The National Survey of Priests suggests a deep crisis in Catholic theology

Given their abrupt suspension of accused priests, the bishops have eroded the theological density of the sacrament of Holy Orders. By so doing, they have undermined the very deposit of faith they seek to protect and transmit.

Priests celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Jan. 17, 2105./ Catholic Charities/Jeffrey Bruno (CC BY 2.0).

A few weeks ago, the Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America released the results of a massive survey of Catholic priests in the United States. Priests interviewed numbered 3,500 from 191 American dioceses.

Predictably—at least for those who have been paying attention—the results constitute a biting indictment of the American episcopacy. The most prominent finding of the survey is that a majority of priests do not trust their own bishops—and, shockingly, only 24% of priests trust the US episcopacy in general. In other words, the bond between priests and their putative “fathers” and “brothers” is badly corroded. Even worse, bishops are largely unaware of the decay, with over 90% claiming they are very helpful to priests dealing with personal struggles. In fact, only 36% of diocesan priests think that bishops care about their difficulties, with one man summing it up, “We’ve been saying for a decade now that bishops see their priests as liabilities.”

Why this stinging critique of the US episcopacy? As the study points out, there is tremendous anxiety among priests because of the way the Dallas Charter has been implemented. While priests acknowledge that the abuse crisis needed to be addressed—and addressed vigorously—most believe that the implementation of the Charter has been disastrous. Many priests have been removed from ministry upon accusation—with no concrete evidence against them and without even a brief investigation. And when dealing with their priests, bishops are now as deeply “lawyered up” as any corporate CEO.

Accused priests, on the other hand, no matter how many decades of untarnished service they have rendered to the Church—and no matter how flimsy, bizarre and aged the charges against them—are treated courteously but are subjected to harsh and unyielding norms.

Yet the crucial issue raised by this entire survey—one that is unspoken—is the theological understanding of the priesthood that is ultimately at stake. It is this issue that is decisive and one that the bishops—despite being the Church’s doctores fidei—seem unwilling to address. Given their abrupt suspension of accused priests—with priests unable even to dress or to present themselves publicly as the ministers of Jesus Christ that they assuredly are—the bishops have eroded the theological density of the sacrament of Holy Orders. By so doing, they have undermined the very deposit of faith they seek to protect and transmit.

The Catholic theology of the priesthood holds that the sacrament of Orders has ontological effects. Priests are chosen for their ministerial vocation by the grace of God. Through ordination, they are conformed to Jesus Christ in a new way. As Vatican II teaches, “by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, priests are signed with a special character and are conformed to Christ the Priest in such a way that they can act in the person of Christ the Head” (Presbyterorum ordinis, no. 2).

Neither baptism nor ordination can ever be repeated precisely because these sacraments orient the person to God in a way that cannot be reversed—even if, at some point, the recipient of the sacrament abjures his baptism and/or ordination. In other words, a priest is a priest forever, even beyond this mortal life. This is why at ordinations one often hears the hymn, Tu es sacerdos in aeternum—You are a priest forever (Psalm 110).

The sacral character of the priesthood is not intended to separate a priest from the laity, but to acknowledge a man’s unique vocation. As the council states, priests “by their vocation and ordination are, in a certain sense, set apart in the bosom of the People of God. However, they are not to be separated from the People of God or from any person; but they are to be totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord has chosen them” (PO, no. 3).

It is precisely this sacral character of the priesthood that the American bishops have called into question by their panicked response to the abuse crisis. The great majority, undoubtedly, do not intend to obscure the Church’s faith. Some bishops, however, seem to have a nebulous understanding of Catholic theology.

Evidence for this assertion? A few years ago, one bishop spoke about the possibility of forcibly laicizing all credibly accused priests. One could only ask: What understanding does this man have of Catholic teaching? Precisely because of the singular character of Holy Orders, laicization should be a court of last resort, reserved for those priests found guilty of serious offenses. But this bishop was considering laicizing those simply accused of abuse. This type of mentality reduces priests to mere contract workers, little more than members of the gig economy. Priesthood itself is deeply diminished.

It is precisely this myopia that has forced priests, as the national survey indicates, to regard bishops as the last ones to whom they would turn for spiritual or theological support. Is it any wonder vocations to the priesthood are in steep decline, with major archdioceses ordaining no one or only a handful of men. It is much too facile to blame secular culture for this descent. The bishops must examine their own consciences.

One also hopes that the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, has carefully digested the survey’s results. He has had a significant role in choosing US bishops for the last several years. If this survey means anything, it means that he and his predecessors have not been entirely successful in their episcopal nominations. The nuncios have sought, unquestionably, to appoint men with pastoral gifts—and with a clear dedication to the Church. But they have not, for the most part, nominated men of theological insight and fortitude who, even in the face of relentless attacks, can ably articulate and boldly defend the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

At their meeting in Baltimore a few weeks ago, the bishops no doubt discussed the somber results of the recent survey. Surely, they asked themselves how to regain the respect of their priests, with an accent on the need for greater fellowship, more extensive outreach, etc.

May I offer a suggestion?

