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  Praying for the Priesthood
The Catholic Church Must Screen Potential Priests, D'Arcy Says

By Kevin Leininger
Fort Wayne News Sentinel
April 8, 2002

With many of his fellow priests making news for committing sins instead of absolving them, Catholic Bishop John D'Arcy often ends the day by walking from his office to the majestic 150-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception next door.

He turns on the lights and utters a prayer that God will make the church "as beautiful in our souls as the physical cathedral is."

For that prayer to be answered, the Roman Catholic Church must not only remove priests who use their position to exploit others, but also must become more exclusive when choosing men for the ministry. That, said the bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, means barring homosexuals from ordination.

D'Arcy knows his position will not be universally popular, but he is convinced it is not only necessary, but beneficial - for everyone.

"Most pedophiles are married men, but most of the problems being reported are not cases of pedophilia," D'arcy told The News-Sentinel.

"Most of the cases involve priests with young teen-age boys. We must only accept candidates who are heterosexual. Celibacy is too much for homosexuals; we put them in the seminary and the rectory with other men.

"A priest needs to know how to be a good father and spouse. He must give up something beautiful for something beautiful."

Despite higher estimates, D'Arcy said no more than 10 percent of priests are gay. The Catholic Church prescribes sexual abstinence outside marriage, and D'Arcy said denying priesthood to gays would help them remain celibate.

Although D'Arcy recently has come to prominence for expressing concerns in 1984 about a Boston priest accused of molesting boys, his call for more-exclusive priest selection extends back to at least 1979. That's when, while serving in the Boston Diocese, D'Arcy wrote "A Letter on Priestly Formation," addressing issues already beginning to concern him.

Rejecting the notion that ending celibate priesthood - as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church since the 12th century - will eliminate sexually abusive priests, D'Arcy wrote: "If a seminarian experiences a faculty which he respects but a student body filled with serious weaknesses, he will tend to see a mature priesthood as a thing of the past.

"In addition, if we ordain young men who are basically self-centered . . . these men will not attract others to be priests - or will attract inferior types. Thus, we feel that low admission standards and low standards of evaluation will in the long run magnify our present admittedly difficult situation (of a shortage of priests)."

D'Arcy is convinced high standards will attract high-quality candidates - which is why he personally interviews men pursuing the priesthood and subjects them to a rigorous emotional and psychological evaluation. This is necessary to compensate for today's permissive culture and family dysfunction - dysfunction that does not end where the priesthood begins.

"No one has an absolute 'right' to be a priest," he said. "The vocation is a gift from God, but the church determines if that vocation is present."

D'Arcy was named bishop of the Fort Wayne Diocese in 1985 after serving as an auxiliary bishop in Boston. It was there he wrote a letter to Cardinal Bernard Law objecting to the transfer of a priest named John Goeghan into a parish under D'Arcy's leadership.

"I had a duty to call attention to the problem (of Goeghan's sexual involvement with young men and boys), which I believed to be fact," D'Arcy said.

D'Arcy said he did not go to the authorities because "my duty was to tell my superiors, and I didn't know specific cases." D'Arcy rejects the notion his transfer to Indiana represented punishment for speaking out. The Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, he said, is home to two crucial Catholic institutions: The University of Notre Dame and Our Sunday Visitor publication. "The feeling was that there was some division in this diocese, and I was known as someone who could relate to priests."

As bishop in Fort Wayne, however, D'Arcy has the authority to establish and carry out policy - and the changes have been significant.

Unlike some of his predecessors, D'Arcy refuses to shuttle allegedly abusive priests from one parish to the next. He said he demands action when credible evidence of sexual misconduct exists.

Since D'Arcy became bishop of the diocese, several priests have been removed, costing the diocese considerable expense, he said. He would not specify how many priests were removed nor the amount of money involved.

"I've taken a lot of flack," said the bishop, who said that, while in Boston, he had earned the nickname "D'Arcy the hatchet man."

"But our policy is to help the victim. We've paid for counseling and legal fees and, in one or two cases, we have paid damages. But no one has ever been discouraged from going to the authorities, and we follow the law (such as the Indiana requirement that schools - including parochial schools - report cases of suspected abuse)."

Although D'Arcy was reluctant to discuss individual cases with The News-Sentinel, he did confirm that former Fort Wayne priest Richard Stieglitz can no longer serve in that role.

In 1993, D'Arcy forced Stieglitz to resign as priest at the Queen of Angels parish because of Stieglitz's attempt to adopt four young Haitian men. The next year it was reported Stieglitz had been sued for allegedly committing sexual battery on a boy in 1980. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Matthew W. Murray of Belton, Mo., a student at St. Jude Catholic School when Stieglitz was a priest there.

Murray's lawsuit named the diocese as co-defendant, claiming it "failed to exert reasonable care in the hiring, supervision and retention" of Stieglitz.

After becoming bishop, D'Arcy implemented several policies, including one that forbids long-term, overnight rectory guests unless they are family, clergy or housekeepers. Now, even housekeepers cannot have overnight visitors.

"Priests not only have to be good, they have to look good," D'Arcy said. "People have the right to expect their priests to live good, moral lives - to be in private what we claim to be in public."

Because the church has not always lived up to that obligation, it is facing a time of humiliation, of penance and of purification, he said. "God isn't responsible for the sin, but God is responsible for bringing it out."

Even though D'Arcy said American bishops have been slow to make needed reforms, he said the Vatican may begin to endorse the changes he advocates.

"This has been an ordeal for good priests," D'Arcy said. "This is worse than persecution, because it comes from the inside. But it is our job to live chastely and well. The irony of this is that the church is the holy body of Christ, but it has been touched by our sins."

And so D'Arcy prays, alone in a cavernous cathedral, for fidelity to the faith, for repentance and redemption. And one thing more:

"I pray in thanksgiving for the guidance given me as bishop. I feel as though I am married to the diocese. My ministry has not always been perfect, but I've done my best."

 
 

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