Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two Views Of The Priesthood As Modeled By Msgr Lynn

Sadly, the world of clergical careerism described by Fr. Orsi has resulted in exactly this behavior.  It's not at all funny.

The following two pieces are from an America Magazine article on the Msgr Lynn conviction.  The first is from Fr Michael P. Orsi, a fellow at the Ave Maria School of Law. It is an excerpt from the main article for which the second piece is a direct comment.  The second part was written by Fr Francis J. Flynn a Phd. Psychologist practicing in the Miami area.  It's not very often one comes across two commentaries which clarify what exists with what must change.  

I start the first comment after Fr. Orsi's explanation of his personal knowledge of Msgr Lynn, and end it before Orsi's prescription for changing diocesan organizational structure in order to give more clergy and laity a sort of 'insiders' niche in the decisions of their bishops.  Fr Flynn on the other hand, cuts to the chase.

......Bill is part of a hierarchical church that imposes obedience to the diocesan bishop on Her priests. It encourages priests to be team players. And it forces priests to seek affirmation and support within a diocesan structure. This system   does not encourage challenges. As the old seminary saying goes, “You keep the rules and the rules will keep you.”

From the moment of ordination a priest becomes intimately bound to his bishop   and the presbyterate of his diocese. The bishop has complete control over a priest’s life, materially – for sure, and often times spiritually on account of the decisions he makes in the priest’s regard. Because of this priests look to their bishop as a father figure. They want to believe that his decisions are wise.
A great sign of success for a priest is to be invited to join the Diocesan  Curia, the bishop’s circle of collaborators in the administration of the diocese. The position of Vicar for the Clergy, the post held by Lynn from1990 – 2002, is just such a sinecure. (This is a 'sign of success' directly tied to careerism rather than pastoring the faithful.  It's a point of view which Fr. Orsi either doesn't understand he's advocating, or he thinks is an acceptable and natural aspect of priesthood.)

In this elite environment there are few priests who are willing to oppose the bishop’s wishes for fear of falling out of favor.

Being a team player is important for any organization. It is a vital  part of the clerical lifestyle. Camaraderie is strongly impressed upon priests. We often refer to our fellow priests as our brothers. The fact is that we do have a real dependency on each other since we do not have an immediate family of our own.   Priests rely on each other for acceptance, for sharing the work load and even living arrangements. If a priest deems any of these to be inadequate or unjust he may be, rightly or wrongly, labeled a malcontent or a problem. This perception can follow him throughout his priesthood.

Very often a priest, may have some very serious concerns, yet simply “Go Along to Get Along.”
Because a priest’s circle is often limited to fellow priests his vision may also be limited. Therefore, if there is a problem, in certain cases, the advice he receives from them does not always come from fresh or unbiased eyes. Defense mechanisms can also easily set in; denial, rationalization and silence for self preservation.   As one wizened old priest said about speaking up or speaking out, “Who needs the aggravation?”

Monsignor Lynn is not innocent. He failed in his duty of care to children.   His punishment is harsh, and I pray that it will be reduced.   It serves, however, as a necessary message to bishops throughout the country that the system needs fixing...... (Fr Orsi's fixes do not include any changes inherent to the priesthood he describes, which means they are not fixes.  They are cosmetic.)

Now onto Fr Flynn's take:

Yes, Father Orsi. For more than 40 years you have been acquainted with “Inmate” or “Convict Lynn” – for that he what he is called now. (I know; I worked for eleven years in a maximum security prison.) But, truly, you do not know him. Or you are blindly self-deceiving when you say that he is “a good man and a good priest… a good soldier.” He lacked the personal integrity, the courage of Faith and Hope, that a true Christian, a genuinely “good priest” would exercise in refusing to be “a good soldier.” Rather, whether from blatant cowardice or because he had already sold his soul – and the souls of priests’ victims – he settled for “a sinecure.” History is replete with examples of individuals who lacked the personal fortitude, the courage, the integrity, indeed the spiritual and personal strength, necessary to say NO to those in authority. He is now a convict, condemned by a jury of his lay/civilian peers to a prison sentence he richly deserves. (It has always seemed to me that the abuse crisis got so out of hand precisely because the clerical system doe not believe laity are peers or that civil society has a right or is competent to address criminal clergy.  The theology behind the system was designed to convince laity of the same 'truth.)

