The Shocking Truth About Catholic Priests

According to the 2012 edition of the Anuario Pontificio, at the end of 2010 there were 412,236 Catholic priests in the world. Of those four hundred thousand odd, some were indeed the paedophiles and fornicators of popular imagination. I daresay some were also gamblers, drunkards, or what have you. A few may even have been hypocrites or heretics, either unbelievers themselves or teaching a doctrine inconsistent with what the Catholic Church believes and teaches (it is not difficult to find out what the Catholic Church believes and teaches, it is all in the Catechism, which you can find online at the Vatican website.) HOWEVER, I dare to assert that the majority of those 412,236 were chaste, good-living, decent men, who believed what they taught and did their best to serve the people of God in every way they could. That is the shocking truth about Catholic priests, a truth many find hard to digest because it challenges their own values and preoccupations.

Why am I in such combative mood this morning? It is because I am increasingly concerned, not just about media drivel on the subject of the pope’s retirement from office, but also about the peddling of false rumours and derogatory statements about the Catholic Church in general and its priests in particular — sometimes, I am sad to say, by other Catholics or members of other Christian denominations.

To those outside, the Church as an organization is baffling to the point of incomprehension. It is not merely international but supranational — which is not to say that it is free from national characteristics or shortcomings. The Church is not a democracy in the way that most people understand democracy, yet it is one of the most ‘democratic’ of all institutions. Every Catholic has the right of direct recourse to Rome. There are no intermediaries that have to be gone through. The Church has strict rules, but our sex-obsessed culture homes in on only one subject whilst ignoring the tough and demanding nature of the Church’s teaching on capitalism, the death penalty and so on. In short, the Church is simultaneously both a complex organization and a very simple one, not to be explained — or dismissed — in a line or two.

There are many things in the Church that are less than ideal, many urgent matters that need to be addressed, but the recent spate of pope-bashing and priest-bashing has highlighted something we often forget. People don’t attack something they see as irrelevant. All the vitriol, all the misrepresentations, are a mark of just how relevant the Church is and, by extension, what a good job its priests are doing. There is, however, a danger in the sheer volume of personal nastiness we are seeing in the media and elsewhere. I am not an uncritical admirer of Pope Benedict XVI, but I have been appalled by the personal attacks on him during the past week especially. I have also been appalled by the treatment meted out to some of my priest friends, not because they are guilty of any crime but because some people think it acceptable to attack them simply because they are priests. Priests are human; morale can slip. We need to pray for our priests as never before — and think carefully about how we ourselves encourage, support or undermine them.

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19 thoughts on “The Shocking Truth About Catholic Priests”

  1. Yes. It had to be said. I wish there were more angry catholic voices like yours. In a recent discussion with “friends” (no: acquaintances) which slipped into priest-bashing I lost my temper. And I cannot get myself to regret it.

  2. Fair enough. The problem is that there’s a sort of journalistic Gresham’s Law about, under which “bad news drives out good”. I’m afraid that that’s life in the media – but that’s no excuse for members of other denominations to be gratuitously offensive about Benedict XVI or, for that matter, about Rowan Williams. They’ve both had impossible jobs and immense workloads and, in any case, who gets everything right every time? Certainly not I.

    I believe the word I’m groping for is “charity”.

  3. You’re quite right of course. As an Anglican priest, I have known (and still know) quite a few RC priests, and they have all been faithful to their calling while acknowledging their own humanity and fallen-ness.

    I am afraid that the priest- and pope-bashing you describe is part of a general falling-from-grace of the Christian Church in the West. We cannot rely on the ready respect and trust we once could. In one way, that is an opportunity for us to take the Gospel to the world anew; but the sense of transition we currently experience is often not a comfortable one.

    There is no excuse for anti-Catholicism on the part of other Christians. That does not mean that they (we!) are not allowed to be critical of it as the denomination which claims pre-eminence among Christians worldwide, but which can seem exclusive and even imperialist to those outside it.

    Also, some of the Catholic response to Pope Benedict’s retirement has been decidedly saccharine and cringe-inducing (a bit like the British tabloid media’s treatment of the Royal Family) and that perhaps encourages papal iconoclasm.

    • I’m sorry but I don’t understand your statements in your second to last paragraph. If someone outside of the Catholic faith does not understand or accept our beliefs and finds our dogmas foolish, yet feels free to openly criticize our Church, isn’t that “anti-Catholic”? And why would a saccharine comment trigger a negative response unless the negativity was there to begin with?
      Why would that same person feel we are “exclusive” if not because they harbor resentment for us? We welcome new members continually, evangelization is a key role in our faith.

      To my mind the answer is because they can, and they know they can get away with it. Try the same bashing with other faiths and they’d receive death threats.

    • With respect, our church is universal, not imperialistic. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the same worldwide, with minor variations as to culture and language. Those two terms are very different and beg a deeper understanding of our orientation. Ours is a church founded upon Peter by Christ, the successor of Peter through apostolic succession the Pope, as opposed to a state religion founded by politicians and headed by a monarch. Our common goal is to spread the good news of the Gospel.

  4. I suspect that in the past, I’ve been a little guilty of portraying negative aspects of the Catholic Church, perhaps I thought that as a former Catholic I had that right.

    But I’ve come to see very clearly that there are always two sides to the story and the great work being done by Catholic Priests and Religious world wide far outweighs the few who have caused scandal by their actions or ommissions in the past. But, like most good news, that gets excluded by the media and many who choose to comment on Chrstianity or Religion in general. They concentrate on the negative and ignore the positive.

