Was Percy ever involved in the debate on molestations by Catholic priests?

Karey Perkins karey at charter.net
Tue May 7 18:53:08 EDT 2002

As an active member of the Catholic church for years, including teaching CCD
(now PSR) and involvement in social groups for young people, including those
groups for people out of college which are populated by young men who are
often trying to decide what to do with their lives, I cannot begin to tell
you how many of these quality (and highly qualified) young men seriously
considered the priesthood -- very much wanted to in some cases -- but chose
not to because of the celibacy requirement.  The seriousness of their
consideration varied -- for some it was a passing thought, immediately
dismissed because they knew they wanted to marry at some point (but the
"what if" factor -- what if priests could marry -- was always present in
their minds).  Others spent much time, with much internal struggle and
self-reflection on the issue, and this often even included going to retreats
for young people interested in entering the Catholic clergy.  In the end, of
the hundreds of young men that I either worked with or knew from the church,
only ONE made the final decision to join the priesthood.  Every single one
of the others who had considered it chose not to because of the celibacy

I read an editorial -- and I can't attest to its accuracy as I don't know
and haven't researched this topic, but if it is accurate, it has very
interesting implications for the Church -- that the celibacy requirement was
not for any deep seated theological reasons, but that early in the last
millennium, Rome gave land to priests and didn't want the church (priests'
sons) to inherit.

The shortage of priests is a crisis for the Catholic Church -- even before
the pedophilia issue came to the forefront.  And the two may likely be

Another interesting thing is that a large proportion of priests in American
parishes are Irish by birth.  For whatever reason -- cultural I assume --
Ireland has been less affected by the celibacy requirement for priests, so
America imports its priests from those countries that are producing them.

Percy predicted this.  Most evident in "Love in the Ruins," of course.   To
quote Percy directly from his text:  "Our Catholic church has split into
three pieces:  (1) the American Catholic Church whose new Rome is Cicero,
Illinois; (2) the Dutch schismatics who believe in relevance but not God;
(3) the Roman Catholic remnant, a tiny scattered flock with no place to go."
Of course, the Dutch schismatics get the worst of Percy's criticisms:  "The
Dutch schismatics in this area comprise several priests and nuns who left
Rome to get married. They threw in with the Dutch schismatic Catholics.  Now
several divorced priests and nuns are importuning Dutch cardinals to allow
them to remarry."

Percy's criticism of the "Dutch schismatics" is what he sees as a failing in
the church -- organized religion in general -- that it "waters down" its
message and practice to conform to society (and all its sins), and so its
(the church's) message becomes diluted and distorted and ultimately lost as
a result.  Catholics did it less than Protestants, but in Love in the Ruins,
a science fiction novel set in the future, he sees it as eventually
infiltrating the Catholic church.

The question is, is Percy right?  Was Vatican II an improvement or loss?
And, are married priests the answer, as might be the logical conclusion
given America's dearth of priests, the recent pedophilia scandals, and the
editorial about lack of real theological reasons for celibacy?  OR  does the
Catholic church's adherence to its outdated scripts and mores serve as a
inscrutable beacon of truth to a lost world, such as Father Smith in the
firetower (Thanatos Syndrome) or John the Savage in the lighthouse (Brave
New World, Huxley)?

Percy thought the latter.   I'm not so sure.


-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Dye [mailto:sldye at bluegrass.org]
Sent: Tuesday, May 07, 2002 1:47 PM
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Subject: [percy-l] Re: Was Percy ever involved in the debate on
molestations by Catholic priests?

My own feeling about percy's reaction to the scandal is that, even though he
was a great "realist" and "stoic", I think he would have been absolutely
appalled at the scandal, the scope of it - and its effect on the Church. I
also think he would have "counseled" - poor choice of words, maybe - GRACE
and forgiveness....of course along with making priests accountable.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Wade Riddick" <riddick at mail.la.utexas.edu>
To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion"
<percy-l at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Saturday, May 04, 2002 11:21 PM
Subject: [percy-l] Was Percy ever involved in the debate on molestations by
Catholic priests?

