by Therese Ivers, JCL
Tip #1 Pray for Priests
In this Year of the Priest, it is particularly important for people to pray for priests. By praying for our priests, we can help them grow spiritually and strengthen them in their ministry for us. The USCCB has produced special prayers for this year. You can click HERE to see them. Please remember priests, both living and deceased, in your prayers, good works, and sacrifices.
Tip #2 Help Nourish a Priest’s Spiritual Life and Ministry
Although many dioceses and religious orders take care of the priest’s annual retreat, there are things you can give which can help nourish a priest’s life. Good books are frequently welcome by priests. Of course, it is easiest when you know the priest’s tastes in question. You can also sponsor a priest’s attendance at relevant workshops such as on the Liturgy, spirituality, sharpening administration and management skills (this area is not taught very well in some seminaries despite the fact that pastors end up being employers and manage councils), symposiums, etc.
Tip #3 Adopt a Priest
When a priest retires, particularly if he is in an assisted living facility, he could use some cards and visits. The Serra Club is good at having its members adopt priests, seminarians, and religious. Why not do the same? Perhaps you can have one over for dinner one day. Or you might want to consider gathering a spiritual bouquet for a priest.
Tip #4 Assist in Bringing About Justice for Priests
In these days of confusion and even of litigation, many priests are put in a very vulnerable position because they do not understand their rights in the Church. Here’s an example of why it is important for a priest to learn and understand his rights:
Fr. Joe Smith was on vacation in the mountains when he received a phone call from the chancery asking him to come back for an important meeting. The vicar general met him and told him that he was accused of having sexually abused a minor in 1981 while he was a deacon. He urged Fr. Smith to give up his parish as that is what the bishop desired, and informed him that his ministry was suspended. Reeling from the news, and trying to be obedient to his bishop, Fr. Smith resigned from being a pastor at that meeting. He was asked to leave the rectory within 24 hours.
Father Joe packed his belongings and tried to put things in order for the next pastor. He was shaken as he knew he was innocent of any sexual misconduct. But, he trusted that his bishop would stand up for him. He managed to find a hotel room for the night. Meanwhile, the parish and the whole world was told in a press conference by the bishop that their pastor had resigned and that he was “credibly” accused of sexual misconduct.
A few days passed, and Father Smith tasted life as one shunned by all. He placed calls to the chancery to get his living expenses covered. He was routinely ignored. He tried to contact the bishop, but was informed that he was “out of the office”. Fr. Smith was penniless and had to find a friend whose house he could stay at. Finally, when Fr. Smith did reach someone at the chancery, he was told that his only contact with the diocese was to be through the diocesan attorney. At a moment when things seemed to be quite bleak, Fr. Smith received a phone call from a friend. This friend advised him to obtain the services of a canonist ASAP.
Fr. Smith’s diocese refused to pay for canonical services and legal services for him, with no explanation given, although the diocese is obliged to do so for those clerics who cannot afford them. Fortunately for Fr. Smith, he contacted a competent canonist and asked him to handle his case. He hired the canonist, with the help of friends who pitched in for the fees. It turned out that the accuser was a tenant on a property that Fr. Smith’s mother had bequeathed to him, and that a couple of months prior to making the false accusation, she had been evicted from the premises due to her being several months behind in rent. She had retaliated by accusing him of sexual abuse as a minor.
Although this scenario is fictitious, it is based upon true cases. And, unfortunately, it is similar to what many priests go through when they are accused of certain sins. Also, unfortunately, some priests are not so lucky in their defense. Many simply could not afford a canon lawyer or civil attorney. Some have remained for years in “limbo” where they were never tried in a Church trial and their reputation and livelihood are gone. Others, although innocent, pleaded “guilty” in court because it was their word against their accusers and they felt they wouldn’t get justice anyway. Others were kicked out of the priesthood without much input or defense because their bishops thought it was better to just ask the Holy See to get rid of these priests rather than go through a trial. This is not to say that some priests are not guilty of sexual abuse, and that it is a horrific offense. However, everyone has a right to a good reputation and the right to be held innocent unless proven guilty, which is at times denied in the current witch hunt for priests who have sexually abused minors.
