Why priestly morale is in the doldrums

It saddens me to say, but honesty compels it, that the vast majority of our priests are deeply demoralized.

(Image: Detail from photo by Z 1 / Unsplash.com)

We thought in particular of priests. Our priestly heart wanted to comfort them, to encourage them. With all the priests, we pray: Save us, Lord, we perish! The Lord sleeps while the storm is unleashed. He seems to abandon us to the waves of doubt and error. We are tempted to lose confidence.

So begins From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, co-authored by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah (yes, they really did co-author the book!). It is most encouraging to have these words of affirmation from the Pope Emeritus and the man I hope is the next to wear a white cassock. Those words reminded me of the wonderfully supportive Holy Thursday letters of St. John Paul II to his “beloved priests.” Such papal sentiments have been terribly lacking over the past seven years. My point in this present exercise, however, is not to dwell on the lack of papal buoying up but to bring to the attention of our readers a problem closer to home – and that is the double-standard priests experience within their own dioceses.

Over the years, I have offered lectures, missions, retreats in over ninety of the dioceses of the United States, which has given me a unique perspective on the state of the Church in our nation, and in a particular way, the state of the priesthood. One cleric recently observed that I probably know more priests in the country than any other priest! It saddens me to say, but honesty compels it, that the vast majority of our priests are deeply demoralized.

Pastors say that they are caught in an untenable vise between diocesan bureaucrats who never learned the Catholic principle of subsidiarity and all too many laity who have what I call “stole envy,” that is, they want to run the parishes and the clergy. As a result, the average pastor is reduced to a sacramental magician. A further result is that in not a few dioceses, priests now regularly inform their bishops that they do not wish to be pastors – so thankless a position has it become in so many places. In addition to anecdotal evidence for such conclusions, I also can call upon my own personal experiences; besides all the various positions I have held, three times I was called upon to serve as a parish priest for a total of fourteen years. While I believe I did a “good job” and have many wonderful memories of those assignments, I can identify completely with the sentiments of frustrated parish priests. Truth be told, priests will tell you that when their cell phone rings and the chancery number pops up, they freeze!

The degree of priestly frustration has only been exacerbated since the so-called “Dallas Charter” of 2002. Caving to public pressure, the bishops embarked on a program against which none less than Cardinal Avery Dulles warned them, particularly in terms of the relationship between priest and bishop being mutated from that of father-son or brother-brother to that of CEO vs. employee – indeed, an adversarial relationship. Many of the norms were inherently flawed or hardly thought out. I am thinking, for example, of the so-called “credible” accusation. As late as last year, bishops had to admit that the definition of “credible” was, in fact, not precisely defined at all; it might mean simply that “something could have happened.” In the wake of such a “credible” accusation, in swift succession, the priest must leave his residence immediately, is prohibited from wearing clerical garb, and is barred from public ministry.

As unjust and foolhardy as those requirements are, we have discovered that insult is added to injury by a double standard worthy of Animal Farm, wherein “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” To what am I referring?

At the present moment, two sitting bishops have been publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor, dating back decades. I know both men and do not believe the accusations are even remotely credible. However: those two bishops continue to live in their episcopal residences; they continue to wear clerical garb; they continue to exercise their public ministry as an investigation occurs. Let me underscore, so as to be absolutely clear: I think this is the right way to proceed. However, why are the same situations with priests handled differently? Truth be told, there may actually be other bishops who have been accused but not publicly, and no one has been informed – again, unlike the method applied with priests. The public announcement of an accusation already damages the reputation of the priest, a reputation which is hardly ever restored, even if he is eventually judged innocent of the charges. That is why the universal norms of the Church read thus:

Care is taken to keep the identity of the person who experienced the alleged abuse and the alleged offender from being revealed. For the former, the motivation is to protect their right to privacy. For the latter, the motivation is to protect the alleged offender’s reputation since there is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. (See: “The Protection of Minors in the Church”)

Yet another example of a double standard: Last month, we were treated to the papal slap seen ’round the world. Once more, let me be clear: The Pope’s reaction to the over-zealous admirer was certainly normal and innocent. However – and it’s a big “however” – if a priest had done the same, he would have been shuffled off to the one of the many horrible clerical gulags for “anger management” issues.

Moving higher up the “food chain,” as I have already hinted, how do priests feel about the barrage of papal negativity slung in their direction for the past seven years? Can one not expect St. John Paul II’s “beloved priests” to experience deep sorrow and even anger at the papal “nastigrams”? Just two weeks ago, word has it, the Pope told a group of American bishops on their ad limina visit that their biggest problem was “rigid seminarians.” Sadly, no bishop had the courage to challenge such an unfair and unfounded broadside.

Not infrequently, when a conflict surfaces between a priest and his bishop, the bishop is quick to remind the priest: “On the day of your ordination, you placed your hands between mine, promising me and my successors obedience and respect.” Fair enough. However, that powerful gesture has its origins in the feudal society of the Middle Ages. The knight did place his hands into those of the lord, promising obedience and respect. The lord, however, had his hands over those of the knight, pledging protection and support. That’s the part of the story that rarely receives due attention.

