A Church Divided: Conservatives, Liberals Vie for Changes

By James V. Franco
The Record [Albany NY]
February 22, 2004

As the sexual abuse scandal continues to rock the Catholic Church, there is another crisis that has been simmering for decades.

The "conservative," or orthodox, Catholics have been at odds with the "liberal" Catholics since the church "renewed" itself after the Second Vatican Council enacted reforms in 1965. Now both sides seem to be using the scandal to promote their own agendas.

The more conservative Catholics say that if the church returns to how it looked in 1950, the scandal would not have happened. Liberals are using it to promote the increasingly popular notion of allowing priests to marry and the ordination of women.

"Both sides are using the sex abuse scandal to hop on the hobby horse to push their own agenda. They are both wrong," said Thomas Reese, the editor of the Jesuit magazine America the National Catholic Weekly. "I don't see what saying the Mass in English has to do with sex abuse."

Tonight, two of the more vocal conservatives will be in Albany to give their take on the explosive allegations against Bishop Howard Hubbard.

Stephen Brady, founder of the Roman Catholic Faithful, of Illinois, and Paul Likoudis, editor of The Wanderer, a longtime ultra-conservative newspaper that has been publishThe Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany is known for being one of the more liberal, and Hubbard is known as one of the more liberal bishops. But it is not just that reputation they are coming to criticize. Recently allegations were made that Hubbard had homosexual relations with two men.

Then a letter, purportedly written by a conservative priest, Rev. John Minkler, surfaced alleging that Hubbard had a homosexual relationship with two other priests.

Minkler, an orthodox priest suspected of leaking information to The Wanderer, was found dead in his Watervliet home two days after he signed an affidavit disavowing he was the author of the letter. At least one other priest and Brady say that he was the author.

In the 1995 letter to then Cardinal John O'Connor, the author accused 23 local priests, Hubbard and another bishop of actively engaging in homosexuality.

"If he truly loved the church, he would leave and let someone else take over with a clean slate, but he loves the power and the position," Brady said of Hubbard's refusal to step down. "Bishop Hubbard can't believe in hell or in church teaching of sexual morality and do what he does. He should walk away and let someone else take over and put an end to this scandal."

The diocese put out a statement, Friday that said: "Rather than engaging in a civil dialogue about critical issues facing the church ... they have for many years waged an unfortunate campaign of character assassination against church leaders with whom they disagree."

It also hired former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to investigate the claims against the bishop.

Hubbard, vehemently denying the allegations, has been waging an unprecedented public relations campaign to clear his name.

What defines liberal and conservative in the Catholic Church is not a clear. In addition to the issues that are applicable just to the church - like demanding celibacy of priests and the ordination of women and/or homosexuals - there are also societal issues like abortion, contraception, marriage, divorce and sexual orientation.

The movement to eliminate celibacy has been in motion for some time, said Rev. Raymond Schroth, a Jesuit editor of the National Catholic Reporter, published at St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J. He said most polls show the Catholic faithful to be in favor of making celibacy optional for diocesan priests and allowing the ordination of women.

He said diocesan priests do not take a vow of celibacy like they do in the different religious orders, such as the Jesuits, the Benedictines and the Franciscans. Rather, he said, celibacy is a law or rule that diocesan priests must follow. Unlike the priests, those in the orders take three vows - poverty, chastity and obedience - which create a lifestyle, and others that live the same lifestyle can provide moral and emotional support, he said.

Priests, he said, live different lifestyles, and celibacy could "prohibit the individual from becoming emotionally mature" and hinder the quality of service a priest can provide to the congregation and hinder a priest's own personal development.

By allowing priests to marry, he said, it would also help alleviate the severe shortage of priests.

Rev. Joseph Wilson, of Queens, in a letter to The Wanderer, said that the practical considerations of marriage and raising a family - like choosing schools, possibly moving because of a spouse's job and the potential for divorce - would not fit in well with the priesthood.

"I think we'd lose something very precious, we would end up 'professionalizing' the priesthood, to our great loss," he wrote. "The priesthood is not a profession. It cannot be lived as a profession. It is a state of life."

Hubbard, who in the past has said the issue of priests marrying and the ordination of women needs more discussion, was not available to comment.

On the topic of whether homosexuals should be ordained, many liberal Catholic leaders, including Hubbard, say that so long as they are not sexually active, it should be allowed.

Not surprisingly, the conservatives disagree.

"Homosexual priests should be banned," Brady said. "The church calls homosexual orientation a disorder and you don't have to act on it, but if you are oriented and act on, it is an abomination. A priest is not sinless or perfect, but you damn sure don't put someone there that starts with a disorder."

Schroth, the Jesuit scholar, said that definition is derived from of Latin terminology and is misunderstood when translated to English. Although in favor of priests being married if they choose, he is not in favor of a homosexual priest marrying another gay man.

"Marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman," he said.

Few think that allowing priests to marry would eliminate the potential of priests sexually abusing children, and the ongoing scandal should not be the impetus for making such a dramatic change in the church.

"Most sex abuse occurs in families with stepdaughters and cousins and nephews and things like that, by married men," Reese said. "How will we continue to do the work of the church with the number of priests declining because there are not many young men willing to join a celibate clergy? We are a church of the sacraments, you have to have priests."

There are other issues that divide the Catholic Church, such as how a priest performs a Mass, which came after Vatican II.

Brady and conservatives think some bishops and some priests are taking too many liberties with the guidelines outlined by Rome. In the letter he allegedly authored, by Minkler, the author criticized Hubbard for a number of liturgical abuses.

"They have to stick to church doctrine. When they start watering it down, it is no longer the word of Jesus Christ," it was written in the letter. "The current leadership is trying to please everyone and then you get a feel-good religion. ... If you want to use contraception and masturbate and not feel guilty, or if you want to embrace homosexuality, I am sure there is another faith out there.

"We need a pope who will chop heads. ... We need a pope who will hold these bishops accountable."

Reese, however, said the flexibility allows priests to cater to the different types of Catholics by offering liturgies they know the congregation wants to hear. For example, the same priest can offer Masses at different times, some with gospel singers, some with organ music and some short and sweet with not a lot of fluff.

"Some are not listening to what is being preached in many churches. ... We don't send people to hell for eating meat on Friday anymore, but they have a responsibility to the poor and the third world and social justice and war and peace," he said. "Being a good Samaritan is a lot tougher than not having a lobster on Friday."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.