I was sad before… I am irritated now

I am often irritated at how quickly people rush to shout "OFF WITH HIS HEAD!" when it comes to priests and bishops.

It is like a flashback to the 4th century North Africa when the Donatists insisted on a Church of the pure alone.  No coversion.  No room for sinners.  No possibility of future changes.  "Get outta here!"

The fact is that we Christians belong to an ecclesia permixta malis et bonis, a Church mixed through with good and bad people. 

The Lord will sort us out.

But this applies to the whole human race, does it not?  Prescinding from religion, can’t we reasonably recognize that people make mistakes?  Sometimes terrible and evil mistakes?

Do those people then instantly lose any right to dignity or compassion?

Some people think so. 

Non-Catholics… non-Christians also get down into a nasty narrow ditch of presumption and accusation.

I am therefore irritated, but not surprised, by something I read from The Catholic League (my emphases):

Catholic League president Bill Donohue today accused the Washington, D.C. newspaper, Roll Call, of smearing Father Daniel Coughlin; the Chicago priest has been the House Chaplain since 2000:
“We have always held Roll Call in high regard, but after the hit job on Father Coughlin, we no longer do. What the newspaper did was classic yellow journalism.
“Yesterday, Roll Call made a big splash on the Internet with its ‘Breaking News’ story on Father Coughlin. The headline, ‘Chaplain Managed Abusive Priests,’ gave the impression that Coughlin either did something illegal or something immoral. The fact is he did neither.
“In today’s print edition, Roll Call discusses how Coughlin ministered to troubled priests in Chicago. For example, it says today that he played the role of ‘caretaker, providing services ranging from room and board to spiritual support and advocacy.’ Coughlin admits to ‘pastoring priests’ and the article mentions that he ‘was not responsible for overseeing the men.
“Now it seems plain that in every segment of the population there will be men and women who go astray. It also seems plain that if the community or organization in which these troubled souls live actually care a whit about them, services will be offered to deal with their malady. Indeed, to do nothing would suggest callous indifference to their fate.
“So this is it. Father Coughlin, before being named House Chaplain—a position he earned after considerable controversy that involved me personally — tended to the needs of troubled priests. For this he should be applauded, but that is not the message that Roll Call wants to convey.
Morton Kondracke, the executive editor of Roll Call, needs to extend an apology not only to Father Coughlin, but to the Catholic community as well for exploiting the issue of priestly sexual abuse.”
Contact: editors@rollcall.com
Susan A. Fani
Director of Communications
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, NY 10123
212-371-3394 (fax)

I agree.  Fr. Coughlin is owed an apology.

Here is what Roll Call wrote:

Coughlin served as the archdiocesan point man for counseling troubled priests, including those accused of sexual misconduct.

But Roll Call tries to leave the impression that Fr. Coughlin was engaged in coddling priest abusers.

Fr. Coughlin had petitioned the release from prison of a priest who had molested children, though that petition was refused.

“I was dealing with priests that had problems themselves and maybe were causing problems on a staff or causing problems in the community,” Coughlin said in an interview with Roll Call on Monday. “And so in that sense I was pastoring priests.”

What have we become if we simply throw anyone who has ever sinned under the bus?

"You SINNED?!?!   OUT WITH YOU into the cooollllld where nobody will ever show you compassion again.  Go DIE now, alone and unloved.  We will prevent anyone from ever helping you get to heaven or preseve any dignity!."

Not only that, we have to spurn and revile anyone who ever tried to help a sinner.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TJM says:

    Father Couglin was my former pastor. You could not find a kinder nor more gentle man. He deserves our support. Tom

  2. Larry says:

    I seldom write to praise you, even though I find your blog great in most cases.. However today I applaud and congratulate you for your views here. I note well the desire by some to cast out anyone who has sinned in some obvious way. Criticism is valid but if our sins negate any good we might do we would not have the Papacy, because Peter was if anything a sinner and look what he accomplished when he “turned” and worked withthe Spirit of God.
    Keep up the good work.

  3. jarhead462 says:

    If we expect Mort Kondracke to apologize, we have a long wait.

    Semper Fi!

  4. Houseguy says:

    I know Father Coughlin personally, and was involved in the whole Chaplain brouhaha back in the 99/2000 timeframe.

