Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Curious Misplacing of Priests and Deacons: A Connectict Case

Funny thing about that story out of Connecticut which I noted yesterday. As my posting says, on Wednesday, Connecticut police announced that they had arrested Timothy Kane of New Britain for alleged threats of violence against lawmakers Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor (here). McDonald and Lawlor are openly gay. The two have been targeted by Bishop William Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport and Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Denver, in these two prelates’ battle against Connecticut legislation to provide lay oversight of finances of Catholic parishes (here and here).

And here’s the funny thing. Now that it has been discovered that the person who apparently emailed a death threat to the two openly gay legislators targeted by Bishop Lori and Archbishop Chaput was a Catholic deacon’s son, no one seems to know much about that deacon or where to find him. Brian Lockhart reports that Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, says he once knew Deacon Joseph Kane, but hasn’t been in touch with him for a few years, and has no recollection of the parish in which Kane served as deacon (here).

Lockhart notes that Culhane identifies Joseph Kane as a “former” deacon. He also indicates that Joseph Kane could not be reached for comment, and that a staff person at St. Jerome Catholic church in New Britain, where Kane had served as deacon, did not know how to get in touch with him.

Curious, isn’t it? A lost deacon. One of the patterns noted by those collecting data on clerical abuse of minors in the Catholic church is a pattern of extreme absentmindedness on the part of Catholic officials, when it comes to knowing where priests with a history of abuse have ended up. Those priests seem routinely to disappear, and church officials often have strangely little information about where they have ended up and what they are doing, once they have disappeared.

Please note: I am not suggesting that Deacon Kane has any history of abuse of minors. I know nothing about Joseph Kane, except what I have read in news stories recently.

What I am pointing to is the, well, slipshod way dioceses seem to have of misplacing the ordained who are or have been under their supervision. When trouble arises, dioceses seem often conveniently to have lost a priest or deacon whom the media wants to interview.

It’s mysterious that this appears to have happened in the case of Deacon Joseph Kane, since he is, after all, a deacon, an ordained member of the church. If Brian Lockhart is correct in noting that the executive director of Connecticut’s Catholic Conference, Michael Culhane, refers to Kane as a former deacon, then it appears Culhane’s sacramental theology is surprisingly off-key, for someone holding such a position of authority in a Catholic diocese.

Catholic sacramental theology has long maintained that those ordained priests and deacons are always priests and deacons. The old way of talking about ordination to the priesthood and diaconate spoke of ordination as placing an “indelible” mark on the soul of the one ordained. A mark that cannot be washed off . . . . Ever . . . .

Once a priest, always a priest. Once a deacon, always a deacon.

Joseph Kane cannot be a former deacon, according to Catholic theology. He may well be a retired deacon, but a deacon he remains, a member of the select rank of the ordained in the Catholic church, its ruling elite, from which one can never “resign,” in the sense that one may remove the indelible mark inked by the sacrament of ordination on his soul.

No, the church can never disown a priest or a deacon, such that a priest or deacon becomes a “former” priest or deacon. Which is one reason the curious ability of dioceses to lose priests or deacons when it appears convenient to do so has mystified those seeking to track priests who are reported to have abused minors.

It seems the church proudly claims its ordained members when something is to be gained by doing so, but quickly distances itself from the ordained when it serves the church’s interest to do so. In this case, one must lament the inability of Deacon Joseph Kane to be found and interviewed, because the discovery that the son of a Catholic deacon is the one who has allegedly made a death threat against two gay legislators underscores in the most dramatic way possible what I’ve been saying day after day recently about the dangerous firestorm two Catholic bishops have lit by fanning flames of anti-gay rhetoric.

Bishops rule over and set the tone for those next in command in the church: for priests and deacons. And priests and deacons set the tone for those under their command, the humble laity. That tone needs to be determined first and foremost by the gospel and the values of the gospel, if bishops hope to fulfill their pastoral charge and lead the flock in the direction they are called to take it, towards Christ rather than away from him.