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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Detraction is a Sin against Justice

When in doubt, shut your mouth!
I wonder how many people today ever give a thought to the sin of detraction. I've been thinking about it ever since I read Maria Santos Beir's article unnecessarily revealing the past sins of Fr. William Aitcheson, her childhood pastor, when he was a member of the KKK forty years ago. I tweeted Maria about her article and got this reply:
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.
Fr. James Martin promoting the homosexual agenda and same-sex marriage is a perfect example of scandal. Alinskyite Catholic priests advancing liberalism and pro-abortion Catholic politicians like Tim Kaine, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and others  are a few more. Exposing their lies about being "devout Catholics" is a service to the Church. Exposing them is based on public positions they take which result in scandal. I also know the personal sins of some of the priests in the diocese. I once went to Bishop Keating with a friend about one of his priests who has since died.  We could have gone to the press. We didn't. I did not feel there was a sufficient good to be achieved to offset the public scandal. I pray for the repose of his soul.

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.

Okay, now gather 'em up and put 'em back!
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!

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. 


Anonymous said...

You state the priest has repented, but he didn't make restitution, i.e. didn't pay the debt to the victims and didn't apologize. He also lied/failed to tell the whole truth to his superiors in the Catholic Church. Do you know what constitutes repentance (false teaching)? Defending those who lie and don't pay their just court ordered debts is also a crime against justice. Who is going to end up paying this priest's debts but the faithful (i.e. those who donated to the diocese) plus interest and maybe damages?

I think it's understandable that this girl would feel betrayed and unable to trust the Catholic Church anymore (i.e. scandalized) by discovering what this priest did through an internet search of his name. Obviously she admired the priest who educated her enough to look him up on the internet. She originally contacted the diocese and was not planning to do a story and it is unclear what motivated her to turn it into a story. Ambition (what else is there but worldly success after the Church fails you?) but it could be the diocesan response and feeling it was her duty to warn (tell) others since the diocese wouldn't who may have also admired this priest/adopted his views w/out knowing his potential bias--and in that event it is not detraction. Don't the victims have a right to know that cross burner is now a priest in Virginia and can pay the debt to them?

Think of this girl's soul: she bought priest's line, but then all the forces of hell--all her school mates, colleagues at WP etc.--are conspiring against her. She held fast until she found out priest & church were liars. Now she has reason to go over to them. That is scandal.

So many are upset that anyone would attack their pet priest or go to the press and when the church doesn't reveal why the priest is removed Catholics attack each other and many who would never dream of defending someone if they knew all the facts are sucked into taking sides in the (non) controversy. Fr. Cipolla comes to mind.

It's odd that you are attacking the messenger vs. the message--it's not only in matters of sexual morality that the hierarchy is failing to do due diligence. Men can't get into the seminary if they oppose sodomy or women priests, but they can confess to committing a crime in another state and no research is done at all to confirm that what the potential seminarian is saying is true (or is that believable?) and then they are transferred back to their home state after they are ordained--and no-one does any other research there either. Or did the dioceses just figure the court order was incorrect and Fr. Whoever is above the law like they are (and the Clintons, and the Obamas, and the undocumented aliens)? How many other priests does this apply to?

To me it is silly to pontificate what crimes this girl is guilty of when she discovered her pet priest was a cross burner, who didn't pay the debt and lied and may be a secret racist (and what's worse she may be one too just like all her friends at the WP tell her (she is a hater and all faithful Catholics are haters!!)of while defending a cross burner who didn't pay his debt and lied to the church--both need our prayers--but she does especially.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Wow! You make a lot of assumptions here and a lot of rash judgments. Father "may be a secret racist?" Should I speculate on your "secret" thoughts? I know Father pretty well and have seen no signs of his being a "secret" or any other kind of a racist in his actions. No one had a right to the information about his past sins. And I have no idea what you mean when you say people should be "warned" about him. Your comment just further illustrates the damage done by detraction.

Anonymous said...

How old was 'father' when he burned crosses? How old is this girl? Maybe when she is father's age she will have more compassion and understanding for the failings of others like her parents, priests etc. You show much compassion to 'father's' youthful crime that landed him in jail, his lies and failure to pay his just debts (long past his youth), but none at all for this girl's youth. My understanding is Catholics are always supposed to find excuses for others' sins not point them out. Unfortunately, father is the one who committed the crime and it is in the public domain so it was there for anyone to find at any time--just like this girl stumbled upon it. What is the damage done to her--will she lose her soul because of this scandal (what does the Bible say about one who scandalizes one of his little ones)? If father had honestly told anyone that he'd gone to jail for cross burning and skipped town owing thousands of dollars to the victims, he would have never been accepted into a seminary simply because of the potential scandal. It is a heinous crime. If someone burned a cross in your yard and you had children, do you think they'd ever forget? What about yourself? Would you ever forget? Surely father could repent and be converted but he would have been politely told that he could be a monk or a brother in some monastery, but because of the potential scandal he could never be a priest or have any public role in the Church. He had a long run, but the truth caught up w/him. Better now than when he meets Jesus at Judgment.

Anonymous said...

The reporter said father taught as a confedophile. It is not unreasonable to see this as scandalous if one has read the cornerstone speech of the confederacy.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Goodness, when I speak about the South am I a "confedophile" whatever that is? The "cornerstone speech" was an extemporaneous speech by the VP of the confederacy that wasn't even written down except by those who reported it in the news. There is no official text. To make it sound like it was approved and ratified by everyone in the South seems to me to be a pretty big leap. Many leaders in the South did not hold Stephens' views. Would you want everyone to assume you held the same beliefs as ONE speech by Barack Obama or Donald Trump?

Stephens'belief that blacks were not equal to whites was common in both north and south. In fact, Lincoln made many statements to that effect and wanted to send all the slaves back to Africa.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

I agree, Anonymous. Maria is young.

rohrbachs said...

VP of the Confederacy Stephens Cornerstone speech was no one-off - he made similar remarks two weeks earlier. He said that the framers of the Confederate Constitutionhad "solemnly discarded the pestilent heresy of fancy politicians, that all men, of all races, were equal, and we had made African inequality and subordination,and the equality of white men, the chief corner sone of the Southern Republic." Confederate President Davis recognized the lack of tact, but he echoed very much the same sentiments in his explication of the secession. All of the states who gave reasons for their secession cited slavery.

That Northerners may have felt similarly about blacks matters little - they didn't make slavery the *cornerstone* of their government.
Susan Rohrbach

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Whether Stephens voiced those opinions once or a hundred times, it was still only one man's opinion. No doubt there were southerners who agreed with him and others who disagreed. Since he and Jefferson Davis were elected without opposition we'll never know how many opposed his extremism.

Slavery was a horrendous evil; so is war. When did Jesus ever tell his followers that slavery, common at that time, was so evil they should go to war and kill hundreds of thousands of people to eliminate it?