There’s a crisis in the Catholic Church that no one’s talking about. It’s not abuse. It’s not cover-ups. It doesn’t spring from Vatican infighting. It starts much closer to home, with the shepherds who guide the flock. Many good and godly Catholic priests are struggling with their vocation.
I realized this in January after hosting a conference for nearly 200 American priests. At a similar event in 2019, I could tell that morale was low. It hadn’t been that long since the summer of shame, when the Pennsylvania grand jury report peeled back the curtain on terrible abuse mostly during the 20th Century and former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was removed from ministry for abusing children and seminary students. It was a low point for every Catholic, including — or perhaps, especially — priests. I assumed that the mood would improve over the year. It got worse.
Nearly every priest I spoke with in January admitted it’s a tough time. Father John Riccardo, a Midwestern priest whose job includes encouraging his peers, told me “it’s never been this bad.” They’re also beat down by the sins of priests who perpetrated terrible crimes. Most priests already deal daily with struggling and suffering parishioners, so they particularly feel the wounds inflicted on God’s people.
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