The ecclesiastic hierarchy is right to be worried by this illness infecting the Church. Indeed, sin has always been a reality, and certain periods in the history of the clergy are anything but glorious for various reasons.
Be it the Faith–most heresiarchs have come from the ranks of the priests; discipline–with simony for example, in the 11th century; or morals–with Nicolaism, the incontinence or “marriage” of the clergy, during the same century. But our Holy Mother the Church has always raised up holy persons to put an end to these hateful wrongs. In order to fight effectively against these evils, however, it is necessary to attack the true causes, and therefore to know and detect them.
The Priest Must Be a Man of God
There can be no true priestly life without a certain sanctity. St. Thomas defines it as “stability in divine purity.” God is holy, for He is absolutely pure. He is a perfectly simple Spirit who possesses all perfections infinitely. He is infinite truth, boundless goodness, eternal, and immutable. Holiness therefore consists in growing closer to God’s perfection– “be ye perfect even as my Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48)–by consecrating oneself and giving oneself to Him. This gift, in the priest, must be total and absolute. That is why the priesthood sets the priest apart; it separates him from the world, and this is the meaning of the word “cleric”.
The modern spirit that was infiltrated into the priestly ranks in the 1950’s considered this separation too radical and thought it kept priests from devoting themselves to their apostolate and distanced them from an increasingly secularized world. The general byword was, “Reach out to the world!” And this was the beginning of working priests and the adoption of worldly styles, and the end of the cassock. Vatican Council II came and provided a decisive encouragement from above for this secularization.
At the same time, the Faith was growing weaker, discouragement was winning over many priests at the desertion of their parishes, and thousands of them deserted in turn. Once again, the Council served as a catalyst, watering down the doctrine and the sense of the priesthood. The post-conciliar reforms completed the work of making the priest a stranger to his own mission.
For we must not forget that the moral law of the Gospel is based on the Faith. It can only be understood in the context a profound spiritual life, that is simply a participation in divine life itself through sanctifying grace and the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. The moral virtues, resumed in the cardinal virtues–prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance–allow this divine life to develop freely.
It is therefore a complete illusion to seek remedies for the present situation without first considering the deep causes.
Changing the Mass Changes the Priest
Without a doubt, the frightful progress of immorality, especially through the new media outlets, is not without its share of responsibility in this degeneration, but we must maintain that the first cause lies in a new conception of the priesthood. This conception was revealed in the reforms of the Mass.
The new rite changed the definition of the Mass: the priest is no longer the one who accomplishes the sacrifice; he is rather the “president of the assembly.” It is no longer the sacrifice of the Cross; it is a banquet. Changing the liturgy this profoundly changes the priesthood. For the priest is defined first and foremost with regards to the sacrifice. Denaturing the sacrifice denatures the priest.
What is more, the priesthood has been desecrated by the undue assimilation of the “common” priesthood of the faithful to the ministerial priesthood of the priest. There is an essential difference between the priest and the layman, but the new doctrine tends to confuse them and consider that between the two there is only a difference in degree. To make the layman a sort of “little priest” or the priest a “super-layman”. This can be seen especially in the disappearance of distinctive signs such as the cassock and the Cross.
Lastly, the apostolate has been turned away from its true end. The priest is no longer first and foremost the man of God, the man of the sacrifice on the altar, the man of prayer through his breviary. His mission has become social and even political. He is no longer destined to convert but to dialogue. He has lost the sense of the transcendency of his state and the requirements that it implies. He wishes to live like other men. There is a very high risk he will end up falling into sin.
Once these causes have been detected, it is important to adhere to their remedies. We do not intend here to explain them in detail, but only to give the guiding principles that must be followed under pain of failing miserably.
- The true spirit of the priesthood cannot be recovered without teaching the Faith in all its purity, particularly by banishing the errors that came from Vatican II. Especially ecumenism and religious liberty. The priest must preach the reign of Christ the King.
- The liturgy and especially the Mass must be reestablished in its rite that so well expresses the mystery it represents: the Sacrifice of the Cross. Priests must be able to identify themselves with what they say every day at the altar: “This is My Blood,” and they will thus be able to communicate it abundantly to others.
- The clergy must be sanctified by all the traditional means used by our Holy Mother the Church: the sacraments, the breviary, meditation, retreats. By banishing any worldly spirit. By a true apostolic zeal entirely directed to the conversion and sanctification of souls.
Utopia, one could say, is out of season. The world has changed. Clericalism, one will add, is the era of pluralism. We have to stop thinking of establishing the reign of Christ. As you admitted earlier, these means were not enough to keep the clergy from falling in certain time periods.
But the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, raised up within her ranks the appropriate remedies for the periods when the Christian spirit was growing decadent. And the main remedy has always been the renewal of the sanctification of the clergy. Trying to do without this and to persist in the dead-end of the Vatican II aggiornamento will be as effective as putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.