Monday, November 18, 2002

From Corpus Christi, how the Situation is changing the nature of priestly ministry.

The Rev. Roger Smith of St. Patrick's Catholic Church said since allegations began surfacing in the media last summer, he has begun scrutinizing his actions and how people might perceive them. "I am not trying to be paranoid but sometimes I have kids that come running up and want to give me a hug. Before I would have responded very naturally and hugged them back, but now I have that question in the back of my mind 'how do I deal with this?' " Smith said. Smith said he has not made any major changes to the way he deals with various members of his congregation but he admits he is reluctant to make any physical contact. "Should I just sit there in plain view, or go back to my office?" he said. "Those are thoughts I wouldn't have had before. Now when the situation arises, I think twice." Monsignor Michael Heras at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church said when he finishes celebrating Mass on Sundays he is amping - electrifyingly charged with spiritual joy, his hands vibrating with energy. "It's the music and the environment, the ritual, the music, the mystery . . . it feels good," he said. "And I think it is natural to want to hug people after that and I am still going to do it even though I know someday someone may want to take issue with me for it."

A difficult problem, to be sure, but may I share a radical thought?

Maybe this is a good thing. Sexual abuse by clergy is not a modern phenomenon, nor is it a product, as some one suggest, of a more relaxed, informal post 60's culture. The infamous Porter did much of his work in the 1950's and 60's, and anyone who works with victims can tell you of elderly people who report abuse at the hands of clerics from more restrained, formal, times.

But if we have, indeed, entered a time in which spiritual direction and pastoral care has come to be defined by how much a priest hugs...maybe some steps back from that are in order.

(Cultural differences duly noted!)

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