Tu Es Sacerdos In Aeternum:
Avoid Even The Appearance of Scandal
Thomas A. Droleskey
With gratitude to Mr. Michael Matt, the publisher-editor of The Remnant, for taking the time to find the original text of this article, which had appeared in the August 31, 2005, issue of The Remnant, I am presenting an adapted version of this older article, which did not appear on this site at all, in light of a great deal of discussion that has been engendered about midget naturalist Herman Cain's propensity to invite women other than his wife out to dinner and/or to shower favors upon them. Although I have made my one and only comment about Mr. Cain's exercise in self-destruction as he blames everyone but himself for giving the appearance of scandal (see Firing Blanks At The Messengers), having not a blessed clue as to the fact that married man is forbidden to associate privately with any woman other than his wife, no less invite them to dinners and the like, it has been remarkable to read commentaries by denizens of the false opposite of the naturalist "right" seeking to justify such invitations as "no big deal." After all, we live in a "different age," we are told.
No, we do not.
There are eternal standards of right and proper conduct for those who are married with members of the opposite gender. These never change according to the "fashions" and "trends" of the time. We are to live at all times to please Christ the King as His consecrated slaves of Mary our Immaculate Queen, not to permit ourselves to become dismissive of them, going so far as to mock their "relevance" today.
What is even more disturbing, however, is the extent to which supposedly believing Catholics, steeped in the traps laid by the naturalists around us, have come to believe that the "almost everything goes" standard of society applies as well to priests and consecrated religious as long they are considered to be "good" and "nice" people who have assured themselves rectitude of their intentions. Intentions mitigate the appearance of scandal not one little whit. How telling it is that even believing Catholics can forget that every single one of our thoughts, words and deed has an eternal dimension to it and that it is "no big deal" for a priest to been seen frequently with women who are unaccompanied.
Indeed, terrible is the standard of judgment on the soul of a priest. Ordained to be an alter Christus as one who acts in persona Christi, a priest must be conscious of the fact that every one of his actions and words is being scrutinized by others for the slightest hint of a lack of integrity.
The devil desires to use the least insignificant human faults of priests to try to discourage and dishearten the interior lives of Catholics whose faith is weak and prone to find excuses for not observing assiduously God’s laws and the Church’s precepts. How much, therefore, should priests, whether secular or religious, strive for the perfection of the Cure of Ars, Saint John Marie Vianney, as they tend to the shepherding of the flock entrusted to their pastoral care unto eternity. Even the appearance of scandal must be avoided so that a priest’s credibility as a witness to the One Whose Priesthood and Victimhood was impressed upon his immortal soul at the moment of his priestly ordination may not be diminished or used by the adversary to drive souls out of the Church.
As human beings, however, priests are going to give bad witness now and again. Each of us gives bad witness. Some of us, sadly, have done far more than give bad witness. Some of us have given the appearance of scandal in word and in deed. Indeed, as I wrote on the occasion of the feast of the patron saint of my boyhood parish in Great Neck, New York, Saint Aloysius, “We pray, therefore, to Saint Aloysius that we who have been impure in thought, word and deed might become serious about the pursuit of holiness and embrace with joy the cross of penance and humiliation as the true pathway to making our souls as white as they were when we wore white suits and white ties and white shoes and white socks and white shirts (or white dresses and white veils) at the time we received our First Holy Communion.”
Those who are no strangers to scandal in their own lives in the past are grateful for God’s ineffable mercy and know that it is truly by His grace and the help of Our Lady that we can avoid sin and live long enough to do penance for our sins as we attempt to climb the heights of sanctity.
It is, however, one thing to sin and seek out in a spirit of true contrition absolution from the hands of an alter Christus in the Sacrament of Penance. It is quite another, however, for us or for our friends to try to excuse our sins and scandalous behavior. To accept the reality of our lives is to accept God's Providence. We must be grieved because of our sins. But we cannot take back our actions. There is no taking back what is in the past. It is done. We need to be chastened by our misdeeds, to resolve to love God and others, and not to give in to the devil's desire to use a sense of sorrow for sin as a means to withdraw from the work God expects us to do. What we must avoid at all costs, however, is to permit ourselves and/or others to justify our scandalous behavior. Scandal is what it is. There is no justifying it.
An instructive case in this regard was one that occurred seventy-months ago. A prominent monsignor on the East Coast was caught on videotape entering a motel with a married woman, who had served as his $100,000-a-year secretary for well over a quarter-century, wearing one set of clothes and then leaving five hours later with the two of them wearing different sets of clothes. The monsignor maintained that nothing “improper” went on inside the motel room, that the secretary wanted to “work on her tan” and to rest, something that those who knew the monsignor better than I did told me was indeed the case. Sadly, however, the monsignor missed the point of the appearance of scandal given by his behavior. He put himself in the near occasion of sin and gave public scandal as a result. The woman could have well afforded a motel room of her own. There was no need for the monsignor and his secretary to have done what they did. And it was truly scandalous that they were traveling without anyone else to accompany them.
