A priest who offered his life in reparation for the sins of priests

“I believe,” wrote Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., who died as a martyr of charity in the First World War, “that Our Lord is asking for victims who are willing to suffer much in reparation for sins, especially those of priests.”

The eyes of the world will once again be drawn to the painful reality of clerical crimes when Vatican Summit on the Protection of Minors meets this week in Rome.

The damage such crimes have caused is almost incalculable. In the first place, of course, are the victims themselves, attacked by those who should have cared for them. But the damage has not stopped there. The credibility of the Church, and of the priesthood itself, stands in the balance.

Just how bad things can get can be seen from Ireland, where we have dealt with the fallout of clerical crimes for a quarter of a century. Just five men entered the only diocesan seminary in Ireland in 2018, the lowest number since the Maynooth seminary was founded in 1795. The late Fr. Benedict Groeschel claimed in the early 2000s that Ireland was the only country in the world in which he received abuse on the street because he was wearing his religious habit. Many of the Irish have long since abandoned the Church, and everything it stands for, as clearly evidenced by their support for abortion in a referendum last year. A quarter century of scandals about abuse, and the institutional failure to correct it, are the primary agents of this collapse.

The problems of abuse, and institutional failures around it, must be fixed as the first priority. What, then, about the longer-term challenge of restoring the Church and its standing in society?

The solution – the only one that works – is holiness. Nothing else will begin to restore the squandered credibility of the Church. And if it is corrupt priests that have undermined the Church, it is holy priests who have a key role in restoring it. The world has to know what it means to be a Catholic from the example of those who are actually loyal to Christ, not from those who follow Judas.

One positive example is that of Fr. Willie Doyle, the Irish Jesuit military chaplain who was born in Dublin in 1873 and who died as a martyr of charity in the First World War in August 1917. Fr. Doyle was renowned for his courage under fire – again and again he would leave the relative safety of his trench and face the shells and bullets of “no man’s land” to anoint a dying soldier or to drag him to safety. As he wrote on one occasion, what priest would hesitate, no matter the dangers, to assist the dying? It was on one of those missions of charity to aid the wounded that he was finally struck by a shell and killed instantly. His body was never recovered.

There was a truly global devotion to him within little more than a decade of his death. By 1931 the Irish Jesuits had received over 6,000 letters reporting alleged favors through his intercession, from literally every corner of the world. Almost 2,000 of those letters came from the United States alone.

As heroic as he was on the battlefield, it was not primarily his courage that fueled this devotion. Some of his private papers and diaries were published in the years after his death. What these show is a laser-like focus on the pursuit of holiness using the only tools that will work – prayer and penance, both of which he embraced with particular intensity.

One of the most important aspects of Fr. Doyle’s spiritual life was his promotion of priestly holiness. He was a very successful promoter of vocations and he preached retreats for priests, urging them to greater generosity and holiness in their calling. In a letter in 1913 he wrote: “I see more and more each day how different the world would be if we had more really holy priests”. Given that he died over 100 years ago, it is fascinating to note his constant focus on the need to make reparation for the sins of priests, a theme he returned to again and again in his private diaries:

I believe that Our Lord is asking for victims who are willing to suffer much in reparation for sins, especially those of priests.

Last night I rose at one a.m. and walked two miles bare footed in reparation for the sins of priests to the chapel, where I made the Holy Hour…. I felt a greater longing for self-inflicted suffering and a determination to do more.

The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent has been that God has chosen me, in his great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace.

And one year before his death, while living alongside the soldiers in the trenches, he notes:

Our Lord seemed to urge me not to wait till the end of the war, but to begin my life of reparation at once…He asked me for these sacrifices: To rise at night in reparation for priests who lie in bed instead of saying Mass; To give up illustrated papers; To kiss the floor of churches; Breviary always kneeling; Mass with intense devotion. The Curé of Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?”

