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Prayers For the Young Priests

This past Easter I wrote about going to the Vigil at a small parish where the pastor is a young priest, and said this:

The young priests I've encountered in recent years are all similarly committed to the traditional mission of the Church, which makes them "conservative" in the confused mind of our time. And they are very brave. The orthodoxy is not surprising, because, as has been pointed out for decades, who would give up everything a priest has to give up for an ill-defined mission of which he is half ashamed? The bravery is almost true by definition now, because in the minds of many all priests are automatically suspected of child molestation and other crimes. And the accusation obviously gives a lot of pleasure to those who already hate the Church for other reasons. I certainly would have trouble walking around in public if I thought people were looking at me with that in mind. God give them strength. 

This has been much on my mind for the past week or so because of a situation in my diocese. I haven't seen it mentioned in the national news, but then I don't see that much national news, so perhaps it's out there. There are quite a few local and state news stories about it, but I think I'll refrain from linking to them, because I don't want to be even slightly responsible for it getting wider attention. It illustrates a different sort of difficulty and threat faced by young priests--any priests, really, but especially young ones.

I also won't mention the name of the priest involved. It isn't the one whose parish I attended at Easter, but they're about the same age. I'll call this one Father M (for Mackay). I don't know him personally but I heard him speak a year or so ago at my parish. Our then-assistant pastor, also a priest of around the same age, had organized a series of talks for men, and Father M was one of the speakers. It was a good talk. He was intelligent, articulate, and obviously passionate about the orthodox faith, about the need for committed spiritual combat against all the temptations and distractions that the contemporary world presents, about the need for courage and self-mastery.

But there was one thing that made me a little uneasy. Before I mention that, I'll speak generally: any young person with an intense commitment to anything runs the risk of either burning out, because the intensity can't be sustained over the long haul, especially in the face of life's typical disappointments, or of going off the rails in some way, passion overriding prudence and balance: out of gas, or crash and burn. Some young priests make me a little uneasy on this count. They are orthodox, often traditionalist, devoted, and intense, and I worry that they won't be able to keep their balance over a lifetime of ministry, and will come to a halt in one of those two ways. 

Where religion is concerned, the form taken by that second possibility--intensity that goes out of control in some way--is likely to be fanaticism, superstition, and other spiritual diseases. Father Ronald Knox devoted an entire book, Enthusiasm, to the syndrome as it has manifested itself since the beginning of the Church. (He means the word "enthusiasm" in a sense that's pretty much fallen out of use now, more or less equivalent to "fanaticism.") It can be difficult to tell the difference between intense healthy devotion and intense unhealthy fanaticism, but there is a difference. It's even more difficult, I suspect, to recognize it from the inside: to know how, in one's own interior life, to maintain the former without falling into the latter. (I wouldn't know; I don't have the kind of zeal and energy that puts me in that danger.) 

One particular danger for the very religiously committed seems to be excessive interest in signs and wonders, particularly those having to do with the workings of evil. As best I can tell from what's public knowledge, something like that seems to have happened to Fr. M, and to have led him into trouble.

As good as his talk at my parish was, some of it made me, as I said, a little uneasy. He was clearly intense, and that sparked my usual concern, that he would not be able to sustain it while keeping his balance. And he talked a lot about demons, prayers of deliverance, purging one's space of things that might carry evil influences, and so forth, and that made me concerned that he might be giving more attention to those things than is really healthy. I don't mean that I definitely concluded that that was the case; when I say "concerned" that's all I mean; I had that little warning-bell feeling. From what I hear, this interest--which, if not excessive, is clearly great--has been a strong tendency of his for some time. 

It seems to be at the root of the current situation--the current disaster, it's fair to say. Fr. M was often asked to speak to classes at the local Catholic high school, and his talks often were heavy on the topics I just mentioned. And he sometimes had counseling or spiritual guidance sessions with individual students. He was apparently pretty quick to blame the direct influence of Satan for their problems, which in my experience is a cause for concern. And he had gotten very interested in certain Marian apparitions, especially the one(s) in Garabandal, Spain, which as far as I can tell from a little reading about them are at best of dubious authenticity. Excessive interest in those is also, for me, a cause for concern. Again, I don't mean that these things are plainly misguided, only that I've seen and heard enough over the years to know that interest in them can become quite unhealthy.

Reportedly his talk of demons and exorcisms was enough to alarm some parents. Were they justified? Or did they, like many contemporary Christians, just want a tame faith? I don't know. 

