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Kicking Commentors Up

From Conor, and worth discussing:

(BTW Here’s an update on the situation he’s discussing.)

At the risk of being attacked, can I ask why this guy should be kicked out of the priesthood, bounced, or banned from public ministry? Certainly, it is gravely immoral to use marijuana and to break laws by growing it. But let us suppose that Father Arko is convicted. He does his time and he repents of the immorality in which he was involved. Should he still be barred from public ministry? Should he not be reassigned to a parish? Or should he be laicized? Under what circumstances should someone be returned to public ministry? I wonder if under canon law he can even be laicized for something like this?


Don’t get me wrong I am not defending Father Arko. His theology seems confused and he also seems confused in his moral life. That being said he is not beyond grace and he is a priest for eternity.

I raise these questions without good answers myself but I am troubled by the assumptions that seem to guide many who blog here about priests who have done wrong. For instance the priest in Kentucky who one diocese says had a credible allegation of sexual abuse leveled against him and another says he did not who is being returned to ministry. While he had been caught doing something publicly indecent and also was involved in a prostitution ring, suppose the allegation of abuse was not credible. Suppose even further that he had repented of his vile acts of public indecency and his involvement in the prostitution ring, what then? Could he be returned to priestly ministry? I am not sure he should be but I also not sure it is so cut and dry as: “Kick the bastard out.” Or take a less egregious example, a priest who had an affair with an adult woman. Let’s say the affair is eventually discovered by the diocese. The priest has long since broken the affair off and has repented of his actions. Should he then be removed from the priesthood? (I am not even sure he could be under Canon Law).


The other thing to keep in mind with all of this is the distinction between the internal and external fora of the human person. Just because it isn’t publicly reported that a priest has publicly disavowed his actions does not mean he hasn’t done it in the confessional or to the bishop and it isn’t necessarily something the bishop can go tell the media. Anyhow, I’d be curious as to your thoughts.

The Chuch is full of priests who have committed serious (even public) sins or even crimes. Those who choose to stay, historically, have often been used in positions like hospital chaplaincies and chancery positions like archivist. Or sent off to live in monasteries.

(Note, that I am not talking about child molestors or those who seduce youth. I have always been adament that any priest who does such a thing should either be forcibly laicized (and supervised by the state, as would naturally happen if they were convicted sex offenders) or interred (after their prison term is up) in some sort of penetential order/facility for the rest of their days. (Away from the vulnerable. No “helping out” in local parishes. No residency with the mentally disabled (remember the California Jesuits?), no hospital chaplaincy) There is something quite wrong with a grown man who is interested in children and youth in this way, something that renders them unfit for public ministry.)

So, if a priest – a pastor – who has cultivated marijuana in the rectory chooses to stay in the active priesthood and not seek laicization and another course in life, then sure, allow him to stay, but not in a parish setting. Prison ministry maybe. Or – maybe not.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 9:36 am

Any priest who commits a public act of grave immorality should be required to do a few things as a minimum before he can return to ministry:
1. First of all, if the act is also a crime, plead guilty, waive all technical defenses (e.g., 4th or 5th Amendment violations by the police), and accept and serve out whatever sentence is imposed.
2. If there is compensable legal injury to others, make full restitution to the extent possible from his personal property, waiving any exemption under the relevant state judgment debtor statutes.
3. Publicly admit moral guilt, and PUBLICLY do penance. (None of this “Mistakes were made, it’s time to move on” nonsense.)
4. Accept whatever assignment is given him by his bishop, no matter how unwanted, without complaint.
5. Cooperate fully in any civil or criminal prosecution against fellow wrongdoers.
6. No excuses. Don’t say a word about your addiction, or your troubled childhood, your clinical depression, or how badly the bishop treated you. If you’re asked about it and don’t know what to say, say the Act of Contrition.
This may not necessarily be required by canon law, but it would seem to be the minimum that must be done before people in the diocese could be reasonably expected to accept that the priest has repented. The repentance, and penance, should also be public as an example to others in the Church of what one should do to atone for grave sin.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 9:37 am

