A priest was recently placed on administrative leave in my own Diocese of Charleston. Fr. Raymond Flores, parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church in Aiken, South Carolina, was discovered to have been exchanging explicit images with a minor on Grindr. Because the minor had listed himself on Grindr as age eighteen, however, Fr. Flores will not be charged.
It was subsequently revealed that in 2014, Fr. Flores was removed from ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn for an “inappropriate relationship with a consenting adult.” According to a statement from that diocese, “after years of counseling and discernment, Fr. Flores expressed to us that he wished to return to active ministry, which required that he accept celibacy.”
On St. Mary’s website, the church pastor, Fr. Gregory Wilson, wrote:
Although Father Raymond’s past behavior was clearly inappropriate for a priest, albeit not unlawful, it is now an internal personnel matter. I hope and pray that you will respect the privacy of and be in prayer for all involved in the incident, as well as for me and our entire parish and school community.
Fr. Wilson’s statement echoed a Diocese of Charleston press release, which stated: “Although Father’s past conduct is clearly inappropriate for a priest, albeit not unlawful, it is now an internal personnel matter.”
There is one element of truth in all this: The minor’s privacy, and that of his family, should be respected. Neither his name nor any further details of his identity should be sought after or divulged. But in several other respects, these statements are misguided. Their guiding theme is privacy, but the Church has a responsibility to transparency that must not be ignored.
The first step should be greater forthrightness about the gravity of Fr. Flores’s transgressions. The declaration that his actions were “inappropriate…albeit not unlawful” is a misleading understatement. Sexual sins by clergymen, who are consecrated to fulfill in their persons Our Lord’s purposes, are forms of sacrilege. They thus grievously harm the Body of Christ, the Church. And “inappropriate” barely begins to describe the irreverence of a priest consecrating the sacred Body and Blood, hearing confession, and administering the other sacraments after sharing obscene images on social media.
Read more at First Things.