Sunday, January 27, 2013

Try Not To Judge The Priesthood By The Priest

Alec Guinness in "The Prisoner"
I recently saw a truly great movie with Sir Alec Guinness (a Catholic convert) made in 1955 that, up to now, I never even knew existed.  It is called "The Prisoner",  about a Cardinal in an unnamed Communist country who is arrested by the government and charged with treason.  If you wish to watch the movie online, you can do so on Youtube.   This is a very powerful movie, and I recommend you take 90 minutes to watch it.

As Wikipedia says, "The Cardinal was based on Croatian cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, who was a victim of a show trial staged by the communist regime led by Josip Broz Tito[2]and on Hungarian cardinal József Mindszenty, who was also the victim of the communist-staged show trial, while the communist regime was fronted by Mátyás Rákosi and Árpád Szakasits."  In the movie, the Cardinal is arrested immediately upon completing a High Pontifical Mass.

Here is the trailer for the movie:

The Cardinal in the movie is also a famous war hero who fought against the Nazis in WWII.  As a loyal Prince of the Church, he is adamantly anti-Communist, and therefore a threat to the government who wants to discredit and then execute him.  But to do this, they must get him to confess to crimes he did not commit.  The person put in charge of interrogating the Cardinal is someone who had fought alongside the Cardinal in WWII and knows him to be a man of high moral values.  He realizes that the usual threats of physical torture and even death will not work, so he resorts to psychological torture by using sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and generally trying to confuse his mind.  He eventually succeeds in convincing the Cardinal that he did indeed betray the people and the government, and because the Cardinal is such a good and holy man, he readily admits to crimes that he believes he committed but in reality did not.  At the end of the movie is a scene in which a prison worker looks at him with great disappointment, and Alec Guinness tells him, "Try Not to Judge the Priesthood By The Priest."

I think we would all do well to take this advice.  The priesthood, instituted by Jesus Christ, is a sacred vocation charged with saving souls.  We would all be doomed to eternal damnation without the Catholic priesthood.   Who could hear our confessions and absolve us from the sin which damns our souls, who could change bread and wine into the the life-giving sacrament of the Eucharist?  Who could confirm us?  If how we spend eternity is the most important question in our lives, and I believe it is, Catholic priests are the most important and invaluable people on the earth because we cannot attain eternal life in heaven without them.

Just as there seems to be an attempt in our world to destroy everything that is good and right and holy, such as the family, there has been and continues to be a war to stamp out the Catholic priesthood which is so indispensable to the salvation of our souls.  This war against priests, and in effect against the Church, played out in full force in the January 27 edition of the New York Times, as seen in an editorial written by Frank Bruni concerning an upcoming book by Garry Wills.  Mr. Wills calls himself Catholic but yet constantly rails against the Pope and the Magesteruim of the Church.  Both the book and this editorial are nothing less than diabolical in tone, and could have easily been dictated by the devil himself.   The editorial is entitled "Catholicism's Curse."