If, as I believe (and as the national survey indicates), the current crisis has weighty theological dimensions, American bishops could profitably spend time studying classical treatises on the theology of the priesthood—and then preaching and teaching on the subject. As Cardinal Newman wisely stated in The Via Media of the Anglican Church (1877), “Theology is the fundamental and regulating principle of the whole Church system.” By understanding more profoundly the theology of Holy Orders—and taking the time to speak clearly and articulately about the Church’s faith—bishops will have gone a long way towards recovering the respect and trust of their priests.

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About Msgr. Thomas G. Guarino 4 Articles
Rev. Msgr. Thomas G Guarino is professor emeritus of systematic theology at Seton Hall University. Most recently, he is the author of The Unchanging Truth of God? Crucial Philosophical Issues for Theology (CUA Press, 2022).


  1. Small consolation to those priests unjustly accused and then falsely laicized–that if they violate their lay-state by still celebrating private Masses, the Masses are “illicit” but NOT “invalid.” Once a priest, always a priest, or, is it a “grey area?”

    And what is one to say to the laity about those priests who do warrant punishment, and the punishment is to be relegated to the lay state–horrors, the status of those beyond the clerical pale and whose cry for an authentically perennial Church counts little…Unless cross-dressed as wrapping paper by an ecclesially-suicidal synod or two? And as all of us–clergy and laity together–now witness in routinized horror as it goes viral out from Germania to infect more of the entire synodal project?

    “Project church (?),” where did this apparent idea of a plebiscite church come from? This new language whereby, perhaps, the homosexual lifestyle will be painted as an “expanded grey area” and pastorally “licit”(?), rather than morally invalid or objectively immoral?

    Under the “new math” and Grech’s and Hollerich’s new sociology (!), is it all just semantics, after all?

  2. A slim minority of accusations are invented. It is a myth that there exists a free-for-all. The culture of both the Church and the secular West are far from encouraging when women and children speak up about unfair treatment.

    Lay employees are also treated unfairly when accusations of any kind turn up. I’d feel more supportive of clergy if they were, in turn, fair and just in their dealings with the laity, especially volunteers.

    All that said, yes: the bishops have badly misdiagnosed. 2001 was about bishops and their institutional blunders with known offenders. Unfortunately, the same theological treatises that priests would like to display to prelates guarantees bishops are locked in for life, barring some catastrophic offense. Bishops are the bosses, and they always have been. It’s up to them to initiate the conversation. It’s their Matthew 5:23-24 moment.

    • “A slim minority of accusations are invented. It is a myth that there exists a free-for-all.”

      With the vast majority of cases settled out of court and the terms made confidential by mutual agreement, no one will ever be able to prove one way or the other whether most accusations are true or false or what is myth or what is not. The faithful who donate their hard-earned money are morally entitled to an accounting of the funds that are being paid out and they’ll probably never get it. These days it’s hard to know who to trust when everything is shrouded in secrecy, and even what is made public is suspect. For all we know the majority of cases could be fabrications– or perhaps not. It is almost never about finding the truth in a particular case. Rather, it’s about looking “tough on sex abuse” or not wanting to offend powerful forces in the Church when their darling is accused, or wanting to make an example of an unpopular priest or bishop. We still have no accountability on the McCarrick case apart from a report that is hopelessly disgusting to read, and the best hope of learning the truth on McCarrick seems to be in secular courts, which isn’t at all encouraging.

      • I’m one who happens to believe that Holy Orders imparts an indelible character. A man is configured to Christ in a particular way e.g. as episcopoi, sacerdote, or for diaconia.

        I’m one who happens to believe that it’s impossible for a man, once ordained, to be returned to the “lay state.”

        I’m one who happens to believe that it’s insulting to the laity to even talk about “returning a man to the lay state.” Who are the laity, chopped liver? Are the laity the “bottom of the barrel”, the great unwashed? Are you punishing an ordained man by returning him to the lay state? What is being conveyed to the laity about their role in the Body of Christ by so doing? Ordained ministry is NOT about privilege and power. It’s high time that we eradicated such notions in the Church. Perhaps this survey is suggesting that no one really believes that ordination is about privilege and power, so many ought to stop acting as if it were. Violations of one’s ordination ought to be met by public penance and not so-called laicization.

        • You say… I’m one who happens to believe that it’s nearly impossible for a man, once ordained, to be returned to the “lay state.” Holy Orders are a path to bless the new Priest with a dedication to Christ. A holy bond that is hard to break. But, man is weak. Women are weak too. However, many women seem stronger in their beliefs. That said, I served several priests who were models committed to Holy Orders. The Church should ordain women and Holy Orders will rise to a new level of dedication.

          God bless our ordained Priests

          • Nonsense.

            And I didn’t state that it’s “nearly impossible” for a man to be returned to the lay state.

            And. ..Church teaching isn’t based on cheap sentimentality regarding women. The Blessed Virgin Mary AMONG ALL HUMAN PERSONS holds the highest status in the Church. And, given that fact, she exercised her ministry in the Church most perfectly by submitting her will to God’s will in all things.

          • The Church should ordain women and Holy Orders will rise to a new level of dedication.