These are but a few poignant examples of why priestly morale is so low and also why vocations to the priesthood are in a downward trajectory. Unhappy priests do not recruit other priests. Granted, there are priests who are hyper-sensitive; I am not talking about them. I once worked for a bishop who, confronted with his abuse of power and even cruelty, would say: “I am sorry that hurt you.” Notice, it’s not “I am sorry for committing an offense”; rather, “It’s too bad that you are so thin-skinned as to take offense at my action.” Perhaps the soliloquy of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice would be apt material for papal and episcopal meditation, as well as for laity prone to anti-clericalism:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. (Act 3, Scene 1, 58–68)

I think Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah would understand such sentiments.

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 257 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.


  1. IMHO, this article is almost totally off the rails of reality. Want to cure doldrums? Then priests need to up their love affair with God by reintensifying their spiritual lives. Maybe then they won’t be so lonely. Next, we in the pews need to express our appreciation for our priests. How about the next time you end a conversation with your priest, you look him in the eye and say with great love and sincerity: “Thank you for being my priest.” They need to be told that they are loved and respected and appreciated in helping us on our journey to heaven. Can you imagine what our homes would be like if we didn’t tell our spouses we love them deeply? So lets start and not just with priests. I once said to my heart doctor, “Thanks for being my doctor.” He was pleasantly floored. Life is too short; we need to tell people we love them, especially our priests today.

    A little background on me. I recently wrote a defense of my mentor as a young man. Fr. Reinheimer was accused after he died. This is what I said.
    “He was my friend. He never ever acted inappropriately with me or any of the other guys I hung with. He never went on vacation anywhere, where he couldn’t offer Mass in the morning. He was a holy man. In 1987 I stoped in to see him at Holy Name of Mary, Croton-on-Hudson; he was pastor there. We talked in his private quarters for about 2 hours. He was racking his brain trying to establish a “test marker” to ID future Pedophiles before they became priests. You see, I left the seminary at the beginning of 3rd Theology ’67. (Fr. George married me in ’69.) In ’87 in his living room he told me the prior pastor was a pedophile and maybe also the one before him or the one before him in St. Ann’s as well. This puzzle was driving Fr George crazy. He was a brilliant man with a PhD in Psych. He asked for my help/opinion since I had been 4 yrs in the major seminary. I didn’t have any thing of substance to offer him then. But over the years, I believe I have part of the answer. I quit the seminary because when I looked in the mirror I realized I didn’t have the spiritual life I thought required to be a priest. When I look at my wife, I know I love her deeply enough to be her husband. Now I have the level of a spiritual life which if I had back then I would never have quit.
    So I believe clerical pedophiles are men who never adequately developed ‘a love affair with God’ and became lonely. Knowing Fr. George the way I did, I would bet my soul he is innocent of the accusations made against him by a false witness. This is very sad on so many levels.”

    • “IMHO, this article is almost totally off the rails of reality.”

      A strong statement. Alas, you provide absolutely no reasoning for said statement. Perhaps you can explain why readers should accept your unsubstantiated and insulting remark rather than consider the experiences and arguments presented by the author, who has been a priest for four decades.

      • After your comment Carl, I reread the article for about the 7th time. I keyed in on the word Doldrums. I tried to contribute with an insight of 77 years being a practicing Catholic. My time in the Seminary was ’64 to ’67. A time when all hell was breaking loose for the clergy. Sadly, at that time I wasn’t aware of the sex stuff. Yet 3 in my class were/became pedophiles. I know there was a deemphasis on spirituality back then. And I know about some of my friends who deemphasized the love of their spouses. And I witnessed what happened. I still can’t find the “unsubstantiated and insulting remark” you are referring to because Fr. George was 37 yrs ordained and tasked with trying to find a “marker.” This PhD priest brainstormed with me for 2 hrs because he didn’t know. He wanted clues. The article on the doldrums missed its ability to help priests today and that’s why I thought it off the rails. Our parish priests need spiritual guidance and prayers. I hope this helps you understand where I was coming from Carl. Agape, Peter

        • Peter, I suspect you and I studied at the same seminary, though I’m about thirty years behind you. I did not know George Reinheimer personally, though I lived with a priest who had served with him in Nyack, and always spoke so glowingly of him. So I can understand your frustration, for a lack of a better term, with George’s inclusion on the infamous list, and no opportunity to defend himself.

          I echo your comment about pedophiles having never developed a “love affair” with God, though I think this condition is not exclusive to the pederasts in the priesthood. More than a few priests I know seem to have no discernible spiritual life. This spills right over into their ministry: because they’ve lost touch with God in themselves (if they ever had it), they have no real interest in finding Him in others. This, in turn, is its own scandal: the lack of interest, on the parts of too many priests, in getting to know the people they’ve been ordained to serve.

          I do think Fr. Peter’s point is on the mark, though one could always quibble over details. That being said, my own survival for 20+ years has depended on several things. For starters, I don’t expect all that much from my ordinary; that may sound pitifully sad, but it is what it is. I’m also just far enough away from the center of power in my diocese that I can concentrate on my parish work without getting involved in palace intrigue. I have the great gift of a few close priest friends who are all superb parish priests, and whose counsel I trust and regularly solicit. I have one assistant and a deacon who are valued and trusted coworkers; I also have what I’d consider a healthy stable of lay friends of all ages. Finally – and this is essential – God has been very good to me by putting truly heroic, devout, and holy lay people along my path. I can think of many parishioners, current and past, whose holiness far surpasses anything I could hope to experience in this life; they are an inspiration and a model to follow. But of course, this requires believing and accepting that the call to holiness is universal!