Mr. Bruni starts by telling us that he and Mr. Wills have nothing against priests.  Mr. Bruni says he has met many good priests who, according to Mr. Bruni, are good in spite of, and not because of, the Catholic Church:
“I HAVE nothing against priests,” writes Garry Wills in his provocative new book, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition,” and I’d like at the outset to say the same. During a career that has included no small number of formal interviews and informal conversations with them, I’ve met many I admire, men of genuine compassion and remarkable altruism, more dedicated to humanity than to any dogma or selective tradition.
You know there is a "but" coming, and here it is:
But while I have nothing against priests, I have quite a lot against an institution that has done a disservice to them and to the parishioners in whose interests they should toil. I refer to the Roman Catholic Church, specifically to its modern incarnation and current leaders, who have tucked priests into a cosseted caste above the flock, wrapped them in mysticism and prioritized their protection and reputations over the needs and sometimes even the anguish of the people in the pews. I have a problem, in other words, with the church’s arrogance, a thread that runs through Wills’s book, to be published next month; through fresh revelations of how assiduously a cardinal in Los Angeles worked to cover up child sexual abuse; and through the church’s attempts to silence dissenters, including an outspoken clergyman in Ireland who was recently back in the news.
Mr. Bruni would definitely not agree with the advice given to us by Sir Alec Guinness and in fact, Mr. Bruni believes we must judge the priesthood by the priest.  I wonder if he feels that way about other institutions.   What about pedophiles who have been caught in police departments, teachers, government officials, the Protestant ministry, the Hasidic community, all at much higher rates than among Catholic priests?  Shouldn't we be judging these institutions by the same standards Mr. Bruni wants us to use with the Catholic priesthood?  The fact is that pedophilia is found everywhere in our culture and it is a very sad fact that this includes the Catholic Church, as Mr. Bruni does not hesitate to point out, and yes, bishops did mishandle many of these cases:
LET’S start with Los Angeles. Last week, as a result of lawsuits filed against the archdiocese of Los Angeles by hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by priests, internal church personnel files were made public. They showed that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony’s impulse, when confronted with priests who had molested children, was to hush it up and keep law enforcement officials at bay. While responses like this by Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals have been extensively chronicled and are no longer shocking, they remain infuriating. At one point Cardinal Mahony instructed a priest whom he’d dispatched to New Mexico for counseling not to return to California, lest he risk being criminally prosecuted. That sort of shielding of priests from accountability allowed them, in many cases across the United States, to continue their abusive behavior and claim more young victims.
Mr. Bruni continues on with a description of Cardinal Mahony's handling of abusive priests and then launches into an attack on the Vatican:
Church officials and defenders note that Cardinal Mahony’s gravest misdeeds occurred in the 1980s, before church leaders were properly educated about recidivism among pedophiles and before the dimensions of the child sexual abuse crisis in the church became clear. They point out that the church’s response improved over time. That’s true, but what hasn’t changed is the church’s hubris. This hubris abetted the crisis: the particular sway that abusers held over their victims and the special trust they received from those children’s parents were tied into the church’s presentation of priests as paragons.
And this hubris also survives the crisis, manifest in the way that the Vatican, a gilded enclave so far removed and so frequently out of step with the rest of the world, clamps down on Catholics who challenge its rituals and rules. Much of what these dissenters raise questions about — the all-male priesthood, for example, or the commitment to celibacy that priests are required to make — aren’t indisputable edicts from God. They’re inventions of the mortals who took charge of the faith.
I'm assuming Mr. Bruni would say it was hubris that caused Our Lord to choose an all-male priesthood in the Apostles.  Mr. Bruni also seems to reject Matthew 16:19 in which Our Lord said to St. Peter, our first Pope, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  No doubt Mr. Bruni would see this as the epitome of hubris and an "invention of mortals".

As an example of the hubris of the Catholic Church, Mr. Bruni tells us about the "injustice", as he sees it, that has been done to an Irish priest who is in active rebellion against the Magesterium of the Church:
And yet with imperious regularity, Vatican officials issue their relished condemnations. These officials are reliably riled by nuns, a favorite target of their wrath. And they’ve been none too pleased with an Irish priest, the Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended from his ministry by the Vatican last year and informed, he recently said, that he could return to it on the condition that he publicly express his endorsement of a range of official positions that he had questioned, including the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Last Sunday he broke a long silence to say that the Vatican had threatened him with excommunication and to call its approach toward him “reminiscent of the Inquisition.”
Among the Vatican’s issues with him was his stated belief in a 2010 article that the priesthood, rather than originating with Jesus and a specially selected group of followers, was selfishly created later by a “privileged group within the community who had abrogated power and authority to themselves.”
Mr. Bruni now presents us with the fiction of Garry Wills, who asserts in his new book that the priesthood was not given to us by Jesus Christ, but an invention by mere mortals, and that the priesthood was actually opposed in the early Church. Mr. Bruni also feels that the Church needs to have a more democratic government:
That may sound like an extreme assertion, but the new book by Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written extensively about Christianity and the church, says that at the start, Christianity not only didn’t have priests but opposed them. The priesthood was a subsequent tweak, and the same goes for the all-male, celibate nature of the Roman Catholic clergy and the autocratic hierarchy that this clergy inhabits, an unresponsive government whose subjects — the laity — have limited say.
Mr. Bruni and Mr. Wills now completely toss out Vatican I, which said that the teachings of the Magesterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit, are infallible:
“It can’t admit to error, the church hierarchy,” Wills told me on the phone on Thursday. “Any challenge to their prerogative is, in their eyes, a challenge to God. You can’t be any more arrogant than that.” 
Mr. Wills makes an outright attack upon the priesthood and Mr. Bruni agrees, trying to tell us that the abuse crisis proves that the Church and the world would be much better off without the Catholic priesthood:
“We Catholics were taught not only that we must have priests but that they must be the right kind of priests,” he writes in the book, which argues that priests aren’t ultimately necessary. “What we were supposed to accept is that all priesthoods are invalid ones except the Roman Catholic.”
That’s an awfully puffed-up position, and there’s a corresponding haughtiness in the fact that bishops can assign priests to parishes without any real obligation to get input or feedback from the parishioners those priests serve. This way of doing business in fact enabled church leaders to shuttle priests accused of molestation around, keeping them one step ahead of their crimes.
It has also helped to turn many Catholics away from the church, while prompting others to regard its leaders as ornamental and somewhat irrelevant distractions. They cherish the essence and beauty of their religion. They just can’t abide the arrogance of many of its appointed caretakers.
The arguments made in Mr. Bruni's editorial and Mr. Wills's book about the Catholic priesthood and the teachings of the Catholic Church are not only specious, but they are dangerous to our souls.  This is not to say that there are not problems within the church.  The church is filled with sinners.  We all have fallen natures and live in a fallen world.  We need spiritual guidance and correction, and we get it all the time from the Magesterium.  Certainly if the priests and bishops who now stand accused had put themselves entirely in line with the teachings of the Church, the abuse crisis would have never happened.

