21 Responses

  1. Gregory In Seattle says:

    Excellent essay, Greta.

  2. gAytheist says:

    I think this is a great piece. I completely agree with you, Greta.

  3. OverlappingMagisteria says:

    Hear hear!

  4. cityzenjane says:

    Right there with you Greta. I find the poo flinging monkeys that went after this man completely repulsive….and actually working in collusion with the shaming culture that the priests are part of constructing. It’s hate hiding behind some high minded philosophy.

    Certainly the Falwell’s and Popes of the world are deserving of censure and ridicule…but as you say most people were brainwashed from a very young age….

    Creating a culture of hatred, replicating the worst of puritainism but publically policing people like this, and as you say making it that much harder for others who are not religious to get help if they need it, is not something I want any part of either. It’s infantile.

  5. Peter says:

    I can truly understand why people seek solace in religion at times of overwhelming personal loss such as bereavement. At such times we cannot affect the reality which we live with, but we must seek strategies for dealing with it. Hence the tendency to seek consolation in illusion. We all accept and live by ilusions every day in any case, so in some ways it’s not so strange. When I think of my late wife as having gone to live in Paris, I know it’s actually not true, but it soothes the grief to think of her as being in a place that she loved.

  6. Elka Replogle Sundwall says:

    I love you Greta! Thank you so much!

  7. As free will is nonexistent, as argued by the good Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne, this article is good sense.

  8. fastthumbs says:

    I do not agree. This priest is part of the “leadership” of the RCC, and even though he is not
    the freaking Pope or a Cardinal, he is part of the RCC “management” structure and like it or not, he does deserve ridicule and contempt of being another hypocrite – maybe this would persuade a few of his peers to leave in the best case and more importantly, be another PUBLIC example to those few who are considering to NOT don the funny dresses and collars as a career choice. Anything to hasten the implosion of the RCC is a good thing.

    • latsot says:

      I doubt it’s constructive to try to scare people out of the priesthood through threat of scandal (I might be misreading your point here). I’d prefer to *encourage* people out of the priesthood by showing them that they’re welcome on our team whenever they’re ready to start redressing some of the problems they’ve caused.

  9. While I agree with the broad outlines of your argument — that atheists do themselves no favors by becoming as hideously judgmental as the worst of the theists — I think it’s critical to note that this priest was, in fact, a hypocrite. With few exceptions, the Roman Catholic priesthood requires its members to be celibate, and it is a non-negotiable requirement. (The principal legitimate exception is for married priests of religions mostly consonant with Roman Catholicism, such as the various eastern Orthodox religions and Episcopalians/Anglicans, who convert to Roman Catholicism: doing so does not annul their marriages.) There is no “unless you think that teaching is wrong” clause in the ordination rites: the priest vows to remain celibate.

    Here is a man who vowed to remain celibate, who probably preached a couple sermons a year on the importance of waiting for marriage to have sex, who is breaking his vows and acting in a manner starkly contrary to the teachings of the organization he has chosen to dedicate his life to. Yes, we should have compassion for the bad choices he made that got him in that situation and for the isolation he probably felt before his secret was out and probably feels doubly now that his secret is public knowledge — but we should not be scolded for measuring him against the same standard to which he holds his parishioners and his fellow priests and finding him severely lacking. When you accept the role of a teacher of morality, as an arbiter of morality, and as a judge of other people, you also accept that you will be expected to live by the standards you set.

    • Chris DeVries says:

      And if hypocrisy was a crime, or even a really bad thing to do, I’d be shouting it to the rooftops. But “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” as Jesus says: I have myself committed this terrible infraction more than once and I bet everyone who was overjoyed at the priest’s humiliation has too.

      Actually, this is a bit of a big deal for me, and one of my biggest problems with a large segment of moral relativists. If good and evil are culturally determined and have no objective backing, the only way one can legitimately criticize another is to point out that they violated their OWN moral code, and thus are a hypocrite. Whereas I think morality can be objectively tied to harm and flourishing and thus, while I recognize that the priest undoubtedly caused harm by spreading the Catholic doctrine, he was himself a victim of this doctrine (being shamed by his sexual feelings and behavior). As a group, we need to start seeing the religious as as victims who, if we are patient and compassionate, could be future atheists (or at least future allies against extremism).

