Two Priests Respond to Emily Stimpson’s Open Letter

[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. Brian Carpenter of Working to Beat Hell posted his response via YouTube:

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.

Screen shot 2013-07-15 at 7.31.01 PM3) 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.

  • Frances Ruocco

    We want Priests that are not afraid to teach what Jesus taught the Apostles, who in turn formed the Catholic Church. Our Priests cannot pick and choose what they want to preach about and ignore so many issues facing our society. i.e. Abortion, redefinition of marriage, etc. Our Deacons cannot be scolded if they give sermons on said issues, and instead of being afraid of hurting a friend, relative or member of the Church our Priests and Bishops should be worried about hurting God who sent His Son to Earth to open the gates of Heaven. Many forget that Jesus told the woman who was being stoned to “go and sin no more”. I also know that He asked the Heavenly Father to forgive us when He could have asked Him to blow up the world, stating that we were not worthy of forgiveness. However, if we can’t be taught that some things will always be wrong, then we should never send anyone to Prison for any crime because they should not be held to other standards than we would hold ourselves.

  • Joan McKay

    Your letter is timely and true. Priest must be bold and unafraid to stand for Christ. When you do, the people will. You are our shepherds.

  • Charles Smith

    Thank you for these wonderful responses. We certainly agree on a nu,bet of issues. Would you mind conveying to your brother priests that you have entered into a vocation and not a term of employment? As a biological father I do not get days off or times when I can tell my children to make an appt or call my assistant. I don’t get to keep office hours for when my daughter decides that now is she. She needs me, even though she may have just five minutes ago referred to me as an agent of the devil. Yes, we count on our priests for much, and many of you are overworked and under appreciated. Also please don’t treat the sacraments as a great to be given when convenient or if its felt like there is time. Offer mass times so that more than the elderly or stay at home parents can attend. Is one hour a week really enough time to ensure that anyone who needs reconciliation receives it? Are mass baptisms really the way to go? But above all teach us Truth- and that must be given in compassion. Frequently we sinners need rebuke, but it can be done with compassion and love.. Don’t is.ate yourselves from your flock. We know you are not superhuman, even if you are marked with supernatural grace. We want to be supportive of you and your vocation and aid you I. Your path to salvation as you guide us along the way. Thank you and all of your brother priests bishops and deacons for your unique yes to Christ’s call. Please know all are loved and prayed for by multitudes.

  • Damian P. Fedoryka

    The responses of both priests are excellent and thoughtful in their reflections on Emily Stimpson’s Open Letter.

    One point may need clarification, namely, Fr. Brian’s comments regarding Canon 915 and the Bishop’s role in enforcing it. I am not a cannon lawyer, but it appears to a layman that it is a law governing the minister’s of the Eucharist, not the recipient of it, who is addressed in Canon 916. Thus, it also makes demands on priests and deacons and, indirectly, on lay “ministers” of the Eucharist as well as on the bishops. Fr. Brian is correct that the Bishop’s responsibility includes the enforcement of the law. But the obedience to the law extends also to other ministers of the Eucharist. The cannon in question does not deal with the question of enforcement of the law…

    Since Fr. Brian is responding to Stimpson’s “demands” addressed to both priests and bishops, I am intrigued about Fr. Brian’s own response to the “demand” directed at him in this matter. Is a prisst, who is evidently not a bishop, thereby exempt from compliance with Canon 915?

    The ambiguity does not justify but opens the door to the response that the priest is not bound to obey the law in this matter since his Bishop does not want to make the Eucharist a “political battleground” or “war zone” in his diocese. Is the priest bound in obedience to such a “policy”?

    If so, can this be taken as an example for laymen, who would as a matter of “conscience” choose a different policy, that of “kindness,” “understanding” and “inclusiveness”?

    In Christ,
    Damian P. Fedoryka

    • Fr. Brian Carpenter


      I would contend that a priest is not exempt from any canon. In fact, I think a cogent argument could be made that the higher one ascends in the hierarchy, the more bound they become to the teachings and laws of the Church.

      I would, however, contend that the Bishop is the chief interpreter of the law in his diocese, and that priests do well to remember their promise of obedience to their Bishop.

      This of course does not mean that a bishop cannot make a poor practical decision when interpreting the law, but I would hope that any priest who take issue with his Bishop’s interpretation would communicate his concerns to his Bishop. Furthermore, if the priest believes his bishop is asking him to do something that violates Church law or the moral law, the promise of obedience is not binding, for no one has the authority to make someone do something immoral.

