“The constant negativity directed to us priests by…” Wherein Fr. Z relates, reacts, reflects and rants.

At Catholic World Report, Fr. Peter Stravinskas offers a reflection on the way Francis seems constantly to denigrate and insult priests affects both morale and vocations.

His observations coincide with my own.  One of things he said struck a strong note with me.  He reminisces about how, years ago, as a seminarians and priests we would look forward to papal document, in particular the Holy Thursday letter that John Paul would issue for priests, the Holy Thursday sermons of Benedict.   Now, not so much.   As a matter of fact, there was a time that I, myself, would very much look forward to every document. I’d drill into them looking for the good stuff.  That changed.  It got so that – and I am sad as I write this – I started looking for the bad stuff.  Now I dread each document and don’t even want to look at most of them.  That’s terrible, really.

Parallel: The less I watch of “the news” on TV, etc., about the ongoing political scene, the machinations of the Party of Death, and any number of other things vastly beyond my control, the calmer and happier I am.

Morale has been affected since Benedict resigned (and thanks a lot for that, by the way!).

Stravinskas captures the prevailing sense.

Some excerpts.  My emphases:

That recollection [nostalgia about happily reading documents] made all the sadder the constant negativity directed to us priests by the present Pope. This “feeling” is not something unique to me. It came out clearly in a research project being done for the University of Notre Dame by Francis X. Maier.


On to the study.2 [2He reports on the first phase of the study, dealing with bishops’ attitudes, in “Somebody Needs to Be Dad,” First Things, February 22, 2021.] We are allowed to eavesdrop on bishops’ observations about Pope Francis, among many other topics. “In the words of one baffled west-of-the-Mississippi bishop, ‘It’s as if he enjoys poking us in the eye.’” “Poking us in the eye” – a rather down-home way of crystallizing a common sentiment among clergy.

What about seminarians? Maier shares the following: “When pressed, none of the bishops I queried could report a single diocesan seminarian inspired to pursue priestly life by the current Pope. None took any pleasure in acknowledging this.” Again, this parallels my own experience from lectures and retreats I have given to numerous seminarians. In fact, in my spiritual direction of seminarians, I have also had the unenviable task of trying to convince them (and young priests as well) not to give up on the priesthood, so dispirited are many by Francis.

Perhaps most surprising to many is that seminarians of my acquaintance, many of whom had barely made their First Holy Communion in the waning years of the John Paul papacy, name him as their model for priestly life and ministry; Benedict is likewise highly valued by our seminarians – most of whom maintain a respectful silence about the current Pontiff, lest they show disrespect or even disdain. That is quite telling. It also explains why seminary numbers are so far down, precisely over the past eight years. Frankly, why would a young man find inspiration in a man who had even called seminarians “little monsters”?

He goes on to talk about several more recent “pokes in the eye”.

Honestly, I don’t get what the payback is, what the perceived benefit it, to run down priests so often.  How is that good leadership?   Does that inspire “ownership” of a vision?  [US HERE – UK HERE]

If you stone a rock on a person’s head from just a few inches, it might sting a bit, but it isn’t going to be too bad.  If you drop that stone from atop the Empire State Building, it’s going to do a heck of a lot more than sting a bit, even considering issues of terminal velocity.

I’ll add some points I’ve made before many times on this blog.  They bear repetition.

I. Of all the universes God could have created, He created this one, into which He called us into existence at exactly the right point in time and with exactly the right set of tools to carry out our little piece of His overarching, divine Plan. If we dedicate ourselves to our state in life, as it is hic et nunc, here and now, God will give us all the actual graces we need to fulfill our part in His economy of salvation. It is an honor to have been called by God to live in these difficult times.  WE are the team He has assembled for His purposes hic et nunc.  Fidelity and the pursuit of His will bring greater graces than if our paths were smooth.

II.  Popes come and go.  There have been good Popes and bad Popes, important Popes and forgettable Popes.  Men pick them, not the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit’s role in their election is to make sure that the Pope isn’t a total disaster for the Church.  Some disaster, maybe.  Total disaster, never.  Moreover, generations of faithful Catholics lived and died without even knowing the Pope’s name.   In a lot of ways, in daily life, they just aren’t that important.  Modern communication our perception, and the media changed the role.  That said, the RUACH hasn’t stopped either in the Church or in your soul.  The day to day is what you need to work on.

