The recurring case of the idiot priest
Widely publicised case of clergyman who hit girl underlines need for care in choosing the right people to ordain
Ordination changes many things about a man theologically, sociologically and emotionally. But there are some things the sacrament will not change. If you ordain an idiot, you wind up with an idiot priest.
Idiot priests, rather than loss of faith, have caused most of the cases I have encountered of people who have left the Catholic Church. Poorly-prepared or totally unprepared homilies are one major element, abuse is another, pastoral insensitivity in times of need is a big third, but by far the most faith-destructive encounters between idiot priests and the People of God occur in connection with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I know a woman whose journey away from Catholicism began as early as her first confession. The priest was nicknamed "Baby Jesus" by the other priests in the parish because "he thinks he’s God almighty." His haughty disdain for her as a child taught her that God is not worthy of any form of relationship.
According to a news report from Kerala, India, a priest there has been reported to the police for slapping a nine-year-old girl. Her crime? The priest had decided that all the children of the parish must go to confession at least once every three months, and she admitted she had not.
In order to convince the children of the importance of celebrating God’s forgiving love, he allegedly sent one of them, perhaps the only one honest enough to admit to her "dereliction," to the hospital with a swollen face and a loosened tooth. Besides not having any right to force others to receive the sacrament, he could not see the idiocy in thinking that punishment is the best way to teach the sacrament of forgiveness.
If that girl grows into a woman who avoids the Church, we will be able to accurately date the beginning of her departure to this past July 9.
Why do we over and over again hear from friends, family and the media about priests who drive people away from the Church? Isn’t a priest’s job to draw the sheep to the Good Shepherd?
Part of the problem is one of those sociological effects of ordination combined with idiocy. Most priests merely have status in the Christian community. Some priests enjoy status in the Christian community. If the priest is also an idiot, having status will merely make him more obviously ineffectual; if he enjoys having status, it will make him abusive and repulsive.
Such destructive men often get away with their idiocy because people are smart enough and faith-filled enough to know that our commitment is not to priests but to Christ. Others fear the status that priests have as somehow representing God almighty. So, people have often let priests get away with behavior they would not tolerate in anyone else. But, thanks in part to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, more people are willing to act.
Such a one is the father of that girl in Kerala. He went to the police to report the beating of his child. He acted as a normal parent rather than an idiot.
When idiot priests are allowed to inflict themselves upon the Church with impunity, people either leave the Church or at least distance themselves from it emotionally and socially. That is changing. More and more often, people are speaking up, refusing to be victimized or to leave. They confront the idiocy for the sake of protecting their faith. We need that confrontation. The likelihood of reforming idiot priests is low, but at least we can present ourselves as a Church that is not idiotic.
In one of his own less forgiving moments, the Lord said, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea."
The news report did not mention if the priest in question is practicing holding his breath. It did, however, say that he is preparing to bring his vigorous sacramental pedagogy to the United States. Since the slapping incident has become international news, he will likely have trouble securing a visa to enter that country. He may want to stay away in any case, since his mode of religious education can get him put in jail there, though that may happen in India anyway.
Where the Gospel, common sense and common decency cannot restrain idiot priests, common law must. Of course, the better solution would be to not ordain idiots in the first place, but that would require that we be free of idiot superiors and idiot bishops. But they are simply idiot priests who have "made good." So, we must rely upon non-idiot clergy and laity to rein in the idiots for the sake of the "little ones" of whatever age.
Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.