            A misguided prudential belief refuted by reality.

          • What does peronal faith or lack of it among women have to do with providential plans for His creation? We don’t have a right to our faithless opinions about female ordination other than obtaining faith and submitting to God’s intention that it be for men only.

          • For those who seek to solve all of the problems within Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church by flooding it with female leadership, please read the book entitled, “The anti-Mary Exposed” (Rescuing the culture from toxic femininity) by Carrie Gress.

      • Actually, there are studies about survivors who do out their predators. We certainly know a vast majority of claims are truthful. They remain the minority of total abuse cases because the outing process is fraught with many crosses for victims and their supporters.

        Yes, trust is difficult. Especially when people we have seen as “darlings” get outed and booted from positions of respect.

        As for Mr McCarrick, we have a laicization of a cardinal. We know he was supported widely in one papacy, left to his own devices in the next, and finally outed and punished in the third. He certainly had enablers, and most of those were in the 1978-2013 era. I can see why some Catholics would wring hands about the days when they were happier about their bishops. But it didn’t work out at all.

        As long as clergy take care and remember the input from safe practice classes, they will be fine. It’s the ones who engage in risky behaviors who should worry.

        • “the outing process is fraught with many crosses for victims and their supporters.” No one ever spoke truer words, brother!

      • Multiple studies in the US and Europe. Three to ten percent are false accusations

        As for a priest accused of theft, I’d have to ask: why is a priest handling money without a companion or a witness. With wise practices in being around children or vulnerable adults or sums of money the chances of being falsely accused are virtually nil. All the safe environment programs reinforce this

          • I think not. They are easy enough to find. More than nine out of ten people who make accusations are telling the truth. It is difficult when our heroes fall into scandal, and denial is part of a very human reaction.

            Rolling back to the topic, priests indeed feel unsupported at times and in significant ways by their bishop. That is a significant finding that deserves careful attention and in some dioceses, reform. Blaming select women and children is ultimately a losing approach that clouds the relationships in the Church.

          • Ah, so that explains the numerous insults that have issued from Pope Francis these past 10 years.

            In fact, personal insults are not owned by any tribe or group. To insinuate otherwise is to simply prove the point.

        • But where do these studies get their information when no one is talking on the record? I’d like to see specific sources named so that I can attempt to evaluate whether they are trustworthy or not.

        • “Multiple studies” is not a citation/reference. It is an assertion. Until we have verifiable, statistical research cited, I’ll offer a half-step, which is anecdotal evidence. Coming from a law enforcement perspective, investigators/detectives/cops will confirm, almost unanimously, that the single most falsely-reported criminal accusation (frequently recanted, otherwise disproven or sadly undeveloped due to lack of evidence) are the accusations of sexual abuse, rape, molestation or ither predation. The volume of these voices strongly indicates the inaccuracy of the 3-10% “estimate” offered elsewhere. Just a fact to consider among these opinions and assertions/speculations. Thank you. (Pray for priests…all of them: the good ones and the others).

          • It took me about 5 minutes to find online references to eight or nine studies. I think they can be dismissed easily enough. People want to believe the best in their heroes, even when it is irrational. For a strong skeptic, no amount of proof will convince.

            The sad truth is that a guilty person will protest innocence just as vehemently and convincingly as one falsely accused. It is just how falsehoods work. Liars can be extremely charming and believable–this is why it hurts so much when they are outed. And why good people resist, even when it is Maciel or Corapi or such.

            That said, people in helping professions, in the Church and outside of it, have certain safe protocols. For their own reputations as well as for the safety of vulnerable persons. It’s one of the first things we are taught in the safety classes mandated for church volunteers and employees as a result of the Charter.

            I’ve never known a person falsely accused. Their trials, though they are in a slim minority, are certainly a grave injustice. But if they gave a ride to a child, or were alone in a sacristy with them, or were in any vulnerable or questionable situation themselves, they weren’t paying attention in 2002-03. Clergy (and others), get with the program!

            And money, yes. If a priest is handling money by himself, it is just a foolish thing. Financial protocols have been around for much, much longer than the Charter. Is a person who ignores them just lazy or careless? Or do they have something to hide?

            As a person who has known all too many survivors of sexual abuse, I will defend their right to make public their suffering, to confront their accusers, and to ask for accountability of their offenders’ superiors, be they pastors, bishops, or pope. And I will poke at those whose first judgment is that it’s made up. Let the accusations come, and let them be sorted out fairly and reasonably.

          • Thank you, brother Tod, for the revelation that liars lie. This had never occurred to me. But the original point regarding the falsely accused is as you also say: “Their trials, though they are in a slim minority [yes], are certainly a grave injustice.”

            Indeed, for the few falsely accused, the impact is 100 percent…

            A question you might help us with, given the sources at your fingertips, is how many of those falsely accused—and rarely going to “trial”—should we be considering? The practice seems to be that with two accusations to pay out a negotiated amount (especially for those deceased), whatever it might be, because this is still cheaper than any trial with court-decided penalties. In addition, something like 80 percent of the total payout (I think), totaling three billion dollars by 2008, has come not from the Church but from the liability insurance companies who are obligated to cut their losses. The plot thickens…

            Talk to someone in the chancery office of your choice. Correct me if the above is incorrect. There is no disagreement with you that false accusations are in a slim minority…About which, in 2002 the John Jay Report (commissioned by the USCCB) reported that 4,392 priests were accused. Even one percent of that number would be 43, a slim minority as we know, but 100% for each of them.

