Priests, holiness, and avoiding a spiritual peril

I am getting a lot of email and phone calls about something in the news recently about accusations made against a priest.

I don’t know enough about the case in question to offer anything other than my sincere hope with prayers that this will soon pass and that the priest in question will be demonstrated to be innocent of any wrong-doing.  That is my hope and prayerful expectation.

What disturbs me in this the most, however, is the disillusionment I have picked up from people who contacted me.   Some of them are devastated by the mere accusation.  Leaving aside that the accused shouldn’t be condemned by the mere fact of being accused, some people who have expressed themselves to me have done so in pretty dramatic terms.  They have, it seems to me, idealized the priest in question.  Now that he is simply accused, they are at sixes and sevens.

Without any suggestion that I think the priest is question is guilt of anything untoward or criminal – let’s not be naive… there are people who will level an accusation at a priest to make a buck or shut him up –  I think it is a good idea to remind people that priests and bishops are sinners just like everyone else and that they, just as everyone else, need a Savior in the person of the only true Holy One of God.

Something that may be helpful in this matter is a talk by Fr. Robert Dodaro, OSA given to a group of priests in Rome for a joint meeting of confraternities of clergy from the United States and Australia.  Dodaro is one of the best working theologians today in the sphere of Patristics.  His talk addressed the problem of the scandal caused by clerical sexual abuse, reframing it in view of the 4th century conflict with the Donatists in N. Africa.  I’ll compress Dodaro’s observations here together with my own.

In the 4th century, a group of fundamentalist/radicals broke away from the Catholic Church to found their own Church.  Their beef was that during a persecution by the Emperor Diocletian some bishops had acquiesced and had handed over sacred books to imperial officials.   The radicals, called Donatists, concluded that because the bishops sinned they were tainted and could never again confer valid sacraments.

In the face of this theological and ecclesiological challenge St. Augustine helped the Church clarify that sacraments do not depend on holiness of the priest or bishop.  Christ is the true minister of every sacrament.

At the core of Donatist beliefs was the notion that they were the sole remnant of the Church, which according to St. Paul was “without stain or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5:27).  The Donatist position was that God was more concerned with the purity of consciences of priests than the words they said and that a damaged conscience, “blood-stained” in the words of the Donatist Petilian, could actually be transmitted collectively to the whole body of Catholic priests.  For Petilian and the Donatists, a person is cleansed in the sacrament of baptism by the conscience of the minister of the sacrament.  No Catholic, sharing in the collective damaged conscience that had been handed along, could administer a valid sacrament.

This materialistic view of the sacraments at the center of Donatist sacramental theology and ecclesiology lead to the Donatist obsession with the appearance of holiness.  In the midst of a world which is evil, the Donatist follower depended on the transference of holiness to them from the priest who had to remain entirely free from sin or the appearance of sin.

Augustine observed that such a view could be spiritually dangerous.  It lead to a destructive fantasy about the person of the priest.  It could produce spiritual envy.  It could, more seriously, lead to a marginalization of God, God’s holiness and God’s intervention, in favor of that of the priest or bishop who is, materially, right there.

To counter the Donatist materialist approach and obsession with the sinless, Augustine counters that the only true holy one is Christ.  Only Jesus is the true High Priest free from any stain of sin.  Only Christ’s sacrifice atoned for sin.  The bishop and the priest are themselves pardoned sinners.  Priests must not be seen as being entirely apart but as standing together with people as they also strive for holiness.  But they should not be imagined to be holier than a mere human being can be.

When Augustine comments on how the Lord washed the dirty feet of the Apostles, he explains that Christ was pardoning the Apostles for what they had done wrong in their ministry.  When Peter then asks that Christ wash not only his dirty feet (i.e., the sins he committed in ministry) he asks Christ to wash also his whole body.  Christ responds that his whole body had already been washed and he had no need for it to be washed again, a reference to baptism.  The washing of feet represented forgiveness of post-baptismal sins committed by the Apostles, Christ’s priests, in ministry.

In other words, post-baptismal sins can be forgiven and the one forgiven can still minister.

Augustine connects to this episode of the foot washing, verses from the Song of Songs (5:2-3), interpreted allegorically to mean that some men with ecclesial vocations are reluctant to get out and get their feet dirty, as it were, in the Lord’s service. “I had put off my garment, how could I put it back on? I had bathed my feet, how could I soil them?” They are afraid to commit sins in the Lord’s service which, being human, they will inevitably commit.  Augustine counters among other things that even the Apostle James states that everyone makes mistakes in the Lord’s service (cf. James 3).

It is a great concern today that many people are deeply shaken in their faith because of the sins of a very small number of priests and bishops.  It is right and proper to be angry about their crimes when they are proven to have committed them.  It could be that an idealization of priests and bishops leads to a disproportionate disillusionment when they are revealed not to be perfect, especially when they are shown to be sinners of the gravest sort.

