Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Something I’ve thought a little bit about over the past month or so, which (understandably) isn’t getting quite as much airtime as other aspects of the clergy sex abuse and coercion scandals, is the fact that so many priests are, well, good. Doing their best. Serving their parishes. Living out their vocations in what continues to be a rather uncertain, turbulent time for faithful Catholics.
It’s fair to say that ever since 2002, the priestly vocation has had a cloud of suspicion hanging over it — at least when it comes to public perception. We of course know rationally that perpetrators of abuse exist in all corners of society — schools, sports organizations, and most commonly the very families designed by God to love and protect their respective members — and yet there is something particularly disturbing and insidious when such things occur within a church.
Over the past couple of weeks, I finally took the time to read Michael Rose’s Goodbye Good Men (mostly while sitting in the carline, waiting for my kids to get out of school). The book was published in 2002 but, of course, remains particularly relevant today in its detailing of the problems plaguing American seminaries.
After reading the book, suddenly the McCarrick allegations don’t seem quite so surprising, in the sense that similar issues have been fairly well-documented for many years. It’s just that they haven’t gotten much attention from some of the more mainstream Catholic news outlets, and the people who were repeatedly banging that drum were usually summarily dismissed. It was also more convenient for the laity, in my humble and admittedly somewhat limited opinion, to look the other way or focus on happier things.
My biggest takeaway from Rose’s book though wasn’t so much about the horrific things happening within some seminary walls, though of course such accounts were certainly eye-opening. (And especially so for me, as I’ve only been Catholic for seven years.) But the main thing I’m left pondering and considering is the number of men aspiring or belonging to the priesthood with good intentions, who for many decades have had to fight against the cultural tide, for the souls of their respective flocks.
There are countless priests striving for holiness, who hold the liturgy close to their hearts and who wish to shepherd the faithful closer to the heart of Christ. We must not lose sight of these men who are also, now perhaps more than ever, growing discouraged and weary.
I also find myself that much more certain that we are, also perhaps now more than ever, in desperate need of more good young men pursuing priestly vocations. I am renewed in my desire to uphold the vocation as a high, noble, and worthy calling to my sons, should they one day discern a call to such a thing. The discouraging revelations that continue coming to light — and thank goodness they’re finally being exposed — are but one side of the coin. The other side may certainly demand less immediate attention, but it is no less important. The priesthood is a beautiful, important and necessary vocation.
On our drive to school in the mornings, the kids and I have added in a special prayer for priests. When we’ve concluded our recitation of the Saint Michael prayer — always a must! — whichever child has the front seat that day reads “A Prayer for Priests” aloud. A sweet friend recently passed along the prayer via one of these prayer cards, and I love that we begin each weekday with our holy priests in mind.
As Catholics we know that the legitimacy of our faith does not, thankfully, depend upon the actions or conduct of mere men. And that has certainly proven time and again to be a good thing. But we also recognize that all throughout history, God has used us sinful mortals to work out His plan of salvation for the world. We know that while that is, on the one hand, a sobering honor, it also means that our Church can be painfully and embarrassingly messy. But out of love for Jesus and his Church, we must continue pressing on, praying and trusting that God will continue raising up strong and holy men to lead us as priests.