Recently, the life of reconciliation underwent a dramatic test for Christians in the Dallas Diocese. With the wise counsel of our coadjutor bishop, priests and laity responsible for assigning our clergy and after much discussion, I came to a difficult decision. I approved the assignment of a priest who, some years ago in another country, failed in the priestly virtue of chastity – he fathered a son. Repentant of his sin and forgiven by God, he continued his priestly service in a selfless fashion for more than 20 years.
[editor's note: During which he was sued for child support and was repeatedly told by the LA Archdiocese to stop exercising priestly ministry.]
Now, after years of a blameless ministry, Monsignor Ernesto Villaroya was assigned to another parish. When his 20-year-old sin was discovered, some people appeared with sacks filled with rocks to stone him. It seemed that there might be no forgiveness, no compassion, no reconciliation and no acceptance. While I can understand their concern, I thought of the scene in the Gospel when Jesus came upon the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned by another group. Jesus addressed the group, asking that those without sin cast the first stone. No stones were cast. As the group slowly departed, Jesus asked the woman if there was no one to condemn her. Her reply was no. Then Jesus said, "Neither will I condemn you. Go and sin no more." (John 8:10)
The scene described is no different than in our diocese. But the outcome threatens to be a contradiction to what Jesus did and taught.
After 2,000 years, we seemingly haven't been able to put into full practice the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We just can't get rid of those stones. If St. Francis of Assisi or St. Augustine of Hippo showed up today, we probably would stone them. They did some pretty bad things but repented.
The message of the Gospel isn't that complicated: mutual love; being the first to love; loving everyone, especially the sinner, the poor, the one ostracized; being ready to die for the other according to the example of Jesus. Jesus had some strong words for the hypocrites: On the outside they all are shiny, but on the inside they are filled with dead men's bones.
If I could go through our deliberations again in this case, I would add one more step to the process. Besides consulting with Monsignor Leon Duesman, the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Frisco, I would have invited the parishioners to an open meeting and discussed with them the details about the priest's background before finalizing the assignment. We know that a priest can't minister effectively in a community where he isn't received. Currently, the reaction is mixed. I am hoping more parishioners will agree to give him a chance in the spirit of reconciliation.
It is exactly this spirit of the Gospel that the million young people at World Youth Day wanted to live. At the heart of it was reconciliation. They wanted to be part of building a new kind of world, a civilization of love. Maybe we older people simply have missed the heart of the Gospel. Maybe it will take the young people to destroy the stones in our bags.
It was the right thing to assign the priest to his new ministry. God is saying something: Throw away those stones!
What could one possibly say that could be bad enough about this piece by Bishop Grahmann in the Dallas Morning News? The Bishop's decisions flowed from the purest evangelical motivations, but, sadly, are being obstructed by a mob of unconverted, judgmental, stone-lugging Laity. Not a WORD about the fact that the good people of Saint Francis Parish were already deeply suspicious of the Diocese because their previous pastor was unceremoniously yanked without even the chance to say good-bye, let alone an explanation, despite their repeated entreaties over months. Not a syllable about the fact that this was a situation in which a rape allegation had been raised, in court, only to be dismissed because it was brought too late....