We have to be reminded constantly what Augustine stressed in that controversy with the Donatists: Christians who left the Church because they were disillusioned with its outward appearances of perfection and holiness.  Priests and bishops are sinners in need of a savior.  Augustine said to his flock, “I am a bishop for you, I am a christian with you.”

Turning priests or bishops into idealized icons of holiness is fraught with spiritual peril.  Admire the admirable, of course.  But we need a necessary corrective in our admiration, namely, that the sole Holy One of God is Jesus Christ, the only perfect High Priest and actual minister of all graces which Holy Church’s ministers have the honor to mediate.

An accusation leveled at a priest is a horrible thing, because it is nearly impossible today for a priest to have a fair hearing. There is no perfect justice or charity in this world, but these days falsely-accused priests don’t get anything like even the world’s “justice”.  But even when priests are guilty of that by which they are accused, it doesn’t surprise me that priests are sinners or in the worst cases commit bad crimes.  Yes, priests and bishops should be held to high standards.  After all, even the devil holds them to high standards.  The devil hates priests and works tirelessly to trip them.  Holy Orders doesn’t make a man less human.  Should I be surprised that priests are sinners?  I am a sinner.

The bottom line is that you cannot depend on the personal holiness of priests or bishops for your own personal holiness.  The only true Holy One is the Lord.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PghCath says:

    Excellent post, Father! Thank you for this bit of historical perspective.

  2. pfreddys says:

    One of the greatest comeback lines in history was uttered two hundred years ago. As his armies were swallowing up the countries of Europe, French emperor Napoleon is reported to have said to Church officials, “Je détruirai votre église” (“I will destroy your Church”).” When informed of the emperor’s words, Ercole Cardinal Consalvi, one of the great statesmen of the papal court, replied, “He will never succeed. We have not managed to do it ourselves!” If bad popes, immoral priests, and countless sinners in the Church hadn’t succeeded in destroying the Church from within, Cardinal Consalvi was saying, how did Napoleon think he was going to do it from without?

  3. emily13 says:

    Fr. Z – Thank you for your comments as so much I have read about this has bothered me. In my own thoughts about it, however, I have wondered why this is such a public ‘scandal’ of sorts. All priests are sinners just like the rest of us. And I understand that if there is wrongdoing here, it is of a grave nature. However, the accusation came from an adult woman, which aside from mental issues, likely means some level of being complicit (of course, details unknown and I know there can be psychological issues, etc).

    I get that the priest in question is a rather public figure, but it seems to me that all this has done thus far is lead most bloggers and commenters into gossip, calumny and detraction. It seems to me this is something better addressed with ones confessor and religious superior.

    Just my little two cents. [I refer you back to the point of the main entry.]

  4. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Oh boy.

  5. Ellen says:

    Thank you so much Father. We’ve lost touch with the controversies of the early Church and how they shaped what we believe and practice now. So many people quit learning after CCD class and as a consequence they are rattled by this.

  6. Brooklyn says:

    Thank you, Father, for this beautiful explanation. The Donatist point of view is a perfect way of showing how wrong we are when we expect anyone living in this world to be free of sin. I am reminded that our first Pope denied Christ, and that the greatest Apostle, Paul, at one time consented to killing Christians. The King from whom our Lord descended humanly was an adulterer and a murderer.

    Most of of us know which particular priest this article is about, but that is actually unimportant, and for the sake of this argument, it is unimportant whether he is guilty or not. If and when someone is caught in sin, our duty is to pray for that person, not use it as a convenient execuse to turn our back on the Church founded by Jesus Christ, the only place in which the fullness of the truth may be found.

  7. Starkiller says:

    Good article indeed! What disturbs me the most about this situation, is the lack of
    charity displayed by so many of his defenders. I mean, did these people not even
    LISTEN to his talks about the importance of Charity? He even asked for prayers
    for everyone involved, yet, I’ve read attacks against the accuser, the Bishops, EWTN,
    etc., in the various comments on several blogs. I personally think that the Priest here,
    would be seriously disappointed in the comments of many of his defenders. I will
    remember them all in my prayers.

  8. Konichiwa says:

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Z. Without knowing any facts, some have already considered him a saint according to comments on other blogs. This would be very hurtful for the the accuser if the accusations are true. People who know nothing should act accordingly, and the best thing to do is pray and avoid speculation. [Perhaps you missed the point of my post.]

  9. benedetta says:

    The accused priest of notoriety himself has asked for prayers for all involved. This seems the best approach to this news. While he has not come out and said that the accuser is lying, he does allude to the fact that in this era, even allegations which are not even credible do result in priests being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of the facts. This is a reality, whether one agrees or not with it as a policy, and protracted litigation necessarily follows when an accusation is made. Saint Pio and many others have had to endure unjust accusations. For many it is very difficult to imagine that the accusation has any credibility but since none of us were present that’s as far as that’s going to go. If we are convinced ahead of time of innocence then we should pray that much more for the accuser for it is not totally unheard of that people leveling false charges are able to have a change of heart. It is true as Fr. Z says that only the One was ‘superhuman’, and with Him, all things are possible. What good would it be to let this, or any other discouraging situation that brings us to anger, get the best of us?

