Bishop Accountability
 
  Celibate Priest Faced Loneliness, Isolation

By Shirley Radsdale
Des Moines Register
January 31, 2004

Before he was sentenced last week to a year in prison, the Rev. Richard Poster told the court he had come to terms with his homosexuality and addiction to child pornography.

Poster said he now recognized that his actions negatively affected "more people than I could have ever imagined," and that he was sorry.

He announced he would be leaving the ministry, because "celibacy is too difficult," and the life of a Catholic priest "is not a healthy way of life for me."

As the sentence was imposed, Poster became the 50th priest in the United States to be convicted of a crime since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted new policies addressing the church's sexual abuse scandal.

It's my guess that when Poster expressed his desire to become a priest and entered seminary, he never dreamed his life would take such a wrong turn.

Or that when he took his ordination vows to embrace celibacy and obey his bishop, he didn't have a clue what a solitary life he would be expected to lead.

Poster, 38, had served as a parish priest in four parishes in the Davenport diocese. At the time of his arrest, he was director of liturgy for the Davenport Catholic Diocese and was an associate publisher of The Catholic Messenger, the diocesan newspaper

His wrongdoing was discovered when a fellow employee found pictures of boys or adolescent males engaging in sex acts on the laptop computer he used at work.

Under its new sexual misconduct policy, the Davenport Diocese turned over the laptop to the Scott County Attorney's office and placed Poster on administrative leave.

About a year ago, Poster entered church-run St. Luke's Institute in Silver Springs, Md., for treatment.

In August, Poster pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of receiving visual depictions of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct. A second count of possessing child porn was dropped as part of a plea agreement.

Although federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Ronald Longstaff to give Poster the maximum sentence, the sentence departed from federal guidelines -21 to 27 months -in part because friends and family wrote about 40 letters to the court in support of the priest.

At the sentencing, A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychologist who has treated priests with sexual disorders, spoke in Poster's defense. Sipe said he did not believe Poster was a pedophile or voyeur. Because Poster was never accused of inappropriate sexual contact with children, his case was not as serious as others he had evaluated, Sipe said.

Sipe's testimony is significant, as it was only the second time Sipe has chosen to defend a priest rather than support a plaintiff or prosecutor.

"It's not that I didn't believe he did it," Sipe said. "It was that I didn't believe society would benefit if he were sentenced to serve 10 to 15 years in prison."

In his statement to the court, Poster spoke about the feeling of loneliness and emotional seclusion he experienced.

"While I interacted with other people on a daily basis, I felt utterly alone and isolated," Poster said. "I desperately desired connection with others . . . rejection was my biggest fear. Emotional isolation from others became a way of life."

Sipe told me this week that to be a celibate priest is by necessity a life of loneliness and isolation.

"If you can't tolerate loneliness, you can't be celibate," the former priest said. "Celibacy means you must reject any form of sexual consolation. The church doesn't teach men about it and it doesn't support them."

If that is so, then in these days of fewer and fewer priests expected to cover more and more parishes, the challenge must be overwhelming.

There was a time when two or three priests lived in each rectory. The fellowship of clergy served as a support system. Today, priests must seek that support in fraternal organizations that meet perhaps once a month, if they can squeeze the gatherings into their busy schedules.

Alcoholics may seek help in Alcoholics Anonymous where members support one another's determination not to drink. What group supports priests' determination not to have sex?

The more I read about the celibacy issue, the more the church comes off as playing a role in a bad joke. You know the one where a patient tells his doctor "it hurts when I do this (demonstrating)." To which the doctor says, "So, stop doing that!"

Instead of considering the consequences of the celibacy rule in the modern church, it is telling priests to stop thinking about sex -which is for the rest of us going against our human nature. Who among us during Lent does not long to see, taste or do the thing we have forsaken?

U.S. bishops are refusing to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of mandatory celibacy at the same time they are welcoming married Episcopal and Lutheran pastors who convert to Catholicism into the clergy.

This week, John Paul II said he considers priestly celibacy of "inestimable value," and appealed for the support that priests need to show that Christ gives full meaning to their lives, according to Zenit News Service. The Holy Father asked bishops to support young priests who "are characterized both by extraordinary enthusiasm as well as the frailties of their time."

Unfortunately, this piece of papal encouragement comes too late for Father Poster.

 
 

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