    First, Father Coughlin has been a good Chaplain for this House. That’s what I would evluate him on.

    Second, this is being treated as a story because of the way in which he was picked. After Speaker Hastert was accused of being an anti-Catholic by the Democrats after picking a Presbyterian minister from a slate of three, Speaker Hastert went to George, and picked Coughlin.

    It’s true that the vetting process was not as deep, and it was done in response to the Democrats.

    Basically, the Democrats had harped on a question some of the selection panel asked the Priest they had proposed. The question was some thing along the lines of “Do you think members will be comfortable with seeing you in a roman collar everyday.” The Democrats had asserted this was anti-Catholic bigotry by an evangelical Protestant member.

    Well, here’s the reason that question was asked. The Priest the Democrats had put into consideration did not wear the collar, and that Republican member was trying to make a point that he wasn’t doing what his own church demanded. (He could of done it in a better way, but that’s irrelevant.)

    Additionally, as a Catholic, that’s not an entirely irrelevant question to ask of a Candidate for the House Chaplain when many members are hard-core evangelical, some who think we’re going to hell, and a couple who literally think the Church is an evil institution that is virtually satanic. (How do I know this to be true? I have worked for some of them.)

    But the fact of the matter is that Hastert short-circuited the Democrats by installing his own pick.

    The vetting should have been better, because regardless of Father Coughlin’s decency, goodness, and pastoral ability, he would have been bypassed if there had been better vetting.

  5. Matthew says:

    Here, here! The papacy is, in fact, and it ought to be spoken about much, much more than it is (and this is coming from an Anglican clergy convert, mind you) as a sign–perhaps even the ecclesial sign par excellence of the mercy of Christ and the transforming power of His Spirit in the Church. I say this often and I believe it the more I read the narrative. The moment that cock crows thrice the reader–by this point in the story, knowing the character Jesus as he does–is certain that only two roads lie ahead for Peter: 1) suicide or 2)sitting at the right hand of the Messiah when he comes into his kingdom. The latter of course, is conditioned on repentence. Once Peter becomes the greatest sinner in the Gospels he immediately through the sheer grace of God, has the potential–should he turn back to the Lord–of becoming the greatest of saints. Peter MUST be supreme in the Church for if he is not, then grace is not grace and the Lord is not as rich in mercy as the Scriptures make Him out to be. The Papacy is, when push comes to shove, a ministry of mercy and sign to all Christians of the transforming power of forgiveness. This is the rock on which the Church is built and against which blind vengeance and mercilessness shall not prevail. Go ahead and talk about the Papacy in terms that make it always seem likes it about the excercis of power if you must, just do so in a properly evangelical way, the power of conversion.

  6. Paul Stokell says:

    But this applies to the whole human race, does it not? Prescinding from religion, can’t we reasonably recognize that people make mistakes? Sometimes terrible and evil mistakes? Do those people then instantly lose any right to dignity or compassion?

    Would that you were among the bishops at Dallas, Father. Suffering has compounded upon suffering since then.

  7. Most Excellent Sledgehammer says:

    How DARE Hastert be so anti-Catholic!? Surely everyone knows that only Democratic anti-Catholicism is morally acceptable!

    I am saddened to see Roll Call jump on the Catholic-bashing bandwagon. I had thought it a better publication than that.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    Another great post!

  9. Thomas says:

    This is the same Mort Kondracke who, upon the election of Pope Benedict XVI, said on Fox News that he hoped the Church would be more open to ordaining women and changing its old rules.

    This is the same Mort Kondracke who disgustingly used the revelation of Sarah Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy as an opportunity to slam Palin and other abstinence-education proponents.

    Kondracke is a vile man and this latest bile is no surprise.

  10. RichR says:

    I know that many traditon-minded Catholics, myself included, can learn a lot from this post.

    Thank you Fr. Z.

  11. Joe Magarac says:

    This is a great post. I just wish Bill Donohue and the Catholic League wrote and spoke as thoughtfully as Fr. Z writes and speaks. Headlines like “smears innocent priest” and phrases like “hit job” are just as yellow as the yellow journalism they accuse Roll Call of practicing. I think the Catholic Church would defend herself better, and be perceived more fairly, if Bill Donohue and the Catholic League were retired. They are the man with the hammer to whom everything looks like a nail.