      While I understand your concern completely, I would also stress that a priest should not take the authority of his bishop/ordinary lightly when addressing such issues. Hence, you can see why Fr. Horton stresses the need to pray for priests (and bishops), as they must make tough decisions in matters such as this.

  • Yolanda Marrs

    Thank you Fr. Carpenter and Fr. Horton for your kind responses. We ALL are the Church and today Faithful lay men and women are crying for guidance. I think it is a great thing that we can have this conversation with the Clergy. It seems like the Milk-Toast sermons are becoming a norm at Mass. I want to be respectful to the Priests , since they have been called to this Beautiful Vocation, however I can not just ignore the fact that some of them have NO power, no substance in their preaching and teaching during the Homily. This is the great opportunity they have to not just Educate us in the Faith , but to make us LOVE the reason why we are Catholics. They do not want to talk about social issues that are affecting our Faith, not to mention our Society and pulling away the Faithful . A lukewarm, ignorant Catholic is a Future Protestant. We know that very well that they are Wolves with Sheep clothes within the Church and some of the Priests and Bishops are not very close to the Magesterium of the Church, the Pope’s direction. How are we supposed to be Faithful Catholics when there is so much confusion within the Church?? Communion on the Tongue, Communion on the had, Holding hands during the Our Father, Clapping at the end of Mass (like if it was a concert) for the Choir, kneeling, no kneeling, , inappropriate Attire, etc, etc, …
    Priest totally ignore this issues ??? Oh, the latest …Homily acted out (pantomime) by the Priest … is this part of the Mass Rubrics? My two cents are that WE the lay men and women we MUST know our Faith, this way we can have a better understanding of the Teachings of the Church and obey them . This is not a popularity contest by all means, specially when the society we live in tell us otherwise. But we have to be Truly Faithful to the Church our Lord Jesus Christ established and this applies to the Clergy as well. In all charity.

    • Fr. Brian Carpenter


      I certainly understand your concerns regarding preaching, and with the confusion, and I share many of them myself.

      That being said, I think it is very important for the laity to be supportive of their priests, and encourage them to speak out on certain issues.

      I’ll be honest in saying that I pull very few punches, and at times, I upset several parishioners with my preaching or liturgical style.

      At the same time, I have also come to a deeper understanding of Christ’s words ““I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” (John 16:12). Not everyone is ready to hear everything, and sometimes before anyone can hear you, they first need to understand that you are speaking to them out of love. This takes more than just saying, “I’m speaking to you out of love.” but building a proper rapport with people so that they know that even when you speak difficult truths to them, you are doing so because you want them to grow in holiness.

      My modus operandi is to speak the truth, and to try to present it in a way that I believe the people can hear and accept (you can go over to Working To Beat to hear a few of my homilies). Yet, I’ll admit that I fail every bit as much as (and perhaps even more than) the “Milk-Toast” sermons. Inevitably when I speak on a moral issue that is controversial in our secular society (so called, same-sex marriage, contraception, abortion, immigration, war, staying until the end of Mass, etc) I can expect to receive complaints, and not because the people are evil and don’t want to accept the truth.

      My point is that none of these issues are simple. If they were, everyone would be Catholic and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

      • Sam Gallo

        What is, “liturgical style?”

  • C

    I very much agree that it is all too easy for the cause to come before Christ sometimes.

    Especially among the more conservative, traditional, orthodox laity, I often see a judgmentalism of those who do not fit that role, as if the holy people are somehow doing it right and everyone else is doing it wrong. The whole phenomenon smells like the Pharisees. I don’t think this is the way Christ would want us to preach the Gospel, nor to live it out. He demands real self-sacrifice, and that especially includes our ego when it comes to how we live as Catholics.

    Articles about why politicians should be denied communion regularly, which cities are the least Catholic, and which pre-Vatican II Catholic traditions ought to have been kept, etc. these are not going to win over the lost sheep who are already on the fence as to this whole Jesus thing.

    We must hold ourselves accountable to our own failings in how we profess the Gospel life, and stop preaching to the choir about how everyone needs to be doing what we are doing, and instead convince the world like the 12 apostles once did.

    • Fr. Brian Carpenter


      • Sam Gallo

        Disagree some. JPII wrote that the pre-VII Mass was to be “generously applied.” It hasn’t! So, who is wrong when you write about going for lost sheep. In the view of many, me included, that is where the lost sheep may be recovered.



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