ; every one after his own gain… Impudent dogs, today drunkenness abounds in you; but tomorrow, in the day of judgment, an eternity of death will answer” (Sermons II, p.93).

Our Saint continues his invective against unworthy pastors, “Again, these blind men, bearing witness to their own malice, say in the same Prophet: ‘We have groped for the wall, and like the blind we have groped as if we had no eyes. We have stumbled at noon-day as in darkness: we are in dark places as dead men. We shall roar all of us like bears. [Is 59.10-11]’… Just as the bear’s head is weak, so the mind of the Church’s prelates is weak, unable to resist the temptations of the devil; but in their arms and legs there is great strength for rapine and lust. They creep into the hives of the bees – the houses of the poor – with a great appetite for the honeycomb of praise and vainglory, salutations in the market-place, the first places at feasts and the first chairs in the synagogues [Mt 23.6-7], which they deny to their inferiors” (Sermons II, pp.94-95).

Finally, Anthony concludes his invective with the following words, “The blind and the lame should not come into the temple, and yet today the temple itself is committed to their care. By their blind guardianship many are made blind, and with them fall equally into the ditch of damnation. It is well said, then: If the blind leads the blind, they both fall into a ditch” (Sermons II, pp.97).


Strong language


Wasn’t Anthony known for his charity and mildness? Where did this strong language originate? Anthony returns periodically to the topic of clergy sexual abuse in both religious orders and in the secular clergy. Certainly, he would not have hammered home this issue if it were not a problem.

Anthony had firsthand experience with clergy sexual abuse. While still a teen, Anthony entered the Augustinian friary in Lisbon where the prior John was involved in sexual relationships with men and women, boys and girls, Saracens and Christians. Prior John’s abuses were public knowledge, so his Order took action, common in those days as well as today, to send him away for two years to do penance in a remote location. However, like every classic abuser, Prior John took up the same abusive practices when he returned to the monastery (Saint Anthony: Word of Fire, Life of Light, p. 377 by Madeline Pecora-Nugent, Pauline Books and Media).

It is likely, while Anthony was at this monastery, that Prior John propositioned him or at least gauged his willingness to engage in sexual misconduct. Anthony, however, remained a model of purity. He is most frequently depicted holding the infant Jesus who appeared to him and who felt safe and comfortable in his arms.


Seven qualities


Anthony presents his solution for priests who want to be holy. “Blessed is that prelate of the Church who can say, I am a good shepherd. To be good, he must needs be like the Son of Man, in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks of which John speaks: I saw seven golden candlesticks. These represent the seven qualities a prelate of the Church should have: cleanness of life, knowledge of Holy Scripture, eloquence of tongue, fervency in prayer, compassion for the weak, discipline over subordinates, and conscientious care for the people committed to him… take counsel that you may live cleanly as regards your soul and gather (that is, restrain) the council of your five senses, that you may live chastely as regards your body” (Sermons I, pp. 279-80).

Updated on November 19 2018