Father Kiesler was in his office with Bishop Haas. The bishop had just completed his pastoral visit. He seemed quite pleased. “Father Kiesler, you’re doing a fine job with the school and the parish,” he told him. “As fine a job as the late Father Schmidt.”
“Thank you, Your Excellency.”
“Is there something on your mind, Father?”
“Well, this morning, I read the second chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy.”
“And what did you read that has you troubled?
“According to the Bible, a bishop is allowed to be married.”
“Why then aren’t any of our bishops married?”
“Simple. Celibacy for religious and monastics monks and nuns and for bishops is upheld by the Catholic Church. Bishops must be unmarried men or widowers; a married man cannot become a bishop.”
“Pope Francis is open to optional celibacy. There was a summit of Roman Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican to recommend that he allow the ordination of married men as priests in the Amazon region.”
“That was about 8 years ago. If the Holy Father were to act in favor allow the ordination of married men he would be sanctioning what would be a grievous threat to the tradition of the priesthood and our faith would be diluted in order to have a more inclusive, but less pure, church. Pope Francis, in all good conscience, cannot allow the liberals, who in my opinion are a disgrace to our faith, to influence him into abandoning the church’s discipline of celibacy.”
“He said that he wasn’t in favor of completely abandoning the church’s discipline of celibacy but would be open to allowing older married men to be ordained to the priesthood where there is a pastoral necessity.”
“As far as I’m concerned there will never be a pastoral necessity for married clergy. I found it very reassuring, though, when at the three-day Vatican conference on the future of the Catholic priesthood, Our Holy Father did uphold clerical celibacy as a gift that should be lived out through healthy relationships. Hopefully, that would discourage the efforts of those who want to relax the church’s celibacy requirements for priests.”
Father Kiesler didn’t say anything. He had another matter on his mind. “I know that our church is against abortion and so am I. We strongly believe that human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.”
“Yes. We see early abortion as an attack on a being with a human destiny, being prepared by God to receive an immortal soul. We based this belief on Jeremiah 1:5 which says, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.'”
“I recently found out that in the early Roman Catholic church, abortion was permitted for male fetuses in the first 40 days of pregnancy and for female fetuses in the first 80-90 days. Then in 1588 did Pope Sixtus V declared all abortion to be murder and excommunication was to be the punishment. Three years later a new pope found the absolute sanction unworkable and again allowed early abortions.”
“Fortunately, after 300 years the Catholic church under Pius IX again declared all abortion murder. This standard which was declared in 1869, remains the official position of the church, reaffirmed by our current pope. Abortion is murder, pure and simple.”
“What about exceptions?”
“Exceptions? You mean in the case of rape or incest?”
“Yes and to save the woman’s life.”
“A woman may not be killed in order to save the life of her child, and a child may not be killed in order to save the life of his mother. However, Church does permit morally neutral medical procedures to save a pregnant woman’s life which would have an unintended side-effect of causing a child to die in the womb, such removing cancerous uterus.”
“What about in cases of rape and incest?”
“Rape is a grave and evil sin. The church teaches that victims of rape deserve immediate medical, emotional and spiritual care. However, a child is conceived by rape is just as innocent and precious as the woman who was victimized and that child should not be killed because of the actions of the rapist. And through love, mercy and support, the church will help that woman so that she doesn’t commit violence against her own child through abortion. A child conceived by incest is innocent and precious too. It would be better for the woman to give the child up for adoption than to abort him or her.”
“What would you do if a young woman came to you in confession and tells you that she had an abortion because she was raped by her uncle? What would you say to her?”
“I would remind her that the church teaches that abortion is gravely immoral but I would let her know the church also teaches that God’s mercy and grace are never far from those who have sinned and seek His forgiveness. I would encourage her to be humble and repentant and the Father of mercies will readily give her His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
Father Kiesler couldn’t help thinking that such a response was devoid of any compassion. It sounded cold and impersonal. As he had sat in the confessional booth, listening to the young woman who came to see him the other day, he had asked God to give him the words to say to her who was so overcome with guilt and despair for what she had done. It was a heart wrenching story.
One night when she stopped by to visit her aunt, she wasn’t there but her uncle was. He had been drinking and was drunk. Uncomfortable because of his drunken behavior, she was about to leave when he grabbed her. She fought him but he was too strong. He threw her down on the carpet and raped her. When it was over, he slumped on her. She managed to push him off, get to her feet, pull up her underwear and bolted out of there. A couple days later, when she confronted him about what happened, he got angry vehemently denied it, accusing her of being sick, making up a story like that.
When she got pregnant, she told him but he said that she was lying and that there was no way that it was his because he never raped her. Faced with an unwanted pregnancy, her only option was to have an abortion which was technically illegal in Germany, although women won’t be prosecuted if they undergo counseling and have the pregnancy terminated within 12 weeks of conception. She didn’t want counseling or to wait. She had the abortion but it weighed heavily on her because of her Catholic faith.
When she was finished with her confession, she asked in a broken voice, “I’m feeling so much guilt and hurt right. I really need God but is He going to have anything to do with me because of what I did?”
Father Kiesler told her, “God is a loving and forgiving God. He is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
“Will God forgive me?”
“He forgives, not condemns if we just come to Him. 1 John 1:9 assures us that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. We can trust Him to do this because He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done. God is a forgiving God and once we confess our sins to Him, will have compassion on us and will tread our sins under His feet. He will cast our sins into the depths of the ocean! The apostle Paul said that it is a great blessing when people are forgiven for the wrongs they have done, when their sins are erased.”
He spent an hour talking about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Then, he offered her absolution. After she said, “Amen,” she thanked him and left.
It was the last confession so he left the sanctuary and headed back to the rectory.
“Father Kiesler!” Bishop Haas’s voice jolted him back to the present. “You seemed miles away.”
“I’m sorry, Your Excellency. Perhaps we should make our way to the Parish Hall where a banquet has been prepared for you.”
Bishop Haas smiled. “A banquet for me? I’m touched.”
They left the office and headed to the lunch room where the rest of the clergy, the Sisters, school staff and the older students were waiting.