Questions Answered – September 2019

Love in Context of Abusive Relationships

Question: Am I wrong and sinning if I do not like family members who mistreat me?

Answer: This question actually has two prongs to it. The one has to do with the relationship of volitional to sensitive love; the other with how allowing oneself to be abused or a doormat to other people’s weakness relates to this love and humility.

The answer to the first must make use of several principles. The first is based in the nature of the human soul itself. Love is a kind of co-pleasingness in which a subject goes out of himself to observe the likeness in being to another thing and affirms that likeness. The most basic form is sensual love, which man shares with the animals. The human experience of this sensual approval is what people popularly call liking. I like apples because they taste good. The being of the apple has an affinity with my taste buds and it is sweet, so I affirm it as a good. On this level I can be said to love something, but only in a sensual way. This love is most basic form of human emotion and foundation of all the experience of the passions.

The deeper experience in this approval of the good is in addition to the sensual experience: it tastes good or is pleasing to the eye or makes me feel good. This is the love of the will. This is willed or volitional loving. It is like sensuous or passionate love in that it is the approval of a good. But it is unlike it in the sense that the will approves the good of something in a universal sense and at the direction of the intellect. Man’s character is so varied and deep that there are many different levels on which a person can experience something as a good. This is because though one cannot love something unless one knows it, the intellect can consider everything except God good from one point of view but not from another. In this life even God can be considered something which is not good for man if he is lost in sin because God would be considered as a block to freely committing sin. The intellect can thus lead us to affirm something as good on one level but not on another.

In the example given of the family member, it would be very unloving in the intellectual sense to try to manufacture feelings of love or ignore the tyrannical mistreatment of another because of feelings of love. The will here should be formed according to the truth. Enablers deny the truth of the condition of someone like an abusive spouse or family member for many reasons. They may lie to the boss, clean up from him dirtying himself, or cover up wounds physically inflicted all in the name of love. In fact, the enabler is loving themselves in a disordered way in the same way the abusive spouse claims to love the one abused while hurting him or her. Truth is absent from the relationship and love must be based on truth. Love does not mean any of these things because they are all based on lies. Alcoholics call it denial, which is a form of lying.

Also, if one means by love volitional love, it is certainly possible to love the good of someone by forcing them to experience an intervention or leaving them, praying for their salvation and yet not wishing to be subject to further abuse. One does not have to like someone to wish good for them. Calling the police, pressing charges, and ceasing to live together may be the only way to wake the abuser or addict up to the fact that they are killing themselves.

There are, further, two Christian principles which must be applied. One may love the sinner (in the will) by wishing they go to heaven through conversion, but certainly hate the abuse. Further, if one cannot change the abuser, it is certainly justified in feeling angry for their evil.

But if there is no way to correct the abuser, one may certainly leave and yet forgive them because it is the only way to let it go. This does not mean one has to tolerate mistreatment. So the short answer to your question is that you are not sinning to be angry with your brother or to refuse to be a part of his life if he is abusive. But you must still pray for his conversion and forgive him. In fact, a truly humble person does not enable people who need to grow up or get help. Thomas Aquinas says that though we are all called to humility, this must be based on discretion, and so it would be proper to stupidity, rather than humility, for a person to accept every kind of humiliation.


How to Deal with the Crimes of Clergy

Question: How is a Catholic to deal with evident crimes and cover-ups on the part of the hierarchy in relation to the indefectibility of the Church? The recent clergy scandals have caused many to question whether the Catholic Church is the true Church when it can house so many derelict clergy.

Answer: I waited to answer this question until a year after the greatest clergy scandal in the history of the United States broke because I hoped there would be some wisdom and perspective on it. I do not pretend to have a final answer and there may be good ones which have been put in place during the year which has elapsed. I would hazard a few principles.

Anyone who is not in denial about this scandal has recommended a required investigation into the truth of the allegations made against the Pope and the bishops. This may involve going again into the manner in which dioceses dealt with past accusations. This is necessary but must also be tempered with respect for the fact that many of these accusations are very old and some may be the result of people who are not reliable witnesses, or who are dead at this point. Of course, whatever is proven must be admitted and dealt with. To say this is not really a crisis, or that one must attend to business as usual, is really ridiculous and shows the extent of denial and, in some cases, plain lack of intelligence on the part of Church leadership. As this can only be corrected in the final analysis by the Pope, the Vatican must admit the problem and act accordingly. A caution here, however, is in order. If the Pope should make an administrative decision in the U.S., the Vatican could lose its diplomatic immunity and become liable to civil litigation just as the diocese is. As long as the appointment of a bishop is perceived as merely sacramental, then this would not be an issue.

Some have made the attractive suggestion that each diocese must stand scrutiny of both finances and the moral practices of the clergy. The financial analysis could certainly be conducted by a secular firm with an audit and accountability for expenditures which suggest collusion or cover up. Of course, in the United States, the approved form of corporation for a diocese is that the bishop is the corporation. In effect, the money is his. One would have to avoid trustee-ism and the like in such a practice. The obligation to reform expenditures which have been used for evil purposes would be moral, not legal. Then these must cease. Regarding the moral problems, the case is more problematic. It seems some bishops, for whatever intentions, good or bad, have not sufficiently policed their own houses. The Vatican and the bishops need to realize that the same old procedure applied in practices like “move and promote” will not be sufficient anymore. Secular people may be brought in on this but the final decision must rely on the hierarchy and, if they cannot do it, they should be removed and others put in their place who will demand accountability.

