Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Michael Voris again, but speaking the truth. We need a renewal of the hierarchy and the priesthood!

This report by Michael Voris from Australia speaks the truth. I feel in my bones that a sweeping reform of the priestly life is needed. I have to deal with my own failings, true, but as Voris points out, for many years now, really going back to the time before I was ordained (1975) there has been a growing dis-ease in the clergy of the Catholic Church. I was reflecting a few days ago how some of the men I knew at seminary (but a significant number in one person's acquaintances) either became alcoholics, left the priesthood to marry OR were accused of some form of sexual abuse. Some of those cases have been tragic (two early deaths through alcohol related diseases) and when I think about these people, some of whom I counted as good friends, I am led to ask myself who is to blame. Of course I blame satan first of all. It is his desire to bring all priests to hell or, at least, to make them ineffective or sick. Some of the blame (of course!) must be attributed to those priests who sinned, lacked discipline, did not pray etc. BUT some of the blame must be placed higher - with bishops and seminary staff.

I was fortunate - and my contemporaries were fortunate - in that most of the staff at my seminary were exemplary priests. Some of them were holy men. The Rector in my time was a man of high standards who was also understanding and wise. The Deputy rector was also an outstanding priest, and there were others, thank God, who gave a great example of priestly life to the students. BUT something was happening in the wider Church and it found its way into the seminary, through books, theological studies, a certain worldliness, a moral and spiritual laxity, a lowering of standards and a complacency which, I think, was related to a certain arrogance and a lack of faith in some areas. Self-indulgence has a part to play, which means a lack of self-discipline.

Before I was ordained a friend of mine who was older than me, and at a different seminary, was ordained. I was in awe of him - or of his "priestly glow" (can't think of another way to describe it), but there were problems right from the start. No sooner had he been ordained than he began discussing what happened to priests who fall by the wayside. They fail to pray is what we agreed, but he was not praying as he should have been - he admitted it in a way. I felt sad for him. The demands of the priesthood, centred on the idea of self-sacrifice - were, in the end, beyond him, and he left before, I think, being a priest for ten years. he married and I understand is now deceased. I could go on, discussing the merits of different seminaries (staff problems with alcoholism, neurosis and homosexuality, or a laid back attitude to that etc).

I have already posted before on sexual abuse so there is no need to address that again, but what has been clear to me for many years (and this includes looking at my own lifestyle) is that a deep and challenging reform of the priestly life is needed. For some years now I have had questions about the lifestyle of some bishops and parish priests. There is need for a greater accountability where money is concerned. There has been too much worldliness, too much complacency, too much television and too much food and drink. Some celebrations of the Liturgy have been slapdash and irreverent. Priests (and some religious) have given bad example in their behaviour in church, chatting away as though the Lord is in no way present in that sacred place. Church plate has been treated badly. Dirty altar linens and unworthy vestments (or none) have been part of the scene. New churches became clinical and cold, showpieces for architects and parish priests but inhospitable to the laity. Church music became sickening banal and all the time there was a subtle denial of some of less popular parts of the faith, especially those connected with sexual morality. The false god of enjoyment or pleasure found a seat somewhere on our sanctuaries and in our presbyteries and in most Catholic homes. Family prayer, never a major feature in most homes despite the books, pamphlets and sermons, became worse than a joke. One of the worst aspects of all of this was the outstanding failure to teach the full Catholic faith in our schools - a failure that has had horrendous repercussions which continue to this day in the shape of young people not attending weekend Mass but receiving Holy Communion as and when they like, young people living together before Marriage (because they know nothing about Catholic morality except being nice to each other and helping the poor - which they don't really do anyway)

This post is too long and all of this has been said before, many times, but NOW, NOW, is the time to address these things. Please God the Pope will lead us and please God we priests, bishops and cardinals will delve into our consciences and repent more deeply of the mistakes and laxity of the past. if we truly want the Church to be renewed we have to start with ourselves, and that means, first of all, making more serious confessions and showing a great reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It means - for ALL priests, the daily Rosary. It means more fasting and abstaining, self-discipline and an austere manner of life. It means little or no television. it means cleaning up our act as regards language, dirty jokes and smutty remarks. I had hoped that Pope Benedict would have set this reform off, but in a way, he did. Now we must follow Pope Francis who knows what must be done.

