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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Struggles of Priests: A Discussion

I thought the following remarks were worthy of a posted dialogue or brief reflection. 

GUEST OPINION: Sometimes parents and grandparents lament the choice of a young man to become a priest. Given the stories about abusers and gay clergy, will the heterosexual man find himself the odd man out or one among a brotherhood of normal men who embrace single-hearted love? Parents want grandchildren and worry about his happiness.

FATHER JOE:  There is nothing more wonderful than the priesthood.  It is worth the greatest sacrifices.  The scandals around sexuality are tragic and devastating to the Church’s reputation.  But there have always been weakness, confusion and sin.  We see the same with marriage, especially today when half of all unions end in divorce, often under the grounds of adultery.  Scandals should no more prevent men from answering a call to ministry than they should deter good Christian couples from pledging their love to each other within the covenant of marriage.    

GUEST OPINION:  Many berate “celibacy,” while even clergy are often quiet and/or resentful about their chosen lifestyle. They talk about the Church DEMANDING it instead of about themselves CHOOSING and EMBRACING it. It is a discipline of the Catholic priesthood, but sacrifices might be joyfully pursued and can open all sorts of doors for discipleship. Strangely enough, I have known some who were energetic in the defense of our religion and rigorists about the rules, not because they were on fire with fervor for the faith and their promises, but because they were trying to convince themselves.

FATHER JOE:  No sooner do you say something good that you ruin it.  Celibate love opens a man to single-hearted love of God and selfless service to the community.  You are right that it opens all sorts of doors to responding to God.  While a few might be pretentious in living out the demands of priesthood; I would hope that most men do so out of a conviction and excitement about the faith and the part they play in the work of salvation made possible in Christ Jesus. 

GUEST OPINION:  The man looking at priesthood wants to take care of others, but who will take care of him? A priest friend told me that every ordination homily used to sound like a Mother’s Day sermon. The bishop assured the women that the Church would take care of their boys. Today pension plans are strapped for funds and the Church has reneged on long-term care for elderly and ailing priests. Has the Church broken a trust with these women and their sons?

FATHER JOE:  While creative, this writing is also fairly cynical. I understand the frustrations, but we have to be realists about the problems we face today as well. Men do not become priests because we want someone to take care of us. We become priests because the wondrous love of God has called us as caregivers for the salvation of souls. We want to make Christ’s sacrifice present and to be the dispensers of his sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Empowered to forgive sins, we seek to bring divine mercy to our fellow men and women. When a man is ordained for the altar he is configured to participate in the one priesthood of Christ. He ministers, not in his own name, but as a representative of Christ and his Church. Priests are commissioned by Christ and authorized to function as extensions of their bishops. Instead of seeing tension between the shepherds, we should acknowledge the ministry of the Church as a whole and the unity that exists between her ministers. Mistakes might be made regarding practical matters, but the grace of God remains with his Mystical Body. The Church is still One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Holy Spirit safeguards the truth of the Gospel and empowers the weakest of men to teach and pass on the faith and morals revealed by God. Every priest is a servant or slave of the Gospel. We do not live for ourselves, but for God and others. When our lives are used up, we should echo Luke 17:10, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”


The priest has no spouse or children to rely upon. Canon law says that the relationship of a bishop to his priests should be that of a father to a son. Is that always the case, especially when priests make mistakes, get in trouble, or just face sickness? It seems that legal expediencies and financial threats can quickly cause a vast divide. We forgive everyone, except our own.

We may have to rewrite the parable of the prodigal son. When the prodigal comes home, his father refuses to meet him and sends out a lawyer who tells him that he has severed his ties and must go his own way. Indeed, he has been disowned and can no longer be called his son. “You are laicized and maybe even excommunicated.” The elder son hears that there is a commotion and confronts the father. His father seemingly has amnesia about ever knowing the prodigal. Regardless, anything this person did could not possibly be his fault or connected to him. Unfortunately, there is more bad news because the farm is failing and the inheritance that the elder son expected will now have to go to the lawyers for legal expenses. “You face ever escalating expectations and demands for funds, reprimand for speaking too honestly and forcefully about moral issues from the pulpit, and may face a retirement, not in a priests’ home, but as a ward of the state.”


