Pope Francis had some strong words last week regarding priests who don’t live up to the high standard of their vocation. Speaking to new bishops gathered at the Vatican, the Holy Father warned about the apparently deficient priests he’s met:
“The world is tired of dishonest charmers. And, I dare say, ‘fashionable’ priests and bishops. People sense this, the people of God have this sense and they refuse and distance themselves when they recognize narcissists, manipulators, defenders of their own causes, leaders of pointless crusades.”
There’s more. He cautions:
“Beware also of seminarians who retreat into a rigid way of thinking – there is always something ugly beneath the surface.”
He’s got some harsh words for bishops, too, noting that sometimes, their response to God is less than ideal. God, though, never gives up on them, even when they fall short:
“…preferring to allow ourselves to be convinced that truly they were able to eliminate him and invent bitter discourses to justify the idleness that blocks us in the immobile sound of vain complaints. It is horrible when a bishop complains.”
In fairness, I’ve cherry-picked these quotes from a long and substantive talk. And Pope Francis has never had children, so perhaps he hasn’t had to consider the effect of such negativity on the human psyche. I am bothered, though. Most of the priests I know are good men, faithfully ministering to the souls entrusted to their care.
I see two problems: The 95%–no, 99%–of priests who are doing a good job deserve respect and thanks; but they’ll feel smeared with the same broad brush of criticism. And outsiders, people who have no direct experience of Catholicism, may infer that the problem is much more widespread than is really the case. The pope, in airing the occasional dirty laundry so publicly, may inadvertently turn some away from the faith.
In my first job after high school, before I’d enrolled in college, I worked as a secretary in a major health insurance firm. My boss offered me many opportunities–to write business letters and reports (new to me at the time), to organize the office, to reach out to others in the department and encourage teamwork. I remember meeting the task sometimes, but some days I fell flat–succumbing to the urge to daydream or chat with friends. My very kind supervisor knew that I’d screwed up; but rather than scolding, he’d remind me that I could do many things well, and that I’d be successful at many things if I’d really apply myself. I felt, not criticized, but affirmed–and it was easy to try harder to earn the confidence he’d shown in me.
The positive approach is preferable in parenting, too: Children can thrive in an atmosphere of love and positive affirmation.
Wouldn’t it be a whole lot nicer to publicly thank the courageous and unselfish priests around the world who have devoted their lives to serving in Christ’s vineyard–then to quietly take aside the rare “fashionable” priest who is “narcissistic, manipulating, defending of his own cause, and a leader of a pointless crusade” and address that problem privately?
Image: Pope Francis by Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation)