By Matt Rowe
Judging by the way the Church hierarchy has publicly responded to political events and the COVID virus, the leadership of the church appears much more concerned with our mortal bodies and earthly issues than our immortal souls. In the US, church leadership fears losing tax exempt status for speaking openly about specific political issues and candidates, which greatly frustrates the faithful who pay attention. However, that same leadership cowardice over the mortal fear of COVID has demonstrated to everyone that our church is in a very serious leadership crisis.
Jesus stated it plainly that He is “truth”, which meant standing up for that truth when challenged by early naysayers and both Jewish and Roman officials later on. He died on the cross for that truth as an example of His great love for us all, and there is no greater example of facing fear and obedience to the truth in human history.
The silence of our parish priests on current affairs like pro-abortion political candidates, political issues in general, and the church’s response to COVID, implies that fear seems to have trickled down to the parish level. Now I don’t think for one minute that all our priests lack courage, though there certainly are those who do. I believe that the relatively few priests who have spoken openly about politically sensitive issues consider their obedience to Truth to be more important than their vows of obedience. It makes perfect sense that a bishop would demand fealty from his subordinates, but what happens when priests see that their bishops and other leaders are wrong? Are they bound to their vows of obedience over truth?
I spent eleven years in the US Army where we were obliged to obey our leaders’ orders. However, we did not have to obey orders that were not lawful. I was in Special Forces where we often found ourselves making important decisions without the benefit of a black and white regulation to guide us. In other words, we were not allowed the luxury of unquestioning obedience. We were expected to think and act—on pain of punishment if we made the wrong decision. It was by no means easy, and I consider our priests to be in the same type of situation. So how do we encourage our priests to speak truth to power and provide God’s Truth to the faithful?
First, we must support those holy men who have risked their positions and reputations by speaking out. Father Ted Rothrock is a local example, and Father James Altman is another. Both men stated very clearly what is happening in the world, and both men were punished for their efforts. Their rhetoric was too divisive and offensive for their bishops. Jewish religious leaders like the Pharisees felt the same about Jesus, and our bishops today must know that we need to hear the plain and simple truth, no matter how embarrassing or divisive.
There is even an organization, the Coalition for Canceled Priests, whose mission is “creating a platform for the laity to understand the importance of getting involved” because our “…priests are being canceled and warehoused by bishops who are preaching heresy.” If you think “heresy” is too strong a word, think about our bishops refusing to stand up to politicians who actively support abortion.
We must tell the church hierarchy what we think! Write letters, approach your bishop with your concerns, and make it clear that we need the church to respond concisely to our issues. We must discourage this current tendency to focus on earthly matters like taxes and COVID and return to saving our eternal souls. Telling the church leaders what you think in no uncertain words is not a sin…it is your responsibility, and once again Jesus is the perfect example of this in action.
We can certainly pray for reinvigorated church leadership, and I know many people are doing just that, but we can also protest—and I mean this in the classic sense of making a sign, going to the bishop’s office, and picketing! Praying outside abortion facilities is a Catholic action plan that achieves remarkable results. Praying and protesting outside the diocesan headquarters can do the same.
Finally, we can put our money where our hearts lie. The church needs money to conduct its work, and it depends upon the laity to provide those funds. That support is often given out of obligation, regardless of the value of what we get in return. Why shouldn’t we demand better from our church that demands our hard-earned time, treasure, and talent? Parishioners could send their tithes to another Catholic organization that puts them to closer use to God’s intent, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Coalition for Canceled Priests, or some similar organization.
If we want to encourage our priests and church leaders to speak truth to power, they must know that we will support them. Conversely, they must know that we will not support a church that avoids standing up to evil for fear of an earthly or government response. We, the faithful, have a responsibility to the church every bit as important as the priests themselves, and we must live up to our responsibilities if we expect them to live up to theirs.