  10. priests wife says:

    Thank you for such a great historical explanation

    about priests being perfect…well, this is not possible, but every priest should guard his soul well. It is prideful to allow oneself to relax, thinking that all is well. I really felt a twinge of ‘danger’ when my husband was ordained priest- knowing that asking for and accepting the priesthood is like painting a target on one’s chest for the evil one. (I hope this makes sense)

  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. This is an opportunity for all of us to purify our understanding about Christ, the priesthood, holiness and sin. I pray for all priests, especially the ones who are so publicly engaged in the spiritual battle for truth and holiness (including you, Fr. Z), because they reflect the light of Christ so brightly and act in His person to provide all of us with the life of the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments. I can only imagine that satan is constantly crafting ways to attempt to dim Christ’s light through his lies of temptation both in the priests themselves and in people who would present a false accusation against a priest. Jesus Christ, our Truth, have mercy on us!

  12. JJMSJ says:

    Well said.
    Thank you.

  13. Tony Layne says:

    @ Starkiller: “What disturbs me the most about this situation, is the lack of charity displayed by so many of his defenders. I mean, did these people not even LISTEN to his talks about the importance of Charity? He even asked for prayers for everyone involved, yet, I’ve read attacks against the accuser, the Bishops, EWTN, etc., in the various comments on several blogs.”

    I must be reading the better bloggers, because I haven’t read one yet that went too far on either side of the road. Now, on some of them, when you get into the “peanut gallery” comments, THEN you see stuff that verges on personality-cult hysteria!

    “The bottom line is that you cannot depend on the personal holiness of priests or bishops for your own personal holiness. The only true Holy One is the Lord. “

    Very true, Father. For that reason, I pray for you, Fr. Dwight and all other priests whose ministry makes them more visible than others … because your prominence makes you all bigger targets for Satan.

  14. Maria says:

    Fr. Z.,
    I too am pleased that you wrote this post.

    As I was reading the posts on it, here and on COL, I was reminded of when the late John Paul II was shot.

    Imagine some of the Catholic people saying he must have asked for it!

    My prayers will be for this Priest and for the other person involved whatever really happened.

  15. pablo says:

    A Cardinal was asked a question by some holy roller Catholics, and his respone, full of wisedom was this:

    “A first year catechism student knows that answer. Why do you come before a Cardinal and ask such a stupid question, when even a seven year old child knows the answer?”

    No wonder we’re losing the fight.

    In kindergarten, I was taught the only perfect man was Jesus Christ.

    And that was in a heathen public school.


  16. Guido03 says:

    Thank you for this commentary Fr. Z, for I personally needed to read this.

  17. Fr. Basil says:

    If this is the same priest I recently heard about, the priest in question received a multi-million dollar award in what boils down to a medical malpractice suit.

    So it could be the accuser is attempting a shakedown. She apparently made her accusations to several bishops, I cannot tell if his Ordinary was among them, or other superiors.

  18. vmanning says:

    Thanks for pointing out it weren’t the priest who were preaching, but the Holy Spirit,delivering the message through a powerful,albeit faulty (who ain’t?) messenger.The Prowler’s attack is timely,Lent being the season after all.

  19. CatholicForLife says:


  20. wantny says:

    Fr. Z – I am a bit disturbed by your post. Firstly, I am curious as to why you don’t name the priest in question. As everyone knows, you are writing of Fr. Corapi. There are many of us who hold Fr. Corapi in great respect, thanks to his tireless and faithful service to the Lord through his comprehensive teaching of the authentic Catholic Faith. We have a deep love and respect for Fr. Corapi and yet we are not so misguided as to think he is our Lord and Savior. Fr. Corapi is ALWAYS pointing his finger toward our Lord Jesus Christ and His Beloved Mother. We do not idolize the man; we worship the Triune God and we are grateful for Fr. Corapi’s bringing us to God and preserving our True Faith. As you well know, that is getting harder and harder to find these days. Why shouldn’t we assume Fr. Corapi’s innocence? He himself has asserted his innocence, first and foremost. Secondly, when one assesses the fruits of his life as a priest – one finds only good things – culminating in countless souls coming back to the Church. Why shouldn’t all of us come out in force to defend him? This is what he deserves. Also, while we know all men are sinners, why can’t we believe in the holiness of a certain priest? Why shouldn’t we believe in the great possiblity that Fr. Corapi has been falsely accused? The evidence of the past (and there has been much) points to this conclusion. Fr. Z – I respect you and I thank you for trying to help others understand the Truth of our Faith – but I do not like to see you put the emphasis on everyone being sinners, people idolizing priests, etc. when it comes to the topic at hand. I would hope that if something similar happened to you, those of us who enjoy your blog would come out to show our support of you and give you the benefit of the doubt – especially if you told us in your own words that the charges leveled against you were false. [Perhaps you should go back and read what I wrote more carefully.]