Some will look at this and see me as a "kill-joy" or some kind of fanatic. But what are we here for?  Mother Angelica who is now 90 says we are all called to be great saints. Not a new thought but one we need to hear, often. Saints find their joy in God and in serving others. They find pleasure in the things of God and are able to see the beauty in creation in spite of the smudges; they share (perhaps unconsciously most of the time) in the joy of Christ who smiled, laughed and wept as he encountered the people and nature itself. Where is our joy, our true joy, in this world? I suggest we start with that question and see where it leads us, as priests.


  1. Excellent post Father. Thank you.

  2. You make some excellent points Father.
    Thank you for this. I am just reading Dr. Hagarty's latest book about Cardinal Heenan. From Hagarty's introduction it is immediately clear that Heenan's vision of Priesthood was one of sacrifice, service and joy, and he much lamented the breakdown of this traditional model following the permissive sixties, as people stuck up two fingers to authority and of course the "spirit" of Vatican II. He saw that the Church was being challenged and attacked from within. It would be wrong to think that the Church could (or should) return to the halcyon days when the PP's word was law - but I do agree that many of the problems of the Church are in part due to poor catechesis and a presidential, bureaucratic and often precious priesthood and episcopacy.

    1. Apologies to Dr. Haggerty for spelling his name incorrectly.

  3. It seems that one problem could be that no other sector of society is treated in quite the same way as priests are. Lack of accountability, once ordained, it seems to me that a priest is just left to get on with it.
    Each PP is in a sense, running a small business, guarding the church's wealth by maintaining property, grounds and buildings for an employer who will eventually dismiss them without even a pension, when they become too ill to function usefully. Doesn't charity begin at home?
    Regarding problems such as alchoholism and sexual abuse, once again, instead of suspending them from their post with all the relevant support packages required to address the problems, followed by intensive monitoring and ongoing supervision should they return to their posts, the church simply tries to cover up the problems, ignoring any evidence of difficulties and letting the priests continue operating as always.
    Even where there are no apparent problems, consistent mentoring support where priests are encouraged to set, work towards and review both spiritual and professional aims, throughout their lives, may help early idenltification of difficulties or indeed, ward them off altogether.
    Priests are in a very powerful and priveleged position, in terms of the incredible trust people will place in them, confiding their deepest and most shameful secrets.
    Some priests respond to their calling by pretending to be perfect, never owning their frailties. These perfectionists are the ones most likely to fail because they work too hard, leaving no time for the prayer that would strengthen them.
    Some priests will take advantage of the lack of accountability, by leading dissolute lives or preying on those they are ordained to serve,. For the most part, the church turns a blind eye to such behaviour or even worse, closes ranks against complainants, using their influence to freeze them out. In all other walks of life, this is known as bullying.
    There is another contradiction here: why is a church which has elevated the admission of wrongdoing to a sacramental level, so reluctant to own its own misdemeanors? What sort of example does such a church set to those it is advising to make reparation to others, when it is not even prepared to fund professional therapy for those who have been harmed by the church.
    Spirituality and holiness should be the specialisms of priests, yet annual retreats are not even built into the fabric of priestly life.
    As to the celibacy rule, enforcing it to the extent of insisting those who wish to marry leave the church, whilst at the same time, welcoming with open arms, married former Anglican bretheren is just the biggest hypocrisy...I don't know how you priests stand for it!
    Don't get me wrong, there's no substitute for a celibate priesthood and maybe, as in some of the Orthodox churches, only the celibate should be permitted to rise through the ranks but Jesus gave free will in this matter saying "let the one who can accept it, accept it" and "Not everybody can accept what you have just said, but only those who have received this gift".
    Most church attenders are women who may be very well disposed towards priests: how seriously does the church really take this in terms of preparing and maintaining the celibacy aspect of priesthood? And with such a lack of female presence in the church to advise them, priests are bound to get it wrong sometimes.
    Has celibacy actually been spiritualised for selfish reasons? How much of it's wealth could the church actually retain if priests had families to support? How much more accountable would priests have to become if parishioners were supporting their families?
    Yes Father, I certainly agree that the priesthood is in need of reform but mostly in the sense of taking a realistic view of priests i.e. Ordinary men, with all the faults and failings common to the human condition, called to carry out an extraordinary role.t

    1. You said it brother. Couldn't agree more. It's time we had an honest debate over celibacy and the priesthood and include the laity even women!

