ST. LOUIS, Mo. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic students at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, are being led by a priest who has been accused of promoting masturbation and fornication, directly contrary to Catholic teaching.
Father Gary Braun serves the WashU Catholic Student Center and is head of campus ministry in the St. Louis archdiocese. "James," an employee at WashU who asked that his full name be kept private, told Church Militant that Fr. Braun argues for sexual immorality on the grounds that "young men need to find a way to get their tension released."
James described the alleged conversation he had with Braun: "When I objected, he had no response to the fact that this was against Catholic teaching but simply stated that it was okay, that 'fantasy masturbation,' by which he meant use of internal imagery, was not disordered, as the Church states it is."
But Fr. Braun, when asked via email, denied these allegations. Regarding masturbation, he wrote, "To cut to the quick, I do not think it moral."
A person from the area named Jennifer Lee also wrote Church Militant with these accusations. She was surprised to learn that Fr. Braun affirmed the immorality of masturbation in his email with us. She wrote, "So he knows that masturbation is wrong. Why has he been telling others that it's OK?"
This plague of impurity has led some priests to become lenient toward it in the confessional. They recognize the roles of habit and the hyper-sexualized culture, but they respond only by questioning the penitent's culpability. This fails to equip the person with the tools needed to break the bonds of habitual grave sin by the power of God's grace.
Braun noted about our correspondence with him, "it is a good reminder to be clearer in my communication about this and other topics. So thanks for that."
In a recent homily, Fr. Braun spoke in seemingly ambivalent terms about homosexual "marriage."
"Real issues are confronting the Church today," he preached. "I don't pretend to know the answers or how to begin to answer. It's now become the law of our land that gay marriage is legal."
He went on to list a few other cultural shifts in recent history.
"Change or die," Fr. Braun remarked. "Christianity must change or die."
In 2002, Braun was on camera in a weekly call-in show at WashU where students asked for sexual advice. Father Braun was on the panel with an Episcopalian minister and a Jewish rabbi. (The show's title is a vulgar pun not worth mentioning.)
One young woman called in to the show and described a sexual encounter "with a guy" — clearly extramarital, given the language used. She said she "took charge" of the situation and was wondering if that was normal. Father Braun answered and encouraged her to get better at communicating verbally with her "partner."
He said, "It is not just [about] being empowered with your body but with your words as well."
As one reporter noted, "The Rev. Gary Braun, a Roman Catholic priest with a thundering laugh who favors sandals, doesn't chastise the young woman or urge her to go to Confession. He thanks her for calling and answers her... ."
In a homily at Mass from around the same time, Braun said one goal of Christianity is for everyone to live in harmony together "without shame about our sexualities." He refers to the fig leaves that cover the private parts of otherwise nude statues and says that Christians must strive to "take off the fig leaf" and let go of their sense of shame.
Pope St. John Paul II had a differing view of sexual shame. In a book written before his papacy titled Love and Responsibility, he defined shame as a desire to conceal sins and occasions of sin. Shame of the body leads us to dress modestly, the future pope and saint argued, while shame of the deed leads us to take custody of the eyes. Shame, therefore, is a positive thing for human relations, because it guards against lust and concupiscence. It is the first step to controlling the passions of the flesh and striving for the virtue of chastity.
In his recent email to Church Militant, Fr. Braun offered what sounded like a rationalization for sin:
As the catechism makes clear in the closing paragraph under [the] masturbation section, some at certain ages are not capable yet of giving full and free consent necessary for total culpability. If I see what might be an addiction, I give a copy of the Church's teaching in the catechism as part of their penance to read and talk to their spiritual director about.
He went on to distinguish between "healthy guilt," which leads to an amendment of life and "unhealthy guilt," which contributes to the habituation of sin.
This understanding of the word guilt or shame, while not the most traditional, has some merit. It is used by psychologists who practice reparative therapy, helping patients manage and overcome unwanted same-sex attraction.
In the same homily on sexuality, Fr. Braun argued, "Grace is in every affection and desire of our lives — every one, without exception! God is in those attachments, in that power."
At another point during the sermon, Fr. Braun cried out, "Our sexuality are [sic] fire! Divine fire!"
Father Braun has spoken fondly of Martin Luther, the 16th-century priest who served as a catalyst for the greatest schism in Western Christendom.
On March 26, 2017, Fr. Braun gave a homily lauding Luther as a Christ-like role model.
He described how the religious leaders in the Sanhedrin rejected Christ and the Apostles. "Five hundred years ago," he complained, "the Catholic bishops and priests and the pope did the exact same thing to Martin Luther and those who were following him!"
Braun said of Martin Luther in the same homily: "He meant to purify Catholicism, 'cause in his mind — and confirmed by history — we had gotten so far off track from the Gospel of Jesus! So far off track!"
He said nothing against Luther's heretical beliefs about salvation, faith, good deeds, Sacred Tradition, the Theological Virtues, Sacred Scripture, grace, the sacraments and the Real Presence.