  21. Konichiwa says:

    Fr. Z, Sorry about the my earlier comment. My head is not on right.

  22. Dan says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Father. This gives us some good perspective not only on recent events, but on our own lives as well. In my own experience, I’ve found that the best priests are those who don’t hide behind the veneer of thier office…but, like Augustine, admit that they are not only priests for us, but also Christians struggling to fight the good fight with us. This mindset tends to reveal much spiritual maturity and humility, and I hope I can continue to grow in my faith with this in mind.

  23. Father Z,

    I must say that this post is among the best you’ve ever written. It hits some subtle points on which we ought to examine our consciece with regards to our attachments to priests, as well as how we can slip into thinking they are above concupiscence.

    I love how you brought history and patristics into this.

    I will also say that it is not just big celebrity priests these points apply to. I blogged some years ago about how I have run across people in parishes who grow so attached to a particular priest that they will only go to Masses and activities held by that particular priest, even when all others are equally as orthodox. I really don’t want to say this, but I will: Women are the worst in this regard. Yeah, I said it!

    People should do a sense check now and then and ponder their faith life without the presence of a beloved priest. I recall how some felt when a young, gifted, orthodox young priest left my parish and I was concerned for some people. The priest himself pointed out that his job was to lead people to Christ, not to himself. Anything that rises to the level of an attachment is an imperfection, even if that attachment is to a priest.

    Think about what people have done in some parishes when a bishop decided to move a priest – revolting, sometimes unto usurping a parish. Not only is it incumbant upon the priest to go where he is told with humble acceptance, but the people must let go out of humility and detachment. God’s will for a priest in such a case, is also His will for the people.

    God loves all of these priests who are accused more than any of us could. Jesus who suffered unjust persecution, with innocence that none of us could ever know, understands the plight of the innocent priest caught up in the system. The only consolation for the truly innocent is in Colassians 1:24. For those who are guilty, it is the same Jesus that mercifully opens his arms to a repentant soul, even those with the mark of the priesthood who have committed sins that cry out to heaven.

    It’s possible that a particular case may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and brings about changes to what we know is a broken process. We should always pray first and foremost for truth to come to light.

    Thank you, Father Z!

  24. Paul C Md says:

    Thank God for “celebrity” priests – they educate and inspire us on a larger scale than our local priests are able with all of the latters’ pastoral duties. We then praise these “celebrities” as saints instead of raising ourselves as saints – the message they were preaching! So God has to let evil in, for our sake, be it unjust accusation or actual human failing, to shake US from our stooper of praising and adoring the messenger INSTEAD OF DOING, as he pleaded, and becoming saints ourselves. Our Golden calf is in need of immediate melt down.

    So take your medicine folks – as God is here prescribing – our jealous loving God. Stop idolizing a messenger and Become the saint you were designed to be, and pray and fast for this celebrity priest that, either way, evil is cast aside in Jesus’ name. That’s all the celebrity wanted.

  25. Looking at some of the comments posted here, while I know that a particular case may have prompted Father Z’s reflection and guidance, I took his post to be a more generalized discussion about how we should respond interiorly to things that arise with priests. I did not walk away at all with the impression that Father Z was saying the priest in question was guilty or innocent.

    It is easy to idolize anyone, so much so, that we cannot accept that they too suffer from the effects of concupiscence. Further, the mark of the priesthood is ever in the cross-hairs of the Angel of Darkness. This is a double-whammy. Temptations thrown at a priest, even one without a strong presence of holiness, will be greater than for Joe or Jenny Bag-of-Donuts, unless they have a high degree of sanctity. The reason is simple: If Satan succeeds in getting one priest to fall hard, and in a scandalous way, he can take a whole lot of people with him. Look at how the Donatists took people with them (and they exist in their own form today).

    While a specific case may have prompted Father Z’s blogpost, just suspend any thoughts of that case right now and ponder his points in general.

  26. avecrux says:

    wantny –

    This kind of situation leaves people pretty raw – but do go back an re-read Fr. Z’s post again sometime.

    – “I don’t know enough about the case in question to offer anything other than my sincere hope with prayers that this will soon pass and that the priest in question will be demonstrated to be innocent of any wrong-doing. That is my hope and prayerful expectation.”

    – “What disturbs me in this the most, however, is the disillusionment I have picked up from people who contacted me. Some of them are devastated by the mere accusation. ”

    – “…some people who have expressed themselves to me have done so in pretty dramatic terms. They have, it seems to me, idealized the priest in question. ”

    – ” I think it is a good idea to remind people that priests and bishops are sinners just like everyone else and that they, just as everyone else, need a Savior in the person of the only true Holy One of God.”

    Each point Father Z makes here is clear and valid. You ask “Why shouldn’t we believe in the great possiblity that Fr. Corapi has been falsely accused?” Well, given that Fr. Z himself says that such is HIS hope and prayerful expectation, I don’t think he is disagreeing with you.

