What should a Catholic do in a parish where the leadership is involved in some form of corruption? Maybe the priest is behaving in an immoral manner. Maybe he is financially corrupt. Maybe he is doctrinally off base and his teaching is opposed to the Catholic faith.
I receive emails and have conversations all the time about this problem. “I want to stay loyal to my parish father, but how much do I have to put up with? The priest is openly homosexual, preaches in favor of women’s ordination and says we have to ‘be guided by our conscience’ when it comes to contraception, abortion, co habitation etc.” Or another person says, “My priest is doctrinally and morally okay, but he’s living like a Renaissance Pope. He has absolute control of the parish checkbook and spends money like a prince. He lives in a huge house all by himself, drives a new car every year, eats out at fine restaurants, has a maid, and the stories keep coming out about his wild personal extravagance.” Or another person writes and says, “I’m trying hard to work with my priest, but he’s suspicious, manipulative and completely lacking in pastoral skills. He alienates everyone, has a terrible temper and he’s universally disliked.” What should we do?
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m not in favor of parish shopping. I think Catholics should decide which parish they belong to and then stay put. However, this doesn’t mean that the faithful should be uncritical. I think one of the main problems with the Catholic Church is that too often priests have been given a pass. The people (out of rightful respect) have tried to think the best. They have made excuses and forgiven and have not only given priest a second chance, but a third, fourth and fifth chance. That’s a good thing, but the laypeople also need to be more involved. It could be that their forgiving and positive attitude hides a certain amount of complacency and cowardice. Maybe the priest abuse scandal wouldn’t have been so bad if not only the bishops, but also the people had not covered up and dismissed the charges as gossip, had a bit more courage and got involved.
If a priest is misbehaving, it’s a good thing to remain loyal to that priest and parish, but loyalty also means being critical in a positive, adult and constructive manner. When a priest is corrupt in some way, without ganging up and attacking him, the parishioners should have the sort of relationship where they can ask for a meeting and tell the priest just what rumors are going around, advise him on where they feel he has gone wrong and help him put things right. This requires a huge amount of tact and care, but from the stories I hear of the state of some parishes and the relationships with priests who have drifted, maybe it’s time that the people got more involved.
God knows I’m only a beginner when it comes to managing a Catholic parish, but the more I get my head around the task at hand, the I more I value my parish council. I want the parish council to be staffed with people who know what is going on, on the ground. I want them to be able to advise me and correct me if need be. I’ve seen too many leaders surround themselves with mediocre minds, toadies and sycophants while the brilliant and gifted people quietly drift away.
The fact of the matter is, criticism (like publicity) is never bad. Even when criticism is badly expressed it is good for the soul. Even if the criticism is wrong or badly informed it’s good for you. Criticism is good for you, even when it’s painful, because, like physical pain, it is informing you of something that is wrong.
So if you’re in a parish where things are headed South (and I don’t mean to Greenville) get involved. Find your courage. Get together with some folks and have a meeting. Decide if the problems are minor, and only have to do with ordinary human failings or frailty. If however, things are worse than that, arrange a meeting with Padre. Express your concerns. Look for change. Hope for change. Then, if things don’t change, if he digs in his heels, and things actually get worse, you’ve done the best you can do.
Either write to the bishop with your concerns and ask for a change of leadership, or pack your bags and start looking for a new parish home… but what do you think?