“Bad priests are the greatest punishment with which God chastises the people”.--St. Anthony Maria Claret
Among the faithful, including traditionalists, there is a worship of priests as though they are God’s. Going far beyond the due respect owed to their elevated mission, some Catholics consider priests as infallible and morally perfect. Such worship (sometimes) lacks any good sense.
In an effort to correct this unsound position, here is a text in which Our Lord Himself speaks to the Servant of God Marie des Vallées, a 17th century French mystic whose spiritual director was St. John Eudes, the apostle of the Devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The source of these words is the well-documented book La Vie Admirable et les Révélations de Marie des Vallees, written by Emile Dermenghem, Paris: Plon, 1926, pp. 136-138.
Marie des Vallées was afflicted by the disagreements that too often appear among the pious. "The envy, the jealousies and the divisions that reign in the cloisters are a stumbling block for the faithful." The mockery appeared to her as a great sin. Many of her visions are a very severe satire of the diverse defects of the religious. About the heavy responsibility that weighs over ecclesiastics who are in charge of our souls, Our Lord Jesus Christ told Marie des Vallées:
"They (priests) will be judged more severely than others. Those who fall in their mission will be punished for the faults of all: that is, for those of the people [they directed] and for those of the nobles and the magistrates [or officials of justice]. The nobles and the officials of justice will be punished for the faults of the people; the latter will be judged just for their own faults”.
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 their failure to believe dogma.
When you finish reading about the many instances of priests and bishops entering Hell, ponder on what St. Catherine of Siena had to say about the reverence due to Priests.
St. Athanasius was not the only one to say this. Many other great saints have echoed similar prophetic words.
The road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path.
In his commentary on Acts of the Apostles he writes, “The soul of a bishop is for all the world like a vessel in a storm: lashed from every side, by friends, by foes, by one’s own people, by strangers . . . I do not think there are many among bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.”
For the prophet and the priest are defiled: and in my house I have found their wickedness, saith the Lord…
Here’s what St. Catherine of Siena had to say about the reverence due to Priests in The Dialogue.
St. Catherine wrote The Dialogue in the fourteenth century, after having a profound mystical experience. In the book, a soul (St. Catherine) has a conversation with God and asks Him several questions, which He answers in great depth. One of St. Catherine’s requests is that God would reveal to her the sins of the clergy, so that she might intensify her “sorrow and compassion and restless longing for their salvation.” (108)
God grants her request and reveals to her the evil that His ministers are doing. First, though, He reminds St. Catherine of the sublime dignity of the priesthood, and the reverence due to priests, by virtue of the sacrament of the altar which they alone have received the power to celebrate. He says:
“The reverence you pay to [priests] is not actually paid to them but to me, in virtue of the blood I have entrusted to their ministry. If this were not so, you should pay them as much reverence as to anyone else, and no more. It is this ministry of theirs that dictates that you should reverence them and come to them, not for what they are in themselves but for the power I have entrusted to them, if you would receive the sacraments of the Church….”
“So the reverence belongs not to the ministers, but to me and to this glorious blood made one thing with me because of the union of divinity with humanity. And just as the reverence is done to me, so also is the irreverence, for I have already told you that you must not reverence them for themselves, but for the authority I have entrusted to them. Therefore you must not sin against them, because if you do, you are really sinning not against them but against me. This I have forbidden, and I have said that it is my will that no one should touch them”. (116)
“By not paying me reverence in the persons of my ministers, they have lost respect for the latter and persecuted them because of the many sins and faults they saw in them. If in truth the reverence they had for them had been for my sake, they would not have cut it off on account of any sin in them. For no sin can lessen the power of this sacrament, and therefore their reverence should not lessen either. When it does, it is against me they sin.” (116)
That does not mean God is letting priests off the hook. On the contrary, He tells St. Catherine that priests who do evil and lead their flocks astray are devils.
“Their dignity in being my ministers will not save them from my punishment. Indeed, unless they change their ways, they will be punished more severely than all the others, because they have received more from my kindness. Having sinned so miserably, they are deserving of greater punishment. So you see how they are devils, just as I told you that my chosen ones are angels on earth and do the work of the angels”. (121)
As you can see from God’s own Words, that even in sin, a priest will always be a priest and still maintain the ability to consecrate the Holy Sacraments. However, if a priest becomes a heretic he is outside the Catholic Church and all his actions, including the consecration of the Sacraments will be null and void.