          • We agree with each other on almost everything said. BTW It was Mt St Mary’s Emmitsburg. After reading your last paragraph may I say, “Thanks for being our Priest Father.”

    • Os The suggestion that lonelynesd caused psefsfilis or caused psefsfilis to act out their inclinations?
      The most destructive factor in demoralising ofour priests is
      The widespread practice of illicit if not invalid sacraments. It is destructive and s grave diservice but bishops persist despite their oath to support church law and teaching.
      At heart of church is key and urgent but yet not even preparing parish. So many are knowingly welcomed to make false professions of faith at confirmation cersmonies for example.It disarms parish mission .

    • “I believe clerical pedophiles are men who never adequately developed ‘a love affair with God’ and became lonely.”

      Maybe so, but that loneliness might also be chalked up to being a member of a spiritually-dead priest cadre, and/or lifeless faith community, both of which are realities in many places in the modern Church. So I don’ think looking at the stuctural rot is off the mark. The celibate priesthood must be an extremely demanding calling, even more so in an era where so many of the people in the pews have silently made a break with Catholic distinctives. Priests are trying to hone their callings, and meanwhile their flocks are telling them the old traditions are pointless, and the Pope himself makes fun of them. How is that supposed to ever work out?

    • Just a friendly correction. Your priest friend didn’t marry you & your wife. The priest is a witness to the marriage; the couple administer the sacrament to each other.

    • This article describes our diocese completely. Since installing a new Bishop nearly two years ago, we have heard a constant drumbeat of clerical sexual abuse will be dealt with. He released a list of “credibly accused” priests dating back to the 1960’s in our local newspaper. Many of them have died and cannot defend themselves. In very short order, two priests were banished from the diocese for mere accusations with no substance. Their names were printed in our local paper, all but ruining their reputations. Now, we sit and wait while these baseless cases sit in Rome, or so we are told they are in Rome, while the faithful in the pews are made to suffer with our beloved priests treated in such a manner and no real information given on their status. Our priests feel the weight of already being stretched thin, and taking out two beloved priests from our diocese has been a blow to clergy and faithful alike. Yet, they cannot speak up for fear of retaliation. It seems clear that our bishop has an agenda that does not include shepherding our priests. And, what recourse do they have? One of the priests was working very close with a group of boys, inspiring them, mentoring them and overnight he was sent away. What parents are feeling inspired to subject their sons to an institution that does not give our priests fair treatment, I ask. All people, including priests, are innocent until proven guilty!

    • I do feel badly for priests with no opportunities to defend themselves, but the safety of our children is the higher injustice. They are pure victims. Decades of abuse may take a toll on many in the church. More often than not, the innocent are affected in terrible ways as the outcropping of cover up begins to become known. It’s a shame and a crime that these priests were not made to go to law enforcement officials to be investigated and either declared guilty or acquitted. As for treatment of priests by bishops, I have watched it closely by working for priests in the parish office for 25 years. The most popular priests are asked to be in the limelight in order to attract more people and more funds. Very little is done or expected in the way of spiritual development. Nothing is done as to training priests to give better homilies and truly catechize the faithful. Retreats turn into partying and drinking to bribe the priests into staying and not making excuses to leave. I’ve heard the stories from the priests themselves bragging. Skipping out at night when on silent retreat, only wanting to return calls personally to their favorite groupies who take them on fabulous trips. I’ve seen parish deacons and staff members abused as they are expected to do pastoral duties such as providing leadership to pastoral councils and finance councils simply because the priest doesn’t care to attend. Many can just skip deanery meetings over and over with no accountability. Some priests have had to be told by their bishops that they are gone on trips too often because they go on several trips a year with rich parishioners. In short, not all but many priests are spoiled. The holiest and most dedicated ones tow the line. The bishops are afraid to say too much or they will face even more problems by losing much needed priests. I’ve seen the priests hold it over the Bishop as a threat over and over. This is not the majority of priests but way too many of them fit this description. Spiritual development, ongoing scripture studies and accountability groups would be helpful. Small group training days of priests tasking priests to develop pastoral skills and where their priorities should be should be mandatory. Catechizing the faithful would also catechize the priests and cause them to have much needed renewal.

  2. Thank you for this article, Father.
    I am disappointed in and angry at Pope Francis for his frequent derogatory remarks to and about priests. Does he have a clue how uncharitable (unchristian?) his hostility is?

  3. A truly excellent and timely article.

    I know priests in the Diocese of San Diego and Sacramento who would fully agree with this article.

    Fr. Stravinskas, please keep up the good work!

  4. I’ve meet Fr.Peter, I’ve eated at his table, and he was instrumental in my returning to the Catholic Church. He is a very good priest
    But, he doesn’t speak of the great suffering of deacons by both priests and laity that dislike them because they are ordained men.

      • Brian Walsh, I do not understand your comment about “we don’t need” holy deacons. They are ordained ministers in our Church and should be afforded at least a modicum of respect for what they do. Their vocation is different than a priest but that does not make them less holy. I agree 100% that priests need our love and support. This is not an either/or discussion.

  5. As a priest of many years, as one who served in the trenches and has served as a pastor, Fr. Stravinskas, your observations are on point. Thank you.

