Priestly 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 know 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.