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A Priest Trying to Understand the Pope

LINK:  Msgr.Charles Pope – One Priest’s Concern About Recent Remarks by the Pope

0002044Priestly men have embraced celibacy and obedience, even when difficult. They weep over their sins and those of their people. They surrender many of the things that most men count as gain, just so that souls might be saved. And what is their reward? Accompaniment with sinners in the world should not mean recrimination of those priestly stewards who struggle to show people the proper direction, the WAY that is Christ. The Pope may feel that he is giving necessary guidance to priests; but where is the support and prayer for them as fishers of souls and as shepherds who daily lay down their lives for their flocks?

Many traditional but loving priests feel wounded by the constant assaults directed toward them. There is a terrible danger in joining the secular chorus that derides priests as worldly, as mean-spirited and as sexual deviants. Most priests are good and faithful men. We are warned by numerous saints that Satan targets the priesthood. Why? The devil knows very well that if he really wants to seriously wound the Church then he must destroy the influence and ministry of the priesthood. Our ordained priests participate in the one priesthood of Christ. The heart of the Church is no vague sentiment for goodness or humanism or even works of charity; no, it is the priestly heart— the burning and pierced heart of Christ.

(Response to Pope Francis’ words on June 16 at the Pastoral Conference of the Diocese of Rome.)

I am at a loss about what the Pope regards as intrusion into people’s moral lives. As a confessor, every priest is FATHER, DOCTOR, TEACHER and JUDGE. We cannot excuse sin because it damages one’s relationship with God. We must know what we are up against if we are to help people. The surgeon uses his scalpel not because he is cruel but because he wants to help his patients. The priest gets no joy in causing pain for others; but he also knows that confession and repentance is vital if there is to be any true accompaniment. This matter comes up in his GOSPEL OF JOY back in 2013: “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best” (44). I have never known a priest who wanted to so transform the confessional; but neither do we want to lie to people, offering soothing empty words or an absolution rooted in sacrilege and bound to collapse again into the quagmire of mortal sin.


It seems to me that this sends the wrong message and undermines the truth of sacramental marriage. Catholics are bound to get married according to the proper form: before a priest and two witnesses. Cohabitation and sexual intimacy is a variation of FORNICATION. How are they faithful if there is no real marriage? There is no vow or promise. Practice shows that such couples are frequently subject to infidelity. There is a fear or hesitance to make a commitment. What we are talking about here is the matter of mortal sin. It is only a feigned parody of marriage. There can be no sanctifying and actual grace in shacking up. Accompaniment should also include helping people in changing their direction. Fellowship on the road to hell is meaningless. The Gospel urges the narrow road. We cannot change Church teaching. Our goal is to help people in their pilgrimage to heaven— to save souls.


Marriage is based upon human nature. We are sexual beings and marriage is created by God for the propagation of children within the intimate friendship of men and women. Our Lord raises this natural bond to the level of a sacrament. Would not the Pope’s words have every couple question whether or not they are truly married? Culture has a definite influence, but it can no more nullify marriages than a pagan culture can give valid status to same-sex unions. Our presumption is always in favor of the validity of our marriages. Redirecting fault for failed marriages away from the couple to the culture is to strip them as moral agents of their overall responsibility. Would he argue that a clashing culture invalidates other sacraments? If it can negate marriage then what about priesthood? We do not want to go down this road.

11 Responses

  1. Please know Father, that you, Msgr. Pope, and all religious are quietly supported in prayer by those that you will never meet. Thank you for your commitment to truth in these confusing times.

  2. Thank you for your priestly vocation and zeal for souls.

  3. FRANCIS PHILIP: I think that you may be overreacting and taking my intentions the wrong way, not fully reading and understanding all that I write before responding.

    FATHER JOE: You think so?

    This is what Francis Philip writes:

    You are not a friend of Pope Francis?

    …many priests and theologians do not really trust the infallibility of the Pope.

    They are quick to launch attacks, out of their own pride…

    They show the darkness of their own “eye,” reliant upon the letter of the law, and afraid of the light….

    Had you been Moses on that terrible day when he and God found the Jews worshipping the golden calf, would you have encouraged God to smite them?

    You lack trust, and you lack faith, and you lack understanding.

    Even though some persons are ordained to be priests, they turn and become sexual predators or have private wives or they steal money from the Church. Why didn’t the Sacrament save them from this?

    You see them as fornicators; God may see them as less sinful than some priests who, in their hearts, are very proud.

    FATHER JOE: No I think I understand well enough.

