|When in doubt, shut your mouth!|
I never got the sense from your newsletter that you were opposed to exposing fellow Catholic sinners.Ah, nothing like trying to change the subject to deflect attention from yourself.
Maria is somewhat right, actually. I started the newsletter twenty years ago - to expose scandals in the diocese in order to suppress them. Why? Because scandal threatens the faith and can lead people into sin. The first action of Les Femmes was to get the vicious dissent group, Call to Action, out of our parishes. It took several of us being arrested and going to court before a judge, but we did it and Bishop Keating banned from parish property all groups agitating against the faith.
I have never and never will expose a person's past, repented sins without their permission (e.g., post aborted women). I make no apologies for exposing the public dissent and heresy of those claiming to be faithful Catholics while they undermine Church doctrine.
But let's begin by reviewing the definitions of detraction and scandal from Fr. Hardon's Pocket Catholic Dictionary to understand exactly what we're talking about:
- Detraction: Revealing something about another that is true but harmful to that person's reputation. It is forbidden to reveal another person's secret faults or defects, unless there is proportionate good involved. The fact that something is true does not, of itself, justify its disclosure. Detraction is a sin against justice. It robs one of what most people consider more important than riches, since a person has a strict right to his or her reputation whether it is deserved or not.
- Scandal: Any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong. Direct scandal, also called diabolical, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated than positively desired.
I spoke about the Les Femmes newsletter with Fr. John Hardon, S.J. twice and he affirmed what I was doing and said, rather ruefully I thought, that when those in authority aren't doing their duty to stop scandal, those who don't have the authority must.
But exposing scandal and committing detraction are worlds apart.. Exposing scandal can prevent sin; committing detraction is sinful in itself and often gives scandal, a second sin.
Now let's look at Maria's exposing Fr. Aitcheson's sins of forty years ago when he wasn't a practicing Catholic. Were his actions serious and despicable? Absolutely! And he experienced some serious consequences as a result. He was jailed. Later he repented, changed his life, and entered the priesthood. Like St. Paul, Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. Augustine, and a host of others, he made a sharp turn away from the dark and towards the light.
I don't know why Father never apologized to the Butlers or paid the court's assessed fine. Neither does Maria since she never spoke to him. A case can certainly be made that someone knowing these things could go to Father privately and urge him to make the situation right. That's what Jesus told believers to do -- go talk to your brother privately about his sin and urge him to repent (Matthew 18:15). Maria did not do that. She says nothing about calling Fr. Aitcheson or writing a letter or trying to meet with him privately. There is no evidence from her article that she ever attempted to talk privately to Fr. Aitcheson as a first step. Nope! She called the diocese first to confirm the dirt she had on him. And when she realized there was a story, she tells us, she went to Fr. Aitcheson's parish -- during a Mass no less. Like a typical reporter she was trying to entrap him and doing it in a very public setting. But darn! He was already gone.
And then she went public.
Does that sound like a spiritual sister concerned for a fellow believer? Or a cynical reporter who cares only about the story no matter how much damage she does?
Was Maria's revelation of Father's sins necessary? Was there a "proportionate good" to be achieved? Not that I can see! No one has even suggested that Father was secretly making bombs in the rectory or building crosses to burn on someone's lawn or that he was a threat to anyone and needed to be stopped to protect the public safety. No one was safer because Maria exposed Father's sins. and the inevitable outcome of her actions was to destroy Fr. Aitcheson's reputation.
But there was a second outcome that could be anticipated -- to hurt Holy Mother Church. And that is what Maria has obviously done. Go to the articles about this issue and read the comments. You will see many blasphemous attacks on the Church and insults against the priesthood. You will also find many people sinning by rash judgment, slanderous assumptions, gossip, etc. All of this can be piled up at Maria's doorstep.
So what is the "proportionate good" that Maria accomplished? There is none! Not only did she damage Fr. Aitcheson's reputation and his priesthood. She gave the enemies of the Church ammunition for the attack.
Philip Neri once gave a woman spreading gossip this penance: to take a pillow to the top of the church bell tower, rip it open and shake out the feathers. Then he told her to go gather them all up again. Of course she couldn't do it. Neither can Maria gather up the feathers of her detraction and its on-going scandalous effects. And it hasn't stopped yet. I got an email last night from a reporter doing a story for the National Catholic Reporter wanting to talk to me. God help us!
|Okay, now gather 'em up and put 'em back!|
Can any good come out of this? Of course! God can always bring good out of a bad situation. Perhaps Fr. Aitcheson's dark night of the soul will be a time of purgation united with Christ on the Cross. Perhaps Maria will grow in humility and, in the future, think twice before she chooses a scoop over her obligation as a Catholic and under the 8th Commandment. Anything is possible by the grace of God.
Let us pray that Jesus, through Mary, will pour out light and grace on this tragic situation and bring Fr. Aitcheson back to active ministry soon. I urge readers to write to Bishop Burbidge requesting that outcome. You can mail him at Catholic Diocese of Arlington, 200 North Glebe Road, Arlington, Virginia 22203. You can also send Fr. Aitcheson Mass cards, letters of support, etc. c/o the Vicar for Clergy at the same address. And pray for Maria. I doubt she had any idea what a storm she was stirring up.