III. For priests, especially…. learn the Traditional Latin Mass.  Time and again, priests have told me that learning the TLM changed them profoundly.  They began to grasp aspects of their priesthood which they hadn’t gleaned before.  In turn, that produces a knock on effect in other aspects of their work, in particular how they celebrate the Novus Ordo.  Congregations note the differences.  The knock on effect continues to knock.  This will be for you a suit of armor.

IV.  For priests, seminarians, lay people alike… consider your CONFIRMATION. Confirmation strengthens us to make the hard call and then stand firm when we are challenged in our Christian living.  We can call upon the power of this sacrament, which has imparted an indelible character, like the potter’s mark of ownership, into our souls.  Confirmation is an ongoing reality in our lives just as the Pentecost event is an ongoing reality in the Church. In these troubled and troubling times, make a conscious choice to call upon that mighty sacrament you received.  Activate it. The sacrament will be mighty in you when you are in the state of grace.    A daily prayer HERE.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Related to today’s posting about non-stop denigrating of the priesthood, please see this about the planned Vatican “Symposium on the Theology of the Priesthood” just posted on Life Site:

  2. There is a great deal of silence on this topic. Tremendous silence.

    Beyond that, I will say this: these are challenging times in so many ways, well beyond those regarding faith and the Church in particular. Part of me always resists extreme interpretations, i.e., it’s never been this bad, that sort of thing. Even if that sentiment is true, I don’t know what the cash value of reaching that conclusion is. But there is value in recognizing strangeness around you; just as there is value in knowing the difference between a calm, clear day and when the sky turns a strange color amidst fierce winds and a tornado siren sounding.

    But then I think of this: I’m writing out these comments on my laptop as I enjoy a day of rest, amidst astonishing plenty and advantage which I generally take for granted. Most people who ever lived had very little access to the information we all trade in so easily; they wouldn’t have heard much of anything about, well, anything beyond their village or neighborhood, and there would have been little they could do about whatever they heard about, other than to ponder and pray.

    God runs the world; I may or may not like how He does so! I am responsible for the care of my soul and how I help or hurt those nearest me, in the little bit of time and space allotted to me.

  3. RosieCotton says:

    We laity need to roll up our sleeves and consciously do what we can to build up the morale of our priests and bishops. Pray for them, thank them, let them know that we appreciate what they do, that their devotion to their vocation matters so much to those of us in their care.

  4. Cincinnati Priest 2 says:

    I echo everything that Fr. Stravinskas said. I was deeply inspired by Pope St. John Paul II (since high school), looked forward to his Holy Thursday letters; admired the clarity of thought and deep love of the liturgy evident in every Mass Pope Benedict celebrated and so on. I was certainly inspired to enter into seminary in significant part because of John Paul’s beautiful vision of the priesthood and encouraged once ordained by the example of Benedict.

    I found Pope Francis’ constant harping on his perceived “faults” of priests and seminarians so dispiriting and irritating that I eventually began to tune out much of what he writes and says. Not only that, but I found many of his barbs puzzling, taking as just one example his comments about priests turning confessionals into ‘torture chambers’ as almost bizarre.

    I can’t help but imagine that his papacy has had, and will continue to have, a depressive effect on men choosing whether or not to enter seminary.

    I pray that the young men who are called to share Christ’s holy priesthood will see the bigger picture, as Fr. Z mentions, realizing they should enter when they are called despite the current vicar of Christ’s seeming lack of love for priests and the priesthood, as popes do come and go.

    I don’t know what is in the heart of Pope Francis but whether it is intentional or not, he seems to be conveying a particular contempt for diocesan priests. A priest friend of mine holds that this is not uncommon among Jesuits, many of whom look upon them as second class, at best. Whatever the root cause, it has been deeply harmful to the Church.

  5. grateful says:

    Father, your five steps are like a breath of fresh air.
    Somehow I keep hoping basing on what he said in the past, that perhaps this Pope could reconcile the dates of Easter between the east and the west.

  6. jhogan says:

    As a layman, I am unaware of this negativity towards priests unless someone brings it to my attention. This not because I am completely unaware of our current Pope and what he is up to. I do like being informed. As layman, I am not sure what I can do about any of it except pray. So I have often defaulted to being like many a medieval peasant: I do my best to know the Faith and to live it (which is enough of a struggle for me); all the while, I occasionally hear these rumors about a distant land called Rome.

