This week has brought stark reminders of the vulnerability and the vincibility of priests: From the disclosure of Cardinal Mahony’s inaction in the 1980s, when he failed to remove abusive priests from positions of responsibility, to the reports of a priest in Springfield, Illnois, donning an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and a bondage hood, then calling 911 for assistance—we’ve seen too well that clergy are only human.
I’ve been a little out of sorts, unwilling to fuel the furnace of fury that’s gripped the blogosphere over these and other failures of Church leaders. I’d like to say SOMETHING—but how to bring light, not heat, to the discussion?
Then this morning, the answer came in a chat box.
Monsignor Richard Soseman, an official with the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, sent me a note regarding an English-language release of a book they published, encouraging the faithful to pray for priests. Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity was published in Spanish and Italian in 2008, and finally in English in 2011. With this new English-language edition, released in January 2013, the Congregation for the Clergy hopes it will sell over a million copies.
In the slim 52-page booklet Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Congregation for the Clergy and the book’s author, shares stories of people who have offered their lives for priests or prayed for them. He describes a sharp increase of vocations in the small Italian village of Lu where, between 1881 and the 1940s, one third of the inhabitants (323 out of less than 1,000) became priests or nuns.
Monsignor Soseman explained further that the book “encourages spiritual maternity, which means a person ‘adopts’ a specific priest that they will pray for.” And there are some specific suggestions on how to pray for a priest and some recommended prayers, such as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and an hour of Eucharistic devotion.
Pope Benedict XVI has recently made some changes in the Roman Curia, giving responsibility for seminaries and priestly vocations to the Congregation for the Clergy. This little book from the Congregation will, Monsignor Soseman hopes, “inspire more people to pray for priests because the history of the Church shows us how challenging the life of a priest can be.”
This, of course, is what the Church needs, what our priests need, today.
I do not mean that priests who have committed the dastardly crime of child sexual abuse should be met with applause and approbation; of course, they must be accountable under the law, just like the rest of us.
And I don’t mean that the legal authorities or Church authorities should overlook the missteps and the sins of bishops (most recently, of course, the gross negligence of Cardinal Mahony and Bishop Curry in shielding priests from prosecution).
What I am saying, though, is that the wretched impugnment of priests and bishops that has come out of the mouths of the atheistic, anti-Catholic left (and some apparently sinless Catholics) is unbecoming for any human. For those of us who know Christ, those who have experienced His healing love and mercy in our own lives, the rancid name-calling and vilification that has characterized the blogosphere is a sin in itself, a shocking failure to mirror Christ to the world.
Let us leave the prosecution to our officials and let us, strengthened in our faith by the Holy Spirit, be a people of prayer and humble penitence. Let us pray for our priests—for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and for strength, wisdom and holiness for those who have accepted the call to give their lives in service to Christ and to His Church.
If you are inspired to join with me in prayer for our priests and bishops, you can order the book at booksforcatholics.com. The publisher is making it available at an attractive price of just $2 for orders of two or more.