This Sunday, the 4TH Sunday of Easter is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In light of all the renewed interest around clergy sex abuse, I’d like to say a a few words in strong support of our priests.
I know how painful this whole crisis has been for victims, and as I’ve said in previous blog entries, we must always be aware of how what we say impacts them. At the same time, I’m also aware of how painful this whole review of this part of our recent history is to our priests.
Most every statistic I have read says that less than 2% of priests have been guilty of abusive behavior. Stated more positively, 98% of our priests are silently, faithfully going about the day-to-day fulfillment of their priestly ministry. From my knowledge of priests over the past nearly 18 years of my own priestly ministry, and of my recent ministry as a bishop, I can say that our priests work hard. With diminished numbers of priests in recent years, they have taken on even greater responsibilities, often experiencing diminished time for priestly fraternity and support. They faithfully celebrate the sacraments, preach God’s Word, and enter into the joys and sorrows of God’s people, bringing Christ’s presence into the fabric of their people’s day-to-day life.
Most of our priests carry crosses, related to their priestly promises, which their parishioners never know about. And yet, the majority of our priests are joy-filled, because of the intimate relationship they cultivate with Christ, and the loving relationships they have with so many of God’s people. Research consistently shows in recent decades that the majority of these priests find great satisfaction and fulfillment in their ministry, and would freely, gladly choose this life over again if given the choice.
Celibacy is a part of the priest’s life that many of our people do not understand, and thus also undervalue. The gift of celibacy is a great source of grace in and for the Church. Celibacy is just one other aspect of the life of Christ which priests freely choose to model in their own life. All of our priests would freely offer that this part of our life is not easy at times, but hopefully, most would agree that it is an indispensable “doorway” of intimacy with Christ. Just as the life of marriage is a blessing to the Church, so, too, is the faithfully lived promise of celibacy by our priests and religious.
I think most Catholics will tell you of the powerful impact priests have in their lives. Granted, priests because of the promises they make, and because of the responsibility and trust entrusted to them, are held to a valid, and high sense of accountability. However, even with that, it is helpful for our people to realize that our priests are human, as well. This means that priests are going to have their shortcomings; they too are allowed to have a bad day once-in-a-while. Granted, they need to be man enough to apologize when they say hurtful things or fail to do the things expected of them. However, our people should always be prepared to forgive such human frailty as well, and continue to do all we can to support and encourage our priests.
To my brother priests: I am proud to be a priest with you, and humbled to be a bishop for you. God bless you for all you do for the People of God! Keep the faith, and know that many people love you and are grateful for your priestly fidelity and ministry.