An impenitent penitent and his political supporters
During a sacramental confession, a priest says something to which the penitent objects. The penitent lodges a complaint. The priest, bound by the seal of confession, cannot defend himself; he cannot say anything at all. If the angry penitent can find someone willing to listen to his complain, it becomes a one-sided argument. We don't even know whether the priest actually said what the penitent accuses him of saying.
Still, in a recent incident described in a Washington Post story, the penitent himself has said enough to give readers an understanding of what probably happened. Ronald Plishka, the penitent, is a self-identified homosexual, apparently (from what he told the Post) active and planning to remain active. If he said as much in confession, then the priest, Father Brian Coelho, could not absolve him, since a valid confession requires a purpose of amendment.
What we have here, then, is an increasingly familiar phenomenon: a Catholic who wants the sacraments, but wants them administered entirely on his own terms—someone who wants the consolations of a faith that he no longer professes. It’s a sad story, and doubly said because Plishka, as described in the Post story, seems to have been surprised to learn that he could not have absolution for the asking, that he might be required to adhere to the teachings of the Church he claims to embrace.
But there is an ominous aspect of the Post story, too. The Washington Hospital Center, where Plishka was a patient at the time of the incident, has announced that chaplains like Father Coelho are expected to “adhere to our values,” which include unquestioning support for homosexual patients. “Our Department of Spiritual Care has reinforced our expectations with this particular priest and his superiors,” the hospital said.
What happens the next time a patient at the Washington Hospital Center complains that a priest urged him to cease his homosexual activities? Will he be removed from his post as chaplain? And if that happens at the Washington Hospital Center, how many months—or weeks, or days—will pass before military chaplains face similar problems?
There will not be a frontal assault on the religious liberty of Catholics in the US. The pressure will be more subtle; the restrictions will come at the margin. But the pressure is mounting, to bring the Church under political control.