March 9, 2000
volume 11, no. 49

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    Pat Ludwa, a committed lay Catholic from Cleveland, has been asked to contribute, on a regular basis, a lay person's point of view on the Church today. We have been impressed with his insight and the clear logic he brings to the table from his "view from the pew." In all humility, by his own admission, he feels he has very little to offer, but we're sure you'll agree with us that his viewpoint is exactly what millions of the silent majority of Catholics believe and have been trying to say as well. Pat puts it in words that help all of us better understand and convey to others what the Church teaches and we must believe.

    Today Pat continues his thread on the priesthood. Last Monday he dealt with how the world has infiltrated many within the ranks of this hallowed fraternity dedicated to Christ. Today he outlines, through the guidelines of Sacred Scripture and Canon Law how we must treat our priests regardless of their faults. In a positive spin he clearly delineates that we must be charitable in every way. While there will always be personality clashes, never should we attack a priest personally in word or deed for he is consecrated before God and is an Alter Christi in confecting the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, soul and Divinity. He also, through his vows and the sacraments, has the power to bind and loose as Our Lord charged Peter in Matthew 16: 15. Pat points out the procedures we must take when a priest strays from Church teaching. He emphasizes that we had better be able to back up our arguments with Church documents and encyclicals when challenging the priests for they are not as dumb as some may think. Seven to thirteen years preparations assures this. That is the gist of his column today in part two on Priests entitled Upholding the Priesthood.

    For past columns by Pat Ludwa, click on VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives   If you want to send him ideas or feedback, you can reach him at

Upholding the Priesthood

        The scene opened with a young priest in the confessional. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. Well, I haven't sinned yet, but I think I might." Confused, the young priest asked what the penitent meant by that. "Father, I'm pregnant and I'm thinking of getting an abortion. What do you think I should do?" The scene moves from the priest in the confessional and pans to the woman confessing this. In her hand isn't a set of rosary beads, but a small tape recorder. She was going to 'get the goods' on this young, liberal priest.

        This was the opening scene, as best as I could recall, from the now cancelled (thank God) television show "Nothing Sacred." Volumes could be written on the errors here, not least of which is the person's violating the sacredness of the confessional. But one might ask, and it has been, what can we do about priests who violate Church teaching? Who do and teach things the Church clearly says is wrong?

        "Then said Jesus to the crowds and to His disciples, 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice'" (Matthew 23:1-3). "Christ's faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church." (Canon 212; #1)

        Because of the unique office of the priest, and of Who it is Who calls him, we are duty bound to be respectful of priests. God, calling them, also holds them to a higher standard than we could ever. But this isn't to say that we are therefore duty bound to allow error, apostasy, or even heresy to continue unchallenged.

        Priest's can err in word and/or deed. They are just as vulnerable as we all are, maybe even more so, that is why care must be taken when considers correcting or challenging a priest. First and foremost, we must consider " they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her'" (John 8:7).

        This isn't to say we cannot correct but rather, we cannot forget that we too have sinned. A priest, being God's, is under even greater attacks, more temptations than we. When a priest falls, we shouldn't expose his fall, to the delight of his enemies or to the scandal of the Church.

        "A Patarine or a Manichean, a witness of Francis' renown and sanctity among the people, resolved to take unfair advantage of this influence to attract people to his sect, destroy their faith, and reduce the priesthood to scorn. The pastor of this parish was causing a scandal by living with a woman….."Tell me: if a priest maintains a concubine and thereby stains his hands, must we believe in his teaching and respect the sacraments he administers."….in the presence of all the parishioners he went to the priest's house, knelt down before him and said: "I do not really know whether these hands are stained as the other man claims they are. In any case, I do know that, even if they are, this in no way lessens the power and efficacy of the sacraments of God; those hands remain the channel whereby God's graces and blessings stream down on the people. That is why I kiss them out of respect for what they administer and out of respect for Him who delegated His authority to them" (St. Francis of Assisi; Omnibus of Sources, pgs 1605-1606).

        Needless to say, if a priest, or any religious, commits a crime, such as child abuse, action should be taken. However, we should not add to it by creating or spreading rumors. If the charge is found to be possible, they should be reported to his superior, either the Diocesan bishop, or his Order's Minister. If we do anything else, we just "destroy their faith, and reduce the priesthood to scorn" as the heretic above tried. "No one may unlawfully harm the good reputation which a person enjoys, or violate the right of every person to protect his or her privacy" (Canon 220).