The guest opinion writer would normally be regarded as quite orthodox.  Concerned about the priesthood, he is wrestling over certain issues.  I must acknowledge that I deleted a few points of the opinion above because of coherence and my own personal preferences about the nature of this blog. It is for this reason that my response seems to go beyond the perameters of the opinion piece.     

A priest prays for his bishop every day in the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Most bishops are good shepherds of the Church and seek to support their brother priests. While there is a fatherly relationship in authority, there is also a brotherly affinity in love and service. The positing of an adversarial relationship is perverse and counter to Catholic ecclesiology. Priests are men under authority. In days gone by and in the present, they go where they are sent and do the work they are charged to do. The promise or vow does not expire when a priest retires. Given the need for clergy, even most retired priests still work hard. Genuine retirement for a priest comes when he closes his eyes for the last time and hears his Master’s voice calling, “Come good and faithful servant.”

It is true that we cannot excuse false teaching, ministerial indolence, or harmful scandal from the clergy. However, neither should the laity ridicule their ministers. God’s people must support their priests and bishops, helping them to become the shepherds we deserve and need. We can witness to one another by example in remaining steadfast in faith and true to our state of life.

Good bishops and priests love the people they serve. Do the people in the pews always love their priests? Are they appreciative of all the personal sacrifices these men make so that we might share the Eucharist and have our sins forgiven? Do we take account of the frightful challenges facing our bishops as they strive to insure the unity of faith, preserve our Christian legacy, and dialogue with a combative secular society?  We have many good people, but some of our worst enemies are so-called Catholics, themselves.  Today, there are critics who have nothing good to say about the Church. They tell jokes about priests and bishops, slandering good men because of a few renegades who played Judas. Particularly sad is how normally pious folk are now joining into the litany of criticism and venomous gossip that was once reserved to the Church’s enemies.

If you would like to share your opinion on this Blog, you can write the message in the ASK A PRIEST comment section or send an email to frjoe2000@yahoo.com. I always take editorial liberties and reserve the right to add a response.

3 Responses

  1. I’m a fairly new Catholic, and even though I was raised a Protestant, I had no idea until now how difficult a priest’s life and responsibility is. I was recently in a parish organization where many of the parishioners had dissenting opinions about the priest. It had nothing to do with his character, it was all about politics (one person didn’t like the way he did something or changed something, etc.). And no one can please everyone when it comes to politics or personal preferences. I was shocked how negative people were about very trivial matters.

    My priest is a very good priest, as are most of the priests in my diocese. He remembers my name, even though I am in a huge parish. He gives counsel in confession even when there is a long line. And I can’t imagine him even raising his voice in anger.

    I guess the point of this was to say thank you for being a priest, for continuing this blog, and being strong in your faith and conviction. I have a new appreciation for the priesthood, and it really is a gift.

  2. I don’t know you, but my sympathies are with your guest poster. Priests are sometimes falsely charged but the mud always sticks. Then no one wants us and no one trusts us. Despite the obvious collusion of those making charges and the lack of evidence, a man’s priesthood ends. He has no pension, maybe a little social security, mounting legal bills and even his old priest friends forget him. The Church was his whole life. All he knows is religion and ministry. Now he is prohibited from doing the only thing in which he has competence.

    All you want to do is die.

    Nevertheless, we are told not to fret, but to rejoice and be glad! Why? We cannot remember, but suspect it had something to do with a Gospel we once believed and proclaimed. Okay, maybe I overstate my case? Somehow, I still believe… despite everything that has happened. I guess maybe God’s grace is funny that way?

  3. Adapted from remarks left at another priest’s site:

    We cannot live very long in this world without suffering, testing, failure and loss. We make plenty of mistakes, but every priest knows the kerygma— light in the darkness, victory in the passion and resurrection from death. Whatever comes, we should not allow the shadows of depression and loneliness to utterly envelop us. Every good priest is a wounded healer. Can hearts really love unless they are broken? Jesus’ sacred heart was set aflame and pierced, so great was his love. The sacrifices we make are made real when we fall in love and we all fall in love. We are not machines, but men. Our Lord gave us the sacraments and his mercy because he knew we were weak and bound to fail. We are all failures. But we can know forgiveness, and by the gift of grace, grow in holiness still. Those who feign piety and obedience have forgotten this and only go through the motions. God wants us to be honest with ourselves and others— how can we witness to the truth if we, ourselves, are not genuine and faithful?

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