            To muse upon an important detail is not to deny the reality or magnitude of the Scandal, nor the revelation that liars are likely to lie.

          • For victims and survivors of abuse, the impact is also 100%.

            I would not debate that falsely accused persons suffer. That is also true of survivors falsely accused of lying. I am sure priests treated unjustly also walk with them.

            Rolling back to the topic of the priest/bishop divide, I would say the litigious nature of American society is something prelates have certainly bought into. They have their insurance operators and lawyers advising them on these matters. If you are suggesting they are wrong to do so, I might be inclined to agree.

            Instead of falsely accusing the abused, why not stick to our criticisms of bishops? They are the ones responsible, not vulnerable persons who didn’t think to record encounters on their cell phones or post on their YouTube channels.

        • And yet, we see how destructive false accusations can be. Cardinal Pell is only the most obvious example. I find your dismissive disregard for those wrongly accused of sexual abuse, and the irrevocable damage these innocent individuals experience for the rest of their lives, to be odious in the extreme.

          • Ive never understood the double standard of disclosing an alleged sexual offender’s name but not that of their alleged victim.
            Even if exonerated the damage done to one’s reputation is terrible and never really goes away. For sure, identify the perpetrator if convicted, but not before.

          • Cardinal Pell is certainly an example to consider. He was a target, as a celebrity in the Church, and despite making significant movement in his archdioceses from his predecessors. That said, 97% of abuse instances in his archdiocese were found to be true. Those persons were also harmed. There have always been far more victims among the laity than in the clergy.

            It might be deemed unhelpful for a falsely accused priest, but Thomas Aquinas’ advice seems apt for the rest of us:

            “To bear with patience wrongs done to oneself is a mark of perfection, but to bear with patience wrongs done to someone else is a mark of imperfection and even of actual sin.”

            I think the wrongs perpetrated on vulnerable persons are heinous beyond unjust accusations. First, they were perpetrated by persons in roles of trust. Second, many of them were and still are falsely accused of lying or of seeking a financial windfall. Third, such wrongs damage the reputation of the Church and its pastors.

            I make no apologies for trusting survivors of abuse. Instances of false accusations exist, and if against people we like, are difficult to bear. But they remain a very slim minority of cases.

            In a previous era, the laity might have trusted the endorsement of a bishop while accusations against a priest were sorted out. We are far, far beyond that point. It’s not because of grifters. It’s because of the mismanagement of bishops. It will remain so for many, many years to come.

          • Replying to Todd Flowerday, 12/30/2022 at 5:50 PM

            “I think the wrongs perpetrated on vulnerable persons are heinous beyond unjust accusations.”

            So, how many unpunished valid claims of abuse are you willing to trade for a single punished false claim? You seem to believe the problem of false accusations is a problem of degree that is all but inconsequential compared to the number of supposedly valid claims. It’s not. It’s a problem of kind that is separate and distinct from the matter of valid claims. Cardinal Pell, to stay with this single example, was imprisoned based on completely incredible false accusations. As a “convicted” “criminal” and supposed “sex offender”, he was a clear target for violence, and possibly murder, while in prison. Arguably, he would have remained such a target after release from prison had he not been exonerated. This is objective injustice of the highest order toward an individual. One doesn’t compare injustice such as this to an individual with any other type of individualized injustice, much less should one attempt to minimize it by doing so. This injustice against Cardinal Pell, and injustice against other clergy and laity whose lives, careers and reputations are ruined by false accusations of sexual abuse, must be avoided at great cost. That “cost” means that investigations and justice proceedings must be designed and conducted in such a way that the risk of injustice such as that which Cardinal Pell suffered is vanishingly small.

            “Instances of false accusations exist, and if against people we like, are difficult to bear. But they remain a very slim minority of cases.”

            What in the world does difficulty “bearing” instances of false accusations of sexual abuse have to do with whether falsely accused individuals are treated justly? The implication here is that justice, or injustice, can be influenced by whether an accused individual is in or out of the favor of those in power. Whether we like or don’t like someone who is falsely accused has absolutely nothing to do with justice. Full stop. To suggest otherwise is to invite tyranny, which is always and everywhere the enemy of justice.

          • It’s not a matter of my being a horse trader on this issue, of an innocent man going to prison so other criminals in the clergy can be outed and further predation is nipped in the bud. We live in a flawed and imperfect world where human justice is not nearly as refined as God’s justice. We have to acknowledge this.

            Human beings make false accusations and innocent people are punished often. There are ministries and secular agencies devoted to this cause. If that is a personal involvement of yours, Lex, (or anyone’s) I applaud the diligence there. If it is a personal matter with a single person you know, likewise.