    He is just warning us sheep that if we trust in men, we place our souls at risk of disillusionment because all have sinned. He is saying it in response to the disproportionately disillusioned response that some are having to this mere accusation. Such disillusionment is an evil. So, he is addressing a genuine pastoral need here.

  27. Clarification on my comment: Temptations thrown at a priest, even one without a strong presence of holiness, will be greater than for Joe or Jenny Bag-of-Donuts, unless they have a high degree of sanctity.

    The last part of that sentence, “unless they have a high degree of sanctity” was referring to the Bag-of-Donuts team. What I was intending to get across is that the average priest will have more temptations thrown at him than the average person. Satan can get more bang for his buck going after a priest with a large following. He is counting on people’s attachment to the man that hinders their attachment to God, though they be seemingly devout.

  28. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Diane, I’m sorry I want to kindly disagree with you on one matter you mentioned. As you know, women are very relational and people oriented. I don’t think it helps to knock ourselves for that. A woman’s love and affection for people, including her parish priests, is a gift, it is part of what makes her feminine. It is only natural for women to form attachments to the “Christ” they see in outstanding men. I think it does a disservice to us to regard our feminine gifts in a patronizing manner. It’s perfectly normal for people to suffer when those they care for leave their world. It’s an ungenerous, wimpy love that doesn’t feel pain. In short, I think it would be wrong to look down upon those who are sad upon the transfer of a priest. I can’t express everything I’m trying to say without sounding like a moron. Something in what you said really struck me, almost offended me. St. Teresa of Avila wouldn’t just go to any priest that was available. She was choosy. Let people do what they will in this regard and try not to assume they are spiritual inferior bc of it. Okay, I’m realizing that I may have gotten away from what you were saying. My apologies.

  29. EXCHIEF says:

    The devil might well target those priests who are orthodox, who are strongly pro-life, and who by their visibility attract so much attention and so many followers. The devil in his attacks may well know that accusations can be demoralizing not just to the accused but to his followers. We need to pray as a defense against these increasing attacks by the evil one.

  30. acroat says:

    Faithful priests who are publically “out there” are targets. I have seen two (neither accused of anything) leave the priesthood. Fear, depression etc whatever works the evil one will use. The Litany Humilty says it well” From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
    From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.”

  31. Dear Jenny Bag-of-Donuts:

    Some years ago I might have agreed with you on not singling out women. That is, until I met a few who went above and beyond the enjoyment that comes with hearing a gifted priest speak to the point of being obsessed like a groupie. Forgive me for observing that I have never met a man who obsessed in a similar fashion over a priest. Let’s not confuse this with people – men and women – who are going to hear a gifted speaker in pursuit of truth, or to a confessor who is particularly helpful.

    I’m not talking about every woman here, so you can rest easy. Women are naturally attracted to men. While priests need to be always on their guard to not get too close to any one charming woman, the charming woman needs to be on her guard to not get too close to the priest. When she senses strong attraction to the priest that is more like infatuation, she needs to stop and ponder. The Angel of Darkness can mettle with a woman’s passions just to get to a priest and she can find herself an instrument of the devil if she does not thoroughly examine her conscience in this regard.

    I also made clear I was not talking about choosing a good priest over a bad or mediocre priest. I qualified it by saying that they (the one’s i’ve met) only wanted to be involved in those things that one specific priest was doing when there were other orthodox priests also offering things and there was no interest to be there.

    For example, what if someone only goes to daily Mass when their special priest has the Mass, but not on the days when other priests have the Mass, and those priests are equally orthodox and traditional (you could say, cut from the same cloth)? Let’s say that there is no scheduling problem, but it just so happens that the woman can never make it to a daily Mass unless her pet priest is there? It begs the question: Is she coming for God’s sake, or for her own sake to see the priest and satisfy her own desire to be near him?

    Priests are men and while we women have very positive qualities that you note, which we should not ignore, there are those who would cross the line without even realizing they are doing it. What happens next, is an inordinate attachment happens for the priest, to the point that they obsess over him. They can’t bear to abstain from an event he might be at or choose another Mass by another orthodox priest . Yet, abstention is precisely the remedy needed for such souls stricken with concupiscence in this way. They are hindered from seeking the face of God because their infatuation with their pet priest is in the way.

    I’m willing to bet that a good number of proven false allegations against priests that come from adult women (no case in particular), come from women who found themselves attracted to priests and felt scorned. It’s not always about money. It’s not always about attacking a priest’s orthodoxy as some may think.

    I have had more than one woman personally express to me their sexual attraction for a particular priest, one of them going back over 30 years ago, and another more recently. In one case, I rebuked the woman and pointed these same things out to her. This was another one who seemed to have an interest only, or mainly, in things her pet priest was involved with. I have a real problem with that. Anyone doing that needs to stop and think about what they walking into. This is not filial or brotherly affection that a woman can have for a priest, but crossing a line into dwelling on passions that they have no right to entertain.

