Into the Deep

It’s easy to aggregate links on Travis Clark and Pat Wattigny without getting into any of the larger issues at hand. But it’s worth spending some time considering (at least some of) the issues present. May as well be healthy about things.

Sexuality, chastity, lifestyle, public persona, and arrogance, integrity, are some of the immediate issues that come to mind. And they’re worth taking some time to parse out.

Sexuality

Sexuality involves who you’re attracted to and what you do about it. As our friends at Merriam-Webster put it, sexuality is the “expression of sexual receptivity or interest especially when excessive.”

In Catholic teaching, sexuality is derived from natural law. But the Church itself is confused about sexuality these days, and the natural law itself is seen as a subject of current debate.

From LifeSite News, regarding a new teaching that goes against the natural law: 

Pope’s change to Catechism contradicts natural law and the deposit of Faith

August 2, 2018 ( LifeSiteNews) – In the boldest and most reckless move to date in a pontificate that was already out of control and sowing confusion on a massive scale, the Vatican has announced Pope Francis’s substitution, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of a new doctrine on capital punishment.

“Lest there be any doubts on this matter, Edward Feser and Joseph Bessette published a comprehensive overview of the subject: By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017). In this hard-hitting book, Feser and Bessette present the natural law arguments in favor of capital punishment, furnish a veritable catalogue of citations from Scripture, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and Popes that uphold its legitimacy, and mount a critique of the logical fallacies and doctrinal contradictions—be they those of American bishops, or even of the Bishop of Rome—who attempt to wiggle out of this unanimous witness of faith and reason.“

And, from the Catholic World Report, who argue also for the natural law, noting its demise in the public sphere in favor of what they call preference satisfaction. Preference satisfaction is a subjective thing and allows for gender choice, sexuality options, etc.  

But how can that be done, when our governing institutions have staked their authority on the rejection of natural law in favor of preference satisfaction, and all respectable public authorities—and indeed the current understanding of public rationality—back them up? Any answer will have to be very general, but we need to begin somewhere. …

It seems evident that the situation requires us to raise the most basic questions. What is natural for human beings? Not natural in the sense of modern physics, where whatever actually occurs is seen as natural, but in a sense more like that of biology or medicine, where what is considered natural is the normal healthy functioning of living systems.

In the Church, many times we’re not open to discussions about sexuality and lifestyle. A lot of priests openly support gay marriage and gay lifestyles over and above what the church teaches and anxiously await the redefining of the natural law. If that’s what they want – why can’t we acknowledge it and talk about it. The priesthood isn’t a place to hide out – we ran into that problem with pedophiles, which no doubt helped attract Pat Wattigny.

We see priests having gay relationships that are fully supported by the heirarchy even while heterosexual relationships are vividly frowned upon. In such a confusing environment, if a younger priest – or any priest – is not able to communicate in a healthy way, he is no doubt then easily led astray, questioning why he is not allowed some type of variance in his choice for a celibate life while others are.

Who knows the reality of the situation for Travis, but it’s worth having the conversations if it helps priests in the future.

Chastity

Chastity doesn’t matter to some priests, and to many faithful. Basically, as in any area of life today, there are those who have sex and those who don’t. Pat Wattigny and Travis Clark clearly fall into the category of men who have sex. 

Any sexual relations outside of marriage are contrary to Catholic teaching, even sex with one’s self, or masturbation. All of that stems again from the natural law (and of course supernatural revelation, the case of marriage,) and to that end you see adherents of the natural law (whether they realize it or not) coming to the same conclusions as the Church in their views against abortion (pro-life pagans), masturbation (the rise and prominence of no-religion-involved “no-fap” groups), etc. (See such articles asAccording to Science, It’s Time to Stop Masturbating So Much“).

Hormonally speaking, chastity helps keep a healthier hormonal balance in the body. The sex Travis is alleged to have been having is not the type that would produce oxytocin, which is what is so reassuring and healing, the love hormone. It would be a dopamine rush and other associated pleasures such as can be associated with pornography and masturbation, and that can leave you feeling irritated and depressed for up to two weeks as there is no oxytocin being produced. Oxytocin is what he feel when we feel loved, accepted, around warm and loving family and friends. It is also produced when a man and a women make love naturally, slowly, pleasurably. 

Power

Beyond the issues of prudence and discretion, there is the overarching issue of power. To even consider having sex with a minor is to display no concept of the power one is wielding over that person’s young life. To actually do that, as a leader in faith, is to simply destroy their life. You can have sex with them as long as they go to the March for Life, don’t have abortions, don’t lead a gay lifestyle, and confess their sins? How does that justification even work in the rational centers of the mind? The mind is living a lie.

For Travis, the issue of power would not be present with a dominatrix, (or dominatrices as the English have been so fond of saying.) He’s no doubt aware of other priests acting out sexually, or is aware of them. Many get a free pass because they’re given a wink and a nod, or are simply prudent. But how would he be free to act out if he knows no women who aren’t under his spiritual authority? The wise and obvious answer is to simply not have sex and to find some other outlet for frustrations, also looking for some type of healthy community support.

