Encourage and understand priests

Encourage and understand priests

What do you think a parish priest does all day? Do you have a realistic understanding of what’s involved? Fr. Martin Fox asks the same question and provides a primer on the false expectations and the reality. He’s not whining or asking for special consideration, but if we’re talking about a priest shortfall and looking for solutions, then it behooves us to know what exactly is involved. He adds a quote from St. Charles Borromeo:

“Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without being forgetful of yourself.”

Of course, we also have an obligation to ask ourselves as laity what we expect of ourselves, or more accurately, what the Church expects of us. Are we supporting our priests and our parish as they require?

A priest despairs

Matt Abott reprints a letter from Fr. James Haley of Arlington, Virginia, who’s been put on trial in an ecclisiastical court for disobeying his bishop by speaking up about homosexuality and heterodoxy among the priests of his diocese. Read Father’s letter and pray for him. He has lost his faith and is despairing of God. You can almost hear the psalmist demanding of God why the evildoers prosper while the good suffer.

Do we all pray enough for our priests individually and collectively? Do we support our own parish priest, whether orthodox or heterodox, in prayer? Do we seek out opportunities to go the extra mile in offering support and encouragement to good priests?

Melanie reminded me that Adrienne von Speyr says that the 7 Last Words of Christ from the Cross correspond to the Seven Sacraments, and that she matched “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” with Holy Orders. Because a priest (and in certain ways, a deacon) acts in persona Christi, he too must sometimes walk the Way of the Cross. Some saints believed that all priests would at one time or another enter into the Dark Night of the Soul. When that day comes it will be our prayers—as well as his own fidelity to the Divine Office and Mass and the Rosary—that will see him through.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
  • Two comments in response, Dom.

    Being a priest is a very difficult vocation, especially being a parish priest or worse, a pastor.  There is so much more than just celebrating mass.  Beyond the weddings and ( always undexpected) funerals, the marriage preparations, baptisms, visiting of the sick, the extra liturgies and great holydays, the responsibility for the finances of the parish and often the school, as well as frequently sending money to the local diocese, comes the counseling, the tears, the secret tragedies, failures and success of the flock, the fund-raisers, and school and parish committee meetinga, the supervison of staff.  And that’s just the beginning.  There are complaints always (from guys like me).  Is he too orthodox, too heterodox, did he pronounce the names in the intentions correctly, rmembering all intentions, is the music too syrupy, is there sufficient reverence, too much strictness?  All these things go on each and every day of the week.

    As for Father James Haley… I shall keep him in my prayers especially to St. John Vianney.

    A good priest is the saver of souls, our spiritual lifeguard and Marine sergeant/Good Shepherd in one.  And what more should a man seek than to save his own soul?

  • Since entering the Church and becoming acqainted with some excellent priests, it has really come home to me how important it is to always be in prayer for them. I had never given it much thought before, but I have enormous respect for the priests I know.

    I cannot imagine the responsibilities and the workload. It is so important for the community to remember that their priests are human beings who need a break every now and then.

  • In a conversation several years ago, a priest told me of the long days he has (John Hetman sums up some of the vast activities). I did not say this, but the thought crossed my mind…welcome to my world of being a parent. It’s a 24/7 job.  Couldn’t help but think what a burden it would be for married priests.

    I say regular prayer for our priests and a few in particular. Following the advice of a man who I admired very much, I also make the point of shaking the priest’s hand after Mass (if he is available) and saying “thank you, father.”

  • For Priests

    Almighty God, look upon the face of Him who is the eternal High Priest, and have compassion on Your priests in today’s world. Remember that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation. Keep them close to You lest the enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation.

    O Jesus, I pray for Your faithful and fervent priests, for the unfaithful and tepid ones; for those laboring at home and abroad in distant mission fields; for those who are tempted; for those who are lonely and desolate; for those who are in purgatory.

    But, above all, I recommend to You the priests dearest to me; the priest who baptized me; the priests who absolved me from my sins; the priests who instructed me or helped me by their encouragement. I pray devoutly for all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way, in particular for . . . O Jesus, keep them all close to Your heart and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

    O Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for us; obtain for us a number of holy priests. Amen.

  • Fr. Haley’s visceral lament is nothing short of bone-chilling.  I have generally followed his story, I absolutely believe his account, and so to some extent this latest turn tests my own faith as well.

    I was moved enough today to write to Matt Abbott, who promptly responded, and promised to send my note onward to Fr. Haley.  Yes, I will pray for him specifically, I have a hope that he will contact me directly, I am considering seeing if there is anything of a material nature I can do for him, and I stongly urge others to do likewise.

    The very idea of his Bishop Loverde lounging around these days with his fellow miscreants, many fiddling as Rome burns around them, and some, such as Loverde himself, even setting the very fires, enrages me beyond telling.

  • Yes, I will pray for him specifically, I have a hope that he will contact me directly, I am considering seeing if there is anything of a material nature I can do for him, and I stongly urge others to do likewise.”

    Prayer and action. Please help us to know exactly what we can do.  This is the first I have heard about this holy priest and would like to join in supporting him in any way.

    Thank you,


  • Matt, you are an honorable man; keep on keeing on.

    Isabelle, I first learned about Fr. Haley’s case at Stephen Brady’s Roman Catholic Faithful web site.  There is still a link for it at the home page, but a message comes up when you click on it stating that the story is not available at present, as the site’s in the process of being upgraded.