  12. ckdexterhaven says:

    Liberals love it when faithful Christians sin. It’s easy for them to cry “hypocrisy”. That’s why libs always get away with the most vile offenses, because they don’t have a belief system to begin with!

    I’m sorry that Fr. Coughlin’s pastoral actions were cast in a sinister light.

  13. momof8 says:

    So it begins… we are sure to see more of this folks. Pray and fast!

  14. Most Excellent Sledgehammer says:

    More accurately: “And so it continues…”

  15. opey124 says:

    I respectfully disagree with you.
    I would want to know what counseling background he had and if he is gifted in that area, then my next question is why move him?
    I do not understand fully what the role is of House Chaplain. But these are things I would like to know.
    It has little, from my perspective, to do with compassion and help for the sinner.
    Knowing from personal experience of the scandal that has occurred, the mistreatment of many of the victims and family and the injustice that still continues and clericalism I would want to know. Not to smear him, but to be given a chance to request someone else.
    This is not meant in a mean way. One could hardly say that trust has been restored or that we should ever give that sort of trust to anyone ever again.
    I would want to know this father and I say this with respect for the priest. I would want to know his background.

  16. Update from the Catholic League

    November 20, 2008

    Earlier today, Catholic League president Bill Donohue criticized Roll Call for an irresponsible story on Father Daniel Coughlin. Prior to becoming House Chaplain, the Chicago priest ministered to troubled priests. Though he did nothing wrong, the story left the impression that he did. Now a so-called victims’ advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), is accusing Father Coughlin, and Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George, of wrongdoing.

    Donohue addressed this new development today:

    “There is no group in America that has made more wildly unsubstantiated accusations against the Catholic Church than SNAP. Now it’s feeding off the Roll Call story, waxing delirious once again. Yesterday it accused Father Coughlin of helping to ‘conceal felonies,’ yet offered not one iota of evidence that the priest ever broke the law.

    “Today it says Coughlin ‘oversaw pedophiles,’ a charge that was flatly contradicted even by Roll Call: the newspaper said that ‘Coughlin was not responsible for overseeing the men.’ Moreover, SNAP’s comment that ‘There’s no evidence that he [Coughlin] called police or warned parishioners about them’ is too cute by half: SNAP has no evidence that Coughlin was ever in a position requiring him to call the cops or issue warnings about anything. SNAP may just as well have said there is no evidence Coughlin ever called the fire department about a church fire.

    “SNAP, which is largely unemployed these days given the reforms of the Catholic Church, is now pointing fingers at Cardinal George. Unfortunately, there are some in the media—like those who covered SNAP’s press conference today—who give credence to this witch hunt. SNAP needs to either put up or shut up. Moreover, it would be great if the media did a ‘60 Minutes’ piece unmasking SNAP.

    “Father Coughlin and Cardinal George are great men who have served the Catholic Church with distinction. They deserve better than this.”

  17. Eric says:

    One need only watch the panel on the Fox Report with Brit Hume to form their own opinions of Mort… May God bless our priests in their ministries.

  18. John Enright says:

    Just as the saying goes: “A good deed never goes unpunished.” Sad. Really sad.

  19. anon says:

    I am often irritated at how quickly people rush to shout “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” when it comes to priests and bishops.”

    Of course only yesterday, many here were expressing similar sentiments regarding
    His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.

  20. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    “Love sinners, but hate their works; and do not despise them for their faults, lest you be tempted by the same.” – St. Isaac the Syrian.

    This was on the parish bulletin of a friend of mine, and I’ve always loved it.

    Another saying I’ve seen at times is, “Hate is not a family value.”

    Christ Himself said that “anyone who grows angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.”

    There have been terrible things done in the name of religion, and it seems to me that when this happens, we’re not talking about religion or spirituality anymore.

  21. John Enright says:

    I guess that the “anon” poster didn’t see the video of the Mass celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.

  22. Matt Q says:

    This is totally underhanded chickensh-t. To make an inuendo against anyone like that is plain filth. Shame on that writer!!


