Even when they have not been targeted personally by any disparaging remarks, priests are conscious of the climate of ‘suspicion’ that has developed.
Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner and Marie Malzac LA CROIX
France – April 16, 2019
While they will gather around their bishops for the Chrism Mass, a key moment in Holy Week, French priests share with La Croix their distress at the wave of revelations of sexual abuse, but also their need to talk and strengthen the brotherhood amongst them.
Shock, sadness, anger, disillusionment
… many priests realized only in the past few months the “scope” of the crisis of abuses in the Church, which is not limited to “individual cases” as first thought, but takes on a “systemic” dimension in their eyes.
As a member of the monitoring organisation in his Diocese of Nanterre, Father Hugues de Woillemont knows the “depth of the trauma” experienced by the victims in all areas of their personal and spiritual lives. But a documentary aired in early March by Arte TV on the rape of nuns by clerics was the final blow for him.
Even when they have not been targeted personally by any disparaging remarks, priests are still conscious of the climate of “suspicion” that has developed. They are aware of the parents who “are grateful that they did not send their children to catechism,” said Father Erick Delamarre, priest of Saint-Ouen l’Aumône in Val d’Oise department.
How are they living through this storm? What support do they need, and where do they find it? These are delicate questions for men more accustomed to supporting others than to looking after themselves. They are the questions tht La Croix put to diocesan priests in the days leading to the Chrism Mass when they will gather around their bishops to renew their priestly promises.
Balance of life
Some, like Father Gilles Drouin, a priest in the Diocese of Evry who was called a “paedophile” as he left the Cathedral of Chartres, refuse to “dwell on the issue.” Out of decency, out of respect for the victims… there is a whole mix of reasons.
“We’re not children,” he says. “And then, it’s hard for all Christians.”
Others recognize, in not so many words, the need to ensure more than ever their “balance of life.” Annual retreat, spiritual guidance and daily prayer are “extremely important places” for keeping that balance.
“The summer holidays are welcome,” Father Delamarre admits openly. More than ever, they attest to the need to speak about the crisis.
“The first need they express is to talk and to talk among themselves,” said Auxiliary Bishop Bruno Valentin of Versailles, who realized during parish visits that these are different from the usual “everyday and simplistic” discussion.
With his life-review team, Father JacquesTurck, who is in charge of monitoring and training newly ordained priests in the Diocese ofNanterre, has worked on the sense of the “sanctity of the Church.”
“One priest told us he was thinking of cancelling the celebration planned for his fiftieth anniversary of his ordination,” he said. “We discussed it and, in the end, he decided to go ahead with it.”
Friendship and family ties are particularly precious at this time because they “do not depend on my status as a priest or my function as a vicar general,” said Father Guillaume Teissier in Valence. Gestures of affection, even invitations to dinner from parishioners, are well appreciated.
“There is goodwill: people tell me ‘I’m praying for you,'” said a young priest from the Diocese of Orléans, saddened by the tensions that followed the suicide of Father Pierre-Yves Fumery last October.
Sensitive to their fragility
Father Jean-François Berjonneau belongs to a missionary fraternity made up of priests and lay persons. He feels the strength of sharing.
“I’m able to say certain things, thanks to questions from the lay people, that I would not necessarily have said to other priests, and vice versa,” he said.
“We keep up the ties with our former parishes,” said Father Robert Aliger, a priest from Aix-en-Provence and a member of the Apostolic Union of Clergy. “It’s also a question of temperament. Some perhaps do not know how to call for help, to be sensitive to their fragility.”
And that is the issue, those in charge of looking after the priests say.
“Those who do not talk are the ones who are doing less well,” explains Msgr. Valentin. “As in a family, we have to pay extra attention to the most fragile confrères.”
Bishop Christian Nourrichard of Evreux has proposed a three-day session in late April in Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer, in Côtes d’Armor, to “take stock of our balance of life.”
In Valence, too, the bishop and his vicar-general are working to strengthen a sense of “brotherhood” within the presbyterate, in addition to the “spontaneous or chosen brotherhood with the priests to whom we feel close,” said Father Teissier.
Training days have been organized around the pope’s Letter to the People of God or on non-violent communication to strengthen the links between priests of different generations and cultures, which “emerge, precisely, from this climate of mistrust.”
In this difficult phase, the relationship with one’s bishop is also crucial: knowing that “his door is always open, including for his priests” and that you can “speak to him at any moment,” even send him an SMS and receive a comforting message.
The research and professional development that needs to be done in the face of the crisis is also indispensable.
It’s clearly in this area that there is an urgent need for action, stresses Father Drouin, Director of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie (Higher Institute of Liturgy). “Guidance and brotherhood, that’s good,” he said. “But that’s not what will resolve the fundamental problem, the notion of authority in the Church.”
Fr. Drouin said the Chrism Mass is an excellent illustration of this because it manifests, during Holy Week, “the relationship between the bishop, priests and the people of God … or, rather, in the opposite order!”
There is no doubt that the ocean of abuse scandals overwhelming the church is having a seriously debilitating effect on many priests.
But they are not primary victims.
Victims and their families are the primary victims.
And in so far as priests are not openly and publicly criticising the church’s handling of the abuse priests and bishops are co abusers.
In this article it is stated that the bishops shoukd be very close and available to priests. That is not happening.
Take Treanor in Down and Connor – a most remote and cold figure.
And a Derry priest told me that yesterday’s Chrism Mass in Derry was an exercise in how cold the relationship is between them and McKeown.
My Keown preached about tge dwindling number of priests and how more and more Masses would be cancelled.
Priests may be feeling the heat.
But itbis the clerical church that created and maintains the abuse!