Kevin Lee, RIP

Kevin Lee, RIP

The news of Kevin Lee’s death distressed me. We never met, but we exchanged e-mails over the last 18 months, and I prayed for him often.

I was surprised by my reaction. It makes me think that when you pray for someone — even a stranger — you must enter into some sort of communion. Perhaps it’s a prefiguration of the communion of saints. I hope and pray that Kevin joins that heavenly communion.

Kevin and I started corresponding because of this blog. I blogged about him when he so spectacularly hit the headlines — posts which lacked charity, I regret. He commented in kind, but this started private correspondence which was less critical and more constructive.

Kevin became a blogger himself, and broadcast many of his experiences and thoughts. Hence, there is nothing in this which was not also related elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s a breach of privacy to reproduce:

You remind me so much of myself when I started out & I never thought or imagined I would leave ministry. I know that celibacy for me was an incredible burden that I struggled to carry honestly for all the time I did. My wife was my first lover. I have been racked with guilt about leaving ministry although I continue to pray the office & attend daily Mass although barred from receiving Holy Communion which is a greater penalty than my financial deprivation. I just trust and pray that God will one day take the reins of His Church and give them to a Pope who will serve God’s people rather than the institution. The whole rest of humanity who have turned their back on Sunday worship could not all be going to hell. God seems to be more merciful than we are as priests.

I bought Kevin’s book, which gave me some insight into why he became so embittered. He was privy to terrible evil, which seemed to be tolerated by the hierarchy. I can see why he spat the dummy. I can imagine myself doing the same.

It is not, however, a book I would ever endorse. I was scandalised not only by the evil and sacrilege which scandalised him, but also by his own betrayal of confidence, and more seriously, his profanation of sacramental confession. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

His most recent blog post — written 12 days ago — was ‘If I had not broken my vows, Michelle Lucilla Lee would not exist.’

I wrote a blog recently in which I stated that the best thing in my life (my daughter Michelle) would not be here if I had been faithful to my vows.

I was immediately reminded of the ‘whisky priest’ in Graham Green’s The Power and the Glory. Towards the end, when the fugitive priest is arrested, he prepares himself for death:

He knew it was the beginning of the end — after all these years. He began to say silently an act of contrition, while they picked the brandy bottle out of his pocket, but he couldn’t give his mind to it . . . He tried to think of his child with shame, but he could only think of her with a kind of famished love — what would become of her? He couldn’t say to himself that he wished his sin had never existed, because the sin seemed to him now so unimportant — and he loved the fruit of it.

The whisky priest, in the end, is redeemed. Greene excelled at portraying the “appalling mercy of God.” I pray Kevin, too, is redeemed. God bless him. God bless Josefina and Michelle. God bless everyone devastated by that terrible typhoon.

24 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Nov 12, 2013

    I also read his book and can understand how the frustration of battling evil eventually wore him down. It just got too hard. I do however know that there are good and faithful priests.

    I do not want to sound pessimistic, but let us not even begin to believe that the problems within the Church are over. At the crux of the pedophile scandal was a bastion of clericalism – on the left and on the right – which still exists and which many still protect. There are still some sacred cows that cannot be touched.

    Put on your armour because the battle has only just begun.

    • Monica O'Brien
      Nov 28, 2013

      anyone who believes that sexual abuse in the church is a thing of the past is living in a fool’s paradise. Only recently a Canadian Police operation caught 350 men in their net. Also, The police rescued 6 children – the tip of the iceberg. The men charged possessed child pornography. Of the 350 men charged about 60 were Australians, including a 57 year old priest and a 73 year old retired priest. I since had a conversation with a priest, a decent man, who appeared to have trouble connecting the dots and seeing viewing child pornography as abuse of children. This priest said he had been told once by a police officer that men who view child pornography do not, as a rule, go out and sexually abuse children. So I can only surmise that, in this priest’s mind, there is no real harm in it. Even if this is true, to say the least – how naive. Besides the psychological damage to the man involved in this activity, if there was no market, there would be no children so horrifically abused by the producers of this despicable material.

  2. anonymous
    Nov 12, 2013

    As a parishioner of Fr Kevin’s church, I can share that he was a brilliant and inspiring leader in our community. He taught scripture to all year 2 children in our public schools to help them understand reconciliation. They all loved him, and were always recounting his funny stories. He had a unique way of sharing the scriptures. Our family misses him.

