day 12 – priests of integrity

I first heard the term ‘priests of integrity’ from a friend who was a member of the catholic action group, Voice of the Faithful in the USA. The group was formed in the aftermath of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the USA. In a time of intense clerical negativity, VOF attempts to take the positive step towards healing and reconciliation in our church by supporting priests of integrity. We probably all agree that these are especially difficult times to be a priest. We probably disagree on what constitutes a priest of integrity. As with many things catholic, it might depend on where we stand on the trad-lib scale and our own experiences.

Being a priest of integrity goes beyond keeping your nose clean of scandals. My husband and I have known many priests over the years. Some were winners, and some were losers. Here are some personal suggestions for priests today, based on the qualities that we have admired in our friends.

1.       Be proud of your priesthood, without being pride-full.

2.       Know where and when to wear the clerical duds, and when to leave them at home.

3.       Have the heart of a family man. Be open to being welcomed into our homes, not just a formal visitor. (Sitting on the floor to build Lego houses with the wee ones gives you bonus points!)

4.       Show true joy and generosity in celebrating the sacramental moments of our lives.

5.       We know that you can’t be available 24/7, but try to be present in our times of crises and sorrow.

6.       Be inclusive in your friendships.

7.       Be honest and open with your own struggles, so we can support each other.

8.       Be a man of the community, not just the parish. The world needs to see who you are and see your faith in action.

9.       Be firm in your faith but charitable in teaching. Be patient and understanding with our questioning and our doubts.

10.   Be a true servant-leader and community builder, acknowledging and empowering the gifts of others.

This is a very personal list and certainly an incomplete one. What qualities do you think constitute a priest of integrity?

(Next: the dunderhead list!)

14 thoughts on “day 12 – priests of integrity

  1. Isabella, I loved your list–especially #3, the one about playing with the family. I can still see our favorite priests talking animatedly with whatever our kids thought was important. Listening–truly listening– to the children is a key here…..

    1. So true, Marceta. Our family was blessed with some wonderful priest friends. Our grown children speak of them with such fond memories. It`s a blessed parish that has a pastor who reaches out to the children with a genuine warmth and, as you say so well, truly listen to them.

  2. Isabella, I think the list is a good one; however, I would like to add that “priesthood” is so much bigger and greater than anything the Church can control. The charism of “priest” is that of teacher and healer. There are many who recognize that this is their charism and exercise priesthood.
    There are priests that God has that the Church does not have, and there are priests that the Church has that God does not have.

    1. Wise words, Ray….thank you! Through our baptism, we all share in the three-fold ministry of Jesus as priest, prophet and servant-king. I believe that one of the big challenges of today is to study closely the present relationship between the ordained priesthood, and the priesthood of the faithful. How can we encourage a true collaborative spirit within an institutional structure that too often continues to draw the line in the sand between the ordained hierarchy and the laity? True collaboration means recognizing, empowering, and supporting the gifts of each other. This is why it`s so important to support those good men who bring respect to the ordained priesthood by their words, actions, prayers, and honest efforts to be faithful to their vocation.

      P.S. Thanks for the idea for another post topic! 😉

  3. But there is a distinction between the priesthood and the laity. The more this distinction is derided, muddied and denied, the fewer ordained priests we will have. Vocations are highest among more traditional orders and from more traditional communities and dioceses.

    1. I think I have to respectfully disagree with the comment that ” there is a distinction between the priesthood and the laity” The more this distinction is derided” etc. We live in a world of distinctions; male and female, doctor and nurse, leader and participant. The priesthood is a role, a job that a man does, It does not intrinsically give him any more power within a community. Jesus was the ultimate distinction yet he chose to be among the people and act as a servant leader never putting himself above those he came to serve. Sadly it is the formation for priesthood that constantly tells a man that he is better, different, don’t get too close and then once ordained we, the laity reinforce that. Yes, priest have the power to transubstantiate , yes, they can forgive sins neither of which I can or want to do. But I can co-create with God and give birth, does that make me better than? By our Baptism scripture tells us we all belong to a royal priest hood, its just that some feel called to take on the roll as a job. We also all have a vocation; mine is different than the priest but it is not less. I have known some wonderful priests and I honor the role just as I think highly of my doctor, dentist, computer person, anyone whose skills I rely on but we are asked to serve and support one another and we can’t do that well unless we treat each as equals.

  4. I would love to see a citation for the idea that there is no true distinction between the ordained priest and the laity–something from Catholic tradition, doctrine or theology. Something to underscore that this is not just personal opinion, but actually something rooted, not in Protestant philosophy, but in the Roman Catholic faith. Documents from Vatican II of course accepted. Extra points rewarded for correct use of the word “ontological.”

    1. Ah, Dorothy….I thought you would do this for us! 😉 If anyone is interested in learning about the essential difference between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful, including the indelible spiritual character that is conferred at ordination, the teachings can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It includes all the necessary citations to Vatican and other church documents.

      But, I think that this strays from the point that Joanne is making. The Catechism states that the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. (1547) Too often the distinction is interpreted as one not of service, but of privilege. And this is where the problem lies. I wonder how many of the young men who are entering the more traditional orders are seeking this privilege? There is no denying that priests have too often been put on pedestals. And, many of them like the view from above and are now panicking that the pedestals are being taken away.