The Church is not the cause of the crisis.  It was and is caused by those who refuse to abide by the divinely inspired teachings of the Church.  To throw out the priesthood is truly to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  It is to quite literally throw away our eternal salvation.

We all must be very careful when we speak against priests.  From
IN his epistle to the Christians of Smyrna, St. Ignatius, Martyr, says that the priesthood is the most sublime of all created dignities: "The apex of dignities is the priesthood." St. Ephrem calls it an infinite dignity: "The priesthood is an astounding miracle, great, immense, and infinite." St. John Chrysostom says, that though its functions are performed on earth, the priesthood should be numbered among the things of Heaven."
According to Cassian, the priest of God is exalted above all earthly sovereignties, and above all celestial heights-----he is inferior only to God. Innocent III says that the priest is placed between God and man; inferior to God, but superior to man. St. Denis calls the priest a Divine man. Hence he has called the priesthood a Divine dignity. In fine, St. Ephrem says that the gift of the sacerdotal dignity surpasses all understanding.
For us it is enough to know, that Jesus Christ has said that we should treat his priests as we would his own person: "He that heareth you, heareth Me; he that despiseth you, despiseth Me." Hence St. John Chrysostom says, that "he who honors a priest, honors Christ, and he who insults a priest, insults Christ." Through respect for the sacerdotal dignity, St. Mary of Oignies used to kiss the ground on which a priest had walked.
St. Francis
Yes, we have a troubled priesthood in many ways.  But have we contributed to it by not honoring our priests as they deserve?  They are here as representatives of Jesus Christ.  As quoted above and taken from Luke 10:16, Jesus Christ said:  "He that heareth you, heareth Me; he that despiseth you, despiseth Me."  We need to look beyond the priest as a man and see our Lord himself.  We need to keep in mind that the priest is here to save our souls.  If we were on a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean and that lifeboat was our means of salvation, we would treat it with great respect.  When our priests fall, it is not our job to condemn them. It is our job to pray for them, just as St. Francis did.  From
Francis was not a reformer; he preached about returning to God and obedience to the Church. Francis must have known about the decay in the Church, but he always showed the Church and its people his utmost respect. When someone told him of a priest living openly with a woman and asked him if that meant the Mass was polluted, Francis went to the priest, knelt before him, and kissed his hands -- because those hands had held God.
Try not to judge the priesthood by the priest. 


1 comment:

  1. Alec Guinness also played a priest in a movie about Chesterton's Father Brown. During a filming, a young boy who was not pat of the production came up to Guinness, who was dressed in a cassock, and either grabbed his hand or the cassock itself and held on. The boy evidently thought Guinness was a priest and felt at ease. Guinness was so moved that he began to look into the Faith.


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