In the wake of the situation with Msgr. Arthur Coyle having been arrested for paying a prostitute, a number of BCI readers–including priests–are asking again about the episcopal leadership in Boston, and also about how Boston cares for their clergy. This falls under the responsibility of Cabinet Secretary Fr. Kevin M. Sepe, Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, and ultimately, to Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
One might want to assume the situation with Msgr. Coyle is a “one-off.” Still, with the position of Director of Pastoral Care of Priests vacant for two years and the Director of the Office of Senior Priests also vacant (the diocesan website for the Office of Senior Priests currently listing as its director a priest who died in 2011), there is reason to question the archdiocesan commitment to care of clergy in need–whether those be spiritual or psychological problems, or being elderly or ill. Here are several of the reader comments that jumped out at BCI:
Anyone who points a finger at Msgr Coyle and shouts “Sinner!” is in dangerous waters himself. Only God can judge, only He knows the degree of Msgr Coyle’s culpability, all the circumstances that led him to act as he did.
There are, however, some things we can know:
1) There is no agent of the archdiocese in whom a troubled priest can confide in confidence (outside Confession). A priest who needs help will not seek it out of fear he will be “reported”, “sent away”, etc.
2) The Cardinal is not only the priest’s ‘spiritual father’, he is also responsible for the good of the entire archdiocese, i.e., the institution. The good of the institution will always trump the good of the individual. Over are the days when the shepherd will leave the 99 to go in search of the lost 1.
3) In the opinion of many in the hierarchy, Msgr Coyle’s greatest fault was not soliciting a prostitute but getting caught. His story is not unique. Priests “in a relationship” –with females or males– are an accepted fact. Just be discreet.
4) Priests are not “their brothers’ keeper”. Except for whatever friendship group a priest might be part of, priests are not solicitous for each other’s true well-being– spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical. A priest is on his own. His fellow priests will not confront him, correct him, reach out to him, embrace him, accept him.
5) Many priests are living lives of quiet desperation, they are hurting. They feel used and abused by the archdiocese, they fear abandonment in their incapacity, old age, sickness. Their legitimate human needs for affirmation, affection, security are absent from their life. If they do not find it in legitimate ways from the archdiocese, in their desperation they will go looking for it elsewhere.
6) Sometimes lay people, too, are too quick to judge and condemn. They don’t look upon priests as their brothers, and a priest who falls is denied the compassion and understanding that might have prevented his fall in the first place.
7) The current “pastoral plan” is sowing among priests additional seeds of isolation, non-accountability, loneliness, excessive stress, insecurity. The feeling of the need for self-preservation will grow. Spiritual desolation is replacing the experience of priestly fraternity and ecclesial encouragement and support.
8) Tragically, and worst of all, the Church has given ample witness that the Gospel is too impractical, if not impossible, to be truly and fully lived in the modern world.
Objective Observer says:
August 8, 2013 at 9:09 am
Three realities hit me when this story first broke:
1. Art Coyle’s fall from grace may be tough on him, but it’s tougher on the faithful. Whether people (priests and laity alike) cooperated with his edicts out of respect for the Church, or turned their backs on him out of disdain for his imperiousness, they now have no reason to hold RCAB leadership in high regard. None at all.
2. Boston Catholics deserve better episcopal leadership. Sean O’Malley has been here ten years, and the morale of diocesan priests has declined steadily since his arrival. This happened on his watch, literally. He has never done the job of archbishop right, and so far the only groups that have uniformly benefitted from his tenure are Rasky Baerlein, and the people he’s paid over $160,000 per year. We need an archbishop who takes personal responsibility to lead the souls in this Archdiocese. We need an archbishop who does not need to be surrounded by enablers.
3. The one who needs the most prayer here is the 38-year old woman arrested with Art Coyle. She is someone’s daughter, sister, mother and this is how she makes her living? Christ’s advice to a woman in similar circumstances was, “Go and sin no more.” Why aren’t we on our knees begging the Holy Spirit to open her heart and help her out of this hideous existence? And why aren’t we, collectively as the Church, begging forgiveness for fostering a landscape in Lowell where her profession is the best option for her? The Church’s top dog in the region was dragging her down further! Why aren’t we building an outreach to offer prostitutes a legitimate, humane way to make a living?
We will pass these comments along to Cardinal O’Malley, Fr. Sepe, and Vicar General Bishop Deeley and invite a response from them, but we will not hold our breath waiting. In the meantime, we will remind folks of a few points we made two years ago in “Farewell Fr. Flavin.”
With the shortage of priests, many diocesan priests face excessive workloads and live alone or work in relative isolation from other priests. Psychologists agree that the problem of loneliness can be prompted or exacerbated by a stressful, hectic schedule that is not conducive to adequate self-care.Pope John Paul II (1992) addressed the issue of loneliness in the priesthood in Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds):
There is a loneliness which all priests experience and which is completely normal. But there is another loneliness which is the product of various difficulties and which in turn creates further difficulties. With regard to the latter, “active participation in the diocesan presbyterate, regular contact with the Bishop and with the other priests, mutual cooperation, common life or fraternal dealings between priests, as also friendship and good relations with the lay faithful who are active in parish life, are very useful means to overcome the negative effects of loneliness which the priest can sometimes experience”. 
Also, when Fr. James Flavin (then-Director of Pastoral Care of Priests) left Boston, then-Vicar General Erikson said:
With Fr. Flavin’s new assignment this summer, our priest services group is already working on a plan to continue Fr. Flavin’s work. Father Foley, Episcopal Vicar and Secretary for Parish Life and Leadership, is assisted by Father Michael Medas, who serves as Director of Clergy Personnel. Fathers Foley and Medas are dedicated full-time to the care of the clergy. Fathers James McCune, Edwin Condon and Brian Clary assist with clergy services.
No one ever filled the role of Director of Pastoral Care of Priests. Fr. Foley has moved on, and was replaced by Fr. Kevin Sepe. Fr. Medas has moved on from being Director of Clergy Personnel and was replaced by Fr. Bob Blaney. Fr. James McCune died in 2011 and no one ever filled the role of Director of the Office of Senior Priests. Fr. Edwin Condon is a Senior Priest his mid to late 70s (ordained in 1961). Meanwhile, the Clergy Funds are underfunded by $100M to $200M to pay for future benefits, with no plan to replenish them–just dinners and collections to try and keep the annual cash flow from bleeding red ink.
Feels to BCI like the Boston Archdiocese could do a better job caring for their clergy. What do you think?