I am sure I am going to burst many a bubble with this post but I am–note I said am–present tense–a deep admirer of Father Thomas D Williams, who recently admitted fathering a child out-of-wedlock and is now quietly at home with his family while battling cancer. While, in a sense, what he did or did not do victimizes us all in that what hurts one hurts all, yet in a far greater sense, unless he molested minors or coerced women in the confessional, what he did really should only make us sad for all of those involved.
At the outset let it be said that much of this story has not been yet dissected and analyzed. I may change or at least modify my views if it is discovered that he has been guilty of illegal activity, and that could certainly still occur. Senior Correspondent John L Allen of NCR (National Catholic Reporter), stated that “rumors” are afloat that Williams has had numerous affairs and encounters, in some cases possibly with his students, and if so the above picture changes and quickly.
But, for now, what we know positively is this only–Father Williams is a biological father as well as a spiritual one. He is indeed a “daddy” in several more ways than one. He has at times removed more than his Roman collar in the presence of at least one or more attractive women, and not for purposes of doing the laundry either. And the immediate cry from the blogosphere, ad nauseam and per usual, is “the Church is at fault for insisting on priestly celibacy.” But are they really? Maybe–or maybe not. Still we do know that the gun was not placed to his head (either upper or lower) when he took those vows and began to follow publicly the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
One thing deeply disturbs me though. I have yet to hear or read about anyone attacking the Church for her insistence, on the parts of priests or religious, to follow the other two “counsels” here, at least in the above-named case. I suspect some may have done so or yet will, but those comments or observations are not what hits the news in a titillating case such as the dashing Father Williams. I wonder though why not?
What if, instead of focusing on “celibacy” as the culprit, we were to take this situation and use it to recognize what we do to priests, nuns, other religious, and for that matter those of other faiths who are thrown into the public eye, kept there mercilessly, and are subsequently bull-dozed as a result when our seduction of them is finished?
Truth be told, part of me, or you, may be just a bit jealous of the good Padre. Not at the moment, to be sure, but exactly who would not wish to look like a contestant for “Dancing with the Stars,” write 14 successful books, live in the Eternal City, and yet spend my life travelling to-and-fro for my next and bigger appearances on international television year upon year? I too might eventually neglect the Liturgy of the Hours too sometimes if I were being wined and dined by the likes of Katie Couric, and it might swell my head more than I could publicly admit if I knew she was referring to me as “Father What-A-Waste.”
And here is what is sad and perhaps even tragic about all of this attention and living next to, but not participating in, the glitz and glamor our world handily provides almost all other men or women with such outward physical attributes. It is like shopping all day, every day, in Macy’s but going home to my Wal-Mart furnished apartment. Can it be done? Yes, and there are a handful of heroic souls who do so. But not many of us would slip by completely unscathed without at least a passing sense of wonder and curiosity about how the other side lives.
That is, at least in part, why I believe Father, and many others in such situations, fall prey to such temptations. While it is true he admittedly broke his vows (and such admission by the way takes more courage than most people, priest or parishioner, married or single can muster in a lifetime), it was the other two evangelical virtues that are probably far harder to follow in a case such as his and likely led to his (hopefully) temporary downfall. Poverty says “nothing is mine.” Nothing. Jesus told us that the rich young ruler, who incidentally was chaste and obedient to literally all of the Ten Commandments “from his childhood,” would have a more difficult time entering the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Hard words from our kind Lord, especially for someone who wanted to follow Him and who sought Him out to offer his services. But he did not understand poverty of spirit. Stronger than this, though, or perhaps even coming directly from this, was and is the issue of undying obedience to Christ and the Church every single minute while the world watches, lying in wait to trip us up. How strong and consistent of a prayer life could possibly be occurring in the life of someone who spends their time jet-setting across the continents, working probably 20 hour days 7 days weekly, having women (and men) constantly throwing themselves at him with less than spectacular motives on likely a daily basis, and then watching, as we all do, the biological clock slowly tick away at his chances for another life or lifestyle ? I would venture a guess that he is somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years of age by now, and that means in 10 short years he will be 50, then soon 60 and onward it goes. Life is fast, and handsome is never forever.
I am also not sure what type of cancer he has, but add that word into the picture and the term “mid-life crisis” has a very possibly much more ominous meaning than ever before in his own life experience. And, wrong though it is, the words “last chance” begin to dance around in his brain. And so he gives in.
What we have done by our over-infatuation with this “pretty priest” is to set him up for huge and overwhelming occasions of sin. Now that he has indeed fallen, he will likely soon be mostly forgotten except for the occasional cocktail jokes and atheist websites. This for a man whose ambition was perhaps to be one day a Cardinal or even Pope. Celibacy did not do this to him. Misplaced hero-worship did. And again I do not take away from the fact of his personal responsiblity here. He has some. Plenty, in fact. He made poor choices and is now paying deeply for them. But 1 John 2:15-17 tells us that 3 things, which correspond very closely to the above-mentioned evangelical counsels which very cleric, and in fact every Christian, are called to follow, are each part of the issue and to reduce it to the celibacy question is to miss this point entirely in my view.
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Verse 16 pretty much sums it up. Losing chastity (desires of the flesh), poverty (desires of the eyes) and obedience (pride of life) each work in tandem to kill the soul. And Father Williams’ very eternal soul is at stake to be sure. We collectively turned him into a superstar, throwing him meaningless accolades while placing him into occasion after occasion of sin, and then rejoice that he finally got “caught.” And now we can throw him away. And we too can find a new “victim.”
Yes the people of God and our Church are surely victims here–but so is he. And to the 50% of clergy addicted to porn, and those of us, me included, who destroyed our Christian marriages or states of life due to infidelities, sexual or otherwise, which we can never take back once committed, maybe we should put down our stones and get on our knees instead.
Have you prayed for your priest today?
- TV Priest Admits Sex Charges (abcnews.go.com)
- Another high-profile Legionary priest caught in scandal as Fr. Thomas Williams admits to secretly fathering a child… (ncronline.org)
- Legion admits it knew of priest’s kid, did nothing (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Scandal-plagued Catholic order rocked by priest’s affair (vancouverdesi.com)