Mind you, this is not to condemn the monsignor, who is now around eighty-six years of age, I believe. Not at all. This is merely to point out that priests must be assiduous about the avoidance of giving scandal.
To wit, it would be useful for all priests to consider the chapters on a priest’s attire and “prudence in regard to women” found in Canon Arvisenet’s An Epitome of the Priestly Life (published by Benziger Brothers in 1921) as a significant rebuttal to the contention that it is merely a matter of “innocence” for a parish priest to be dressed in snazzy civilian clothes in the company of a married woman, estranged from her husband, who is not dressed precisely in accord with Our Lady's Fatima dress code.
Here is a passage concerning the simple fact that priests are to dress as priests, noting very rare exceptions, here and there, and there is never any "vacation" to one's vocation to serve as an alter Christus.
My son, let thy modesty be known to all men; walk as you have the model prescribed by the Church.
If thou dost not conform to the law of the Church, thou shalt be as the heathen and the publican; see therefore that thou despise not the law of thy Mother; she has decreed what shall be the color and the style of thy clothes; observe her rules.
She has prescribed simplicity and becomingness in priestly attire; comply with her rules; she discountenances the wearing of soiled and tattered garments; cast them aside.
How, my son, has the gold become dine, the fine color been changed?
How many are there among my priests who are ashamed of my uniform! They belong to the royal priesthood and they disdain to wear a royal crown.
They have renounced the world and yet they love to wear clothes of the most worldly pattern; they are my soldiers and scarcely have they enlisted and been enrolled when they rebel and cast aside my uniform.
O foolish men! They are esteemed indeed by worldlings, but they are an abomination in my sight; they are ashamed of me before men; I shall be ashamed of them before my Father who is in heaven.
O my son, avoid the society of such disedifying clerics; put far from thee the vanity and pride of their demeanor.
Follow not the example of those, my son, who do not give themselves wholly to worldly vanity, but who nevertheless are undisciplined and regardless of rules, saying that they do not bother about these rules.
Neither follow the example of those, my son, who by their slovenly attire rather provoke laughter than excite veneration.
But study and imitate those who by the becomingness of their external apparel show forth the interior integrity of their lives; let thy feet walk in their footsteps.
I will observe them, I will imitate them, O Lord; it is indeed good for me to follow their example.
It is good for me, like them, not to violate one iota or tittle of the ecclesiastical law.
It is good for me, like them, to be faithful in little things that in the greater also I may be like unto them–faithful.
Oh, how beautiful are their footsteps, O Lord; how powerfully does their manner promote virtue! What reverence is inspired by their serious deportment, their humility, their simplicity, their modesty!
I will follow, O Lord, their example and strive to attain to their standard.
O Lord, the part of mine inheritance, my portion in the land of the living! Never again shall mine eyes look with complacency upon worldly vanity.
What have I to do with the world and worldly splendor? What have I to do with the foppery and elegance of effeminate men?
One thing I have asked of thee, O Lord Jesus, one thing I seek, that I may ever bear about in my body thy modesty, so that thy life may be made manifest in my mortal flesh. (Canon Arvisenet, An Epitome of the Priestly Life.)
Pretty good advice for every priest in every age, especially those “sophisticates” in the northeast who think of their priesthood in terms of a career and in terms of “days off” rather than in terms of a total self-surrender to Our Lord Himself as His consecrated slave through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary without ever counting the cost or the hours, men who think that they can hide the fact of their priestly calling by the wearing of civilian clothes to that they will not be sought out spontaneously by some poor soul who might be in need of the absolution that they have been afraid for years and years to seek.
Second, the Chapter on "Prudence in Regard to Women"
Priests must also be very assiduous concerning giving any appearance of scandal, as the elderly monsignor noted above did in 2005, caused by his frequent contact (phone conversations, travels, visits) with women that are known to to the faithful to occur on a regular basis. Priests are to do their own thinking, not have to women run their lives and to boss them around (or make very strong "suggestions" to them) as though they are their "second husbands", so to speak:
I have said to thee, my son, and I beseech thee never to forget it: On account of the beauty of women many have perished.
On account of Eve, the first man; on account of Delilah, the strongest man; on account of the wife of Urias, the most religious man; on account of strange women, the wisest men fell most wretchedly.
Who art thou, therefore, that thou shouldst dare to treat with them without the most profound reserve?
