Still The Same

The motto of the Roman Catholic Church is Semper Idem which, when translated, means “Always the same.” Those who remember the way things were done before Vatican II might wonder why their church continues to use this motto. There have been, for example, a number of changes in how Mass is celebrated under the Novus Ordo scheme.

Some might argue that changing the way the faithful participate in the Mass is not big thing. I imagine that quite a few older Catholics are relieved that the stand-sit-kneel-stand dance that could be very hard on old, arthritic knees has been almost completely eliminated. Some might say that being able to look their priest in the eye, at least some of the time, is a positive thing; as is hearing the Mass performed in a modern language.

I have noticed a few changes, however, that do not seem at all minor to me. When I was Catholic, half a century ago, the SIX Precepts (or Commandments) of the Catholic Church were drummed into my head by priests and nuns who were seriously concerned that we kids were fully aware of the Precepts and the grave penalties that could result from violating any one of them.

I recall that the Sixth Precept not infrequently was a topic of conversation between we students and those charged with inculcating the foundational operating rules that governed lives of the Catholic faithful. Here is how one catechism treated that Precept:

298. What is the ordinary law of the Church to be observed at the wedding of a Catholic?

The ordinary law of the Church to be observed at the wedding of a Catholic is this: A Catholic can contract a true marriage only in the present of an authorized priest and two witnesses.

A Catholic who is married by a justice of the peace or a Protestant minister is really not married at all, but simply living in sin…If a Catholic is “married” in this way it is hypocrisy and a mockery of God. God puts no bond of marriage around such a couple, as He does around couples who are married by a priest.

When a Catholic is “married” at a civil or non-Catholic ceremony, other Catholics are not allowed to be present, or even to send gifts or show any approval, since this is not a real marriage, but simply a terrible agreement to live together in sin. If the “marriage” takes place at a religious ceremony, the Catholic party is excommunicated. To have this sin forgiven, the couple must be married by a priest, or separate from each other.—Rev. Bennet Kelly, explainer, The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2, © 1969-1962 Catholic Book Publishing Co., p. 138

Thus was the way Mama Church looked at marriage in the good old days. I remind readers that the above 'commandment' was the sixth and final Precept of the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II. The "Marriage Precept" does not appear in the new Catechism, which defines Precepts of the Church in these words:

Positive laws (sometimes call commandments) made by Church authorities to guarantee for the faithful the indispensable minimum in prayer and moral effort, for the sake of their growth in love of God and neighbor…Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc., p. 894.

There you have it, the Catholic hierarchy made the Precepts in order “to guarantee for the faithful the indispensable minimum in prayer and moral effort.” I suppose the old commandment concerning marriage is no longer considered necessary in order to guarantee…blah, blah, blah. Off hand, I'd say that eliminating the precept concerning marriage, though the subject is addressed at length in paragraphs 1601 through 1654, constitutes a pretty considerable change—thus giving the lie to Semper Idem.

However, the motto certainly does appear to hold true as concerns the way the Catholic Church in America handles charges of sexual misconduct, alleged and/or proven, against priests and religious. A case in point was reported in a number of newspapers on Halloween., 2005. How appropriate!

HARTFORD, Oct. 31 - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford has agreed to pay $22 million to settle sexual abuse claims brought by 43 people against 14 priests, the archdiocese and lawyers for the victims announced on Monday.—William Yardley, Church Settles Abuse Claims in Hartford, Published: November 1, 2005, © 2005 New York Times.

According to the Hartford archdiocese, six of the accused priests are dead. Four others are retired. Three of the alleged sex offenders are still on the job, but not in what was termed “active ministry.” Does that mean, I wonder, that they are working as crossing guards near Catholic elementary schools or, perhaps, they have jobs dusting books in the chancery.

The 14th accused priest is still on the job as pastor of a parish. This guy, William Przybylo by name, stills holds his old post as pastor of Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Hartford.

“How could it be,” one might ask, “that a priest alleged to be a sex offender and who is a party in the settlement agreed on by the archdiocese and lawyers for the victims continue to shepherd Catholic faithful?” Here's what Przybylo had to say:

"I have acquiesced in the settlement of these claims by the archdiocese, rather than insisting on a court trial to vindicate myself," he wrote, "because I accept the fact that having 'my day in court' would be a terrible hardship for all involved, including my parish, my church and the claimants. This seems like the most reasonable and charitable road to follow, although certainly it is a very difficult one."--Ibid.

Yeah. Right.

Some less than charitable readers might suspect that reasons other than the search for justice motivated the accusers to act after decades of apparently doing nothing. Another source informs:

Parents tried to bring it to the attention of Archbishop John Francis Whealon in 1983 but were threatened with legal action by the archdiocese, said attorney Jason Tremont, a lawyer for the 43 people.-- Pat Eaton-Robb, AP Writer, Hartford Archdiocese Settles Abuse Cases, © 2005 Yahoo! Inc.

What kind of stuff was going on that might have bothered parents? One of the accusers had something to say about that:

Mr. Zile, now 52, said he was abused during his teenage years by the Rev. Thomas Glynn while working as an altar boy. At the time, Father Glynn was a pastor of churches in Forestville and New Haven. Father Glynn, among the accused priests in the settlement announced on Monday, died in 1993, according to lawyers for the victims.—William Yardley, Op. cit.

Father Glynn died a dozen years ago and, aside from spiritual methods perhaps available to Catholic mystics, is not available to answer the charges against him.

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