Not long ago, I got a letter from a group of people in a parish saying that they had decided that their pastor had to go. Why? Because "sometimes he curses." I felt like replying, "Big damn deal. He's staying."
Once, during a visit to a parish, a group cornered me to complain that their pastor was "too conservative," preached too long and "couldn't connect with them." Another parish down the road had a letter-writing campaign because their pastor was "too liberal" and told them to hold hands at the Our Father. Of course, he had to go, they told me. Priests can't seem to win. Either too liberal or too conservative...
It almost seems "open season" on priests. Always has been, I suppose, as St. John Vianney, or, for that matter, Jesus Himself, the Eternal High Priest, would assure us. But the volume seems turned up today. Why? For one, the clergy sex abuse crisis has unfairly damaged every priest, as we are all sadly painted with the same wide brush. Two, in a fractured Church, both sides blast the parish clergy. The far left dismisses them as relics of a patriarchal, oppressive, medieval Church, while the far right castigates priests for selling out to modernism. Priests might as well hang a bull's eye on their clergy shirt! After the scandal, every fault is magnified. I sometimes wonder if the ancient heresy of Donatism—the belief that the validity of the sacraments depends on the virtue of the priest—is making a comeback!
In some ways, I suppose, it is flattering, because people expect a lot from their priests. The difficulty is that often want their priests to be just like them. We're not.
But it does hit on something I have said among friends, and which might get me in trouble among my fellow members of the cloth: people have become too used to mediocrity among the clergy. Now, it seems like, the wick is being turned up.
I don't want to be a mediocre priest. I want to be a saint. Thankfully, I have many friends, both priest and lay alike, who help me on this. I thank them.
I leave with this: is your critique of your priest something that strikes at the core of our beautiful and timeless Faith, or is it something of personal preference? If the former, write the letter. If the latter, deal.
I am Fr. Kyle Schnippel and currently am the Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I believe there is a tide of vocations to the priesthood and religious life waiting to happen, and as the faithful continue to grow in their own pursuit of holiness, these vocations will flourish.