Apparently he became very close with one female student. And a couple of weeks ago he and the girl, who had graduated in the spring, disappeared and were found to have  fled (the word seems reasonable) to Garabandal, for reasons that remain unclear. The archbishop immediately deprived Fr. M of his priestly faculties (which the local media keep incorrectly calling "defrocked"). The girl's parents are understandably very upset. When she and Fr. M were located, they both denied that they have a sexual relationship. But of course that's being met with "yeah right" by many or most people, and that's at least somewhat understandable--it certainly looks bad.

But I believe them. Based solely on my experience of his talk, I am quite willing to believe that it is not a physically sexual relationship, and that Fr. M did not "groom" the girl, as the irresponsible local sheriff is saying. However, I also think it's quite likely that it was and is sexual in the broad sense--i.e., that he is a handsome young man and she is a no doubt pretty young woman, and they developed romantic feelings for each other. Perhaps they didn't even really or fully recognize that it was happening. That's hardly an uncommon phenomenon. 

Anyway, this is obviously a disaster for all concerned. Is it even in principle possible for Fr. M ever to function as a priest again? Does he even want to? Would any bishop ever let him? What will this have done to the girl's spiritual life and general emotional health? Will she leave the Church? Will her parents? Will he? 

And somewhere out near the edge of the ripples generated by this splash am I, seeing what is probably the loss to the Church, and in a small way to me, of a gifted young priest. You don't have to believe that a demon whispered directly into Fr. M's ear to see that this is a victory for the arch-demon. At least for now. I pray every day for "all bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and religious." Especially the young ones.


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That is a lot more than I knew about the priest involved, Mac. I share many of the feelings you have of worry and concern for these young people. I just don't know how they can do it unless their calling is extremely strong. I'm sure that each diocese has a network of caring people, fellow priests along with laypeople (men and women) there to support parish priests. It just seems to me that it must be in a way easier for those in a religious order, who are always with their brothers or sisters, and also those that are significantly older and with more life experience behind them. I have not read anything disrespectful in our local media stories on the subject. If anything the people trying to report on it are probably just not fully informed, and something like this is always going to look a little like tabloid journalism. At any rate they all certainly need our prayers.

I don't know what sort of coverage this got in the national news (which I ignore), but I saw it on Twitter (which I highly recommend anyone reading avoid - "a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessently, fatuously for days beyond number").

There wasn't too much discussion in the trad circles I inhabit (somewhat uncomfortably). What was there to say? Pray for everyone involved. Orthodoxy is no guarantee of fidelity (though plenty of people don't want to go there).

An additional danger these days is that many of these priests are more orthodox than their bishops. They can see the (real) problems with those in authority over them, and it has to be extremely difficult to stand up for the truth while not being disobedient.

I have a friend (a layman with a podcast) who gave a speech at a conference for the Coalition of Canceled Priests - an organization dedicated to supporting orthodox priests who were removed from ministry (and their livelihood) by their bishops. My default assumption is that when a priest is disciplined for being "too orthodox" there's more to the story. And that is the case with at least one of the priests at the event (Fr. Altman). But I'm sure there are others who were unjustly removed. It's a mess (that's unprecedented in human history, right?)

I don't even know if I have a point. What else can we do but pray for our priests?

I saw something about the Coalition of Canceled Priests just a day or two ago. I can't remember where but it was a little surprising.

Oh yeah, it was at Bari Weiss's Free Press, and the article is by her sister Suzi. Rather surprising that it would even have come to their attention, and the article is pretty fair-minded.


'My default assumption is that when a priest is disciplined for being "too orthodox" there's more to the story. '

Yeah, I'm the same way. I'm very willing to believe that it really happens, but also, like you, want to hear the other side of the story before I get upset at the bishop. Didn't Fr. Corapi try to portray himself as being persecuted for his orthodoxy before his whole story fell apart?

At its root, this excessive concern with works of demons seems to me to reflect a lack of faith and trust in Jesus. By the time you feel the need to purge your space of things that might carry evil influences, you're practically in Pelagian territory.

Sorry, that wasn't mean to sound as condemning as it came out! It is a disaster all around, as you said,and I offered my communion at mass for all involved.

I didn't think it was condemning. I agree with your basic point in fact. I don't think the basic idea that things can carry evil influences, but it's easy to get overly paranoid and as you say lacking in trust where things like that are concerned. Someone I know, reacting to this, said that getting excessively interested in demons, exorcism, and such actually gets Satan's attention, and is why the Church puts barriers around it. "For emergency use only."