  3. Fr Mick Mac Andrew
    Nov 12, 2013

    Your honesty Fr John, and humility, have answered so many questions for me personally about Priesthood in this ‘day and hour’ of how it is now a spectacle rather than what it was intended for, a blessing on people. Your public confession (not the capital C one which undoubtedly you have attended to in the dignity it affords each of us who avail of it) in this blog will surely help the priesthood be restored. And, as fruit of the “appalling mercy of God” it will offer to the Lee family a gift of hope they may otherwise never have had. It is truly wonderful, we confess and God showers mercy and restoration occurs.

    • Fr John
      Nov 13, 2013

      Goodness Fr Mick. Thank you, but this comment almost shames me! Would that I was such a reformer.

      I must confess, one of the strongest and most frequent misgivings which harassed me in my seminary years is that I would bring myself, and the priesthood, and the Church, into disrepute. Who am I, to step forward for ordination at a time when the Church needs saints — heroic men and women in all states of life — not lukewarm Pharisees like me?

      I still think that. The Church needs saints. The world needs saints. But my understanding of saints has changed. I used to think the saints were perfect, and never sinned. Now I think saints are sinners, who are perfectly contrite, until the next time they sin and start again, and start again, and start again. So there’s hope for me yet. Hope enough to go through with ordination, and rely on God one day at a time.

      You and I can at least agree on your last claim, which is the most important. “It is truly wonderful: we confess, and God showers mercy and restoration occurs.”

      • Cathy
        Nov 13, 2013

        Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. This is a great quote I think we can all relate to!
        God Bless you Fr. John and Fr. Mick Mac Andrew

  4. Cathy
    Nov 12, 2013

    Tragic devestation in the Philipines, may God give them comfort and peace. I wonder if Kevin Lee was suited to the Priesthood to begin with, it seems his formation and understanding of the faith regarding the priesthood was somewhat clouded. What are the formation criteria concerning celibacy within the seminary life may I ask Fr John?

    • Anonymous
      Nov 13, 2013

      Cathy, I think Fr Kevin Lee had a better understanding of the demands of priesthood than most of his generation. He was known as a good and orthodox priest and well respected. His downfall was a surprise to those who knew him, As I mentioned earlier and as Fr John wrote, he was hugely overwhelmed by the evil he saw and the cover-ups within the Church. It is not our place to judge his burdens.

      • Cathy
        Nov 13, 2013

        Anonymous, I do not think he did quite understand what is required of the priesthood actually by what I have read about him, especially reagarding the seal of confession. However I am sure he understood the struggles of the priesthood better than I would. I mean to say these things with no ill will against him, but it seems clear that he became bitter toward the Catholic Church because of his own struggles. Breaking prietsly vows are no better than a person who breaks their marriage vows. I am sorry he did not seek the guidence needed regarding his struggles.

    • Anonymous
      Nov 13, 2013

      I think Fr Kevin was concerned with the culture that is prevalent in the Catholic Church. As a long time Church worker it is something I have experienced at close hand. I still believe in God and His Church but it needs purification.
      The cultural problems have been highlighted in the just released report of the Victorian Government’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

      Committee member Andrea Coote said the committee found current Catholic leadership saw child sexual abuse as a short-term embarrassment and not as a reason to question their own culture. ”

      Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/inquiry-into-child-sex-abuse-slams-catholics-recommends-sweeping-change-20131113-2xfdg.html#ixzz2kTu1jft3

      • Cathy
        Nov 13, 2013

        The Catholic Church was infiltrated by those who seek to destroy Gods Church on earth. They will fail. The Catholic Church will always have Christ teachings in place without bending to the will of the secular or trendy fads of certain eras. Weed out the rot that do not live by Gods law and bring them to justice, and strengthen the practicing Catholics who live by Church teaching instituted by Christ.
        Practicing Catholics are those who attend Sunday Mass every week, frequent confession, do not use contraception, oppose abortion and IVF procedures as well as Euthanasia, oppose alternative and sinful lifestyle such as homosexuality, de facto relationships and infidelity, creating a better and safe environment for their children. We all struggle at some point in our lives, however if we live by Christs Church teaching in sincerity it encourages a closer relationship with Jesus. And in this closer relationship with Jesus we will be an example to those who have become dismayed with the Church and maybe they will question the hype created by he media to victimise the Church as an evil institution, when it is the contrary. It helps many people struggling with problems relating to secular society and its wayward ways. In order to understand Catholicism one must understand in detail why we believe what we believe.

