QUAERITUR: What to do about visiting priest preaching error?

From a reader:

I’ve been troubled by a sermon I heard last Sunday.  It seemed inappropriate, and I’m seeking your advice on what to do.

A visiting priest oftentimes gives homilies heavy on so-called "social justice" themes.  Because of his political appeals, he often squanders  opportunities to preach the gospel.   This week, though, I think he  was actually going against the Church.

Before beginning Mass, he spoke about the election and his excitement for Barack Obama.  Once Mass began, he continued talking about the election and his approval for Obama (this took over 10 minutes  altogether).   

At the homily, he talked about the origin of the First  Nicene Council.  In his words, the church was divided into "conservative" and "liberal" factions regarding the acceptance of traitors during the persecution back into the Church, but eventually the bishops sided with the "liberals." 

He said it’s the same today with conservatives wanting to be exclusivist and the liberals thinking  that the church is for everybody.   He mentioned reading about the  bishops who said that Catholics cannot support pro-abortion politicians like Obama. 

But he said that abortion isn’t necessarily right or wrong; the bishops’ warnings are just one way of looking at it.  Finally, he cited the presidential election (again) as evidence that our society is forward-looking and that the Church will abandon its sexism and ordain women as priests —  perhaps not for several decades, but progress is inevitable.

I knew I should say something to the priest, but I couldn’t think of any way to be civil about it, so I kept quiet.  It’s been bothering me, though, and I wonder what (if anything) I should do.  This priest might be well-intentioned but I fear he may be inflicting untold damage on souls.

Here are the elements I think are important.

First, you kept silent when you knew you would be too harsh.  Excellent.   You don’t get anywhere when you froth.

Second, this is a visiting priest.  But if he is regularly there, then you need to address your concerns to the pastor.

Third, being a bad historian is or having stupid politics are one thing, but distorting the Church’s teaching in the pulpit is another.  If he truly said what you say he said about abortion, he must be corrected.  At the very least the pastor needs to tell him not to say anything like that again from his pulpit.  The same goes for female ordination.  Both of these are clarified by the Church in a definitive way.  If he is confusing people about what the Church teaches, he must be corrected.

Fourth, it is very difficult to apply for correction of a priest when you don’t have proof of what happened.  You have your account of the sermon.  It would help if other people gave their accounts.

This is always a bad situation for everyone involved.  My recommendation is that you talk to the pastor of the parish and tell him your concerns.  Follow it up with a letter about what was said on both sides and save a copy. 

This must be placed in the pastor’s hands to deal with.

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  1. If this “visiting”priest is a regular,then the problem is not so much with him as with the pastor who allows him the use of the pulpit.I never allow a visiting priest to preach unless I know where he is coming from. If this sermon were given in the presence of my bishop,he would (this has happened even at the funeral of a priest)in the context of a few “personal reflections”at the end of mass,give a correction lest people leave with erroneous ideas.Also,since JPII’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,which is infallible,the remarks about womens ordination is heresy.

  2. Bob says:

    This happens occasionally at my parish. The problem is, our pastor goes to great lengths to avoid confrontations, and I’m certain that he would absolutely refuse to correct another priest about anything, no matter how heretical. (He’s not entirely orthodox himself.) I’ve thought about video-taping a Mass said by a particular missionary priest who visits once a year and sending it to the bishop, but I doubt he would have time to watch it. I guess the real solution is to find a better parish, but I’m sort of stuck here at the moment.

  3. Howard says:

    Wow, Fr. McAfee, I like the sound of your bishop!

  4. Brian Walden says:

    In a situation like this (if the reader’s account is what was actually said), is it ever permissible to interrupt a homily when it’s in direct contradiction with the Magisterium?

  5. Brian: It may be illegal. There are usually civil laws about interrupting religious services.

  6. Jim says:

    If one stood up and walked out, would one have completed the Sunday Obligation? Or is it ‘grin and bear it’?

  7. I have a good friend – a late middle aged woman – who is a gentle, prayerful and normally quiet soul and suffered with a heretic pastor for years at her parish. I believe she had tried at times to discuss these things with him, but he would have none of it. His manner was also very patronizing towards any faithful who would contradict him. The final straw for her was his denial of the bodily assumption of the Mother of God. While this priest was preaching in the pulpit during the feast, she stood up and said “You are wrong! This is not the teaching of the Church! What you are teaching is heresy!” and walked out of her home parish never to return.

