I cried as I read the article in which Joseph Sciambra shared the truth of his experience.
But, despite his clear knowledge of the ugly truth — that sodomites are in many positions of power within the Catholic Church — he still doesn’t feel free.
When Our Lord promised the disciples in John 8:32 that “the truth will set you free,” He was not promising them ephemeral freedom in this fallen world. He was promising freedom in the world to come. Our Blessed Lord was promising His disciples that in the next life, where He will reign triumphantly, all those who know Him will be free. In Heaven, there will be no more tears, death, disease — or sexual abuse.
As a victim of homosexual predation (by a run-of-the-mill homopredator schmuck when I was 11 and by a priest when I was 19), I understand Joseph’s rationale for leaving the Church. I walked away for similar reasons for almost 10 years.
During my protracted absence, my parents, Fr. Al Corbo and other good Catholic friends offered hundreds (if not thousands) of prayers to Heaven for my salvation. Thanks be to God, their prayers and many atonements brought me back.
Willow Creek Community Church
During my truancy from the Church, I checked out outfits like Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, to fill the void. I found their Sunday productions entertaining but, after the worship service was over, there was not much to bring home — apart from having seen a good show.
What brought me fully and completely back to the Church was the realization that the Catholic Church is much more than the priests and prelates running it.
Despite its current rotten and sickly state, the Church is still the Body of Christ! I came back to the Church because it is Christ’s Church and, although it sounds trite, there is no other.
I also came back because Christ shares Himself with us in the sacraments.
I came back chiefly for the Eucharist, to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Although some may pretend to, no other Christian tradition can offer all of the sacraments.
Out of anger and despair, I distanced myself from the Blessed Sacrament for a long period of time. I finally realized, however, that the evil of many priests and bishops is no reason to punish oneself by refraining from the Eucharist.
Throughout the Church’s long history, it has had countless bad priests — even bad prelates.
But bad priests and prelates are a reality in this fallen world. A scenario in which the bad thrive with the good is nothing new. It was the same way when Our Blessed Lord was engaged in His public ministry. In the “Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat” (Matthew 13:30), Our Lord taught that although evil may thrive for a time, God will eventually bring justice: “First, collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning — but gather the wheat into My barn.”
On a fundamental level, it made no sense to continue to punish myself for other people’s sins and hypocrisy. In 1989, I came back into the Church and joyfully received Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, knowing that He was truly present — even if the priest celebrating the Mass was questionable.
Cdl. Joseph Bernardin and Fr. Edward Harasim
I don’t share my unabridged story blithely. After coming back, I was living in Ukrainian Village on Chicago’s North Side. I lived a couple of blocks from St. Helen Parish, and I registered there as a parishioner.
At that time, St. Helen’s pastor was one of Cdl. Joseph Bernardin’s handpicked young priests, Fr. Edward Harasim. Before being appointed pastor at St. Helen, Fr. Harasim was one of Bernardin’s secretaries. I vividly recall a friend bemoaning St. Helen’s notorious pastor.
“It would be hard to find a gayer priest,” the friend told me.
In Chicago, with Bernardin as the cardinal, it seemed that almost every parish on the North Side had a gay pastor. A straight man had to either control his revulsion while at Sunday Mass or just not go. Somewhat ironically, during those years at St. Helen, I befriended two such straight young men. By God’s grace, all three of us are now ordained priests — Fr. Christopher Ciomek (with the archdiocese of Chicago for 23 years now), Fr. Jerome Koutnik (with the diocese of Rockford for 22 years) and me (with the archdiocese of Chicago for 22 years).
What united us as friends, first at St. Helen and then at Mundelein Seminary, was our resolve to be better priests than those we had observed at St. Helen — Fr. Harasim and his “friends.” One of Harasim’s more important friends (who visited St. Helen’s rectory regularly) was Bernardin himself. My three boyhood friends and I knew what transpired at that rectory. Out of concern, the housekeeper shared with us what she had witnessed, in an attempt to keep us away from the debauchery. Thankfully, not one of us would be caught up with Harasim and his less-than-chaste behavior. But this avoidance was not without skirmishes!