  4. Many hold in high regard the messages purportedly from Our Lady of Akita. While only private revelation, this one is particularly unsettling: “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.” It is a nightmare scenario for sure, not all that different from other apparitions and warnings. Pray for the Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons. Pray also for good and holy laity. Remain loyal to the Church… go to Confession and to Mass… and yes, remember to say Our Lady’s Rosary.

  5. My prayers are with all the priests in difficult times like these.

  6. One thing that I see from this situation: many priests and theologians do not really trust the infallibility of the Pope. As such, they do not trust the Holy Spirit, God Who guides the Pope. They are quick to launch attacks, out of their own pride, against the Pope who speaks for God. They would rather attack than listen in order to understand. They show the darkness of their own “eye,” reliant upon the letter of the law, and afraid of the light and inspiration which comes through faith in Who God really Is and Does. He comes to heal the sick – those who need a Doctor. But some priests only want to treat those who don’t need a doctor and they balk when their houses are stained with the spiritual sores of the wounded.


    Sorry, but I do not think you really understand papal infallibility. It has never meant that the Pope is always right. First, there are levels of assent. The recent apostolic exhortation even explicitly says that it should not be received as magisterial. Thus, it claims no infallible protection. We see such in certain discussions between Peter and Paul at the Council of Jerusalem. Peter changes his mind and accepts Paul’s argument. The weight is given to the final decision, not to the process that gets one there. Addresses and quick interviews are also outside of this protection by the Holy Spirit. The Pope has requested discussion about some of the matters he brings up. It is true that earlier popes were more careful about statements. Just look at how the Vatican has constantly clarified and revised, with his approval, so much that Pope Francis has said. When he leaves the script, like all human beings, he can misspeak. The difficulty with lower levels of authority is that there is still an expectation for religious respect that is required (particularly on new questions). The second element or level here is that the Pope can only define or interpret revelation; he cannot make up or contradict (in a fundamental way) either Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture. Our doctrines of faith and morals are set. New questions are judged from these basic principles. The Pope is the servant of the Word, not its master. Third, you are not alone in failing to appreciate the dynamics of papal infallibility. It is this ignorance that adds to the worry from certain churchmen. You are also wrong to add your voice to those who disparage the priesthood.

    Papal infallibly is technically defined as follows: When the Pope (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority (3) on a matter of faith and morals (4) to the whole Church, he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error. His teaching act is therefore called “infallible.” Such teachings are regarded as “irreformable.” According to Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II followed this formula with the prohibition of women priests. There are two Marian dogmas defined by previous popes: the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.

  7. What would you say to St. Augustine of Hippo? Is he not notorious for having cohabited? Did he not have children out of wedlock? Was he not on a journey toward God? Was it not another priest who inspired St. Augustine to come into the Church? Pray to be like THAT priest who inspires the sinner to repentance. Encourage and teach.

    FATHER JOE: St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine in 387 AD. The Church traditionally attributes this conversion not just to the arguments of St. Ambrose but to the prayers and tears offered to heaven by St. Augustine’s mother. Note that he had to give up his old life before becoming a Christian. That is wholly different from encouraging Catholics to remain in a state of sin through cohabitation, fornication and adultery. Good priests will admonish people to reform their lives. The difficulty in the great saint’s story is his abandonment of both his child and the mother. What became of them? Note that he never married her.

  8. Had you been Moses on that terrible day when he and God found the Jews worshipping the golden calf, would you have encouraged God to smite them? Well, if that is the attitude, then we don’t need the Sacrament of Confession because sin requires immediate death given that we all have the innate ability not to sin – not ever. Of course, that is sarcasm, but I hope that you understand that even many who appear to be obedient – going to Mass weekly for example – are not free of sin, needing the Sacrament to cleanse and heal them/us often because we are all trying to grow in holiness. But if we are not allowed to grow – if we are commanded to be perfect immediately and without training and time to build the good habits, how will we get there?


