I recently read an article by Rod Dreher on the American Conservative where he published two letters he received from Catholics about the current situation of the Church. One is from a Priest and another from a layperson. The Priest explains in his letter some of the reasons why the good Priests don’t speak up more often against what is going on in the Church. In short, it’s because the Bishops exercise absolute power over the parish Priests, financially, spiritually and in other ways. A Priest who speaks out risks earning the ire of their Bishop (especially if that Bishop is one of the many corrupt bad eggs that infest the clergy) and potentially invoking retribution for their act of “disobedience”.
The letter ends on this note:
Look at the herculean effort it took in Memphis to get some kind of response. It takes a full on diocesan revolt to get any kind of action. The reason is because if one priest brings a concern forward his bishop can ruin his career and life. He can make him miserable for years. And why would a guy want to do that to himself? Instead, you learn how to work within the system and keep the bishop happy. This is the sad reality I have come to after around two decades of being a priest.
Being prophetic and believing the Catholic Church is this force for good in the world? This great proclaimer of truth? Sometimes, maybe. But since I was ordained the Church has become more and more of a joke to the world. As an institution it appears to be far more corrupt than I ever imagined. So much so that, had I known, I would never have become a priest in the first place. I feel like I was totally duped. Then again, I am hopeful that more of this corruption bleeds out. It’s the only way to get back on track.Letter from a Frustrated Parish Priest
I sympathize with the Priest, I really do. It would be a terrible situation to find yourself in, to see these kinds of corruptions within the Church you gave your life to and to be able to do nothing without incurring some penalty that will make your life difficult to endure. I’m no paragon of Catholic morality myself, I’m simply a layperson doing my best to adhere to traditional Catholic teachings. I don’t assume any authority of my own to teach the Catholic faith or to dictate how it should be practiced. In general I think we should remember that our Priests have made serious worldly sacrifices for Christ and for us so that they can lead us to Him, and that they’re human and that we should forgive their mistakes as we would want ours to be forgiven. Certainly we should not expect every Priest to be a paragon of moral virtue when we ourselves struggle with the very same issues.
I think the lesson here is that we as laypeople need to support the good Priests more, in the ways that we can. If you have a Priest who is actively speaking out against these things be engaged, support them both financially and emotionally. Let them know you stand with them, that they’re not alone and if the Bishop tries playing political games that the laity will be in his corner and resist efforts to by corrupt Bishops to penalize good, moral Priests.
For Priests, now would be the time to really consider bearing that cross. It’s likely you will endure much hardship should you choose to make a stand against the cancer that currently abides in Gods Church, but given the alternative, allowing that cancer to grow can you really afford to just sit back and not risk yourself? I understand that risking your livelihood is a big deal, and that a 50 year old Priest cannot simply reskill and get a secular job instead, I truly understand the gravity of their situation and I’m certainly not wagging the finger at them nor am I condemning those who keep their heads low and focus on guiding their local parishioners. I am saying though that the times are dark and when times are dark we need the light of Catholic virtue to shine all the more. I myself need to attempt to do more, we all do, all faithful Catholics who are dedicated to Christ and keeping His Church holy. Priests especially though should realize the reality of the situation. Being a Priest is more than just being pastoral, leading the mass and giving spiritual guidance to their flock, now it involves a serious struggle against the “smoke of Satan” that has infiltrated the Church.
The Priest is completely correct when he notes the Church has become “a joke in the world”. Is it coincidence that the Catholic Church has lost all its moral authority in the west at the precise moment when it’s light is needed most? I’m skeptical. Certainly the Church has always had its corrupt elements. Martin Luther’s anger was just, even if his solution was just about the worst thing that happened to Christendom since the Great Schism. However now is the time when the Church needed to be there, to provide an alternative to the increasing tide of hedonism and individualism that has seized the western world. A path of dignity, of self sacrifice, of self denial and of dedicating yourself to the service of others. A path of following God. It cannot credibly offer that path to a disaffected world now because every time a Church official opens their mouth about any issue of morality it is handwaved away by “The organization that protected pedophile priests is talking to us about morality?”, and the criticism is not easily dismissed. Indeed it seems like that in order to provide the path of Christ and re-evangelize the west it requires the Church to turn inwards and heal itself first. However the Church is an institution that has existed for 2000 years, change is slow, and often this is a good thing, but it means that it’s ability to react to modern times is hindered.
We need the Church to be made whole again, desperately. We need it to stand for the truth of Christ in a modern age when morality is often played fast and loose and geared towards the desires of the individual rather than the common good. To do that we need good Catholics, both laypeople and clergy to speak out and be bold. To put ourselves on the line and be prepared to carry our crosses. Because if we lay low, hide ourselves and try to weather the controversy we might find that by the time the storm ends the Church we love has been damaged in a way that can never be repaired.