ASK FATHER: Offering correction to priest who is being a jackass

From a reader…


Far be it from me to tell anyone, let alone a priest, that they can be an ass to people, but our priest, whom I have good rapport with (still even it seems) really can be an ass to people who try to help him, but fall short of his expectations and didn’t think there was anything wrong with how he was treating them. I attempted to talk to him about it in a gentle manner, but he just went on a vulgar rant about how he didn’t care, etc. I left it alone after realizing he wasn’t open to constructive criticism and just prayed for the Holy Spirit to enlighten him.

A month later I received reliable news that he had done a very jerk thing to another parishoner that was inexcusable. I left it for a couple days, and after some time in prayer I decided to attempt again, but use a different, more tactical approach that I thoroughly thought out and was confident would work.

I used your cushioned direct approach, but used the same harsh tone and vulgar phrases he used and respectfully and humbly told him that at times he was being an ass to people who were trying to help him, as well as laid out clearly all the times (I could think of) he was said ass, and reminded him in harsh terms that he is dependent on his parishioners who volunteer their time to have a functioning Latin Mass Community.

It seems to have had some effect, but only time will tell. I have a high degree of respect for his priestly authority over me and the reverence due to his office, and now I’m feeling guilty and debating on whether or not it was wrong for me to take it into my own hands to harshly enlighten him and whether or not I actually sinned. What do you think?

Yes, priests can be jackasses.  Priests can – and do – have bad days.  And some priests have better people skills than others.   And while we all admit that being a jackass is a bad thing, let’s also not fall into the trap of thinking that the first job of the priest is to be a nice guy, full of smiles and hugs.  No.  The first job of the priest is to offer sacrifice, to pray with and for the Church, to help souls to avoid hell and attain heaven, and therefore properly to teach, govern, and sanctify, to administer the sacraments, etc….  Of course, not being a jackass really helps in trying to get all these priestly duties done.  That said….

Fraternal correction is difficult. Paternal correction is even more difficult and we should be extremely reticent to attempt it.

Trying to strike a balance between respect for those in authority, and legitimate reproof of that authority in error has been a difficulty in the Church since St. Paul corrected St. Peter. This always calls for a careful review of motives, and prayer to the Holy Spirit and Guardian Angels of all involved for guidance and the gift of the virtue of prudence.

Here’s a thought.

How about, after correcting a priest on his behavior (maybe not immediately after, but sometime after), going to confession to that same priest and asking his forgiveness for any possible overstepping of bounds? That could show the priest that the correction is not personal, and that you still respect both his priestly office, and him as a person. Or, you might simply approach him some time later – since you say there seems to have been some positive effect – in order to say something like, “Everyone’s so happy with how things have been going lately. I feel much more confident now inviting my friends and family members to come to our parish. Thanks so much for all the great things you’re doing here. Here’s a pound of Mystic Monk Coffee to show my appreciation for your service!”


The original questioner send this:

Since it was awhile since I sent that Ask Father question regarding paternal correction to my priest acting like a jackass, I thought Pryor might appreciate an update.

My conscience started eating away at me within 24 hours and within less than 72 hours I had apologized to him for being disrespectful and related that now I am the ass. All is well (he wasn’t mad and accepted my apology) and, since he is also my regular confessor, I went to confession to him a couple days later.

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  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    Trying to re-establish fraternity and paternity with the priest after the correction is a good thing. Personally, I would not try to do so in confession with that priest, just in case there was more of a wound on either side than suspected, which might make the confessional process very painful. Also, the need to discuss the matter in greater detail is impeded because the priest cannot refer back to the confessional discussion. For this situation, I, personally, favor a more exposed venue, at least until it is known that the situation has cooled down. This is especially important if there has been any unintentional spiritual abuse.

    The Chicken

  2. Thorfinn says:

    One of the many on-target comments from Pope Francis was that priests should be filled with and share the love & joy of Christ. The spiritual state of the priest will show through in one way or another, for better or for worse.

    I have made a conscious effort recently to pray for all priests (which I’m sure many here do regularly) recognizing that they are prime targets for the Enemy and may have spiritual challenges beyond the usual. Frankly, I think too many priests just aren’t happy.

    Once I was so frustrated with a priest that I felt I needed to make some gentle suggestions. But first I did a mental run-through of how the conversation might go, which quickly ended with me cussing the priest out. Even though I think in reality I could control my frustration to at least avoid bad language, I decided such a conversation could be counter-productive!