            My own experience with people who have been victims–persons in my family, close friends, and church acquaintances over the years suggests to me that the institution has been deeply flawed in its approach. Unlike the Church of the 80s and prior, I listen to accusations and take them seriously. That false accusations are a small percentage of the total should be a relief. Not a cause to dismiss accusers outright. Claims should be investigated and appropriate caution taken.

            If a lay person is accused, the job is lost, even if innocent. I know one such person, an educator. If a priest is accused, he is suspended, but still draws a salary and benefits. If the Church had its moral grounding two generations ago, a vindicated priest today could be returned to ministry and people would accept the judgment of the bishop. Unfortunately, the blame for today’s lack of trust lies with the bishops. It’s not surprising to me that priests feel bishops as a body have failed them. Each individual bishop has a clear responsibility to heal those divisions.

            As for the Church as a whole we have a sacred and moral duty to stand with accusers, victims, and survivors. Just as a person is not dismissed until proven guilty, a survivor is listened to carefully and not dismissed until an injustice is resolved. Our like or dislike of accuser or suspect or our being ill-at-ease with the crime is wholly irrelevant.

            Yes, justice must take care. But clergy and others must be prudent. Paying attention in those classes will help.

    • Certainly, there are true abuses but I do not believe that accusations, especially old incidents, should be accepted as credible without concrete evidence. Some people lie, some hold grudges, some are emotionally battered by something other than clerical abuse. And don’t forget, there is money to be made. I look at the public spectacle of Justice Kavanagh where many are still convinced he did something reprehensible as a young man based on the 30-year old memory of one person and zero concrete evidence. Sadly, there are plenty of people who make such accusations with financial or ideological motives. Show me the evidence! is the principle on which this nation’s justice system was founded. Otherwise, we are China and Russia.

  3. AS a priest cast aside over accusations of theft, Bishops for me are modern day Cains. ‘Where is your brother? What have you done?’

  4. He said he would set the world on fire and wishes it already was (please correct if misquoted).

    What do we need? Community priests who stand out for their Faith and works. I would imagine most priests just want to be priests. Imagine if the Bishop showed up one day and wanted to just go out and visit the shut ins.

    • Imagine if a parish priest showed up to visit shut ins? When do home visits happen anymore?
      We have good priests and a wonderful bishop here but face to face contacts have become a thing of the past and are sorely needed.

      • My parish priests (TLM FSSP) do administer the sacraments to homebound or ill parishioners upon request and if feasible. If requested, they also have performed Epiphany house blessings.

        • That’s odd that you have such an experience. I bring Holy Communion on a weekly basis to those who have asked me to bring them Communion. And I hear from my priest-friends that they do the same. And through them I get to know the rest of their family and friends.

          • It would seem odd a few decades ago but here home visits by clergy are pretty much a thing of the past .Ditto for prison visits but that’s due more to Covid.
            God bless you Father for your witness and ministry. I’m glad to hear things are different elsewhere.

      • My wife is an RN and converted not becausae of anything I said or any sanctity I exhibited; but because of the constant presence of priests in the hospital.

        It is difficult enough for a small census of priests to attend to people whose morbidity or probable mortality reqires hospital confinement; they are quite frankly left, due to their small number to engage in “spiritual triage”.

        • Yup. Priests are in quite short supply these days and God bless those who visit hospitals and the home bound. Prison ministry also.

          I apologize if my comments sounded like I was picking on priests. I was more sharing how clergy, along with our wider culture have been affected by screens and electronic devices and have less frequent face to face contacts. And due in part to the shortage of clergy, lay volunteers have taken on some duties that used to be consigned to priests.

          “Home visits” back in the day weren’t just about visiting the sick but getting to know families in the parish. As I remember a parish priest was encouraged to do that on a systematic basis each year. How do you know your parishioners without ever having been in their homes? How do you meet their fallen away children and in laws?

          We have good priests in our diocese and our new pastor has 3 congregations to tend to , one being close to an hours drive away. He can only do so much but I still believe dioceses need to make an effort to bring back home visits in some fashion. The Legion of Mary is another good way to encounter Catholics at home, especially those fallen away. I believe there’s a religious order whose mission involves going door to door in neighborhoods.

          I know it’s going to vary by diocese and parish but I think if you were to ask the average person in the pew when was the last time their parish priest visited their home it would be quite a long time ago.
          Old fashioned fellowship, hospitality, and face to face relationships are really something we need to reestablish.

      • Are you home bound? If so have you notified your parish? As usual you make an assertion that is damaging to reputations without concrete proof. That constitutes detraction and, because about priests, sacrilege. As a priest I know your assertion is wrong and calumnous.

        • Indeed, I was not able to contact the right person in my hour of need (but the diocese eventually made a change in the whole situation, which was bound to happen.) I hold no grudge against the Pastor but was feeling left out when it happened. (this was not a covid related ordeal). Our parish does use ministers to perform regular ministries to shut ins.

          That was just one example of what a Bishop could do a couple times a year while traveling the Diocese (maybe they already do), then get down to business afterwards with the Pastor, if necessary. (A Priest who did the conversion training that I was part of mentioned that the Bishop is still a priest.)

          Not sure how its sacrilege since I said most priests just want to be that.