Appropriately enough, the very last entry in his private diary, on the 10th anniversary of his ordination and less than three weeks before his death, returned to this theme:

I have again offered myself to Jesus as his victim to do with me absolutely as he pleases. I will try to take all that happens, no matter from whom it comes, as sent to me by Jesus and will bear suffering, heat cold, etc with joy as part of my immolation in reparation for the sins of priests. From this day I shall try bravely to bear all little pains in this spirit.

Devotion to Fr. Doyle is growing once again. His example is badly needed now, and it is surely time to finally open his beatification cause. There is no better antidote to the poison of criminal priests than the example of one who was literally willing to be blown to pieces to save your soul or your life, and who did it all in reparation for the sins of priests.

St Paul VI once wrote: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Fr. Doyle’s witness to the Gospel teaches us how priests, and indeed all Christians, should live. It is this spirit that needs to be rediscovered at the Summit on the Protection of Minors.


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About Dr. Patrick Kenny 1 Article
Patrick Kenny has written extensively on society, politics and religion for Irish and international publications including the National Catholic Register, the Irish Catholic, the Catholic Herald, Human Life Review and a variety of secular publications. He has written and spoken extensively about the life and spirituality of Fr Doyle, is the Editor of To Raise the Fallen: A Selection of the War Letters, Prayers and Spiritual Writings of Fr Willie Doyle SJ (Ignatius Press, 2018), and runs a website and blog dedicated to him: www.fatherdoyle.com.

21 Comments

  1. It is bewildering that JPII, JohnXXIII, and PaulVI are canonized, but Fr Doyle is not. The entire Catholic world needs to become more familiar with Fr Doyle, especially at this time. His cause needs to be furthered with all dispatch. A much better video presentation of him needs to be produced than the one which has aired on EWTN.

    • Thanks for this article. Makes one wonder why so many saintly people who worked in the trenches of life (good, solid, and faithful priests, sisters and ordinary catholic men and women) are ignored in the designation of sainthood. Maybe to answer my own question is that the ordinary saints around us are humble and see doing God’s work as a natural course of their life. As a result they are not recognized as saints.

    • “It’s bewildering that JPII, JohnXXIII, and PaulVI are canonized…”

      Not bewildering, so much, perhaps, as laughable and insulting. Canonising P6 is Stockholm Syndrome gone mad. Anyone less Saintly is hard to imagine; not that JP2 was much better.

      JP2’s sausage-factory canonisations have devalued the practice. Whivh is a great pity.

      As Fr. Doyle was an Irishman and a Jesuit, the only devotion to him that matters is that of Irish Catholics and Jesuits. Anyone else’s opinion of him is of little consequence.

      As for the CC in Ireland: given the abominable behaviour of the Irish clergy and religious, it is almost a miracle thzt there are any Catholics left in Ireland. Trust the CC to do, that centuries of persecution could not. To destroy the faith of millions is a most impressive achievement. That the Irish bishops have not resigned, shows that they have no clue to how destructive their “episcopal ministry” has been.

  2. What a beautiful holy priest, imitating the sacrifice of Our Lord.

    The same is true if other chaplains in war, like the holy Fr. Vincent Capodanno, who sacrificed himself first as a Marylnoll Missionary and then sought to serve as chaplain to US Marines in the Vietnam War, because he knew in his heart that they were suffering and abandoned, he called them “the poorest of the poor,” and he wanted these men to know that God loved them and had not abandoned them. Capodanno would habitually sneak aboard helicopters to go wherever the Marines were fighting, because he wanted to be with his flock, the men he called “his Marines,” when they needed him most. His heroic service attracted all men, to the point that Marines who were not even Catholic would go to hear Mass said by Fr. Capodanno. His friend and fellow chaplain, the Presbyterian Minister Eli Takesian, has recounted that Fr. Capodanno was “the most Christ-like man I have ever known…when you looked into his eyes, you felt as though you were looking into the eyes of Jesus himself.”