    Are you well? Why would you assume that I would want to smite anyone? The issues I discussed were these: (1) that there needs to be recognition of the important and good work of priests, not wholesale condemnation; and (2) that priests should do all they can to bring genuine healing and forgiveness to those in serious sin. The parameters of sin, judgment and salvation are not set by me or the Pope. Our mission, as I said, is to save souls. Fornication and adultery may contain within themselves elements of tenderness and devotion; however, they remain mortal sins. If we die in serious sin then we would suffer the loss of heaven and the pains of hell. Time is short. If we take away the biblical urgency of repentance and belief then we preach a false Gospel. Priests will be held accountable to God. Why would you fault me and other priests from doing what we were ordained to do? Are you not Catholic? Do you not understand issues like sin, grace, virtue and vice? Do you under-appreciate the power of the sacraments instituted by Christ? As with the Israelites, we leave judgment to God. As you may recall God was ready to destroy them but Moses interceded. That is what priests regularly do— even when critics like you condemn them. Beware of calumny when you paint all priests with the same brush stroke. We are all sinners, priests as well, but we should struggle to avoid mortal sin. Venial sins are small matters that do not break off our relationship with God. Mortal sin kills the soul. How can you properly accompany someone if he or she is spiritually dead? The priest should desperately want to restore them to the good graces of God. “He was dead but has come to life again!)

    The Holy Father does not teach what you seem to be urging. However, it realizes the fear that many of us have that the Pope speaks in a manner easily misunderstood by others.

    You contradict yourself in this post. You lack trust, and you lack faith, and you lack understanding. Even though some persons are ordained to be priests, they turn and become sexual predators or have private wives or they steal money from the Church. Why didn’t the Sacrament save them from this? Even though men and women get married, they fight, commit adultery, are unfaithful in other ways, perhaps even worse than some who cohabit ate before they get married. At least the ones cohabitation are entering in to marriage using prudence in light of the generations of failed marriages which came before them. You see them as fornicators; God may see them as less sinful than some priests who, in their hearts, are very proud. Pope Francis asks for compassion and mercy. You complain.


    There is no contradiction here from me or Msgr. Pope. I have taught the faith as a priest for over thirty years and many years before that as a layman. But note what you do here… instead of arguing in a coherent manner, you attempt to discredit me and other priests by association with “sexual predators” or secret womanizers or thieves Carefull, that will get you banned from this site.

    I did not attack the Pope. I would never attack the Pope. I questioned the manner he sometimes says things, how they hurt good priests and make traditional moral exhortation difficult. Priests seek to put on the heart and mind of Christ when we hear Confessions. I suspect you do not believe this. When was the last time you went to Confession? Or are you too proud to admit your guilt and need for mercy. Every good priest counts himself the first of sinners. We do not want to hurt anyone. But to remain silent and not to help people face the truth would be a false compassion and not real love at all. Every priest at the altar is an “alterchristus” or another Christ. Christ has configured the priest to himself. This is doctrine 101. But you show no respect for this basic mystery of faith. The priest has the power to forgive sins. Do you believe this? Your words do not show it. Attack the priesthood, and as I said, you attack the priestly heart of the Church.

    Finally, consider the MILLIONS of children in the world today who have witnessed their parents’ failed marriages, but love and have learned to understand them nonetheless. Instead of placing blame, some compassion and understanding on the part of the priest would be better. They are all deeply wounded. Do you send the wounded into the street and say, “Get help on your own until you learn how to be well again. When you are well, we will admit you to the hospital.” ? No. You reach out and accompany them in order to help them heal and engraftment them back into the Church as persons more healthy than they were before.


    You would fault the priests for an eroticized society where sexual sin is rampant? Promises were meant to be kept and it was Jesus who opposed divorce and spoke about it as leading to adultery. Your fight is with the Lord, not me. I try my best to heal families. I assist with annulments in the face of irregular unions. I urge many people to live chaste lives so as to avoid sin and the forfeiture of the sacraments. What becomes of absolution given to a person who remains in a sinful relationship? He or she falls immediately back into sin. What happens when a person in mortal sin receives Holy Communion? The saints tell us that instead of saving grace, he or she receives condemnation for sacrilege.

    1 Corinthians 11:27-32

    “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

  9. You are not a friend of Pope Francis?

    FATHER JOE: Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ. He is the visible head of the Church. Jesus is the invisible head of the Church. I accept his authority and all that the Catholic Church teaches… but do you? The argument is made that the Pope seeks a new praxis, not a change in doctrine (which is impossible). Do you understand this? I suspect not given your query.

  10. There is more grace in a faithful cohabitation than an unfaithfully
    carried through church wedding. Thank you Father Joe for your
    blog.That was my paraphrase of the pope’s words.

  11. Although I see Pope Francis’s message differently and am one of the fans of this Bishop I will say I agree with you about Priests being a big part of the heart of the Church!

    I wrote a piece a bit back about the Priesthood in the church. I have been very blessed to know some absolutely wonderful priests from various orders and I continue to think that we are blessed with men of great character and a true calling to give and grow those who are in their flock 🙂

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