It seems to me that the problem with Fr. Arko is not that he grew or allowed to be grown plants which break the law. Consider how we would view Fr. Arko if he were growing those plants so as to provide marijuana for cancer patients who needed it to cope with their treatment. It would still break the law, but the spirituality behind it would be Christian–the desire to help another.
There is no evidence such a motivation was behind this greenhouse. Rather, it does appear the weeds were a cash crop. Doing illegal things to make money is outside of the possibilities for someone in a shepherd’s role whose example is most often public.
The problem is his spirituality reflected in both the breaking of a law in order to obtain money, and in the teaching of oriental religious practices. No matter how many times he says he is sorry for growing an illelgal substance, it will not change that spirituality. And it is not a spirituality consistent with Catholicism.
For that reason he needs to be removed from a parish. Not for growing illegal plants. A pastor is in a position to teach. To shepherd. It appears that Fr. Arko has been teaching. But what he has been teaching is Eastern mysticism and not Roman Catholicism. That is a much graver offense than growing weeds, just as the loss of a soul is much graver than the breaking of a human law.
No man is beyond redemption. But that is not the same thing as assuming that all men cooperate with their redemption. We do have choices. And when we make the wrong ones, there are consequences.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 9:47 am

Okay, to me it this a mindset that priests are “just like everybody else” and, gasp! they sin and they are not worthy to preach the Gospel or confect any of the sacraments.
It is way past time to get past much of this flawed thinking.
The minesterial priesthood, using military terms, should be a brotherhood of the “few, the proud, the Knights for Our Lady”. If one violates the “code of conduct” then a discharge should be conducted (honorable, or dishonorable).
True enough, the Church is all about forgiveness. However, Carrie’s last paragraph speaks volumes here. Right conduct should be at the very top of the list. This lowering of the bar has gone on long enough.
Give us “little Christs” not little wimps who can’t handle the load.

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Larry Tierney

posted January 28, 2004 at 9:52 am

The more we overlook, the easier it gets.

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T. Marzen

posted January 28, 2004 at 10:32 am

What was done to priests who made (or sanctioned making) bath tub gin, beer or wine for distribution during Prohibition? A priest who drank alcohol in violation or produced in violation of the law then? Why should Fr. Arko be treated any differently for what he has done (or allowed) than a priest then might have been?

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posted January 28, 2004 at 10:47 am

Peace, all.
Can’t disagree with a whole lot of what Mike said, except perhaps that if Arko were a drug addict, talking about addiction would indeed be a productive thing, as is true for recovering addicts.
Any distinction between the legal (ab)use of alcohol versus the illegal use of marijuana is not a big one in my book. Either addiction is damaging to one’s life, and the damage is arguably the same for addicts of either substance. Provided the secular penalty for lawbreaking is done, I think there’s a hard time justifiying substantially different treatment for marijuana and alcohol abusers.

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Franklin Jennings

posted January 28, 2004 at 11:54 am

I have to find me a chair!!!
I’m (fairly) in agreement with Todd. :-)

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Anthony Roberts

posted January 28, 2004 at 1:15 pm

You wrote: “Consider how we would view Fr. Arko if he were growing those plants so as to provide marijuana for cancer patients who needed it to cope with their treatment. It would still break the law, but the spirituality behind it would be Christian–the desire to help another.”
No matter what light you view it in, the act is still wrong. Remember the story of St. Francis of Assisi. The beginning of his ministry was when he began to rebuild the dilapidated abandoned church outside of his home town. He initially tried to finance the repairs by redirecting profits from the sales of his fathers textiles into masonry materials. When his father found out, he accused Francis of being a thief. Francis went into hiding with the local Bishop. The Bishop sided with his father regarding the money. Francis eventually settled with his father by returning the money he had taken along with his clothing, etc.
IMO no matter what the intent, even for what the individual considers to be a “good” act, the breaking of a legitimate law that does not violate the laws of God (and I don’t think God has ruled in favor of Cannabis) negates the sanctity of the intention.

