From Scandal to Reform: Above All, Holiness

George Weigel

Over the past several months, as story after story of clerical misconduct filled the papers and the news broadcasts, I have thought time and again of the good priests I know, and what they must be suffering because of the scandal caused by their brother-priests. It is small comfort when one is caught in the media hurricane and every day seems to bring a new body-blow, but it’s worth remembering that those whom Christ chooses have been betraying him from the beginning.

During Holy Week we read again the story of Judas. What would have happened to the first priests of the Church if they had become demoralized and paralyzed by the betrayal of their fellow-apostle? What would have happened if all the members of the early Church were so scandalized by Judas’s treason that they could not grasp how God brings good out of evil?

The early Church got it right, however. It acknowledged that even the chosen can betray their call by including the story of Judas in its sacred scripture, as a reminder and a warning. But it focused its primary attention on those who lived the truth of their apostolic and priestly vocations: all of whom, according to tradition, were ultimately martyred in witness to the truth they lived, with the sole exception of St. John the Evangelist (who in any event suffered the slow martyrdom of exile). Judas is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, but treason is not the main story-line in Acts: fidelity is. There is a lesson for us here.

In thinking recently of all the good priests I know, I have thought especially of younger priests, and particularly of the men with whom I became friends in Rome during the years I was preparing my biography of Pope John Paul II. They are some of the finest men I have ever met. We prayed, walked, toured, argued, partied, laughed, and mourned together. These young priests are now doing wonderful work in parishes and diocesan offices and seminaries — often under difficult personal or pastoral circumstances, sometimes under suspicion because of their orthodoxy and fidelity to the Church’s liturgical rubrics. They have been happy in their priesthood, and now some of them frankly admit to being shaken.

To them, I would like to say: you are the generation of reform. You are the men who will revitalize the priesthood in the image of John Paul II, “priest of the world’s destiny” (as one book nicely styled him). You are the men who will restore trust where it has been broken, because you see your priesthood primarily in evangelical and sacramental terms. Because you don’t think of yourselves as ecclesiastical functionaries but as icons of Christ, and because you know that you are that by the grace of Christ and not by any merit of your own, you will be the generation that reforms the ecclesiastical apparatus so that scandals of the sort we have seen in recent months are far less likely. You are the men who will be the bishops who call other men to priestly holiness and who call the laity to be apostles in the world. I am quite confident of that, even as I know what pain and suffering it will cause you in the years ahead. Be not afraid.

Priests are much on our minds these days, but we would be very mistaken if we thought that this crisis of clerical scandal doesn’t have something to do with all of us. God has a way of dealing with times of scandal and reform: God deals with the Church’s failings by raising up saints to renew the Church in its witness to Christ and his Gospel.


The fully adequate response to today’s crisis is the response that is always necessary when the Church is bottoming out — the call to holiness must be lived more intensely by every member of the Church. Everyone. The crisis of today is like the crises of the past. It is a crisis caused by an insufficiency of saints. That is a wake-up call for all of us.

“Crisis” also means “opportunity.” The opportunity before all of us is to live holier lives.

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!