Commentary on a Call to Repentance and Reform (CSA)

Dr. Janet E. Smith has a new article at on the Church’s child sexual abuse (CSA) crisis. It’s her suggestion to the Bishops to deal with the crisis: To the US Bishops: A (Friendly) Call to Repentance and Reform.

Her suggestions to the Bishops begin with an Examination of Conscience. But the examination is mainly a list of what she feels the Bishops should be doing to address the CSA crisis. I think it is misguided to present suggestions of this type as if they were an examination of conscience.

At Mass, while listening to the prayers of the faithful, have you ever noticed that sometimes the prayers are not really prayers to God, but a list of behaviors that the author of the prayers wishes to encourage? It’s not really asking God for anything, but telling others how to act. And the same is true for this examination of conscience. It’s a clever way to tell the Bishops what to do and what not to do.

I must also point out the irony that an examination of conscience is offered to Bishops by Janet Smith, a theologian who teaches that lying is not always wrong, who has severely distorted the teaching of the Church on contraception, and who defends the use of unnatural sexual acts in marriage (including anal sex).

Prof. Smith is part of the problem that she is proposing to solve. Seminarians must be taught the whole truth of magisterial teaching on ethics. Her teachings radically reinterprets Church teaching, especially on intrinsically evil acts. She is a professor of ethics in a seminary, yet her teachings are marred by multiple grave errors and outright heresy. How can the priesthood be holy and free from every kind of mortal sin, when teachers in the seminary teach grave moral error?

Smith has gone so far as to claim that premarital sex becomes less sinful if the couple uses condoms. She has suggested that natural intercourse, without condoms, outside marriage, is more sinful than mutual masturbation (one of the sins mentions in the John Jay report). And her approval for all manner of unnatural sexual acts in marriage is, let’s just say, sending mixed messages to seminarians. Are unnatural sexual acts intrinsically evil or not? If they are moral in marriage, due to intention or circumstances, how can they be intrinsically evil? Janet Smith’s approval for unnatural sexual acts in marriage, and her grave distortions of magisterial teaching on ethics make her the last person who should be telling the Bishops how to address the CSA crisis.

Smith’s fellow teacher in the seminary, Dr. Ed Peters, has taught multiple heresies, including his promotion of Smith’s claim that contraception outside of marriage is not condemned by the Church, his promotion of Smith’s claim that unnatural sexual acts can be moral within marriage, and his own novel heresy, depriving every Pope of the ability to teach, on his own authority, under the non-infallible magisterium. Peters insists that a Pope cannot teach non-infallibly, unless the Bishops agree and teach the same. This claim is contrary to the dogma taught by three Councils: Florence, Vatican I, Vatican II.

The first step to deal with the CSA crisis is to make certain that future priests receive correct doctrine on faith and morals during their formation in the seminary. To the contrary, Smith and Peters are making sure that seminarians under their care are taught heresy, with the claim that these errors are merely a correct understanding of Church teaching.

Dr. Smith is very concerned about “the presence of gay networks throughout the Church” and she has repeatedly hinted she believes the CSA crisis is largely caused by gay priests. Based on the fact that about 80% of victims of abuse by priests were boys, many commentators have assumed that these abusers must be gay. Not so.

Dr. Thomas G. Plante has an article in America magazine: No, homosexuality is not a risk factor for the sexual abuse of children which argues against that claim. He also has published two books on the subject. In addition, there are peer-reviewed medical studies. All of this shows that most men who abuse boys are not gay; they do not have a homosexual orientation.

From my work with children and teens who were victims of sexual abuse I can tell you that it is axiomatic in the field of CSA that most men who abuse boys are heterosexual, not homosexual. The abuser treats the victim like an object, and objects do not have gender. The typical abuser is a heterosexual man, who abuses boys or girls, of whatever age, depending on which minors he has access to abuse. The abuser is not attracted to the victim based on the victim’s gender. The abuser acts contrary to his own orientation, for grave sin causes harm to human nature, sometimes to such an extent that the sinner acts contrary to his own nature.

Smith is part of a growing number of conservative Catholics who blame gay priests for the abuse crisis. But if all gay men were removed from seminaries and from the priesthood, the vast majority of abusers would remain.

As for the claim that there is a secret network of gay clergy, a so-called “lavender mafia”, that is a foolish conspiracy theory. When seminaries attract gay men, it is largely because the persons with leadership roles in that seminary encourage them. The problem is not a gay network, but an increasing number of Catholic leaders who radically reinterpret Catholic doctrine, so as to approve of whatever act they wish to approve. For some, this includes approving of the homosexual orientation, as it if were a work of God, and approving of gay relationships, as if these were a natural result of the orientation. But liberals are not the only Cafeteria Catholics (who pick and choose what they will believe). Many conservatives have fallen into the same type of error. They have their own version of Catholicism, based on their own hearts and minds. And it does not faze them if they are speaking and acting contrary to Catholic doctrine, as long as they are in accord with their own thinking, their own version of Catholicism.

As the article by Smith continues, she accuses the Bishops of sin: “What I am proposing is that bishops admit to the mistakes they have made — indeed, the sins they have committed — in the governance of the Church in respect to priestly sexual misconduct.”

Smith herself is guilty of the sins of teaching heresy and other grave errors. She teaches that contraception is not condemned by the Church outside of marriage. She rejects the teaching of the Church that lying is by its very nature wrong (i.e. intrinsically evil). She has changed her position on abortifacient contraception. She used to condemn it strongly, as a type of abortion. Now she refers to abortifacients as “hormones” and justifies their use very broadly, despite the foreseen deaths of innocent prenatals. She has publicly repeatedly claimed that the use of unnatural sexual acts in marriage is moral. Teaching these grave errors is objectively gravely immoral. So she is not fit to judge the Bishops and publicly accuse them of sin.

If the Bishops with to improve the situation in their seminaries, they should start by removing all teachers whose instruction is contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium. And that would include the removal of Janet E. Smith and Ed Peters from their seminary.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 thoughts on “Commentary on a Call to Repentance and Reform (CSA)

  1. Is it true that a priest who masturbates commits a lesser sin then one who commits pedophilia or fornication, from giving scandal and harming a child physically or a woman spiritually?


    • I’m assuming that a priest is the one committing each of these sins. The gravity of a sin depends on the three fonts. So child abuse is very gravely immoral: there is only evil in the intention, great depravity in the objects, and great harm.

      Consensual natural intercourse, outside of marriage, is less harmful than any non-consensual sexual acts, but when this sin is committed by a priest, he also breaks his vows and causes scandal, so it is more harmful than a layperson who has sex outside marriage.

      Masturbation is, according to St. Thomas, less sinful than fornication: “the lowest place belongs to the sin of uncleanness, which consists in the mere omission of copulation with another.”

      When a priest commits a sexual sin, it is more gravely disordered due to his vow of chastity.


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