When he was ordained a deacon in 2012, Clark told the Clarion Herald that among his role models was Fr. Patrick Wattigny, a high school chaplain who admitted this month that in 2013 he sexually abused a minor, and who is accused of sending “grooming” text messages to a high school student earlier this year.
Priests in the Archdiocese of New Orleans told CNA that Clark is a quiet guy with a reputation among the presbyterate for keeping to himself. Priests in the archdiocese said that Clark’s nickname in the seminary was Lurch, in reference to the gloomy, shambling butler on television’s The Addams Family.
Some priests said that Clark is regarded as kind, attentive to the Serra Club and other projects, but was known by some to have a compulsive video game habit, sometimes staying up all night to play games.
Priests also told CNA that they are praying for Clark and his parish. Some speculated that the priest might have gotten involved with the women through a pornography addiction, and failed to appreciate the escalating circumstances or ask for help until it was too late, especially regarding the demonic aspect of the pornographic performance he filmed.
Still, one priest said that while many in the presbyterate are surprised by Clark's action, the priest has no excuse for his choices.
Chistopher Baglow, a theologian who taught Clark in seminary, told CNA that he believes Clark’s misdeeds point to a problem with seminary evaluation.
In the seminary, nothing about Clark’s behavior suggested that the priest would later do the things he is accused of, Baglow said. But he did recall concerns about the seminarian.
The theologian remembered Clark for being a student who didn’t participate in class, was negligent of assignments and seemed often “to be flying under the radar.”
“It was clear he wasn’t trying, and some made it known,” Baglow said. “It was often countered that pastoral gifts and holiness do not require great theological genius, and the concern was expressed by some colleagues that we should avoid focusing too much on academics.”
But Baglow said his concern about Clark, or other students who gave evidence of not trying, was not about academics, but about character.
Baglow said he does not expect academic excellence from all students. But he does believe seminaries should expect effort, and evidence of virtue in students and seminary life.
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“Tolerating mediocrity in a man allows tolerance for other kinds of unacceptable things.”
“Mediocrity can be a cover for other problems — sometimes very serious problems,” Baglow said.
Condoning “mediocrity” in the evaluation of seminarians, the theologian said, lowers the Church’s standards in the caliber of men who become priests. The Church should accept men for priesthood who want to be excellent academically, spiritually, pastorally, and morally, Baglow told CNA.
The theologian told CNA that in his view “the system isn’t broken, it’s just missing a part.”
He urged that seminaries develop committees of “well-formed knowledgeable Catholic lay people who are part of vocation evaluation and discernment.”
Such committees would give recommendations about the suitability of candidates for orders independent of seminary staff or faculty, Baglow said, giving bishops the benefit of perspective and judgment outside the clerical and ecclesiastical milieu.