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How Can We Help?… Good Priests Are Being Canceled

August 11, 2021 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Two weeks ago, we introduced our readers to Fr. John Lovell, a leader in the newly formed Coalition for Canceled Priests. The Coalition, an initiative of priests and laity alike, has been formed to address a growing problem in the priesthood and hierarchy: “an unwillingness to resist, and even a desire to celebrate, secular corruptions that have been condemned by the Church since its founding.”
Of course, there are many who resist this corruption. They are “faithful priests and bishops who preach and practice the eternal Faith,” according to the Coalition’s website. The problem is that all too often, these good men are persecuted when they boldly preach the faith.
In the language of today’s cultural conflicts, they’ve been “canceled.”
In our first interview, Fr. Lovell discussed how so many priests have been “canceled and warehoused by bishops who are preaching heresy.” In the U.S. alone, these men might number over a thousand, and the problem has been going on for years.
“The canceling in the Church has been going on way longer than in the culture,” observes theologian and retired Professor Dr. Janet Smith.
“About 35 years ago I figured out that the way to find the best priests in a diocese was to look in the most remote and undesirable parishes. Their offense was generally preaching the Gospel unadulterated. Evidently that is not punishment enough so now priests have their faculties removed and languish in exile. Jesus weeps.”
Dr. Smith’s observation hits home here in the Diocese of Arlington. In 1974, the Diocese of Richmond included the entire state, which had a Catholic population of only some four percent. Back then, many good priests had been “pre-canceled” — exiled to the northern part of the state. That providential move provided the fertile ground for the founding of the Diocese of Arlington under the able leadership of Bishop Thomas Welsh. A half-century later, Arlington is one of the most flourishing dioceses in the United States.
Today, the “canceled” problem has risen to crisis levels. The Coalition’s founders have prayerfully confronted this crisis head-on, and they have made a clarion call to action, as well as a plea for help.
But help from whom? With that in mind, we asked Fr. Lovell, “Let’s start with your fellow priests. How can priests help one another?”
“The priests need to come together because only with a united front that will stand up to the bishop will we be successful,” he said. “If you think you could do this on your own or if you try doing it the corporate way or the professional way of the world, it’s not going to work…you’ll just see the good priests knocked off one by one.”
On the practical level, canceled priests need to be defended, so “the coalition is trying to put together a list of solid canon lawyers — better said, solid lawyers that are fighters,” Fr. Lovell added.
We asked if priests still serving in the same diocese can help their canceled brothers. Fr. Lovell was blunt. “I’ve had many priests, close personal friends, who basically stopped talking to me after I was removed. They were afraid of what the bishop might say.” That was a lesson learned, he said. “I always tell active priests, you have to stand up and stand with your brother priests that have been canceled.”
How can the laity help members of the Coalition? Can we even get involved at all?
“Absolutely. Canon 212 can provide the inspiration, or be a springboard, specifically paragraphs two and three. It makes clear that helping good priests is not only your right, but it’s your duty. And if responding to our suffering is your duty, then that puts the onus on the laity to actually stand up when they see an injustice, even if comes from our shepherds. I always tell the laity that you can’t be passive. You have to realize is that God’s calling you to proclaim the good news, no matter how busy your life is.”
[Canon 212, §2. “The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.”
[Canon 212, §3. “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful.”]
We raised a couple of questions that are on the minds of many among the laity. First, “many of us grew up revering our priests and bishops to the point where they could do no wrong. Bishop Sheen was on the screen and all the bishops were just as wonderful as he was. What happened?”
Well, even though bishops weren’t perfect then, things have definitely taken a turn for the worse. “Lately, it does seem as though we have an abundance of bad bishops or at least indifferent, cowardly bishops. What to do? We have to hold the bishops’ feet to the fire. They need to know that they can’t bulldoze the laity’s good priests. . . . If their sacred pastors go astray, it’s the duty of the laity to stand up.”
Second, some Catholics are asking — mind you, they don’t know anything about “canceling,” at all — “Hey, did these priests you’re talking about disobey a legitimate order of their bishop? Is that why they’re in trouble?”
The answer is clearly no. “Canon Law does give grounds for a bishop to start a ‘contentious trial’ against a priest on specific grounds. But Bishop Malloy [of Rockford] has never done that. It’s frustrating that so many Catholics think that the Church or the relationship between a bishop and a priest is like a religious order or like the military. It is not. It should be (here he emphasizes the point) more of a Father/son relationship. By that I mean more of a Father’s relationship with an adult son. Not as a five year old. We are co-workers with the bishop, not privates in an army. Let’s face it: There are many among the laity who want to follow the bishops blindly without question. That goes against Canon 212.”
We asked about Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio severely restricting the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. Would the uproar following the motu proprio’s promulgation lead to more canceled priests?
“First of all, the motu proprio is clericalism at its height, it’s a complete and utter disaster,” Fr. Lovell said. Indeed, many critics of the Latin Mass don’t have a clue as to what it’s all about. They’re condescending, pretending that it appeals only nostalgic older Catholics. They’ve never taken the time to discover that, in fact, many young families love its reverence and beauty.”
Beyond that, however, Raymond Cardinal Burke has called the Pope’s action “harsh.” Newly ordained priests who want to celebrate the Latin Mass have to have permission from their bishop and from Rome. Will they be treated harshly? Will they be canceled? Who will want to celebrate the Latin Mass in the future?
Fr. Lovell looks at the broader picture. “Ultimately, it’s going to become a conversation about what obedience really means. How far does the Pope’s authority go, especially when the previous Pope is still alive? On reflection, it seems like the Vatican is almost daring traditionalists to go into schism.”
So for all priests, not just the newly ordained, the motu proprio presents a problem. It surely isn’t solving any. And the challenge facing canceled priests remains.
That means that the important work of the Coalition will continue. And these good priests need our prayers and our support.

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