In Fernández’s strange speculations, one sees a bizarre separation of common sense from a supposed mystical reality.
Wikipedia says of a “whiskey priest” that he is “a stock character who shows clear signs of moral weakness while preaching. . .a higher standard.” Perhaps you are familiar with the original whiskey priest in Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory. Many Catholics are troubled by the book. If it is meant to portray the truth, that the objective work of the sacraments can be accomplished by a priest, in virtue of the “character” impressed upon his soul, even if he has deep flaws – then there is no problem.
But suppose Greene is saying something else, like “this is what sanctity looks like today”? Then surely that is problematic. And how far can that strange idea be taken? Suppose a priest habitually commits serious sins, like larceny or battery, can he be a saint? What if they are sexual sins? Supposing if he is living with his boyfriend?
Let’s change the image. In 1996 a movie was released called Breaking the Waves, about a woman, Bess, whose husband becomes paralyzed from the neck down in an industrial accident. He asks his devoted wife, since she cannot have relations with him, to have sex with another man and tell him the details. She fights off her revulsion and does so, putatively to show her love. Subsequently, she spirals down into a degraded condition where she seeks out grotesque abuse. There’s a kind of twisted altruism to her path of self-destruction. Could she perhaps beneath it all be a saint?
Yes, the priest and theologian Víctor Manuel Fernández opined in a 1999 article, “The Mysticism of Tending to Another.” The key, he says, is to grasp what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”  Therefore, “a life of grace can coexist with actions which are objectively evil yet for which a person is not fully responsible.” Morality and mysticism can diverge, Fernández observes. In people like Bess, “there can be a genuine gift of oneself to another, in which the Procession of the Spirit is prolonged, together with a beautiful (bella) sapiential experience, in which the Procession of the Son is prolonged – but coexisting with ethical defects. . . .I can accept the positive interpretation which some commentators have placed on the film.”
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