    Anyway, in brief, Fr. Haley went to his Bishop about a number of instances of grave clerical homosexual and heterosexual corruption that he was witness to as a priest in Northern VA, at multiple parishes.  In response, his Bishop Loverde has removed him entirely from duty, and censured him besides, notwithstanding his avowed, genuine holiness, as asserted by numerous priests and laypeople, including Fr. James Gould, the former local vocations director, who was largely responsible for many solid vocations when he served in that capacity.  When and if you are able to take in the details of Fr. Haley’s story, you will be outraged.

    It is possible that Brady’s RCF will prove to be the most efficient mechanism for lending help at this point, but if Matt’s further communication with Fr. Haley suggests otherwise, then I will say so; thanks. 

  • I read the deposition by Fr. Haley, and I find that, instead of simply answering specific questions regarding the issues that were material to the lawsuit at hand, he volunteered all kinds of observations about the diocese that had little or nothing to do with the lawsuit, including gratuitous and unsupported accusations of homosexuality against, among others, the rector of the National Shrine of the Immactulate Conception (now bishop of Wheeling), the chancellor of the diocese, and the very solid priest who, when he was a parochial vicar at my parish, baptised my oldest son.  Fr. Haley’s excuse is that he was subpoenaed and that he had a legal obligation to appear at the deposition, but in fact he had no obligation to offer those wide-ranging accusations in the course of the deposition.  I feel sorry and pray for Fr. Haley, and I hope that his ecclesiastical trial is speedily resolved.  But I have a hard time getting over the fact that he has dragged the name of a personal friend of mine through the mud, a man who strives for holiness in his life and his ministry.

    So by all means, remind the faithful of the crosses that priests must bear.  But also remember that one of those crosses may be backbiting from their brother priests.

  • Yeah, Seamus, that’s the ticket; when on the run, let’s get legalistic.  How DARE this troublesome priest expose the Church’s dirty laundry!  blah, blah, blah …spoken like a true American bishop! 

    It is, of course, no small matter to tarnish another’s good name; but, let’s face it, based on recent, widespread, irrefutable history, one
    would have to be an utter fool not to be more than a little inclined to
    accept the gist of what Fr. Haley has alleged.  Either that, or he’s as
    slanderously evil himself as the evil he’s alleging, or just plain plumb crazy, remote possibilities that are undoubtedly a source of hope for the intractably ostrich-like amongst us.

  • Irish Spectre:

    I know personally one of the men that Fr. Haley has traduced, my experience is that he is a serious, faithful, and orthodox priest.  I have no more reason to suspect him of being “gay” than I have to suspect you.  Indeed, I have considerably less reason to suspect it of him than of you.  Reading Fr. Haley’s accusation against this priest whom I know leads me to doubt everything he says about other priests in the diocese, whom I don’t know.  Unless you have evidence to support those scurrilious accusations, I suggest you read more closely the passages of the Catechism about the Eighth Commandment, particularly those dealing with rash judgment and calumny.  And if you want to insist that you believe those accusations about a man you have never met, on the basis of nothing more than the say-so of Fr. Haley (a man whom you have never met), then you’d be well advised to maintain your anonymity.

  • The trouble here is the difficulty we all have of keeping a balance when we have experienced something really evil for the first time.  After that perspective can be lost.  Paranoia can set in…or not.  Certainly some of what Father Haley saw was dreadful *and the bishop has said so*.  Some of the rest seems unlikely.  No diocese is perfect.  No priest is perfect.  I’m not perfect.  It is quite possible that Father Haley has seriously lost his balance.

  • Seamus,

    Thanks so much for your advice re brushing up on the Eighth Commandment.  In exchange for your concern over my spiritual well being, allow me to do you the kindness of pointing out that the deposition makes specific reference to tangible evidence against the three accused to which the deposition is by far most dedicated, Verrecchia, Erbacher and Hamilton, and all three either abandoned their ministries or were removed from them by the archdiocese shortly after Fr. Haley lodged his accusations against them.

    Perhaps your friend whom Fr. Haley made unsavory mention of is not one of the above named, but, given the foregoing, it is a source of grand fascination to me that you doubt everything that Fr. Haley has said about other priests in the diocese.  As much as I’m against scurrilous accusations without evidence (believe it or not,) I’m every bit as much against the shooting of messengers, and if it were not for the latter in the case at hand, then we wouldn’t even be talking about the former.

  • No. My friend is not one of the three mentioned.  Fr. Haley just threw his name out with a scurrilious accusation and no attempt to support it.  The fact that he may have been right about Frs. Verrechia, Erbarcher, and Hamilton (about whom he *did* provide evidence, by the way) gives him no right to let loose scatter-shot accusations about priests about whom he has *no* evidence and do them serious injury.  (Joe McCarthy was right about there being Communists in government, but his irresponsible way of throwing out charges of disloyalty without solid evidence made it difficult, as in the case of Fr. Haley, to give credence to any particular accusation.) 

    What makes you so sure that Fr. Haley got in trouble for his accusations against Frs. Verrecchia, Erbacher, and Hamilton, and not for his irresponsible and unsupported accusations against (inter alia) the baptizer of my son?  And if you are inclined to believe the latter accusation, about someone you have never met, solely because Fr. Haley (another man you have never met) gives off “credible vibes” to you, please try to understand that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.  Unless you have some solid evidence that Fr. Haley’s accusation against my friend is correct, you’d be well advised not to endorse that accusation. 

    And if you insist on endorsing it anyway, or saying that it sounds credible to you, you’d be well advised to keep that opinion to yourself any time you might happen to be visiting the diocese of Arlington.  I don’t take kindly to people who don’t know what they’re talking about accusing friends of mine of sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance, and if I overheard you, I offer no guarantees that there wouldn’t be a *very* ugly scene.