Prayers, Priests, and Punishments: The 3 P’s to Earning Back Trust


The recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on priest abuse has devastated already-damaged trust in the institutional Church. People of all stripes are horrified at what the report shows about abuse and the transferal of abusive priests.

The Church has a lot of work to do to earn back trust. It’s time for the three Ps to repair the Church and its public trust: prayer, proper priest preparation, and punishment

Being Truly Catholic Would Have Prevented This Scandal

The many calls for punishment and defrocking are exactly right. But punishment is a reaction to something that has been done. As a visiting priest said at my parish on Sunday, the real problem is how many clergy chose to not be Catholic.

It is clear that many clergy don’t trust in God and His Church. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a priest abuse scandal.

Each and every person who sins is not a true follower of Christ. But every Catholic has Confession and Communion to try to come closer to God. Each of us has recourse to prayer to ask for His Guidance and Wisdom.

Abusive priests, their clerical superiors, and Vatican bureaucrats could have allowed these Gifts of God’s Church to guide their actions. They could have avoided a host of horrifying sins which have devastated souls and left the Church morally bankrupt.

Pope Francis addressed the importance of prayer and repentance in his letter on Monday. He called for the Church to “beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others” and to focus on “penance and prayer…”

Pope Francis also called for “a fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will…to combating all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.”

The pope’s message should be well-received by all Catholics involved in homosexual abuses and cover-ups. Prayer and a re-dedication to the Catholic Church’s teachings on all matters is a must for those who committed these moral and legal crimes – and for those who desire to see the Church renewed and strengthened.

Getting Good Priests Is Important

As good as it is on prayer and fasting, the pope’s letter has three major holes, all of which are also found in the recent mealy-mouthed USCCB promises of change.

The first hole is the letter’s failure to mention what the Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin called the “homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church…” Abuse is wrong on its own, but McCarrick appears to have been in consensual relationships with at least some adult males, as was an aide to one of Pope Francis’s advisors who was busted in a “gay orgy” sting that included drugs.

They are not alone, as evidenced by the largely male-to-male abuses committed by Catholic clergy.

There are many who reject the idea that a homosexual subculture played any role in the abuse scandal. Others simply ignore that it is one of the root problems with the Church’s ongoing shame regarding abuses of young people (and, in McCarrick’s case, sexually harassing adults.) Pope Francis appears to fall into the latter category.

The second hole was addressed in July by Cardinal Sean O’Malley and in 2008 by the Congregation for Catholic Education. In a July 25 statement, O’Malley recommended “three specific actions” be taken in response to accusations against McCarrick. One of those is “an assessment of the adequacy of our standards and policies in the Church at every level.” O’Malley correctly stated, “Failure to take these actions will threaten and endanger the already weakened moral authority of the Church and can destroy the trust required for the Church to minister to Catholics and have a meaningful role in the wider civil society.”

This assessment is necessary for the process of priestly ordination. The 2008 report by the Congregation showed that many seminarians lacked proper intellectual, moral, theological, and other formation to become priests – yet they were made priests.

Same-sex attraction isn’t the only reason why a seminarian might be an inappropriate candidate for the priesthood. The Pennsylvania grand jury report details a number of accounts of sexual relationships with, as well as pressure and abuse of, women by priests. And many bishops and cardinals hid sexual immorality and secular crimes rather than protect souls and the Church.

The final hole is punishment. As New York Times Catholic columnist Ross Douthat and Cardinal O’Malley have noted, trust in the U.S. bishops is gone. Done right, punishment can protect, correct, and reassure. It protects potential victims, it provides a corrective reminder to perpetrators, and – in this case – it reassures hundreds of millions of people that the Church will no longer let abuse claims slide.

Without punishment and Nathan’s admonition, King David would not have recognized the gravity of his murder of Uriah. Peter wouldn’t have recognized he was being a coward if Paul hadn’t publicly chastised him.

Faced with today’s crisis, it’s worth asking if at least some of the priests, bishops, and cardinals involved would have found corrective action helpful to bring them back on track. It’s never too late to find out.

Pope Francis, the USCCB, and many individual bishops have declined to make punishment a priority in their recent statements. Given that this is the area of concern which is most visible to laypeople and the general public, it is very important that punishment be brought forth if the Church wants to begin rebuilding trust.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


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  1. Author left out the fourth and most important “P”.

    Plate. As in, collection Plate.

    Nothing in it until we get the Punishments for the Priests.

    Sure fire way to see that it happens.

  2. Stop Collection Plates! First and foremost – prelates who are guilty must be DEFROCKED And put BEHIND BARS. Period. The Pope can not give back the lives of the Innocents who were destroyed. Hollow words asking forgiveness are not enough. As the Curia is powerless, human laws should prevail.

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