The Roman Church is in the news again with many large dioceses publishing their full records concerning clergy sexual abuse charges. It's all so sad. And yet it is refreshing that they are finally just putting the records out there: at least people will know the reasons why Father X was suddenly no longer a priest.
There are a host of lessons to learn here - but let's take just a small one about church administration. When a clergyman commits a grave sin that should bar him from the ministry - and so many do revolve around the 6th Commandment - the great temptation for the overseer of his ministry (whether a presbytery, board of deacons, bishop, or district president) is to ask him to resign quietly. And so a letter goes out: "I know that you know that I can prove you committed adultery/beat your wife and kids/are drunk 7 days a week/stole from the offering plate: so sign the enclosed resignation letter and get yourself some help."
And it's signed. But then what? What are the parishioners to think? Father X resigned - why? "Personal reasons?" Well, will he be back when he has that sorted out? What happens to the overseer's reputation when Father X insinuates that really, it wasn't his fault you know...bad old bishop/deacons/DP ran me out for no good reason...but I'll just go quietly, martyr that I am.
And then he bides his time, gets a day job, moves a few hundred miles away.....and a few years later he starts to slide back into churchly things....some folks know what's going on, and some don't. So Father X, now Mr. X, get a speaking engagement here and a writing gig there and maybe even a volunteer role in a parish that would never, ever have been offered to him had folks known why exactly it was that he resigned. Would you take advice on marriage from a man who left his wife and kids for a sexual adventure with another man's wife? Would you let an accused child molester volunteer as a lay youth worker? Would you let a raging drunk and gambling addict volunteer to serve as parish treasurer?
And yet those who know what Father X, now Mr. X, is all about feel muzzled and chained because....well, because of fear. Fear of libel lawsuits. Fear of shouts of, "What about the 8th commandment?" or "What about forgiveness?" Fear of confrontation. Fear that the overseer won't back them up.
So these quiet resignations are a very bad thing. Better to be open. Better to say at the very least, "Father X has resigned his ministry because he has failed to live a morally upright life. For the sake of all involved, I'm going to leave it at that. But there is no denying that this is the case, which is why he agreed to resign rather than force me to put him through our discipline/defrocking/removal process."
One would hope that basic decency would tell these former preachers to live out a quiet life of repentance and not try to weasel their ways back into ministry and para-ministry. But the possession of basic decency is not why they left the ministry, I suppose.
Well, may God grant wisdom to all overseers of ministers. It's not a job I would want.