Lifestyle

Most people give their priests a wide berth and a lot of understanding. But there’s also the issue of integrity, as noted below. One can only lead a false life so much of the time if that’s the route one chooses. No one’s perfect, and no priest wants to call out a brother priest on his imperfections as every priest has them. It all leads to our lifestyle choices.

Celibate lifestyles of the poor and lowly is not an attractive lifestyle choice, but it’s one every priest makes to some degree. Imperfections that lead to the front page and scandalize the faithful are something we should be challenged on by our brother priests and by those with our best interests at heart. Being challenged all the time is no doubt irritating, but appreciated.

Public Persona

The public persona of anyone is something that’s easily manipulated. A diocese can start cranking out propaganda either in favor of or against any given priest according to the whimsies of the current hierarchy at a moment’s notice, coating any given situation in pre or post-dated agitprop in the twinkling of any eye. 

In both cases, Travis and Pat, the public persona was evidently more important than the person at the heart of the persona. Who is at the center of what the public perceives in any of us? It has to be Jesus Christ at the center of our lives. It can be challenging, amidst the busy lives that priests lead, to remain truly prayerful and Christ-centered amidst not only the busyness, but also public perceptions of what we should be doing, how we should be acting, and what we actually need to do.  

Why really should a priest be overly concerned about his public image? Most people will hate them anyway or simply look at them objectively. “Oh, he’s a priest.” They often don’t see the man who’s going through life in all its sublime glories and agonies, just the man who shows up for Mass, Confessions, the Wedding, Baptism, Funeral, etc. At many points in a priests life, he’s called to be amazingly unpopular. As Charlton Heston said in Planet of the Apes (for no other reaosn that the quote is apropos), “It’s a fact … buy it, you’ll sleep better.” 

Maybe a sense of apathy regarding public perception helped to motivate both of them. People will hate them no matter what they do – so does it matter? (Yes, it does.) 

Arrogance

Merriam-Webster defines arrogance as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.” 

In the isolation that can happen in the priesthood, as in any way of life, arrogance can be an easy thing to happen under the cover of privacy and given that one is in authority over so many people who want things to go smoothly and to go well. What’s done in private should remain in private when it’s done amongst mutually consenting adults. But what about when it gets into sex with minors? 

The Archdiocese was a bit heavy-handed in dealing with Fr. Pat Wattigny’s case of texting as it said that texting a minor about his 18th birthday isn’t a sexually related issue. Perhaps not, if the texts were about arranging a party with the youth group and included another adult in the text. But that wasn’t the case.

The texts were in the context of ongoing inappropriate texting with a minor involving gifts, private meetings, and were completely out of context with anything remotely appropriate. Any person of reason would question why it’s OK for a 53-year-old, overweight and graying man to be texting their minor son about his coming of age. Abuse from the clergy and within the Archdiocese is about more than covering one’s backside legally. 

Integrity 

“But you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt 5:48 

Again according to Merriam-Webster, a definition of “perfect” is complete, and a definition of integrity is also “complete” – the quality or state of being complete and undivided. 

How do we maintain integrity as followers of Jesus Christ, when it’s literally impossible to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect? 

In the Septuagint we see the word “hamartia” being used to describe the concept of sin. It means. “missing the mark”, as when a field goal kicker misses that field goal, especially in the last minute or two of the game (for our football oriented society.) Hamartia is also descended from Greek usage to mean, in literature, a “tragic flaw”. Both terms apply to Travis and Pat – they have a tragic flaw and they missed the mark.

In some sense, we’re all, always, going to be missing the mark.  But we have to be prudent and caring in our actions so that “missing the mark” doesn’t become our “tragic flaw” and destroy the Faith of either ourselves or either the faith or lives of others. 

A Culture of Personality verses a Culture of Virtue 

In her book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain writes and documents US society’s progression from a culture of virtue to a culture of personality. That has a bearing on what we’re seeing in the Church today. It’s completely impossible for anyone to fulfill the needs and role of a priest perfectly, and no man should ever be expected to. In fact, the role of Priest, Bishop, Pope, should all be diminished in the public eye away from personality and back into the alter christus, speaking from a simple life relatively unnoticed in the world. 

The culture of personality is especially noticed when referencing the Holy Father – it’s all about who the Pope appears to be, not really whether what he’s teaching makes sense in light of Catholic teaching, which is all debatable now anyway. It’s no offense to our current Holy Father as the same has been happening for a while now. The roles of the priest and bishop follow similarly, with approval numbers often dictating what’s right and what’s wrong, instead of being the rock around which the ever-changing whimsy  of human thought is forced to flow. 

And so it goes

In a state of grace, the soul is like a well of limpid water, from which flow only streams of clearest crystal. Its works are pleasing both to God and man, rising from the River of Life, beside which it is rooted like a tree.” 

St. Teresa of Avila

It takes daily sacrifice, and the lowering of one’s own ambitions, desires, and wants, to remain in a state of grace. It can be like taming a wild lion, a bucking stallion, or like training a puppy dog – but it has to be done. It’s how we choose to do it that determines the adventure at hand. 

The Church in the world today is many things, most importantly it is the Body of Christ, Jesus Christ who is the Beginning and the End – ever ancient and unchanging, ever new, vital, and present.

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