> My father tells me about twenty years ago, he remembers that a pair of
> lawyers representing the Catholic Church in an Abbeville sexual abuse suit
> made an interesting statement to the press.  Dad thinks the case was the
> first of its kind which started the ball rolling into today's crisis.  The
> two lawyers encouraged the church to adopt a more aggressive policy
> molesters and predicted that if it didn't then it would mushroom into a
> billion dollar problem.
> Today that estimate looks unrealistically low.  My father and I think once
> the Catholic Church actually starts selling its properties, this could
> a globally depressing effect on real estate prices.  (Yeah, I know.  You
> guys think I'm nuts.  After all, the suggestion that people who work in
> skyscrapers ought to buy parachutes is nutty... except that's exactly what
> they ran out and did after 9/11.)
> I'm curious as to what light Percy's friends might shed on his role in any
> internal church debates at the time, given that it happened in our
> I'm also curious about the reaction of Catholics on this list to the way
> the church scandal has recently blossomed.  While it's true that molesters
> gravitate to any profession that involves children, there appear to be a
> unique combination of infelicitous circumstances which have come together
> in the Catholic hierarchy.
> 1)  The hierarchy looks unresponsive on the scale of the 24 hour news
> cycle.  I'll skip remarks I've made before on the modern media machine.
> Appearing unfriendly is the only capital sin.  (For a list of other sins,
> you can visit www.mediawhoresonline.com).
> 2)  While school administrators often transfer suspected molesters with
> glowing recommendations just to get rid of them, schools are mostly
> controlled and there isn't a global hierarchy that links them together.
> Schools act this way precisely because they're not closely linked
> In the case of the Catholic church, the tendency to bury the problem
> coupled with a global and quite rigid chain of command has got people
> understandably wondering if there's some sort of conspiracy at work in the
> church.
> 3)  The Catholic Church in particular has a recruitment crisis of epidemic
> proportions.  Parishioners are right to ask if celibacy requirements are
> unnecessarily narrowing the pool of candidates for the priesthood -
> although wrong to suggest "straight" family men are less capable of
> molestation.  Recruitment problems pressure administrators to retain even
> suspect priests on staff.  I remember a graph in Canada showing that most
> nuns were older than 50 and only one nun was in her twenties (I don't
> she was native, either).  By muddying the issue with homosexuality and
> claiming that priests are really happy with celibacy (conveniently leaving
> out of all statistical surveys those men AND WOMEN who wanted to be
> but never applied) this adds to the view that the Catholic Church is
> deliberately avoiding the real issue by trying to apply a layer of Norman
> Rockwell paint to the problem.
> It's not my church.  It's not my flavor of the faith and I really have no
> particular dog in this fight.  I suppose I see churches everywhere being
> adversely affected by falling membership, so I don't expect answers to
> these particular problems in the Catholic Church to shed light on this.  I
> wish I knew what button to press to turn it around.
> I also wish I knew what causes child molestation.  I suspect it's partly
> chemical/genetic, partly moral choice and partly bad upbringing (e.g.,
> prior abuse).  Because of the stigma, it doesn't look like we're going to
> apply much money understanding and preventing it.  Maybe if it was covered
> by HMOs...
> People like to think that pills can't cure your problems.  They can sure
> hell help.  If you never get the opportunity to make a moral choice, how
> can you?  There's pretty good scientific evidence indicating that
> everything from the increase in our sugar intake to the decline in Omega-3
> oils in our diet has indeed been affecting our cognition.  This is
> something I can speak about from personal experience.  How much it affects
> others out there is anybody's guess.
> I have no doubt that molesters have committed a horrendous crime of
> terrible proportions and deserve isolation from society in a prison cell.
> Wouldn't it be nice, though, if we knew in advance who the alcoholics were
> before we started setting up the drinks?
> I applaud this current Pope for his rapprochement with Jews and for
> tackling a number of other tough issues in the Catholic past.  The
> current approach on molestation, however, is abysmal.
> Finally, could we please turn off the HTML?  Parsing the code by hand
> my eyes and since it's a security hole I'm never going to turn it on in my
> email reader.
> Wade Riddick
> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at
> Visit the Walker Percy Project at <http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy>.

An archive of all list discussion is available at
Visit the Walker Percy Project at <http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy>.

More information about the Percy-L mailing list