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The Church’s apology and the priesthood

27 Aug 2018, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Doctrines

Pope Francis recently apologized in the name of the Catholic Church in response to a disturbing revelation as noted in his apology letter; “In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.” Even though the Pope noted that most of the cases belong to the past, but their revelation no doubt has some damaging effects on the Catholic faithful. This is certainly not the best of time for the Pope and the entire Church; many Catholics are filled with a sense of anger, shame, and disappointment. I truly understand these feelings, we all together with Pope apologize to the entire world.

In the midst of these failures and apologies, the Lord sends a strong message to all; to both the clergy and the lay faithful. He addresses all in his address to the Scribes and the Pharisees. “The Scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach (Mt. 23:2-3). Yes; some of us may have failed in our responsibilities as priests as noted clearly by the Pope; “we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.However, the priesthood remains a precious gift to the Church. The priesthood is stronger than the weaknesses of the person of the priest, the word he preaches and the sacraments he administers are stronger than his person. Even in his weaknesses, he sits on the Chair of Moses and ministers with the power that is not his, and the Lord confirms his words. This is not a case of defending our weaknesses, but encouraging the faithful not to give up on their priests and the power of God working in and through the Church. Even in our weaknesses, the Lord says, do what they tell you. Blind obedience is far from this, but looking beyond the person and weaknesses of the priests to relate with the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priests never preach their weaknesses, but the strength of God, and that is what we must hold unto. The priest however must not take the mercy and power of God for granted, for he will surely judge everyone.

I accept that some of us have failed, and we can certainly not apologize enough for our show of weakness. “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been,” but grace and mercy are surely leading us there. I acknowledge with a grateful heart those many priests and lay faithful who continues to bear witness to the Holiness of God and the Catholic Church by their beautiful way of life, you testify that the weaknesses of a few cannot quench the fire of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church.

The priesthood and celibacy are truly beautiful and amazing gifts to the Church; the call to get rid of celibacy is uncalled for because, even in marriage many couples struggle with unfaithfulness, though this is certainly no reason to be weak as priests.

Pray for your priests, we need your prayers more than the criticism, we are mere mortals called into something holy and bigger than you can ever imagine.