  3. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I agree with you Masked Chicken. Going to confession as a sacrament is one thing. Having a tense relationship and discussing the relationship is more an issue of therapy. In confession, you deal with an authority and judge figure and the power dynamic is not peer. In therapy, there is more of a sense of speaking to a peer, who happens to be professional in a certain skill. Confession is treated as therapy often, but it should not be, because in therapy you have to be able to challenge the therapist and set the terms of what you think is helpful. Not so in the confessional. I am grateful in confession to not know who is behind the screen, and not have a clue 99% of the time who their “wicked” husband, wife, children, or mom or dad are that are discussed during the confession. I get an “eww” awkward feeling when people have used their confession to apologize to me for something they were angry about. I shut down the temptation to discuss it, remind them of God’s goodness and mercy, and invite them to finish confessing their other sins.

  4. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Some other rules in “correcting” a priest whose behavior you do not approve of:
    1) This is your personal disapproval. DO NOT act like you speak for the parish–because you don’t, e.g. “Other parishioners have remarked that you….” Perhaps there are also parishioners who like Father very much, and would slap you if they saw you correcting him. So don’t make yourself the spokesperson of “the parish.”
    2) Stick with very specific examples and do not turn into a mystical fortune teller, e.g. “If you keep this up, you will drive people away” or “Your actions are the reason the Church is going in a bad direction.” Beware of such prophecies, for many a parish has thrived under a harsh and rude pastor who had other good qualities that you didn’t notice.
    3) Describe behavior without judgments about the cause of Father’s behavior. Do not make yourself Miss Cleo the psychic and attempt to know Father’s inner intentions: “You’re constantly acting from your need to be the center of the universe.” Gee, and here we thought that only God can read interior motives and intentions.
    4) Do not get personal and lob nasty ad hominems, because even if Father forgives you, he may never forget, and his demeanor with you will be permanently harmed. Comments such as “I just knew you would not listen to my constructive criticism–I feel so sorry for the people who will suffer under your leadership” or “Priests like you make me ashamed and embarrassed to be a Catholic.”
    5) Remember that if you forget that Father is the human being he is, and push him too far, he could decide to give it right back to you, and blurt out something like, “Speaking of people who are suffering, your teenage son two weeks ago said he had the worst mother in the parish, calling you Queen B**ch to his friends while waiting for confirmation class to start. I can perfectly see now what he was talking about.” Many a parishioner has been left with lifelong scars that he or she picked up in an ugly showdown with a priest that got personal.

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    If someone called a priest an ass to his face, one cannot expect the rest of the conversation to go well–now and in the future. Pretty much same for anyone unless one is at the height of humility and almost a saint.

  6. HyacinthClare says:

    Fr. Sotelo, those sound like the painful voice of personal experience. OUCH. I’m praying more for priests today.

  7. Giuseppe says:

    I agree with the Masked Chicken and Fr. Sotelo re. not using the confessional to ask the priest to forgive you. That should be done outside of his sacramental duties.

    You could say to the priest in confession that you are sorry for calling a priest a name and repent of your sin. He then can forgive you in the name of Christ. But commandeering the confessional to get him to forgive you personally doesn’t seem appropriate to me.

    Re. calling someone an ass and having a relationship with them. My grandmother often called my grandfather an ass, and they loved each other deeply. Sometimes he was an ass, and she wasn’t going to let that slide by!

  8. APX says:

    You could say to the priest in confession that you are sorry for calling a priest a name and repent of your sin. He then can forgive you in the name of Christ. But commandeering the confessional to get him to forgive you personally doesn’t seem appropriate to me.

    Maybe I’m just weird, but it never dawned on me that someone would actually try to use confession as a time for apologizing to and being forgiven from a priest. On an interpersonal level, that’s just awkward. On a sacramental level, that’s not what confession is for. Seems appropriate to do that before and outside confession and then go to confession and confess something like being gossly disrespectful to a priest by using disrespectful language and nouns towards him or something.

    I would think, having worked in customer service and dealing with the public for a number of years, that one would have gotten used to being called an ass at some point. I know I have.

