Matt C. Abbott
'The priests we need...'
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By Matt C. Abbott
August 29, 2019

From an Aug. 19 article at the website of Crisis Magazine, written by Kevin Wells (excerpted; click here to read the article in its entirety):
    It's coming up on 20 years since my uncle, Msgr. Thomas Wells, was murdered in his Maryland rectory during a somber late summer night. Deputy state attorney Kay Winfree called the scene spine-chilling: as gruesome as anything she'd ever encountered.

    His body was marked by deep stab wounds around his head and neck, accompanied by many dozens of slashes to various other parts of his body, like stigmata from hell. His murderer, Robert Paul Lucas, followed the well-worn path of a cold-blooded killer, hiding his outdated brown-and-beige van amid a metallic forest of other dilapidated vehicles tucked away off a country road.

    An alcohol- and cocaine-fueled homeless tree trimmer carried out Satan's handiwork. But that's only part of the story of the murder of one of the most beloved priests in the history of the Archdiocese of Washington.

    The groundwork was laid by bad Catholic priests.

    An unshakable conviction, shared by dozens of priests and thousands of lay faithful in the Maryland/DC corridor, is that Msgr. Wells's life and 29-year priesthood ended as a direct result of the active homosexuality practiced by priests who once lived in that rectory....

    We need intentional priests' counsel, guidance, and holy example, especially in this time of rapidly advancing militant secularism. So I wrote a book, a book about the true Catholic priesthood, a book about my Uncle Tommy, and this week Sophia Institute Press releases The Priests We Need to Save the Church. In the book I dare to tell the clergy why their flock is fleeing and beg them to reconsider their sacrificial role of shepherding their lost and bleeding sheep back to the pen.
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Below is an excerpt from The Priests We Need to Save the Church, by Kevin Wells. Thanks to Sophia Institute Press for allowing me to publish this excerpt in my column. Click here to purchase a copy of the book directly from the publisher.

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The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, has modernized. But the priest's duty to point to her invulnerable, sacred heirlooms has not changed. Only when the priest wholly surrenders his life to God as a type of sacred expiation will his flock be nourished with lasting food for the journey. Holy priests have understood their reparative role for millennia. Accordingly, as they've undergone torment in addressing debauched behavior, distorted philosophies, and mortal sin, they've managed to break down the walls of apathetic flocks, enter in, and convert them. "Holy priests sanctify their people; unholy priests, except for a miracle of grace, turn people away from God," said Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, who led an apostolate for helping beleaguered priests. "God, after his own self, after his own incarnate self, has no more powerful means of saving souls than his priests. As a matter of fact, he counts upon his priests to give his sacramental self to the Mystical Body."

The laity certainly claim no connoisseurship on the priestly path to holiness, but as baptized members of the Church, they participate in the royal priesthood of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). Their voice is vital. Catholic experts, clergy and non-clergy alike, are calling for the lay faithful to play a major role in helping to spur our priests to holiness. Theologians offer studied treatises. But everyday Catholics speak from their souls, a wilderness voice unmatched in its authenticity. Theologians, philosophers, Catholic educators, and others simply cannot duplicate the fervent but mostly untapped voice of a thirsting laity.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen esteemed the enormous value of the laity's voice: "Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious."....

If you're a priest struggling to find courage, if you've developed lazy or sinful habits, if you've embraced a misshapen view of your priesthood, or if you feel you've yet to experience God's power in your priesthood, you know far better than I that God's mercy is wide – that Lazarus of Bethany once rose from the dead.

You are needed now.

Here's a story of one priest who came home.

When I met this priest and he began to tell his story, I imagined the worst eternal outcome for him. But as he pushed forward with the tale of his corrupted priesthood, I began to see that God had continually dropped into his life invitations for renewal – each one ignored. Then one day, everything changed. Satan had moved into his life.

Today, all that perverted his priesthood is gone. He's no longer the same man or the same priest. Nothing is the same now or will be again – the long thorns of pride and distortion have been pulled out. When more than nine hundred demons took possession of a pure soul he had been spiritually directing – some of whom called out his hidden sins, habits, and secrets in the voice of a leviathan – he came to see that hell was real and that he might one day reside there.