      There is enough of a groundswell of unbelief amongst American (and other Western nations’) youth, that awareness of the harm religions perpetrate is at an all-time high. We need to become real activists, not just online but in our real-life communities; the movement is too intellectual right now – we need to make it relevant to those marginalised or hurt by religion.have

  10. Hear, hear! Greta, I so admire you and your courage. So often I read your writing and find myself nodding in agreement. You say the things that need to be said. Thank you for being a voice of sanity.

  11. Steve Bowen says:

    Yes! I must admit to enjoying the initial schadenfreude myself when the story broke, but you are of course all things considered absolutely correct.

  12. atheist says:

    Thanks for this excellent piece Ms. Christina. I absolutely agree with what you’ve said here. One area that I see atheists as needing more compassion would be in foreign policy. There is a certain tendency of the western world to see itself in conflict with an Islamic world. Sometimes atheists accept this frame because it seems to be all about ridding the world of one form of fundamentalism. But this frame is a hubristic and dangerous one, and atheists should not get involved with warfare against Islamic nations.

  13. Charlie Kilian says:


  14. fredsbend says:

    You are the first self-claimed atheist that I have heard speak like this. It is so refreshing. My general experiences are like the one on your FB. Atheists are just plain mean, spiteful, and hate the world and everyone in it.

    • Atheists have as good a reason to hate the world of religion, as the Irish have to hate the English. But I have a sneaky liking for the Orangeman, with a shovel in his hand, who proposes to “buy a penny rope, and hang the bloody Pope” although of course it would do no good whatsoever.

  15. latsot says:

    Perhaps we can do both. We can take the moral high ground by decrying the person or people who violated the priest’s privacy and those who spread the story around. We can show tolerance that the man’s own church does not. That’s a principle – perhaps *the* principle – of humanism, after all.

    But we can also express our anger at the hypocrisy of the priest’s actions. We don’t need to name him for that. Like Greta, we could comment on the story without posting the link. That way, we can help to slowly strip away the misguided and inappropriate moral authority granted to priests and their organisations without cruelty to individuals.

    People like this man who perpetuate abusive behaviour toward people who practice sexual behaviour their churches don’t like are wrong to do so whether they are hypocrites or not. I tend to think that those with ‘unsanctioned’ cravings ought to know better than to shame others with such cravings, regardless of whether they act on or suppress their own. So perhaps instead of making them miserable, the best thing we can do is provide an environment in which they can choose to admit their feelings, admit their past hypocrisy, let go of the oppressive rules and help other people to do the same, chipping away at that edifice of religion and doing some good. Perhaps there won’t be many takers. Perhaps most of them will retreat back into their suppressed behaviour. Perhaps they’ll even continue their hypocrisy. But what better time to reach out and tell someone that it’s really OK to have those sexual feelings and it’s wrong to tell others that it’s not?

    Anger should be tempered by compassion. I’m angry at supposed moral authorities who force their opinions – or those of their organisations – on others. I’m angrier still at the ones who definitely ought to know better, by the simple virtue of having to hide their own behaviours at the risk of receiving the very same punishments they prescribe to others. But if we apply compassion as well, perhaps we can help them see that there’s a way out and help others understand that there’s something worth being angry about.

  16. AJ Milne says:

    I’m more than sympathetic to clergy so trapped by the misery that is their religion that they wind up living a life as complicated as this. And it took me some time to get through LaScola and Dennet’s work on unbelieving clergy, found it generally pretty horrible to contemplate. And there but for the grace, indeed. I have to wonder just what a life this man might have been living, up to this event. Depending on how double his life might have been, he might almost be grateful for the exposure. If he’s defrocked, may he find a happier life, thereafter.

    That said: while I could see how the anger might seem repellent, if there are any of those so angered who might be apostates specifically from Catholicism–or who are close to the same–perhaps, say, even as intimate partners–I’ve a certain sympathy for them, too. I’m not sure I’m ready to ask anyone like that too reproachfully to find their sympathy for this man’s misery, if they have to see it through the lens of their own, were it exacted by a man dressed much the same. Sure, it’s part of the whole ugly equation and system, and he’s just one more miserable cog. But if he looks like the one that was grinding on them, I’m not sure what else to expect from anyone.

    Restated: sure, it’s an assumption that this man is so directly responsible for such shaming. But for some, it seems to me, again, it might be one might be set off by wounds of their own. So sure, it’s ugly. But it’s also understandable.

    So, okay, maybe I _will_ ask they consider his misery, too, I guess…

    But gently. And I’ll try to remember as I do that these are religion’s chief exports. Misery and rage.

  17. George says:

    Support you view completely, as a conservative (non religious) humanist.