Unworthy Pastors

March 02 2018 | by



DEAR DR. POPCAK: I am almost 50, married, with two children. My husband and I work from dawn to dusk to pay for their college tuition so that they may live decently.

The TV shows us a lot of bad things: mass killings, terrorism, wars, poverty, the worldwide spread and increase in moral decadence… however, what really hurts me is to see that the Church very often behaves according to the notorious saying: Do as I say, but not as I do.

All the priests drive around in stunning cars and live in large houses furnished with all the comforts. Whenever one of them falls ill, he is sent to the best clinics and is cured by the best doctors. Despite all these enjoyments, they behave badly and devote little time to the faithful: in my parish the priest confesses us for only 10 minutes before the Mass. Sorry for this outburst, but the Church that is poor and for the poor is nowhere in sight.


You are absolutely right. People, even people who are pastors, religious, and lay ministers are hopeless sinners. You aren’t alone in your complaint about the worldly lives of some pastors. In fact, there is an old joke that observes that license plates in Vatican City begin with ‘SCV’. It actually stands for ‘State of Vatican City’ but the joke – inspired by the number of prelates who work in the Vatican and drive in fancy cars – says that it really means, Se Cristo Vedesse! (If Christ could see!). Pope Francis has made many headlines condemning the very problem you decry in your question. Time and again he has criticized the sacrilegious careerism, consumerism, and clericalism that impedes the Church’s ability to proclaim the Gospel.

But the fact is: we are all broken. Psalm 146 says, “Put not your trust in princes.” Really, the Scripture might as well be, “Don’t trust anyone – except Christ.” People – even Church people – will always let you down. We tend to believe that pastors, and religious people (like you and me), are supposed to be better than other people. Certainly, we should be. But really, being religious doesn’t automatically make us better. It only makes us more aware of our brokenness and of God’s invitation to heal that brokenness. Christ is the only one to whom we can consistently look for inspiration.

So, while I understand and sympathize with your complaint, I also want to challenge you. Too often, we look to the brokenness of the people around us as a way of justifying our own brokenness. “Why should I be a better person, give more to the poor, be more loving to my husband, go to Church on Sunday, be faithful to the Church’s teaching on sex, be more charitable to the people who irritate me, or (insert other Christian practice here) if those people are going to act like that!”

Without meaning to, you have cast yourself into the role of the crowd who all-too-eagerly threw the woman, caught-in-the-act of adultery, at the feet of Jesus with the intention of stoning her to death. What did Jesus do? He said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And then he began writing on the ground. What did he write? We don’t know. But some suggest he started writing out the sins of the gathered crowd. Regardless, convicted by Our Lord’s words and actions, the self-righteous crowd dispersed and Jesus forgave the woman they brought to him.

While I share your anger at clerics whose lives do not reflect the Gospel, it would be wrong of me to not turn most of that frustration back on myself. How many times have I behaved in a manner that betrayed the Gospel? How many times have I behaved in a manner that made other people say, “If he acts like that why should I be any different?” While we’re at it, can you honestly say your life perfectly reflects the Gospel? Can you honestly say you have never been anything less than Christlike in your dealings with the people in your life? How many people have you caused to say, “If she can act like that…” You and I might not drive around with SCV on our license plates, but how many people look at our behavior and say, “If Christ could see…”

My advice to you? Take the pain you feel when you see other Christians betraying the Gospel and imagine the nails you pound into Christ’s hands and feet every time you fail in your mission to be the loving, charitable, generous, faithful, intentional disciple you are called to be. Let that awareness challenge you to go to confession, to resolve to be a better witness in the future, and to have a little more mercy for the struggles of others.

Updated on March 02 2018