WE GOT TROUBLE
Harold Hill’s famous announcement in the mythical River City seemed to apply to news from our largest city and the Archdiocese of Miami this week. A well known young priest was seemingly photographed on a beach with an unidentified woman. Because this young priest was something of a media star in the Spanish media, the pictures and the story were all over the state’s media and perhaps even the nation’s. Archbishop Favalora, the competent ecclesiastical authority for this priest, issued a statement indicating sadness at this violation of the promise of celibate and chaste behavior and indicated that the priest involved had been removed from all of his official assignments pending a period of prayer, discernment and reflection. The priest has apologized for his behavior and sought the support of prayers. I have no personal knowledge of the details so I will not use either the name of the priest or even the reported details.
I weigh in on this matter in this forum not to add heat to this controversy but perhaps to shed some light on reality. One thing we have all learned in the last decade is that priests are human. We sin. We can make bad judgments. We are subject to many of the temptations which befall others. We seek the same forgiveness of our Lord as others, need to make restitution in whatever manner is appropriate when others are hurt by our actions and we also need patience on occasion while we try to discern what we have done, its consequences for the Church, for our ministry. and for our vocational commitments and promises. Some actions deserve immediate and swift action on the part of ecclesiastical authority like verifiable misconduct against minors or the vulnerable elderly. Protecting the innocent and vulnerable is a lesson learned. But other human actions, albeit sinful or even just inconsistent with our public witness, need time to heal and wisdom to discern. Most bishops approach these moments with a measure of understanding and a deep desire to heal the shame, seek help for the priest in trouble (if he is willing to accept it), and reassure God’s people that we know what it is to fall from grace occasionally and like a good parent, allow the son/brother/priest to deal with their actions and their consequences. My personal experience through thirteen years as bishop has been often that God’s people understand all this better than we ordained and are more willing to forgive and move on than we to whom the privilege of “forgiveness of sins” has been given.
From a bishop’s perspective, a priest who understands his failings and seriously works on them is a blessing while a priest who ignores or denies his failings or blames someone other than himself is a challenge. Priests could and should say the same about bishops. So “troubles” of some variety will always be a part of the fabric of our lives as Catholics but it should be how we manage them when we become aware of them that is the true measure of the Spirit in the Church today. In this spirit I pray today for the Miami priest and for his bishop, Archbishop Favalora, as each has to deal from different perspectives with what seems to be a basically a human failing from a public promise made. I often think of that line, “there but for the grace of God go I.”