On Spy Wednesday a Look at the Sins of the Clergy

Wednesday of Holy Week is traditionally called “Spy Wednesday” since it is this day when Judas conspired with the Temple Leadership to hand Jesus over. He would accomplish his task the evening of the next day, but today he makes arrangements to hand Jesus over.

One way to reflect on this terrible sin is to reflect that Judas was among the first priests called by Jesus. We see in the call of the Apostles the establishment of the ministerial priesthood. Jesus called these men to lead his Church and minister in his name. But one of these priests went wrong, terribly wrong, and  turned against the very one he should have proclaimed. Among the other “first priests” we also see great weaknesses evident. Peter in weakness denied Jesus, though he repented later. All the others except John fled at the time of the passion. And so here we see the “sins of the clergy” made manifest. Christ did not call perfect men. He promised to protect his Church from officially teaching error but this does not mean that there is no sin in the Church and among those who are called to lead. The story of Judas shows that even among those who were called, one went terribly wrong.

In recent years there has been much focus on the sins of Catholic Priests who went terribly wrong and sexually abused the young. The vast majority of priests have never done such things, but those who did so inflicted great harm. There are other sins of the clergy that have nothing to do with sexuality that may also have caused great harm. Maybe it was an insensitive remark. Perhaps it was the failure of a priest to respond at a critical moment such as a hospital visit. Whatever it might be that has caused you harm or alienation please don’t give up on God or the on the Church. If a priest or Church leader has caused you grief or to feel alienated please know that there are other priests, deacons, and lay leaders  who stand ready to hear your concerns and offer healing. Let the healing begin. Ask among your Catholic family and friends for recommendations about helpful and sensitive priests or Church leaders  who can listen to your concerns, address them where possible, and offer another opportunity for the Church to reach out to you with love.

On this “Spy Wednesday” pray especially for priests. We carry the treasure of our priesthood in earthen vessels. As human beings we struggle with our own issues. We have many good days and some less than stellar moments too. The vast majority of Priests are good men, though sinners, who strive to do their very best. But some among us have sinned greatly and caused harm to the Body of Christ, as did Judas. Some of us may have casued harm to you. Please accept an invitation to begin anew. If you have stayed away through some hurt or harm caused by any leader of the Church strive on this “Spy Wednesday” to still find Christ where he is found. Among sinners and saints too, in the Church he founded: Perfect in her beauty as the Bride of Christ but consisting of members who are still “on the way” to holiness.

As usual, after all my verbiage, a music video offers this message better than I ever could. Allow this powerful video to move you if you have ever been hurt or know someone who has.

16 Replies to “On Spy Wednesday a Look at the Sins of the Clergy”

  1. I am reminded of the Holy Father’s visit and one central theme was “love your priest”. He didn’t say love just the good ones, but that we all should promote the healing of those who have gone terribly wrong, along with the victims of abuse, their families and the healing of the church. This is our challenge. I too can be Judas, if placed in the right circumstances. Remember the words of the Holy Father, “love your priest” and help them to promote healing in our church.

  2. Let the healing begin.

    A common theme in these pages the last few months has been the need to speak and to hear the “hard truths.”

    Just yesterday, one of those hard truths that many do not want to hear is about the good of the transcendental and sacramental permanence of the marital bond, preferring instead the “good” of looking for loopholes and flaws in the origin when things later go wrong.

    Another of the hard truths is the truth about the Church and the sex abuse scandals.

    And the hard truth is this: Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, and the mission of the Church is to help reconcile man to God by the forgiveness of sins.

    The hard truth is this: there is only one way that anyone is going to heal, and that is by forgiving — not by harboring resentments, not by clamoring for “justice,” not by demanding answers and accountability. There is only one way to heal — to forgive.

    I know it is hard to hear. I know some people do not want to hear it. They would rather revel in their pain and anguish, even when they were not directly victimized. But this week especially, we need to know that we heal by forgiving those who have done us harm, those who have done even grave injustice to us, those who have done unmentionable things to us. I know it is hard to hear, I know some think it insensitive or even insulting. But Jesus died for the abusers too.

    You want the pain to go away? You want to heal? Then stop with the resentments, stop with the torches and pitchforks, and pray for those who persecuted the innocent, love those enemies that violated innocence, and forgive. That is the hard truth. And it is a truth that many in the Church have been too reticent to proclaim.