In the summer of 1995, following a Saturday Mass, to which I was accompanied by my friend Christopher (who had already been accepted into Mundelein), I asked Fr. Harasim to write a letter of recommendation for me as I prepared to apply to Mundelein Seminary. Much to my disquiet, Fr. Harasim produced a glowing letter of near-canonization for me in about 15 minutes.
What upset me was not so much his speedily composed letter, but that he showed up on my front porch and invited himself into my house. He told me, “I would be glad to talk about your plans to become a priest.” I left him standing on the porch with the heavy wrought-iron gate locked. As an abuse victim twice over, I would never entertain inviting one of these gay men into my home. After Fr. Harasim handed me the letter, I closed and locked the door.
Shortly after my three friends and I entered the seminary, Fr. Harasim left the priesthood outright. He quickly became a real estate agent and made a name for himself catering to the gay community. He’s now retired and still lives in Chicago’s Boystown. So much for being one of Bernardin’s handpicked secretaries in the ’80s during the heady days of the “seamless garment” claptrap.
My two St. Helen companions and I would all end up ordained — but not without hiccups. Mundelein Seminary during the ’90s was at a low point. Just after our ordination, Michael Rose published his book Goodbye, Good Men. Some of our classmates made contributions to it.
Given that Mundelein was at its nadir, the key to making it to our ordination was to lie low, steering clear of known gays on campus and keeping busy with our studies. But not all of our straight classmates were so successful. I lament the loss to the Church of those men who were turned out of the seminary, not because they didn’t have a vocation to the priesthood but because they challenged the lavender men in charge.
There are many tempting reasons for leaving the Church. But how justifiable are these rationales if the end result is separation from communion with Our Lord, Who established the Church (blemished as it is)?
As a man who likes a good fight, I will never leave Christ’s Church. Nor will I voluntarily stop receiving the sacraments of the Church ever again. I will forever cherish the regular reception of Holy Communion and the sacrament of reconciliation. One of the blessings of the sacraments is that their validity does not depend on the holiness of the priest who confects them — but on Christ Himself. Kudos to St. Augustine for clarifying these matters, centuries ago, for the faithful.
Mr. Sciambra, as your rationale for your recent withdrawal from the Church, you wrote, “I can no longer be obedient; I can’t even muster an ounce of respect for these men.”
I agree with you!
The actions of too many priests (and not a few prelates) in our Church do not merit the respect of the faithful and actually warrant the faithful’s disdain. But why separate yourself from Our Lord’s Church and the sacraments He instituted just because some men act in a terrible manner?
Lest we think that the Church has never undergone similar periods in its long history, periods wherein evil was thriving and seemed to be victorious, consider the following. The period of the “papal pornocracy” went on for over 300 years. For the good men and women who lived during that evil epoch, their firsthand observance of bad popes would have been a tempting excuse for exiting the Church.
Many, however, stuck it out and faithfully remained in the Church because She is the body of Christ. These remaining faithful sought to secure their salvation through the validly confected sacraments — despite the repugnance of so many of the Church’s clerics.
Sacred Scripture tells us that when Christ returns and ushers in the new creation, all of us will be judged. Some will be judged worthy to enter into God’s Kingdom, and some unworthy. Until that glorious day, evil will continue to prosper in this fallen world, and even in the Church.
We should not be overly surprised about this. Our Lord was quite clear about this situation during His public ministry. We should take a cue from the landowner’s admonishment to his field hands in Christ’s parable of the weeds and wheat. Begging their patience, the landowner tells them, “Let them [the weeds and the wheat] grow together until harvest.”
Mr. Sciambra, my prayer is that you resist this temptation to walk away that was caused by the hypocrisy and errant statements of the Church’s clerics in these evil days. Remember, the Devil would be happy if you left.
As you know, I myself have had a few enemies among the ranks of clerics — such as Fr. James Martin and Fr. Michael Pfleger. I pray for these priests because, until they die, their souls are still salvageable. Perhaps these men will have a deathbed conversion and recant of all the tripe they pushed during their sorry lives. Would that not be glorious? Joseph, please stay in the fight, stay in the Church and receive the sacraments. By living a life of holiness, you can show these frauds for who they truly are. My prayers are with you.