Pope Francis’ Latest Zingers Toward Priests Are Troubling

pope-francis-2Pope 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?

Just saying.

Image: Pope Francis by Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation)

[CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By |2018-01-27T17:39:06+00:00September 18th, 2016|Faith, Uncategorized|


  1. Bernie December 11, 2016 at 4:23 am - Reply

    Why not mention the good things that many priests do and the difficulties they face when they have a Bishop who acts like the priests he thrashes….Why not ask for prayers for the Clergy???. Dear Pope Francis, please show the mercy of Jesus.

  2. Margie December 11, 2016 at 12:36 am - Reply

    Pope Francis is teaching like a good Papa, he challenges, he challenges me. Maybe those with a guilty conscience feel threatened by that. Anyway, what is the point of this article? Pope Francis wont read it. I cant imagine any Saint writing like this.

  3. June Vendetti September 22, 2016 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    I think the Pope needs to be more specific in terms of what he really does not approve of in the Bishops and priests. Yes, there are some very good priests, but then there are the ones who are not living chaste lives-those are the ones the Pope should be addressing. We are in need of some very holy priests, e.g. St. John Vianney, Padre Pio, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, etc. If we had men such as these, we’d all be better off. These men were filled with humility and perseverence.

  4. James Hennelly September 19, 2016 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    I wonder why I stay? I know why I probably do is because I love the Lord Jesus and am committed wholly to making that love known to others. I also am loved by others. However, this regular castigating from this pope though is getting tiresome and distracting. I want to hear from the pope and even my own bishop how valuable they find the work of their priests. All we tend to get are reminders that we are imperfect, worthless servants, and, of course, not meeting our annual appeal goals. Thank God for good friends and a solid prayer life despite the church! #FrancisFatigue #leadership

  5. Fr Brad Sweet September 19, 2016 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this. I am so very tired of the negativity of the Pope. As I have said in Twitter I have had enough. The vast majority of priests get on and do the work called on. With the pope yet again painting all with the same brush I wanted to listen no more from him. He doesn’t distinguish between the majority who are good and the few who aren’t. Who wants to be a priest under this pope who has never had a good word to say to the priests. He has never had a word of encouragement for me. I will get back to my 3 parishes and jail and hospital and seniors home and ignore his discourse of negativity.

  6. Ruari McCallion September 19, 2016 at 9:53 am - Reply

    I agree with David W.

    You have taken those quotes quite violently out of context, Kathy.

    But, tbh, even if you hadn’t… He was making some pretty valid points and I think you will agree that the “softly softly” approach hadn’t really worked over the past 30 years. Or is it 40?


  7. David W September 19, 2016 at 1:04 am - Reply

    He ties these “zingers” into the reading of the day, exhorting people to draw from it. I don’t see him attacking all priests. I see him as speaking to the priests and bishops who behave this way, letting them know that this sort of behavior is incompatible with their calling

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.