Sunday, July 31, 2005

the price of fame

If you're a Catholic priest in the USA and you become famous, statistically, it's probably for the wrong reasons. The good guys usually fly under the radar. Unfortunate but true.

Look at some of the guys who have been in the news in the past few days. Not exactly your Bing Crosby-BellsofStMary's-role model types...

How about this Msgr. John Woolsey guy? The NY Daily News loves this story. $800,000 from the parish into his personal slush fund and his defense says it was merely 'a little sloppy bookeeping'? They'll have to do better than that to keep Msgr. out of prison.

Another two clerical miscreants made the news, one in New Jersey, the other in Chicago. Again, trouble keeping their hands out of the collection basket. Incidents both petty and demeaning as far as anyone who takes the priesthood seriously is concerned.

On an even graver note, the Vatican announced that former Boston Archdiocese priests Eugene O'Sullivan and Paul McDonald were officially dismissed with all faculties removed as a result of sex abuse charges. Both have been inactive for over ten years and are serving sentences imposed by civil courts for their crimes.

Finally, the story that really caught my attention was the saga of the famed Italian mystic, spiritual director and founder, Fr. Luigi Burresi. The 73 year old 'Fr. Gino', as he is called by his devotees, holds the dubious distinction of being the first defrocked priest whose deprivation of faculties was signed by the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, former Archbishop of San Francisco, William Levada.

The accusations against Fr. Burresi date back to the 70's and 80's when he supposedly abused various followers and seminarians of his foundation, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He is also said to have violated the seal of the confessional and the confidentiality of spiritual direction by his accusers. Although the statute of limitations is well past regarding the charges, administrative action has been taken - conspicuously, under the pontificate of Benedict XVI - to terminate Fr.Burresi's continued fame and following as mystic and transmitter of 'supernatural messages'.

It is quite interesting that such decisive and crippling action has been taken against this elderly founder, renowned for his supposed charism. While other priests, of lesser profile and more recent and substantiated accusations, have often gone unnoticed or, at least, unprosecuted by Canon Law for long stretches, this case could suggest a new precedent.

The comments of Sandro Magister try to draw a parallel between the Burresi case and the investigation concerning Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. Frankly, I find more differences than similarities and, if anything at all should come of the Maciel investigation, would expect a very different outcome.

In short, the news tells us about about the questionable few. The vast majority of solid, saintly priests who simply do their duty to God and fellowman, are not - and should never be - newsworthy. The value of a priest's ministry is usually inversely proportional to his running headline quota.

The exorcist knows these things.