    Bishops do not treat their priests as sons or brothers but employees and sometimes worse, lording over the priests their authority. The great crisis facing the Church in the United States is more of a human problem than a spiritual one. Bishops, treat your priests with respect, dignity, and love them. Let them know that you are the good shepherd whose heart is molded by the Good Shepherd. Let them know of you profound sacrificial love for them.

    The Lord can demand and expect obedience because He actually laid down His life for His sheep. He loved us to the end. Bishops if you showed similar sacrificial love, the priests would be ready to follow and obey out of love, reverence and respect. Instead too often the obedience demanded is one rooted in fear, subjugation and subservience, but that is not Christian obedience. Perfect love casts out all fear!!!!!!

  6. As a priest, I agree with the author that the “Dallas Charter” era ushered in by the USCCB has instituted a few norms and protocols that contradict Christ’s loving revelation, leaving the rights of priests vulnerable to unjust scrutiny. Thereby, the should be father-son relationship between bishops and their priests has been greatly undermined.

    Case in point, I am a Catholic priest who for three years now haven’t been allowed to celebrate the sacraments or dress as a priest in public…due to the entirely false statement of an archbishop that someone had accused me of inappropriate contact.

    In fact civilly no accusation has ever been made that I know of, and yet, void of any due process my situation persists. That is a sad and unjust reality…but the point of this comment is another:

    Since his public statement I haven’t received any sort of correspondence or from the Archbishop, not even a brief call to offer prayers or a holiday greeting. Moreover, he rejected a request via a canon lawyer to meet so as to offer my defense.

    We sincerely need to pray for the Church, and in particular for the clergy. Personally, intent on following God’s will in my heart, I have taken a stand… Regardless of the past, we cannot with hold from priests the rights of every soul that demand respect and due process. Christ is so saddened by the direction of the USCCB that has adopted subtle norms – referred to by Avery Card. Dulles – that little by little will cause greater damage than the abuse crisis if not corrected.

    • Your Homilies May have been too Holy. So they had to silence you somehow. Whenever we get a Holy priest he gets moved when he preaches anything but “Social Justice”. We had an old priest that had almost everyone receiving on the tongue at daily Mass but then he started talking about evils in the world. I said, to myself, he’s gone…and sure enough he was retired from celebrating public Mass. Hardly any of those same people at Mass still receive on the tongue. So sad. I pray for our priests.

  7. This is true. Some priests are treated terribly by other priests who are enabled by their bishops to do so because the bishop does nothing to stop the wrong-doer’s behavior. While pastors have a lot of power, the vicars are the last slaves in America; they have no rights and are mistreated. In addition, the bishop shows obvious favoritism to certain priests with assignments, invitations to events , etc. No other employees in America could be legally treated as badly as many priests are by their bishops and pastors. That vow of obedience is frequently used abusively.

  8. The leadership of the Church has betrayed its core values (Teachings), so how could one trust, a given trust, that has been shown to be so untrustworthy?
    Credibility has been lost, and the root of the problem is elitism, manifest as a self-serving authoritarianism, which is embedded within Clericalism.

    Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy; So ‘clerics’, as in Clericalism is the problem’, as it is the vehicle that carries our Christian enterprise, which has systematically nullified men of integrity.

    The Present hierarchical structure of the Church will have to change to reflect the teaching given by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, as in a manifestation of the servant leader. A holy Church is a humble Church and by definition a Holy Priesthood is a humble Priesthood. Image lies at the root of many problems within the Church today, as It could be said that ‘Image’ reigns supreme on the ‘Worldly’ plain, as it creates the power to award both honour and shame.

    The credibility of the Priesthood to-day can only be resolved by an onward manifestation of priestly transparency. A possible way forward

    James 5:6 “tell your sins to one and other”

    As in reveal your selves (Confessing) to one and other in brotherly love, led by the Bishop been ‘open’, in unity, with all his priests (Annually) as Truth is the mortar that holds His house together. In this way accountability for anything that might bring the Church (Or individual) into disrepute, is shared/confronted, while creating Unity of Purpose. In this scenario individual Confession to a fellow priest should only be administered in an emergency (near death). As the ‘true intent’ to confess annually (Openly) would form the basis of an ‘Act of Perfect Contrition’ (Forgiveness at that moment in Time) as

    “God will not despise a broken spirit and contrite heart”

    I believe that the Shepherd leader for a new invigorated Church will be a humble one, with the capacity to discern and direct the potential in others, leading them also to become (Working) Shepherds, who together hold each other responsible for their combined actions, underpinned by total honesty, the serving of the Truth in all situations would be the binding mortar holding these new emerging structures together.

    The essence of Love is Truth we all fall short in the actions of Love, but no man or woman can excuse dishonest before their brothers and sisters who would serve the Truth, for to do so would be an attempt to destroy the mortar (Humility) of that unity.

    Those who lead (Bishops) must ‘clearly’ reflect the mandate given by Our Lord Himself at the Last Supper, in been a servant to all, as demonstrated by St Mother Treasa as leader/head of her Missionaries of Charity. Only a manifestation of the simplicity of true discipleship, can reinvigorate the Church in the present moment.

    Please consider continuing with this theme via the link.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  9. The “Dallas Charter” is a criminal document, written by the criminal sociopath arch-liar and sex abuser McCarrick, and his “like-minded” fellow frauds of the “Bernardin Mafia” who so slickly control the episcopal ranks.

    I remember Cardinal Dulles’ critique the very moment he made it, and it rang 100% when Dulles made it in 2002, and refused to endorse it.

