I have received more than a dozen emails in the past few days wherein priests express their extreme suffering at a time in the life of the Church when, because of the sins of a few, the many are suffering.
One aspect of this suffering is a growing fracture between priests and their bishop; between priests and their brother priests; - with the result of the continued fracturing within the Church between those pushing one agenda or another.
Priestly suicide shows no signs of abating.
The multi-year process-struggle for due process drags on, due in large part because Bishops act towards the accused in ways which ultimately trigger appeals back and forth to Rome and because the Congregation responsible for handling these cases is woefully understaffed.
Vindication is, of course, usually a pyrrhic victory for name and reputation are never recoverable, doubts remain amongst laity and brother priests, ministry, if permitted at all, restricted.
In his recent encyclical Pope Benedict in para. 14. [cf. www.vatican.va ] teaches us that: Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom He gives Himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to Him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, His own.
Now if we choose to look at this narrowly then our union , our solidarity if you will, will be the self-justified/self-satisfied heart-set/mind-set of the Pharisees and bishops will turn their backs on their priests, be the priest guilty or not; priest will turn his back on brother priest; laity against Church , Bishop, Priests – some will turn their backs on actual victims; baptized of one race against another and so forth.
Pope Benedict also notes: Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven in a single reality which takes shape in our encounter with God’s agape.
Obviously any bishop, priest or layperson who truly lives such an interwoven life of grace is unlikely to be either an abuser or a non-forgiver of those who sin, certainly a bishop who lives such an interwoven life will not translate so-called ‘zero tolerance’ into 100% violation of the command to love as Christ loves.
Pope Benedict also teaches: A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.
The crisis in the priesthood, the crisis between bishops and priests, priests and priests; the extreme evil of abuse and the every other evil perpetrated by the baptized, all are rooted in this intrinsic fragmentation because there is a disconnect in the lives of many laity and clergy alike between Who and what we celebrate, and Whom we receive, and how we live, moment by moment.
Perhaps the most destructive dimension of this disconnection and fragmentation is the failure to insist, in face of media pressure in particular, fear of ever more lawsuits, and I believe an arrogant assumption the laity will not forgive wayward priests, - yet we insist from the pulpit individuals and nations, families, forgive one another, seek the mutual forgiveness among the Churches in the striving for Christian unity – yes perhaps the most destructive result of the so-called Dallas norms and their implementation has been to tacitly allow for the refusal to forgive.
Certainly when the Holy Father refers to Mt. 25:31-46: …in which love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof…the classic list of those with whom Jesus identifies Himself is well known, but here again we must examine ourselves very carefully and look deep into our hearts and ask, truthfully, ‘Whom do I consider to be the least of my brothers and sisters?’
We will know the answer by our interior emotional reaction when we think/imagine, that individual or group.
The more intense our reaction the greater the failure within us to have taken the Eucharistic Love, the Person-Love Jesus, we have received and concretely practice this love – thus until we can truly love the one/ones we have determined are the least the clear judgement of Mt.25ff, will apply for, as the Pope notes: Love of God and love of neighbour have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus Himself, and in Jesus we find God.
Who is more ‘least’ than the one/ones we most reject?
They are hungry for love; thirsty for forgiveness; estranged from human solidarity and yearning for agape;
naked, stripped of name, reputation, priesthood or family, job, needing to be clothed with support;
some mental, physical and addiction diseases present a very real challenge even for the most devoted of the baptized, these are precisely the least we shall be asked about;
most bishops, brother priests, for example, do not visit imprisoned priests and immense numbers of laity who are in prisons remain unvisited as well, not to mention, for example, the elderly imprisoned in the depths of loneliness or Alzheimer’s.
Pope Benedict’s encyclical should much us uncomfortable!
It should also challenge us to look eyes wide open, hearts wide open, at the crisis within the Church, priesthood, parish, family, society today where there is so much, in all forms, soul destroying, life crushing, lack of love.