I find it very fitting, and one could argue that’s it’s providential, that the memorial of Saint Peter Damian is falling on the first day of the Vatican’s Sex Abuse Summit. Known as the “Monitor of the Popes,” St. Peter Damian was given the authority to oversee papal households and to govern Church business. If there was ever a saint’s intercession that we needed this week, it would be the intercession of St. Peter Damian.
He was born in Ravenna, Italy in the beginning of the 11th century. After losing his both of his parents at a young age, one of his older brothers took care of him. He was sent to school by his brother and became a great student who had the skills to learn well and eventually teach others. From his earliest days at school, he focused his attention on prayer, study, work and fasting.
He would eventually join an austere Benedictine hermitage, which suited him well since he enjoyed deep prayer and spiritual reading. After sometime in the hermitage, he was elected by his brothers to be abbot, and although reluctant to take it at first, he obediently accepted the position. He focused his brothers on the importance of monasticism, humility, and charity.
Being that he was so good as the governor of these hermitages, Popes during his lifetime asked him to be a monitor to the Chair of Saint Peter. Pope Stephen IX elevated him to cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He never enjoyed being bishop of Ostia and constantly asked to be removed from this position in order to return to his hermitage. Finally, Pope Alexander II, released him of his duties as bishop, but asked him to be an advisor on important church business.
After contracting a fever on his way back to Ravenna, St. Peter Damian died on February 22, 1072, as the monks of the monastery were praying the Liturgy of the Hours. In 1828, Pope Leo XII declared him a saint and Doctor of the Church. St. Peter was a trailblazer of the Hildebrandine reform in the church, although these reforms occurred years after his death and under his friend, Pope St. Gregory VII.
The reason why his intercession is so important particularly this week is because during his lifetime he was an ardent reformer of clerical and monastic abuse, most especially – homosexuality in the priesthood. Even though Peter Damian lived 1000 years ago, his work, The Book of Gomorrah, an analysis of the problem of homosexuality within the Church at that point in history, can be read today to give us insight in what needs to be done to overcome the latest version of this sexual scandal.
When viewed in today’s culture, where there are movements trying as hard as they can to change the moral teachings of the Church, the words of St. Peter can be seen as fresh, astute, and current. The book was written directly to Pope Saint Leo IX, advising him to take swift action against the practice of homosexuality among priests and monks, which was widespread during the time.
In his work, the Doctor of the Church focuses on the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the clergy. He warns that is it “creeping through the clerical order, and indeed is raging like a cruel beast within the sheepfold of Christ.” He further warns that if it is not rooted out, “it is certain that the sword of divine fury is looming to attack, to the destruction of many.” Although his words might be seen as “bigoted” or “homophobic” in today’s culture, the saint states clearly his words come from a place of love for others and mercy. He loves the sinner but despises the action of the sin.
As the Vatican Sex Abuse Summit begins its three days of meetings, we must all pray fervently for the intercession of this powerful saint and Doctor of the Church. Let us pray that those attending the summit will have the boldness and courage of St. Peter Damian to bring up the root cause of this new batch of sexual sin amongst the clergy of the Church. We need to pray for individuals like St. Peter Damian, since it has already been stated that the focus of the summit will be on the abuse of minors, and not the abuse of seminarians. You have to be blind and maybe even a little ignorant to not see that homosexuality plays a major role in the abuse scandals that have been ravaging the Catholic Church since the beginning of the 21st century.
Will any fruit come from this summit? This writer is doubtful since those in charge of the summit are biggest part of the problem and continue to deny the root issue. In order for good fruit to come out of the summit, we need fresh fruit from the tree instead of the same old rotten and disease infested fruit that is picked for us from the bushel.
Saint Peter Damian…Pray for Us
Pope St. Gregory VII…Pray for Us