From a reader…
Dear Father Z, I have a question about how to deal with a priest who has a difficult personality. He can be very rough and impolite in his language, even during Mass. He is known for loud public outbursts of anger, criticizing and even humiliating the priests under him in front of others, and the priests under him sometimes mention during meetings with the laity their difficulties with this priest. Personally, this priest once mocked me publicly for requesting items to be blessed. Today after Mass, he accused my young children in an unfriendly way of not saying their prayers after Mass, which was not true, and furthermore he had no way of knowing whether they had said their prayers or not. (I was not present.) My question is, as a layman, how to relate to such a priest? I understand everyone can have a bad day, but this is a pattern with this priest. I know some people might say, “find another parish”, but what if there is no other parish? What if, for example, you live on an island and this is the only parish you can go to? I try to take his outbursts as an occasion to be patient, and I pray for him. But it is scandalous, and now my children are afraid to go to this parish. I feel especially badly for the kids, who are confused by the example of a priest who behaves quite unfriendly and even rudely in public, and when he turns his criticism on them, they don’t know what to do. I do not mean to speak ill of him behind his back; I want to respect his priestly office, it’s just that I am confused about what to do and I hope you can help. Thank you for any advice you can give. God bless you!
This is a tough one. I consulted with a few priests and bishops. Here are some comments I received back from them.
The questioner seems most sincere and willing to cut the priest some slack. I can’t think of any better solution than for him to make an appointment with the bishop out of concern for the priest. He could explain confidentially what’s been going on, so that the bishop or his delegate can be proactive in helping the guy. Better this than having to remove the guy after a blowout or some embarrassing situation.
If I was on the bishop’s end of such a situation, I would appreciate the heads up. As you know, it could be that the assignment is a bad fit, or alcohol, or something else.
If she is willing to do it, she should ask to see the bishop.
Obviously it can’t be allowed to go on. If the grownups can put up with a lot, the children cannot.
A wise elder pastor once said, when you’re not sure what to do, document, document, document. Gather up stories with names and dates and develop a pattern. That should demonstrate that what’s happening is not simply a priest having a bad day. It may point to a type of dysfunction such as alcoholism, or may point to his own troubled upbringing. Then several men (perhaps a woman) need to set up a meeting with the priest. It’s a confrontation/intervention. If he’s unresponsive then it goes to the bishop. Follow subsidiarity and keep it local rather than to escalate right away to the chancery.
If the chancery does not take note, keep documenting, avoid the pastor, pray for him, and learn to suffer well. God is working out some mysterious plan. God may be driving the faith deeper into our hearts by suffering, purifying our yearning for affirmation, inviting is to share his own rejection. It can be spiritually fruitful. God will eventually take your part.
I can’t do any better than these answers except to add: Pray for him. It is hard to be angry in a bad way with someone for whom you are praying. Perhaps take on some mortification for his sake. Ask your and his guardian angels to help him on their level of action.
And, yes, if the priest doesn’t modify his ways after you present your case to him, go to the bishop. The suggestion to document is very important.
NOTA BENE: I will be quite restrictive about comments under this post. Frankly, I would appreciate responses from priests. If there are some lay people who have been in a situation like this and it was handled either poorly or well, that might be instructive as well.