Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Rise and Fall of the Celebrity-Priest

  • Dale Fushek
  • Alberto Cutié
  • Fr. Thomas Euteneuer
  • Fr. John Corapi
  • Fr. Frank Pavone(?)
There are more I'm sure, and there are going to be more over the next few years I think. Just very recently now, they all seem to be falling one after the other. What has happened?

What is the role of the priest? My informal offering is that the priest serves God and Mankind by laying down his life for the Church, and taking on an alter Christus identity in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the worship of God and the salvation of souls.
The key in terms of the priest's acceptance of his vocation would be precisely that he does lay down his life in service of God and the Holy Mother Church. It is distinguished as a vocation because he does take vows that bind him to his chosen state. (This is, by the way, what distinguishes simple 'default' single life from the consecrated virginal state. Simply being single is not a vocation. Taking a vow of virginity is.)
During the priest's ordination, he prostrates himself while the Litany of the Saints is chanted. The prostration, among other things, symbolizes that he is giving up whatever life he may have had, in favour of service to the Church. He is offering himself wholly to whatever the Holy Church could ask of him. He is no longer his own person. Archbishop Sheen said as much; "The priest is not his own."

I believe that the issue with celebrity priests is one of independence.

Of course in the Church there is a place for 'missions' that a priest could take on which are secondary to his offering of the Holy Mass. We have great need of priests who teach, serve the poor, pray outside abortuaries, etc.. The issue is not with taking on these extra responsibilities per se. The problem arises when the priest allows this mission to overshadow his vow to place himself at the service of the Church. Pro-life work is a great and honourable thing to do, but if the Church calls a priest to serve in a different capacity, he must serve in that capacity.

Many priests take on extra responsibilities which are great things in and of themselves. They often do many good things while carrying out these responsibilities. Then, we've seen a few times, they get 'too good' at it. They are praised for their work, and rightly so, but they allow temptation to overpower them, and they accept the praise for themselves instead of deflecting it all to the Church. Now this praiseworthy undertaking is their mission. It is not their service of the Church.

The issues may manifest in minor instances, such as the priest who has a quiet attitude that his bishop or ordinary should not 'impede' the exercising of his personal mission. Or it might be major, such as the priest who rejects the Church so that he is no longer under supervision of those who might call him in other directions.

I don't believe that Dale Fushek and Alberto Cutié were ordained with the intention to reject the Church, be excommunicated, and seriously violate moral law. I don't think Fr. Corapi ever intended to leave his ordained ministry in preference to his speaking, and I don't think Fr. Euteneuer ever intended to violate his obligation to chastity and moral integrity. The moment a priest opens himself to regarding his personal ministry as his own work, rather than the Church's work of which he is merely a steward, I believe that he puts himself at grave risk of being corrupted, of turning his own good intentions into a tool that Satan may use to attack their vocation.

There have been priests whom we might call celebrities who did not fall in this way. I'm thinking of Archbishop Sheen and Padre Pio. Both found themselves very famous, and with a certain 'cult following'. I can only speculate on their thought process, but I am more than willing to hazard a guess that both of these very great men rejected the fame they were offered, and instead redirected all attention they received to the Church. They resisted the temptation to conduct their ministry as a personal crusade, and instead always kept in mind that whatever they did was only a tool of the Church to reach more souls.

Christ is the perfect model for priests, and all of Mankind. A priest can always call upon the example of Christ to lead him. I have in mind right now Jesus' temptation in the desert. The Devil offered him everything that the world could provide, and our Lord rejected it all. He rejected the glamour of evil, the wickedness and snares of the Devil. Our priests can all do the same, especially through the faithful and pious offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Satan was defeated in Christ's Incarnation, death, and resurrection. He is defeated over and over again at every offering of the Mass. I think that the more faithfully and the more reverently the priest offers Mass, the more completely he is able to reject the many temptations of the world, and the more perfectly he is able to crush the serpent by the power of Jesus, Mary, the angels, and the Church Triumphant.

I'm not attacking priests like Corapi or Pavone. We don't even know the real nature of Fr. Pavone's situation. However I am afraid for them. A priest is given great dignity, and great fruits are demanded from him. To whom much is given, much more will be expected. I worry that their stumbles and minor faults are far more costly to them than they might be for someone who is neither a priest nor famous. Their example leads many, so they must be completely above criticism so as to never lead their own faithful to sin. Such is a great scandal, and it is a tragedy every time it happens. We need to pray for our priesthood, that they be preserved from attacks by the Devil, and that they resist every temptation to let their own desires and weaknesses infiltrate their vocation to the Church.

Lord Jesus, we your people pray to You for our priests. You have given them to us for OUR needs. We pray for them in THEIR needs. 
 We know that You have made them priests in the likeness of your own priesthood. You have consecrated them, set them aside, annointed them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, appointed them to teach, to preach, to minister, to console, to forgive, and to feed us with Your Body and Blood. 
 Yet we know, too, that they are one with us and share our human weaknesses. We know too that they are tempted to sin and discouragement as are we, needing to be ministered to, as do we, to be consoled and forgiven, as do we. Indeed, we thank You for choosing them from among us, so that they understand us as we understand them, suffer with us and rejoice with us, worry with us and trust with us, share our beings, our lives, our faith. 
 We ask that You give them this day the gift You gave Your chosen ones on the way to Emmaus: Your presence in their hearts, Your holiness in their souls, Your joy in their spirits. And let them see You face to face in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread. 
 We pray to You, O Lord, through Mary the mother of all priests, for Your priests and for ours. 

 March, 1995 
 Electronic Copyright © 1999 EWTN All Rights Reserved

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

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