The depression and hopeless of many Irish priests, and proposals. Fr. Z rants.

My friend Fr. Ray Blake, P.P. of St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton, has a interesting, sad, provocative post on his blog today.

Emphases, comments, comments and the insertion of images mine.

Fr. Blake writes…

If I was going to be martyred I think I could be quite heroic standing before a firing squad, especially with a few others. I would want it to be quick, long torture might produce less heroism. A slow death and years of ostracism and humiliation… well, may the Lord have mercy on my poor soul.

Pure and Simple has a rather sad article from the Irish Times which identifies the depression and hopeless of many Irish priests. It is essentially an interview with Fr Hoban, his pain is palpable, as is his sense of frustration. You get the impression from the article that this is the first time someone has shown any interest in him or his feelings. Fr Hoban blames the bishops and blames Rome, he sees the somewhat heterodox Association of Catholic Priests as being the last toss of the dice. There is real pain here, Fr Hoban and his confreres need our prayers and whatever consolation they can be offered.
I fear for my brother priests in Ireland,  for their spiritual and emotional health some will opt out others will struggle on but with the joy gone.

But the paranoia has also infected the priests’ day-to-day pastoral work. “A woman comes to the door who may have psychiatric problems . . . What do I do? Take a chance by letting her into my front room? There is no doubt that priests have withdrawn, that they’ve become ultracareful and ultrasensitive on how they might be compromised.This is not good for Christ or his Church.

What is seen in Ireland and highlighted by the “abuse crisis” is I suspect present elsewhere in Europe. Low quality bishops,  priests not seeing anyway forward, many seeing the Church is actually going backwards, a conservatism embedded in the seventies, a distrust of Rome, misgivings about young traditionally minded priests, is not just an Irish problem, it is everywhere in Europe. It is I suspect ultimately what the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization is really supposed to address. [Is that what it is supposed to address?]

The problem with Ireland, as so many have identified, is Ireland’s bishops, my wise and balanced friend Fr Sean Fineagans make this perceptive comment:

Now let us look at the bishops. Before the 60s, it was normal that episcopal appointments would be finally approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (or ‘Holy Office’). Pope Paul VI changed this to final approval by the Secretariate of State. [Indeed.] This is because he wanted to pursue a policy of detente all round; ecumenism and Ostpolitik were the watchwords. So henceforward bishops would be diplomats; nice guys, people who could pour oil on troubled waters, men who would not rock the boat.

These are the men who would not pursue child abusers, for fear that a storm might arise. They are good men, nice men; they are just not what is needed now, if ever.In a post today he says:

That is why I think that what the Church needs is not bishops like Willie Walsh, much-loved and kind man as he is, but men like Charles Chaput who really get it.But as I say this is a problem everywhere, especially in Europe, if only someone would start a campaign to give back to the CDF the appointment of Bishops, we need learned theologians and hard nosed canon lawyers who capable of leadership. [More theologians than lawyers, I think.  And men who are truly interested in our liturgical worship, properly understood.]

An interesting proposal.

Before I engage in any rant of my own, I recommend to all seminarians and men thinking about the priesthood that they re-read Benedict XVI’s Letter to Seminarians.

Men become priests for the salvation of souls, namely a) to save their own souls by doing God’s will and b) to keep as many people as possible out of hell and c) to help as many holy souls into heaven as soon as possible after they die.  Salvation of souls is the essence of it.  Every other activity must be subordinated to those goals.  There is no higher calling.  That calling brings consequences, spiritual and worldly.  Because the priest is conformed to the person of Christ by a sacrament which changes his soul forever, and because Christ is both priest and victim, the priest will always also be victim.  If his ministry is in conformity with Christ, it will conform to Christ’s suffering on the Cross as well as to the victory of the Empty Tomb.

I would also suggest a rereading of Pope Benedict’s letter to the Church in Ireland, especially par. 10, in which the Holy Father addresses priests. In par. 14 he recommends a return to traditional practices.

So much rests on our bishops.  It has ever been so.

The Devil hates priests with the unrelenting malice and the cunning of a fallen angelic enemy.  If that is the case, the Enemy hates bishops even more.  Bishops need our prayers and the strength of our fasting and works of mercy.  The less adequate they seem to the task, the more they need our prayers and support.

They also need us to have a strong Catholic identity.   This will depend on true Catholic liturgical worship.  Liturgical worship steers everything in the Church.  As we pray as a Church, so we believe and we act. Can anyone doubt that when more Catholics are strongly and certainly and faithfully Catholic, worshiping God and using the sacraments, trying to live in the state of grace, striving to know the Faith and then be able to gives reasons for the hope that is in them, then the mission of bishops and priests becomes that much less burdensome?   Burdens will never be lacking, of course, but doesn’t that make sense?

The Enemy has many human agents, within the Church and throughout every sphere of life everywhere.  Christ the Just Judge will sort out the wheat from the weeds in His own good time.  Meanwhile, we have the help of holy angels, the saints with our Blessed Mother.  We have God’s help.  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are at work through the ministry of bishops and priests, who are tasked with one overriding mission: the salvation of souls.

