LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?

Priestly Laborers in the Vineyard

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It’s Labor Day.

Can I write a bit about those Jesus called “laborers in the vineyard”? That’s all of us, to be sure, those who labor for Jesus and His reign.

But in a specific way I mean our priests as laborers in the vineyard.

These are tough days for the entire Church, with the agony, anger, and embarrassment of the sexual abuse crisis.

Many of you suffer. The victims and their families, to be sure, suffer most of all; so, too, do all God’s people, as we see the Church we love, sinful, maligned, and hurt.

And our priests suffer immensely. First, they are personally shaken by the nausea of what their brothers, while a tiny minority, did to young people, committing acts drastically at odds with the noble calling to virtue and fidelity a priestly vocation requires.

Second, our priests hurt because all of them are painted with the same brush of shame and ignominy. While a tiny percent of priests do tragically abuse, the researchers tell us they do so at rates less than other groups. Still, people seem to think this is “priest-problem.” So these days all our priests are under suspicion. So they bear sneers, jeers, and even worse. Late-night comedians mock them; endless ads by tort attorneys show pictures of priests with young people. They all exist under a cloud, and this takes its toll.

Third, our good priests are on the front lines of pastorally responding to the mess. Many victim-survivors with whom I meet tell me how helpful and compassionate a priest has been to them and their families. It’s our priests who patiently listen to the frustrations and anger of their people. While a small number of priests abused; all priests endure the consequences.

Fourth, our priests are stunned by the removal of brothers who did abuse, or by the frequent news that a priest has been accused of abuse. While detesting what these predators did, our priests still mourn that brothers who were part of their lives were guilty and are now out of the priesthood. They had no clue what these predators were doing and now they are shocked and hurt.

Finally, our priests live in fear that they might one day be accused. While they know that every accusation must be considered very carefully, turned over to the police, and investigated scrupulously, they also are aware that, while rare, there have been and are fake accusations. They worry that priests are immediately presumed guilty, and they hear lawyers and reckless advocacy groups at countless press conferences demand that any accusation, even if not yet found credible, renders a priest guilty, to be removed from the priesthood immediately. Yes, they support the Church’s strict policies. They just want fairness.

I tell my priests often how deeply I love, admire, and appreciate them. These days I do so more because of what our “laborers in the vineyard” go through.

And you know what? Even with all this awful stuff, they don’t whine! They smile and get to work. They realize they are configured to the one on the Cross, who bears the sins of us all, and who, while innocent, was treated like a criminal. Trying times, they tell me, purify them and strengthen their faith and humility.

Happy Labor Day, Brother Priests!

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