    “I am often irritated at how quickly people rush to shout “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” when it comes to priests and bishops.”

    Of course only yesterday, many here were expressing similar sentiments regarding His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.”

    Comment by anon


    NOT THE SAME THING! The reaction to Schonborn is based on his behavior which was plainly in evidence, not to mention the whiney rebuttal from his office. No one was calling for Schonborn’s “head.” The article above casts dispersion on a priest’s character by insinuating there was something nefarious merely from Father’s pastoral and administrative work with priests whom may have darkened their own character.

  23. Rachel says:

    This theme of self-righteous folks not wanting to forgive, and being scandalized that the Church does forgive, reminds me of “The Chief Mourner of Marne”, a great Father Brown story by G.K. Chesterton:


  24. Michael says:

    I also respectfully disagree. While it may be anti-Catholicism–I do not necessarily see that conclusion–also while it is fine to minister to the lowest of the low (which molester priests are) but there was also coddling by many people in the Church including Bishops etc. Also, I am not sure why this particular priest (from which all accounts indicate he is a good man and priest) would petition to let a child molester out of prison.
    So while I do not agree with the last part of the sarcastic comment by Fr. Z about letting someone go to hell, I do not mind if a child molesting priest is in the cold and alone and dies now–that may seem harsh but I think it is appropriate to not allow these people in our communit as was done in the New Testament. Those who harm little children have millstones around their neck and Jesus clearly speaks about them. There was coddling of molesters by many in our Church and those people did wrong. Of course we must have Mercy and Compassion–but also Justice. We should also have Mercy and Compassion for the victims of these predator priests who betrayed Christ and His Church and all of us.
    I do not necessarily view this as anti-Catholic although perhaps there is an implicit allegation that is not true.
    I am sorry if I disagree or I am harsh as I do not mean to be and enjoy this blog and admit my fallibility as a human and sinner but this is my opinion. Please pray for me. God Bless.

  25. Michael UK says:

    I speak from a UK perspective and as someone born in the 1930s – when Catholic education presented the true and entire Faith. To a greater or lesser extent we all strayed, but, because of our education we retained, deep within us, a sense of Catholicism. Churches were full, not for one Mass but at least three on a Sunday. It was demonstrable that the congregations reflected the whole spectrum of social standing – saints and sinners alike. The modern Church appears now to reflect two extremes – one which does not accommodate the recalitrant and the other which does not, to any great extent, recognise sin. There exists a ‘great unwashed’ which have been denied the opportunity to obtain that deep sense of Catholicism and protect them from what may have been their ultimate fate. I now only witness, in church, a very narrow band of people in the congregations – giving the appearance that all the sinners have been cast-out. And that is the tragedy.

  26. Sacertodale says:

    I also know Fr. Coughlin. He is a very good priest, very humble and says Mass with great reverence.

  27. Regarding the “SNAP” group’s comments…

    Did anyone else notice this: the group faulted Coughlin for “overseeing” these offender priests. Uh huh–and what do they say if the bishop does not have anyone “overseeing” them? You guessed it: the bishop is to blame for failing to exercise oversight!

  28. a catechist says:

    Fr. Z is right–what have we become if we throw sinners under the bus? But I think we need to include the perspective that troubled priests aren’t unique in this regard at all. In the U.S., there’s a desperate need for pastoral care of Catholic prisoners and a desperate need for Bibles, must less solid reading. If we throw priests who sin under the bus, it’s part of a larger pattern, at least in America.

  29. georgeaquinas says:

    I am sorry, but “you protest too much, methinks.” This blog and its comments are full of criticisms and “OFF WITH THE HEADS” of priests and bishops. Look at what was done to Archbisop in regards to the host: “was it leavened, did any of the Host touch the floor;” all based upon a grainy video. How often do we read criticism of Masses that were done wrong—based upon second hand reports and heresay? The commentaters on this blog level direct and often viscous criticism at anyone who does not toe the “the Church went to Hell after Vatican II” line.

  30. Barb says:

    The persecution of the Church is spreading rapidly now. The attacks are becoming more open and fierce.
    Buckle yourselves in, it is going to be a rough ride for all, both clerical and lay.
    Be of good cheer though for we have a promise. “The accuser of our brethren has been cast down….”

