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Is a purification now underway in the Church?

It is a question that hangs in the air after the extraordinary papal visit.

Much to everyone's surprise, the horrific scandal surrounding homosexual abuse of youth by priests was brought front and center to the stage by a courageous pontiff who clearly saw what that scandal threatened.

He didn't mention much about the war in Iraq. He didn't take on genetics and cloning the way one might have expected (given their potential for future harm). There was an indelible allusion to restoring nature (when the Pope used the profound expression that we must "rediscover the authentic image of Creation"). There was also a message about immigrants and minorities and abortion, about unity.

But for the most part, it was not a policy trip, it was a pastoral one -- and that meant taking care of the blackest mark on Catholicism since its institution in America.

The scandal remains hard to believe: at least 5,000 men consecrated to God and granted the authority of presenting Christ in the Eucharist had used that position to take sexual advantage of young people -- mainly boys. That's not just current priests, but since the 1950s.

Still, it is deeply shocking and that so many hundreds of priests could have abused so many thousands of youngsters (one number says 19,000, more than a thousand in the Boston archdiocese alone) struck to the very heart of the Church's legitimacy. Truly, the smoke of Satan entered the Church precisely when Pope Paul VI said.

It is now time -- clearly -- to get rid of every last abuser, and to cleanse the priesthood also of homosexuality in general.

Those with a disordered bent need love and ministry but -- pending deliverance -- should not be wearing a collar.

There is the potential for the scandal to fade if bishops now follow through and if the Vatican takes further strong steps. If a bishop or even a cardinal is included, so be it. We won't judge. We'll let the Vatican.

Clearly, Benedict would like this. And his message is that he would rather have fewer good priests than a greater number who are compromised. On April 15th the Holy Father said: "Only healthy people, only people with a profound personal life in Christ and who also have a profound sacramental life can be admitted to the priesthood. It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests."

How right he is: a cleansed priesthood, a devout priesthood, and a holy priesthood will bring the Church -- and vocations -- roaring back.

Let the purification go full bore.

It was probably the priest shortage that caused many bishops to shield abusers. There is also the old adage that what the Church fears most is scandal.

There was no one phrase and no one gesture that stood out on the Pope's trip. Instead, it was the theme of a devastating scandal and need to purge it -- completely.

It was repeated. And repeated again. Once more also.

It was a theme that will either fall by the wayside or open up a floodgate.

In the hopes of many, it will be the latter.

For those abused by priests are not the only ones who have suffered.

So have millions sitting in the pews as "shepherds" who were actually wolves decimated the traditions.

For decades, faithful Catholics have endured an extremely unbalanced clergy: loyal, dedicated priests on one hand, barely Catholic ones on the other -- and not just homosexual.

It is time for the barely Catholic ones to turn completely Catholic -- Catholic in the definition of Rome -- or leave. Often, those of a disordered sexuality are also hostile to devout Catholicism -- equating it with rejection of their mindset.

A purified Church, however small, is what must now be sought -- and what Pope Benedict so clearly and bravely indicated.

We're not talking about extremists. We're not talking about those who go to the other end of the spectrum, denouncing everyone who doesn't kneel the way they do.

We're talking about those who have diminished the way we see Jesus.

Much of it has come by way of those of troubled orientation.

We get distressed when we get e-mails like this:

"For over seven years Minnesota has been noted has a flashpoint in the debate on sodomy inclusion in Catholic theology. The Vatican has directly stepped in on several incidents in the last couple years most notably when Rome directly intervened on Saint Joan of Arc parish and then when the  retiring archbishop lost control of his Cathedral, a Vatican Cardinal personally intervened to regain authority over this sacred landmark.

Why are openly homosexual groups allowed to control parish halls -- and often much more than parish halls?

In the news this week -- on at least one Catholic website -- is the claim by a former priest and Church critic that a major cardinal who is now retired recruited seminarians as sexual partners. We hate even referring to this.

But the Sixties led to a culture of sexual perversity and many of those who fell into the realm of homosexuality chose to join the priesthood either because it did not matter to them that they couldn't participate in the heterosexual shenanigans that suddenly dominated our entire culture (discouraging those of normal sexuality from choosing celibacy) or because -- in a world where men were all single -- they could hide their orientation.

Admission of a few led to admission of more and then what at times seemed like close to thirty percent or higher in some especially distraught dioceses.

These were men who may well be very good souls but also suffer (as we all can) from an imbalance.

For the moment, the "why" is not so important. What is important is to help these men and to replace them (if deliverance does not work) with those of balanced psychology.

We do not want to sound harsh. The core of Christianity is love. Without it -- and this means unconditional love -- we are not true Catholics. It is not to condemn.

It is to purify.

For a while, there will be a shortage. Such is part of a purification.

Will it go further?

There are certainly other problems. An anti-traditional mindset has permeated the priesthood, often exhibiting itself in disallowance of holy songs (which were replaced by a sterile modernistic style), discouragement of novenas (which were made to seem archaic), prohibition of Adoration, the all-but-elimination of Confession (sin was no longer sin), and rejection of mysticism -- especially apparitions and weeping statues that seem to indicate a "conservative" view and point to problems in the liberal society (as well as the priesthood).

And so with all due respect and a heavy heart and the admonition that we must love and not condemn let us urge that the "purge" first root out perversity and then focus on those who have stripped the Church of its devotions, ruined its architecture, denounced its mysticism, prevented good men from entering seminaries, introduced the New Age, diluted its music, and besmirched the Blessed Mother and saints.

It is time to purge not just those who are in jail or should have gone to jail but also to cleanse the Church of all imbalance.

No longer should the faithful be asked to endure what has occurred since the sexual revolution (and Vatican II).

No longer should feminists control the admission of seminarians.

No longer should seminaries be a home-away-from home for gays.

No longer should dioceses scoff at miracles.

No longer should a diocese be a bureaucracy (where the devout are unwelcome).

It is time to purify. It is time to take the priesthood back. It is not time for a witch hunt.

But enough is enough.

We are the Church of Jesus.

There are a good number of remarkable priests. We meet them all the time. How they survived is itself miraculous -- a profile in courage.

Let us support them and pray for a purification even if, for a while, it means one priest for every three parishes.

The Pope indicated that this is preferable to more priests than ones who are bad.

It is time to move beyond lip service. It is time to move beyond this awful scandal. It is time to shine for the world.

Let them see how the Church handles itself in tough times. Let them see our honesty.

Let only the good and balanced and devout administer the Eucharist.

[see also: In time of healing, let's not forget the priests, Benedict weighs clean-up of priests, Abuse victims who met with Pope sense great hope, and Archbishop says bishops must keep it up]

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