    Now, in perfect hindsight, we can see that it was crafted by sociopath frauds like McCarrick, in league with his pals like sex abuse coverup artist Mahony. Both of these two men, and many other counterfeit bishops, are exactly what Governor Keating called them in 2002-03: criminal mafiosi who live in hatred of freedom in Christ.

    The Pontiff Francis is a longtime friend of McCarrick and other criminal bishops like Cardinal Danneels (who stood against the Vangelhuwe family in Belgium and refused them justice against their own uncle, a criminal abuser like McCarrick, who had raped his own little nephew).

    Our contemporary Church is threatened from within because of a pathological and infantalizing cult confected by careerist Church frauds (clerics and journalists and lay diocesan staff) who to keep up their charade, must lie to themselves and to the world every single day, pretending that there is no problem of a homosexual subculture in the Church seminary staff and episcopal ranks, and it is not the reason why over 80% of teen sex abuse victims were boys).

    Fr. S is of course right that our priests are demoralized. The source of the problem is our psychologically infantalized tendency to fall for frauds like McCarrick, a tendency now reigning in Rome, Germany, France, England, throughout S. America, and in the USA in the ADs of Washington, NY, LA, and Chicago, and in cities like Newark and San Diego, because of the fraud Bishops and diocesan staffs who infest these places.

  10. We read: “Moving higher up the “food chain,” as I have already hinted, how do priests feel about the barrage of papal negativity slung in their direction for the past seven years?”

    According to a lost fable of Aesop, the ventriloquist ghost writers of a myopic shepherd happened upon a male elephant. The shifting, left hind leg they embraced, and called it mercy. Of the stable and seemingly true, but really only legendary other legs, they called these bigot, rigid and conservative. Up front, of the totally ungrounded and ambiguously flexible trunk of the pachyderm, they called it New Paradigm. In back and especially beyond all of their reach, the tail was called Magisterium. And between the two hind legs, of that mysterious third option well within their reach, they called it anthropological-cultural change.

    And trailing behind these seven fictions, one for each of the past seven years, we find evidence of the total “food chain” in action: “papal negativity slung” dung.

  11. So true!
    Priests now know that the Dallas Charter was a prostration to the Almighty Dollar even as it tried to right past wrongs.
    Yes, of course, lawbreakers must be punished or even laicized, but the document as it has been applied, lacks mercy, restorative justice, the possibility of contrition … to say nothing of due process!
    Where are the distinctions between wrongdoings, and also alleged wrongdoings, and what measures are taken to protect a priest from rumor or lies of a vindictive parishioner or Catholic zealots? All it takes is 1 word to destroy a vocation, a reputation, … forever! They ought to be slightly paranoid, always on guard. But what a sad way to live.
    The Charter is a betrayal of our bedrock theological principles when finances, PR and administration take priority. Is it any wonder when priests are treated as expendable they suffer emotionally, mentally and spiritually?
    As one who has two priests in the family and a larger number of clergy friends, I’ve heard these concerns right from their mouths and have also witnessed the change in their ministries and daily behavior.

  12. Yes, we must pray for the Church, for all members of the clergy. We all must repent of our sins. When active homosexual priests and religious are removed from their posts, that would be good for starters. It’s not politically correct, of course, but it needs to be done. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Rosary in every diocese and parish should be promoted by all our bishops and priests and good solid teaching from the pulpits. Then we will see change for the better. May God be praised. Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

    • When active homosexual priests and religious are removed from their posts, that would be good for starters.
      Correction: When all active homosexual priests and religious are removed from their posts, that would be good for starters.

      The intrinsic disorder of homosexuality – active or not – is incompatible with consecrated life.

      “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.” CAREFUL SELECTION AND TRAINING OF CANDIDATES FOR THE STATES OF PERFECTION AND SACRED ORDERS, Sacred Congregation for Religious, February 2, 1961

      • You are absolutely correct, Sir and the USCCB must provide a program to investigate ALL seminaries to ensure this is done! NOW! IMMEDIATELY! WITHOUT DELAY! THEY HAVE THE POWER! USE IT! But this is not the end! The Church, in its grace from God must institute a program to help these poor people to find their true humanity! This CAN be done by the Catholic Church but it too must begin NOW!

  13. “Sadly, no bishop had the courage to challenge such an unfair and unfounded broadside” (Fr Stravinskas). I would add as P Beaulieu says candidly the continuous “dung” flung at priests from the Pontiff. The constant accusation of clericalism classic pot criticizing the kettle. Let’s face it bishops were intimidated at the very start when during the first Synod on the family were accused of Pharisaism by Pope Francis. For holding to Apostolic Tradition. Priests have received Nada regarding authoritative Gospel doctrine. Apart from twisted interpretations emitting from Casa Santa Marta sermons or during flight interviews or tete a tetes with journalists like atheist Scalfari. Priests have been chastised even removed for preaching Apostolic Tradition (Cases in Sicily and Malta). Instead they are mandated to be ecologically converted. Of course priests are confused, demoralized. Fr Stravinskas gives us an irrepressible outpouring indispensable in content. That priests now contrary to justice are treated as guilty until proven innocent. Similarly unfortunate however are the unique issues that foster this. Example is the notorious case of Fr Peter Hullermann Essen Diocese lawfully convicted of forcibly sodomizing an altar boy transferred to Munich with full knowledge of the abuse. Astonishingly placed in contact with boys again the same abomination. This time released from ministry incarcerated. Pedophiles are serial abusers. At the time civil authority was more lenient toward hierarchy. Today the bishop’s goose will be cooked. A just policy would include non disclosure while investigating combined with some form of monitoring.

