I’m sorry this is happening. It’s a tough thing for sure. I remember experiencing something like this as a young man with a priest at our parish. It is a hurtful, brutal thing when people who claim to love God are nasty to God’s people. So, what do you do? Well, I have some ideas and I hope they help.
First of all, please don’t forget to pray. We priests need a lot of prayer. Our own sin and faults can really do a lot of damage. I know a lot of times, at the end of the day, I think back to some of the things I said or did, or some of the ways I let people down, and feel tremendous guilt. Just like everyone else, when it comes to moments like that, we priests need grace to dust ourselves off, get back on our feet, receive God’s mercy and jump back into the fray.
Secondly, I think it important to keep away from any gossip. This may very well be one of those situations where a lot of people are angry and hurt and this gives one plenty of opportunities to discuss at length just what is wrong with Father. Seriously, this not only doesn’t help, it damages any chance for redemption that your prayers will offer. I think sometimes we forget that when we pray, God listens and moves. What if God started to answer your prayers for the priest, only to be slowed or even stopped by parish gossip which so stirred people up that they won’t let Father be different than he was before? Remember the story of Paul? A man who supported the killing of Christians became one of the greatest saints we’ve ever had – so we have hope! Besides that, people who spread gossip often add to what they hear so they can justify what they are passing on.
Allow me to share a personal story. On the feast of St. Francis, I set up a blessing of pets. More than 50 people showed up. It was such a joy to celebrate the gifts of our pets with each other – a really blessed time. After the blessing, I was approached by more than a few people who informed me that they knew I scheduled the pet blessing when I did so that people wouldn’t go to a pro-life event being held the same day. As someone who believes strongly in the pro-life cause, and who has never supported abortion in any way, I found those accusations to be among the most hateful and hurtful ones tossed my way. I wracked my brain to figure out what would compel people to such a horrid line of thought and, in the end, I came to believe it was a result of gossip and a lack of charity on the part of those who accused me. Just like lay folks, most priests have tons of stories like this – and it can wear a man down.
Third, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to practice charity when dealing with your priest. Remember that all of us priests are flawed and, frankly, that’s what can make us great witnesses to the Gospel. However disrespectfully we are treated, we must always remember each person’s God-given dignity.
Now, so far, all of this advice is about you because, frankly, that’s all you can control, right? We can’t make Father a kind person. We can’t force him to be thoughtful and loving, but we can be those things ourselves, all the while praying for him. When we do that, we address those things we can while not trying to control what we can’t.
Beyond these things, I think that writing the bishop is a good idea, assuming you’ve spoken to Father or have written him a letter that you signed (anonymous letters do no good, I promise). Most bishops really care about how their priests minister and will address problems like the ones you share. Be sure and offer specific examples of things you’ve seen or experienced personally. This will help the bishop get a sense of what the problem is.
In terms of your bishop, please keep in mind the position he is in. His response to your letter or any of the others you have seen will be consistent with his conscience, the quality of the information he receives and the spirit of Christian charity. You are probably not going to be aware of how your bishop responds, as he will more than likely take the first steps in private with your priest. Pray for God to guide him!
In the meantime, I promise to pray for you during this difficult time.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!
Father Joseph Krupp