    May God’s loving graces flow abundantly upon all His people in these evil times.

    Fiat Voluntas Tua

  31. opey124 says:

    Fr. Fox,
    SNAP is a cross that the Church has to bear with.
    Where one has to read their accusation with much caution,
    their concern still remains for children and the protection
    of them.
    That said, I do feel Fr. Coughlin doesn’t quite fit in that
    category. But after what we have been through, and are still
    going through, their is little trust for our leaders still.
    We are kept in the dark about a lot of things.
    And what would it have hurt to let the congressmen and congresswomen
    know that Fr. Coughlin’s background? I would want to know.
    That is where we the laity are left to come to our own conclusions.
    When there is good communication, people get to shut down rumors and gossip themselves.
    But that is not the way the Church has operated and from what I can tell,
    still operates. This cross was brought on by some in the Church.

  32. John says:

    “What have we become if we simply throw anyone who has ever sinned under the bus?

    Excellent point. Father Coughlin is innocent of any wrong doing and should be treated as such

    “Fr. Coughlin had petitioned the release from prison of a priest who had molested children, though that petition was refused.”

    A very questionable petition. The priest had been found guilty of crimes and these must be a penalty associated with those crime. The sentence in New York was probably very fair and lenient by standards in other states.

  33. Michael says:

    “What have we become if we simply throw anyone who has ever sinned under the bus?”

    I believe I know the answer to this one – Calvinists.

  34. Opey:

    The question about “background” implies there is something questionable in his background and that is not fair. To the extent this priestly activity of Fr. Coughlin — ministering to sinners (oh no! How dare he?!) — is somehow “questionable” and needs to be disclosed, then by definition, every good priest in the world would fall into the same category. I say that because I cannot imagine being a priest very long before you deal with people who have done some awful things.

    Therefore, it would be terribly unfair to Fr. Coughlin to treat him that way. He has absolutely nothing to apologize for and shouldn’t have to be put on the defensive.

    And I don’t know that you or anyone has a right to know about such things. You do have a right to expect priests to be holy and upright in their lives and ministry. But I don’t see that you have any right to know all the ways a particular priest serves people, or who he serves. I visit and correspond with people in prison. I chose to tell you that, but I had no obligation to, nor do you have any right to know their names.

    Michael: if all you have against Fr. Coughlin is that he petitioned for someone’s early release — without knowing why he might have thought mercy was warranted — that’s pretty thin. Maybe the convicted priest merits some clemency, maybe he doesn’t. You may be right, but I fail to see that you are certainly right; so all you can reasonably say is you disagree with Father–big deal.

  35. Michael J says:


    Was that just a generic complaint you have been saving up, because it certainly did not seem to fit. Who on this thread made any statements indicating that a priest or bishop has done anything wrong?

  36. georgeaquinas says:

    Michael J

    Perhaps I was a bit harsh and I may have been saving it up. But I think Anon. made a very good comment when he said “of course only yesterday, many here were expressing similar sentiments regarding His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna.” I am tired of reading comments that deride people that disagree with the “return to the past” bent that many commenters seem to have—not necessarily in this thread of posts. The way to the future is not by returning to the past. Vatican II was a council of the Church and it is Her Teaching. I think that is too often forgotten. I apologize if I was a bit harsh and will climb off my soap box. Perhaps my anti-spam words should have been “think then post.”

  37. opey124 says:

    “And I don’t know that you or anyone has a right to know about such things.”
    Then why say it now? That is what I don’t understand, and maybe something that will never be known.
    From the way I understand it, and correct me if I am wrong, he had a particular ministry. Such as Fr. Pavone and Priests for Life. And it isn’t a matter, for me personally, whether or not he is helping sinners, because we all are, it is secrecy.

    And I stand behind what I said that I would want to know. Not details or names, but his experience would matter to me.
    Maybe I am off base, but when these things are talked about, in a none revealing way, they no longer have the “sensational” effect. And I do not consider your role the same as his. Just as I would not consider Fr. Pavone’s role the same as yours. They both ministered to a particular group.
    That is just my view of it.

  38. opey124 says:

    Fr. Fox,
    I was wrong, you are right. It is none of my business.

Comments are closed.