A real shocker came this Thursday when Fr. Anthony Mary read a letter provided by Fr. Francis as follows (taken from this thread at Catholic Community Forums):
Regretfully, I have a message that does not come without significant pain to both you and me. I have to tell you in all honesty and truth, that I have been personally involved with helping a widow and her struggling family. Over the course of time, the mother and I have grown very close. As a result, I am compelled to take some time off to prayerfully and honestly discern my future.
I am truly sorry of the impact this may have on so many. I am not unaware of the gravity and magnitude of the situation, yet after much wise counsel, it is really something that I must deal with now for the good of all.
With that said, it is best that I deal with it away from EWTN. Therefore, I have asked for and graciously been granted some extended time to prayerfully discern my vocation.
To those who are part of the EWTN family locally, and others throughout the world, especially all those who have supported me so faithfully in my priestly vocation and ministry here on Life on the Rock, I sincerely apologize. I ask for your prayers and understanding during this time that is so very difficult, but yet so very necessary.
Please lift me up in your humble prayers to Jesus through Mary, our Mother, in Grace and Mercy.
Fr Francis Mary, MFVA
Then the post goes on to quote Fr Anthony Mary's concluding statement:
"Brothers and Sisters of our EWTN family, this is a time in which Fr Francis and all involved are in great need of your prayers and your support as our family. Sin will not have the last word. Always remember that no one is beyond the power of God's Mercy or Redemption. And on Fr's behalf, I humbly ask that you pray for him. God bless you."
Please offer your Mass intentions up for Fr. Francis Mary and all priests in similar situations.
At the same time, please pray for all of those at EWTN who are close to Fr. Francis Mary. They have to be hurting something terrible. May God give them comfort and hope.
I want to talk in general about this issue - priests and women getting a little too close, not the case of Fr. Francis Mary. We don't know anything beyond what was provided in his letter and should not make any rash judgments.
THE MARK IN SATAN'S CROSSHAIRS
Priests are not beyond temptation, or falling to temptation. This makes praying for them all the more important. As much as Satan wants your soul or mine, he salivates over luring priests away.
The mark of the priesthood is a special one, and one that the Angel of Darkness has in his crosshairs. When he succeeds in pulling away a priest, or making him fall in some way, or leads him to be doctrinally disoriented, he can take many with him. This can be true by simply losing hope when we are disheartened by a priest who gets involved with someone through a moment of weakness and takes leave. It is in these times we need to turn to prayer and to have hope, being reassured that Jesus promised the Church would prevail.
"BUT A PRIEST IS A MAN WITH MANLY NEEDS...."
CCC 1534 Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.
Some would say that the priest is still a man and has manly needs. Such people do not understand the nature of the graces given with the priesthood. God gives a married couple the graces to help them with their state in life as spouses and parents (ccc 1615-1617). They can choose to not act on those graces. Acting on them often involves sacrifice and mortification - things rarely talked about from any pulpit in these fluffy times. We see the fruits of this in divorce & remarriage, contraception, materialism, and people having pets or a house full of "toys" instead of kids. (Edit 11-6-07: This does not pertain to the small percentage of couples who want children, try to have children, and simply cannot. Rather, it's a look at society in general today. If you want to see a parish whose people are unselfishly open to each and every life, come to Assumption Grotto and you will see the beautiful reality with kids all over the place).
Similarly, a priest receives the graces necessary to fulfill his office. It is only by the grace of God, and a priest acting on that grace, that he can do an extraordinary thing: Live a celibate, chaste life. A priest can put himself into the near occasion of sin by allowing himself to get too close and not recognizing it is time to pull away, or even request a transfer - out of state if necessary, or to a monastery on a long retreat to detach himself from the person.
WAKE UP LADIES and DISCERN THIS!
I have so much more I would like to say to you - woman to woman. If you are Catholic enough to come to Mass and you know that priests cannot marry, watch your step and do a reality check! Who are you to place yourself between God and a man called to the priesthood?
I have said it before on this blog that all of us must constantly evaluate our attachments to any particular priest - especially women for obvious reasons. We have properly ordered spirituality IF the priest is leading us closer to God. If we are merely growing closer to the person of the priest and can't function without the man, then consider the word "disordered" and seek out some spiritual direction on the matter (from another priest). It's no less disordered than allowing yourself to get too close emotionally to a man who is married to someone else. Ive' seen this since I was young: There are people who will follow a priest like some kind of fan club, talking about how cute he is, his dimples, his hair, his habits, they know his every move, etc., etc., etc.
KNOCK IT OFF! He can't ever belong to you so don't even think of going there. People can create scandal for an innocent priest. Priests - at least those who are developing properly from a spiritual standpoint, spend a lifetime perfecting detachment. They have creative ways of avoiding the near occasion of getting involved with "Eve" and for each priest it is different. Most make it a point to stay busy (or allow themselves to be busy by acting on those "keep busy" graces by God). They exercise, and refrain from putting themselves in situations that will have others raising their eyebrows, even if entirely innocent, such as driving alone with a woman. Furthermore, when they are lonely, they don't need a woman. What they need is a rich and deep prayer life. The finest priests I have ever known will put themselves into the loving arms of the Blessed Mother, and turn to daily adoration of Our Eucharistic Lord.
It happens ladies - a woman finds a man who is compassionate, kind, and a great listener. He happens to wear a roman collar. The next thing you know, you begin to have feelings for him. That's when you need to back off, go to a different Mass, a different parish, or a different town if need be. It's not a sin to find yourself attracted to a priest, but once you recognize it is happening, you have an obligation to do all that it takes to get out of the situation and starve those feelings. That is the viper trying to convince you to give Adam the harmless piece of fruit. Don't think Satan won't use you as his instrument. You might start by finding a holy priest whom you do not find attractive and enter his confessional to discuss your disordered feelings for another member of the clergy (without naming him). Let the priest discern if you have crossed the line interiorly from a momentary temptation (not sinful) to dwelling in the temptation (sinful) and allowing yourself to persistently get close to this priest.
Enough said here. If you want another good read on some good pointers about how to conduct yourself around priests (or how not to conduct yourselves), please read an excellent post at Dymphna's Road on this subject.
EDIT Nov 6, 2007: Link to a very good post by Fr. Erik Richtsteig
EDIT Nov 14, 2007: Link to followup blogpost - Fr. Benedict Groeschel admonishes bloggers not to cross the line into detraction.
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