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

Does the Laity Have the Right to Expect Authenticity from Our Priests? February 26, 2014


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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13 responses to “Does the Laity Have the Right to Expect Authenticity from Our Priests?”

  1. “Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” ~ James 5:4

    “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” ~ Matthew 18:6

    These false priests need a lot of prayer. They are in the gravest spiritual danger.

    The bishops who keep these priests in operation are also in danger. This, I can’t understand. A Coke sales rep who went along promoting Pepsi wouldn’t last too long. It’s not rocket science. I would have to call it cowardice; I’m not sure what else it can be.

  2. I don’t know what is going on in Seattle, but Fr. John D. Whitney, S.J., is someone that I’ve got a severe problem with. When he was with the Jesuits in Oregon, he worked hard to hide accused priests and keep them away from secular authorities.

    Even when he was caught in this, he released a rather self-serving anti-rational non-apology:

    Gee, I know why it happened- because the Jesuits have been hiding pedophiles for years and because Fr. Whitney himself has tendencies in that direction. That this priest who takes part in gay pride parades would be all for students sticking up for a potential abuser, is not surprising at all.

    I don’t know who gave this man a parish, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find all sorts of questionable liturgical activities going on there.

  3. I made the mistake of reading the article in America that Rebecca referenced. It is beautifully written, and persuasive. There’s a sign in the photograph that leads the article that says Jesus said nothing about same sex marriage, implying that it must be OK then. This thinking is what bad Catholic education and catechesis has brought us. We’re slipping down the slope and picking up speed.

  4. I have had this problem ever since I reverted to the Church in ’96. It’s not just the Priest or even the Bishop but the laity as well who simply don’t believe or obey the Church anymore. I just last week quit a parish small group because I realized that many were not “I believe all the Church teaches to be Divinely revealed by God” Catholics. They are simply Mass attending protestants. I heard things like how Jesus never intended to start a Church, the church needs to get with the times before she looses even more members, how the fallen school you refered to had 20,000 people protesting its firing of the teacher and how great that was! I sent the team leaders an e-mail explaining I had no fellowship with people with these opinions and got a response telling me about her theology degree and how long her husband was Catholic.

  5. I’m curious Jeffrey, what part of the country do you live in? This seems worse some places than others.

  6. Well priests are human and what happens is if you teach the Truth of the Church’s teaching you well get called hater, intolerant, bigot and any other name liberals can come up with to bury the Truth in relativism. So we either become cowards and don’t say nothing at all or convince ourselves that we are doing good by going against the Truth. But there is hope. I heard a talk recently by Mary Healy. She teaches at a Catholic seminary and mentioned how the men that are coming into the priesthood these days (and she mentioned that it is growing) are perfectly aware of how difficult it is going to be to be a priest in today’s world and they know the cost and have encountered the Lord and are willing to make that sacrifice.

  7. I travel alot and have lived in different places and I have encountered this everywhere. When I reverted it was because I came to realize the Authority and protection from error the Church has. Therefore if my opinion contradicts Church teaching my opinion is in error. The first two parish Priests I asked to hear my confession told me I didn’t need to articulate my sins because God already knew them! Another told me in the confessional that some sins the Catechism clearly states are grave matter weren’t. These 3 were in the Minneapolis- St Paul area just across the river on the Wisconsin side. I currently live in the Seattle area and my group experience was here. I have found I have to parish shop alot to find a Priest faithful to the teaching of the Church. I have found them but I have had to really search.

  8. St Paul, Mn area and now living in Seattle area. My experience is that heterodoxy is everywhere and at every level. I have to use my protestant background to “Church shop” and Priest shop. I find a parish here and a Priest there who are orthodox but it takes digging to do so. I’ve heard we in the US refered to as AmChurch as opposed to ROMAN church members. That is AmChurch is secular and liberal first and foremost but they will make Jesus and His Church backward compatible with their beliefs when He agrees with them. When He calls things sins that they don’t like they reserve the option to disagree. Dissent I think they call it.

  9. Before Fr Whitney’s essay was published in American magazine, it was published in his church’s bulletin. Approximately one week later, a large rally in support of Zmuda was held at his church. Fr. Whitney welcomed them, and repeated the message of his essay:

    “The real humility spoken of by Pope Francis is that we don’t have the
    answers,” said Whitney. “We need to have the conversations . . . Why,
    what does it (church teachings on sexuality) mean in human terms.”

    I read a discussion of this rally, and one Seattle resident said that he had been to St. Joseph’s often. He described it as a thorn in the side of the archbishop. I suppose as a Jesuit church, there is little the archbishop can do, outside of revoking the incardination of the priest.

  10. Just something to keep in mind… A friend and I had the discussion about priests such as are referenced above fairly regularly. My friend happens to work in his diocesan office and it happened that the subject got brought up with his bishop. The bishop asked him what he would do and my friend quickly said he would get rid of all of the troublesome priests……..the bishop looked at him and said, “okay, now what?” My friend said ,”what do you mean?” The bishop said, ” okay we got rid of all the priests, so know what? How do the people receive the sacraments? Where do the people go to mass? Now what”. The point of course is that the sacraments validity is not dependent on an individual priests sanctity. The priest shortage in the diocese in question is severe, the diocese already imports a fair number of foreign priests and has consolidated parishes. Personally I believe if we had better priests we would have stronger parishes and more robust membership rather than the many “social” Catholics we currently see. At my parish, our wonderful orthodox pastor was moved and is catching a ton of grief in his new parish. He handed out a primer on confession and some of the parishioners complained to the diocese about the “filth” he was handing out. My bishop is a good and holy man and yet even in my diocese we have a lot of “rouge” priests. May God give us His strength to remain strong despite the tribulations to come.