When it comes to a picture of moral and spiritual responsibility, Catholic priests and by extension, the Roman Catholic Church, for centuries has been seen as the gold standard. Sure, popes have certainly had a colorful past over the last couple of thousand years but the good old community of parish priests have traditionally been seen as the definition of squeaky clean! It has been in the last couple of decades though that priests have begun to get something of a reputation. The Catholic church has had a go of it trying to reassure the flock over the last several years. But hey, if nothing else, it is a reminder that priests are just as human as anyone else and not supernatural beings.
With this in mind, the church has had to eat some crow over the actions of their priests. They have their own sins and have made some pretty startling confessions both privately and publicly. While we will never know what was confessed behind closed doors, there is more than enough to make us all shocked with what has come out in the open. Of course priestly scandal is a hot issue for everyone, but with two thousand years of Catholicism around the world, there have been some really shocking announcements! Here are 15 Catholic church announcements that truly shocked the world.
15. Fr. Angel Perez
In 2012 in the community of Woodburn, Oregon, Fr. Angel Perez was found after midnight wearing only his underwear chasing after (literally) a 12 year old boy who was running for help. Fr. Angel had apparently sexually abused the young boy, in addition to providing him alcohol. The priest pled guilty to this in a court of law and was sentenced to over six years in prison (not nearly enough by most standards). But the priest begged for forgiveness and even asked the boy’s mother to not lose her faith in the church because of his sins. While tales like this have come into the spotlight far more than the church would like, it has led to a lot of confessions much like this by priests, both publicly as well as behind closed doors.
14. Priest Gives First Sermon With Abuser Behind Him
One former priest, Tom Rastrelli (who has since left the priesthood), has spoken out about some of the injustices done to him while in college. Amazingly though, he tells all including the story of his Mass of Thanksgiving (the custom where a priest goes to his home parish to deliver his first mass after his becoming ordained as a priest). In this mass, behind him on the altar, clapping for him and showing his full support was a priest that was supposed to be his mentor. This man sexually abused him through his time in college and seminary. While Tom didn’t want him involved, it was suggested that if he did not, it would be highly noticed. Tom left the priesthood and eventually went on to speak out on the issue of sexual abuse in the church, breaking his long standing silence.
13. Priest Steals Money From Church Contributions
Many priests choose to play up the pious and “above the world” persona in an attempt to cover up other worldly problems with which they may struggle. In the case of Fr. Edward Belczak, who was the pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan in 2015, he had been stealing money from the church. We are not talking about petty cash either. Fr. Belczak stole over half a million dollars from the church! He pled guilty to mail fraud claiming that he always thought the donations he stole were for him and not for the church. Fr. Belczak did far too much to conceal the theft and withheld the donation information to church officials, but he did come clean once he finally had to face the music.
12. Fr. Poole The Shoplifter
We often forget that priests are not supernatural and have the same concerns and burdens as the rest of humanity. That includes the normal, everyday problems and issues, as well as the weird ones! Fr. Stephen Poole was a priest in Southern Illinois that was already on probation for a charge related to shoplifting. Unfortunately though, Fr. Poole wasn’t as reformed as people would think. He was picked-up again at Walmart, trying to steal some butter, a sofa cover and a memory foam mattress! The whole “thou shalt not steal” commandment must have only been a suggestion in his opinion. Or perhaps he didn’t think it applied to the priesthood. He has apparently tried the same thing at a local antique store. Either way, Fr. Poole pled guilty and has a felony on his record now.
11. Pope Benedict Admitted He Got Rid of the “Gay Lobby” In the Vatican
So even in conservative institutions like The Vatican, there are more liberal and progressive factions. Pope Benedict XVI confessed a whole lot to the world through the writing of his memoirs. But Pope Benedict confirmed that there was indeed a small, but very vocal group advocating for the homosexual movement within Vatican City. Benedict wrote that he had successfully dismantled the group by the time he left the papacy. What exactly he means by this is a bit unclear, but clearly he was not at all interested in hearing them out on the issue. Announcing to the world that he got rid of this noisy minority was a bold and very controversial move. Either way, he fessed up and made his point on the issue very clear to the world.
10. Priest Exposing Himself at Convenience Store
Some more freakishly odd behavior of priests the church has had to announce involves Monsignor Aaron Brodeski in Rockford, Illinois. For those that don’t know, a Monsignor is a higher status of priest. They typically serve in more prominent roles of a diocese or in larger parishes. Monsignor Brodeski decided to “display himself” in a very inappropriate way at a convenience store. There was no confusion over what happened as the clerk immediately called police. Brodeski turned himself in to authorities and came clean. This story is further proof that the priesthood can be very stressful and the demands of their lives are very demanding. Everyone handles their stress differently. Unfortunately, when high profile people such as Catholic priests slip up, everyone notices! But like the rest of us, he will move on and try to do better…at least we hope so anyway.
9. Priest Stealing From Retired Priests
So part of dedicating your life to the priesthood is that the church will look after you once you have retired from active service to the church. These retirement communities for priests rely on the contributions of church members, insurance payments and other charities. Monsignor William Dombrow oversaw the retirement community called Villa St. Joseph. Over the course of nearly a decade, Dombrow stole approximately $535 thousand to pay gambling debts and other luxuries that he enjoyed! Shockingly, after admitting his wrongdoing, the diocese allowed him to continue to serve in his role at the retirement home without the ability to manage money. He has pled guilty to four counts of wire fraud, so his days as a free man may be somewhat numbered, although at age 77, that remains uncertain.