  4. The two anonymous comments (I do prefer you to give a name). Celibacy is not the main problem and is even not one of the main problems. Speaking as a celibate priest and following comments made by married priests and many lay people, celibacy is not really part of the major problem here.

    1. Dear Fr John, apologies for posting as an anonymous - I have not worked out how to link to a safe online profile. I met you last year at New Dawn and heard your talks on our Lady which have influenced me considerably. Thank you. The point about celibacy I believe is crucial to authenticity. No one, at least, I hope no one, doubts that celibacy is the "preferred" option but so often it is not lived out in practice due to priests not have the relationship with our Lord they need to completely fulfill it. We are all fallen and we all need help. I have seen a number of good and holy men, dedicated to serving our Lord, falling into terrible problems with alcohol etc due to them being unable to carry the burden of living a solitary life with no one to support them. It is not meant to be like this. We are called to live as a community but all too often now priests are isolated, trying to run multiple parishes and wearing themselves out without the support of close relationships of both sexes.
      I find it almost intolerable that priests who cannot carry the burden and choose to marry are treated so uncharitably by the church whereas Anglican priests are welcomed into the church with open arms with their wives and families. I have witnessed such an incident locally very recently and it seems most unchristian. This is what I mean about the need for consultation. We need to explain and explore the position so the whole family of the church can understand it and support it.

      I completely agree that the ministerial priesthood needs refreshing, re-endorsing as you say. I thank the Lord everyday for the men he has called to the priesthood and I pray for all our priests every day.

    2. And I cannot believe that people think celibacy is the problem. This is as bad as blaming adultery on marriage. I am tired of people denigrating something as beautiful as celibacy. It is a respectable life choice just like marriage is and it reveals the Kingdom of God. If you want women priests the Episcopal Church is more than happy to take you. By the way, despite their female priests, they also have scandals and corruption.

      No, I believe the only way to heal these wounds is to return to our traditions, learn the meaning of our faith and to understand the role of our priests and to stop treating the Church as a man-made thing.

  5. However, it may be significant that this part of the post drew the greatest response and coincidentally maybe, but celibacy does relate to the three main issues in your introduction i.e. some forms of sexual abuse, perfectly good priests leaving the priesthood in order to get married and perhaps even alchoholism is trigerred by loneliness.
    Is it realistic to expect every priest to be suited to celibacy? Is not the church greatly impoverished by the departure of those ordained priests who were obviously unsuited?
    You also wrote about the need to reform the hierarchy : wouldn't the addition of the female touch resulting from the presence of clergy wives help to do this? After all, didn't women play a large part in Jesus' life? Especially His Blessed Mother.
    Is it fair to expect therefore, that an exclusively unmarried male church hierarchy, in which women have no role or decision making power, can adequately relate sacramentality and catechesis, to the lives of their (predominantly female) congregants?
    Yet without those same sacraments, we truly are like sheep without shepherds and we truly do need all our priests - married or not - to be as you describe i.e. devout, reverent, self-sacrificing and ever growing in holiness, plus respectful of the rosary and unafraid to talk about evil.
    Thank God, our new Chief Shepherd seems to be cast in this mould along with many other priests, such as your good self, who sincerely aim to continually lay down their lives for the church. Although such priests are rarely referred to by the media, we are truly grateful to God for your dedication.
    God Bless

  6. I could not agree more with your observations.

    "Some will look at this and see me as a "kill-joy" or some kind of fanatic. But what are we here for?"

    Unfortunately some priests don`t really know, but it is not completely their fault as a lot of it is due to their formation. At my seminary praying the rosary (according to the rector) was something for the "simple people" so we hardly ever prayed it. And priests wearing collars were to be laughed at too. Some seminarians could not even get up for morning Mass but they never missed breakfast. So who is to blame here?

