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An Interview / Easylin

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Catholic Twin Circle (CTC): How do media portrayals of priests color the publics perception of them — considering both the news media and fictional portrayals on television and in the films?

Fr. John Hardon, S.J.: Media portrayals of priests are consciously biased against the Catholic priesthood. With rare exception, the secular media portray the Catholic priest as: unhappy in his priesthood, dissatisfied with the Church’s law requiring celibacy, and critical of the Pope and the Vatican. Those who leave the active priesthood are given wide coverage and almost unlimited opportunity to ventilate their criticism of the Catholic Church’s antiquated authoritarianism. Catholic priests who are in the active priesthood but hostile to the Church’s teaching are canonized by the secular media. They are especially given free rein to tear down the Church’s unchangeable teaching on abortion, contraception, and homosexuality.

CTC: Please comment on the general mood of the U.S. priests today. Is it, on balance, one of enthusiasm or disappointment?

Fr. Hardon: On balance, the general mood of U.S. priests is positive. Basically it depends on the priest’s own faith in his priesthood. Priests whose faith is strong are suffering from the widespread secularization of American society. But they are not unhappy. Those with deep faith in their priesthood are under no illusion about the price that a loyal priest has to pay to remain firm in his priestly commitment.

CTC: Are American priests in a transition period?

Fr. Hardon: I would not speak of a transition period, but rather of a purifying period. The Catholic priest in today’s America realizes that he cannot be attached to the things of this world, especially popularity and acceptance by the world. He must be purified of those secular ambitions if he wants to remain faithful to the Christ who ordained him:

  • for the Holy Eucharist, to change bread and wine into the living body and blood of Christ,

  • for the Sacrament of Confession, to absolve sinners from their sins and reconcile them with an offended God.

CTC: How do American priests compare in this regard with those of other countries?

Fr. Hardon: In general American priests compare favorably with those in other countries. “Materially superdeveloped” countries offer the same challenge to Catholic priests as does our own country.

CTC: What are particular strengths of the priesthood today in America? What attracts men to the priesthood?

Fr. Hardon: There are several particular strengths of the priesthood today. Again I am speaking of priests who recognize the dignity of their priesthood. Among those strengths, I would identify especially two: a deep faith and a deepening spiritual life. What attracts men to the priesthood today is especially the challenge it gives men to Christianize a secularized American culture. Young men drawn to the priesthood today are not naïve. They know what it means to be a good priest and they are willing to “go the whole way,” as Christ asked the rich young man in the Gospel, if he wanted to follow the Savior.

CTC: What unique difficulties do priests in America encounter? How do they differ from the difficulties confronting previous generations?

Fr. Hardon: The unique difficulties of the priesthood in secularized cultures like America are the non-acceptance of Catholic doctrines, which the priest is expected to teach the people. These difficulties are different from previous generations because previous generations were religious and more Christian.

CTC: Are there particular generational differences between priests trained before and those trained after the Second Vatican Council?

Fr. Hardon: There are differences between priests trained before and those after the Second Vatican Council, but I would not call them generational. I would call them doctrinal and theological differences. Many of the priests trained after Vatican II were taught ideas that are post-conciliar, indeed, but not always consistent with the trans-conciliar, that is, irreversible teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

CTC: What demographic trends exist among American priests today? For instance: How many new priests are coming along compared with the numbers that are retiring? What is the median age of the U.S. priests?

Fr. Hardon: There has been a drastic drop in the number of men entering the priesthood today, compared with the number that are retiring. But those figures are deceptive.

There are many vocations to the priesthood, perhaps more, today than before. The problem is not in the vocations. The problem is that vocations to the priesthood are either not recognized by some vocation directors, or the vocations are not acceptable by some seminaries because they are allegedly pre-Vatican II, or that genuine vocations are turned off by the militant feminism which is so critical of the male priesthood in the Catholic Church.

CTC: One of the objectives of the Vatican Council was to increase lay involvement in the Church. Has that occurred? Are the relations between priests and Catholics proceeding generally smoothly? What difficulties and what strengths have been encountered?

Fr. Hardon: Yes, lay involvement in the Church is greater and deeper since the Second Vatican Council. Relations are generally smooth. However, one difficulty is the rising tide of what I would call anti-clericalism in some Catholic circles. This is especially the case with radical feminism.

CTC: How can lay Catholics help priests in the work of the Church?

Fr. Hardon: Lay Catholics can help priests in the work of the Church in several ways: 1) Praying and sacrificing for priests, 2) Cooperating with priests, 3) Respecting the dignity of priests, 4) Offering their services, gratis, to priests, 5) Encouraging priests by word and example, 6) Cultivating respect for priests so that young men will be attracted to the priesthood, and 7) Providing financial assistance to young men who are eligible to enter qualified seminaries.

Catholic Twin Circle

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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