O my son, O my disciple, shalt thou ever be above thy Master? And if I, Immutable Sanctity, was ever most circumspect in regard to women, shall it be permitted thee, a reed shaken by the wind, to be incautious?
True it is, their conversation could have for me no danger; but I wished to give thee an example that thou mighst set accordingly.
Learn of me that thy conversations with them be few, brief and serious.
Learn not to talk to vain Samaritans, unless it be to suggest conversion and penance.
Learn not to hold converse with embarrassed and humiliated sinners, save to give them peace and to teach them to lead a new life.
Learn not to talk to pious Canaanites but in a grave and dignified manner.
Learn to dismiss, even with severity, those who come to thee on account of thy reputation for sanctity, if they give evidence of too much human affection.
Learn not to visit holy Marthas and Marys, except for the sake of their brother Lazarus, or for some reason of religion, necessity or charity.
Learn not to gossip with them about worldly trifles, but to discuss the one thing necessary, the better part which those in heaven enjoy.
Learn not to call upon women who are haughty, indolent, talkative, attired in the latest fashion or devoted to the vanities of the world, but rather to visit and console the sick, the bereaved, and those who compassionate me in my sorrow.
Learn to be rarely in the company of such, that the faithful will be surprised to see thee conversing with them even when their welfare or necessity demands it.
Learn to abstain from too great affection for relatives. If they frequently visit thee, and freely bring others with them, thus interrupting thee in thy prayer and study, say to them: Why do you seek me, why do you bother me? Know ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
If those who are about thee or who wait upon thee give evidence of abnormal devotion to thee, strive to restrain it after the example that I gave when I told the daughters of Jerusalem that they should not weep for me but for themselves.
Learn not to be too familiar with any woman, to commend to my Father all good women.
Learn not to enter the homes of widows or of virgins, not to be long alone in the company of any woman.
Learn to beware of suspicions, and to avoid everything that might probably give rise to them.
Learn to despise the charms and smart sayings of young women, and to be ashamed to accept little presents and delicacies from them.
Look, my son, at clerics whose sanctity thou didst once admire, whose example thou didst once imitate, and whom thou beholdest today vile, despised and abhorred.
When, my son, did their gold commence to tarnish? When was its bright color changed? Was it not when they began to exercise too little caution in dealing with women?
They feared not the danger of their company; then affection sprang up, then the vile passion was aroused within them, then they sinned and fell.
Now the stones of the wall cry out, now the wood of the partitions gives forth its voice, now what was committed in secret is revealed to the light of day, and scandal is given to all my people.
Woe to them! It were indeed much better for them if a millstone had been tied about their necks and they were sunk in the depths of the sea.
O my son, let the ruin of these imprudent men, who foolishly trusted in their own strength, be a warning to thee.
Look now at these priests who have not abandoned their first charity, but in holiness and justice have served me all the days of their lives.
They held themselves aloof from the company of women lest wickedness should alter their understanding, or deceit beguile their souls.
They made a covenant with their eyes to not even think of a virgin.
They venerate old women as mothers; they honor young women, but as sisters in all chastity.
They console the widows who are widows indeed, but shun those that live in pleasures.
They carefully avoid also the young widows who are idle, fond of going about from house to house, and speaking the things they should not.
Imitate, my son, those holy priests and, like them, thou shalt preserve both chastity and charity. (Canon Arvisenet, An Epitome of the Priestly Life.)
Many are the priests and presbyters who have been in my acquaintance at one point or another who have convinced themselves that they are "special," that their own circumstances are so "extraordinary" as to prevent the normal rules priestly of decorum from applying to their as their intentions are "pure" and it is just too bad that others see the appearance of scandal that they have no intention of giving even though they have in fact done so. Some of these men have become so dependent on their "companions" in travel or dining that it is impossible for them to think of functioning without their companionship and/or advice, if not direction, becoming something of a "pastoral team," if you will.
Let those who have the eyes to see accept the truth found in Canon Arvisenet's words, published ninety years ago this year. Let those who mock or snicker at Canon Arvisenet's words sober up and recover their sensus Catholicus before it is too late for them.
Additionally, it would be important to consider the words of Pope Pius XII, offered in his September 23, 1950, apostolic exhortation, Menti Nostrae, concerning priestly affections and the necessity of detachment from worldly possessions:
Yes, watch, beloved sons, because priestly chastity is exposed to so many dangers, whether by reason of laxity in public morals, or because of the allurements of vice which you find so easily seductive in these days, or, finally, because of that excessive liberty in relations between the sexes which at times dares to insinuate itself even into the exercise of the sacred ministry. "Watch and pray", mindful that your hands touch those things which are most holy, that you have been consecrated to God and are to serve Him alone. The very habit which you wear, reminds you that you should live not to the world, but to God. Therefore, trusting in the protection of the Virgin Mother of God, generously make every effort to preserve yourselves "clean, unstained, pure and chaste, as becomes the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God."
