Men who are studying to become Catholic priests, also known as seminarians, are increasingly speaking out about sexual misconduct, only to be punished for it by their peers and other authorities.
Stephen Parisi, dean of his seminary school class in the Buffalo (New York) diocese, reportedly spoke out about obscene comments from priests to the seminarians at a recent party. He later came under fire from priests and was even told to watch his back.
And he isn’t the only one having that issue, according to the Washington Post.
Parisi and Matthew Bojanowski, who was academic chairman of the class, have made explosive news nationally recently after alleging that they were bullied by superiors, grilled by their academic dean under police-like interrogation and then shunned by many of their fellow seminarians after going public with sexual harassment complaints about those up the chain of command. The Vatican on Thursday announced it is investigating broad allegations church leaders have mishandled clergy abuse cases.
As striking as the charges is the fact that the men are speaking out at all. Parisi and Bojanowski — who both left seminary in August — are among a small but growing number of Catholic priests and seminarians who in the past year have gone to investigators, journalists and lawyers with complaints about their superiors. While still rare, such dissent has until now been nearly unheard of in a profession that requires vows of obedience to one’s bishop and offers no right to recourse, no independent human resources department.
If there’s any good news to pull out of this, it’s that it appears Parisi’s story is part of a larger trend of seminarians coming forward about these issues. At least six priests were key to taking down Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, whom we reported on earlier this year.
The inevitable bad news, of course, is all the retaliation.
In the Catholic Church, bishops are kings of their dioceses, and priests swear an oath of loyalty to them. Seminarians’ pursuit of the priesthood rests completely with their superiors — the bishop in particular. There is no appeal or required explanation if one is deemed not to be priest material.
Some seminarians described having their spiritual fitness scrutinized if they raised too many questions. They fear that criticizing a bishop or higher-up could get them removed from seminary.
With a culture based on blind obedience to authority, to God and priests alike, it’s not surprising that this type of inappropriate behavior is occurring throughout many American seminaries. But the students now — the ones who grew up in a Catholic Church that was always being exposed for sexual abuse and wrongdoing — are more aware of Church-related scandals than ever before. That means their actions may actually change how the Church operates.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Scott for the link)