Fr Fitzgerald with some of his sisters
My last post earlier today has led me to reflect on one of the prophets of the modern Church - Fr Gerald Michael Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paraclete. He was a diocesan priest in Boston, who went on to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and then in 1947 founded the Servants of the Paraclete to assist priests in the process of personal renewal. He also founded a congregation of sisters, the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. He died in 1969. (Biography) Last year he came into the public eye when some of his papers were released, revealing the struggle he had with bishops in the treatment of priest abusers. His attitude was that genuine paedophiles could not be cured, and would be better off out of harm's way.
Fr Fitzgerald founded his congregation to help priests who were worn out, disillusioned, struggling with celibacy, alcoholic or considering leaving the priesthood. His method was one of spiritual renewal to help them rediscover their vocation and to help them with the various problems they had developed. He had no intention of treating abusing priests, yet the bishops began to send abusers to him and asked him to cure them. Unlike the psychologists at the time, having observed those sent to him, he was convinced that, in reality, there was little or no hope of a cure, and asked the bishops not to send these men to him because he could do nothing for them - his programme was not designed for a condition which he understood to be incurable. Some listened to him, but many bishops did not agree - they had been listening to the lastest advances in psychology and were convinced that once the abusers had undergone a programme of treatment, they could be restored to their ministry. Fr Fitzgerald disagreed. They are devious, he told the bishops, they will manipulate you because their condition is deep-seated, a distortion of healthy sexuality which dominates them.
He came up with an idea. He wrote to the bishops and told them that if they wanted to keep sending their abusing priests to him, then he needed to buy an island in the Caribbean. There, isolated from children, and living a strict monastic life, these priests might find some peace in their lives and be safely kept out of trouble. He asked the bishops to help him buy such an island. In a letter to one bishop he wrote:
“May I beg your Excellency to concur and approve of what I consider a very vital decision on our part - that we will not offer hospitality to men who have seduced or attempted to seduce little boys or girls. These men Your Excellency are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization....It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat - but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle master said - it were better they had not been born - this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not? When I see the Holy Father I am going to speak of this class to his Holiness.”
Not only did they refuse, but they regarded Fr Fitzgerald as old fashioned and seriously lacking in charity. They then turned to the experts who were telling them that a cure was possible. We all know what happened then. Fr Fitzgerald was, and is, I think, a John the Baptist. Knowing what was around the corner, God send one who would announce the truth, a truth that had been believed and dealt with for centuries in the Church, but now put aside for pastoral reasons and in favour of the opinions of pyschologists.
Having consulted my friends over at the Hagiographer's Circle, I see the cause of this prophet has not yet been opened. I can only hope it will be soon. We need holy priests like Fr Fitzgerald to help and advise the Church.