    About celibacy: It is not the problem. There are also serious problems within the vocation of marriage today. I would not want to see separated or divorced priests. Do not think that it could not happen.

    1. No one is saying that celibacy is a problem because priests leave the priesthood to get married: that would be like saying that marriage must be a problem because people commit adultery! However, when a spouse does stray, after reflection, couples often come to realise that the infidelity was symptomatc of problems within the marriage, rather than the cause of them.

      Similarly with the priesthood, only in their case the problem is always assumed to lie with the priest, when maybe the infrastructure of priestly life as it stands, is not conducive to maintenance of a celibate lifestyle.

      No one is saying that marriage is the answer, but that maybe it can provide some clues as to the underlying problems such as loneliness and temptation, that would lead a priest to seek consolation elsewhere.

      The contradiction between the Church's embracing of married former Anglican Clergy and their families, whilst rejecting married Catholic Clergy, is a separate but related issue. Such an arrangement brings to mind a line from the George Orwell novel Animal Farm, (about totalitarianism) in which the rule All animals are equal was changed to All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others, in order to justify a rule change for a selected few...

      Sound formation at seminary level is a good place to start in terms of renewing the priesthood, but the real problem begins after formation, when priests, suddenly deprived of the camaraderie of their fellow seminarians, are expected to thrive, in a non-patriarchal society, despite a complete absence of regular supervision meetings with properly trained spiritual mentors, (with whom they can be completely honest about their struggles), as well as structures such as regular retreats, that encourage ongoing formation and growth in holiness.

      Father Abberton, It is great that you give the laity this opportunity to blog on church matters. How I wish the church hierarchy itself recognised the value of consultation forums with those it serves.

      Will keep praying for a church that is 'rooted and grounded' in Christ.

  7. Ann, I understand your concern, but having been a priest for 38 years I have to say that your understanding of priestly life is not entirely accurate. Granted, there may be individuals who would agree with you and some of them might even be priests who have left the priesthood and who are trying to make sense of it all and to even excuse their decisions in some way. However, priestly life is not always as you describe it. The phrase "patriarchal society" seems odd to me. This was not really how I experienced seminary although going back a hundred years or more there might have been something in that description, but it never seemed like that. In my case and in the case of many others, the opportunity was open to attend a local university. For three years many seminarians mix with men and women students and from different denominations. Even for those seminarians who do not have this chance, there are the usual academic holidays. In my case, again, there was an opportunity to take a job for the summer. This was certainly common in the 60's and 70's. it may not be the case now, but then seminaries are not as they were and there are often female members of staff. I think the patriarchal bit is overplayed.
    I have heard from Anglicans that married priests and voluntary celibacy will not help us very much. Loneliness can be a problem, but that is up to the individual priest. Most priest have good friends and these days many lay people are very supportive. These things have been discussed since I was ordained (1975) and most people who have studied the problems of priests are in agreement that celibacy is not the real problem.

  8. Thank you for your reply. Of course I know that seminarians go to university just like anyone else, so maybe I haven't expressed myself as well as I could.
    I think I meant to emphasise the disparity between the lives of priests - making what some would consider an unnatural lifestyle choice - and the lives of those they serve, when as a teacher by profession, I am so aware of being unable to teach anything, without somehow tapping into the lives of my pupils in order to find hooks on which to hang whatever I am trying to impart. And nowadays, with all the competing distractions of technology, which has trained people to lack patience, they vote with their feet if they don't feel understood, which could have some bearing on the issue of dwindling congregations.
    My observations of difficulties facing priests, is based on lifetime membership of a parish which is something of a training ground for the newly ordained, many of whom have fallen by the wayside, others after many years in priesthood. Maybe we just have poor leadership within our diocese, but since we are all the body of Christ, these departures hurt the community a great deal, resulting in loss of respect for the church.
    This has already been well expressed by another blogger on this thread, so I know I am not alone in feeling upset by this and in being unable to understand, how the church can reconcile saying that these priests have to go, when they don't actually want to give up their priesthood, whilst other married priests and their families are welcomed? And why are they welcomed if as you say, 'voluntary celibacy will not help us much'?
    At one time the laity would simply just accept that the church knew best, but we live in times of greater accountability and a church hierarchy which refuses to explain itself or consult with its members, risks loss of credibility, in the eyes of those it serves.
    Stripped of their priesthood, many of these men come to see quite quickly, that marriage was not what they were actually seeking, resulting in divorce and separation for some. What a tragedy for all of us that they were somehow unable to see this sooner. Surely the church needs to take some responsibility for this state of affairs?
    And is loneliness really just a matter for the individual? Priests who remain close to their birth families seem more resilient than those who don't, but not all of them have this choice. I would have thought that a pastoral institution should be offering much more support in terms of monitoring the emotional wellbeing of priests. But then I am a woman and our way of seeing things is not formally represented within the church as things stand. Maybe this is something else that needs to change? And please don't think I am advocating a female priesthood, I'm not even if favour of female altar servers.
    If you could sum up what you felt the problem with the priesthood was in one sentence Father, what would you say?