What should not happen is the laity losing faith in the Catholic religion. The Church is indefectible, but not her members and certainly not her leaders. Corrupt leaders are not a new thing in the Church. It has happened before, for example, with “nepotism” in which the popes gave their “nephews” offices like cardinal. The Creed is still the same, the sacraments are still the same, and the structure is willed by Christ. Many times in the past there have been unworthy bishops, cardinals, and even popes. It is true that they have not covered up evils in the way the present hierarchy has, but, then, there were not the media aids available to ferret them out in the past. The young clergy seem to be more determined than ever to live moral and priestly lives because of the bad examples of some of their predecessors. Also, many members of the hierarchy who participated in these sad practices are from the era of the ’60s, which is slowly passing. God has permitted us to suffer these things for a reason.

Reform is always difficult. It is interesting that the Council of Trent called to answer the problems of the Protestant Reformation almost broke up several times, not over doctrine about which there was general agreement, but about the moral reform of the bishops, especially the requirement that they should be present in their various dioceses and exercise their ministry there. No final consensus was reached on this requirement by the Council but many bishops like Charles Borromeo realized it was very important and so began the practice of residing in their sees. Interestingly, in France, the King would not allow the decrees of the Council to be published. It was only Richelieu who required it almost 70 years after it ended. The renewal of the Church in France regarding the hierarchy was always slow until the French Revolution basically did away with union with Rome and produced a revolutionary state church. It was in spiritual reaction to that that the famous recovery of Catholicism was carried out in the nineteenth century.

The laity could deny their financial contributions as a condition for such a renewal. This would perhaps be the best way to send the message that accountability needs to happen. Yet they should not leave the Church. “Lord to whom shall we go?” was a question asked by Peter of Our Lord, and must be renewed in each era.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
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Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Avatar Judith Boggs says:

    Father, you said: “The laity could deny their financial contributions as a condition for such a renewal. This would perhaps be the best way to send the message that accountability needs to happen. Yet they should not leave the Church”. I quite disagree. If our parish withholds its OFFERINGS TO GOD, where are we spiritually? If our parish withhulds its offerings, there will be no priest and no parish. Who will bring us the Eucharist, give absolution to us, marry our couples and bury our dead?
    By all means, we must hold our priests and dioceses accountable, but at the cost of self-destruction?

    • Avatar Peter Rosario says:

      I have been struggling with the issue you raise. Our diocesan appeal is ongoing at this time and I wonder if withholding my annual contribution is the correct action as a way to help bring about a return of accountability and authentic Catholic catechesis. My thought is to discuss with my Pastor and possibly my Bishop, if my contributions can be directed toward specific parish and/or diocesan programs and activities that I believe promote true Catholic teachings. If such “specialization” of monies is not possible, then I will limit funds to the parish and diocese and I will place greater contributions into those Church organizations that promote what I believe is important for the faithful.

  2. Avatar Charles Barrett says:

    The disgraced Priests and Bishops remain in their lairs, without punishment other than the scorn of the laity. Some have been “reduced” to laity as if we too are scoundrels and we will accept them as equals. Nonsense. When is the Church fallen ? When Satan is accepted as equal among peers. It is not okay with me that these deviant wards of hell continue to enjoy the liturgy and protection of the Church. Too much has been wasted on their awful presence. There are mouths to feed and souls to cherish. We should not waste another moment or another dollar subsidizing these evil vermin.

  3. I believe the clerical sexual abuse/sodomy crisis is actually the obvious result of those who have no real Catholic faith. Without faith in what is real and true, one simply acts upon their feelings or what their peers are doing. The fact is the seminaries have been filled with homosexuals and bishops, cardinals, and so-called popes have clearly allowed the abuse/sodomy to go on almost unabated. It probably would have if not for the secular media and courts. Add the fact that the true faith has not been taught for the past 60 years, anywhere, and practically no one, clerical or lay, has a clue as to what to believe.

  4. The impoverishment in the U.S. of authentic, substantive Catholic catechesis – or better, formation in the Faith – is our most grave problem, I believe, and the one most urgently in need of attention. The solution to this problem is not for sale – it is not wrapped and ready to order on-line, next day delivery. Even if it were a problem that money could solve (which it is not), how many chanceries or parish offices have the supernatural prudence and discernment to recognize that “program” and choose it, rather than the latest packaged “catechesis du jour” that is at the top of the charts for this year? We lack well-formed directors and catechists in the laity; and many of our pastors seem overwhelmed with worldly concerns while the spiritual famine in front of them only deepens and spreads.

    “Accountability,” “reform,” “renewal” – all these current terms will be of no account if limited to the external, the natural, even the material symptoms of the problem. The Church is a supernatural reality – and if that dimension is absent in our leaders, or if the members are blind to it, the best result of our busyness will be of no real consequence. We will have swept clean the Titanic, congratulated ourselves, gone to bed content and ignorant of the cataclysm ahead.

    We need to pray. We need to learn to pray! We need to know that we NEED to pray! We need the help, the intervention, of God. We need to grow in the supernatural – in the interior life of grace. We need to understand that Jesus is the Truth, and believing in Him and following Him is a full-time vocation – not part-time, not a hobby – either-or: God or mammon. We need to tend to our souls while it is day: there is a dark night coming.