Thank you for praying for the people involved.

Not much point in my being reticent about it now. Further developments leave no doubt as to the priest's misbehavior. I hope it's true that there was no physically sexual stuff involved, but he and the student were definitely romantically involved.

And he's definitely on the road to laicization. This may be paywall-protected:


A couple of years ago, Dawn Eden Goldstein wrote a piece about the publication In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart--The Journal of a Priest at Prayer and priests who became believers in their own private 'revelations' after reading the book. It's worth a read, I think, especially in light of what’s happened with Alex Crow.

It's in four parts, the first is here: http://wherepeteris.com/in-sinu-jesu-a-critical-analysis/

Oh man. I'm sure this is worth reading and I have a long-standing respect for Dawn. But Where Peter Is is very much in the trenches of the intra-Catholic version of the culture war, especially the question of Pope Francis, and I really don't have much stomach for that at all anymore. As I've said here before, I reached the conclusion some years ago that Francis is a bad pope in the sense of being bad at the job. Seems pretty clear to me and I don't have much interest in arguing about it.

But anyway, this is not really about Francis. I'll give it a try :-)

I skimmed it. I decided after part 1 that I didn't want to slog through all the details. It sounds like she does have a valid point about the book. And she's most definitely right on her general principles about private revelations and such.

I have to admit that I have something of a personal aversion to the style of language and spirituality of the book, as shown in the quotes from it. Just not my cup of tea, never mind any theological problems.

Sadly, the controversy is somewhat about Francis, indirectly, as witnessed by another article at the site, an enthusiastic defense of Francis's enthusiasm for the work of Fr. Martin SJ.

The Pillar has a lot more, and it's really bad: "The canonical case against Fr. Alex Crow" https://www.pillarcatholic.com/p/the-canonical-case-against-fr-alex

Here's some of it:

"Earlier this week, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office released to local media two letters signed by Crow.

In one, Crow told a friend that he was directed by the Lord to leave the diocese — but not the priesthood — and to take with him an unnamed person, apparently the 18-year-old girl with whom he traveled to Europe.

'We know how this looks, but we are doing what we are told. Do not worry about defending us. This is hard for her too, but she knows she will always be safe if she does Jesus’ will.'

The other letter was written, The Pillar has confirmed, in February 2023, when the girl was 17 years old, and before she graduated from high school.

In that letter — which significantly changed the narrative about his trip to Europe — Crow expressed both paternal and marital affection for the girl.

First, he told her that: 'Before we fell in love, I promised to always care for you and protect you, like a father. I still look at you and see a child, but in the best way imaginable. You are mine – no one else’s, and I will always be a father to you until I die.'

Then he told her that 'we are in love and we are married! I’ve never been in love before (and I’ve never been married, obviously!), and I’ve never felt any of the feelings I have for you for anyone ever in my entire life. I promise that I will love you the absolute best I can, every single day.'

The priest then apologized that he could not offer the girl a 'normal' Valentine’s Day, and was even unable to buy her flowers, 'for fear of scandal.' He suggested that he might have stolen some from a Mary statue — possibly at the girl’s school — and then mentioned that he was passing on to her some secondhand chocolates, which he had received as a gift.

'You are the prettiest girl who has ever lived, and I will always tell you that. You are perfect, and precious and, besides Jesus, the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen or held in my two hands,' the priest wrote.

'I will always love you,' he added, 'Sincerely, Your Valentine and Husband!'”

Yeah, the Lagniappe (local independent paper) printed that second one several days ago. Not sure about the first. Crow has no plausible defense at this point. The diocese has initiated the laicization process.

Almost, or possibly more, damning, one of his fellow priests, regarded as a solid man, has described Crow as “a bad man.” Or did he say “evil”? I can’t remember now.

I feel sorry for the girl.

I'm an academic, and I used to feel professionally obliged to defend eccentricity and so on. But over the years I have changed my views. If someone acts weird, it's often (not always!) a sign of even weirder things hidden in the background.

I prefer normal people. It's safer.

Uh-oh, we should never meet. :-)

Half-kidding, at least. Or at most.

Re Alex Crow, by the way--might as well not refer to him as Father--he really didn't strike me as seriously eccentric. More, as I said here, just a sort of raised-eyebrow-hmm kind of thing.

Speaking of--here is a serious view from The Pillar


Oops, sorry, didn’t recognize that that’s the same article that Marianne quoted. I was noticing different aspects of it.

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