We are experiencing anew the revelation of terrible clergy crimes, the violation of a sacred trust from some whom we considered shepherds and fathers. The weight of sorrow for the abuse victims is unspeakable, as is the pain of betrayal by clergy. Sexual immorality, including criminal sexual abuse, is a cancer in and outside of the Church, but there are absolutely no excuses for clergy to fall so far from God and grace, abandoning their post and flock. Even a handful of clergy who have shamelessly sinned and cooperated with evil is too many.
Signs of problematic infidelities and illicit compromises in key areas of the Church have been evident for years. The problem with small infidelities or compromises is that they lead to bigger ones. Somehow human innovation eclipses the divine. We’ve witnessed liturgies in which illicit insertions or omissions are made. We know that the preacher is trying too hard to please everyone when he waters down the hard truths of Jesus Christ. Pride and disobedience can be born of these.
As for the laity, I’m not sure we have been as diligent and generous in spiritually protecting and strengthening our priests as is necessary to build up the Church. Interesting is that since the news of the latest sex abuse scandal, the Foundation of Prayer for Priests (www.foundationforpriests.org) has seen a 150% increase in new members indicating that faithful Catholics desire to renew their fervor by prayer, sacrifice, service and study to become part of the solution.
God has permitted the light of truth to illumine the deeds of darkness perpetrated by His own beloved priests. Thanks be to God! Let justice be done and healing begin. While it is difficult to perceive how the Church will recover from the present crisis, she will most definitely recover. We hold fast to God’s word: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (see Matt. 16:18). Our Father has a perfect plan. It will not be frustrated by sinners or the devil. God is greater than the Church’s present mess. Our Eternal Father will move the Church from crisis to conversion; from warfare to victory to the honor and glory of His Name.
How should we respond to the scandal caused by some priests? “The evidence of infidelity in priests should arouse in the hearts of Christ’s faithful the wish to expiate,” Fr. John Hardon, S.J., tells us. We can offer to repair the insult and injury done to the Lord and to souls by our steadfast faith, our prayer, our sacrifice, and the offering up of our suffering.
This defining moment in the Church begs for reforms of a temporal order, but these will be only as strong as the spiritual response of prayer, penance, and reparation that must undergird them. Atonement for the sins in the Church over too many decades will be required. Many people will leave the Church over this crisis, and we who remain will suffer ridicule and persecution for our fidelity.
Like the first responders to any disaster, we can enter into this situation to be rebuilders of the breach. Love for God and the Church helps us to resist the temptation to hurl stones at clerics, the majority of whom are authentic good shepherds. Scripture proposes a better response: to share in the suffering of God’s sinful people, and commit to more prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to atone for collective sins. The power of prayer, fasting, reparation, and/or repentance cannot be underestimated. Often it happens that a single pious person praying before the Blessed Sacrament is actually the instrument God uses to liberate, and restore what is broken in another. Now an army of intercessors is needed!
Some may argue that we need to get off our knees and become active to which I respond that unless we are on our knees, our actions will be of human origin, weak and not fruitful. If we desire to be instruments of the divine will, we need to commune with the Trinity on our knees; only then will we be guided by wisdom from Above. Throughout the history of the Church, contemplatives in action have become Christ’s arms and legs to restore the Church and nations.
Spiritual Battles Beg A Spiritual Response
Scripture reminds us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ chose the twelve Apostles to do the same. From start to finish, the life of Christ on earth reveals how the devil relentlessly pursued Him—from Herod to Judas. Satan is a dealer of doubt, a sower of dissent, a divider, and a deceiver. The ancient serpent is persistent in his temptation of priests to mock the Eternal High Priest, to cease the perpetual sacrifice of Mass, and to render the Church impotent. Although he is not to blame for every crisis, sexual sin and moral disorder are definitely the devil’s playground. Serving in the Church’s ministry of deliverance and exorcism I bear witness to how the devil enters most frequently through sins of the flesh, immorality and sexual perversion.
Priests have dire need of strong spiritual armor reinforced by the prayers and fasting of God’s people. That is why believing Catholics are not surprised to be told, “You must always carry a special place in your prayers and in your heart for the sanctification of the priesthood and the sacredness of the Mass.”
There is an intimate unity between priests and the Eucharist. Every prayer that we offer for the holiness of priests helps to protect them and the Eucharist from demonic profanation. Sometimes during the exorcism a demon is forced to attest to his hatred toward priests because of the Eucharist.
“The devil knows that every Mass gives immeasurable glory to the Divine Majesty, which he hates. So he does everything in his power to seduce priests in his camp so they will not offer Mass, or offer it less often, or less devoutly; anything to prevent God from being given the glory and souls from receiving the graces that flow from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” wrote Fr. Hardon.
One example of a diabolical attack against a priest and the Eucharist is the case of French priest Fr. Jacques Hamel of recent history, who was murdered at the altar in the middle of a Mass. Eyewitness Sr. Danielle confirmed that, before dying, Fr. Hamel called out twice, “Be gone, Satan!” She added that “this does not mean that [the assailant] Adel Kermiche was possessed, but that Satan was at work in a powerful way. Father Jacques wanted to exorcise this evil. Those were his last words. Satan does not like the Eucharist.” The cause for the beatification of Fr. Jacques Hamel has begun. While some priests are instruments of destruction, other priests, in growing numbers, are heroically lifting up the Church by red martyrdom.
The imagery of spiritual warfare is intentional because the Church Militant is in a battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, as St. Paul taught (Eph. 6:12). During the rite of exorcism we see the blatant aversion that demons have to the priest (his stole elicits diabolical screams), the Eucharist (demons cry out, “It burns me!”), and sacramentals such as the Rosary and holy water (which elicits shrieking). The devil seeks to tear priests away from Christ and stifle vocations.
For spiritual battles, God chose the Virgin Mary to crush the head of the serpent. She is the Queen Mother, fierce in battle, building an army for the King. We can bring priests to the Immaculate Heart for healing and strengthening. We implore the Virgin Mary to help us see priests with her eyes: “For her, a priest is always a priest, a living image of her Son, and if that image is disfigured by sin, she only has a more ardent desire to give him back that resemblance to Christ, for she sees him as God sees him,” (Father Marie Dominique Philippe, O.P., Magnificat Year for Priests Companion (Magnificat, 2009), 51).
“The evil one terrorizes no one as much as he is terrified by Christ the Victor; a losing foe can still win incidental battles before the war’s end, but the outcome for the world is certain even when individual fates are not,” (George William Rutler, The Cure D’Ars Today (Ignatius Press, 1988), 174-175). We proclaim Christ’s victory with every sacrifice on behalf of priests because by it the Lord’s watchmen are armored up.
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us sinners, and move us from crisis to conversion please. Amen.
Author’s notes: Join the global family of intercessors for priests: www.foundationforpriests.org. This article contains excerpts from the second, revised edition of Praying for Priests: Urgency, Vision, and Prayers, soon to be released by Sophia Institute Press.