          I’ll try to temper my comments a bit in the future and am probably still upset over the Diocese locking out Mass during the pandemic; we still have many who have not returned.

  5. Perhaps the present problems are more of a mirror of a post moral culture than a uniqueness of the Church. Ever since the Church has been “legal” it has suffered entanglement with a predominant amoral cultures and its identity as a salvistic institution has been lost. It was meant to be “in the world, but not of the world”. Today it is corporate and democratic in structure, in the past autocratic and monarchical.I don’t know of a solution or if there is a solution, but I do know that as an individual I am responsible for my own salvation in spite of the church. I also know that every black cloud has a silver lining and that Christ is stronger than the devil thus more good will come out of this present crisis than evil. The bark of Peter will not sink in spite of its crew. Praise God.

  6. I agree with the author’s assertion, “the theological understanding of the priesthood that is ultimately at stake.” My theological understanding differs from his.
    As an ordained Roman priest of 56 years, in my view after years of experience as a priest and constant study, Jesus never intended any of his disciples to be priests. Jesus called disciples to be servants.
    Often misinterpreted is the Last Supper where Jesus is depicted as calling only men to priesthood. Jesus called men to embrace what women historically had already, serving. “The greatest among you is the one who serves.”

    Men were the dominators. Now Jesus radically challenges men to embrace service.
    He never mentions the word priest in reference to his disciples.
    It is the priestly class of Judaism with which Jesus is in constant conflict, and eventually they turn him over to Roman authorities for “stirring up the people.”
    Order was important for the Roman Empire.
    Jesus would be viewed as a threat to the status quo, especially in calling men to cease dominating and commence serving one another.
    Jesus topples hierarchy.
    “He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.”

    • If Jesus never intended his disciples to be priests, why would any ‘Christian’ persist in living a life at odds with those intentions? If the contention is that the RCC misrepresents the intentions of Jesus the Christ, why would an upright, well-meaning ‘Christian’ disciple agree to ‘serve’ in such a misguided Church?

    • About the use of “ontological,” maybe the author simply means categorically different “in kind as well as degree”–as explained by the Second Vatican Council, and as recalled in Christifideles laici and elsewhere. When counseling against both the danger of clericalizing the laity and laicizing of the clergy.

      Ontological categories, that’s all: institutionally/charismatically a “hierarchical communion” founded by Christ upon Himself, and not a merely human and political pecking order for Jesus to “topple”. All are to be servants and, yes, with the ordained priesthood as “servant of the servants of God”–as already said by some bishop of long ago–an ordained bishop! St. Augustine.

      Your point is actually a good one–about service, but also too much beside the point of simply being set apart for a service that is sacramental in nature, as in “do THIS in remembrance of Me.”

    • Dear Rev Coyne:

      Thank you for your long faithful service dispensations and desire to know and serve the Lord.

      Ephesians 1:10 As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

      Ephesians 3:2 Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

      2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

      Blessings upon blessings,

      Brian Young

    • Jesus never intended any of his disciples to be priests.

      He never mentions the word priest in reference to his disciples.(sic)

      Chapters 20 and 21 of the Gospel of John remind us that most of what Jesus said and did is not recorded in Sacred Scripture.

      The humanist Emmett Coyne fails to mention that in stating his prudential opinion. The faithful would be well advised to take anything he writes with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    • “[Jesus] never mentions the word priest in reference to his disciples”? That’s a rather reductive dismissal of Jesus’ role in establishing a ministerial priesthood.

      “…Jesus never intended any of his disciples to be priests.” That is purely, simply and demonstrably false. Additionally, the priesthood of the apostles in no way conflicts with Jesus’ command that they be servants. I’m completely baffled as to why Fr. Coyne sees priesthood and service as a dichotomy.

      A priest is known, in part, by what a priest does. Indeed, in Scripture we see Jesus Himself conferring priestly duties upon the apostles. Among them are the forgiveness of sins and the offering of sacrifice. Taking just the first of these, Jesus’ conferring upon the apostles the power to forgive sins is consistent with what we see in the Old Testament: “A man . . . shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord for the sin which he has committed . . . and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin” (Lev. 5:5-6). Compare this to Jesus’ command to the apostles in John 20:20-23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.“ Jesus, as God does in the Old Testament, associates his newly ordained ministers with the ministry of the forgiveness of sins. In doing so, Jesus is revealing his apostles to be priests.

      This is only one Scriptural example that evidences Jesus’ establishment of a ministerial priesthood. There are others. In the interest of time and space, I limit this comment to this single example.

