As we were leaving Central Illinois for Mississippi, our diocese initiated a major priest-swap, switching parish priests from one church to another.
In some instances, it wasn’t a popular move.
The relationship between a Catholic priest and his parishioners is designed to be temporary. His assignment comes at the discretion of a bishop — unlike Protestant churches, whose congregations test pastoral candidates and vote them in or out at will.
Parishioners count on their priest to baptize their young, marry their children, and eulogize their deceased; to visit the sick in hospitals and nursing homes; to counsel the troubled and confused; to hear confessions.
Put a new face — a new personality — in that rectory, and you can expect an adjustment period.
On both sides.
We saw a similar priest-swap take place when we were on the Gulf Coast. There, the pastor firmly emphasized that he was moving to a different parish and urged the congregation not to compare the new priest to him, not to continue thinking of him as their shepherd. In short, to switch their allegiance to the new guy.
Wise words. Not all priests say them.
Our Illinois pastor was well-liked. When he left, people traveled miles to see him. They compared the new priest — unfavorably, of course — to him; refused to attend Mass and contribute to the support of the church; gossiped behind his back; even went so far as to write letters to the bishop, asking that he be removed.
Now they’re planning a meeting about the state of the parish, the school, the downturn in donations.
But I suspect the main topic will be the new priest and his “unsatisfactory personality.”
Don’t expect me to be there. I refuse to take part in a lynching.
A priest is God’s representative on earth. If he doesn’t do his job properly, he’ll have to answer for it. Rather than condemning him, parishioners might consider the following:
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
“For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” Matt. 7: 1-3