10 Danger Signs Your Priest Has Serious Problems with His Vocation

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Pope Francis condemns careerism among priests and religious. Treating one’s priesthood as a career rather than a personal calling from God to live a life of service and holiness is contrary to the Church’s teachings on the true nature of Catholic priesthood.

“Using especially strong language on one of his favorite themes, Pope Francis decried a plague of careerism among priests and urged them to renounce their personal ambitions for service to the church — warning that failure to do so would make them look “ridiculous.”

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“Careerism is a leprosy, a leprosy,” the pope said June 6, in a speech to students from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the school for future Vatican diplomats. “Please, no careerism!”

All types of priestly ministry require “great inner freedom,” the pope said, which calls for “vigilance in order to be free from ambition or personal aims, which can cause so much harm to the church.”

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Priests must make their priority the “cause of the Gospel and the fulfillment of the mission” entrusted to them, not self-fulfillment or public recognition, he said.

Such self-denial “may appear demanding,” the pope said, “but it will allow you, so to speak, to be and to breathe within the heart of the church.”

By “cultivating a life of prayer,” he told the priests, one can transform daily work into the “gymnasium of your sanctification” (Catholic News Service).

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Here are some signs that your priest is infected with the leprosy of careerism and, therefore, has serious problems with his vocation as a servant of God. This calls for the laity to pray for priests and be vigilant against clerical abuse to help them overcome careerism:

1. He is often conscious about his physical appearance.

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Priests are expected to be role models in hygiene and decency with regard to attire. But if he is too conscious of his looks and acts like ordinary teenagers, be warned that he have fallen in love with somebody or is having personal issues he cannot let go. It is normal for a person who falls in love to be extra conscious about their appearance and health.

2. He is often unavailable in the parish church.

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Priests are normally busy on weekends, especially Sundays, because most of the sacraments in the parish are celebrated during these days. Except if priests has other duties in the Church or seminary, they are expected to be available on weekdays. If they are not available and always out-of-town, then be warned that they may have personal affairs or relationships they are busy with during ordinary days.

3. He lacks enthusiasm when celebrating the sacraments.

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If the priest celebrates the sacraments such as the Mass, Baptism, Matrimony, etc as if he is only doing them as a chore, without enthusiasm, then be warned that he may have problems with his prayer life. One can easily feel the sanctity of the priest through his aura, demeanor, and level of spiritual enthusiasm in celebrating Christ’s sacraments.

4. He is often in need of money.

Priests have allowances and can receive stipends when celebrating masses. But if he engages in funding raising without a reasonable cause, be warned that your priest might be financing something such as a fancy car or supporting his own family which can be contrary to his vocation.

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5. He is often temperamental.

It is understandable that a priest might get angry if something goes wrong in his parish plans and see wrongdoing of his parishioners. After all, priests are also humans. But if he is suddenly different from his usual self and becomes easily irritable even in trivial things, then be warned that he might be in serious crisis with his vocation. He might have some serious personal problems which may be contrary to his vocation.

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6. He doesn’t prepare well his sermons.

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One can easily tell through the aura and sermon of the priest if he is a holy and spiritual person or he is just doing a chore. A good priest prepares his sermons well. He must not exceed 15 minutes in his homily as suggested by Pope Francis. He must not also use his sermons to vent his personal issues and unfulfilled needs.

7. He loves to show off his latest gadgets.

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Priests who love to show off his latest gadgets, such as iPhones, hoover boards, Mac Pros, and other expensive equipment, are giving wrong impressions to the laity. Why would they act like secular persons if they are spiritual leaders of the Church? They are supposed to be role models in Christian virtues and not commercial models for the latest expensive gadgets. Lay people would then start to doubt the sincerity, spirit of poverty, and holiness of their parish priests if they see them owning and using expensive gadgets.

8. He likes fancy cars.

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Craving for fancy cars and SUVs seems to be the common preoccupation of the new generation of priests. Instead of making themselves role of models of practicing the spirit of poverty mentioned in the Beatitudes, they become status symbols of a middle class lifestyle. The diocese must have a strict policy on owing and using luxury vehicles for their priests as this practice is contrary to the simple lifestyle of Jesus.

