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.

Confession and unity of life

Confession and unity of life

Sacramental confession is a wonderful thing. I say that as a penitent, not as a confessor. As a matter of fact, since becoming a confessor, I’ve learned that ministering the sacrament takes a lot, and gives little.

Not that going to confession is much fun either. It might be likened to a trip to the dentist. Something to plan ahead of time and endure for its duration, only to bask in the good it brings in the end.

Sadly, becoming a confessor has restricted my freedom to blog about confession. It doesn’t have to be this way I suppose, but I’m so wary of the sacramental seal, that I believe it’s prudent to say little.

In my second week as a priest, I heard confessions one evening, and then offered a weekday mass the following morning. As I distributed communion I recognised a vaguely familiar face. After mass, a queue formed to receive the personal blessing of the newly ordained priest. I asked the familiar face if we had met.

“You heard my confession last night Father. Remember?”

I didn’t as it happens — until that moment. And then I realised with horror that the homily I had preached at mass was very similar to the “homiletto” I delivered in the confessional the night before. I hoped the penitent didn’t think I was referring to them as I preached my homily!

No harm was done on that occasion, but I learnt a valuable lesson. The seal of confession is such that I must be attentive even to perceptions of its violation. So the best course of action is not to blog about confessions.

But I can link to a confession-themed post by my favourite blogger! Lindenman has the fresh eyes of an adult convert, and his insights on confession are both mature and light-hearted.

I think it’s good to be light-hearted, especially about our personal failings. The devil takes himself too seriously. The saints avoid that error.

All of this is pertinent, in light of the scandal in Parramatta. The central issue in that case is, I think, unity of life. I can’t imagine Fr Lee “set out” to do what he did. I can well imagine he got to where he got by a series of small steps which slowly embroiled him deeper and deeper into a double life.

We’re all vulnerable to that. God calls us into the light, but the shadows are always beckoning. One of the greatest means to unity of life, I think, is regular confession. Please God we might all frequent this sacrament with a holy maturity and an appropriate lightness of heart.

Doppelgänger

Gosh. Is it just me, or does Fr Kevin Lee, the Parramatta priest formally suspended yesterday, remind you of someone else?

I can’t quite place the similarity. Maybe it’s the fact they’re both married priests. Though of course only one of them is married sacramentally.