By Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
For some time I have been aware that during these days of a priest shortage there are a remarkable number of complaints about the clergy and even serious detraction and calumny. The most distressing phenomenon -- possibly a small one -- is perhaps the failure of many people to express gratitude by a simple thank-you.
The causes for this decline in courtesy and respect for the clergy are many. The most basic reason may be that we do not live in a respectful society. People do not have an awareness that by being respectful and courteous, they enhance their own self-respect. Along with this there are the stresses and strains caused by the shortage of priests and the fact that one priest is covering what three priests used to do.
In addition, laypeople often fail to understand the special challenges of priests from other countries who have come to the United States to assist us because we could never fulfill the Church's needs without them. I am impressed that so many of these priests, faced with the challenges of language, pronunciation, and a different culture, do so very well. They are also removed from their own support system. They may have lived in a tight social structure at home, and now they find themselves at sea.
Added to this are the attacks on the Catholic clergy in the media. Sixty years ago we used to be heroes of the American cinema, with actors like Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, and Pat O'Brien portraying priests in the best possible light. Whoever thought that the Walt Disney Corporation would produce a vicious attack on the Catholic clergy? Now we are dragged through the mud every time the prominent anti-Catholic newspapers get a chance.
I must at least mention the injustice done to priests because of virtual suspension by reason of what are called ''credible accusations'' of misbehavior. Priests simply do not enjoy equal protection of the law. To regard any group of citizens guilty until proven innocent is an extremely dangerous state of affairs for human freedom. It is well to recall that no one reading this article can prove that he never committed murder.
Just criminal law is founded on the precept that one needs to prove the accused guilty, not that the accused needs to prove he is innocent. Priests and bishops are the whipping boys of much of the media at present, and we ought to respond to this unjust state of affairs.
May I suggest that an appropriate sermon be given in a moderated voice on being kind to your priest? It is worthwhile pointing out that clergy have always been subject to criticism. If you read the Bible, you will see that Moses and Aaron got plenty, and in the New Testament, St. Paul especially was a lightning rod. And what shall we say about the constant criticism, carping, and false accusations that faced our divine Savior?
While it may certainly be an act of humility and dedication to accept bad treatment, it is probably not a good idea to do it all the time. I would suggest bringing to people's attention, especially at things like weddings or funerals, that the priest is not a retainer or someone in a service position. I think people need to be reminded that priests work for one fifth of the wages that they would ordinarily have received in secular life and that many priests work far beyond the retirement age.
Finally, one of those old but forgotten points should be made: Priests bring us the mysteries of God, especially the holy Eucharist. A few words from St. Francis might be cited. ''I have such faith in priests who alone give us the Body and Blood of Christ that even if they persecuted me, I would have recourse to them.''
It also goes without saying that we priests ourselves should give an example of friendliness, courtesy, and respect to our brother priests in conversation, manners and cordiality. This is especially true of priests who come from other countries. If we believe in the priesthood, we should show that belief and ask others to show that belief under all circumstances.
Having discussed this subject on my TV program, I have the impression from responses that people will be grateful to be reminded and that the vast majority of them will recognize that this is an area where improvement is called for. TP