Unfortunately, you have missed the point. A cowardly and self-serving man, who was afraid to lose the benefits of rectory and health insurance, of cooks and housekeepers who do his bidding, deluded himself – and, perhaps, others – into believing that he was serving the institution to which he had sold his manhood and his soul. Unless he had completely given in to his delusions, he knew in the depth of his soul that he was guilty of the crucifixion of the Christ who dwells within the souls of victims and the families of the victims of “predator priests.” Father Orsi, Convict/Prisoner/Inmate Lynn is where his choices have brought him. His punishment is not “harsh.” If, as I have, you have spent not a few but hundreds and hundreds of hours talking with and counseling adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, you would know that Convict Lynn’s punishment is not “harsh.” Three years, even six years of incarceration – with “three hots and a cot” – is miniscule when compared to the uncountable decades of pain lived by the victims of those whom Convict Lynn unleashed upon them. Do not pray that his punishment “will be reduced.” If you pray for Inmate Lynn, if his bishop and his fellow priests pray for him at all (and, I can tell you that “out of sight is out of mind” for inmates), pray that at the end of his sentence he emerge from his deserved incarceration as a man of new found integrity, who will no longer remain silent about the injustices of those to whom he has sworn undeserved loyalty.

Father Orsi, your “attempt to help people understand why he acted as he did” does little more than illustrate the deplorable pathologies to which the priesthood has devolved. Your “suggestion” does little to excise the cancer that is the clericalism that you described and seemingly justified. If you truly wish to encourage a new and healthy priesthood cut out the malignancy completely. Begin by encouraging the American Church to require that all candidates for the priesthood enter formation/religious life only after having established themselves in professional careers and lives through which they can sustain themselves – without having to surrender “complete control” “materially – for sure, and often times spiritually.” Sure, this will mean that more mature men will enter the ministry, but, hopefully, they will be men who will not sell their souls for a sinecure. Pay priests honest salaries equivalent to that of the average salaries of teachers in their diocesan Catholic high schools. Provide them with the same health insurance as a Catholic grade school teacher. Abolish the enforced mechanism of slavery that is rectory living – at every level of clerical life from diaconate to episcopacy. Let priests and bishops learn to cook their own meals, wash their own clothes, struggle to pay their own rents and car expenses. In short, make the Priesthood of Service a vocation rather than a source of entitlements. And, yes, this will mean an ever decreasing number of priests to serve an ever increasing number of parishioners. As a result, if the hierarchy truly prizes the Eucharist as it says it does, it will be forced to honestly reconsider the very nature of our priestly vocations. Here is my promise to you. I will periodically pray for Convict Lynn. I will pray that he emerges incarceration as a truly independent, free, honest and courageous man. If he does so, he will have earned the right to speak the truth and “to oppose the bishop’s wishes” without “fear of falling out of favor.” Rev. Francis J. Flynn, Psy.D., Miami, Florida


At the end of his comment Fr Flynn makes the same point I have been making on this blog for over four years.  If the Eucharist is the summit of Catholic existence, then it's beyond time our leadership put some money where their mouth is because one thing the abuse crisis has served to underscore is that the Sacrament of Ordination trumps the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Ordination is the pinnacle of Catholic expression, not the Eucharist.  It is the priesthood which will be protected at all costs, not the Eucharist.
Until that changes, nothing else in Catholicism can be reformed.  


  1. Just a few thoughts. It's interesting to note that after I read Merton's Seven Storey Mountain in the late 1990s, I had come to the conclusion that one had to either be a priest or a nun in order to get to heaven. In Merton's later years he often wished he did not write a certain book, doesn't name it, and maybe this is the reason as your blog, Colleen, juxtaposes these two views of the priesthood & maybe Merton came to that same realization. I believe in Merton's later years, in his fifties and after Vatican II that he began to see himself and the world a lot differently than in the first half. Just a hunch though because I'm not a Merton scholar. It does ring true though for me. I'm thinking his Epiphany was the realization that we are all equal in the sight of God.

