Thomas Reese: Bad Priests, of All Kinds, Chase People Away From Christ and the Church

New priests lie face down on the floor during an ordination ceremony presided over by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, on April 22, 2018. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)

Nothing chases a person out of the Catholic Church and away from Christ faster than a bad priest. The priest does not have to be a child molester. He may simply be arrogant, patriarchal, insensitive or just stupid. More people leave the church because of bad priests than because of disagreements over dogma.

The latest Catholic disaster was at a funeral in Temperance, Mich., where, according to news reports, the priest in his homily opined that the deceased might be denied entrance into heaven because he had killed himself.

Those attending the funeral, especially his parents, were appalled. They had come to celebrate the teen’s life, not his death. Yet Father Don LaCuesta, according to reports, mentioned suicide six times in his homily. He kept going even when the young man’s father asked him to stop. After the ceremony, the parents told the priest not to come to the burial.

In response to complaints, the Archdiocese of Detroit told The Washington Post that Father LaCuesta would not be performing funerals “for the foreseeable future” and that his future homilies would be reviewed by a mentor. The archdiocese said he was “willing to accept the assistance he needs in order to become a more effective minister in these difficult situations.” He has not been removed as pastor.

Thankfully, such priests are not the norm, but when they do surface, they can wreak havoc. A good priest can spend years building a parish community, inspiring active participation in the liturgy, recruiting volunteers for the parish ministries and to help the neighborhood poor. A new pastor can destroy all that work in a few weeks.

The Rev. Don LaCuesta. Photo
courtesy of Archdiocese of Detroit

Suicide is clearly against Catholic teaching, but a quick reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was written under the papacy of John Paul II, would have kept Father LaCuesta from error.

The catechism clearly states, “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.” Therefore, it reads, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.”

Priests like Father LaCuesta show why Pope Francis is having such a difficult time reforming the church. Like politics, all religion is local. People may be attracted by Pope Francis’ message and example, but when they go to their local church, they don’t always find someone like Francis.

What divides Catholics today is not just how we look at Francis, but how we look at God.

For too many Christians, God is simply a lawgiver and judge: “Follow my rules or you will be punished.” The church, for them, is not “a field hospital for the wounded,” in Francis’ words; it is a country club for the perfect. Those who are perfect in their own eyes can look down upon the sinners.

Jesus, on the other hand, taught us that God is a parent. But what kind of a parent is God?

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Source: Religion News Service