A recent survey of 3,516 priests nationwide found that young priests are nothing like their older counterparts. In fact, for priests ordained after 2019, a whopping 82% describe themselves as “very conservative, orthodox” or “conservative, orthodox”. Less than 5 % consider themselves “very progressive”. Compare this to priests ordained in the 1960’s, where over 80% consider themselves “progressive” or “very progressive”. The survey also reveals that “71% of priests report knowing at least one victim-survivor of clergy sexual abuse, with 11% knowing five or more.” (Sources: here and here.)
Based on this and other data from the survey, there is a sense of great hope for the future of the Church. Younger priests in the Diocese of Gaylord, to a significant degree, seem to be in line with this survey, at least on the surface. But is it really the case?
Recent events have shed light on the difficulties clergy have in aggressively promoting Church teaching. The recent ousting of one of the most popular orthodox and outspoken bishops in the United States, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, highlights the danger of being at the forefront of fighting the culture war in our society. Another example is that of Father Frank Pavone, leader of Priests for Life, who was relieved of not just his ability to publicly preach, but he was summarily laicized by Pope Francis himself with no ability for appeal. Some have questioned the prudence of the words and actions of Bishop Strickland and Fr. Pavone, i.e., “they were asking for it” since they were so outspoken and some of what they said could be construed as confrontational. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to accept the draconian punishments given to these two clergy when incredibly egregious and scandalous priests and bishops prance around in their dioceses and in the media with no consequences whatsoever. Unfortunate examples include Fr. James Martin and Father Marko Rupnik, to name a few. Closer to home, the names of Bishop Walter Hurley and Steven Raica come to mind. All of these individuals were involved in scandals that in no way can be compared to the alleged “wrongs” of Bishop Strickland and Fr. Pavone.
Astute observers realize the injustice and scandals these events create. But priests and bishops very well may look at them in much different ways. The persecution of Bishop Strickland is more than a personal attack; it is meant to send a message to other bishops and priests that if they upset the status quo and speak out about wrongdoings in the Church, they may be cancelled. This can trickle down to our local clergy.
When Father Mitch Roman gave a sermon which simply reviewed the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, complaints against him were lodged. The disgraced Bishop Walter Hurley, administrator of the Diocese of Gaylord at that time, ordered Fr. Roman to publicly apologize. Fr. Roman immediately complied.
During the disastrous COVID-19 plandemic saga, priests immediately complied with absurd mandates such as forced closure of parishes, wearing of masks (in one parish, masks were worn on one side of the altar rail and not the other!), bizarre social distancing requirements, and banning of singing, to name a few. This led to a mass exodus of parishioners which in many parishes led to a 40% decline in church attendance. Many of these parishes never recovered.
These incidents cause us to take pause in our optimism regarding our young priests. The tough reality is that for the priesthood to survive, sacrifice, i.e., white martyrdom, may be the obligation of these priests. How many of them, if any, are willing to carry that cross?
Please pray for good priests and bishops.