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Patrick Sweeney

posted January 28, 2004 at 1:19 pm

There are several laws, which if you break them and are convicted, you will be barred from particular occupations.
In my own occupation, a lie that doesn’t harm anyone or cause a financial loss, or break a law, nevertheless can trigger a disciplinary process that may end in a agreement to never again work in the securities industry.
Similar rules exist for airline pilots, police officers, even baseball players etc.
So a standard that applies here is priests is more at the discretion of the bishop than it is a matter of canon law. It appears that a priest can be suspended for any reason or no reason at all — such is their monarchial power.
I think a lot of people’s attitude depends upon whether one belives ordination confers on the man a big bundle of rights, privileges, entitlements, benefits, etc. that can only be taken away after a drawn-out mult-year process without the consent of the priest — whereas a priest can choose to walk out of the rectory on any day and never look back like an employee doing his last shift at McDonalds.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 2:29 pm

Let me toss an old Catholic phrase into this discussion…”temporal punishment due to sin.”
From the Baltimore Catechism:
#801 Christ has fully satisfied for our sins and after our baptism we were free from all guilt and had no satisfaction to make. But when we wilfully sinned after baptism, it is but just that we should be obliged to make some satisfaction.
#803 The Sacrament of Penance remits the eternal punishment due to sin, but it does not always remit the temporal punishment which God requires as satisfaction for our sins.
#804 God requires a temporal punishment as a satisfaction for sin to teach us the great evil of sin and to prevent us from falling again.
#805 The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving; all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.

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Jane M

posted January 28, 2004 at 3:45 pm

I know that this is irrelevant to the main discussion but I am simply gagging over this business of sending “troubled” priests into hospital chaplaincy. I really didn’t understand that that was done. But I also spent a year in and out of the hospital with my son who had cancer and no priest there came to see us or help us except the day when I begged. And that guy was utterly useless. I am ashamed of writing that but it is/was true. So this is an explanation of my troubles but as I say – it is sickening to me.

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Jimmy Mac

posted January 28, 2004 at 5:51 pm

Now, as long as you all are willing to be as hard on layfolk who sin (i.e., adulterers, divorcees, tax cheats, family abandoners, abusive employers, politicians who favor the rich over the poor, etc.) as you are on this priest …. and don’t tell me that he should be held to a higher standard, either: sin is sin is sin …. then I’ll agree with you.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 6:36 pm

The circumstances of Father Arko’s arrest and lifestyle suggest somebody who really may not be able or willing to give the committment to priesthood that is required. So he should pay the penalty for the legal violation and the embarassment to the Church but then he and his superiors need to have an honest and forceful evaluation of where his head is.

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Conor Dugan

posted January 28, 2004 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for posting my question and thanks everyone for thoughtful responses. First, let’s state the obvious, Father Arko was in bad way before any of the allegations of marijuana surfaced. He seems a product of poor formation and bad spiritual direction. That being said I am reluctant to say as a blanket matter he should be removed from all future public ministry including a return to the position of pastor of a parish. Why? Because one must presume that Father Arko has been called to the vocation of the priesthood and this is how God has asked him to live out his consecration to the Lord. That means this is the mode of life through which he is called to walk toward holiness. Now obviously from the outside his actions and alleged actions suggest that he is failing to do that. And he like all of us is not beyond the power of God’s grace. God can work a miracle in him and restore him back to or bring him for the first time to true priestly integrity.
While it is true that no one has a right to the priesthood, it is still the way he has been called. Therefore, should we not if he truly does turn from his sin and repent, afford him the chance to live out this life, live out his call?
I also so two opposite trends working here: One, the priesthood is not to be exalted and held up above the laity; it is not better. Two, priests are to be held to the most exacting standards because priests are to be held to higher standards than the rest of us. We can’t have it both ways. Obviously, marriage and the priesthood are not perfect analogies but if someone falls short in marriage we would not advocate not returning someone to the marriage. (Sexual abuse is a special case and one on which I am in agreement with others on this blog.) Now the priesthood has a public dimension that marriage does not have or at least not to the same degree. So perhaps what Amy suggests is good. We can return the priest to the priesthood but not to such a public ministry. We should nuture his vocation but not in the same way and manner it once was nurtured.
I do question the idea of public repentance. First, can we even require someone to make such a public pronouncment? I am not sure. I’d be curious to hear.
My thoughts are a bit disjointed now but I believe canon law holds that a priest who kills, even in self-defense, is to be laicized. Is that so? And if it is, perhaps this supports the removal of a priest in such a situation. That is, if we remove a priest who has blood on his hand, even licitly, shouldn’t the illicit stains of some crime or evil not bar him from the priesthood. (I owe my wife for that thought.) Anyhow, those are my disjointed and inconsistent thoughts.

