Wednesday, August 29, 2007


This is an ugly story. It was one of my most disgraceful acts as a priest.

At my last parish we had an outrageously large confirmation class. We did everything we could to notify people that the time was coming to register your child for confirmation. There were announcements from the pulpit, notices in the bulletin, and letters sent home to parents. We were going to be inundated, stretched to our limits, and there would be a point at which we would just no longer be able to accommodate any more exceptions to the program. They would have to wait until next year.

Of course a parent showed up a week or so before confirmation begging to have her child confirmed. It matters not one iota how she acted or treated anyone at the parish including me. The important part of the story is that at one point I curtly asked her to leave. Following some last comments she had standing on our front stoop, I slammed the door.

It would not be that Fr. Valencheck had treated her poorly but that the Catholic Church had treated her disrespectfully. This damage might not be limited to her alone but to her children as well, perhaps even into the next generation. So I sent a letter of apology and offered to do what I could to help her. There was no reply.

At the other end of things I have had a number of meetings lately in which persons have said that they had a poor experience of Church in the past, usually that involved some sort of incident with a priest, and that I was able to set things right. That is a good feeling tempered somewhat by the tale above.

We want (me included) priests to be perfect. We want them never to be angry, irritable, or short. They are supposed to be close to God are they not? They are to set the example for all are they not? And this at all times and in all circumstances. That would be nice. But unfortunately priests are men and some are better men than others and better at certain times than others. Besides, anything you want and demand your priest to be, you better be prepared to be.

That being said, an unfavorable incident with a priest does not constitute an unfavorable treatment by the Church. If a surly priest yelled at you for parking on the front lawn of the Church or for talking too loudly before mass, a surly man yelled at you, not the Roman Catholic Church. There is nothing I can imagine that a priest could do that that would warrant leaving the Eucharist, the sacraments, and the one true Church.

Of course there is a priest for everybody. I am not for some people just like some counselors or doctors or artists do not work for everybody. That does not make them bad counselors or doctors or artists, neither does it invalidate a counseling method, a type of medicine or a style of art. So if it is possible you go see another priest. If it is not you keep your eye focused on the Eucharist.

It’s John Chapter 6. It’s the Eucharist, the Eucharist, the Eucharist. Nothing else matters.

Which brings us to the flip side of the equation. Of course it matters. We see that in evangelization. You can have all the right answers, they can be irrefutable, but if you do not love, if you do not have a relationship with the other person, it is next to impossible to bring them to truth. Love and trust will win more people to Christ than all the truth, fact, and verse you can muster. It may be a sad truth we learn in heaven that donuts have brought more people to Christ than warning them that they were going to hell.

Maybe not.

But maybe.

But what is clear is that it is about relationship that they actions of another cannot destroy and the love of another can demonstrate. Such is the perfection of God as dealt among flawed men.


Anonymous said...

I've been on the receiving end of a 'tirade' once ... from the associate pastor. It certainly wasn't enough to make me mad at the 'Church' [maybe I was above that, I hope]. It was enough that I still recall it well from 30 years ago.

My version would tell you that I did nothing wrong; I only didn't accomplish something he thought I should have - and I was now being transferred [job] to another state and he was going to have to finish or get finished the issue at hand.

Apparently the Associate Pastor in the equation let go of it also. He is now a bishop!

Thanks for the memories, Fr V!

Oh! He remembers also. When I read of his 'promotion' I found him through the www and e-mailed him a 'congratulations'. I identified myself, and supposed that with the many thousands of people he's encountered in the intervening years he probably did not recall me. He responded that he indeed did remember me, and replied "...but we won't go there, will we."

Fr. V said...

What a cool story! What would have happened if you chucked the whole thing! Wow! Thanks for that post! Humility and charity and forgiveness at both ends. See, that is why you are cool.