      Clearly, Jesus intended his apostles to be priests. It is terribly irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

  7. This was a very strange article. For me, it did not shed much light on the problem. What I found particularly strange was the claim that the crucial issue raised by the survey is the theological understanding of the priesthood. Really? Bishops have eroded the theological density of the sacrament of Holy Orders? Undermined the very deposit of faith? What absolute nonsense!
    You say: “The sacrament of Orders has ontological effects”. What in the world does that even mean? That a priest is ontologically different? Ontologically superior? I’ve heard that nonsense before. “Ontological effects” either falls short of that claim, or suggests it. Does baptism have ontological effects? Does Confirmation bring about ontological effects? Presbyterorum Ordinis is unproblematic, but that says nothing about “ontological effects”. A priest is ontologically the same person. Sacramental graces or even sacramental characters certainly change a person, but they do not change a person “ontologically”; they perfect the person, for all things (in particular human persons) were created through him and for him. Ontologically, the human person was created in view of Christ. Yes, priests by their ordination are set apart for the sake of the work that the Lord has chosen them, but that work is to serve the Royal Priesthood of the Faithful, that we may exercise the priesthood for which we were created, that we may become a eucharistic people. But the idea that the sacral character of the priesthood has been called into question by the American bishops by their response to the abuse crisis is ludicrous. The damage that abusive, predatory, narcissistic priests have done is simply deep and incalculable. Perhaps part of the problem for the bishops’ lack of proper protection of the laity in the past, via cover ups and transfers or the refusal to believe the victims was this ridiculous clericalism that regarded the priest as “ontologically elevated”. As for your claim: “Some bishops…seem to have a nebulous understanding of Catholic theology”…Gosh, what arrogance! This is a practical and legal problem, and you think that a theology of the nature of the priesthood is all that is needed to prudently navigate through these murky waters? This is astounding! Of course all credibly accused priests should be kicked out. Without question. My question to you is: “What understanding do you have of basic psychology?” I suspect very little. The rest of your article is too silly to comment further.

    • “As for your claim: “Some bishops…seem to have a nebulous understanding of Catholic theology”…Gosh, what arrogance! This is a practical and legal problem, and you think that a theology of the nature of the priesthood is all that is needed to prudently navigate through these murky waters? This is astounding! Of course all credibly accused priests should be kicked out. Without question. My question to you is: “What understanding do you have of basic psychology?” I suspect very little. The rest of your article is too silly to comment further.”

      100% agree, Thomas James. Ultimately, this is a problem of law and order, transparency, and checks and balances. I’m certainly open to the argument that the Dallas Charter is problematic–e.g., what level of evidence or credibility is needed to establish a ‘credible’ accusation? If accused but the claim does not quite meet that standard or there is significant uncertainty, what are the rights of the priest to his good name, the people he serves to be notified?

      But a crisis of theology of the priesthood? C’mon. Ultimately, many abuse cases involve weighing the credibility of witnesses, and that makes them difficult. What is needed is law and order (in name and in practice, so commenters don’t just cite that we have canon law), independence in prosecution and judgment, etc… We have none of that. We have bishops who still think they can handle these things in-house. They’re gravely wrong. Look only to the case of Fr. Rupnik: scapegoat the accusers, don’t look any further than the end of your nose, pass the baton and disclaim responsibility, give a slap on the wrist years later.

  8. In the natural world predators will instinctively consider anything fleeing from them as prey and attack. Bishops who automatically cast off accused priests trigger the same response from human predators. What is more they make themselves participants in the lie and invite charges that they knew about it all along. There are guilty clergy alright but it should be proven in court and punishment should be for the individual only. The way things stand now the whole church is treated as collectively liable and it is the lay congregation who pay the church’s bills. I will close with an example. Years ago a priest was put on trial in this diocise. With catholics making up only five percent of the population here it is doubtful that any catholics were on the jury which found him not guilty. Years later there was a complaint on a local radio talk show about the acquital .The instant response of the bishop at the time was to laicise the priest! His was a case of guilty though proven innocent!

  9. A very good article from Fr. Guardino. The responses show that bishops are not the only ones who have lost an understanding of the ontological effects of ordination to the priesthood. To say nothing of a once common understanding of due process of law.

    • Terence, what about the family on which Pope Francis on 2 October 2020 reminded us: “Fratelli Tutti”, “We are all brothers and sisters”?

    • Right, Terence. Understanding has been lost because one does not agree with or want priests as ontologically marked as a different category of being. Comments here suggest the ontological category of priest expand to include “women” or the ‘family’ of ‘all’ brothers and sisters in the fruitcake only Francis knows how to make.

      Yes. SARCASM ALERT. Why restrict the ontological expansion to women and the family of ‘all’? Why should the ontological priesthood discriminate against blades of grass, cow’s dung, or ash from Mauna Loa? Such inclusivity would surely put a stop to the theological ontological abuse of the priesthood!

      Does anyone realize how Hindu they’ve become?

      This string of commenters demonstrates something, I know nothing about.

  10. As a religious priest I trust no bishop or superior unless and until they prove themselves worthy of trust, and at this point the bar is extremely high. They endanger not only souls, but people. They do great damage. Bergoglio included. God will judge them and they will pay to the last penny as will we all.

    • Pater, I am responding to your post, but my accusations are general (not directed to you specifically). I can, and have, made the case that the pebble that started the snowball which started the avalanche is — artificial/intentional sterility. When we do this, we destroy within us the likeness of God. All the sexual evils that are destroying our world have their roots in intentional/inherent sterility. There are four times in Scripture where God destroyed cities, peoples, and the religious for their intentional sterility/fruitlessness. It wasn’t a couple of bishops that remained **silent** about this evil. I’m seventy-two years old. I can count on one hand (with a few fingers left over) the number of times I have heard ANY cleric give a homily on the evils of intentional/inherent sterility. And why it is evil.