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posted January 28, 2004 at 7:40 pm

Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is expected to announce the firing of
Simon Peter from the Chief Apostle post soon.
“His lack of fortitude was unforgivable” said a dsiciple about Peter.
Disciples of Jesus said that Simon Peter still stuck around to disown
Jesus during the Passover, despite a warning from Jesus that it was
going to happen.”He could’ve just went home and stayed there
for a day or two” one of them said.
Peter was full of remorse about the incident, and is trying to meet
Jesus and get himself reinstated. So far he has not been successful.
Most of them, including Peter have not met Jesus yet – he has only
appeared to a few among them.
Many of Jesus’ fellow apostles and disciples were adamant in the
view that he be not admitted back into their circle.
“He has done the unthinkable, and must be punished” – one of them
said – “let him go and hang himself like Judas. That will be enough
atonement for what he did”.
However, some others were of the opinion that he could be admitted back, provided his role as Chief Apostle was stripped from him, and
he became a simple follower. “We should defintely be compassionate
and give him some sort of second chance, but we cannot ignore the
ground realities. It would be hard to continue Jesus’s
mission with such a man in charge, it would be a terrible example
and we will lose all bragging rights to be the chosen and faithful
people of Jesus”
John, an apostle and a close confidant of Jesus disagreed with the
others. “Jesus’ plans do not follow the beaten path. I’m sure that
we are all going to be surprised by his decision”

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Fr. Brian Stanley

posted January 29, 2004 at 8:52 am

I don’t think the issue is really about laicization, but public ministry. I agree with Conor that Fr. Arko has been called. The prudential question before Fr. Arko’s bishop is his fitness for public ministry. Fr. Arko’s pastoral judgment is in question, and it remains to be seen whether he can demonstrate the due discretion needed to be a pastor, given his violation of civil law.
I agree also that Fr. Arko seems to be a product of poor formation, and is in need of some serious spiritual guidance. I could see where that would take quite a while to get him back on track.

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posted January 29, 2004 at 8:16 pm

Larry, that’s “boiling the frog.”

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posted January 29, 2004 at 8:21 pm

Jimmy Mac,
The argument is that the law applies to everyone. Priests who grow pot in the bedroom closet deserve jail and joblessness as much as anyone else.
There are a huge number of lives and livelihoods that just couldn’t sustain this kind of lying and other wacky behaviors.
Why should a priest, who is supposed to be teaching Christian behavior be held to a lower standard?
Why should a priest, who is ordained to the service of the Church feel free to substitute his own enthusiasms, even illegal ones, for the Church’s?
I tell you that Patrick is right. This level of nuttiness could not be engaged in by many professionals who have only contracted out their time. Jobs and families would be lost.
Do you think the priest’s vocation is more important than that or less?

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posted January 30, 2004 at 4:21 pm

Have a friend whose little boy has been in the hospital more than out for the whole 30 months of his life. All I can say is, ditto.

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posted January 30, 2004 at 4:24 pm

I know that this is irrelevant to the main discussion but I am simply gagging over this business of sending “troubled” priests into hospital chaplaincy. I really didn’t understand that that was done. But I also spent a year in and out of the hospital with my son who had cancer and no priest there came to see us or help us except the day when I begged. And that guy was utterly useless.
Let’s try this again. I’m a newbie, sorry.
I have a friend whose 30-month son has been in the hospital most of his life. All I can say is, ditto.

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