  3. Author mentions … “clerical crimes when Vatican Summit on the Protection of Minors meets this week in Rome.”

    HOMOSEXUALITY, HOMOSEXUALITY, HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE PRIESTHOOD AND LEADERSHIP OF HOLY MOTHER CHURCH is the chief culprit, sin, and crime which needs to be focused upon in the upcoming Rome Summit. Why are those who write about the sexual perversion and abuse scandal in the Church afraid to mention the core SIN???

    The evidence has been piling up for decades, and yet our leaders and writers of the Church scandal fail to mention the CORE SIN..!!!

    The sexual abuse scandal WILL REMAIN when fear of rooting out the base cause of the scandal, and cover-up remain intact.

  4. I am convinced, by the heroic priest extolled, that the author has the very best intentions for Christian virtue in the Church.

    I see the point raised by Phil, and I agree, and think that a heroic priest like Fr. Doyle would voice the same.

    Perhaps we should not lament the loss of “the Church’s standing in society,” because we be mislead ourselves with such aims. Let us all remember that men like McCarrick and Wuerl and Maciel and Maradiaga and Mahony, all have betrayed the commandments of The Lord Jesus, while devoting their energy to “the Church’s standing in society.”

    We should instead be concerned with the Church’s witness to society, and our standing in the eyes of God.

    • @Chris in Maryland

      As the author of the piece, I don’t disagree with what you are saying. The standing of the Church in society is not the ultimate aim, and for sure there are ways of trying to boost that standing that are wrong. But being virtuous and also working to rehabilitate the image of the Church are not mutually exclusive, in fact one is a natural consequence of the other.

      Also, I am writing from Ireland where we have lived with scandals in the Church for over 25+ years now. The effect on the Church has been devastating. Morale amongst priests is low, vocations have dried up, and one diocese reported today that it has even run out of money to pay priests. There are certainly other reasons for this which are beyond the scope of the article, but the impact of the sexual scandals is the biggest driver here. And in terms of evangelisation, precisely because of those scandals there are so many barriers to overcome that one simply cannot get a hearing. After 25 years of scandals, for a sizeable chunk of the population here, Catholicism is synonymous with abuse and its cover-up. There is a perception that abuse and cover-up are the “normal” state of Catholicism rather than a gross aberration.

      The antidote to this is authenticity. We have to be authentically Catholic ourselves, and we have to promote the authenticity of those like Fr Doyle who, from my own experience of speaking about him, impresses and attracts even those who are alienated from the Church.

      • The holiness of which you speak must be the holiness of Christ. There is no redemption without the Cross and priests seeking to make reparation must be willing to allow themselves to be broken and poured out like Christ – to be afflicted as He was. Consider the oft neglected wisdom of Sheen on this matter – words never once spoken to me in seminary.

        When “Satan sits enthroned” (Rev 2: 13) at the end of time, Our Lord said, he would appear so much like Him “that if it were possible, even the elect would be deceived” (Mt 24: 24). But if Satan works miracles, if he lays his hands gently on children, if he appears benign and a lover of the poor, how will we know him from Christ? Satan will have no scars on his hands or feet or side. He will appear as a priest, but not as a victim. We recognize fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, by family resemblances. In no other way will Our Lord know us and we Him. Our preparation for the day of His coming must accordingly consist of deepening our affinity with the Priest-Victim.

        ”In this mortal frame of mine, I help to pay off the debt which the afflictions of Christ still leave to be paid, for the sake of His Body, the Church.” Colossians 1: 24

        Venerable Fulton Sheen

  5. It actually, is a ‘GOOD’ that these outrageous SINS committed by TRUSTED CLERGY (esp. those in ‘high’ places) have come to light; although the damage done to The Church is incalculable at this point! Yet, Jesus tell us to ‘forgive’ — IF WE (also ‘sinners’) want to be ‘forgiven’! For me, I pray the ‘St. Michael’s Prayer for the Priests that I know. St. Michael, The Archangel: Defend us in this Day of Battle. Be our SAFEGUARD against the wickedness and snares of the devil, we humbly pray; and do thou, oh Prince of the Heavenly Host, by The Divine Power, cast into Hell, Satan and all the Evil Spirits who wander now throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls — most especially, the souls of our ‘Shepherds’ (our Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and our Pope)!