  9. Actually Ann, I agree with a lot of what you say. As regards caring for priests, for years (since being recently ordained way back in the early 80s) I was advocating better pastoral care for priests, especially through a diocesan house which would simply be there, and be open, for any priest who wanted to come just to get away or to chat with somebody or just to get a rest. After asking for this for some years I thought I had got somewhere when a layman offered to take it up and we actually got use of a defunct hotel and got some support from the bishop and a FEW priests (what a suspicious and doubting lot they are sometimes). Unfortunately that layman was not as reliable as I thought, mainly because his ambitions were too large and money was in a shorter supply than I realized (it's a long story), so the project failed in the end. I then discovered that such a house (on a lesser scale than we attempted) was recommended by the Vatican's document on Parish Clergy. Since then my former bishop (knowing my long-standing concern) mentioned the possibility of a diocesan property being used for this purpose. It came to nothing. This idea, which many think is good, is virtually dead now because it is not supported by any bishops (I did once get a very encouraging phone call from the then Archbishop of Birmingham who gave me his apostolic blessing!) and because so many priests are sadly suspicious of it. I completely agree that issues around celibacy have not been properly dealt with and that so many priests with an apparent problem in that area do not know where to find help (or are fearful of admitting they need help). What can we do? I have spoken about this often, and I once argued that a good course of psycho-sexuality is required in seminaries, but I do not think it is happening anywhere. So many are afraid of really dealing with these issues. If priests came out - or are still coming out - of seminaries (however old or apparently worldly-wise they seem to be) still seriously unaware of some of these issues we are still going to have problems. Yes, this is part of the renewal I would like to see so that we have psychologically mature men in the priesthood and men who have a developed "feminine" side meaning that they are compassionate and understanding. For much of this I see a sound Marian devotion as essential. I put feminine in inverted commas because I am not advocating anything else but real men, but real men need to be open to the feminine in a proper sense otherwise they can become cold and even, in the extreme, tyrannical and arrogant.

  10. Father thank you for sharing your experiences of trying to improve things for priests. It rather sounds as if you've always had your eye on the ball (prophetic?) but were ahead of your time. Maybe now, with all the purification the church is undergoing, there might be greater openness to new initiatives, although - as your experiences seem to show - these things normally have to come from top down, in order to gain wide acceptance.
    I know what you mean about us having to develop our opposite gender side in order to become psychologically mature, this applies to women as much as men.
    Regarding Marian devotion, I completely agree, as I have noticed that there is something different about the priesthood of those who honour Our Lady e.g. more purity of intention and greater respect for women.
    In fact it surprises me that the image of 'The Mother of God of priests' (see Faustina's Diary para 1585) has never been promoted, despite Our Lady saying to St Faustina, 'Tell the priests what you have seen.'
    I'm sure Our Lady longs to help priests, if they would only turn to her.
    God Bless your ministry Father, and God Bless all priests!

  11. Sometimes you have to tell the truth. Our priests and our people are suffering. We have not been able to fight off the destructive influences of the world and sadly, many have only accommodated them. The wordiness and banalization are something I also struggle with. At times, it hurts my spirit.