  14. Paul VI installed a machine to inject poison into the veins of the Church, everywhere on Earth, every day. The Novus Ordo Missae. Long before I got there, it had destroyed every parish where I served. It poisoned my priesthood, even though I celebrated strictly by the book. Ten years after retirement, I started to celebrate only the TLM.

    Paul VI was the worst pope of all time. Apocalyptically destructive–by which I mean the damage may not be repaired before the End of Time. The worst vandal in the history of the world.

  15. I have read each of the above comments with a very sad heart. I really don’t know what to say! I am a retired professional who attends Mass daily and loves my parish BECAUSE of the dedicated priest, especially, our pastor. I thought the Dallas Charter was a step forward but evidently it was not. I think little of the “theology of Bergoglio” if indeed he has one. I have learned much from reading this article but especially the comments that follow. I have a profound respect for Fr Stravinskas as his writings brought me closer to the church since I began an intense study back in 1997. I believe our problems have started in the seminaries in the 60s, 70s and 80, when there was a laxed attitude concerning applicants that had a tendency toward homosexual behavior. I have come to believe we must begin with cleaning up our seminaries and to that end withheld all financial contributions I used to give quite liberally. What has been said about the relationship between Bishops and the Priest that are under him is all new to me, and I read this website daily. It seems to me the American Church needs help from the USCCB and needs it now! We need a comprehensive plan to solve the Bishop Priest problem, and the seminary problems. the I pray for the priest of my parish daily and it seems we must all do the same but I see I must alsos pray for our Bishops! Bishop Robert Barron, please take a break from the New Evangelization and turn you attending to the problems mentioned in this very good article and the reveling comments! The Church needs your clearity! Christ the Victim we call out to you, please purge your Church of corruption! Priest, the book “In Sinu Jesu”, I think, would be helpful to you in this stage of your priesthood. There is one very great sinner that will be praying for your happiness and fulfillment in your priesthood!

    • Jeff. I would note that the problems started well before the 60s as is evident when you see the years when the most sexual abuse happened. A great many of these men were formed in Pre-Vatican II days and, by the way, would only have celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass. We have a good friend who was dismissed from the seminary in the 40s because he reported homosexual behavior in his seminary. He was on the eve of ordination to the deaconate. The program is not external, but as mentioned above by some, the need for deep prayer centered on the Eucharist and supported by frequent reconciliation. The. Each of us can surrender to the loving will of God regardless of the circumstances. Oh Jesus, I surrender myself to you. You take care of everything. (Prayer of Italian priest c contemporary of St. Padre Pio , I can’t remember his name)

    • Mr. Bishop –

      I share your very wholesome concerns on the topic.

      I do not believe, however, that the USCCB is a key part of the solution. Unfortunately, the USCCB is a big part of the problem. (And that is not a swipe at Bishop Barron).

      The Church, as St. Paul gave witness, has the mind of Christ. The USCCB, sad to say, has the mind of McCarrick.

      There are scores of wonderfully faithful Bishops. They are good shepherds fulfilling their duty to Jesus and His Church. They persevere despite the machinations of the USCCB.

  16. Thank you Fr. Stravikas for the insightful look into a reality of the priesthood and its challenges, as well as a sad picture of how we are failing our pastors.

    I believe your insight casts a much wider net than you may think – as this is an issue that faces priests and pastors in ALL of Christendom – not simply the Roman Catholic Church. I personally know many Protestant pastors across multiple denominations who struggle with similar morale issues.

    Here is the crux of the difficulty: Professionals are entrusted with doing the hard, difficult, un-fun work that Amateurs don’t want to do or are incapable of doing. All the gaps in lay ministries and lay administrative duties fall upon the pastors. All the responsibilities of “Being the adult in the room” and “Doing the work unto God” are laid on his shoulders. He is assigned the poor duty of confronting Mrs. Jones about her perfume that makes the whole choir cough. If a pastor goes out fishing on his day off – he can expect several angry phone calls about “Why didn’t you visit such and such today.” It’s not uncommon to be criticized for visiting one member in the hospital instead of some other member in a different hospital or so forth. And then the man is further criticized for taking a lay member to task for completely failing to perform a task they volunteered to do because not only could they be bothered to pay attention as if they had truly offered their work to The Lord, but they also couldn’t be bothered to tell anyone that they couldn’t do it…. And so forth.

  17. The Bergoglian recipe for good priestly morale; “floggings will continue until morale improves”.

    The man has done little else but ridicule, denigrate, caricature and insult faithful priests whose only crime is being faithful to the Church and her teachings and tradition. His whole pontificate is destructive and uncharitable in the extreme. Every Christmas he pours sulphuric acid on the Curia and he never misses an opportunity to attack popular piety and devotions.

    He’s the very antithesis of a spiritual father.

    • Agree.

      Consider the poor young priests and nuns of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, whom he in his malicious secrecy, destroying their order, literally exiling these young priests and nuns to the Phillipines and far corners, after running a campaign of character assassination of the holy and elderly Fr. Manelli, whose family was forced to sue the Church for justice against the malicious abuse of the Pontiff Francis, whose henchmen were declared guilty of slander against Fr. Manelli by a civil court in Italy.