    I’m sorry… I’ve never observed this in a man… yet. Then again, only a very small percentage of men are attracted to men. I’m just sayin’.

    Perhaps you have never met such women. I have. To them, I say, knock it off, ladies!

  32. And, btw – with regards to women being sad about a priest being transferred, there is nothing wrong with this any more than it is to mourn the death of a loved one. This goes for men and women. But we should never hold any one priest in such high regard that we are willing to do things that counter virtue. For example, everyone goes to adoration because a popular parish priest recommends it. He is transferred. The next priest holds adoration, leads adoration, but perhaps isn’t gifted dynamically in his speech, or maybe he is elderly. The next thing you know, people – men and women – seem to stop coming to adoration. The only thing that changed was the priest. Their coming to adoration is conditional on how popular the priest is who is leading it. I’ve witnessed this too. I had this in mind when I was writing about a priest who was leaving.

    Father Z is talking mainly about people placing priests, or a particular priest on such a pedestal that they can do no wrong in the eyes of those who follow them. Such perfection belongs to Christ, not to the priest who also suffers concupiscence like the rest of us. We forget to hold them up and keep them strong with prayers because they seem so holy and so invincible.

  33. fieldsparrow says:

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Z. Many good points to consider, not just in this case, but in how we think of clergy in general.

  34. ckdexterhaven says:

    I used to attend Mass at a large parish in the Southwest with a “rockstar” priest. He was very popular, and gave a great homily, but I could never shake the feeling that the Mass was about him, not Jesus. This particular priest even changed the ending of Mass! Because of the proximity to my home, and my young children, I continued to attend there. Sometimes, during Mass, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “If Father X ever left this parish, I bet half of these people wouldn’t come back”, I got the feeling that a good majority of them were there for Fr. X instead of Jesus.

    I appreciated this post from Father Z. It happens all over, not just on tv, and not just with “rockstar” priests. Sadly, Father X has been excommunicated. :( He still needs our prayers.

  35. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Te Deum Laudamus –

    As a woman, I have to blushingly confess you are right. I know exactly what you mean.

  36. Bryan Boyle says:

    In the end…pray for Fr. Corapi. You can be pretty certain of one thing, though…the minions of hell are doing the happy dance right now. I’ve had to scramble to replace his program on my internet streaming radio service every afternoon. Zero tolerance? Uh huh. While I accept that’s what has to be done, I can’t help but think it’s an overreaction to try to make up for years of no reaction.

    Rosaries, adoration, penance for his protection. He’s had a big target on his back for years. All it takes is one accusation, true or false, to tear him down in the eyes of some, and lessen the faith of others in His Church. And that is Lucifer’s goal. The good Father, as are all good priests, are the potential pawns in a struggle that goes far beyond what you read in the Fishwrap or Slimes.

  37. Maria says:

    To Diane at TDL.

    What an excellent post! (21 March 2011 at 11:42 pm).

    There is a known thing where a patient can attach too emotionally to a Doctor or a male patient to his long-standing nurse and this is due I think to a lack of care and/or love in that persons everyday lives. The very same thing can happen with a Priest.

    When I first became Catholic, I remember saying to my Priest “I love you to bits” in front of my husband and another young Priest in his charge. In hindsight it was a stupid thing to say no matter how well meant it was.
    At the time I was full of new Joy at being Confirmed and merely wanted to demonstrate how happy I was that I could at last trust someone aside from my husband.
    Needless to say, my poor Priest blushed and was most embarrassed for me and I am Blessed that he handled it so well.

    Had I been a divorced or single lonely woman, it could have gone to infatuation had this poor Priest been flattered (1st fall) and only God knows what could have developed in this kind of situation.

    Diane, I think you have described the female psyche really well in your post and I too can see the dangers of unhealthy attachment, especially when mental health issues may be involved or loneliness.
    It was with Gods’ Grace that I have a good husband who corrected me on my flippancy (not that anything would have developed in that particular case ) and he made me think of the seriousness of how flippant remarks can cause one to sin if there is weakness there.

    As a result, I prayed that my Priest would always be protected from subtle temptations such as this, and I asked God to forgive me for speaking to my Priest in this way and causing him possible concern and embarrassment, and ensured that I removed myself from his company for a while until I had got through my ‘honeymoon period’ of my new found Catholic Faith.

    Your post is very sensible and wise and I am sure that the things you speak of are the kind of things that lead a Priest into temptation when he does yield.

    Satan does not carry a banner telling everyone he is going to act.
    He wors by stealth under the blanket of ‘innocence’ and I think you did well to point this out.

    God Bless you all,


  38. irishgirl says:

    Great post, Father Z-and yours too, Diane!

  39. Clevelander says:

    Father, all that you say is true, and I am grateful for it. I hope you would agree that it does not risk deifying a priest simply to presume his innocence. Some supporters of this particular priest are being portrayed as unreasonable or imprudent merely for living by this presumption — the same as when non-clerics are involved — and daring to say so out loud.

