“Between the porch and the altar the priests the Lord’s ministers, shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them.” – Joel 2:17
Every priest who recites the traditional breviary reads these words each night at Vespers on the ferias of Lent. It is a sobering reminder to each priest of one of his most essential duties, namely, to be an intermediary, and intercessor between God and the people. The priest is deputed by God, to offer prayer and sacrifice for the benefit of the living and the dead and thereby plead for the remission of their sins. “Between God and man the priest stands, by communicating to us God’s benefits, and by offering Him our petitions; he reconciles the angry Lord, and wards from us the blows of his justice” (St. John Chrysostom). By his prayers, his labors, his sacrifices, and most especially by offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priest cooperates with Almighty God in His greatest work, the work of the salvation of souls. St. Thomas says, “The good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe” (S.T. Ia-IIae 113 Art. 9). Through each Mass he offers, each sacrament he administers, along with all of his other prayers, sufferings and apostolic labors he offers in union with his daily Mass, the priest acts as a conduit pouring into the souls of men the greatest gift God has to offer: the graces Our Lord Jesus Christ won for us all on the cross. Therefore, St. Paul says of priests, “We are God’s coadjutors.” 1 Corinthians 3:9.
In order to effectively fulfill their role as intermediaries on behalf of the people in the sight of God, priests must be holy. “Those that are mediators between God and the people must shine before God with a good conscience, and with a good reputation before men” (St. Thomas Aquinas). St. Gregory Nazianzen says, “The priest must first be cleansed before he can cleanse others; he must first himself approach God before he can lead others to him; he must first sanctify himself before he can sanctify others; he must first be himself a light before he can illumine others.” Holiness, sanctity, that perfect union of the soul with God, is not a luxury of priestly life, it is one of its most basic necessities. As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “In order to exercise this office (of the priesthood) in a worthy manner, interior perfection is required.”
Yet, how far from this most basic requirement has the state of the priesthood fallen, especially in recent years! And not just among the rank-and-file priests but even within the highest levels of the clergy: bishops, cardinals and even the Pope himself. When the topic of clerical corruption is discussed, the clerical sex abuse scandal of the last 20 years most often takes center stage. The recent revelation of the scandals of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has added new fuel to the fire. Yet, these horrifying sins against God and neighbor are just the tip of the iceberg of moral rot which is plaguing the Catholic priesthood.
Along with the sex abuse scandals there is a more foundational problem which has also become more apparent in recent years. That is the breakdown of supernatural faith and charity. Priests and bishops are called to be teachers of the Gospel of Christ, teaching by word and example the way to eternal life. Almighty God, through the words of St. Paul to Timothy, says to each priest and bishop, “I charge thee before God and Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead…preach the word, be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat rebuke in all patience and doctrine.” Sadly, many priests and bishops fall into the category of those mentioned by St. Paul in the same letter who “will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires…heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” and “turn away their hearing from the truth” and are “turned unto fables.” (1Timothy 4:1-4). Instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church, too many priests and bishops of our day preach a different gospel: they preach the gospel of divorce and remarriage, the devotion of frequent Holy Communion for public and manifest enemies of God and His Church, the promotion of the vocations of women priests, the blessing and support of homosexual marriage and family life, they even perform solemn idolatrous liturgy in the Vatican itself. All this in addition to a general spirit of religious indifferentism which suffocates the apostolic spirit which burned so brightly in the hearts of the great missionary saints of old. It is little wonder then why so many of our churches and Catholic schools, once full of parishioners and students, are now closed and abandoned.
These sins are not only grievous in themselves, but they also cause scandal and confusion among the faithful. St. Alphonsus Liguori, in his book, Dignities and Duties of the Priest, describes the seriousness of the sin of scandal among the clergy. He says, “The priest is called the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The office of salt is to preserve soundness and prevent putrefaction, and the office of the priest is to preserve souls in the grace of God. What, says St. Augustine, shall become of the people if the priest does not perform the office of salt. Then the saint proceeds to say, this salt shall be fit only to be cast away by the Church, and to be trodden by all. But what, if, instead of being a preservative, this salt be employed in producing and promoting corruption? If instead of bringing souls to God, a priest is occupied in leading them to perdition, what punishment shall he deserve?
“The priest is the light of the world. Hence, says St. John Chrysostom, he should shine with the splendor of his sanctity so as to enlighten all others to imitate his virtues. But should this light be changed into darkness, what must become of the world? Shall it not be brought to ruin? says St. Gregory…This is conformable to the words of the Prophet Osee: And there shall be like people like priest.”
It doesn’t take much reflection upon the current moral state of clergy, the Church and the culture to realize the sobering truth of these words written over 250 years ago. “What shall become of the people if the priest does not perform the office of salt…if instead of being a preservative, this salt be employed in producing and promoting corruption…if instead of bringing souls to God, a priest is occupied in leading them to perdition, what punishment shall he deserve?” “The priest is the light of the world…But should this light be changed into darkness, what must become of the world? Shall it not be brought to ruin?” “And there shall be like people, like priest.”
To make matters worse, these very priests and bishops who have perpetrated some of the most heinous crimes against God, are the very ones who, according to the Prophet Joel, are appointed by God to intercede on our behalf and offer sacrifice and reparation for the sins of mankind. “Between the porch and the altar the priests, the Lord’s ministers, shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare the people.” But if the very priests appointed by God to intercede for us and offer prayers, sacrifice, and reparation for sin are the same ones who are committing some of the most grievous sins against Him, how can proper reparation be made? St. Augustine said that the barking of dogs is more pleasing to God than the prayers of bad priests. How can a priest intercede on behalf of sinners when he himself is an enemy of God? Our Lady of Fatima said that many souls go to hell because no one is willing to offer prayers and sacrifices for sinners. How can sufficient reparation be offered to God to save the souls of priests and bishops who have fallen from such a height and who are buried beneath the sins of those who are lost because of them?
The first thing which must be done is that each and every priest and bishop reflect seriously upon his great responsibility for the salvation of souls. The priest is ordained for no other reason than the salvation of others and thereby will save his own soul. “For every high priest taken from among men, is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God.” (Hebrews 5:1). “He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20). A priest’s salvation depends on the salvation of others. To do this well, the priest must not only be holy and devout, he must be a saint.
But the sad reality is that so many priests and bishops are anything but holy and devout. How can sufficient reparation possibly be made for their grievous sins?
The most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wherein Our Lord’s Body and Blood is offered to God the Father through the ministry of the priest under the appearance of bread and wine, is the only means which can possibly expiate the outrages so many priests and bishops have committed against Our Lord’s Sacred Heart and Our Lady’s Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart. By the special application of Our Lord’s Precious Blood and the merits He won for us on the cross through the devout offering of Masses of reparation, the graces necessary will be applied, not only to expiate such crimes but also convert their perpetrators.
Therefore, I ask all priests and bishops of good will, to offer two Masses each month for the intention of reparation for the sins of their brother priests and bishops. One of these Masses will be in reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the other will be in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lay faithful, I ask you to request your parish priests, and/or priests of religious orders to offer two Masses each month for this intention. Attend Mass twice each month and offer your attendance at Mass along with your Holy communion for these same intentions of reparation for the sins of priests and bishops to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. If all devout priests, bishops, and lay faithful alike were to take up this simple yet profound act of charity towards Our Lord, His Church, and His friends who have betrayed Him, Our Lord will be consoled, the Church will be restored, and many souls will be saved from eternal ruin.