      All of this criminal abuse was carried out under supervision by the Pontiff Francis’ friend the repulsive Bishop Jose Carballo, Francis’ hand-picked Head of the Congregation for the Consecrated Life, and former head of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor (OFM), who was whisked away to Rome in 2013, and just months later in Dec 2014 was publicly exposed by his successor for having presided over “grave financial irregularities” in his 10-yr tenure as head of the OFM Franciscans, as reported by Nick Squires of the UK Telegraph (Dec 2014).

      I will post the article next.

      I wonder “more than a little” whether “His Excellency” Carballo siezed the FFI seminary and convent property in Italy to sell them off and pay the tens of millions of dollars in losses caused by the “grave financial irregularities” disclosed to have been caused under Carballo’s tenure at the OFM Franciscans.

  18. The priesthood is an extraordinary gift, and always will be, even in these times which are so difficult for priests. One for which I thank God nearly daily.

    Nevertheless, Fr. Stravinskas writes an important article. While the priesthood has always been an extremely challenging vocation, the challenge for parish priests has ratcheted up recently due to the negative (and frequently ungrateful) attitudes of people from all sides. For starters, we have an increasing number of parishioners who lack respect for priests, including the “Carol”s [commenter above], who are willing to anonymously insult priests, rather than pray for them and be grateful that men have given up their lives to give the sacraments to her; we have the bishops as noted who treat their priests as employees rather than sons (and worse than employees who would have far more rights); we have in many dioceses chancery officials who don’t have any concern for their priests* [see below]; and as noted, the Holy Father, who seems to delight in insulting them.

    But perhaps the greatest challenge, that many of the lay faithful will never understand, because they have never experienced it and never will, is being assumed to be a child molester and/or active homosexual merely because one is wearing a Roman collar. While there is no evidence that a priest is any more likely to be deviant than a public school teacher, the latter are well respected while priests are often automatically held in deep suspicion and distrust.

    Priests rarely complain about these things, because it is now part of the cross of the vocation to be offered to Christ, but it does take a toll in morale.

    For all these reasons, it is important to pray for your priests, even those who don’t appear to be demoralized.

    *In one diocesan meeting, when a priest pointed out that priests should not be assumed guilty until proven innocent, a chancery employee replied, “That’s just the price they have to pay. You wouldn’t understand why that’s needed, you are not a parent.” Just one telling example of the indifference that many priests face from their own people.

  19. The bishop of Rome certainly has ‘anger management’ issues. He also has a sloppy security team.
    The American Catholic bishops seem to have a wide range of loyalty issues to their priests.
    These psychological ‘gulags’ the bishops use to get rid of certain priests seem all the rage nowadays. Orwell could not have written a more dark scenario.
    The implosion continues…and BTW, did your parish pay up the new USCCB tax? What is this, a sick, dark joke?

  20. Read here about the gigantic financial scandal involving the Pontiff Francis’s hand-picked head of the Congregation for Consecrated Life, “His Excellency” Jose Carballo, who was whisked away to Rome by Francis, just months before his successor uncovered “grave, and so underscore grave, financial irregularities” at the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor (OFM), caused during the tenure of Carballo (when he was OFM Director General, 2003-13).


    We can conclude that the Pontiff Francis needed yet another grossly negligent (or crooked) pal inside his Vatican, to bring his negligence or criminality world-wide across every religious order in the Church.

  21. Can we talk about why the Dallas Charter is even a thing before we blow it out of the water completely? To all you good priests out there, take note. The Dallas Charter is a thing because 4-6% of all priests (and undoubtedly many bishops as well) were sexual abusers of people (primarily boys) under 18 years old. This doesn’t include those priests who were “smart” enough to keep their philandering to those 18 or older (including seminarians), which must have included a large amount of priests who were concerned with going to jail.

    Now put yourself in the position of a parent who’s God given responsibility is to protect their children. Every single Catholic parent knows that there’s about a 1 in 20 chance their priest is some sort of sexual deviant with a taste for kids, teenagers or (very) young adults. If you’re a parent, do you put your kids in a situation where there’s a 1 in 20 chance they’ll be exposed to these perverts who can destroy them mind, body and soul?

    If this sounds harsh or even irrational, consider this small antidote. Before I had kids I used to be a really hard sleeper. I could sleep through all sorts of noise and storms or even with the light on. When I had kids all that changed. Now I can hear a slight foot step from upstairs. My kids tiptoe down the stairs and I hear it. The point is having children permanently changes you, and that 1 in 20 number is so unimaginable a risk that you’ll do anything you have to to avoid it.

    But things have changed you insist. Indeed they have – they changed in large part because of the Dallas Charter. They changed because rules were made that basically required strict separation of priests from young people without supervision and because of the zero tolerance policy. This is all very sad and, quite frankly, pathetic. Things changed for the better because we stopped trusting our priests and bishops.

    So to all you good priests out there, allow me to extend both my heart felt gratitude and my deepest sympathies. No the situation you are in is not fair or right. But this is what happens when so many in the hierarchy show themselves to be so completely untrustworthy. This is what happens when you listen to psychologists and lawyers instead of common sense and the Word of God. This is what happens when you shrug off the homosexualization of much of the priesthood and episcopacy. This is what happens when the likes of Cardinal Mahoney are allowed to stand up and speak about episcopal unity AFTER the details of his corruption come out. This is what happens when the most powerful cardinal in the US lies shamelessly about McCarrick. This is what happens when trust is so utterly devastated.