      Figures show that roughly 90% of the laity have used artificial birth control. Where were the priests? Where were the bishops? This is a rhetorical question, Fr., but where were you? The Church will never succeed in ending abortion until we speak up about birth control — NEVER. To believe we can is to believe we can put out a gasoline fire by lessening the amount of gas we are feeding it. The tentacles of disordered sexuality have touched everything. In 1917, Mary warned us about Russia. You know what else happened that year? Margaret Sanger publishing the Birth Control Review. Hmmm. Coincidence????? You know who loves ABC? Marxists!

    • You mention Bergoglio. Little today, is complimentary when his name is brought forward. Never the less, we are enjoined to pray for him, it could be worse without the prayers of the saints in the church.

      Many thanks for your service and candor.

  11. At one time in the Chicago area, a law firm placed an add on radio stations seeking anyone who would come foreword on any allegation on a priest so that they could sue the Archdiocese. As I remember, it was obvious the objective was just to get as much money they could, the truth was not an issue. Fortunately the add was short lived. The add was so obvious, let’s sue no matter what since the Church is a money tree.

  12. Crisis is deep rooted . Bishops are main reason for the crisis . They kill the spiritual of life of many due to their acts of corruption and greed to grab land. My faith and spiritual life is destroyed by Priest fraudulently took over vast property of 12 acre land in Mangalore with wrong promises making us homeless in 1991 . Further Bishop of Mangalore silently sold the land for Rs 2.26 crores. If this is their business of religion how can have faith and belief in thier preaching .

  13. The family in exercising an absolute power of its simultaneous authorisations of its applications of ensuring its procreation role gift and it’s insuring its need of union of its identities, advantageously combines all the activities of its helpers in education in sexuality and true love.
    This was evidently the case on 10 June 2021 in the cases dealt with my Pope Francis of the Italian state Parliament “Zan” anti-homophobia bill as an unacceptable risk of fraud and the Vatican state Cardinal Angelo Becciu and nine others as alleged embezzlement of charity donations as built up to from 19 March 2013 in Pope Francis exercising this absolute power as a family member on the reference point of consecrated both male-female vowed to God and, including his own, celibate marriages vowed to man in Christ.

  14. Yes, GR Mike, bad example on economic advantage, such as on 10 June 2021 simultaneously as authorised with his exercise of an absolute power by Pope Francis alleged of Vatican state citizens/employees on charity donations and by the Italian state Parliament “Zan” anti-homophobia bill, is infectious.

  15. Yes, GR Mike, extreme tensions caused by bad example on seeking economic advantage were withstood on 10 June 2021 simultaneously as authorised with his exercise of an absolute power by Pope Francis alleged of Vatican state citizens/employees on charity donations and by the Italian state Parliament “Zan” anti-homophobia bill on insurance costs.

  16. No reply available, Response to Deacon Edward Peitler
    DECEMBER 29, 2022 AT 1:54 PM

    “Nonsense”.The excerpt says exactly ” “I’m one who happens to believe that it’s impossible for a man, once ordained, to be returned to the “lay state.”
    “Church teaching isn’t based on cheap sentimentality regarding women.”
    May we all honor and pray to our Holy Mother.
    End of reply.

  17. What about priests who have been taken out of service, such as Father Altman, for speaking out too loudly about intrinsic evils such as abortion and homosexual relationships and calling out professed Catholic politicians who not only support these evils, but are trying to translate them into law.

    • Worked for a large regional insurance firm that kept getting sued by the same law firm, for fairly small amounts, like 10 -20k, I guess they call them nuisance suits. They would settle just to get rid of the suit and expensive legal defense.

      They finally put their foot down, and said if you want to take us to court – we’ll see you there – that law firm folded in fairly short order.

  18. “The Council presented the priest as the man of life and death: here is baptism and funerals, the beginning and the end in the light of God.
    He is the man who is familiar with and deals with life and death. He is the man of grace and of sin, of suffering and of joy. He is a man of forgiveness and justice. He is the teacher who teaches, the father who has mercy, the doctor who heals, the judge who distinguishes the Holy Spirit from the devil, the sheep from the goats, and the wheat from the chaff.
    Some pro-Protestant and modernist exegetes have led many to believe that the conception of man, as composed of spirit and body, does not correspond to the biblical conception which presents a unitary image of man, but to the conception proper to “Greek dualism”.
    The consequence arose of replacing reasoning with intuition, the concrete with the abstract, experience with the concept, the singular with the universal, the immediate contact with the object – in the name of a specious “biblical spirituality”-, to the mediated representative; the intellect with the imagination; the emotion and the affectivity sensitive to the will; the pleasure to love.”(Fr. G.Cavalcoli OP-my translation)

  19. Man on man/boy sex abuse should get an automatic laicization because it exposes the deep seated homosexuality of the “priest” and “homosex priest” is an oxymoron, according to Cardinal Ratzinger

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