Anonymous said...

many Catholics may have fallen away from the Church because of "poor experiences" with rude priests or (dare we say it) lay pastoral ministers...

but in this individualistic age, there is a lot of justification (not in the Pauline sense) for reasons for "leaving" the Church. Lots of folks leave the Church for the same reason that they complain at a restaurant when their steak is a little overcooked--they aren't geting what they want at the moment they want it...whether its having their children baptized even though they've been away from the Church for twenty years and won't be back till their kids are receiving first communion or playing the touching celine dion ballad during their marriage ceremony.
There are laws and rules for the right ordering of the Church, but people always want an exception because of whatever excuse. This breaks down order. And when priests give in for the sake of being pastoral, it does the same amount of harm as letting a child eat as much candy as they want right before bed...
Modern man is spoiled and ungracious. He believes he is entitled to the Sacraments and to Salvation and forgets (if he ever even knew) that grace is pure gift.

Our disposition ought to be one of gratitude. Gratitude is at the heart of the Eucharist--Thanksgiving--the Church gives thanks to the Father through Christ for saving us from Hell and leading us back home.

Habemus Papam said...

Another great post. So often, and more than we would like to admit, this happens with many people within the Catholic Church. We get mad at the person and of course the "Church" is at fault. I know that some people, myself included, believe that priests and religious are super heros. They can and are supposed to be called in a way that none of us are. And because of this, we feel they are supposed to carry themselves in a manor that is only in the direction toward God. They shouldn't sin, do anything that isn't holy and pure. But as you pointed out, they are just men and women who have faults and who each carry themselves in a different manor. Somtimes its hard to forgive someone that God speaks through and forgives YOU in the sacrament of reconciliation. Yet, if we keep our eye on the prize of Jesus and the Eucharist all will make sense. And whatever a priest or nun may have said to you won't matter if you're fixed upon Christ. Pax.

Fr. V said...


Great post.

Thanks for the word. Hope you are a parent or catechist of some such thing.

Anonymous said...

I once worked with a woman who was furious at the Church because a priest refused to baptize her little baby. He'd asked her if she planned to continue the babe's education of the Sacraments and take her to Mass regularly. She replied to the effect "if it works out that way, yes." *sigh.. The child was now 9. I suggested the mom go speak with some other priest, and she told me her daughter had been baptized outside of the Church, but that wasn't the point, apparently. She was still and ever furious that a priest had rejected (in her opinion) the holiness of a little baby, and every Catholic would have to pay for that.

Also, I made a priest scream at me. Twice. He was troubled, and we were both quite wrong, but he then arranged to marry my daughter when he really didn't have to, and in every action told me how sorry he was, and in my every action, I said the same. We both learned some incredibly hard lessons through those months. Even more than our all being human, this is family. This is family. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Anon...I will echo Fr. V in saying I hope you are involved with cathecisis. You certainly are doing a good job here :). I totally agree with your line:
"Lots of folks leave the Church for the same reason that they complain at a restaurant when their steak is a little overcooked--they aren't geting what they want at the moment they want it"...

Odysseus said...

Fr V,

I hope you don't genuinely think you have anything to be ashamed of about that encounter with the woman who showed up late for confirmation. She was NOT entitled.

Just Me,

I am shocked that a priest went and married your daughter! Report him to your bishop immediately!

Just kidding. I get what you meant.

You're Eastern Catholic, right? :)

Anonymous said...

Rob, whew.. I guess that did come out a little questionably, lol. Ah, well, if only I'd been born an Eastern Catholic, I might've become a saint by now, but I was dropped in the lap of S'int Cath'rin's and attended re-form (no, not parochial) school under the catechismal arches of the Immaculate Conception church, with the Sisters of Mercy carrying my share of duties in this world.

I must say, you folks make my day. I feel as if I'm up in the I.C. choir loft again, benefitting from Mrs. J's benevolent spirit, while she tolerated our two willing voices.

Anonymous said...

[Oh, and.. this: Had it not been for doughnuts, Fr. V., I'd not have met the man of God's dreams for me!---JustMe]

Anonymous said...

