I understand the hurt that surrounds the Catholic Church because of priests and abuse, but I’m at a loss for words of what to say to people who make comments about the “priest problem” and how it’s making them lose their faith. How can I justify my Catholic faith in God and trust in priests to someone who is Catholic yet makes these comments?
Yes, you are right, there was a lot of hurt and pain caused by a number of priests who misused their power and abused children. There is no denying that reality. It was a tragic set of events and we must do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.
But we must also face the reality that our faith is not about the priest; our faith is centered on the person of Jesus Christ and the faith we have in a loving God. Priests are simply vehicles that help lead one to God and to deeper holiness. Priests are simply the vessels that bring God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness into our lives. Our faith should not be dependent upon the priest because there is no such thing as a perfect priest.
Every priest is good at some things and not so good at other things. Some priests are excellent homilists, some are not. Some priests are good singers, some are not; some priests are great teachers, some are not. So when it comes to our faith, we must begin by having faith in God.
Now there is no denying that some priests misused their trust and did irreparable harm, but as you and I know there are many, many good priests. So my hope is that you can trust and love your parish priests. We are blessed in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to have many good men serving as priests, doing the work of the kingdom of God.
To be very blunt, what I would tell someone who comments about the “priest problems” is don’t allow those problems to be an excuse for not living your faith. We are all called to live our faith, and in the Catholic faith we – priests and laity – do it together, working together to bring about the Kingdom of God.
How is the “Season of Mercy” relevant to our generation (meaning the ?17-27-year-old age group)?
First, we must define “Season of Mercy,” to quote from the John Paul II Center Web page, “In May 2009, Bishop William Callahan announced that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will observe a ‘Season of Mercy’ during Lent 2010. The Season of Mercy is intended to place a special emphasis on inviting people to take part in the sacrament of reconciliation as well as reflect on the need for forgiveness and mercy in our communities and everyday lives.”
The Season of Mercy is relevant to every generation because everyone needs mercy and forgiveness in their lives. But I would propose that it is particularly important to young adults because we, as a society, have lost our sense of sin. Many young adults have accepted sin as simply part of life. Many young adults see nothing wrong with cohabitation; many young adults see nothing wrong with occasionally viewing Internet pornography; many young adults see nothing wrong with someone having an abortion. These are sins!
The Season of Mercy is a time for us to examine our conscience, discover our sin and seek the love and forgiveness of God, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.
So I hope you fully participate in the Season of Mercy. There will be district and parish reconciliation services, there will be the 40 Days in the Desert program, specifically designed for young adults, there will be a great conference on Saturday, April 10 at St. Jerome Parish in Oconomowoc – the “Lord Have Mercy” conference – with fabulous speakers.
The Season of Mercy is meant to be an opportunity for each of us to draw closer to our God; let’s take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
Fr. Jerry Herda, ordained in 1990, is pastor of St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay and St. Eugene Parish, Fox Point.