To this end We deem it opportune to address to you a special exhortation as regards your direction of associations and sodalities of women, that you show yourselves as becomes a priest; avoid every familiarity; when you must give your services, give them in a way that is befitting sacred ministers. Moreover, in directing these associations, let your interest be confined to the demands of the sacred ministry.
Nor should you consider it sufficient to renounce earthly pleasures through chastity and to submit in generous obedience to your superiors; to these you must also unite daily a detachment of your hearts from riches and from the things of earth. Reverently take as your models those great saints of ancient and modern times who joined this essential detachment from material goods to a profound trust in Divine Providence and a most ardent priestly zeal; as a result, they produced works that are truly marvelous, confiding solely in God who, assuredly, is never found wanting in our needs. Even priests who do not make a profession of poverty by a special vow, must always be guided by the love of this virtue, a love that ought to show itself in the simplicity and modesty of their manner of life, in their living quarters, and in their generosity to the poor. Let them especially refrain from those economic enterprises which would impede the fulfillment of their pastoral duties, and lessen the respect which is due to them from the faithful. Since it is the office of the priest to spend every effort to obtain the salvation of souls, he must apply to himself those words of St. Paul, "I do not seek yours, but you". (Pope Pius XII, Menti Nostrae, September 23, 1950.)
Anyone who believes that Pope Pius XII, who reiterated the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church on these matters, including regarding how priests are not to associate promiscuously with women, is a fool. Nothing else. A fool.
Any of us, priest or layman, who has not been a stranger to scandal in word and in deed must, as noted before, rely upon God’s mercy and Our Lady’s loving intercession to help us to do penance for our forgiven sins before we die. Father Edward Leen noted our total dependence upon God’s mercy in his powerful In the Likeness of Christ:
It is true that He cannot but look with hatred on sin, and that He cannot love us insofar as we are sinners. But He can, and does, love us for any little good that remains in us, and above all He loves us for what we can possibly become if we respond to the pressing appeals of His grace. He does not love sin, but He does love those who are sinners, and He never shrinks from contact with us, or from our contact with Him, as long as there remains the possibility of our rejecting that which is displeasing in His sight. It is to wrong Him to think otherwise; and the Devil never has got a fully decisive victory over a soul until he has robbed it of full confidence in the inexhaustible goodness of the Heart of Jesus to the wayward, the faithless, and the sinful. And not the very gravest of our infidelities inflict so cruel a wound on that Heart, as is that wound that is inflicted on it when we doubt of its tenderness and mercy.
Those who came into contact with Him whilst He lived on earth never had this attitude of fear toward Him, even when they recognized His awe-inspiring holiness. In spite of the consciousness of grave sin that many who approached Him must have had, we see no trace in their dealings with Him of their having a tendency to shrink from His presence or to dread His approach.... It is evident that not only did the Savior show a habitual readiness to forgive sin, but He must have exhibited such graciousness, tenderness, sympathy, and kindness toward sinners that it caused comments and criticism amongst the rigidly righteous [the Pharisees]. . . .
But when it is a question of the soul and the soul's life—of its nearness to or remoteness from God, there are no limits to be placed to the extent of His anxious tenderness. Hence, His almost extravagant joy when the sinful or the lukewarm, surrendering to the assaults of His grace, turn to Him appealingly and cast themselves at His feet with a sincere confession of their helplessness and a humble appeal for help. The acknowledgment of our powerlessness leaves Him, as it were, powerless to resist our entreaties.
The good, the bad, and the ugly of each person's life will be made manifest at the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead on the Last Day. Each of us will see the mercy and the justice of God. That is why the passage of time in our own lives now gives us an opportunity to express sorrow for anything and everything that has not been in accord with a life of holiness, while at the same time we resolve to trust more fully in God's grace to be pleasing in His sight at all times in the future. It is God's will that erring sinners learn from the past and become saints by the time of their deaths.
We beg Our Lady to pray for us “nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae” when we pray her Most Holy Rosary. May each of us, consecrated totally to her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, pray that we will be preserved from the giving and excusing of scandal and that priests, who have the responsibility of getting us home safely to Heaven, who have given the appearance of same will eschew the near occasions of sin so as to better help us in the True Sheepfold that is the Catholic Church to know the glories of an unending Easter Sunday in Paradise with Our lady and all of the angels and saints.
Isn't it time to pray a Rosary of reparation to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary?
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Martin of Tours, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints