Whadya Do About a Priest Like OíReilly?
May 29, 2002
by Dennis Lombard
Across this land there are probably any number of priests named OíReilly, and Iím not talking about any single one of them. I postulate a "Father OíReilly" who is a mythical composite of all the priests and ministers Iíve known in my life the personification of some marvelous and terrible men I have known who sought to serve God by serving His people in the churches of with varying degrees of success or failure. I feel compelled to comment, though no longer a Catholic, in the midst of the current scandals and the even more scurrilous treatment by media.
A "Father OíReilly" came into our eight grade class to talk to us about sex, one day in the dark age of 1950. He told us it was a sin to kiss a girl -- the only part of his fatherly wisdom I can recall. It was a sin I had little trouble with because I was too shy to approach a girl anyway. In Catholic circles it seemed sex was a four-letter word, and thatís just how it was growing up a Catholic boy in those days. Many of these priests were taken into training for their celibate lives with such an inadequate preparation as I had for life in general.
No priest ever laid hands on me improperly, even though one kindly "Father OíReilly" in my life did counsel me occasionally in private, and tried to console me in my budding sinfulness with the forgiveness of the confessional. Another "Father OíReilly" listened to my confession once in my early 20s and advised me, "Find yourself a good Irish Catholic girl and get married, laddie!"
My favorite "Father OíReilly" in the confessional was an elderly semi-retired priest in the seminary next to the college I attended, who came over on Saturday nights to hear confessions -- and we naughty college boys all loved to go to him! Why? He was so forgiving of all our misbehavior. The legend about this Father was that you could go into his box and say, "Bless me father for I have sinned, itís been a hundred years since my last confession and I killed the pope..." And he would say, "How many times?" And you would reply, "Once...." And heíd say, "For your penance say three Hail Maryís...." No matter what you confessed, he was always gentle and never shocked and always gave you three Hail Maryís for penance.
There was a little bit of Jesus in that particular "Father OíReilly". As long as you were repentant enough to confess your sins, no matter how terrible, he always had forgiveness to dispense. And the penance was a small formality because, after all, Jesus had already paid the price....
Later on in my religious journey I met some not-so-perfect ministers in the churches of various denominations I attended. One had told the women in his previous church they were "whores" because they wore makeup. He got tossed, we heard, and in our church there were rumors he had molested a teenage girl...We had a "church trial" in which a whole family was ejected because they disagreed with the pastor on something we never quite understood. This same man of God stole a bunch of money from me in a business dealing we had.... and I say all that because not all errant clergy are in the Catholic Church, and clergy like the rest of us are far from perfect. Neither were Jesus first chosen disciples.
I met a beautiful preacher in another church, an elderly man in his 70s who had been preaching since he was 15, who could unscramble the Bible like nobody Iíve ever know. As a baby Christian I fell in love with him -- he had the sweetness of Jesus all over him. The church fired him in an administrative dispute. Sometimes the people drag their ministers down, donít want them to tell them the great truths.... "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
Where is all of this leading? To a simple statement that Christianity, whether Catholic or Baptist or Pentecostal or High Episcopal, is all about: grace and forgiveness. There is precious little of that grace and forgiveness being expressed or understood in the reportage over the priestly scandals, as there was precious little in the Jimmie Baker or Jimmie Swaggart scandals. There is precious little graciousness toward the best of the ministers in America no matter how exemplary their live are.
My main point: What newspapers are all about is scandal and condemnation. Less than saintly journalists make holy pronouncements over all the sins they can dig up among clergy, as well as politicians, business leaders, world leaders, any of us are fair game. Mind you, sin is widespread. But they are so sanctimonious they can scarcely recognize the true scoundrels like Arafat but seemingly can wallow at best in pedestrian-level sin and make profit from it.
What is the greatest scandal of the day? I doubt if the press can discern. Terrorists bomb our cities and kill thousands, and they still call them "suicide bombers". (Only one network calls them truthfully "homicide bombers".) The reincarnation of Hitler gets better press than Godís Chosen People.
The news moguls perseverate over whether or not or how much our good President "knew" before 911 -- like he really knew something substantial and did nothing.... get real, media! These same sinner-journalists defend the right of libraries to expose children to Internet porn, or nude dance clubs to feed the sickness of perverts and dump them out into the streets once they have emptied their pockets. Truthfully the press in America has little conscience.
Nothing I say should be taken as excuse-making for the very few priests whose celibacy tripped them up, or the few ministers reportedly caught up in Internet pornography. We have much concern and sympathy for their victims. And the worst offenders are the higher-ups who try to cover up.
We do want to call attention to the sinfulness of us all, the inherent hypocrisy of scandalmongering, the need for grace and forgiveness, the absolute beauty of what Jesus did for us all if weíll accept it, and the crying need for the journalism that feeds our minds and hearts every day to convey more of the graciousness of God than it seems to be able to comprehend.
© 2002 Home Times Family Newspaper
Dennis Lombard has been a community newspaper editor since 1972, and is currently editor and publisher of Home Times Family Newspaper, a traditional conservative monthly which he founded in 1990. He resides in Lake Worth, Florida with his wife, Mary, and they have seven children, 13 grandchildren, and one great-grandson. Home Times, soon going weekly, serves Palm Beach and Martin Counties in Florida and the nation by mail subscription, covering world, national, and local people and issues, home and family, arts and entertainment, and religion, all with a traditional conservative worldview. For a free copy call toll-free: 888-439-3509 or go to http://www.hometimes.org.
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