    I personally admire this woman for her courage, although I would not recommend what she did as standard practice! It would have been far better for her to have written to her Archbishop, were it not for the fact that the Archbishop, while personally orthodox, seemed to endlessly tolerate all sorts of nonsense under his watch.

    God bless,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  8. Kathy says:

    Certainly the pastor should be alerted. But I would inform the Bishop, too. This priest shouldn’t be allowed to preach an any church anywhere. [Without solid proof, recordings, etc., that this is a consistent problem, it is best to go first to the pastor.]

  9. Simon Platt says:

    Dear Jim,

    I’m afraid grinning and bearing are required. The minimum obligation is from the offertory to the priest’s communion – the beginning and end of the sacrificial act. Or so I understand.

    From time to time when sermons have been more than I could bear I have walked out and returned at the creed.

  10. Joel L says:

    We had a similar incident in my parish this past summer. The topic was different but the scenario was the same. It happened that my family and I were out of town for the weekend, but a friend from another parish ended up at mass in our church with his family. My friend and others were beside themsleves with what they heard in the homily. Long story short the only charitable and correct thing to do was to write a letter. The letter was sent to the Pastor who forwarded it on to the visting priest. Letters were then exchanged between the priest and my friend and positions on issues were clarified.
    Because I am on the parish council, I brought up the topic in our next meeting. We now make sure to list in the bulletin who will be saying mass and at what time for the following Sunday.

  11. There is also a story of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Early on, she invited a priest to come and give a retreat to her sisters. The priest preceded to time with the sisters preaching a veritable schmorgesborg of heresies against the pope, the Eucharist, the Mother of God, etc etc. Mother evidently sat quietly praying, along with the other sisters. When he was done, Mother thanked him and showed him to the door, saying “Thank you, Father. We no longer have need of your services.” She then shut the door and spent three hours with her community teaching her sisters the truth of the Catholic Faith and refuting the heresies taught by this priest. She cold have humiliated this priest of the Church, but instead chose to honor his priesthood, even if he brought shame upon it! Such was her great humility and faith.

    God bless,

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  12. Situations like this…(which happened last week at a parish I visited)…

    I like the example Fr. Deacon Daniel gave about Bl. Mother Theresa. Inform the pastor of the errors, and pray that a situation where the pastor would teach the faithful the Truth comes about.

  13. Nick says:

    The solution is very simple. Find out what the schedule for this priest will be and have someone conspicuously record his sermons. I suspect he will either be much more careful or a case will be built.

  14. William says:

    From time to time this happens here, too. A prolonged visit to the “gents” is s discreet way to absent oneself. One Sunday a visiting religious sister, giving a pitch for the needs of her congregation, was allowed to “preach/give the homily. I had to go and so out I went!

  15. tradone says:

    Wouldn’t it be a sin of omission to let this go without some action?
    I think we have a prompt basic responsibility to mention this to the pastor and follow up in a timely manner.
    If possible document specifics.

  16. supertradmom says:

    I had a similar problem with two visiting deacons giving presentations to an RCIA group of which I was the organizer. I gently added a comment after one heresy, but waited until the said deacon was gone to correct the error with those who were interested in hearing the Church’s teaching.

    One deacon was very confused on the Three Persons in One God, actually using the word “emanantion”, which is, of course, heresy. The second stated that the next pope could change, and probably would change, the present pope’s position on denying the priesthood to women. I, sadly, did not get to all those who heard both talks to correct the errors, but will try and clarify such things ahead of time, if I am in the position of RCIA director again.

    The deacons go through five years of Theology, but obviously, some things were missed or distorted.

  17. David Kastel says:

    Don’t dare let the SSPX have access to your church though! They are disobedient for using the 1962 missal.

  18. mrteachersir says:

    \”Throw him into the pond!!\”

    In my parish, it is the Pastor who spreads the heresy (\”the time for doctrine is over, now we must use the Bible only\”; \”the Church we have today is not the Church Jesus founded: Jesus gave us 2 new commandments and the Church invented 2416 laws\” [I am assuming he meant Canon Law]). The visiting priests usually correct his errors and then he has to do \”damage control\”: no orthodoxy around here!

    In all likelihood, he\’ll be gone in June.

  19. Anthony Ozimic says:

    Many thanks for this advice Father. It’s even more important to act when it involves an Obama-supporting bishop – see http://spuc-director.blogspot.com/2008/11/obamania-is-condition-linked-to.html

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