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  8. Charivari Rob says:

    …none of the bishops [Father S.] queried could report a single diocesan seminarian inspired to pursue priestly life by the current Pope.

    Is that something that would actually be expected?
    I’m taking “seminarian” to mean “finished undergrad”, at least 22/23 years old. Francis has been Pope 8 years. Other than the occasional late vocation or convert, wouldn’t most already have had somebody else inspire them by age 14/15?
    Comparing recent experience – Benedict was Pope about 8 years. In 2013, how many of these bishops’ seminarians would claim Benedict inspired them to pursue priestly life?

    [I don’t think this is on target.]

  9. Sportsfan says:

    A large percentage of young priests and seminarians now days were homeschooled. These men are used to being poked in the eye by parish priests, parish educators and executive directors of Catholic Education foundations. They know how to take it and use it as motivation. No need to whine. No need to make a fuss. No matter how many pokes in the eye they will persevere. To them not getting poked in the eye would mean they may be on the wrong path.
    Anybody with a properly formed conscience knows this pope is a big meany.
    Get over it.

  10. G. Thomas Fitzpatrick says:

    I think the nastiness towards our priests is part of a strategy. Keep up a negative barrage at the male priesthood, with the purpose of laying the groundwork for female priests. It doesn’t really matter to the progressive catholics that it would violate both law and tradition. We are dealing with radicals using bv the same playbook (and probably funded from the same sources) as secular leftists: change the law and disregard the tradition. Present it as a response to the vocations crisis.
    Make it a fait accompli so that there will be little organized opposition.

    Aside from the male priesthood sticking in the craw of the progressives on general principles, they need to change the current structure of the priesthood. Most young priests and seminarians are somewhat favorable to tradition. If this younger generation moves into episcopal power on a wide basis, the progressive “gains” of the last 60 years are in danger. But if you flood the ranks of the priesthood with more liberal women (conservative women would not want it), they can take the place of ’60s generation liberals, even promoting them fresh out of seminary to bishop (on the grounds of equality) and bypassing the tradition-friendly men now in their early priesthood or in seminary.

    If I were a leftist, that is what I would do.

  11. TonyO says:

    Fr. Z’s and Fr. Stravinskas’ experience of changing from reading the pope’s reflections with eager benefit (under JPII and Benedict) to reading them with “looking for the bad stuff” is much like my own. I didn’t ever read ALL of JPII’s stuff, and sometimes it took me months or years to get around to one of his encyclicals, but it was always with joy and benefit. My experience with trying to get through Laudato Si was an experience of mild torture, FIGHTING to keep my mind on what good I could glean from it and not on the holes, obfuscating ambiguities, and side-slipped goofiness in it. Amoris Laetitia was of course even worse, and forced me to write a 10,000 word blog post on how it isn’t outright heresy (though gravely troubled and distorting) in order to move on. Similar response on that unpleasant 20 seconds of video on supporting civil unions. I am not sure I am strong enough to read Fruity Tooty without sin, and have been putting it off. There is surely something off when the faithful are exercising prudent care for their souls by NOT reading the pope’s public teaching.

  12. Glennonite says:

    It seems to me that any priest who won’t learn the TLM doesn’t have his ‘head in the game’ and would rather just keep sitting on the bench for most of the game; after-all, he still gets to wear the ‘uniform’.

  13. Bthompson says:

    Charivari Rob,
    I was ordained in 2014, and Benedict is probably as much an inspiration to me as St. John Paul, in some ways more as I’m very much a “head” guy.

    In particular, Benedict’s various moments revealing ( Often in the midst of lofty conceptual teaching) how he learned the “softer” side of ministry in his own priesthood, e.g. how to be loving and pastoral, did me so much good as a person who is also much more temperamentally inclined to ideas.

  14. maternalView says:

    In order for me to remain charitable to the Pope and my bishop I’ve decided I need to avoid reading/listening to them. I can do this because of the availability of Catholic media in various forms which help me be informed and educated in my faith.

    “…generations of faithful Catholics lived and died without even knowing the Pope’s name…”

    so very true and helpful to remember

  15. Semper Gumby says:

    God bless faithful priests.

    “At Catholic World Report, Fr. Peter Stravinskas offers a reflection on the way Francis seems constantly to denigrate and insult priests affects both morale and vocations.”

    The Vatican hierarchy and their ilk around the world should keep in mind that it is better to be silent than to speak evil.

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