In the natural order, wayward parents have a debilitating effect on the emotional, intellectual and sometimes physical development of their children. Especially today, the effects of a fatherless society are all around us. There is similar fallout in the spiritual order when priests neglect their fatherly duties in the Church.
The repercussions of a "fatherless" Church can best be seen in the recent startling statistics showing the percentage of people who, while still claiming the name "Catholic" do not believe or do not know many of the Church's major teachings. Individual Catholics, naive and uneducated in the Faith, are not generally to blame for this atrocity. However, their spiritual fathers may very well be.
At a point in the not so distant past, many priests gave up their authentic "parenting" duties to pursue more trendy pastimes (i.e. becoming presiders and administrators) just like their counterparts in the natural order. The children were often left to fend for themselves. The term "latchkey kids" while referring to the children of American society who are forced to live much of their lives with absentee parents, can aptly describe the situation in the Church. While there may be a priest assigned to the parish, the faithful are actually "home alone."
Far too many Catholics have been left in the dark for years. While it isn't my intention to cast stones at any individual priest, I believe there is a concerted effort afoot among many priests to withhold and even prevent authentic Catholic teaching in favor of a comfortable, painless and effortless "Christianity." Such priests are like permissive parents who coddle and give free reign to their children, resulting in ill-behaved, undisciplined and spoiled offspring. These unfortunate children are at a marked disadvantage when they eventually have to deal with the real world. Sorrowfully, they will one day reach an age where they can see the harm their own parents have done to them.
Priests are failing in their fatherly duty when they refuse to discuss sin and fail to warn their spiritual children of the temptations and devastations of evil. Refusing to tell the faithful about the requirements and hardships of real discipleship, many priests are more intent on being chums or buddies with their parishioners. This is not merely a grave disservice to the children of God, but is destructive to their spiritual health, impacting the decisions they will make for the rest of their lives concerning Christ, His Church, and eternal life.
It is worth pondering what our world would be like today if Catholic priests had not side-stepped the issues of contraception and divorce. How powerful would the Catholic vote have remained if from every pulpit abortion had been forthrightly denounced? I have no doubt that today's society would be quite different if my generation of promising Catholic youth had not been swept aside to usher in the spirit of Vatican II which left us fatherless and without direction in the raging chaos of the 1960's.
While there are some holy, devoted and fatherly priests working hard to bring the truth to their parishioners, they are too few in number to put a dent in the proliferation of uneducated, spiritually illiterate Catholics. Meanwhile, there is a growing number of Catholics who can honestly say, "Everything I know, I learned from EWTN."
Parents in our American culture retain many rights, but that doesn't include the right to neglect or abandon their children. In such cases, a legal authority will step in, attempting to protect the children and offer some guarantee for a better environment conducive to healthy growth and development. Unfortunately, there seems to be no such authority in the Church today.
Despite the tragic shortage of priests in the modern Church, worse still is the fact that there is an even greater shortage of FATHERS.