15 October 2008

More on the Former Fr. Francis Stone

There's a firestorm of comments over at American Papist on the new website (launched Oct. 4th) of the priest who left EWTN. Some noteworthy comments from fellow priests follow.

To the accusation that all of this is gossip and we should not publicly criticize or comment on Fr. Stone's actions, Fr. Brian Stanley writes:
I can't stress enough -- Fr. Stone has gone out of his way to advertise himself, to trade upon his former association with EWTN and "Life on the Rock." He does this explicitly, and so I openly question: does he do this with the consent of EWTN? He has already been contacted by e-mail by others, and has not posted any public response on his website. The obligation rests on Fr. Stone, not on the public. You have a strange sense of accountability in the face of public scandal. If none of this had been posted in a website by Fr. Stone, I think you'd have a great moral argument. But this is a mess of his own invention, and so he is being called out in public.

This reminds me of a story that is told about Bp. D'Arcy of Ft. Wayne-South Bend. When the Vatican promulgated an instruction from the CDF concerning the theological impossibility of the ordination of women, Bp. D'Arcy discusssed the topic briefly to his diocesan consultors, all of them priests who serve as official advisors.... One of the consultors, however, spoke up and said that he thought this official instruction was wrong-headed, and that he could not support it, and that he wanted to discuss this topic further in the consultors' meeting, and to explore alternatives.
Bp. D'Arcy let the priest have his say, and then responded [allegedly]: "Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, as this is an official meeting of the consultors, this is a public forum, and minutes are recorded. Your statement is duly noted. As you have made a public comment in direct contradiction to the magisterium's instruction, you leave me with no other course but to respond in public to your comments. You are immediately suspended from your pastoral duties and from membership on the board of consultors. You will not return to your pastoral duties until you have met with me privately and resolved your objections to the Church's teaching." I share this because once something is placed in the public forum, it requires public response. Fr. Stone sought to advertize, to trade upon his former relationship with EWTN and Life on the Rock. The time for private intervention has passed a long time ago.
Later, Fr. John Trigilio (of EWTN) writes:
It is always sad to see any priest leave his public ministry. As I said before, the People of God, the lay faithful, are the spouse of every priest since he acts IN PERSONA CHRISTI as an ALTER CHRISTUS. The Church is the Bride of Christ, ergo, the faithful of the Church are the bride of the priest. They are his beloved to whom he committed and covenanted himself on the day of ordination.

When a husband is unfaithful to his wife, he is not encouraged to abandon the former and begin a new family with the latter. His first commitment, if valid, remains intact. Adultery is very wrong and very bad but infidelity can still be forgiven if there is true repentance and firm purpose of amendment. Likewise, priests who strayed from their vows are like wayward husbands who can and must clean up their act and come back to their legitimate spouse. It will not be easy and will take time to heal, but the sacred bond of matrimony (and the grace of Holy Orders) makes a permanent connection.
To the objection that Fr. Stone is only doing what's right by leaving the priesthood to care for his child, Fr. Stanley responds:
The Church doesn't rush into laicization, because the Church first and foremost wants her priests to be faithful to their original commitments.... The other huge assumption you are making [or at the very least, what you are implying in this case] is that Fr. Stone has been laicized. That is not obvious at all, and in fact, has not been published anywhere, including on Fr. Stone's own website.

It is possible -- and both charity and morality demands it -- that a priest make financial arrangements for his family. But there is no canonical requirement that he foresake the priesthood to meet his familial responsibilities.

Think about this case: a married man with a family has a mistress, who becomes pregnant. Would you counsel the married man to divorce his wife and abandon his family to see to the needs of his mistress? Or would you counsel the man to remain with his wife and family, and make financial arrangements for the mistress and her child, but to break off all other contact with the mistress and child?
That so many people are so willing to set aside one's solemn commitments to God in His Church, in favor of one's personal desire for social and physical relationship and the satisfaction attendant to it, indicates how much more catechesis has to go on in the Church, to get people to recognize that there are spiritual and moral priorities here that have been skewed by a very flawed view of the human person, a view that elevates physical and emotional gratification over one's moral commitments. This has not only been a problem among celibate clergy, but among married folks as well, and it leads to a lessening in respect and understanding for such solemn commitments and vows.

Laicization is never a "happy" solution -- it is a process of last resort, when there is an admission that a cleric is no longer capable or willing to continue in his sacramental commitment, and is ultimately given leave of that commitment despite the prior counsels and ministrations of the Church.
Elsewhere, Fr. Joe comments:

My father quit school after fifth grade to help his parents. He worked like a dog at manual labor and as a surveyor’s aide six days a week from 5:30 AM to 6:00 PM six days a week. He took no vacations and destroyed his body while earning minimum wage. He had to take care of seven children and a wife at home. Every Sunday, without excuses or tardiness, he made sure we all went to Mass. When he finally retired he had a series of strokes and was largely bedridden until 83 years of age. Then he went to God. He suffered at his work. It was not fun. It was not fulfilling. But it was his duty. He had promises to keep. TRUE LOVE and manhood is measured by how we embrace the challenging harsh realities of life. It is at the core as to what Christian sacrifice is about. My father counted his wife and children as his treasures. He was poor in the eyes of the world but he counted himself rich. He told me if you get married, you belong to your family… totally, all your strength, everything. If you become a priest, you belong to the Church. He insisted that I must decide one way or the other and he prayed that I would be a priest. He stressed again and again, whatever you do, KEEP YOUR PROMISES. I cannot speak about other men, or even about other priests… but my father’s wisdom is mine. There can be no turning back. I am a priest. I am celibate. I am obedient. My life belongs to the Lord and his Church.
To all these, I say Amen and Amen.

Meanwhile, I have politely contacted Fr. Stone regarding the potential trademark infringement (I am an attorney, after all) of using EWTN's slogan "Life on the Rock" to brand and launch his business. I won't publish the contents of his response, but it's fair to say that he did not think the issue important enough to take seriously.

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