When a Priest’s Accused

I have no doubt that some of the priests who are now on ‘administrative leave’ have been falsely accused, and it is terrible to read some of the comments of those who have been gathering around in the wake of the Corapi affair like a pack of hyenas to fight with others for their bite of the corpse.  I’m not saying John Corapi is innocent or guilty. We don’t know, but everyone deserves a fair hearing and to judge the man too harshly for his recent decision is also unfair. We just don’t know the facts. We should step back and observe and pray and hope good comes from these events.

However, we should also take the opportunity to look again at the whole matter of accusations against priests. The standards we have for our priests are just about as high as they can get. At the same time the demands we make on their time and their personalities are just about as high as they can get. Furthermore, while the standards and expectations are just about as high as they can get, at the same time the complaining and gossip and back biting against our priests is about as high as it can get. The lack of co operation, lack of appreciation, negativity and criticism is also about as high as it can get. It’s basically like this: Father has to be Jesus Christ here and now, but not just Jesus Christ, but everybody’s particular understanding of Jesus Christ, and if Father should fail and let someone down he gets both barrels. Not just that: Father doesn’t have to even fail. He only has to be perceived as failing to get both barrels. Not only will the bad Father has done be used against him, but the good he says and does will be used against him.

Here’s an example from a priest I know. Father wants to buy a couple of beautiful new statues for the church. So he gets copies of the images printed up and he distributes them to the congregation for consideration. He’s being consultative. He’s trying to share his vision. He’s trying to inspire the congregation. He’s asking if they like these and want him to buy them. He asks for their feedback, and in the first day someone offers to buy both statues. Others say how much they like them. All well and good. So Father lets slip, in his enthusiasm, that someone has already offered to buy both statues. Next thing he knows the gossip mill has gone into overdrive and the message among the faithful is, “Father has already ordered those statues. The whole consultative thing was a sham. We don’t like the statues and he is imposing them on us.”

No wonder priests get fed up with the negativity, lack of faith, close mindedness, sour Pharisaical attitudes of their flock. Then when someone turns around and makes an accusation, no wonder the poor priest is devastated. If he’s innocent the pain is particularly bad. It is a real identification with Christ. All he can do is walk the way of the Cross, accept his fate and go the way of the sacrificial lamb.

But what if he’s guilty? In this present climate guilty of what? Some priests are now accused for the most minor of failures and they are treated like serial perverts. Maybe a priest has fallen into a relationship with a woman which was consensual and legal. He broke his vow of celibacy, but he didn’t do anything illegal or criminal. Still he is suspended and treated like a total outcast. Another priest is caught looking at porn. It is not kiddie porn and not illegal, but he’s demoted and added to a sex offender list and cast out. Is any of this fair or logical or compassionate? I think not.

Yes, priests should be totally clear and clean and nothing bad should ever happen, but if the present madness continues vocations will continue to plummet, good candidates will quit, priests will simply walk out. Those with get up and go will get up and go, and who will we be left with? The very ones we wanted to be rid of–the sly, the lazy, the corrupt, the drunkards, the scheming, the mediocre and the weak.

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