Q&A: Why Are So Many Priests Silent?

Q. Why are members of the priesthood silent on the various issues that challenge the church, today? What are the factors that silence them? Why do they permit the factors to silence them? Why don’t they organize and provide substantive insights and remedies. And, why do we call silent priests “good priests”? If there is anything I will never come to understand, it is that.
– submitted by Katherine Fitzgerald
A. Dear Katherine,

Thank you for this insightful question that has been raised by many in the weeks since this latest round of crisis began.  I will try to offer my own insights on this question. In no way do I claim my answer to be anything other than my own insights as a priest who has had many conversations with other priests throughout this sad chapter in the life of our Church.

I think it is important to begin by stating that not all priests have been silent.  There are many priests who have spoken out strongly against the abuse of children, the perceived cover up, and the lack of communication and authentic pastoral concern. These priests have spoken through their homilies, in their bulletins, in parish meetings and in casual conversations with concerned people like yourself.

I believe other priests are trying to find their voice and express this same frustration and concern in a manner in which they are comfortable (some research has revealed that by personality preferences, many priests prefer to avoid conflict which might explain some of what you are experiencing). As priests, we live in a culture that makes every attempt to resolve things privately.  I am not offering this as an excuse, but as a possible reason for why priests are not being as vocal as you and many others would prefer.  In addition, on the day of our ordination we made the promise to “respect and obey” the Bishop of our Archdiocese and as men of integrity we seek to do this very thing (even when our respect and obedience may be perceived as tacit approval, which it is not).

Thus, I believe priests are trying to make their voice heard in a way that will be received as respectful of the Archbishop and his assistants. Priests have been offering insights and possible remedies to the Archdiocese through a variety of forums and this will continue. I know of several priests who have had meetings with different Bishops that they found to be productive and very hopeful. I ask that you not take the silence of all of your priests to mean that they are not concerned, nor that they are not having meaningful conversations, nor that they are not searching for the best way to raise their voice.

As a priest of this Archdiocese I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving amongst the priests in a new way (especially as we prepare for Pentecost) and I pray that the priests who minister to you will find the voice that is needed to continue announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ!

– Father Chris

Father Chris Walsh is Pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Northwest Philadelphia. Prior to this assignment, he served as School Minister at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster and Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Ransom Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. Father Chris is originally from West Chester and is a graduate of Temple University.  He firmly believes that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, even in these difficult days, and that the Catholic Church remains a true instrument of God’s grace in our broken world.