One more thing on the way Francis’s interview is reverberating through American Catholicism. A friend reports talking with his priest this past weekend about it. His priest is publicly enthusiastic about the Interview, privately not so much. My friend reports his priest fears that the Pope implicitly accuses priests who are serious about moral issues of being petty. Writes my friend:I can understand why Rod's friend's priest might fear this sort of thing. In the fairly recent past, orthodox and faithful priests had their legs cut out from under them all the time by their bishops, sometimes for prudent reasons, but often times for no reason whatsoever. Faithful Catholic priests in America are a little shell-shocked these days; it seems like some bishops fall all over themselves to cover for these sorts of evildoers while disciplining a faithful priest for so much as mentioning controversial issues in a homily or other public speech. There is a morale problem among parish priests, especially here in America, and a lot of it has come from having careerist bishops who were more concerned about potential litigation than about doing the right thing.
At the moment, he is feeling a certain feeling that is analogous to what he felt at the height of the abuse crisis, when just being a public priest casts you as one of the bad guys in public perception; it’s similar after this interview, in that being morally serious is now likely to get you publicly cast as a problem.My friend said he put the question I asked here the other day to pastors — “Is Francis’s interview making your job easier or harder?” — and said the priest instantly said, “Harder.” Why? Because he fears that a number of people will reject any attempt to talk about the Church’s teachings on abortion and sexuality as moralizing of the sort the Pope rejects. My friend says that Father X. is “far, far from moralistic. He is not at all a doctrinaire or ideological conservative. … This is a guy who in his ministerial practice is doing exactly what Francis would want. But he’s not finding the interview helpful.”
On the other hand, I don't agree with all of the various priests or their friends who have written and commented saying, essentially, "Oh, I (or Father) would never be mean to any sinner regardless of how stern he is about those things in his homilies!"--implying that the pope is creating a false image of orthodoxy which is really quite gentle and cuddly when you get to know it. There are some wonderfully kind and nice orthodox priests out there, but there are some stinkers, too (which is pretty much true for every class of humanity). I remember one priest (note: not Fr. Z, in case anyone has false suspicions here) years ago writing on a blog that he regularly chastised sinners who wouldn't use the real, foul, ugly names for their sins in the confessional: none of this "I slept with..." or "...self-abuse..." nonsense; he made them proclaim the actual words of the sins aloud or else (at least, this was the strong implication) he would not absolve them. Now, maybe in his mind or in the minds of some priests that's exactly the sort of pastoral meeting of the sinner where he/she is that Pope Francis is calling for, but I sort of doubt it. If you get a sad, sobbing young adult in the confessional willing to admit that his or her sexual habits haven't exactly been in line with Jesus' way of thinking about all of that sort of thing, isn't that a good place to start? What's the point of berating and shaming and excoriating them at that point?
I know that there are some orthodox Catholic priests out there who do an amazing, wonderful, exemplary job of being both morally serious and full of warm and loving kindness for each member of their flocks. But we shouldn't pretend that achieving this balance is an easy thing, or fail to acknowledge that some of our very best priests (from the perspective of orthodoxy) might occasionally be abrupt or cold toward seekers and the just-barely penitent (even if they know this is a failing and strive very seriously to correct it).
A final word to disheartened orthodox priests: if you have read and pondered Pope Francis' words and discerned that you are already doing everything the Holy Father wants, and more, then you shouldn't worry about this, because you're not part of any problem, but a big part of the solution.