“As the shepherd, so the sheep; as the priest, so the people. Priest-victim leadership begets a holy Church. Every worldly priest hinders the growth of the Church; every saintly priest promotes it. If only all priests realized how their holiness makes the Church holy and how the Church begins to decline when the level of holiness among priests falls below that of the people! Every slightest failing on our part brings the community under the judgment of God. Every least increase of priestly virtue brings it blessing.” – Ven. Fulton Sheen
“The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” – St. John Vianney
Father Willie Doyle (SJ) was a priest who selflessly offered his life in reparation for the sins of priests. The following is taken in part from the writings of Dr Patrick Kenny, author of the blog, REMEMBERING FR WILLIE DOYLE SJ
“I believe,” wrote Fr. Willie Doyle, S.J., who died as a martyr of charity in the First World War, “that Our Lord is asking for victims who are willing to suffer much in reparation for sins, especially those of priests.” Priests were held in very high esteem 100 years ago, yet here we have Fr Doyle recognising the reality of priestly sinfulness. It was a desire to atone for these sins that drove him to some of his severe penances and became one of the driving forces of his spiritual life.
In private papers and diaries of his that were published in the years after his death we discover a laser-like focus on the pursuit of holiness using the only tools that will work – prayer and penance, both of which Fr Doyle embraced with particular intensity. He was a very successful promoter of vocations and he preached retreats for priests, urging them to greater generosity and holiness in their calling. In a letter in 1913 he wrote: “I see more and more each day how different the world would be if we had more really holy priests”. Given that he died over 100 years ago, it is fascinating to note his constant focus on the need to make reparation for the sins of priests, a theme he returned to again and again in his private diaries:
I believe that Our Lord is asking for victims who are willing to suffer much in reparation for sins, especially those of priests.
Last night I rose at one a.m. and walked two miles bare footed in reparation for the sins of priests to the chapel, where I made the Holy Hour…. I felt a greater longing for self-inflicted suffering and a determination to do more.
The great light of this retreat, clear and persistent has been that God has chosen me, in his great love and through compassion for my weakness and misery, to be a victim of reparation for the sins of priests especially; that hence my life must be different in the matter of penance, self-denial and prayer, from the lives of others not given this special grace.
And one year before his death, while living alongside the soldiers in the trenches, he notes:
Our Lord seemed to urge me not to wait till the end of the war, but to begin my life of reparation at once…He asked me for these sacrifices: To rise at night in reparation for priests who lie in bed instead of saying Mass; To give up illustrated papers; To kiss the floor of churches; Breviary always kneeling; Mass with intense devotion. The Curé of Ars used to kneel without support while saying the Office. Could not I?”
Just how bad things can get can be seen from the loss of Faith in Ireland due in part to the fallout of clerical crimes. Just five men entered the only diocesan seminary in Ireland in 2018, the lowest number since the Maynooth seminary was founded in 1795. The late Fr. Benedict Groeschel claimed in the early 2000s that Ireland was the only country in the world in which he received abuse on the street because he was wearing his religious habit. Many of the Irish have long since abandoned the Church, and everything it stands for, as clearly evidenced by their support for abortion in a referendum last year. The problems of abuse, and institutional failures around it, must be fixed as the first priority.
The solution – the only one that works – is holiness. And holiness for priests naturally includes a full and loving embrace of celibacy. “Priests must be very pure”, said little St Jacinta of Fatima, who received further visits from Our Lady as she lay dying in hospital in Lisbon. In fact she warned all people to remain pure, for “more souls go to Hell for sins of the flesh” than any other sins.
“Christ himself, the model of priests, taught first by the example of his deeds and then by his words: Jesus began to do and then to teach. Likewise, a priest who neglects his own sanctification can never be the salt of the earth; what is corrupt and contaminated is utterly incapable of preserving from corruption; where sanctity is lacking, there corruption will inevitably find its way. – St. Pius X
The Holy Priesthood is under great attack in our world today. Let us pray very much for priests this coming Lent, offering ourselves as victims of reparation for the sins of priests especially in acts of penances and self-denial.