    1. Read Luke Chapter 17 Benders!

      It’s not about “you want the pain to go away? – well you psych yourself out of feeling the pain or else!” That’s faking it ’til you make it!!! God wants honesty and integrity – from both parties in a dispute, not one party groveling to the other, trying to forgive before the unrepentant party has done their bit to turn. That is unbalanced and definitely not what Jesus expects as is made very clear in Luke’s gospel. True forgiveness can only come when there is true repentance – God expects this of His beloved creation – He willingly forgives us humans when we repent of our sins – it’s no wonder then He expects us to do likewise!

      Inciting people to become hard hearted is one of the most cunning tricks Satan dares to fashion as ‘truth’. He’s an expert at convincing people that forgiveness only involves one side of the picture and that people must harden their hearts and just “get over it mate!”

      1. Yes, we must not harden our hearts, but must open them to the love of He who is Divine Mercy and forgive. It is not for us to put those millstones around others necks, or to keep those others from taking them off, even if they “deserve” it. Rather, it is for us to forgive — forgive the abusers, forgive the facilitators, forgive those who looked the other way, forgive the pastors, forgive those who run the seminaries, forgive the bishops, forgive the Pope, forgive police and prosecutors who also knew and did nothing, forgive the parents who did not tell the police, forgive prevailing attitude of the 60s-80s that this was a matter for psychotherapy treatment.

        Forgive them all. How many times? Seventy times seven, and then some. There is more than enough blood and water that will pour out of the Lord’s side come Friday to wash away these sins and a multitude of other horrific and “unforgiveable” acts.

        Take remedial acts to prevent such grievous injury from being perpetrated in the future, to be sure. But get rid of the bile and cancer that is the thirst for vengence, and forgive.

      2. Siuyin – only one exception to what you wrote: it is possible to forgive without the other being repentant, because forgiveness comes from within – but in the case of non-sacramental marriage, it’s not always possible to continue to live with that person.

        And even in the case of your spouse doing you wrong and you forgiving them, even in a sacramental marriage it’s not always possible to continue living with them. I think the issue here is when a divorced Catholic wants to remarry, rather than remaining single.

        True, sometimes people abuse the system and that’s wrong, but just as the legal system isn’t perfect, we don’t throw the whole thing out because it isn’t perfect. There are legitimate circumstances when annulment is appropriate.

        Like it or not, there are marriages that occur without being sacramental, without there being a true bond.

    2. I am glad you wrote this. It is hard to forgive, and it’s easier to revel in pain and anguish then let go and forgive someone. But forgiveness does have a sense of peace that goes with it. It may take time to forgive, especially if someone turned another into a victim, but it’s easier to deal with that person and see them the way God might see them if you forgive.

  3. And as for you Msgr,your inclusion of this sentence “maybe it was an insensitive remark” in your current article is a case in point of speak for yourself Msgr. Just take a look at what you said to me the other week!!!! I have copied and pasted an example of what I am talking about in reference to an obvious disagreement you had with a discussion piece I wrote in anticipation that you were going to reply me in a more fun-loving and interesting way! To my shock horror, nothing could be more to the contrary. If you go back to the blog page in question “Who Told You That You Weren’t Beautiful” and read your response immediately following my comment and then compare “your response to me with your response to others who have commented” – you will get what I mean. Here’s what I copied and pasted, and for brevity’s sake – my original comment – the one you were replying to here in this example conversation, is left out because it was very long. You may remember when you read this:

    ” Reply
    Msgr. Charles Pope says:
    March 19, 2010 at 8:57 pm
    The use of the “inclusive plural” is a common manner of speaking that seeks to avoid an overly polemical tone. Hence one who uses this tone is not simply accusing others of the negative behavior in question but is accepting that they live in and participate in the very culture in question. This permits a more introspective tone as distinct from a merely oppositional tone.

    Siuyin says:
    March 21, 2010 at 8:15 pm
    I have to admit, I am not familiar with grammatical terminology as I have not studied grammar for years so I don’t really know what an “inclusive plural” is. I am guessing that it is where someone personally identifies as part of “the plurality they are using” when they speak – as in reference to a group. Am I right? – please correct me if I am wrong in my guess at defining this term.

