It is written, ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.
Consider the crisis of sin and failure the Church is presently walking through and the reactions often fall into one of two camps. Either there’s a predator in every priest, the Church is an evil villain and celibacy is surely to blame, or there’s nothing to do but weep and wring your hands, and perhaps leave the Church, disgruntled and demoralized, looking for perfection somewhere else.
There is a third response – a much better one – but it requires a lot more trust and courage. It is the response of the faithful who have not lost faith.
I hope that the unspeakable betrayal of a few clergy in our midst has caused us to also become very protective of our good, holy priests and deacons. May the stark reminder of how easy it is to fall from grace propel us to our knees on behalf of our shepherds. We need to do a better job covering them with our prayers. We need to get our dander up a bit and say to Satan, “Not my priest! Get away!”
I can’t recall the last time our parish publicly prayed for our pastor at mass. I wonder if we ever have. I mean prayed for his heart to remain pure and humble, prayed for his service to remain holy and righteous, prayed for his protection against the schemes of Satan, who is on the prowl and eager to destroy a good priest. Our holy servants are prized targets and sexual accusations are the weapon du jour right now.
Most recently, the sad news has come that Fr. John Corapi is facing serious accusations from a former female employee. The rumor mill is already abuzz with theories and conjecture. Another priest, one who has done so much good, is under the weight of scandal, even though no proof has yet been offered.
My thoughts upon hearing the news about Fr. Corapi were about us – the faithful – not him. (I will presume his innocence until proven otherwise.) Are we doing our duty? Do we expect our priests and deacons to be superhuman and inexhaustible and forget to shield them by our prayers? They have big, flashing neon targets on their heads. Have we forgotten? They feed us the Bread of Life; they loose our sins and usher us into God’s mercy; they baptize us into the Body of Christ. This makes them a most sought-after trophy for the enemy to hang on his wall.
Like any of us, they are human and weak. That doesn’t justify or excuse their sin any more than it does our own. But it’s time we remembered that they are on the front lines of a fierce battle for souls, and Satan really, really wants theirs. Who’s got their backs? We must. For starters, let us plead for the intercession of St. Michael and the Blessed Mother on their behalf constantly, not just when another scandal is brewing.
I hope we are also willing to demand justice for them and believe the best of them. The horror of the abuse of children by priests is a knife that still remains in the heart of the Church, so now the merest mention of a possible sexual allegation against a priest is handled severely (even if the charge involves adults, not children). The danger is that we seem to presume guilt rather than innocence, and vindication never quite restores what was taken.
It’s distressing to witness how the accuser is permitted to remain anonymous while the charge is made public and the priest’s name and reputation are unprotected from speculation and insinuation. To say the least, such a system is inequitable. Even if the accusations are proven false and the matter against the priest is dismissed, the damage to him and his ministry has been done and cannot be undone. The false accuser remains protected by privacy, while the priest is forever clouded with the wisp of suspicion. That seems highly unjust. Is that really the right way to treat the sons of the Church?
What the secular world will never understand is that the faithful, those who have faith in the Church as God’s plan to reach the world with the Gospel, those who trust that the gates of hell will not prevail against Her; we are angry about the sin in our House and we groan with despair at the filth and we are nauseated at the foul stench. We want the House cleaned from top to bottom and we want it cleaned now. Open the windows and doors and turn on the lights! Expose the rot! Clean out the infectious wound. We want the Body healed and whole again.
We do not shrink from the cleansing even though we are wearied at the endlessness and severity of it. But while the world would just as soon burn the House down, the faithful know that the Church is spirit and mud, flesh and divine, made up of mortal men who will fall again and again. The Church is our Mother, living and breathing; praying and serving; singing and weeping. We are unwilling to just throw our Mother to the wolves.
Christ’s promise of hope to us is that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. Satan cannot – will not – ever, ever, destroy the Church. The shocking sin of a few shepherds has certainly dealt some horrifying blows and we now have to endure the deserved chastisement and purification, but the sheep need not scatter in despair or disillusionment.
Jesus promised He would never leave us and He entrusted us with the eternal mission. It is His truth, His power, His blood, His love, His mercy, His grace, and He has not changed.
While we have every right to expect our clergy to be holy, virtuous men, we cannot leave them to live and fight alone. Perhaps we should examine carefully whether we have left them vulnerable because of our lack of prayer for them.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host – by the Divine Power of God – cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Lord Jesus, guard Your priests. Preserve them in purity and humility, strengthen them to resist temptation; fill their hearts with Divine love and a passion for souls. Protect and defend, Good Shepherd, our shepherds here on earth, and let their faithful service bring You glory and honor and praise. Amen.