Just for the record, a priest should never be forced to resign his pastorate, particularly without canonical counsel. Not only is forced resignation invalid, but it is against his rights to be held innocent unless proven guilty. The same for his reputation being smeared by those who should be protecting his reputation, again, until and unless he is proven guilty in church courts. A priest usually cannot be in active ministry in the USA if his reputation has been damaged (even if an accusation is false). Thus, it is important for future priests to know what they are up against when they become ordained and how to protect themselves for situations like this. For information on how you can do your part by informing yourself and priests and to be able to help protect our priests from being barred from ministry because of false accusations, please visit this site:
In our Church, a priest, just like anyone else, is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. Please help support accused priests who have not been proven guilty of things such as sexual abuse, who are struggling financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually because their bishops have washed their hands of them, particularly those in prison or those in “limbo”. Go to OpusBonoSarcedotii for more information on how you can help our priests. You will find ways of helping our priests and thus do important works of charity for them in this year of the priest.
Look, I made a donation to this organization because it kills me to know that there is a lot of injustice done to our priests and I want to do something to help them out. Many priests are in limbo (they are suspended and never get a church trial because of delaying tactics), many do not have the basic necessities of life (despite the diocese’s obligation to provide a living), and they often do not have adequate legal or canonical counsel. That’s for sexual abuse cases.
There are other instances in which priests suffer for a variety of reasons, and often these sufferings are caused because they were ignorant of their rights or because their bishops have not always acted justly. While no organization is perfect, let us at least show our support for justice in the Church by helping out one of the most vulnerable portions- our priests.
Finally, this post is not to be construed as an attack on our bishops. The reality is that some bishops have failed to live up to their responsibilities in making sure that they respect the rights of both the accused and alleged victims. Nor is this post meant to belittle the experience of genuine victims. Rather, this post is to alert people to the fact that our priests need to be aware of their possible fate of being removed from ministry because of a false accusation and be prepared to fight to stay in ministry. Thank God we have courageous men willing to be priests and serve despite the constant possibility of someone being able to pull the plug on their ministry by registering a false accusation against them. We owe them our eternal gratitude for being in such a risky position.
Tip #5 Learn and Live Your Faith
Another great way of showing your support for our priests is by learning and living out your faith. By being apostles in the world, by learning our Faith well, we can do our share in the Church by being a “leaven in the world”. The laity are called to know and share their faith. Lay persons cannot sit back and say it’s the priest’s job to share the Faith with other people, it’s actually part of the lay vocation. Here are some helpful thoughts excerpted from a document on the lay apostolate (taken from Apostolican Actuositatem):
From the fact of their union with Christ the head flows the laymen’s right and duty to be apostles. Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate. If they are consecrated a kingly priesthood and a holy nation, it is in order that they may in all their actions offer spiritual sacrifices and bear witness to Christ all the world over. Charity, which is, as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate, is given to them and nourished in them by the sacraments, the Eucharist above all… On all Christians, accordingly, rests the noble obligation of working to bring all men throughout the whole world to hear and accept the divine message of salvation…
This apostolate should reach out to every single person in that environment; and it must not exclude any good, spiritual or temporal, that can be done for them. Genuine apostles are not content, however, with just this: they are earnest also about revealing Christ by word to those around them. It is a fact that many men cannot hear the Gospel and come to acknowledge Christ except through the laymen they associate with…
Education for the apostolate presupposes an integral human education suited to each one’s abilities and conditions. For the lay an ought to be, through an intimate knowledge of the contemporary world, a member well integrated into his own society and its culture… Besides spiritual formation, solid grounding in doctrine is required: in theology, ethics and philosophy, at least, proportioned to the age, condition and abilities of each one. The importance too of a general culture linked with a practical and technical training is something which should by no means be overlooked… Inasmuch as the human person is continuously developing and new problems are forever arising, this education should be steadily perfected; it requires an ever more thorough knowledge and a continual adaptation of action. While meeting all its demands, concern for the unity and integrity of the human person must be kept always in the foreground, in order to preserve and intensify its harmony and equilibrium…
In this way the layman actively inserts himself deep into the very reality of the temporal order and takes his part competently in the work of the world. At the same time, as a living member and witness of the Church, he brings its presence ad its action into the heart of the temporal sphere…
Training for the apostolate should begin from the very start of a child’s education. But it is more particularly adolescents and youth who should be initiated into the apostolate and imbued with its spirit. This training should be continued all through life, to fit them to meet the demands of fresh duties…
The training should be pursued in such a way as to take account of the entire range of the lay apostolate, an apostolate that is to be exercised in all circumstances and in every sector of life – in the professional and social sectors especially – and not confined within the precincts of the associations. In point of fact, every single lay person should himself actively undertake his own preparation for the apostolate. Especially for adults does this hold true; for as the years pass, self-awareness expands and so allows each one to get a clearer view of the talents with which God has enriched his life and to bring in better results from the exercise of the charisms given him by the Holy Spirit for the good of his brothers…
May this year be a blessed one for our priests!
(c) 2009 by Therese Ivers, JCL