  9. Netmilsmom says:

    I came from a parish that has a well loved Priest who changed the direction of the Parish and soon seemed to demand things be only his way. Not my circus, not my monkey. I didn’t like what happened to the people who worked the hardest volunteering for the parish and the way they were treated. Seeing the way those who tried to find a common ground came away battered and bruised, I chose to pick up my volunteer hours, my wallet and walk away. I thought, perhaps I saw things in a way that was not the big picture. In otherwords, maybe it was ME. Better to leave than to cause resentment in his heart, in my heart, or the hearts of my family for something that I only saw through my own blinders.

    That solution is not for everyone. However, people should consider that a problem that looks huge to you, may have many underlying circumstances that you don’t see.

  10. Fr Sotelo, that is a brilliant list. I want to print it out and stick it up everywhere to remind me not to growl at our PP. The only thing I’d add to your list is: ‘Give a new priest time to settle in to his job.’

    When our PP first came to the parish – his first parish of his own – there were quite a few ruffled feathers, and he also annoyed me sometimes and we’ve had some run-ins. But we’ve all settled down now, and he’s a wonderful priest and personally I’m very fond of him, and we’re really blessed to have him in the parish.

  11. DrMystagog says:

    Giving anybody criticism, especially a priest, is difficult. Maybe the priest is being a jerk or maybe he is having a personal struggle (unbeknownst to you) causing him to have a short fuse. But, if you talk to him in a respectful manner, there is no need to go back and apologize. Even if the priest is going through a difficult time, a gentle reminder to take it easy on others and also letting them know you appreciate their work can be helpful. If nobody in the parish talks to a priest about his behavior, there may not be anyone to help him see it.

  12. UntimelyBorn says:

    Hello all. First time posting here. I finally registered so I could chime in in favor of Father’s suggestion of going to the priest in confession. I recently had an experience where I did just that (albeit after several weeks of hesitation), and I have to say it was one of the most palpably grace filled moments I’ve had in recent memory. Mind you, I already knew him daily well to begin with and I made sure to mention it in the same context as I would any sin, that is, to the priest in persona Christi. After my confession he gave me some advice on how to better understand the mystery of Holy Orders and the dividing line that exists between the personality of the priest and the office that he holds through his ordination. He has since become my regular confessor.

  13. Sonshine135 says:

    I have never seen anything good come out of correcting a Priest, and before I would even consider doing so, I often try to think of the many good things the offending Priest does, and the desire to chastise seems to quickly fall by the wayside. I am a parent of three children who often get on my nerves, and I am not ashamed to say that. Imaging being “Father” to hundreds of often disobedient children. Several of these children never come to confession and never admit to doing anything wrong. Several more come to confession, but admit the same sin over, and over, and over as to never learn. Even greater still are the children that complain about the organ being too loud, others about the lack of contemporary music, others about the lack of female alter servers, others about too many female alter servers, others about the length of the Mass, and still more about the homily. Are you getting the picture?
    I am not a Priest, but I am certainly willing to give a large degree of latitude to those who are- even those who are on the opposite end of the theological spectrum from me. It truly isn’t a job, it is a life, and Priests are as human as the rest of us.

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    “It truly isn’t a job, it is a life, and Priests are as human as the rest of us.”


    The Chicken

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    Help. This comment box has interfaced with italics space. We need a navigator to get us out.

    The Chicken

  16. Friends: If you are going to use HTML tags, please pay attention.

  17. The Masked Chicken says:

    Friends don’t let friends comment without closed brackets.

    Italics space is a subspace of the Grand HTML universe. Every once in a while Black-and-White space intersects Italics space without the proper interstitial separators. The result is an explosion of italics objects free-floating in Black-and-White space. This can be exceptionally violent if the objects entering from Italics space are beyond bold or even struck-through. Any poor little computer bit trapped in the intersection region will be instantly italicized, bolded, or, even (gasp) struck-through. In view of these sad safety facts, lone computer bits should be accompanied by at least a byte, maybe even encrypted. Let’s be safe out there, people.

    Oh, also, Orion splashed down safely. We are one step closer to evangelizing those heathen martians (yeah!).

    The Chicken

  18. UntimelyBorn says:

    My mistake. Thanks for the correction.

  19. Katey says:

    So glad I read this, worth it just to see Fr Soleto write “I agree with you Masked Chicken”. Only on the internet.
    Personally I am just so glad to have a priest of any sort of orthodoxy to say Mass and hear Confessions regularly that I would hesitate to criticise in these difficult times. I fall so many times, how much harder is it for our priests? One of the many lessons of family life is that no-one agrees with anyone all the time but it is seldom a deal breaker when all are united towards a higher purpose in love.

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