Archbishop Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope St. John Paul II, censes the altar at Mass in 1966 (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
“Every worldly priest hinders the growth of the Church. Every saintly priest promotes it.”
Anti-Catholicism aside, there is good reason for stronger backlash against scandal in the priesthood compared with other professions. The fall of a priest is a bigger evil.
Priests are in persona Christi—in the person of Christ. They give us the sacraments, all rooted in the Eucharist, "the source and summit of the Christian life…. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324). The priests give us life, even raising souls from the dead through the sacrament of Confession.
If priests are treated harsher than others for the same crime, could it be because their betrayal is much greater? Two abuse victims I interviewed who left the Church and later returned — one after five years and the other after thirty — spoke of the tragedy of feeling driven from the Church. When victims leave, they lose the sacraments and reject salvation through the Church that evil misrepresented to them.
Saints on the Priesthood
Many of the saints spoke of the power and the great responsibility given to priests. St. Bernardine of Siena described it as, “the power of the divine person; for the transubstantiation of the bread requires as much power as the creation of the world.”
According to St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Curé of Ars: “If a priest is determined not to lose his soul, so soon as any disorder arises in the parish, he must trample underfoot all human considerations as well as the fear of the contempt and hatred of his people. He must not allow anything to bar his way in the discharge of duty, even where he is certain of being murdered on coming down from the pulpit. A pastor who wants to do his duty must keep his sword in hand at all times.”
From St. John Chrysostom: “If priests sin, all the people are led to sin. Hence, everyone must render an account of his own sins; but the priests are also responsible for the sins of others.”
St. Anthony Mary Claret said it would be better to leave a town without a priest than to have one who is unworthy. “If God does not send me men who are truly called, God himself will have to take care of the men and souls by means of his angels. A call is God's gift. I must not bring the unworthy into the sheepfold to destroy it instead of tending it.”
Pope St. Pius X warned against letting unworthy men enter seminaries. “Venerable brethren, there is only one piece of advice that I offer to you: watch over your seminaries and over candidates for the priesthood... If ever you have in your seminary one of those new-style savants, get rid of him without delay; on no account impose hands upon him. You will always regret having ordained even one such person: never will you regret having excluded him.”
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen from his book, The Priest is Not His Own stated: “Every worldly priest hinders the growth of the Church: every saintly priest promotes it. If only all priests realized how their holiness makes the Church holy and how the Church begins to decline when the level of holiness among priests falls below that of the people!”
Pray for Priests
Exorcists have told me that when a priest walks into the room, the devil sees Jesus. “If he [the devil] can corrupt the vocation of a priest, who is supposed to be the image of Jesus, that’s a huge victory to be able to stick in Jesus’ eye,” he said. “The devil takes a miserable delight in hurting a priest and works hard at it, so we need prayers.”
Our relationship to the priesthood is vital; we need them for the sacraments, and they need our prayers. Consider joining the Foundation of Prayer for Priests dedicated to a movement of prayer for the sanctification of priests and priestly vocations through Eucharistic adoration, intercessory prayer, sacrifices and service. The book Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls, encourages women to become spiritual mothers to priests. However we feel called to pray for priests is up to us. The important point is that we are all called to do so.
A Prayer for Priests by St. Thérèse of Lisieux
O Jesus, I pray for your faithful and fervent priests;
for your unfaithful and tepid priests;
for your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields;
for your tempted priests;
for your lonely and desolate priests;
for your young priests;
for your dying priests;
for the souls of your priests in Purgatory.
But above all, I recommend to you the priests dearest to me:
the priest who baptized me;
the priests who’ve absolved me from my sins;
the priests at whose Masses I’ve assisted and who’ve given me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
the priests who’ve taught and instructed me;
all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way, especially ____
O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart,
and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.