        But what of a priest who teaches what the Church expressly forbids? First, we again, must approach this with charity. It is possible, even probable considering the state of many of our seminaries that they do not know that they are teaching in opposition to what the Church teaches.

        We have must first be sure that what he teaches, explicitly or implicitly is opposed to what the Church teaches. We're all aware of the abuses and errors which have been hoisted on the Church in the 'spirit' of Vatican II rather than what Vatican II actually teaches. We cannot help a priest if we go and say, "Father, you're mistaken to say such and such, because the Church teaches otherwise", and not be able to show him where the Church actually teaches it. Nothing is worse than saying that some unnamed teaching or encyclical says something. Is he supposed to take our word for it? He's probably had teachers, far more qualified than we, who have taught him something else.

        "To lay members of Christ's faithful belongs the right to have acknowledged as theirs that freedom in secular affairs which is common to all citizens. In using this freedom, however, they are to ensure that their actions are permeated with the spirit of the Gospel, and they are to heed the teaching of the Church proposed by the Magisterium, but they must be on guard, in questions of opinion, against proposing their own view as the teaching of the Church" (Canon 227).

        One may even wonder if they have the right to approach a priest in this. "Christ's faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church. They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals" (Canon 212; 2 and 3).

        This doesn't imply a spiritual free for all. "Christ's faithful have the right to worship God according to the provisions of their own rite approved by the lawful Pastors of the Church; they also have the right to follow their own form of spiritual life, provided it is in accord with Church teaching" (Canon 214).

        So, let's say that you have gone to your Pastor or priest, trying to point out his error, and he rebuffs you. You have all the Encyclicals, Vatican II and other Council documents, the Catechism, etc, and he still rebuffs you, then... "Christ's faithful may lawfully vindicate and defend the rights they enjoy in the Church, before the competent ecclesiastical forum in accordance with the law" (Canon 221).

        If after doing all you could, you have the right, even the duty, to take it to his bishop or superior. Again, at no time, have we the right to spread rumor, innuendo, or aspersions about him. "Lay people have the duty and the right to acquire the knowledge of Christian teaching which is appropriate to each one's capacity and condition, so that they may be able to live according to this teaching, to proclaim it and if necessary to defend it, and may be capable of playing their part in the exercise of the apostolate" (Canon 229)/

        This is simply the exhortation given us by our Lord Himself: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you as the heathen and the publican" (Matthew 18:15-17).

        The last is the most extreme. If, in love and service, you show him his error via Church teaching, and he refuses all efforts to correct him, you may be forced to seek a priest to serve your needs elsewhere. The Church doesn't encourage 'shopping' for a parish which suits you, but if one is not getting what they need, what they have the right to: "Christ's faithful have the right to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments" (Canon 213).

        Now, sometimes the issues go beyond the local parish level and enter the national and/or international scene. Again, no one may attack the priest personally, but one has the right and even obligation, to proclaim and defend the teachings of the Church (Canon 229).

        When Fr. Andrew Greeley wrote an article, published extensively in the US, accusing the Hierarchy for the loss of Mass attendance, etc, I wrote a response to it. When Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles wrote a pastoral letter on the Eucharist, which was published throughout the US, Mother Angelica took issue with it. It was ambiguous at best.

        In neither case, was the person of Fr. Greeley nor Bishop Mahoney attacked. And Mother Angelica was not encouraging the people of L.A. to disobey Bishop Mahoney, only that what they were teaching was, at least, suspect. Especially in the case of Mother Angelica, she had the right and duty to point out the problems with the Bishop's letter in regard to Church teaching, especially since that letter was widely distributed.

        In conclusion: "Flowing from their rebirth in Christ, there is a genuine equality of dignity and action among all of Christ's faithful. Because of this equality they all contribute, each according to his or her own condition and office, to the building up of the Body of Christ" (Canon 208). "Christ's faithful are bound to preserve their communion with the Church at all times, even in their external actions. They are to carry out with great diligence their responsibilities towards both the universal Church and the particular Church to which by law they belong" (Canon 209).

        If we do not follow these perscribed actions to assist the priest, then, instead of helping them, we only serve to add to the scorn of the priesthood.

    Pax Christi, Pat


March 9, 2000
volume 11, no. 49

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