    In his public statement, the priest in question has pointed out that it is deemed necessary to presume allegations to be credible, “just in case.” I would observe that commentaries follow a similar approach in which 90% of the emphasis seems geared toward easing the disappointment of some presumptive future letdown, and only 10% toward the sad fact that calumny, as a tool, works and works well. It is certainly possible to overemphasize the latter, but equally possible to overemphasize the former.

    [It is hard to know to respond to comments like this, other than to direct you back to the top. I made some points at the top of the post which I meant.]

  40. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Diane, you do write beautifully thank you. Well, we are on the same page for the most part. Naturally, one should be careful with his or her relations with the opposite sex. I would really encourage you, however, to have more empathy for these women you point out and to assume better of others. We truly don’t know what is in someone’s heart. Women need someone to adore I’m afraid. On the road to perfectly placing Christ first in one’s affections and desires, a person is bound to experience less than perfect affections. You present an ideal that we should never lose sight of. But if we are in a position of friendship to a woman like you describe, let’s help them discover the root cause of a disordered attachment and not “rebuke” them and make them feel dirty. Some of these women may have baggage and other circumstances in their lives that you have been blessed to be preserved from. And the Lord can always bring good out of our imperfections. Those who are forgiven more tend to love more. These women that you may look down upon and who may seem very immature right now may later come to a very purified and holy love and detachment. They may very well be fighting against their disordered desires. We just don’t know. I think it’s best not to assume the worst. I’m sure you agree. You are right, I have never observed this pet priest thing, not in the way you describe it anyhow. I’m sorry it is very annoying for you. We all have our annoyances don’t we? I’m sorry to say I find it very annoying when women assume the worst of other women. We need to be there for each other you know? The world is already attacking our femininity and gifts. Let’s help each other on the path to holiness and recognize that we can have very ugly inclinations inside of us. More empathy please!

  41. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Maria, your humility is commendable. But please don’t feel another moment’s embarrassment for the incident you relate. The priest you spoke to is human after all and I’ll try not to be too hard on him. Still, I think he could have handled the situation in a much kinder and mature fashion. This is a big thing for me I’m afraid. I really wish men in general and clergy in particular were more kind. Maybe it isn’t natural for men to be kind ( they have their other unique gifts and what not), but I think it would make the world a much nicer place if men began trying harder to behave toward women with more sensitivity. This priest should have realized your goodwill and been grateful for it. Maybe your choice of words wasn’t the best but who’s perfect? And you said this in front of your husband, come on. Don’t feel bad for what other people can’t handle.

  42. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Thanks ladies for your insights. The interactions between women and men fascinate me and I’m glad for the opportunity to discuss it.

  43. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Sorry ladies that I can’t write very well but please don’t let that make you dismiss my comments.

  44. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Oh, going back to the priests- are- human thing. Sure they are, who wouldn’t know that?

  45. Maria says:

    Jenny BOD,

    I’m sorry, but I think you have misunderstood what I have tried to say here.

    To quote:
    “When I first became Catholic, I remember saying to my Priest “I love you to bits” in front of my husband and another young Priest in his charge. In hindsight it was a stupid thing to say no matter how well meant it was.
    At the time I was full of new Joy at being Confirmed and merely wanted to demonstrate how happy I was that I could at last trust someone aside from my husband.
    Needless to say, my poor Priest blushed and was most embarrassed for me and I AM BLESSED THAT HE HANDLED IT SO WELL.
    (Sorry about the capitals but I don’t know how to use italics on here)

    I don’t think I was hard on him at all, nor was he hard on me.

    The point I was trying to make is that ‘messages’ can be misconstrued and misunderstood by us mortals and it is important that we protect our Priests by being modest before them at all times.

  46. Jenny bag of donuts says:

    Of course not Father. It’s fun to go off on tangents. Sorry.

  47. I think this situation just proves how much the Church needs good holy women to become Spiritual Mothers of Priests.

    God bless,
    Catherine a Spiritual Mother

  48. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Clevelander et alii: This article of Fr. Z’s is not a Fr. Corapi article. It is not even a legal discourse on whether “innocent before proven guilty” is appropriately being applied by the Church or the doubters in Corapi’s innocence. Fr. Z and I are priests (I don’t know if you are), and any man who is a priest is going to be totally and extremely concerned that Fr. Corapi is prayed for, supported, and gets a fair hearing. Any of us priests lives each day knowing that we could, tomorrow, be at Corapi’s side, in his very same situation.

    But Fr. Z has wisely used this occasion to address another problem that is quite dire and has eternal consequences: the spiritual peril, crises, and loss of faith that may occur when faithful Catholics do not properly understand the role of the priest in bringing us grace through their ministry and sacraments. Specifically, the same issues raised in the Donatist controversy of the early Church.

