People frequently ask me about my thoughts on the clergy sex abuse scandals and the priesthood. When the news first broke in 2018, I spent a lot of time horrified and angry. I’ve studied enough Church history to know this is not something new and members of the priesthood very often fall into worldliness, corruption, lust, and perversion, but I was still unbelievably angry. I learned a very important lesson during that time about how I am supposed to respond because it was going to pave the way for the path Christ has set me on now.
Early on in the 2018 scandals, I went to Confession and expressed my intense anger at the hierarchy. I talked about how much I was struggling with it. Our Lord, in His infinite mercy and wisdom, had the priest assign me one of the hardest penances I have ever been given. Wait, what? You may be wondering. Christ needed me to answer His calling and the only way He could do that was by getting in the way of my anger and channeling it for His purposes. So, I was assigned praying some or all of the Stations of the Cross for priests as my penance. Over two years later, I now pray the Stations of the Cross for the priesthood nearly every single day except on Sundays.
Staying angry at the state of the hierarchy was doing me no good. I have no control over the state of the Roman Curia or when the McCarrick report will be issued. I don’t even have any control over what happens in my own bishop’s chancery. Our Lord was showing me how we are supposed to respond to situations outside of our control. We are called to pray, fast, and offer reparations.
This answer seems painfully inadequate to us in our Fallen state since we often see material forms of justice and tangible actions as superior to the spiritual weapons we have been given that transform the material order. Whenever I tell someone who is struggling with the state of the priesthood to begin fervent daily prayer for the priesthood and to begin offering sacrifices for priests I am often met with rebuke or incredulity. This betrays a great lack of faith and understanding on our part if we do not understand that prayer must be the grounding force of everything. We cannot act in accordance with God’s will if we are not people of prayer and firm faith that tells us God will work through our prayers and sacrifices.
I cannot spend all of my time expending wasted energy on worrying about things outside of my control. If I focus too much on what one bishop does over another or even the disgusting diabolical sacrilege of certain priests, then I will become exhausted and demoralized. I will stop praying for priests and get stuck in a cycle of anger, which then leads to a desire for vengeance, not justice. I see this cycle running non-stop in the Catholic blogosphere day in and day out.
Being righteously angry about evil is a good thing. It leads us to take action, but it must lead us to take the right action. The starting place for discerning where we are to help in response to evil must come from prayer. It must come from God Himself. If we do not act in accordance with His will, then we will more often than not create a bigger mess or our calls will fall on deaf ears because we sound like a clamoring gong.
Ranting and raving at your parish priest incessantly about the state of the hierarchy accomplishes very little except to demoralize an already wounded priesthood. Pray for him. Pray for all of them. Fight the spiritual battles necessary for your spiritual fathers, but do not constantly throw in their faces what they already live and experience each day.
Forgive the priesthood. Seek to be a part of the solution. Raise holy sons who will answer Christ’s call to become priests. Seek holiness yourself so that you can help draw the priesthood back to its rightful place in the Church. Pray for them without ceasing.
Our Lord, in His mercy, once more reminded me of this fact when I went to Confession recently and expressed my anger and deep frustration about what transpired with a priest recently in Louisiana. The answer I was given was the same one in a slightly different form. I was told to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet for the priesthood. Once more, I was told to go to the Cross for priests and pray for His mercy on them and for the conversion of those priests who fall into egregious sins. Christ commands us to pray for those who persecute us. The same is true of those who betray us, especially priests.
We as a people can stay angry at the state of the priesthood whenever a new scandal arises or we can respond with prayer and beg God to renew His priesthood. All of the hand-wringing, venting, gossip, calumny, and wrath we express each day in social media about the hierarchy isn’t doing any of us any good. In an age of instant global communication, we can fall for the lie that we are able to change things on a grand scale. That we must fight every injustice even though it reduces us to an empty shell of anger, resentment, and fatigue.
Christ asks us to work where He calls us to work. We are meant to primarily influence and transform those around us within our families and our local communities. We accomplish this by dedicating our lives to growing in holiness and seeking God’s will over our own. In relation to the priesthood, it means Catholics should be praying daily for your own parish priests, bishop, our Holy Father, the priesthood as a whole, and for an increase in vocations. They need those prayers more than you realize. It doesn’t matter how holy you think your priest is. He needs your daily prayers.
It’s time to step away from the cycle of outrage and anger and into the silence of the Most Holy Trinity. Christ and Our Lady want a holy priesthood that is raised to the dignity it is meant to be placed at after such tremendous damage has been done. We help in that mission when we seek to pray and sacrifice for priests and believe that prayer transforms the world. We don’t know how much one Rosary can change a priest’s life in the course of day or if it could provide the graces to keep him from serious sin. Real change begins when we start to pray. I hear Stations of the Cross are a good place to start.