Corrected June 15, 2011 at 1:45 p.m. MDT. Corrects error in headline.
Catholic leaders are calling a recent National Catholic Reporter article “ludicrous” for criticizing Kansas City Bishop Robert W. Finn in the context of a discussion about scandal-plagued figures such as New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
In her June 8 piece entitled “Who are these guys and where did they come from?” Phyllis Zagano discussed four prominent men who've made headlines for alleged or admitted sexual indiscretions. In a column touching on Weiner and Strauss-Kahn along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar, she also raised concerns about Bishop Finn's failure to deal swiftly with a priest who possessed questionable photos.
Zagano's essay compared Bishop Finn to the four figures in politics and finance, who she said lacked “respect for women, or anyone else for that matter.” After analyzing a series of chauvinistic and obscene behaviors she chalked up to “testosterone,” the former Fordham University professor abruptly zeroed in on the Bishop of Kansas City: “Where did Finn come from, anyway?”
Her criticism of Bishop Finn comes after he publicly expressed his remorse for neglecting to heed warnings about local priest Fr. Shawn Ratigan that were raised in a letter sent by Saint Patrick School principal Julie Hess to the diocese’s vicar general. The letter detailed parents' concerns about the priest’s behavior around children.
However, Zagano's remarks did not sit well with Catholic League president Bill Donohue and the internationally-known author Fr. Alfred McBride, O Praem., who both believe she went too far.
“Arnold Schwarzenegger impregnates his housekeeper, Rep. Anthony Weiner sends porn pictures of himself to strangers, and Dominque Strauss-Kahn allegedly rapes a hotel maid,” Donohue said.
“To be sure, they have something in common, but to conflate their sordid behavior with Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn's failure to move quickly against a problem priest is so forced as to be ludicrous,” he told CNA in a June 12 interview.
“That, however, is exactly what Phyllis Zagano has done.”
Zagano also criticized Bishop Finn's celibate formation, saying she felt “sorry for him” that he entered seminary at age 12. She wrote that the bishop is a “product a system left over from the Council of Trent,” which directed dioceses to create minor seminaries to provide initial formation for diocesan clergy.
“An all-male environment from the age of twelve can ensure celibacy, but at what price?” Zagano said. “If the only way to get celibate clergy is to lock up twelve-year-olds until they are ordained, maybe the hierarchy should reconsider requiring priestly celibacy.”
Donohue said in response that “her lashing out at Bishop Finn, and her inane analogies comparing Finn to sexual deviants in public life, smacks of an agenda.”
Fr. Alfred McBride, a professor at St. Norbert's College in Wisconsin who has helped form hundreds of seminarians, also took on Zagano's criticism of priestly celibacy. He told CNA that it's inaccurate to blame celibacy for sexual misconduct or mismanagement of cases within the Church.
“When we look at the celebrity politicians of late who broke their marital promises to their wives, did that happen because they were married?” he asked. “No. It happened because they failed to nurture their vow of fidelity which they pronounced on their wedding.”
Fr. McBride, a popular speaker who's authored over 40 books and appeared regularly on TV networks such as EWTN, said that the “central issue of our culture is fidelity, not adultery or sex abuse.”
“Whether one is married or celibate, the virtue of fidelity is central to their lives.”
“Marriage does not cause adultery,” he added. “An evil soul causes that. So also celibacy does not cause what Pope Benedict calls the 'filth' of sex abuse, but the permission given by priests to let evil overtake their souls.”
Fr. McBride said that the real reason for sex abuse and sexual misconduct by priests is not celibacy but “the failure to practice the virtue of chastity when faced with temptations to abandon their vow of celibacy.”
He noted that people often make the unfortunate mistake of defining celibacy in a negative way as if it's simply the act of giving up marriage and and children.
However, “the positive view of celibacy,” he said, “is that it is a form of loving God and people with an undivided heart.”
“Celibacy did not block Blessed John Paul II from being admired as one of the most courageous priests on earth,” Fr. McBride underscored. “See how one celibate priest stood up against one of the most corrupt governments of his time.”
“Priests that abused children did not do so because of their celibacy, rather they failed because they broke their vow to be chaste,” he said.
“When four million people elbowed their way into the Vatican to pay tribute to a celibate priest, what does that tell you? It states that John Paul knew how to keep his promises,” he said, referring to Bl. John Paul II’s funeral.