      • Fr John
        Nov 13, 2013

        I hear you Cathy, but I don’t think we should conflate “practising Catholic” with the state of grace. They’re quite different really.

      • Cathy
        Nov 13, 2013

        oh no I did not mean to come across as equating practicing Catholic as being a state of grace, like Pope Francis said without Prayer ones Faith becomes an ideology or something that you just do on Sunday.

    • Michael Webb
      Nov 13, 2013

      There was nothing clouded because celibacy is a rule and not a doctrine of Faith. It was a dual stream of both married and unmarried priests for more than half the Church’s history in the Roman Rite. The other Rites have a more healthy approach which we in the West can revert to.

      • Cathy
        Nov 14, 2013

        Michael Webb
        Obviously you know nothing about obedience to Authority regarding holy orders. Priests take a vow of celibacy, not unlike the vow of fidelity in marriage.
        Special dispensation must be granted by a Bishop what have you in a position of Authority in order for a priest to be relieved of his duties to marry within the Roman Catholic Rite. If one fails to adhere to Authority in matters such as this, problems arise.

  5. Tanya
    Nov 13, 2013

    I was blessed as I personally knew Kevin we spoke many times about priests being allowed to be married by the church. We spoke of the importance of how being married is a blessing from God, after all we pray God chooses our spouses. I was the first to say congratulations to him on his marriage when he made it public. I did not judge nor speak ill will of him like many people of our Catholic faith chose to do. Who was or is anyone to judge someone else’s choices. He was a man who fought both publicly and in private for fellow priests to be allowed to be married as it is in other chapters of the Catholic Church. He spoke of his disgust of how fellow priest abused young parishioners and how they needed a voice to help them . He was that voice he took a stance. We spoke of how married priests could only enhance their ability to communicate and understand the day to day lives of their parishioners. To which I totally support . He was blessed with his beautiful daughter Michelle which as we know is a blessing and heritage from God. Men and women by themselves have children, it is God our Father who sends us these gifts. Without Gods blessing of them we wouldn’t have them and our lives would be empty. I myself have cried many tears for Kevin’s passing it saddens me that I won’t be able to read his daily liturgies or his jokes. I personally think that all honourable priests should be pleased and thankful for a man like him. I still am in shock that no more will he be here for others, no more will he be the voice of the abused, no more will he be the voice of other Priests who want to marry openly and still be a great asset to our Catholic Church, or those who want to be blessed with families of their own. He will forever still live on his daughter and in the hearts of us who not only consider him a great priest or friend but as a non blood family member. PS… Thankyou father Corrigan for your honest words.

    • Fr John
      Nov 13, 2013

      Thanks Tanya.

  6. Anne
    Nov 13, 2013

    I suddenly found myself crying when I heard on the evening news of his dying. I dont know why. I just did.

  7. Anne
    Nov 13, 2013

    Sorry I forgot. RIP Fr Kevin.

    For me the character of “priesthood” cannot be erased just like the character of Baptism. One may choose to become calathumpian but the character of Baptism remains. So the character of “priesthood”

  8. Deborah
    Nov 13, 2013

    I am feeling so sad about father kevin lee he was not only a good priest but a good person he was very much loved who would not love a man like him for speaking out about child abuse I am sure Mary Mackillop was there to meet him with her arms reached out to hold him, Where you see a need do something Kevin Lee did RIP Father Kevin Lee

  9. Stephanie
    Nov 14, 2013

    I find the whole situation tragic there are no winners here .The church has lost a good priest the wife has lost her husband and a child who who is innocent in all of this mess we need to keep this innocent child in our prayers.

  10. Frances Jones
    Nov 19, 2013

    Father Kevin Lee’s memorial mass was held in Springwood:
    http://francesjones.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/honouring-father-kevin-lee/

  11. Christian
    Dec 10, 2013

    The Father forgave the repentant Prodigal Son. Better to be a big sinner who repents than a little sinner who doesn’t.