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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Fr Corapi: reflections from a priestly point of view

Fr Corapi has published another defence of himself, including a further attack on his accuser, the process by which he was being investigated, and the people conducting it. I think most priest bloggers will be profoundly disturbed by all of this, and, if sensible, will make a serious examination of conscience.

We priests start out blogging for the sake of the Kingdom, for the Church, and to help others to a deeper knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. We have different ways of doing that: some priests simply blog their sermons and I find that edifying. Others post about some particular area of interest or expertise. That is also edifying. Still others, like me, try to put in a mixture of comment, entertainment (funny YouTube videos and the like) and support for others (reviewing their books, advertising their events, putting up photos of reverently celebrated Masses and so on.) That is not quite so edifying but has a greater reach.

People are hungry for sound teaching; if they consider that I, or another priest blogger is giving that, then we receive a great deal of praise, appreciation and, let's be frank, love in return. The danger is that the love can become debased into hero-worship and lead to a sort of minor celebrity status. This is a very serious danger for a priest. Some time ago, when the hits started picking up on this blog, I made a resolution that whenever anyone tells me that they read my blog, I say "Thank you." It is a pathetically small thing but it does help to remind me that I should also be thankful for the grace of God if the blog has done any good to anyone, and that I should think carefully about what I post in case it does harm.

Considering that priests, along with the rest of the human race, are damaged by original sin and their own personal sins, "celebrity status" is also a danger for the "fans." When a parish priest falls, there are always parishioners who insist that "he was the best priest we ever had." When a "celebrity priest" announces that he is leaving active ministry, the number of the confused and hurt is likely to be several orders of magnitude higher. (I intend to write something more for their sake too.)

As priests,we are subject to the waking nightmare that someone will make a false allegation against us, and we will be out on administrative leave forthwith. Given the damage done by priests, we just need to accept that this will be a penance we have to do for the good of the whole Church. The process can seem unjust and a priest can feel he has been hung out to dry, thrown under a bus, fed to the crows or whatever; but we all know why this has to happen. I'm sure that some details in the process need to be corrected for the sake of justice but it is essentially the right thing for the Church to do.

I am not speaking purely theoretically here. Recently I met a good priest, an old friend whom I had not seen for some years. He told me that he had been put on leave because of a malicious allegation. After seven months it had just been proved to be false. When Father spoke of his joy at being able to wear a clerical collar again, it was hard not to be moved to tears.

So to a certain extent, priests will understand Fr Corapi's action in throwing over ecclesiastical discipline and leaving the priesthood. It's wrong, but we can understand. It is more difficult to understand the business of announcing this all on the internet as though it were a triumphant act of defiance. I am reminded of the line in the 1965 film, The Hill, from Regimental Sergeant Wilson (Harry Edwards): "We're not celebratin' a glorious victory 'ere. We're patchin' up a bloody disaster."

One priestly reaction is to remember that "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5.8) and to plead for prayers for priests in general and Fr Corapi in particular. Fr Z has made this plea with eloquence and true charity. I agree with him, have been praying for Fr Corapi and urge you to do the same. At the same time, there is no alternative but to say that it is objectively wrong for him to leave his order and to leave active ministry definitively, and wrong for him to seek support for this decision by broadcasting on the internet. Some good lay bloggers have analysed his speeches and I cannot disagree with what has been written by Mark SheaElizabeth Scalia, and Jimmy Akin to give just three examples.

I have mentioned another important lesson for priests, especially priests who are bloggers or otherwise well-known. We need to examine our conscience seriously and regularly, and put St Charles Borromeo's motto Humilitas somewhere prominent so that we can reflect on it often. In our situation, humility is not just a pious aspiration, it is a matter of spiritual life or death.
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