On this first day of my blog–“come what may”–I never thought I would be writing about allegations of sexual impropriety made against Fr. George Rutler, a well-known conservative priest serving in the Archdiocese of New York. Fr. Rutler is a brilliant writer and a staunch defender of the Church’s teaching, who has proven particularly effective in speaking the uncomfortable and unpopular truth of the Church’s teaching.
Fr. Rutler has denied the allegations, but if they prove to be true, the scandal will be multiplied simply because of how many faithful Catholics heralded Fr. Rutler as one of the (all-too-few) “good ones.”
Just over a week ago, my brother Dan got a text from a friend who attends Fr. Rutler’s church. He told me about the allegations, and we both found the claims too fantastic to be true. When, a few days ago, someone else texted me the news, I responded by saying I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to.
But I also knew the allegations could be true. I’ve been a priest now for fifteen years, and I was in seminary during the period of time when the Church was convulsing through the priest abuse scandal. Those painful years featured too many accounts of “orthodox” priests living “double-lives” for me to doubt that a “holy priest” like Fr. Rutler could be guilty of this sort of thing.
Like every other priest, I know enough about sin to know that sadly even “faithful priests” could do such things. We are all weak, and we need the Lord’s grace to live lives of holiness and love. Please pray for all priests! And, of course, pray for all those who struggle with the demon of pornography. Pray too for all victims of sexual assault, which is the specific allegation against Fr. Rutler. The scandal, though, centers more on the gay pornography he is said to have been watching.
It is important to recall that Fr. Rutler denies the allegations, and he deserves the presumption of innocence. And, though I hope and pray that he is not guilty of either committing sexual assault or of viewing pornography, what if he is guilty? What then?
Rod Dreher, in his blog post about the allegations, highlighted the profound scandal of someone like Fr. Rutler being accused of such behavior, and he argues that if he is guilty, Fr. Rutler’s ministry is effectively over. “Even if Rutler is cleared of the groping allegation, if the porn thing is confirmed, his career as a priest is over, and ought to be” he writes.
I don’t agree that his ministry should necessarily be over. It would, I think, depend on how he responds. I would hope and pray that, if he were guilty, that Fr. Rutler would humbly acknowledge that fact, and then pursue his own healing and find appropriate ways to help others along that healing journey themselves.
Thankfully, in an “update” to the Rutler blog entry, Rod quotes a priest who makes clear that Catholic faithful err when they assume that priests are not sinners. Some of that has to do with priests who are afraid to acknowledge their own weakness and their own need for mercy and forgiveness. The point should be clear to priests and people alike. We priests are sinners, even if we are called to greater level of sanctity.
Every time one of these reports comes out, I’m saddened and sobered, and reminded of my need for grace, and the importance of living a holy, prayerful life.
Part of me wonders why the Lord would choose to have sinful men like me become priests, but the fact is the Lord doesn’t have any other option. Only us sinners, saved by grace.
I will say this in closing: My own sinfulness helps me be a compassionate confessor for those who are sinners like me. May all of us priests know our own need, and turn to the Lord to receive the grace we need to lead our flocks faithfully and well.
If you would, please pray for Fr. Rutler, all his brother priests, his parishioners, and the young woman who alleges that he assaulted her. Please also pray for the truth to come out, and for all those men and women who are overwhelmed by these allegations and the sobering possibility that they might just be true.