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Letters From A Parish Priest

I post this with the priest’s permission. I know his name, his parish, his diocese — and am withholding some information for the sake of protecting him.

Read your new article on Ted [McCarrick].  Decided to read a few others and some of the people’s comments.  I often never read the comments sections because they are generally filled with either such banality, ignorance or hostility that they are rather depressing.  Such was the case yet again.

Some basic groupings of those comments:

“I don’t see why these priests don’t speak out?  Why don’t they just have the courage to do so?”  For one thing, I am presuming it is understood that we are not talking about child sexual abuse.  But one might say the same thing about the Weinstein affair.  Why didn’t the actresses who were being abused speak out?  Or why didn’t the people who knew about Harvey speak out?  Or those who heard about the culture speak out?  The reason people don’t speak out is because of the reality of coercion.  People in power who can punish you if you do speak out.  As a priest speaking out about the church or the bishops in general is seen as infidelity, not courageous.  It’s seen as spreading scandal.  The bishops want to protect the church at all costs and are more than willing to throw priests under the bus to do it.  That’s what the Dallas Charter was about.

“These priests are seeing their priesthood as too much of a career.”  Well of course it’s more than a career, it’s a vocation.  What the Hell, people?!  Certain things are just understood and shouldn’t have to be stated in every article.  I also believe in God and didn’t mention that.  But there are very basic human realities in life, like where is a person going to live and how are they going to sustain themselves?  If a bishop exiles you and decides to stop paying you, what are you supposed to do?  It depends on the severity of what a priest would speak out on.  It’s one thing to have proof of abuse and report that.  For minors we go right to the authorities so that’s not the issue.

Another thing, it’s one thing to know that the gay culture exists and you can see the effects of it all around you, but you cannot pinpoint exact instances of it.  For instance, if a diocese has a certain number of the lavender mafia controlling it certain decisions are going to be made at high levels regarding priest placements, diocesan strategies, etc.  The influence is there and obvious.  What is there to complain about?  The gays are in power and have the ear of the bishop.  He could be one of them.  They have influence over him and are not doing things which are, in the particular, harmful.  But if you see the overall trajectory you can see the harm being done.  How do you complain about that?  It’s not like chanceries are having orgy parties every day and we all know about it and won’t say anything.  These are savvy and manipulative people who use influence and power to effect change.  Just like any operative in a political party.  So to go on some kind of crusade against that is career suicide.

Anyway, I was going to write more but I’m just kind of tired of it right now.  In the end, what I see is when priests speak out the people attack the priests for speaking out.  Either because we are speaking out, we don’t speak out enough, or we don’t speak out in the way that they think we should speak out.  This is the other reason why priests don’t speak out.  Actually it’s the main reason.  In the end the laity won’t support us.  They will criticize us, judge us, tell us to stop doing it and, ultimately, just “shut up and say Mass and hear our confessions because that’s all we really want anyway.”  I think when push comes to shove the laity won’t do anything anyway and the bishops know it.  All they have to do is manage the crisis enough until it fades away and the people will go along with it.  In some ways if you want to blame anyone for the continuing crisis in the Church, perhaps we should blame the laity who keep idolizing their bishops and giving them money without demanding accountability?

I wrote to the priest and asked if I could post his e-mail. He said yes, if I protected his identity, and then added:

Honestly Rod, I think people need to take a stand.  If there’s any take away from what all the priests have been saying, even the ones publicly, it’s that we cannot do anything.  What are we supposed to do unionize?  LOL.  Plus, I’ll be honest, most priests wouldn’t do anything anyway.  I know a lot of really good and faithful priests but they would never go against the company, so to speak.  It’s like any organization.  Longnecker did a great job bringing that aspect out.  “you don’t bite the hand that feeds”, etc.  All of that stuff.  Remember priests love the church, that’s why they are priests.  They love the Church like they love their own family.  It’s one thing to report child sexual abuse, it’s another thing to try to take on corruption or an invisible but known reality of corruption.  Then to expose that publicly in some way which brings more scandal?  If you see the Church as your family, why would you do that?  You would never air your families dark secrets publicly.  I think that’s how many priests feel.  Then they hope that the hierarchy and Divine Grace find a way to get through it.

Furthermore, to say priests like me are doing nothing is ridiculous.  We continue to preach the truth and counsel our parishioners about all of these issues quite openly.  We faithfully pray for our people and celebrate the sacraments for them.  We are there for them when they need us.  Would the concerned laity rather if all of the “good priests” walked away?  Or went on a foolish crusade and were exiled or essentially retired?  We are staying in the game I think rather courageously against a culture outside of the Church and sometimes inside of the Church that is very hostile to us.  And we keep going.

I mean let’s look at our history and find the non hierarchical reformers.  Look at what they had to go through to effect change.  And look at how many of them there were.  Not many.  For the most part reform happened (if my memory serves me) in large actions (councils, for instance).  I think we can hope for individual bishops cleaning up their dioceses.  Hopefully some laity will support them.  But I can’t see the Church as a whole taking on homosexuality in our current cultural context.  For all the reasons we have spoken of.

Here’s what the laity can do.  Stop giving money to the diocese if you think them corrupt.  Or if you just want to make a stand.  When the bishop’s yearly collection comes around or a capital campaign comes around, send a letter saying I would have pledged X amount but I will not until you start addressing these problems in our church.  To be sure individual parishes need to keep open.  Each diocese assesses individual parishes roughly around 10% of their yearly collection.  So for every $1 in the collection plate 10% goes to the diocese.  Many people don’t know this.  Then there are all of the special collections, the bishop’s yearly fund, etc.  The way around that is through designated giving.  I have taught some of my people that all they have to do is designate their tithe to the building or maintenance fund.  Or designate it for a particular fund or ministry in the parish.  Then legally it is a restricted donation and the diocese cannot assess any money from it.  Our diocese tries to limit our ability to tell people about this, but it’s perfectly legal and it’s another way around sending money downtown.  So what I would tell people is if you find a parish where you have a good priest, support him in every way you can, including financially.  But starve the diocese and make it known you are doing so.  The bishop has no recourse against the laity.  This goes for everyone, no matter how small the financial gift.  The more letters the better because if the bishop feels like it’s becoming a movement he will start to act.  In the end, money has the most influence on the Church.  When the money dries up the bishop will see it as an existential threat.

But if there are laity out there who are just going to complain about the Church and priests and then do nothing?  You are just as bad as everyone you are complaining about.  It would be better if you said nothing.

Here’s more perspective from another reader, a laywoman, who writes:

Outside of the internet, nobody is discussing this – I live in [diocese] and also have family and friends in [capital city].  If I bring it up, everyone looks at me as if I am making these stories up.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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