    I agree that there can not be real reform in the Church until the priesthood is reformed from entitlement to serving. We've got the similar issue of career politicians in Congress who also think they are entitled to get better health care & we should not, they should get pay raises while they keep the minimum wage way too low so they can serve not the people, but serve the interest of those who help keep them in power.

    I agree, the current priesthood conveys this sense of "their" sacrament being higher than even Holy Communion, Confirmation, Baptism, Matrimony, and this view seems to have become to the priesthood a habitual exercise of power & entitlement turned into tradition over many years, without the priesthood realizing it is a form of narcissism turned inside out on itself, imo. It has become self-serving.

    Fr. Flynn has some great ideas for a functioning & mature priesthood who can relate to people, rather than dysfunctional enabling priesthood of Fr. Orsi in which success is determined by how close one is in political ideology to the Bishop and which clubs he's in.


  2. Great article! I also checked out the America Magazine blog posting, and many of the posters also see holes in Fr. Orsi's take on things. Orsi confuses the historical institution with Jesus, when they are not remotely the same.

  3. Excellent article. Lots to ponder. Mark

  4. Instead of baptizing everyone, I think they should just ordain all of us and then the playing field would be level.

  5. Fr. Orsi's take is totally focused on the priest & his dysfunctional relationship with the Bishop, a hierarchy as it still exists and that would not change at all with his recommendations. At first glance his ideas sound reasonable, but as one of the commenters said at America Magazine, I paraphrase, that if a priest commits a crime we should call the police, just like we do for the laity or anyone else who molests children or adolescents.

    I believe everyone in the parish should have a say & be heard, especially victims, not just an elected few men and women from the laity in the diocese with the same mindset at the top of the hierarchy making the same decisions "authoritatively" anyway. He says: "I believe this type of system will create an adult culture of mutual respect. It can restore confidence in the episcopacy, help protect priests, and strengthen the church."

    Fr. Orsi says "help protect priests" rather than help protect children. This type of system he proposes is just an offshoot from a limb that should be cut off for the health of the remaining tree. His type of system he proposes, rather than strengthening the Church, still gives credence to a priesthood of the entitled that would just continue sapping the life out of the entire tree to maintain its rotten existence.

    Fr. Orsi says also that the sentence was very harsh for the priest and does not even mention the victims at all. It is as if these victims do not exist to him. Seems he's got a one track way of looking at this situation and it is a preferential option for the priest entirely without mention of the crime itself and the lives Msg. Lynn devastated. Fr. Orsi also does not make mention of the higher ups who protect this same type of system that is ultimately responsible for sexually abusive priests to begin with.


  6. Also well worth reading on this subject are the writings of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia. There is a marvellous talk given by him in Chicago on March 28th 2012 which can be found at - the link on the top right entitled "Changing The Culture". In this very honest document is one paragraph there that shines out - the final point of the twelve points

    "The Second Vatican Council spoke of the sensus fidei or sensus
    fidelium,xvi that instinctive sensitivity and power of discernment that the members of the church collectively possess in matters of faith and morals.

    It is surely simple fact that the People of God as a whole would never have got us into the mess we are in, for their sensus fidei would have insisted on a far more rigorous and, dare I say it, Christian response. It is their children who have been abused and it is they who have had their faith weakened or destroyed. They have even, in one way or another, had to pay for the mess. The pope and the bishops have lost credibility and it is only the People of God who can restore it to them.

    If the church is to move forwards, these painful lessons must be
    learned, for this is an issue on which to leave out the People of God has been positively suicidal."

    To me this speaks very much of the problem that you have listed here - the setting of the Sacrament of Ordination as above all others in importance. But if one has the time, there is a lot of other material on that site that is worth reading, and thank God we still have bishops in the Church with the honesty to say it.

  7. Olivia, thanks for the link to Bishop Geoffrey Robinson. I spent a lot of time earlier reading what he had to say about divorce and remarried. I too am glad there is a Bishop around that doesn't take scriptural passages literally or into an interpretation that devolves into a psychotic bible-belt, hang-em-from-the-highest-tree hillbilly distortion of what Jesus was saying regarding divorce.


  8. Maybe if the priests lived as the nuns do, they would be the better for it.
    Or allow women to be ordained. Or married priests.
    The all male dominance has resulted in this mess. Amazing to me that more Catholics did not raise hell about this.
    Great article and comments.