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Priests Actually Felt No Shame

Denial of Sin

By James K. Fitzpatrick

(This article originally appeared in the Catholic weekly The Wanderer. To subscribe call 651-224-5733.)

In a column on the clerical sex abuse scandals rocking the Church, I speculated about how the priests involved in these acts could justify their behavior to themselves in their private moments. One possibility I raised was that they may have bought so totally into premises of the homosexual revolution that they actually felt no shame for what they had done.

Fred Martinez, staff religion editor of the Conservative Monitor and a regular contributor to the San Francisco Faith, a northern California newspaper, forwarded a column of his that appeared on on April 18th. In it, he speculates that the problem may be even more deep seated.

Martinez holds that we are witnessing the impact of the successful infiltration of Catholic “publishers, seminaries, even convents and monasteries” by a “scientific paganism” that calls for an “inversion of worship and the Judeo-Christian worldview.” He says that we are looking at an outright “denial of original sin and personal sin” by clerics who reject the “basic Christian assumption that there is a need for forgiveness from God. Instead, they believe there is no sin, only selves needing to reach the fullness of themselves”; that this is what lies “behind the headlines of the Boston catastrophe and other dioceses.”

Martinez holds that these views were introduced into our seminaries and workshops for priests, brothers and nuns through the “human potential movement” and humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. The goal of Maslow and Rogers was to promote an approach to education that would be “values-free,” one that would stress that there is no right and wrong, no objective truth when discussing religious or moral issues.

Thus, says Martinez, the Christian understanding of a “fallen and sinful world with persons needing God the Father to forgive them so they can return to be His sons and daughters” was replaced with a “therapeutic starting point,” where what “is needed are not God and His forgiveness, but a therapist assisting a self to reach the fullness of self.” The ideas of Nietzsche, Freud and Jung supplanted in our schools and seminaries the teachings of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and Cardinal Newman.

Martinez makes sense to me. Anyone who has sat through a “values clarification” exercise in one of our public schools knows that the purpose of these exercises is promote a “non-judgmental” view of life, an “I’m okay, you’re okay” relativism, a “different strokes for different folks” attitude that purportedly will encourage a spirit of tolerance in our multicultural world. If these views have become part of the training of our priests and religious, it would not be hard to picture how active homosexuals could reconcile their behavior with their priesthood. They are being true to themselves.

We must remember that even though these priests accused of sex abuse are often older men, they are likely to have gone through the seminary at the height of the counterculture influences of the late 1960s and 1970s. The rise of the counterculture was over 30 years ago.

I remember those years. I was teaching at a Catholic high school in the Bronx in the late 1960s. One of the things that struck me was how the nature of retreats changed during those years. During the time when I was a student at a Catholic high school, in the late 1950s, the purpose of a retreat was to encourage a personal rejection of sin and a willingness to submit to the word of God as expressed in the Gospels and the teachings of the Church.

By the late 1960s, things had changed dramatically. The goal seemed to be to remove a sense of guilt and anxiety about sin and promote a sense of psychological well being instead – to make the students “feel good about themselves,” no matter where they “were coming from”. Stress was placed upon the “good news” of the Gospels and God’s love for us and upon our duty to love our neighbor as ourselves for the love God.

In some ways, this change was for the good. Love and redemption are at the heart of Christ’s message. But Christ’s message is more. The men about to stone the women taken in sin are warned that only those without sin should cast the first stone. And the woman was forgiven for her sins. But Jesus also told the woman to “Go and sin no more.” Forgiveness requires repentance and conversion.

If that part of the equation is forgotten, we end up with people who are convinced that their behavior is acceptable if it is in accordance with their personal and unique search for meaning in life. We get relativists, existentialists, multiculturalists – and maybe even priests who can engage in sex with youthful parishioners without feeling guilty about it in the morning.

James Fitzpatrick's new novel, The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the New American Church, can be ordered directly from Winepress Publishers — 1-877-421-READ (7323); $12.95, plus S&H. You can email Mr. Fitzpatrick at


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