Does the Laity Have the Right to Expect Authenticity from Our Priests?


I’m evidently somewhat different from the average pew-sitting Catholic.

I don’t want my pastor to confirm me in my sins.

I want my pastor to tell me the truth about my spiritual condition and to lead me in the Way that leads to eternal life. I don’t go to church to validate myself, my sins or my choices in life. I go to church to grow closer to the Lord and to learn how to follow Jesus.

When I ask a Catholic priest for instruction on moral issues, I am not asking him for his personal prejudices or his individual neurosis. I want him to give me the straight truth about what the Church teaches so that I will be better able to evaluate what I should do and how I should live.

In short, I rely on the priests I go to for help to be authentic in their Catholicity and to tell me the truth.

I trust them to not use their position and power to lead me in ways that are sinful, belligerent to the Church, or that will allow me to commit grave sins against myself, other people, or my God.

So far in my Catholic life, this trust has been well-rewarded. I have had priests who always told me the truth of Church teaching, even when it made them personally uncomfortable and when I argued back and gave them a hard time about it.

Every person who lives brings themselves to the altar. They bring their own story, their own sins, their own desires for validation of their sins and an easy out from the narrow way of truly following Christ. There are no exceptions to this. Jesus told us that the Way of following Him was hard, and it is.

I, for one, would have loved to have been told that abortion in the case of rape is alright. I’ve seen what rape does to women and girls. I know how desperate and terrified a woman who’s been raped feels when she learns she is pregnant from that rape. I understand the price of choosing life in the face of this crime against her humanity.

If I had been given my druthers, I would also have loved to hear my pastor say that it’s ok to be all in for gay marriage. It would have been wonderful for me to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder on this with the friend I loved. I will grieve the loss of him in my life all my days.

It cost me dearly to accept that I was wrong about these things. It costs me almost every single day of my life.

But if my priest had lied to me, and given me his pastoral permission to do these things, he would have done me a great disservice. Also, I believe that part of my sin would also have been on his soul.

I do not begin to know how God deals with priests who throw away their priesthood to mislead the people who trust them; people they are supposed to shepherd.

But I can say from personal experience that the remorse you feel later for misleading people is a terrible sorrow. I would also add that you can’t often undo it once it’s done. I have gone to people I misled and told them I was wrong, that I regretted everything I had done. I could not change them. I could not unconvince them of the sinful things I had convinced them to believe earlier.

Priests who throw away their priesthood to preach and teach that which is contrary to the Gospels are the most piteous of creatures.

I believe that the laity has a right to expect authenticity from the men who pastor us. I believe we have a right to know that they will not mislead us and tell us our sins are not sins and that we should go and sin even more. I believe that we have a right to be able to trust that they will tell us the truth and teach us the Gospel without their personal prevarications and politically correct longings getting into it.

A case in point is the fallen Catholic school in Seattle that I wrote about earlier. Students at this school walked out because the school dismissed a member of the staff who had gotten “married” to his same-sex partner. There was a lot of carrying on, and ultimately, the school backed down about another staff member.

A priest from the Seattle area recently wrote an opinion piece for America magazine which accidentally illustrates the abysmal Catholic leadership that went into this tragedy of a failed Catholic school. I am sure that he’s very popular with the gay rights people. I would imagine that he’s viewed as a hero by his many friends in those circles.

He is also evidently a priest who many unsuspecting Catholics have chosen to follow. Again, I’m sure that these people feel they have the best pastor in the world, affirming them as he does in placing the teachings of the world ahead of the teachings of the Church. I would imagine that he’s a legendary folk hero in certain circles.

But from my viewpoint, he is inauthentic as a priest. He is not teaching what the Church teaches. In fact, he is using his collar to give gravitas to his personal teachings that the Church is wrong. He is leading people away from the light and into the darkness of popular piety without actual fealty. He is teaching them to turn their back on the real God and become their own little g gods.

I hate and detest singling out one person for the misbehavior of many. I am quite sure that there are a plethora of people in the Church who are responsible for the mess that is this school and for other fallen Catholic individuals and institutions around this country.

But I feel that someone, somewhere, has to point out that the Catholic laity has a right to expect authenticity from their priests. I don’t know anything about Canon law, but if this is not Canonical, it should be. We, as the people of God, have the right not to be deliberately misled by our shepherds.

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