[We’re excited to post two responses by priests to Emily Stimpson’s open letter to priests and bishops where she explained what she feels Catholics need from them now. We commend her for sparking an important dialogue between the faithful and their pastors! – Ed.]
Fr. Geoff Horton sent his response directly to CatholicVote and allowed us to publish it here on his behalf:
I have been blessed in my relatively short life as a priest (I was ordained in May of 2008) to serve many good people, so this isn’t a rant against the people I’ve served in general nor against anyone in particular. But if you really want to know what sorts of people give me encouragement, here’s a list:
1) People who pray for their priests. If you ignore the rest of this list, please don’t ignore this one. Pray for the priests who serve you, even the ones who drive you crazy and do everything they shouldn’t. Pray for the priests you agree with and the priests you think are dead wrong. Pray for the priests who are particularly in the public eye. Pray for your bishop and for all bishops, and of course pray for our Holy Father. Pray.
2) People who want to be holy more than they want anything else. I want to see people who want to care more about what God wants than anything else. I want to see people who want to love Jesus more than anything else. I don’t expect people to have achieved holiness or to love Jesus more than anything else because sanctity takes time and grace. But I want to see people throwing themselves recklessly into the pursuit of the holiness for which they were created. It is very easy to confuse other things with holiness. Richard John Neuhaus observed that when an adjective goes with a noun, the adjective is more important than the noun. Being a Catholic American is a much different thing than being an American Catholic. In the same way, being a Catholic conservative (or liberal) is a much different thing than being a conservative (or liberal) Catholic. The commitment to faith and to Christ comes first. Even when it comes to causes like the defense of life or the defense of true marriage, it is very easy—too easy—to let the cause overtake Christ.
3) People who love and respect the Church, including the people and institutions associated with her. Because the Church is a human institution as well as a divine one, those who serve her will make mistakes. They are not above criticism and shouldn’t be. But we must be very careful in criticizing and in speaking our criticisms to others— true in general, as it happens, but all the more true when it comes to the Church. Who is going to be moved to belief by someone who is perpetually complaining and finding fault? What does a constant spirit of criticism do to our own belief? What does it do to the morale of a priest who must listen to so many attacks, even if they’re well meant, on people and institutions he loves?
I should note that priests can do a poor job on both this and the previous items.
4) People who understand that “Father” is not just my title. It’s who and what I am. People have a right to expect me to act as a good father would act, but I in turn long to be regarded as a father, not as an employee or someone to whom you can write a list of demands. I want people who understand that deacons, priests and bishops are literally putting our salvation on the line for the sake of others, just as a good father puts his life on the line for his children. We should be kind fathers, loving those entrusted to our care, neither dictators nor unreasonably demanding; but we want children who respect us and love us back.
5) People who understand that priests are not superhuman. I don’t mean that in the sense of, “Hey, priests are average Joes like the rest of us,” in a way that diminishes the uniqueness of the priestly vocation. But priests are struggling for holiness too; we have hearts that break when we see suffering in those whom we love; we offer our lives in service as best as we can, but we have limits beyond which we will break. A little bit of kindness shown to us, especially when we don’t deserve it, goes a long way.
6) People who pray for their priests. Yes, I know this one’s on the list twice. It’s that important.
Now it’s the laity’s turn to respond! Please do so (with charity) in the comments.