    I’m open to ideas; I really am. But without something else viable, the risk remains too high to get rid of zero tolerance and strict separation for our time.

    • No one is talking about “blowing the Dallas Charter out of the water completely.”
      We are talking about applying the same “innocent until proven guilty” standard to priests as we do with other adults who have trusted access to children, such as school teachers and coaches, together with sensible regulations on separating priests from children if they are alone. (A protocol, incidently, many schools and athletic groups STILL don’t have in place)

      Regarding your statistic that “there is a 1 in 20 chance that a priest is an abuser,” this is absurd and insulting. That refers to a very narrow time band which was the worst of the crisis. In the last 20 years, there have been an extremely low number of cases, far far lower than 1%, while abuse by those in public schools continues to rise.
      See for example:

      Do you or others make the same kind of comments that there is at least a 1 in 14 chance that a public school teacher or coach will abuse their child? And scream for tighter protocols there to stop the abuse? I didn’t think so.

    • If my faith depended on the regard in which I hold Pope Francis, I would have left the Church six years ago. Priests are not the only ones justifiably demoralized by what is coming out of the Vatican. Plenty of the laity are demoralized and angered as well. Leaving accomplishes nothing, though. The only choice we have is to publicly oppose his Marxist political agenda and the apparent plan to undermine every tenet of the Faith.

    • I am not sorry.

      I am outraged, but certainly not surprised.

      The Catholic Church is being run into the ground by abusive, counterfeit-fathers, who are largely incapable of modeling or exercising fatherly love. Take for instance this spectrum, from Cardinal Danneels, the retired-in-disgrace (2010) sex abuse coverup artist re-animated by the Pontiff Francis )on the balcony in 2013), and the serial bot rapist Mauro Inzoli, tried and found guilty and stripped of priestly faculties by Cardinal Mueller and B16 in 2012, and restored to priestly duties by the Pontiff Francis in 2014, forcing the parents of Inzoli’s victims to seek justice outside the Church of Pontiff Francis…in the secular courts…where at least…common deceny still draws the line at sexual abuse of minors.

      The approach you suggest is continued unreality and more infantilization…

  22. I looked at the letter from Pope Francis to priests recommended above by Robert Fastiggi. Honestly, I don’t have the patience to read it. By my count, it’s about forty-three paragraphs. Contrast that with Francis’ one- or three-sentence acidic zingers excoriating priests. No contest which is more effective/memorable.

  23. For a lay person I thought this was very insightful. I love the priesthood. I don’t live their lives so I can not possibly understand the intricacy of their problems. Thank you for your article. For those who question it, I just refer you to a quote from St Thomas Aquinas

    Of all the signs of a person’s knowledge and wisdom, none is proof of greater wisdom than that one does not cling to his own opinion: Lean not upon your own prudence (Prov 3:5). For those who cling to their own judgment so as to mistrust others and trust in themselves alone, invariably prove themselves fools and are judged as such: You see those who are wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for fools than for them (Prov 26:12). But if a person distrusts his own judgment, that is a proof of his humility, which is why it is said, Where humility is, there also is wisdom (Prov 11:2), whereas the proud are too self-confident.

  24. Waiting for the investigation (and defrocking) of the sexual abuser Cardinal McCarrick to be done and publicized … oh wait, he is a bishop, so there won’t be an ivestigation or anything public. He is not defrocked and will be taken care of for the rest of his life. And what happened to Cardinal Law? Oh he was swept away to Rome to leave Boston burning … not defrocked and he was taken care of.

    The article is SPOT ON … regardless of the pithy (IMHO) comment made by McBrien.

  25. Thank you Father Stravinskas. You have always understood the issues well. I miss the days when you were editor of “Catholic Answers.”

  26. What I find even worse, though the issue at hand is critical, are bishops who abuse their “absolute” powers to abandon priest who do not live up to “their” standards. I am suffering from PTSD due to over 15 years of ministry to hospitals and law enforcement agencies. The PTSD has crippled me, and I know I am not fit for ministry. THAT however does not give excuse for the bishop to treat me as a thrown away toy. He wants me out and has even stated that he will not medically retire me though I fit the police and guidelines for a priest to be retired. I have been a priest for 29 years and have caused NO SCANDAL and he has even stated my popular and no scandal priesthood. Why won’t he retire me? He gives not reason. He has written to me stating that I have broken no laws (civil or canonical), no detects and under no suspension. Yet he wants me lazed and is sending my file to Rome in hopes they will find just cause to do so. I do have a Canon Lawyer and I am beyond angry that this has been going on for over 6 years. I thought by now the bishop would see that I am NOT giving up my priesthood. “If you can’t assign me – then retire me to a private life as a priest.” Has anyone else had something like this happen to them? Does anyone have and advice or someone I can contact that will come to my aid? I am by far not a perfect priest, but I am a priest of God and my bishop needs to be a bishop and know what it means to have that title: Shepherd, benevolent, charitable, etc… Fr. Scott

    • Just a follow up: Besides Complex PTSD I have also been diagnosed with moderate progressive dementia – there is no telling how I was before reviving proper medication. I am retired and on disability and thankful to God for seeing me and the bishop this far.

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