  12. (Part I) I entered one of the lesser known branches (in the U.S.) of the Franciscan Friars in 1989 at about 24 years of age. It was one of the better, more orthodox provinces. My class had ten men in it of varying ages, from early 20's to mid 30's. We were in large part zealous of following in the footsteps of the poor man from Assisi. Naturally we were unformed and had a lot of growing up to do in community life and in integrating our spiritual zeal with the realities of life at the seminary. Formative maturity was, of course, a goal of the staff.

    With the Friars, fairly heavy emphasis was placed on community life. Sadly, this in large part meant watching television together with the brothers in the evenings. Sure there was the rare volleyball game or cards but in essence it was watching tv in common. I generally abhorred this since I didn't watch much tv prior to joining and felt it was harmful overall. My view in this matter didn't count for much, since avoiding common tv was avoiding community, and avoiding community was anti-formative. In other words - unintegrated. That was one source of strife.

    When I spent my novitiate at a house where the men in the theology program were living while getting their degree at Catholic University my eyes were opened further and troublesome feelings deepened within me. There seemed to be a program of seeking out - and stamping out - men who might have in any way been construed as 'homophobic,' in other words men who weren't balanced enough to feel safe enough in their heterosexuality such as to avoid any and all criticism of homosexuality. Homosexuality was strongly present in my class, though it was very hidden (to me!) and practiced in the shadows. What I learned after I left was shocking and discouraging. But back to my point: when I referred to my superiors some stories of how some of the men were acting while with me out in our ministries to poor inner city young people I was denounced strongly, told to mind my business, who was I to question their ability to handle situations and so forth. (Many years later I learned of many stories, such as one of my classmates falling into a sexual encounter with another priest). It was deeply disturbing to me that nothing was being done by my respected superiors to address the situations I was bringing to them regarding the troublesome warning signs I saw.

  13. (Part II)
    I loved the Franciscans, I loved the community life, my formation for the priesthood and so on. I did feel beaten down somewhat by the combination of the lack of a zealously pursued religious life in the houses I lived in (even speaking in this manner back then made guys just roll their eyes - "here we go - another holy roller!"), the lack of follow-up on the issues I raised, common recreation around the evening television set, a serious lack of overall devotion to: the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, our Rule (a lot of the Friars have lots of possessions, because of course, let's not get "literal") and so on. After five years and before final vows I felt the Lord was calling me out. After an extraordinary three months with the Trappists I eventually left.

    I have lived as a single devout Catholic ever since. Sadly, nearly all of my classmates left and when they left, they left the Church. I may be the only one who still takes his faith very seriously. Our Lord, our dear mother Mary and my dearest guardian angel are constantly working to draw me closer to God as a Christian disciple in the world. (I still live rather like a monk while at home)

    Celibacy is certainly not the problem! It's fascinating how those who have sex regularly seem bent on insisting that those who do not are somehow repressed and miserable. Untrue! I remain a profoundly joyful, peaceful celibate to this day (at 47). Called celibacy is a great gift, it brings freedom. The *lack* of celibacy and, more deeply, chastity, is a big part of the problem. So are the seminaries, which lack the formation directors (many of whom are much younger than the men they are training and with virtually zero life experience - ALL of our directors went from their Catholic high school straight into the Order with no life experience whatsoever, such as holding down a job, ironing a shirt, cooking your own meals, etc. I was, and remain, shocked at how the houses justify having maids and cooks because "those who serve the Lord need to have their time freed to pursue God." Yeah right! How about the single folks in the world who have kids to care for by themselves, two jobs to hold down, scrape money for the laundry mat and so on. Where's the identity with those who are lesser off?)

    I'm sorry this went on so long. Your post, Father, resonated deeply with me. I agree with you completely. Whether or not I'm one of those who left because of the issues you address or the Lord simply formed me for a time so that I could go out into the world in the corporate life to do His will there I cannot say.

  14. Thank you Mark. It is generous of you to share all this. It confirms what so many of us are now becoming aware of, looking back over the years. Truly the Catholic Church is in such a mess! If I was not convinced (thank God I am) that the Catholic Church IS the Church in Truth, I would seriously consider leaving it (perhaps seeking priestly ministry with the Orthodox). From a human point of view I am amazed that so many want to be Catholics today. I am also beginning to think that remaining a Catholic requires a degree of heroism only possible through a special grace given for these times.