9. He is worldly in his ways.

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Priests can be sociable beings but not socialites.As pastors and witnesses of the Gospel, they must be aware that there personal actions, tastes, and activities must not be interpreted by the laity as worldly or materialistic. Lay people can easily spot a priest who is spiritual from a worldly one.

10. He is having an affair.

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Although lay people can sympathize with priest’s loneliness and lack of intimacy in parish church, they are also alarmed if they know their priests are having an affair with women or men. Persistent concubinage and other forms of illicit sexual union by priests are forbidden by the Church’s Canon Law. Once a priest engages in concubinage or sexual abuse, he loses gradually his vocation and lives a double life. He loses his credibility and becomes a liability to the Church. The Catholic church paid millions of dollars as damages in courts due to clerical sexual abuse in the US and around the world. The most common challenge faced by many priests today is how to satisfy their need for intimacy without leaving the priesthood.

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Some Factors Why Clerical Abuse Persists in the Catholic Church

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1. Introduction

Why many cases of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church remained unresolved  is often attributed to the conspiracy of bishops, supervisory priests, and erring clerics. With this collusion, the reporting and prosecution of cases become difficult and tedious. Cover-up as well as mere transferring of assignment, instead of bringing the accused to justice, seem to be the common response of bishops in dealing with criminal abuse of secular priests such as sexual abuse. Cardinal Law who resigned as Archbishop of Boston on 11 April 2002, for instance, admitted that he just transferred pedophile priests to new parishes despite knowing that they are guilty [1]. Clerical abuse has caused scandals and severe damage to the Church not only spiritually but also financially. Dioceses in the United States, for example, have paid out more than US$2 billion in compensation claims. In July 2007 alone, the Los Angeles diocese paid out US$660 million to 500 victims. In Canada 81 victims at the Mount Cashel Orphanage were paid US$16 million in 2003[2]. Thus, one may ask: Why is clerical abuse persisting in the Catholic Church?

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2. Canonical Standards

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The main legal normative standard in the Catholic Church is the Code of Canon Law. Canon law is the name for the law of the Catholic Church that includes the Code of Canon Law (CCL) and many other canonical documents issued by Popes, Roman Congregations, Bishops’ Conferences and Bishops. “Whereas moral, sacramental and even pastoral theology can only indicate what is fitting and proper conduct, leaving it to each faithful to make responsible use of his freedom to act accordingly” (Achacoso, 2010, p.188). But Canon Law is said to stipulate what is juridically binding and hence owed if not outright enforceable” (Ibid). However, most of the canonical provisions, unlike the state’s penal code, deal with church administration, general norms, hierarchical structure, institutes of consecrated life, and only a few concerning criminal offenses of the clergy such as sexual abuse of minors that require penal punishments.[3]

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One of these provisions include canon 1395 of the 1983 CCL explicitly provides that sexual contact with a minor qualifies as one of four classifications of sexual offenses for which a priest may be permanently removed from the clerical state. The other three grounds include any form of coerced sex, a public offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, and continued open concubinage with a woman after an official warning. Permanent removal from the clerical state constitutes one of the most serious penalties contemplated by canon law. Canon 1389 of the 1983 Code also imposes a penalty including deprivation of ecclesiastical office, for bishops or officials who abuse church power or omit through culpable negligence to perform an act of ecclesiastical governance. “A bishop who fails to employ the appropriate provisions of canon law in a case of sexual abuse of a minor is liable to penal sanctions imposed by the Holy See” (Coughlin, 2003, p.980).

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The penalties under CCL against clerical abuse are of two types: expiatory and medicinal. On the one hand, the expiatory penalties aim to deter offenders, to restore right order and to repair the harm caused to the community. They include removing a parish priest because of sexual abuse. Medicinal penalties, on the other hand, are aimed at reforming the offender. They include penalties such as excommunication, interdict, and suspension. Unless they are automatic penalties, the offender must be warned first and told if he carries out this action then he will be suspended (c. 1347) (Daly, 2009, p.34). An excommunication (c. 1331) is the harshest penalty in the Catholic Church. This means that the priest is cut off or expelled from the Church. This sanction is usually reserved for serious cases such as a priest marrying a woman in civil court without authority. An interdict (c.1332) is a medicinal censure that “prohibits a person from ministerial participation in and reception of the sacraments and sacramentals.” A suspension (c.1333) prohibits the clergy from “some or all acts of the power of orders” and the “power of governance,” (such as performing the sacraments or administering Church property), or from “some or all rights or functions attached to their offices” (such as witnessing marriage [4].