    You can identify with a certain culture though without this necessarily meaning you are negative about those who don’t belong to this culture. To positively identify with one’s own culture doesn’t not automatically mean the one who is doing this is being NEGATIVE about people who belong to other cultures. For example although I am an indigenous person who happens to have one foot in Western mainstream society and the other in re-connecting with my heritage, (that is, I currently live amongst the mainstream culture but I still maintain connections with my own), I do not see that by doing this I am perceiving everyone who is part of the mainstream culture as bad – what gave you the impression I said that??? I simply pointed out the differences between the two cultures and didn’t “attack” the people of the one which I spoke about as very worldly. I simply made the statement about being apart from that culture in my heart but that doesn’t imply anything about being against people who are caught up in it. I am surprised that you interpreted what I was saying as “overtly negative” despite my insistence that what I was saying was not meant to be taken by you this way! I am also a bit shocked you weren’t as kind-hearted in the tone of your reply to my comment unlike how you have responded to the other contributors! It strikes me as rather cold and impersonal – which is actually not how I addressed you although I was very expressive in how I said what I said! ”

    As you can see, I took the time again to reply you because I felt that I had to challenge your insensitivity but I knew you wouldn’t read it!!! After all the dedicated effort I put into writing my original comment with depth and sensitivity and all you could do was reply me scantily with that “inclusive plural” bit. No wonder I said what I said in my reply back to you!

    Don’t brush off what I have said as a mere case of over-sensitivity for that is one of the weakest excuses I have come across from people who just want to justify overlooking the legitimate concerns of others who are trying to get their attention regarding these concerns.

    If you can’t accept the fact that I was horrified at your marked indifference to how I so enthusiastically expressed what was on my heart on that blog page, then you obviously are inversely perpendicular to how you set yourself up to be in these blogs.

    This is not the first time I have come across this – in fact I have had many lecturers who have treated me the same but the occasional few who are a welcome relief from shallow mediocrity and I thank the Lord for those few. I must admit, despite all the snobbery, I still think the world of university education is one of the most interesting places on the planet as it certainly has it’s place in God’s scheme of things for many more reasons than just one!!

    I surely hope I don’t get bored with it next time round!

    Upon reading your comment again from the last blog, it appears that you admit to living in and participating in the culture in question and of course we all do to a certain degree, Christian or not, – the thing I was wanting to draw out in my discussion was the idea of how much and to what extent and how does this extent determine whether or not one is compromising on living out of a sincere spiritual frame of reference.

    Shock horror again! I think I am becoming entangled!!!!!

    How seriously useful is Dadaism??????!

    1. Hmm…. I don’t understand how, what I said was offensive. (??) But I surely do regret that you found it so and assure you it was not my intention to give offense. So please accept my apology. May God Bless you.

  4. This is a lovely post from a priest, but sadly it is not priests that need to do the apologizing at this point. What is troubling to many Catholics such as myself is not just that priests abused children, but that it was systematically covered up by the Church. Predators were moved from parish to parish and Bishops denied that anything was going wrong and in fact declared it sinful when people dared to speak out about their actions. While the Church has made moves in America to try to create new accountability for priests, there has been no accountability for those who were at the top of the chain of command, those who permitted it to happen and still persist in the cover-up. Even the apologies from the Church apologize for the sins of priests and not the sins of the Bishops. Furthermore, there is are endless cries from Church leaders of being the “victim” in this whole situation, as if somehow the sex abuse was the fault of the people who uncovered it.

    Leaving the priests high and dry simply exposes good priests to more criticism, they have to face the blame for the failures of their superiors. I agree, pray for priests.

    Forgiveness is key, but are we too neglect our duty to the least among us by not holding the Bishops accountable? Saying that we must not demand accountability because it is unchristian would be tantamount to saying that we should only pray for abortionists instead of working to make abortions end.

    My prayer this Holy Week is that the Holy Spirit will inspire Church leaders to practice the values of humility and charity that they extort others to practice.

    1. We’ve had ten years of rage and demands to hold this person “accountable” and that person being held to answer. And how is it working out? Enough then.

      Let’s not zip past that “key” in our zeal for blood — a key that has NOT in the last 10 years of scourging even been seriously considered. A key that has, at most, been given only lip service in order to get to the real objective of disregarding it and tearing down the Church.