  6. We are doing a profound disservice to ourselves, no doubt prompted by the zeitgeist absorbed with pathological obsession with all things libidinal simultaneously consumed with a hatred for Christ and His Church, to allow our sight to be turned from the ontological reality of the priesthood to the sins of men. Gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, dejection, despondency, vainglory and pride have held center stage since Adam and Eve, Cain and Able – today’s first reading at Holy Mass provides us yet again an opportunity to reflect upon the existential reality which is ours individually.
    The fake “news” of the day of the day is that sin is “news” – let alone among the clergy class of any confession [ https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/Southern-Baptist-sexual-abuse-spreads-as-leaders-13588038.php ].
    One recalls the fourteen year old Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face having her epiphany regarding the denizens of the clerical caste during her pilgrimage to Rome.
    Apparently it wasn’t pretty.
    That was enough for her to offer her life for the welfare and conversion of priests.
    I’d go so far to say that what is really scandalous is not so much the filthy behavior of men, but the mindlessness of an episcopate who ignores the spiritual and moral welfare of its priests, and then persists in pretending that they are not failing in their duty to address the dire situation. That is the real news. They turn to Freud, Kinsey and Masters and Johnson – and lawyers! – while neglecting to appeal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An ecclesiastical structure which is unwilling [not unable] to tackle the crisis which has been virulently in place for at least sixty years and fix it, instead of spend all its energy on self-deception and denial, is fraudulent and laughable. It renders itself without credence.
    The need to preserve “face” to the world which surpasses the need to restore men to grace is the penultimate scandal here, and no one is speaking of it. Luke 18:8 comes to mind, “When the Son of Man returns will He find any faith left on the earth?”
    Unlikely if He turns up at this week’s sex sin symposium on Bergoglio Hill.

    • As a Carmelite, I thank you for mentioning St Therese in being disgusted with the behaviour of the priest on a pilgrimage and vowed to give her life up for the souls of the priests. She became a victim of love and is a inspiration to myself to do so. It is greatly needed. It just might have been her who began the charism of the Carmelites to pray for priests perpetually.

  7. Nothing will change until the Masonic errors are purged from the Church, which means repudiating the heresies and blasphemies contained in the approved documents of Vatican II. There will be no “holiness” unless it is once again agreed upon by the members of the Church and her hierarchs what actually constitutes the true faith of God on Earth. So long as the titular “Pope” flies around signing documents which repudiate the Catholic Faith, you cannot count on “holiness” from the Pope, prelates or priests or from the greater mass of the “faithful”, what’s left of them. Does anyone want to be Catholic again? Does anyone want to follow Christ in His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? Does anyone even know anything about what the Catholic Faith is anymore?

  8. There is, I believe, a real LIGHT for Ireland and for the rest of the world, taking place in a small monastery there where a priest is called to offer Adoration specifically for the spiritual renewal of priests. See the book “In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart, Reflections of a Priest at Prayer” (sorry, don’t have my copy next to me to remember exact title.) Perhaps these priests are the spiritual sons of Fr. Doyle. It is heartening and healing to read this book; a certain reminder in these tragic times that Jesus has not abandoned His Church, His children. Read it and be renewed in our own resolve to bring our sorrows before Christ in His Real Presence: only HE can truly resolve the situation in our Church and our world.

  9. Sadly nothing will be done at yhe summit. The name says it all. Still trying to say the crisis is about children instead of homo heretics devastating the Church. It was organized by Rabbit Hole Cupich after all.

  10. I would like belong to this reparation for sins of cardinals Bishops and priests. My prayer and penance I know is shallow. Isn’t it more than offering rosaries, consecration of mass, masses and Holy Communions in reparation for this cause specifically

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