There is a line in the Acts of the Apostles that I once found humorous: So the word of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem continued to grow rapidly. Even a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7) Of course the priests referred to here are the priests of the ancient Temple, the Levitical priests. In the past, such a line seemed ironically funny to the average Catholic who heard it.

But that humor, in recent days, seems more darkly true and less ironic. Indeed, in the past two decades — and now, once again — the reputation of the priesthood and episcopacy has been sullied by the deeply sinful, unchaste, unnatural and unconscionable acts of some priests and bishops. They have harmed many victims and disgraced the priesthood. They have engaged in great evils, often repeatedly and with no accountability. But they will answer to God for what they have done.

Add to this the cover-ups, secret payments, the neglect to follow up on many complaints and the seeming refusal to look to the real roots of the problem, and the result is a total collapse of any credibility or moral authority that bishops and priests need to have in order to effectively preach and teach the faith.

I know that words cannot really describe the anger, grief and disappointment of our lay faithful, many of whom have tried to defend the Church, the Bride of Christ and our Mother whom we love.

As a priest of Jesus Christ, I am angry and dismayed that the honorable Sacrament of Holy Orders has been so besmirched and dishonored by the actions of some. I know I do not need to tell most of God’s good people that the majority of priests and bishops have been faithful and are zealous and generous servants. I had insisted until recently that the number of malefactors is very small. But frankly, I must say that, while still a minority, the number is far more extensive than I thought.

And while I have at times wanted to insist that the percentage of clerical offenders is the same or lower as other groups of men, I must also say that whatever the percent, the crime is far worse. This is because people entrust to us the most precious and necessary thing they need for salvation — their faith. For any of us to mislead God’s faithful or strip them of the trust they need to attain deeper faith is the worst sort of malpractice. And there are clerics up to the highest ranks who have done this, here and throughout the world. For clergy to go so far as to seduce others to sin is a horrific crime.

Jesus said of these who do not repent of such seduction and malpractice: Scandals will inevitably arise: but woe to him through whom they come. It is better for him that a millstone be hung about his neck, and that he be cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones. (Luke 17:1-2)

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