In a previous post, I noted how then Deacon and now Father Jonathan Joseph Slavinskas was quoted in The Catholic Free Press as having said that, "Father Coonan [Fr. Joseph Coonan] was a great influence and helped nourish my vocation." Fr. Slavinskas also credited the late Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, who was dissent-friendly, as being an inspiration.
Now Fr. Slavinskas' sister, Amy Whittemore, has left a comment at this Blog taking exception with the legitimate concerns of Catholics who find this troubling. And all the more so since St. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warns, "Do not be led astray: Bad company corrupts good morals." (1 Corinthians 15: 33). She writes:
"It sickens me that people in todays society feel the need to judge a person by who their role models or influences are. How bad is it to look up to someone who was ACCUSED of something that may or may not have happened? Fr. Coonan was an influence to my brother before any of the scandals come out. Who are we to judge others? The only one to judge is God. Father Coonan was a better role model than the ones teens look up to today such as the drug addicted alcoholic singers, actors, and reality show stars..."
Something that may or may not have happened? Fr. Joseph A. Coonan was removed from ministry at St. John's Church in 2002 after allegations of inappropriate contact with children dating back to the 1970's. He was also charged with domestic assault and battery, assault and battery on a person over 65 years of age (his mother), and one count of intimidating a witness according to court documents. The Worcester Diocese found the accusations to be credible and removed Fr. Coonan from any and all ministry.
Father Coonan was an influence on Fr. Slavinskas before any of the scandals came out? And also after. Which is why Amy's brother continued to defend Fr. Coonan after the scandals came out and even now credits him with being "a great influence" who "helped nourish" his vocation. Recall that many men came forward with similar stories of abuse, many involving Joseph Coonan's fondness for watching boys urinate, defecate or masturbate. Is this the stuff that nourishes vocations?
As for judging, Dr. Germain Grisez, one of the finest moral theologians of our time, explains that, "It might seem to follow that love must accept everyone, even enemies, just as they are, and to affirm them even in the error or sin which is present in them. But the law of love does not require indiscriminate affirmation of everything about other persons (see Saint Thomas Aquinas, S.t., 2-2, q.34, a.3). One's love must be like Jesus'. He loves sinners and brings them into communion with himself in order to overcome their error and sin. When the scribes and pharisees bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, he not only saves her from being stoned to death but warns her not to sin again (see John 8:3-11). In a true sense, Jesus is not judgmental, he sets aside the legalistic mentality, readily forgives sinners, does not condemn the world, and points out that those who refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness are self-condemned by the truth they violate (see John 3:16-21). But he realistically recognizes sinners as sinners and never accepts error as truth... Similarly, if Christians' love of neighbor is genuine, it not only permits but REQUIRES THEM both to 'hold fast to what is good' and to 'hate what is evil' (Romans 12:9)."
And again, according to Dr. Grisez, "Vatican II neatly formulates the prohibition against judging others" 'God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason, he forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone' (Gaudium et Spes, No. 28). This norm, however, does not preclude JUDGMENTS necessary for determining that one should try to dissuade others from committing sins or to encourage them to repent if they have sinned."
Sacred Scripture makes this abundantly clear: "should you not judge those inside the Church"? (1 Corinthians 5:12), and again: "the saints will judge the world and angels" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3), and again: "the spiritual man judges all things" (1 Corinthians 2:15), and again: "Let prophets speak and the others judge" (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Not all judging is sinful. This is just common sense. Our legal system is structured in such a way that when a person commits a crime, he or she is tried before a judge and sentenced (judged) if found guilty. Likewise, it is our right (and duty) to judge words, ideas and actions which are not in conformity with the Gospels or which fail to conform to the Magisterial teaching of Christ's Church and to expose these as fallacious and/or sinful. In so doing, we are not rendering a judgment against a person. We are following the teaching of the great Saint Augustine (Bishop, Father and Doctor of the Church), who said: "Interficere errorem, diligere errantem" - kill the error, love the one who errs. This killing of what is sinful or erroneous is necessary if our charity - our love of neighbor - is to be genuine. Otherwise, our love is counterfeit. It is a fraud.
No one at this Blog has judged Fr. Slavinskas' person. But there are those of us who do question whether he has common sense and good judgment.
Father Coonan was a better role model than the ones teens look up to today such as the drug addicted alcoholic singers, actors, and reality show stars? How so? Fr. Coonan, by all accounts, also struggled with abusing alcohol and freely chose to engage in sexual perversion. Which is why the Worcester Diocese removed him from ministry. The accusations, and there were many, were credible for diocesan officials.
Ms. Whittemore writes, "ShrewsburyCatholic, how dare you tell others to be 'cautious' around my brother, Fr. Jonathan Slavinskas. It angers my so much for you to say this. He has done nothing but love and give his life to the Lord. He would never, NEVER do anything to hurt someone. It is people like you who make it so hard for young men to become priests. They struggle constantly with their calling to the priesthood and what others will think of them. They have to put up with so much ridicule that it is sickening. Not all priests or men studying to become priests are gay, or child molesters or abusers.."
But no one at this Blog ever said that "all priests or men studying to become priests are gay, or child molesters or abusers." One has to wonder why Ms. Whittemore is so defensive in this regard. But it is nevertheless disturbing that Fr. Slavinskas would have such great praise for a priest whose ministry ended in disgrace.
Bad company corrupts good morals. A sober warning. And reason to be cautious. If the Diocese of Worcester is serious about furthering vocations, why am I not permitted to discern my vocation? See here.