    I wish people would put aside their feelings about the Corapi case. I wish they would read through Fr. Z’s article carefully, paying meticulous attention to the Donatist beliefs and actions, and Augustine’s response to the Donatists. As a priest and a pastor, I don’t think that an author has applied the lessons to be learned from the Donatist heresy as well as Fr. Z has applied them in his article. And what makes Fr. Z’s words so urgent is that people are at this very moment in grave doubt and losing their faith because they do not have the advantage of the nourishment of spiritual counsel, such as is found in this article.

  49. Maria says:

    Thank you for this excellent post Fr. Sotelo, a timely reminder, and aslo thanks to Catherine Beier for this very useful and informative link.

    God Bless you all.

  50. Clevelander says:

    I apologize for never really getting to my point. It was that pending allegations against a particular person are a delicate context in which to raise a discussion of the vulnerability of persons in general, because the latter can act like an invitation to make inferences about the particular case. Hence the concern about balanced emphasis. In this case, Father laudably has made his support quite clear and has made no inferences; it is really the spiritual pygmies (like I) who need to be watched out for. Over and out.

  51. mkamoski says:

    Thank you Father Zuhlsdorf.

    Excellent post.

    Let us expand the conversation a bit, and let us consider something that perhaps we have not yet addressed herein.

    Yes, priests are sinners. Agreed. In that respect, they ARE like the laity.

    However, there is at least one thing that is VERY different about the human who is a priest when compared to a human who is not a priest– the fact that the priest has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

    We note, from the Catechism Of The Catholic Church (CCC)…

    “1582 As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ’s office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.”

    We also note this from the CCC…

    “1536 Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry.”

    So, given that the priest is a “priest forever”, and given that he has been given orders from Jesus Christ, and given that we (the laity) are also a priestly people who partake in the general ministry, we all have, therefore an obligation to carry out the mission– we were told by his Mother, in no uncertain terms– “do whatever He tells you”.

    So, are priests important? Yes. More important that laity, perhaps not. However, in Christ’s eyes, each one of us is offered His infinite Love and infinite Mercy– so if Christ thinks we are that important (and He does, make no mistake about that) then we would do well to follow– in Imitation Of Christ.

    What did He (Jesus Christ) tell us to do? To carry out His mission.

    How? Through the priesthood.

    So, in as much as a priest does the work of Christ, we must support

    We are, afterall, one body– when one in the Church is injured, we are all injured and so, we ALL need healing.

    Those are just some thoughts which come through prayer and I hope they tie-in a bit.

    We are the Church Militant.

    We have mission.

    Let us continue, pick up the fallen, pray for each other, and support the Church, which is us, those in a state of grace and those not.

    Yours in Christ.

    – Mark Kamoski

  52. aviva meriam says:


    Thank you for placing this into proper perspective….

    In reading your post as well as the responses I am compelled to add one additional dimension. The accusations against Fr. Corapi came on the heels of the grand jury report from Philadelphia and the subsequent suspension of MANY priests in active ministry . Coupled to that was the first ever indictment (in the US) of a former Diocesan offical and many have allowed their faith to be shaken .

    I’m bothered by both the allegations of the grand jury but also by the summary (and PUBLIC) suspension of so many priests by the Philadelphia Archdiocese. I dont like the idea of guilty until proven innocent and I dont like the idea of a Chancellery failing to uphold its obligations. If Fr. Corapi or any of the suspended Philadelphia Priests are cleared of all charges, how difficult will it be for them to resume their ministry? Will these allegations (even if proven false) follow them and their activities for years? Will others use these allegations (regardless of their veracity) as a weapon against others of faith?

    I will pray for Father Corapi, as well as his accuser. I am praying for the accused priests of Philadelphia as well their accusers…. I will also pray for the priests and bishops who must investigate these claims (both against Fr. Corapi as well as within Philadelphia) that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit to discern the truth….

    Faith is not always easy, but it is EASIER when one’s faith is properly directed towards GOD and his example.

    Thank you again for that reminder.

    [Thanks. And of course the post at the top isn’t about Fr. Corapi or any other specific priest, though it comes at a time when Fr. Corapi is in the news. Fr. Corapi’s sad situation – may he have strength and spiritual defense! – called to my mind the Donatist error and the great talk by Fr. Dodaro. I was getting email from people who had clearly fallen into the trap described. Therefore, I posted about it. That said, pray for the liberty and exaltation of Holy Church and confusion to her enemies.]

  53. CJM says:

    Father, thank you for this post. Since you too are in a position of prestige, this was a very humble thing for you to write, but I feel that you have always put the interests of Christ and his church above your own. Although I am very grateful indeed to you for helping to bring me back to the fullness of the Catholic faith, this was God working through you, not a work of your own hands. Your post has helped me to realize, despite my great esteem for you, that my faith must ONLY be in Christ our savior and not in even the holiest of priests, although we can certainly appreciate those priests like yourselves who helped us get to the truth. May God, in his infinite mercy and wisdom, preserve you dear Father, from all sin and scandal, and may the truth which shall set all humankind free shine forth in the case of the priest you mentioned!

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