A friend died last week. Rev. Mike Yakaitis suffered a massive stroke in Florida a few weeks back. He was hooked up to a machine for more than a week but he’d made it clear to loved ones that, “in the event,” they should disconnect him. They did and he died.

I knew him as a good man, smart, talented and funny – kind but with a caustic edge. We were in the same class in the seminary and shared a semester at the Rome Center of Loyola University in 1973. He enjoyed life and was good company.

For the last 20 years, though, his life has been on a downward slide. He admitted to a sexual relationship with a seminarian in the early 1990s and in 2005, after an ill-advised assignment by the archdiocese, was banished to Michigan.

I was told the archdiocese wanted him to leave the priesthood altogether but that he resisted. A few years ago, he spent months nursing a close friend, who was near death, back to health. The experience must have inspired him. When financial circumstances forced him to give up his house in Michigan, he moved to Florida, reportedly hoping to become a home health care worker. Then came the stroke.

I thought of him when I read Virginia Seuffert’s scolding Mother-Church-can-do-no-wrong-and-anyone-who-disagrees-is-a-bad-Catholic response [Trainor’s Catholic rant can’t go unchecked, Viewpoints, May 19] to my April 28 column. The line that jumped out was her only exclamation point: “Celibacy does not cause sexual abuse – evil does!”

Was Mike Yakaitis evil? How about Rev. Larry Reuter, who admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a student at Loyola Academy? Reuter helped out with Masses at Ascension on Sundays for the past decade. Parishioners who know him will tell you he was a good man, too.

How many otherwise good priests have been tripped up by their sexuality in an institution that, to say the least, doesn’t understand sexuality – and understands even less the repercussions of trying to repress such a powerful life force?

You can’t thoughtlessly indulge your sexuality, but neither can you wish it away.

The abuse scandal isn’t just about a few rogue priests. The institutional Catholic Church is part of the problem, too – which in turn is part of a wider societal failure to come to terms with human sexuality. If you don’t believe me, just spend a little time surfing the Internet. The Catholic Church contributes to the problem because it is enormously influential and enormously ignorant – a very bad combination.

I don’t know the solution to all this. All I know is telling people, “Just don’t do it” just doesn’t cut it.

I can’t excuse my friend’s transgressions. If you’re in a position of power and you take advantage of an adult in a position of relative powerlessness, you’re doing something very wrong.

Mike Yakaitis was a flawed person. We all are. But I still feel the loss – partly a loss of innocence because I knew him at a more innocent time in our lives, when we had everything ahead of us and so much seemed possible.

Now that’s over for him. My friend’s mistake wrecked his career as a priest. Not everyone will feel sympathy. Those who are partial to punishment (some a little too enthusiastic for my taste) will say he got what he deserved.

Seuffert, and stone-throwers like her, are big on the notion of “sin.” In her finger-wagging lecture, she noted that Jesus told “the woman caught in adultery to, ‘Go and sin no more.'” She left out an important part. Just before Jesus dismisses the woman, he looks up from his mysterious dust doodling, sees that all the stones have been dropped, asks, “Has no one condemned you?” and then states, “Neither will I condemn you.” (John 8:3-11)

Mike Yakaitis was my friend. I didn’t know everything about him, but I do know this: He wasn’t evil.

Neither will I condemn him.

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