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, ex cathedra:
“The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews, heretics and schismatic’s …”
We see here that Pope Eugene IV defined infallibly that all heretics (including Popes) are outside the Catholic Church. The dogmatic bull Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio of Paul IV (1559) sets out an attitude towards heretics: all actions of a heretic – priest, bishop or pope – are null and void, and he must not be obeyed by anyone
As we have seen, people automatically excommunicated in this way are majorly excommunicated, which means that they must be shunned for religious purposes and the sacraments:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Suppl., Part, Q. 23, Art. 1:
“The other is major excommunication which deprives a man of the sacraments of the Church and of the communion of the faithful [prayers, religious gatherings, etc.]. WHEREFORE IT IS NOT LAWFUL TO COMMUNICATE WITH ONE WHO LIES UNDER SUCH AN EXCOMMUNICATION.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 39, Art. 3: “ON THE OTHER HAND, THE POWER OF JURISDICTION...DOES NOT REMAIN IN HERETICS AND SCHISMATICS; AND CONSEQUENTLY THEY NEITHER ABSOLVE NOR EXCOMMUNICATE, NOR GRANT INDULGENCE, NOR DO ANYTHING OF THE KIND, AND IF THEY DO, IT IS INVALID.”
One needs to be aware that if a pope, bishop or priest becomes a heretic he is no longer Catholic and is outside the Church. If they are in heresy, they cannot consecrate bishops, ordain priests or provide the Sacraments. The infallible cum ex apostolatus officio, must be obeyed.
It is proper and important to confirm whether or not your bishop and priest are properly consecrated and ordained. Ask who consecrated and/or ordained them. If they are not properly sanctioned, you will not be legally receiving the Holy Sacraments.
What can you do if they are not properly consecrated or ordained? The remedy is to pray a Perfect Act of Contrition (shown below) and keep in mind Hebrews 13:5…
“Let your manners be without covetousness, contented with such things as you have; for He hath said: I will not leave thee, neither will I forsake thee”.
Say the Rosary. Wear the Brown Scapular. Make an act of Perfect Contrition.
THE ACT OF PERFECT CONTRITION
It is important to understand that you cannot just recite the words of The Act of Perfect Contrition prayer. It must be an interior act of mind and will. It must also be Supernatural as it must be made under the influence of actual grace. Only God can give us the grace of making an act of Perfect Contrition because it flows from Charity, which is God’s own Love, infused by God into our souls. Thus, it is important to pray frequently for God’s grace to make us perfectly contrite for our sins, asking for His special grace prior to starting the act of contrition.
Aside from praying often to have Perfect Contrition, it is important to bring to mind the seriousness of sin, and to meditate on the suffering sin has caused Our Lord Jesus Christ. Kneeling or prostrating oneself before a crucifix and questioning oneself about Who is on this Cross and why and what He has suffered can help dispose the soul to receive this God given grace. One must then recall the actual sins for which he is sorry. The requirement is universal—it’s all or nothing. You cannot omit any mortal sins that you have a particular fondness for. You have to include all of your mortal sins as any mortal sin is alone enough to condemn you to hell.
Our desire to not sin is supreme, that it must be paramount to everything, including death. Finally, we must detest sin in the most intense way and our desire to not sin again must be intense.
The key elements here are to both mean and express our hatred of sin for having offended God who is all good, professing our perfect love of God, and promising with God’s grace to confess these sins, avoid the occasions of sin, and sin no more.
As the Council of Trent points out, this desire to confess along with our sorrow is what obtains forgiveness. That desire must be fulfilled, if possible. Given that more and more people are without access to priests nearby every day, this gift of God (grace of Perfect Contrition) may save us from Hell, should we fall sick or die without a priest to bring us the Last Sacraments.
One final question…
How do I know for sure I prayed an Act of Perfect Contrition and not an Act of Imperfect Contrition?
You don’t know. The most important element is God’s grace and that is supernatural. So, pray for God’s grace before you pray the Act of Perfect Contrition as follows…
THE ACT OF PERFECT CONTRITION
O, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.