8. Pope Benedict Admits The Sins of the Church
Sadly, the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI was overcome by the sex abuse scandals in the priesthood. This scandal has not completely gone away, but Pope Benedict has been highly criticized for the way he handled the issue. Many believed that the Pope covered up these evils and kept clergy in a position to continue their abuse. But amazingly in 2010, Pope Benedict came out saying that he believes it is the sins from within the church itself that led to this dark stain on the priesthood and by extension, the church itself. This announcement went a long way to helping the world’s Catholics begin to come to grips with their faith in the church. When a Pope admits wrongdoing and claims particular sins publicly, it is very meaningful and a very big deal!
7. Pope Francis Announces That Big Bang Theory and Evolution Are Real
Pope Francis has been received by the world as a breath of fresh air to many inside and outside of the Catholic Church. But one of the staples of the church’s teaching has been to discredit the idea of evolution and the theory known as the “big bang” to explain the origin of the universe. Pope Francis himself was originally trained in the field of science and therefore is open to thinking scientifically. He has come out officially stating that the notion of the big bang in addition to evolution is consistent with a divine creator. But with the Pope officially stating the point in public, it creates a new reality for the church from an official standpoint. He has since opened up the Vatican to more collaboration with scientists.
6. The Cadaver Synod
The Catholic Church has something of a dark past. There were certainly times where things got a little crazy in the European church. With a series of changes to the papacy as a result of power struggles in Rome, there was lots of very “un-Christian” behavior in The Vatican. In 897 AD, Pope Stephen VI had the corpse of Pope Formosus removed from his tomb, papal vestments put on him and placed the body on trial for crimes against the church. It was a huge show trial known as the Cadaver Synod. It went back and forth for years until finally in the mid 20th century when the church finally and officially declared that Pope Formosus had not committed any crimes against the church and his papacy was in fact not null. Thanks for getting it all sorted out in a timely manner guys!
5. Fr. Gregory Baum Admits Homosexuality
What a doozy! Confessions are always juicy, but in the case of Fr. Gregory Baum, this one kind of takes the cake. Baum, who is a Canadian theologian and former Catholic priest has been regarded as a prominent voice in crafting many of the progressive views of the church. Usually, Catholic theologians that are priests stay in the priesthood. In the case of Fr. Baum, he opted to leave, believing that those vows were not his ultimate calling. He was married to a former nun for decades, but shockingly has admitted to having a homosexual partner who was also a member of the priesthood! Baum has advocated for the allowance of birth control in Canadian Catholic churches. His declaration of his homosexuality has been a serious point of controversy, but this confession leads to continued progressive conversations within the church.
4. Church’s Persecution of Galileo Was Wrong
When the famous scientist Galileo Galilei made the discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun and that we were not the center of the universe, it was considered as a severe threat to the Catholic church. The church tried Galileo and he was found guilty of heresy. He was ordered under house arrest for the remainder of his life. These horrible crimes against this brilliant scientist were swept under the carpet for centuries. Slowly over time, the church began to acknowledge that these findings were true and allowed his works to be published. In 1992, Pope John Paul II issued an apology on behalf of the church regretting remorse for the way Galileo was treated. This formal apology came several centuries too late, but I suppose it is better late than never.
3. Priestly Silence Can Rock The Legal World
While there is a great deal of wrongdoing on the part of the Catholic church and its priests, it is worth noting that the actual sacrament of reconciliation (commonly referred to as confession) is taken extremely seriously. Priests have heard all kinds of things in the confessional, but more than any other profession, they are bound to absolute silence on what they hear. In many cases, people will confess to crimes and illegal activities. Courts have tried to force priests to testify, but they would rather face jail than break the seal of the confession. In fact, in extremely rare cases where a priest has broken this seal, they are immediately excommunicated and removed from their position within the church. It is extremely cut and dry on this issue with no gray area.
2. St. Christopher…May Not Have Existed
Before the 13th century, it was a whole lot easier to be named a saint in the Catholic church. Thousands of saints were apparently named without any approval by the pope. Pope Paul VI in 1969 had a review conducted of these pre-13th century saints. While none of them had their sainthood taken away (there really isn’t any mechanism for taking away sainthood), several had their feast day taken off the calendar. One of these is the famous St. Christopher…patron saint of travelers. Catholics and non-Catholics the world over wear St. Christopher medals when traveling as a symbol of protection. While it’s not been definitively proven, there is a lot less evidence that St. Christopher existed (or at least as we have come to believe). This was a pretty big oops that most people don’t seem to care about…since St. Christopher medals are still quite popular!
1. Irish Priests Having a Lot of Sex
Apparently for years (even into the 21st century) the priesthood of Ireland was not practicing the vow of celibacy as required by the church. Not only were priests sexually active, but they were very sexually active! Some estimates have shown that as many as 80 percent of priests in Ireland were sexually active. Some priests even referred to their clerical collar as a “bird catcher.” Not everyone believes that priests should have to be celibate (it’s actually a progressive and growing movement) but these guys seemed to be taking advantage of the idea. Some were sharing women and even having relationships with married women! The truth has come out though and with the sex abuse scandals at the forefront of discussion, the world is watching the priesthood’s actions behind closed doors with a microscope!
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