    As for Pope Benedict, I’m sad that he is going, because despite the things attributed to him, I believe that he has been misreported and perhaps like the late Arch Bishop of Canterbury, has been poorly served by those in the Vatican media team.

    As an Anglican, I can report that not everything in our church is rosy, we have much to overcome, but I’m happy to report that at Parish level, our church is alive and vibrant with many good people serving their communities and congregations in many diverse ways. A fact which is I’m sure can also be applied to the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations.

    I’m grateful for you speaking up for Pope Benedict, because, he maintains a dignified silence, although the things that are being written and reported must be hurtful – I hope that some of the negative reporting is laid aside in honest reporting with integrity on his ministry and tenure as the Bishop of Rome.

  5. Thank you sister for this article. It must be remembered that the church is human as well as divine, and the horrific crimes committed against children are completely unrepresentative of what the church teaches. Where there are children, abusers will seek them out whether that be through secular or religious means. There is regrettably abuse across all factions of society and in an organisation as large as the Catholic church it seems inevitable the fold would contain people who would commit such disgusting sins/crimes. Jesus had twelve chosen disciples, and even one of those turned out to be wrong too! I feel so truly sorry for those who suffered at the hands of people claiming to act for the church, but it is the abusers that must condemned (if we are to condemn) not the church or its teachings.

  6. I believe it is imperative for all Catholics to learn our faith well, not difficult to do these days, and to defend whenever someone begins a verbal assault. Too many people remain mute out of – what? Politeness? Insecurity? As a Catholic, conversations involving news stories often come round to something or other regarding our faith and I do my best to explain and defend.

    When news of the first sex abuse scandal broke in the media, I told my husband “Just wait – this is the tip of the iceberg.”, and it was, primarily because before that point all abuse against children, no matter at whose hands, no matter their faith, was hushed up, as though children were not important enough to make a fuss over in their suffering. The caretaker (Protestant) of a Protestant church in the community where I grew up was a man all children were warned against going near, knowing glances and nods amongst parents.

    The grievous sinfulness of some suddenly became big news, as though it had never happened in the past, it became fashionable to tell all and paint all with the same brush, but when the media reports it is seldom as interested when a member of the laity is routed out as when it is a member(s) of the Catholic Church, precisely for the reasons Sister gives.

    The priest/bishop/pope/Catholicism bashing is a manifestation of satanic activity in my opinion, and as we are taught, satan only has a hold over those who co-operate with him. He has no power over people who walk in the Light of Christ. Our priest gave an excellent homily first Sunday of Lent on the reality of satan and his works, reminding us that one of the biggest mistakes we make is believing he doesn’t exist, is a quaint figure of middle ages literature when in fact he delights in destruction and seeks the ruin of souls continuously.

    As one priest put it, the barque of Peter is a warship, not a cruise ship, prayer, fasting, good works and almsgiving go a long way to fighting the battle and it has never been more important for us to join in it than now.

  7. I shared this post on my Facebook page and have already received a very angry, negative comment from a friend who claims to be an atheist and is herself a victim of child abuse. It broke my heart to read it, and it also aroused anger in myself – towards her, I admit, that she could say such things against the Pope and the Church knowing that I am devoted to both. I couldn’t answer her; I didn’t know how. My immediate reaction was to delete her comment, and now I’m not sure that that was the best thing to do. I am not by nature an argumentative person; indeed, I find it very difficult to express myself even though my beliefs are strong. I have been praying for her daily, even before she posted that comment, because I know how bitter she is toward God (who she vehemently says doesn’t exist … ), and will continue to pray for her. It just hurts, physically and emotionally, to read comments like that. I probably handled it all wrong. Please pray for me, that I will someday have the strength and wisdom to respond with charity to such comments.

    • I find it shocking that she, as YOUR friend, would use your Facebook account as a forum for venting. How does this honour your friendship? On the other hand, perhaps she felt it was a safe venue in which to vent? Either way, a very bad experience in her past which she seems to be still struggling with. We in our family and I’m sure others on this site will pray for you both. She needs professional assistance to deal with this, to put it and leave it in her past, and to move forward with her life.

  8. I’ll be praying for all people overwhelmed by such strong outpouring of vitriol, it really is sad to see, and I fear that I mostly run away from it. Many of my friends with strongly anti-religion sentiments have no idea that I have any faith at all, because I’d rather not destroy a friendship over it.

    • My husband and I have such friends, who gladly accept assistance when in need (soup when sick, errands run), who ask us to pray for loved ones in need, though refuse to do so themselves, hedging their bets perhaps. One neighbour actually returned a rosary we’d lent him during a serious illness, stating he was recovered, a miracle, yes, he said, but this wasn’t part of his religion. The most effective witness to your faith is to live your life in accordance with Christ’s teachings, even if you keep silent as they spew their verbal diarrhea.

  9. Thank you for all your comments, which I am now closing.

    I decided when I wrote this post that I would not comment on other people’s views nor engage in any arguments. Regular readers know that I prize highly the charity, courtesy and unpolemical nature of the discourse on this blog, and I don’t want that to be lost/sidetracked/changed.

    Inevitably, the subject I addressed will stir very deep feelings in people. The most important response anyone can make is the one for which I asked in the post: prayer and thoughtfulness — prayer for priests and for those who have been wounded by the experience of abuse and those who have been falsely accuse; all who are afraid of, confused by or antagonistic to the Church. Perhaps I might add, we must pray for ourselves also (meaning all of us who meet on the blog). We do not always see how we affect others and knowing when we should speak out and when we should keep silent requires some very delicate tuning in to the Holy Spirit.

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