With the current deluge of sexual allegations against high-ranking prelates, the faith of many Catholics has been terribly shaken. Ralph Martin recently commented that he had “never seen so many” Catholics “as deeply troubled” as they are today. And not only are we troubled, we don’t precisely know how to respond. We Catholics have certainly offered prayers and sacrifices for those who have been spiritually, emotionally and sexually assaulted. And standard operating procedure for Catholics also includes praying not only for the assailed, but for the assailant. At this moment, however, some Catholics are finding it difficult to bring themselves to pray for these perpetrators. In the midst of all this, we must ask ourselves a very serious question: Do the offending prelates deserve our prayers?
We can begin by analyzing the nature of the crimes in question. While their hearts and subjective consciences are known only to God, we can say that the objective severity of the crimes committed by guilty parties—whomever they may be—are uniquely heinous and Luciferian. Objectively, we can say that these actions are almost impossibly evil, constituting serious violations against both sides of the Decalogue, with devastating repercussions rippling to both hemispheres of the Earth. The suffering that the sins have caused is, quite literally, incomprehensible.
Regarding the men themselves who have committed such crimes, it has been said that they have given a bad name to the priesthood, but it goes beyond that: they have given a bad name to humanity itself. It is not judgmental to write such words; rather, it is a statement of objective fact. Regardless of their individual consciences and culpability, the perpetrators of these crimes have turned dreams into nightmares. They have slaughtered the innocence of children. By causing widespread scandal among the Catholic faithful, some prelates have turned their own Roman collars into millstones.
And so, as it often proves easier to hate the sin than to love the sinner, some Catholics are so sickened by recent revelations that they refuse to pray for the perpetrators. On a human level, it’s an understandable response.
Yet, by calling us to pray for persecutors, Jesus calls us to a higher level. As Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Praying for those who persecute us has never been an easy task. Saint Jerome wrote that there were those in his own day who not only considered it difficult to pray for their malefactors, but thought that loving one’s enemies was “a command beyond human nature to obey.” And it becomes even more difficult when people persecute not only us, but persecute those we love. Perhaps it is most difficult to pray for those who persecute children.
But there is great good—a magnificent perfection—in praying for them. In commanding us to pray for persecutors, Saint John Chrysostom taught, Jesus “has set us on the very pinnacle of virtue.” The command to pray for persecutors is great, but as Chrysostom writes, “because the command is great, the reward proposed is also great, namely, to be made like unto God.”
You might argue that they don’t deserve your prayers. Maybe they don’t. But God deserves your prayers for them. Even if their sins have made them enemies of God—especially if their sins have made them enemies of God—we are commanded to pray for them. We must pray that they repent and be restored to God’s grace and friendship.
If you are having a difficult time praying for them, consider this: there is no hell like hell for a priest. Though Hell is a place of unimaginable misery for every soul there, it has been speculated that the devils in Hell see priests as representatives of Christ, and therefore every devil in Hell inflicts indescribable torment on these souls for eternity. We must pray that the guilty priests repent for the glory of God—that, rather than trophies for Satan, they may serve as perpetual monuments to the awesome mercy of God. We must persevere in prayer and rob Hell of a victory.
As in so many things, we must look to Mary, the Mother of God, for guidance. Her divine Son was abandoned by ten Apostles and betrayed by another. She saw her Son nailed to a cross by men who were blinded to sin; she heard the deafening jeers of evil men. Sinless and immaculate, no human person ever had a greater right to be outraged than Mary. Yet, amid all this, she prayed for the repentance of sinners.
And sinners repented.
In all of this, we cannot forget to unite our prayers with those of Our Lady—to pray that the wounded find consolation and peace, and that their persecutors find repentance and absolution.