After reading that Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, resigned because it was reported that he was using an app for sex hookups with men, one of my first reactions was to realize that I haven’t been praying enough for the purity of priests. Would you join me in doing so?
I know I wasn’t alone in being crippled during some of the COVID shutdown because of the inaccessibility of the sacraments. I longed for an angel to come and bring me the Eucharist. We need our priests. We need holy priests.
There is reliable reason to believe that we are going to see so much more of this kind of scandal. We don’t just have a history of abuse of children in the Church; we may have a subculture of sexually active priests in our Church. Some will be seen as addicts, like the case of the former general secretary. Some, I suspect, will be found to essentially have committed partners, of the same or opposite sex. That’s infidelity to the Bride, the Church.
Some will say that if this is the reality, it is an argument against priestly celibacy. If you have or hear that thought, pick up Father Carter Griffin’s book “Why Celibacy? Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest” (Emmaus Road Publishing, $24.95). Priestly celibacy is about more than sex. “[T]he celibate commitment is positive and generates life.” Only when we realize this can the priesthood “be freed from its burden of functionalism and reaffirmed as a vocation that embraces the whole man in a paternal identity directed to the generation of new children in grace,” Father Griffin writes.
It’s an impoverished view of celibacy and war on chastity in our culture and even in the life of the Church — think of all the resistance to Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae — that has led us to this place where we can have priests on a hook-up app. (I can’t tell you who or how many, but I can tell you that people are talking about it, and I want hearts and souls to be prepared.) Addicts are one problem, and in our pornified culture it is too easy to become one. But how much overlooking is there in the Church, when a priest chooses to disobey his vows serially, maybe even somewhat openly? When this is happening — if this is happening — however widespread this is happening, it certainly has something to do with the fact that priests aren’t always encouraged to be healthy men, true spiritual fathers. Celibacy is a sacrifice — that is meant to bear fruit. “For true renewal within the Church to take place, fatherhood must be liberated from a materialistic, ‘biologistic’ oversimplification and once against upheld as the highest fulfillment of masculinity, ordered both to the procreation of life and its fruition — both naturally and supernaturally.”
Our priesthood is ailing because our culture is and because the Church hasn’t always been the light of truth, especially since the sexual revolution.
Father Griffin tells the story of a former parishioner (now a religious sister) who wrote to him about the impact of celibate priests in her life. “My life is different because of priests who have given themselves over body and soul to the Lord and to the Church — or at least constantly strive to.”
I have no doubt that there are going to be more scandals and headlines. Bearing in mind that we all are sinners in need of God’s mercy, remember the Savior. Remember it is his Church. And pray for conversion of those in the headlines, and for the deeper conversion of priests who do see the beauty of their commitment to celibacy not as a mere prohibition but as a gift to the Church they’ve been set aside to live. It’s an honor, but these days, it’s seen as a disorder.
The disorder, however, is sin. And so, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” And we pray the same for our priests. And we don’t despair, because it’s Christ’s Church, so we ask him for the grace to not fear the purification, as Jesus faced the Passion.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.