Life as a Catholic in the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts can be a bitch, sometimes. Here we are waking up to news that another priest, Rev. Robert Canole, has resigned from his pastoral duties in disgrace.
We look up to our priests and count on them for inspiration. We go in a confessional with them and spill our deepest, darkest faults. Then some of those priests let us down hard.
According to my local paper, The Eagle-Tribune, Conole won’t be coming back to Sacred Hearts Church. My old friend Paul Tennant wrote:
Conole’s resignation has been accepted by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. He was investigated by the Archdiocese of Boston for “serious adult-related misconduct,” according to a statement read by the Very Rev. Arthur Coyle, episcopal vicar for the Merrimack Valley Region, during weekend Masses at Sacred Hearts.
He left in May under a shroud of mystery. Rumor had it he was dealing with anger management issues. At the time, I wrote a post encouraging people to send him cards and letters of support like they did when my former pastor, the late Dennis Nason of All Saints, took a leave of absence to confront his alcoholism.
I also wrote something when Father Keith LeBlanc, a former priest at my parish and most recently pastor of St. John’s across town, left in a hurry after it came to light that he was being investigated for mishandling church dollars. It turns out he spent $83,000 of church money on porno movies and got three years of probation after pleading guilty to larceny. That one really hurt because LeBlanc led my RCIA group the year I converted.
But I still believe in what I wrote at the time, which is that everyone fails and has a shot at redemption.
Sometimes I wonder how I can stick up for these priests. After all, how much can a Catholic take? These are the same priests who tell us how we should live, how we should vote and how we should treat others. Theoretically, I should be mad as hell.
And yet I’m not angry. Sad, yes. But not angry.
I still believe what I said before, that as human beings, we all fail frequently and have a chance to set things right.
I’ve written about my own failures a million times in this blog. I’d be a hypocrite if I ripped into these priests. I’d probably feel differently if I was the victim of a pedophile priest. But I’m not.
In the 11 years I’ve lived in Haverhill, Mass., I’ve seen the best and worst sides of the Catholic Church.
On the ugly side, there were priests who played a part in the sex abuse that ultimately blew up in Cardinal Law’s face. There are parishioners who get so caught up in church politics that they forget what they’re truly there for, and they make life miserable for others. There was Father LeBlanc.
On the other side of the spectrum was Father Nason going public about his alcoholism, inspiring us all with his comeback. And, most importantly, there are all the people who have found their faith in recent years regardless of whatever ugliness is in the headlines, including me.
We all fail, no matter what our position in life. The important thing is what we do with our failures.
I hope these disgraced priests find a way to turn their experiences into something we can all learn and benefit from. The jury is still out on whether that will happen.
But as I keep saying, my faith is in God, not the humans who serve the church for better and worse.
That’s what keeps me steady in moments like this.