As we write this, the Vatican is holding its meeting for the heads of the Catholic Episcopal Conferences from around the world on the sad and distressing topic of child sex abuse. Other voices want this conference to address other important issues in this vein, including the sexual abuse and exploitation of religious sisters by clergy, the sexual relationships of clergy and adults (both consenting and non-consensual, both involving men and women), as well as the issues of priests who have fathered children and clergy who suffer from same-sex attraction. The organizers of the meeting have made it very clear that this meeting will only be concerning the creation of guidelines for the safeguarding of children.
This follows the news of the laicization of Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington and a former member of the College of Cardinals, as well as stories of abuse coming forward from both within the Vatican and in the local churches. The Diocese of Brooklyn released the names of the priests who have been credibly accused for sexual abuse of minors, following many other dioceses in the United States.
At the root of all of this, is a call for the reform of the clergy, for the good of the Church whom they serve, for the good of future vocations, and for their own good. It can be of no small importance that the saint whose liturgical feast day we celebrated on February 21, the day of the start of the meeting at the Vatican, was Saint Peter Damian. This Saint and Doctor of the Church was a Benedictine monk who was created a Cardinal. He was a reformer who demanded holiness in the Church’s clergy.
What can priests do to grow in holiness in this time of distress for the Church? It’s pretty simple. Be the best priests that they can be. Devote more time to pray: a daily hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is key, as is praying the Rosary daily, doing lectio divina daily, offering Holy Mass daily even when he is not scheduled to do so, praying the Divine Office in its entirety every single day, and regularly wearing clerical attire. As simplistic as it sounds, go back to the basics. Be a priest for us – a spiritual father – and love us and care for us, as we love and care for you.
So, what can be done to reform the clergy? It starts with those priests who are already ordained. Encourage them by your own words and actions. Challenge them to be holy. And above all, pray for them! They need our prayers.