      Equality is a tricky thing. True equality does not mean that we erase or deny differences. But, it is a human tendency to place difference in a hierarchy. Our church has been a major culprit of this over the centuries. We had a hierarchy for everyone: deacons/priest/bishops…..virgins/mothers/widows, etc. We need to place our differences side by side. I am different, but I am not above or below you. You are a priest. I respect and support you for your vocation and for the service that you provide to the church and to the world. I am a wife and mother. I hope that you respect and support me equally for my vocation and service.

      As to our church, we need more servant leaders and fewer princes of privilege.

  5. It would never occur to me to assume that a young man of traditional piety or of a traditional diocese was EVER seeking the priesthood to lord it over his fellow human beings. I would assume he was doing so to answer the call of Christ Jesus to follow him in this unique way. But then I have no time for the hermeneutic of suspicion.

    A related story:
    I once in my twenties was intrigued by a left-wing Catholic group a well-known (and very liberal) Catholic writer/educator was starting. The group began its meeting without a prayer, which startled me very much, and ended it with converations about priests and nuns they had liked back in the 1960s and 1970s. And one of the women said, “You know, our children won’t continue this fight.” It transpired that, having listened to their parents and their parents’ friends constantly complain about the Church, their children had stopped going to church at all. And I realized that I had heard the death-knell of the group.

    If the only thing young men ever hear from their mothers and fathers is that priests must admit to their equality and that most priests are dunderheads or that priests must fulfill a long checklist of attributes that few married men could live up to, then we are unlikely to have a priest to come and see us when we are dying, to hear our final confession, and to give us absolution and the viaticum. There won’t be any left. And, having worked as a hospital chaplaincy assistant, I can tell you that a nice lady with some basic pastoral training is no substitute for a priest.

    1. Dear Dorothy,

      The absence of priests is already a reality in the rural church. And, even when priests are present they do not always make themselves available for pastoral care. Number 5 on my dunderhead list was in reference to one such pastor we had years ago. We now depend on a palliative team of women and men to provide spiritual support. Even in our cities there are no longer enough priests to guarantee that one will be at your death-bed.

      Blaming the parents and families of today for the priest shortage is a well-worn and wearisome argument. Yes, the seed of faith is planted and nurtured in the home. But most young men are attracted to the priesthood when they themselves know priests of integrity, men who live well their call to serve the people of God. In a normal parish, a young man may only know 2, 3, or maybe 4 priests in his growing years. Much depends on the model of priesthood that those few men reflect to him.

      As to parents complaining about priests and the church. There was a time when no one dared question Father or challenge his actions. We know the dark side to that story.

      Dorothy, the purpose of this blog is to have a reasonable and hopefully lively dialogue on our Catholic faith. Though I enjoy a good theological debate, this is not meant to be an apologetics blog. I hope that all voices will feel welcomed to be part of the conversations. This is especially true when we are speaking of our personal experiences and observations, as I have been trying to do. It is important to have a non-judgmental atmosphere in order to encourage others to share their own stories…..stories that I really want to hear. 🙂


  6. Clericalism is what attracts too many of the young men entering the priesthood and it has a toxic effect on them and the Church. For a systematic study of this topic see “The Changing Face of the Priesthood by Donald Cozzens, a priest and longstanding seminary rector.
    Become an academic, a lawyer, a reporter or a priest and you profit by membership, enjoy the prestige and credibility that the profession enjoys, and can rely on colleagues to cover up mistakes. Allegedly, membership of such a group is solely for the service of society as a whole – and at its best that’s exactly what it is. But at its worst, it’s the mask for claiming entitlements, assuming superiority, and, to put it crudely, coining it. John Paul II said: “Since culture is a human creation, it is therefore marked by sin.”
    Once ordained, a priest becomes embedded in a clerical culture, he inherits its ways of thinking, speaking and judging. At ordination he is made a member of a class with special access to powers not available to others. He inherits, whether he deserves it or not, the knowledge and competence that goes with the class. Such a class will refuse criticism, and within it there is a corporate loyalty. Ordination even gives priests a uniform, and a special vocabulary, and a title. You may also want to see some empirical evidence about this in: “Clericalism: the Death of Priesthood” by George B. Wilson, SJ, Liturgical Press.
    In the New Testament, the only priesthood explicitly mentioned is that of all the baptized. All of us, by our union with Christ the High Priest, replace the priests of the Old Testament. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians lists the ministries in the infant church, but “priests” are not on the list.
    What we do know about authentic expression of New Testament priesthood is that it flows from conversion, it’s a soul alive with the Spirit, it is putting on the mind and heart of Jesus, it is adoration of the Father, it is living the Beatitudes and the parable of the sheep and the goats at the end of Matthew’s gospel. (Presiding at the Eucharist, surprisingly, does not figure in this order of priorities.)
    Dorothy, my favorite priest was the first one to lift up Jesus while saying the words, “This Is My Body, This Is My Blood.”, it was Mary of Nazareth, and she didn’t have any basic pastoral training. Peace.

    1. Hmmmm……I like the idea of isolating the culture of clericalism. Much criticism directed to the priesthood is really towards the way that priesthood is identified and lived out – not to priesthood itself. There is nothing wrong with having a corporate identity. A strong group can provide the necessary community each one of us needs for support in our mission and work. But that same corporate identity must reflect the mission of the group. If the mission of the group and its members is to serve, but the corporate identity reflects one of privilege and power….then we have a problem. Thanks Ray!

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