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"The pattern and practice of priests in positions of responsibility for the training of men for the priesthood — rectors, confessors, spiritual directors, novice masters and other clergy — who have sexual relations with seminarians and other priests is rampant in the Catholic Church in the United States," he wrote in 2008.
"I have reviewed hundreds of documents that record just such behavior and interviewed scores of priests who have suffered from this activity," he added. "Priests, sexually active in the above manner have frequently been appointed by the Vatican to be ordained bishops or even created cardinals."
Things will not change, Sipe warned, until bishops are held to account. (Richard Sipes Dies)
By and large, in most times and places in the history of humankind, sexual purity was not treated as something that mattered very much. In some religions, times and places, fornication, harlotry and prostitution, in one form or another, were just a fact of life. Indeed, they were even crucial to certain rites of worship.
So why does sexual purity matter so much to those who profess to follow Christ? Some purported leaders in the Catholic Church are starting to talk as if it doesn't. Aside from the interest some may secretly have in removing the stigma from homosexuality, is this nonchalance about hedonistic, non-procreational sexual activity just a product of the times? Or is it a sign that the vocation of some clergy was never a product of their love of God in Christ?
As it emerged and organized itself in the course of Rome's decline and fall, the Catholic Church did not escape the effects, for good and ill, of the social and political environment in and from which Christendom self-consciously emerged. This included, of course, the sexual behavior (and, perforce, misbehavior) of clergy and religious at every level. However, there was never much confusion about the standard they were all supposed to respect. Saint Paul alludes to this in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7):
It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to secular immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (7:1–2)
Taken out of context, the suggestion that celibacy is the preferable state must, in our day, seem questionable to many. But Paul introduces that norm after discussing how the relationship with God in Christ should affect the lives of those who profess to live in communion with Him:
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not err. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor voluptuaries, nor homosexuals (literally: practitioners of male coitus), nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor vituperators, nor the rapacious shall share in the kingdom of God. And such were some of you.
But you are washed; you are sanctified: you are shown to be just in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. All things exist in me, but not all are appropriate: all things exist in me, but I will not be ruled by any. Meat for the belly and the belly for meats but God will nullify the one and the other. The body is not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Know you not that your bodies are members of Christ. Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? Let it not come to pass. (1 Corinthians 6:9–15)
Pondering this implication of each believer's communion with Christ, Paul observes that one who joins with a harlot becomes, with her, one body; but that one who joins with Christ becomes, with him, one spirit. So he concludes, "Your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own."
The communion with Christ exists unto the Spirit of God, which is life in the Kingdom of God forever. The communion with the harlot exists unto the flesh, and a tremor of pleasure in the body, but for a moment. For one who says to God, with Christ, "Not my will but thine be done?" one exists in truth, the other only seems to exist, and then comes to naught. Why then does the latter have any tempting power at all?
Because we are descendants of Adam and Eve, our bodies live by the sufferance of God. They are part of His plan for our redemption. The sin that cut us off from the Spirit of God in truth left us with the semblance of God in our fleshly form, capable of reproducing itself for the time being, as His plan unfolds. Therefore, the law of God operates in our flesh, according to His will, so that humanity may be preserved until the day of our salvation, as individuals and as a whole. That day dawned with the Resurrection of Christ. In light of His triumph over death, we may now live again, in and through Christ, according to the Spirit of God, which is life, and that more abundantly.
Because we are descendants of Adam and Eve, our bodies live by the sufferance of God.
Given that prospect — which in Christ is the substance of hope and the trusted evidence of things unseen, but certain to come — our faith impels us to live according to the law of God's spirit, as subjects here and now abiding in the Kingdom of God. Yet, as Paul says in his epistle to the Romans, the spirit and the flesh contend in us still. The one is moved by the law of God's mercy, to preserve our fleshly life. The other is moved by the law of God's love. His mercy being fulfilled in Christ, His proof of love revives in us the taste for the life, once lost, that we in Christ regain. In mind and spirit, we know it to be our best and only good, fulfilling our hearts with joy now and henceforward, forever.
So Christ said: "I am the bread of life. He that comes to me shall not hunger and he that believes in me shall never thirst." People fallen in fleshly love with one another can forget to lust after anyone else. How much more will those truly in love with Christ hunger for no one and nothing more. If they do, even to the point of indulging or abetting infamous sin, is the only question about their sin? Or is it about the profession of love that is supposed to be the source of their avowed vocation?