      The abusers were and are a scandal. Let’s not scandalize ourselves by taking everything that the Lord has taught us, and everything that He will show us in two days, and throwing it all away. We’ve run away from the Lord long enough. It is time for the hard truth of standing beneath the Cross with Him and forgiving. Truly and sincerely forgiving.

  5. I will be praying for you all this Holy Week (I include you all in my daily prayers – I just pray for everybody, so everybody’s covered!) especially. What I have learned from working in the ER and from having a boatload of priest and seminarian friends is that we are all only human. We can only do the best we can and hope and pray that we help people and deliver God’s Will. As for leaving my childhood parish because of offensive comments made by the pastor and people being downright rude in asking me how my good friend died, I figured that there are 140 parishes within this archdiocese and at least one would appreciate me and accept me into their family. Having once been a church floater/nomad, there are several parishes in the area that i feel welcome at and would no doubt visit again.

    Also, you can’t expect priests to be mind-readers if you are hurting and need to talk. If you tell them what’s up, they can help you better. I’ve learned that by not opening up, my priest friends might assume one thing when it’s really another thing going on. I would also like to commend you for taking on controversial issues on this blog, Monsignor, because I know that not everyone agrees with you on some stuff. I am praying for you, and I hope everybody has a blessed and awesome Holy Week!

  6. I really am so delighted I found your blog – I am reading a book at the suggestion of a friend – called “Who Stole My Church.” The openness of the pastor in the book to criticism seems to mirror your own openess – to put yourself right out there – and allow people to come right back at you – without becoming defensive but in honesty and integrity to try to reply to their comments in a sincere and caring manner. Bravo!!! I forwarded your previous post on the accusations toward the Pope and am anxious to hear back from the receipients of my email how they perceived your comments. For I seem to be marching to a different drummer than the extreme right members of my family.

  7. It would be well for all of us to remember that Christ came while we were still sinners. How is that for forgiveness and loving what is not always appparently lovable. Also of what credit is it to you if you love those who love you…it is a higher calling to love those who may not love you.! Recalling these few but such consequential things will bring healing faster than insisting on retribution from those who may not be ready or able to do so. The Church has paid enormously, both spiritually and financially ,enough at least to be given some acknowledgment of its attempts at repentence. It will never be enough for some but the time to call a halt to the witch-hunt aspect of the scandal engaged in by the press has been reached. We need to get back to defending Truth.. not errant members of the hierarchy …to those who thirst and hunger for his Word. Let us not be distracted from the real Mission by allowing Satan to continue his attack on the Bride of Christ through the greed and dishonesty of the media. It is time for spring-time in the Church, for we are, after all is said and done, an Easter people.

  8. I remember meeting regularly with (then) Father Pope when I was joining the Church back in the lat ’90s. I also remember a sermon he delivered addressed to married men enjoining them to be better husbands. He got a lot of flack about it because many of the men felt that he wasn’t aware of what a wife can be like to her husband. I gave him some flack too. What that proves is that Msgr. Pope is a regular person too. What made him stand out in my memory was his willingness to set aside an hour of time every week to meet with me individually in my journey to join the Church, to engage with me even when I became combative with him about the Church, and to set my antagonism aside when I needed him to just be a priest for me. I will always remember Msgr. Pope as a frail human being capable of rising beyond his limitations when someone needs him to be a priest.

  9. This ssermon meant so much to me tonight – I haven’t been to church in eleven weeks, because I was so angry at our pastor. He didn’t come to the hospital when my husband was very sick even though I asked him to – twice – and called the rectory three times! We live only a block away from church, so Father could have come to the house – my husband was laid up for two months! I went back tonight because it was Palm Sunday and I just needed to. Father talked about Spy Wednesday and I was curious where it got its name. This site came up when I Googled it. I read about the sins of the priests (especially about those who don’t come to the hospital!!!), and I realized I love my church more than I need a relationship with our priest…
    Thank you – but I still wish things were different here…
    Have a blessed Easter.

    1. God bless you, and I am sorry about your experience! As stated in article, priests are in need of some real prayer! I hope you will convey your experience to the priest, and to the degree that he does not give a satisfactory response, it is then proper to contact the Bishop.

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