We are all in this together.  If things are not as they ought to be, examine your own part.  If you don’t see vocations in the numbers you think we should have, examine your own part. If you see problems with the priests and bishops you have, examine your own part.

Kudos to Fr. Blake for posting this.  I thought it important enough to make it more visible.  Perhaps a note to him on his blog would be appropriate.

Thus endeth the rant.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    As I said at Fr Blake’s, this crisis is hitting liberal clergy hardest. Priests like Fr Hoban have invested a large part of their personal and priestly identity (not to mention time) in the cause of reconciling the Church with the modern world. They have largely succeeded with the Church, but they now find that the love isn’t reciprocal. That must be a devastating realization. And it’s probably for the best.

  2. Joseph says:

    Our clergy from the pope down to the last priest need our prayers more then ever. We all must do what is necesary to the utmost in order to win this battle beginning with our selves. And as in all armies, discipline and self discipline is the fulcrum.
    My heart goes out to all those despairing priests, never loose hope. That is what the enemy desires.

  3. RichR says:

    I didn’t even know that bishops were confirmed via the SS. I would have guessed the Congregation of Bishops (duh?).

    The logical ends of liberalism are finally in full flower. The only logical response is the re-embracing of orthodoxy. Strong priests who don’t try to abuse kids, strong bishops who deal with this type of thing swiftly, and an overall commitment to a common doctrine that is well-defined, well-preached, and well-received.

    Traditional worship is a litmus test for orthodoxy these days. It does not guarantee it, but if traditional worship is aggressively shunned, then seminarians see red flags. They will go elsewhere. That is a good thing. It means that seminarians, on the whole, are seeking orthodox seminaries. The diocese that meet the demand (as opposed to discourage it) will flourish, and then others will be forced to either conform or die out.

    I, for one, see this as a hopeful phase in the Church. A recouping of a traditional Catholic identity is what has given clergy and lay a clear purpose and vision. It will do so again.

  4. Stephen D says:

    Father Hoban believes that the Church should be a ‘democracy’ with priests being able to stop e.g. the use of the new translation of the Mass, by vote. His organisation pushes for female ordination and married clergy, they express support for the Australian bishop who wanted laypeople to be able to ‘preside’ at the Eucharist and the use of non-Catholic clergy. He and his confreres seem to believe that these novelties will bring the Irish people back and they use the sex abuse scandals, quite illogically, as providing confirmation of their position. The retired Bishop Willie Walsh supported such novelties too and admitted, after retirement, that he was not at all convinced that there is an afterlife! The modernist clergy ARE the problem and are in no position to suggest effective solutions. They refuse to take notice of the fact that the Church of Ireland, who provide almost every innovation the ACP want, are suffering loss of numbers proportionately in excess of the Catholic Church.

  5. stjmen says:

    I have recently moved into the diocese previously presided over by the Australian Bishop mentioned above by Stephen D. From what I can tell he was and is a very nice man, and as the article stated, that may just be the problem. The support for him in our parishes here goes beyond overwhelming to truly frightening, and I think this stems not from the belief that his thoughts, ideas and governance were sound and good for the church, but simply because he is a genuinely nice person who loved and was loved by the people. The faithful cannot see past his personality so they cannot see the huge flaws in his doctrinal teachings.I believe that to be a truly effective Bishop you need to not be afraid to upset the faithful by upholding the teachings of the church. You may not ever be as popular as Bishop Morris, but in serving Christ and the faithful, popularity should never be a consideration.

  6. Christ did not call us to be nice guys; never does the gospel use the word nice as a virtue. We are called to speak the Truth IN Love> That is our only true mission –the rest of it springs from this basic reality.

  7. Mike says:

    I ran into a thoroughly orthodox, Catholic priest who is also a canon lawyer the other day. Oh. Boy. He does the NO in his parish about as traditionally as one can, but there is zero chance of his offering a TLM. This may be in part because he has a strong animus against the SSPX–whom, HE says, is clearly, no-doubt-about-it schismatic.

    Anyway, this got me thinking: “More theologians than lawyers, I think.”

    I agree.

  8. Liz says:

    Praying for these poor priests. God bless and keep them.

  9. mortimerzilch says:

    Folks, believe it or not, I have the answer for how to fix this problem. It was given to me in 1978 by a low grade (according to St.Thomas Aquinas) private revelation. That’s not to brag, just that it obviously isn’t something I thought up. The answer to the problem above is for the Priest to be WITH the people in the place designated for that – in the narthax of the church. That’s the lobby.
    It is an unused area of the church where you enter into. Actually it is the OUTER COURT that the Pope just opened to dialogue with non-believers. It corresponds to the area out of which Jesus drove the buyers and sellers out of the Temple. The narthax is where people are SUPPOSED to talk. Inside the church is for prayer, the nave. And the sanctuary is for the altar table of sacrifice. Well, friends, the priest is supposed to vest in the narthax. It is a sacred space as the holy water fonts indicate. The space itself is ministered to by the Usher, formerly a low order of the priesthood. The literature racks are in the narthax, and the bulletin board because it is the organizing center for the laity. The works of mercy, food, clothing are collected in the narthax. Many churches have felt the need to activate the lobby, and have done so as evangelization or parish ministry centers. If the priest and people meet regularly in the narthax, to discuss the state of affairs, to be church together, like on WEDNESDAY nights from 7-10 pm. I guarantee you that health will return to that parish. Invite the youth to minister it under a deacon’s eye, pay them for their services, and maybe even give them Thursday night for themselves – in the company of the priest, I think the faith can be passed on to the next generation.

