“But that means it becomes a nine-to-five job, which means many of them won’t do anything on a day off. If somebody dies on your day off, that’s too bad. It’s a very awkward situation. Granted everybody needs some free time, and I’m glad when they get it, but it is just very difficult when you have a family…” -Linda Poindexter (former Episcopal priest, Catholic convert)
BadgerDad here to share a few thoughts on the problem of Apostolic authority and human nature for all yall patrons of TheByzantineLife.com! What am I going on about I hear you ask? Priests. Pastors. Ministers. They’re people. And people are fallen. If you’ve been hurt by one then you may have learn to forgive those whom God has gifted with Absolution in the Mystery of Holy Repentance. If you are anything like me, you might have a problem seeing the log sticking out of the corner of your eye when pointing out Father’s eye sliver. But people are prone to selfishness, and God is prone to forgiveness. It is one thing when we are hurt at the hands of our brothers and sisters – but a challenge we face that is even greater is dealing with injustice from our spiritual fathers.
These thoughts touch upon a deeper matter of the nature and goal of the priesthood: service. Serve the Sacramental Mysteries to the People of God and Serve the Word by preaching it soundly to the faithful. The laity is called, as the largest “order” of the Body of Christ for the purpose of Evangelization. Priests allow for the possibility of the laity to grow in sanctity and be strengthened by the grace of the Mysteries which allow them to Evangelize the world. Often laity will delegate the task of Evangelization from themselves to their priests! Stop delegating, my good people! If we return to our true vocation as laity, then our priests can return to their true vocation as pastors! Perhaps this delegation of the evangelical mission to pastors has caused our Holy Orders to become suffuse with more burdens than it was meant for. Throw in the absolute tyranny of the Devil over the souls of priests in the form of temptations and you have the makings of one spicy vocation stew! (Seems to me that the vocation crisis is starting to make more sense! Is it the same for you?) Now consider the additional burdens of married life and you may start to understand how difficult married priesthood can be, and how married priests can be at the focal point of all of this trouble. We as laity have the awesome responsibility of dealing with the fallout when it all becomes to much for these men to handle. They might do (or not do) something or say something which is down right unpastoral, and we are stuck paying their salary in the collection offering, talk about adding insult to injury, eh? If Christ can forgive the repentant Thief at the crucifixion, let’s hope He can forgive the gossipy or rude or grouchy or heretical man we see behind the pulpit every Sunday!
As practicing Byzantine Catholics, Kyleshka and I are familiar with the married priesthood, and have adapted ourselves to the reality of married priests. As Mrs. Poindexter points out in the quote above, married priests are “career priests” by nature. This kind of lingo gets thrown around derogatorily in the Roman Church and often refers to a priest who has his heart set on the collection plate, high-profile parish assignments/diocesan portfolios or even on Episcopacy. It’s different when you have a wife (dobrodiyka/presbytera/matushka) and a family to support on top of caring for the souls of your flock. Pastoral relations are different. Priests aren’t as free for private sessions, pilgrimages, teaching/catechetics or devotion to particular projects.
Priestly marriage can also effect how we deal with priestly foibles. Case in point: A family has a breakdown between a mother-in-law and her daughter and her daughter’s spouse. This person and their spouse belong to a married priest’s church. The mother-in-law starts to make hubbub and scenes in the church despite the best efforts of the person/spouse. The priest is weighed down by all of his responsibilities, both personal and pastoral, and can’t handle the actions of the mother-in-law. So he calls this person aside and tells her to “get her act together and deal with her mother, already!!!” This person goes away feeling hurt and abandoned by her pastor who was supposed to support her through her family breakdown. She feels he is blaming her for all of her mother’s actions. What? Is he unaware of all of the emotional and spiritual turmoil that his parishioner is in because of this family breakdown? Maybe. He could also be experiencing his own family problems and is simply taking it out on his parishioner. Either way, he lacks pastoral sensitivity.
DON’T GET ME WRONG! I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR A CELIBATE PRESBYTERATE IN THE EASTERN CHURCH! I am merely giving a [true] example of how pastoral ministry differs between celibates and married clergy. Sometimes celibate clergy can be insensitive, ignorant or even malicious. But they often rely more on their parishioners for their existence than their married counterparts, who are, for better or worse, family men first and ministers second.
How can we weather the storm of an unpastoral pastor? Pray. Have a firm devotion to the Theotokos. And seek counsel of learned people in your parish. If you feel you are able, approach the priest or parish life director to address the situation. If you feel you are unable to do so then consider approaching a Diocesan official “unofficially” to explain your problem. Otherwise, contact your priest’s Dean, Vicar-General or Bishop. Priests are accountable both to their flock and to the Bishop. This must be so to avoid abusive situations! Some folks guffa at the idea of approaching the Bishop, who is obviously “busy” or “shouldn’t be involved in petty squabbles.” I say to these nay-sayers: say that to the hundreds of victims of clergy abuse in North America, Ireland or Chile! Doubtless they received the same advise. Over time that mentality devolved into a clericalism which has bred generations of diseased clerics and hierarchs. It must be stopped in our generation, Please God.
So let us all who have been hurt by our pastors pray to our Lady, the Theotokos, to her Betrothed the chaste St. Joseph and to St. Jean Vianney the patron of parish priests for the grace and mercy of Almighty God on sinful priests and bishops. All-merciful Heart of Jesus Lover of Mankind, we trust in You!