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Despite the strict provisions of some canons of CCL against clerical abuse, canonical penalties are only seen by the Church as a last resort when all other pastoral efforts to help the erring individual by warnings, instruction etc. have been exhausted and have failed (c. 1341). Pope Francis’ address to the Roman Rota, the Church ecclesiastical court, for instance, exhorted canon lawyers to consider, above all, mercy and compassion, when applying canonical sanctions to specific cases in the Church (Mckenna, 2015, p.19). This ecclesial attitude towards mercy rather than strict legality implies that the legal standard is not the absolute normative standard in the Church. It is then only one of the many normative criteria to consider when judging misbehavior of priests. Other non-canonical and informal ecclesial norms that do not prescribe penal sanctions must first be explored by bishop-judges or supervisory priests who are handling abuse cases before turning over abusive priests to the civil authority.

2. Non-Canonical Normative Standards

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The Catholic Church as a complex religious institution in society does not only have a legal code but also a myriad of doctrinal, ethical, sacramental, and moral normative standards to judge orthodoxy of human acts and beliefs of church members and priests. It is also surrounded by a variety of the social and cultural norms of society which can influence ecclesiastical decision-making.

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In the absence of a professional judicial system, the varied and conflicting use and applications of the Church’s normative standards by bishops or church officials may not be always subject to judicial review. The CCL has given the bishops or local ordinaries vast discretionary powers in their dioceses to decide cases in their own jurisdictions. The Vatican seldom interferes in local cases unless these erupted into public scandals such as the sexual abuse of priests in the United States that attracted the attention of the Pope and Roman Curia.

Under this environment of normative pluralism, ecclesial investigators then encounter a multiplicity of normative considerations aside from the legal provisions of Code of the Canon Law (CCL), the legal code of the Church, in deciding canonical cases.[5] Legality is not the only criteria for the Church hierarchy in deciding cases, but also morality and, ultimately, the unity of the Church as one Body of Christ. “The Church’s response to clerical abuse undergirds the belief that criminal abuse by clergy should be sanctioned by the Church internally—if at all—in accordance with canonical commands of contrition and forgiveness, and not by civil authorities” (Logan, p. 321-321). The State’s version of legality is not the only standard for Church to judge clerical abuse.

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Aside from the institutional concern of applying appropriate norms and sanctions to specific cases of clerical abuse, the Church also complies with society’s cultural norms and expectations concerning religious institutions. Thus, bishops face with a variety of normative criteria in deciding complex cases of clerical misbehavior. Although the CCL provisions are clear against clerical abuse, such as sexual abuse against minors, the bishops can choose from other religious and cultural normative standards to judge clerical abuse with the view of protecting the image of the Church in society, avoiding public scandals that undermine the moral authority of the Church in society.

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References

[1] The Guardian.2010. “How the Boston Globe exposed the abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church”. Retrieved 3 May 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/apr/21/boston-globe-abuse-scandal-catholic.

[2] Brendan Daly, “Sexual Abuse and Canon Law”, Compass Review 23, (4) (2009), 33. Retrieved 3May 2017, http://compassreview.org/summer09/5.pdf.

[3] Canon law is the of the Catholic Church. It includes the Code of Canon Law and many other canonical documents issued by Popes, Roman Congregations, Bishops’ Conferences and Bishops. The current ecclesiastical code in the Catholic Church is the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church was promulgated on January 25,1983, and went into effect on the First Sunday of Advent that same year (Daly, 2009, p.33). In the Catholic Church, very few rules carry a penalty. Only those few actions that injure the life of the Church or seriously imperil the soul of the offender carry a penalty (King, 2011, p.13).

[4]“Canon 1395 of the 1983 of the 1983 CCL explicitly provide that sexual contact with a minor qualifies as one of four classifications of sexual offenses (the other three include any form of coerced sex, a public offense against the 6th commandment, continued open concubinage with a woman after an official warning) for which a priest may be permanently removed the clerical state (Coughlin, 2003, p.980).

[5] See Code of Canon Law. Available at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM.

[6] Canon Law, Crimes, and Fitting Punishments. Retrieved from http://www.ewtn.com/library/CANONLAW/zfitpunish.HTM.