  10. mortimerzilch says:

    OOPS. there’s a minor error in the above post. The narthax corresponds to the AREA JESUS DROVE THE BUYERS AND SELLERS BACK INTO, not out of. So, you see, the narthax is really supposed to be a VERY HAPPENING PLACE! :-)

  11. robtbrown says:

    RichR says:

    I didn’t even know that bishops were confirmed via the SS. I would have guessed the Congregation of Bishops (duh?).

    It’s matter of Vatican organization. Before Paul VI, the Holy Office was between the pope and all the Congregations–whatever went to the pope went through the Holy Office. Paul VI replaced the organizational position of the Holy Office (SCDF) with the Sec of State.

    JPII effected a compromise by making the SCDF no longer subject to the Sec of State. Like the Sec of State it is directly under the pope–any document published by a Congregation or Pontifical Council must go though the SCDF. Other decisions, however, like episcopal nominations still go through the Sec of State.

  12. mrsmontoya says:

    Father, while reading this I thought perhaps it would help priests to see a signed letter of support with many signatures, a tangible listing of people who are praying for you all and want to show you how much we support you. How would you recommend I go about this? I thought first of the old-fashioned approach: a written letter with pages for people to add their signatures, which I would then photocopy and mail to. . ? And that’s where I pause and wonder what next? I would appreciate your suggestions. 1) Would hard copy or online be preferable? 2) to whom could such a signed document be sent so that many priests could see it? 3) What can I say in such a letter that would provide encouragement to you?

    Thank you, and prayers continue of course.

  13. tioedong says:

    “A woman comes to the door who may have psychiatric problems . . . What do I do? Take a chance by letting her into my front room?
    doctors long have had to face that problem…so usually it meant we had a nurse with us…
    alas, with budget cuts usually it means being alone with a patient, so they can accuse you of anything…I was once threatened with being reported for “sexual abuse” after I refused to give narcotics to a known drug abuser. Luckily, she repeated her threat within hearing distance of a nurse and two patients, so I didn’t lose my license.
    It’s not just priests, you know…

  14. Trevor says:


    I know you’re more experienced with the Curia, and the temperaments of the various departments. However, would changing the organization of the Curia really change anything? It seems the major premise is that “If bishops were appointed by the CDF, then these men would swiftly deal with abuse.” However, if we look at the history of the abuse crisis in the US, even the most doctrinally hard-nosed bishops (some even appointed by the Holy Office) permitted abuse. And we had bishops who were pro-active in dealing with abuse before the scandals before 2002 (and these men were appointed by the Secretariat).

    I think dealing with abuse has everything to do with the conviction of the man in charge. This man should be obviously faithful to the Church’s teaching. However, I don’t think that just because a bishop is a “pastor” or because he gets along well with his presbyterate, he’ll be more likely to hide abuse. It simply takes a strong-willed man.

  15. Genevieve says:

    Father, may I add that the devil hates /men/? Men: strong, godly fathers and leaders of families. Satan takes advantage of every opportunity to weaken and cheapen our image of fatherhood and to attack men who lead their families in righteous living.

  16. robtbrown says:


    I think you missed the point.

    1. Neither the Holy Office (now SCDF) nor the Sec of State has appointed bishops–that is done by the pope. The recommendations come from the Cong of Bishops and go up through the Sec of State. Previously, they went through the Holy Office.

    2. And it is a matter of organization–that’s why Paul VI made the change when he initiated detente with secular society. There were very good priests who were passed over for the episcopacy because they were doctrinally oriented–and would never had played the bureaucratic games (as did Law, Bernardin, et al) with the problem priests.

  17. mariadevotee says:

    What with the priests in Ireland so dispirited, I am writing to each of them (yes, all the priests in Ireland) a note of encouragement and thanks for their vocation. The names and addresses of priests for each diocese are on the websites for the diocese. I encourage the faithful to flood Ireland with prayers and personal notes to priests. With our help and encouragement they can continue to grow in holiness and perseverance.

  18. esiul says:

    Loved the above drawing of the Mass celebration and all the angels and saints
    surrounding the altar, and hell below. That’s what it’s all about, and no priest or bishop should ever forget it.
    Hieromonk Gregory is so right when he said the clergy is not called to be nice guys but to speak the truth in love.

  19. Fr_Sotelo says:

    esiul: I don’t think that is hell depicted down below, but purgatory. Much traditional art serves to demonstrate that at the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Church Triumphant, Militant, and Suffering, are all linked together, and the graces of the Mass are like a cooling refreshment upon the fire of purgatory.

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