Have you ever been hurt by a priest?
Yes, I realize many people over the years have been traumatized by the crime of sexual assault, as some emotionally disturbed perverts entered the priesthood and then preyed on innocent teenage boys. These crimes cry out to God, and those who committed the crimes, along with those in authority who hid the crimes, should be punished severely. The priest sex abuse scandal has been a terrible black eye for the Church, and has caused countless people either to leave the Church or to outright lose their faith.
However, when I ask the question, “Have you ever been hurt by a priest?” I don’t mean actual criminal abuse. I’m referring to the hurts caused be rudeness, arrogance, sarcasm, or indifference. Over the years, I’ve talked to many people who have changed parishes or stopped going to Mass altogether because they were hurt by a priest.
Usually the complaints go something like this: “I left a message that I needed to talk to him right away, and he never called me back!” or, “He did the funeral Mass for my mother, and it was obvious he was just going through the motions!” or, “His homilies are just so boring!” or, “I told him the music as Mass is awful, and he didn’t change a thing!”
Let me ask a couple of frank questions: Do we really expect our priests to be perfect? Do we really hold them to such a high standard that we get angry when they fall short? I’m not saying it’s fine when our priests get stressed-out and tired and depressed, and as a result say things that offend people. But priests are only human, just like you and me. God uses imperfect people to spread His perfect message of the Gospel.
Let me ask another question: When it turned out that President Nixon was a crook, did you renounce your U.S. citizenship and move to a different country? (Or if you weren’t around in 1974, insert the name of a more recent president who you personally think was or is especially corrupt.)
I’m pretty sure all the people I’ve met who left the Church because they were hurt by something a priest said or did, are still living here in America. They know the ideals that our nation was founded upon—liberty and opportunity—are still pretty terrific despite certain leaders who have fallen short.
By comparison, the ideals the Church was founded upon are a zillion times more important than even the good ol’ U.S. of A. After all, liberty and opportunity in this life are wonderful, but true forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven are a whole lot better. And unlike our country, which was founded by brilliant yet flawed men, our Church was founded by the divine Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Would it be nice if all our priests were kind and loving all the time? Sure. Would it be nice if priests never said or did anything rude or offensive? Yeah, that would be great. But is it going to happen anytime soon? Don’t hold your breath.
Parish priests, just like presidents of the United States, have been given temporary authority. The institutions they govern are much greater than they are.
If you’re not thrilled with your parish priest, please remember that he is not the focus of the parish; Jesus Christ is, who becomes really, truly present in the Eucharist at every Mass. Focus on Jesus, not the priest.
Also, pray for your priest, at least as often as you complain about him. You just might discover that YOUR unrealistic expectations are half the problem.