Fr. V.,

Reading your post reminded me of a similar incident that took place in my last parish. I had to ask a confirmation candidate to wait until the next year due to her having been involved in highly inappropriate behavior immediately after Confirmation class. Needless to say her mother didn't see things as I did but people don't get that they aren't entitled to the sacraments and that there is a much bigger picture involved. They just want what they want and have no idea that it might affect other people, that they are part of an interconnected community and what they do does matter.

As you experienced, when someone "get's in your face" it's hard not to respond in kind. Patience does not seem to be one of the graces of Holy Orders. By writing to the person and apologizing and offering to work things out you did what you could. It's up to the other person to respond. It's not easy to live with the lack of resolution, however. I horribly verbally mistreated a previous superior. My anger was justified. The way I handled it was not. I eventually wrote a letter of apology. I've never received a response. It's painful. He's a good man and a holy priest and he deserved better. The thorn of this incident has become a reminder to me when I feel ready to fly off the handle to just walk away as soon as I can.

You are right when you say we want priests to be perfect. We priests want to be perfect. The only way we differ with the laity is that we have even higher expectaions of ourselves and one another. But we aren't perfect and we won't be perfect. All we can do is strive to be perfect. As long as we keep trying, keep getting up after we fall, keep going on, we're doing all we can do. We need to realize we are just as human as the next guy and then, maybe, others will begin to see us that way too.

Anonymous said...

Some people are just looking for an excuse and globalise a priest's or nun's rebuke to the whole Church. I continually read on discussions boards how 'sister was mean to me 30 years ago and I've not stepped foot in a Catholic church since. Priests, although they are human, must try very hard to be charitable at all times because someone somewhere down the line will blame him [the priest] for their leaving the Church and of course the priest's side of the story will never be sought.

Anonymous said...

How you keep your patience and not just tell people to stick it where the sun don't shine is beyond me.

If I was a priest--everyone in my parish would hate me, because--yes--slaming a door in a parishioners face when they were being persistently obnoxious because everyone else followed the rules and they want to slide in without meeting Church criteria--no apology letters from me.

We all want the priest to be always in a good mood, available to us personally at every moment, and never have any needs of his own.

You guys are all going to go straight to Heaven!

Anonymous said...

"...going straight to heaven!"

I think they [their souls, their essence] are already there - it is merely the body that is still here trying to catch up.

Anonymous said...

uncle jim:
their souls, their essence are already there--yes you are correct!

Father Schnippel said...

I think, as priests, we've all had similar experiences. (Mine was with a wedding, go figure! (I didn't want to have Mass for a wedding between a Catholic and a non-Catholic, "But, will they really be married if there isn't a Mass?!?!?))

Fortunately, (or unfortunately) my first assignment out of the seminary was with a pastor who had these types of events happen if not on a weekly basis, it seemed weekly. One on one, he was generally good to talk to, but in front of a crowd he was sometimes an explosion waiting to happen. (Which is really great for a priest, eh?)

One incident that sticks in my mind(among many) is his preaching on kindness and reconciliation of differences after he had just blown his top at the music director for playing Marian hymns of January 1st at the Masses that I had.


Even worse, she had planned on switching the music because she knew he was doing the Mass for Peace and Justice (as is an option in our diocese), and she tried to explain that I had done the Mass for Mary, Mother of God. (It seemed appropriate, eh?) He didn't hear it.

I said 'Fortunately' above because in light of his tirades and generally angry disposition, I could do nothing wrong. I also learned a great deal from him on the 'via negativa,' ie: what NOT to do.

Jeffrey Smith said...

It's not always easy to separate the behavior of a priest from the Church. You're talking about priests doing good things and ignoring the fact that priests often commit vicious, evil acts. I've been going through a situation, for three months, where the behavior of a fine, young, faithful priest is putting me through hell and refuses to even consider that his actions may be wrong. He's a priest, therefore he's right. Never mind that he commits acts of intentional cruelty every day then goes out and preaches about love and compassion. My faith is almost dead because of it and, I'm sorry, but when you're in a situation like that, the Church looks very bad.