"I knew I needed to change radically," the priest said. "There's no going back to the old, happy, simpleminded priestly way. Today, I am a priest who strives for holiness and wants to save souls. I've glimpsed the supernatural world. In that world, there are hideous creatures."

This priest's vocation had been born in the wake of the tempestuous postconciliar era, the sexual revolution, and the release of Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae, which reaffirmed the Catholic Church's teaching that using the body's natural rhythms of fertility as a means of family planning – and not contraceptive measures – was the morally appropriate manner to regulate birth. When Catholic University of America professor Fr. Charles Curran unleashed public rejections of long-held Catholic moral teaching at the university in 1968, crusading busloads of like-minded liberal theologians, priests, and nuns joined forces in Washington, D.C., to give voice to their dissent. Television stations and newspapers pursued the Catholic revolutionaries, and the Catholic Molotov cocktail of relaxed Catholic thought became the talk of much of the world. Then it spread.

Many progressive theologians and priests pointed to the fourth constitution of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, which ambiguously addressed the Church's "scrutinizing the signs of the times and . . . interpreting them in the light of the Gospel." They relied on the document to bend two thousand years of Catholic thought into a new moral theology that eschewed natural law, which many believe was the cause for Church leaders and priests eventually to descend into depraved behavior and a seeming loss of faith in God. Priests secretly married, and others dated – men or women. An even greater number dragged New Age philosophies, reinterpretations, and corruptions into the liturgy, discarding traditions, sacred art and music, and the call to sanctity.

In the backwash of this era began this handsome priest's ministry in the 1980s. He had discerned his vocation after immersing himself in the Charismatic Movement within the Church. He said he felt a sustained "warming of the heart" in those days. He entered a liberal seminary, where he continued to rely on his "warmed heart" to illuminate and guide his ministry as a future priest. This warm, consoling afghan, he thought, would manage to cover whatever mission field Jesus would assign. No seminary professor told him that his time in the seminary was meant for human and spiritual formation, to ready himself for the uninterrupted demands of his chosen vocation. Hardly mentioned were the sufferings, the frequent long and lonely days, and multilayered burdens a priest is often required to carry. The Blessed Mother was virtually ignored. Prayer was whatever one wanted it to be, however one chose to define it. The priest learned at his seminary that the daily duty of praying the Divine Office didn't have to be so, well, daily. Or, for that matter, prayed at all.

So naturally, when he was ordained a priest, he mindlessly steered his priestly attention and efforts on what would engender that warmth. He hungered for the cover of what seemed to him the enfolding touch of God's manifest love and approval of his ministry. And he was very happy, or at least he thought he was. When his polished oratorical skills, wit, mannerliness, and keen intelligence drew praise, warmth flooded his heart. He eventually was transferred to a high-profile parish in the heart of a tony section of Washington, D.C., its congregation sprinkled with liberal-minded, pro-choice Catholic politicians, left-of-center media, and the jet-setting crowd. As hearty pats on the back, firm handshakes, admiration, and exclusive party invitations increased in volume, pride began to spread its tentacles to all parts of his body, masquerading as sunny surges of Christ-kissed consolations. As long as he steered clear of thorny Catholic issues and stayed floppy or muted on inflexible moral teachings, this trendy priest seemed downright "saintly" to his celebrity parishioners. One of the world's most famous politicians at the time frequently lavished praise on him for the gracefulness of his homilies. Christmas "donations" were generous.

"All of this has a way of quietly tuning out the desire to become a prophetic and good priest," the priest said to me much later. "You're not thinking much about your own mortal soul – let alone of the souls you were anointed to look after."

One afternoon, he attended the Ordination of a seminary friend in Seattle (a man who has since left the priesthood). Recorded sounds of whale calls and chiming bells played throughout the Mass. But these were different times – so why shouldn't the underwater cry of a blue whale be included with the bestowal of Holy Orders, he thought? With a few days to himself following the Ordination, the priest decided to take a long drive in his rental car down the Pacific Coast to visit a female friend he had met during his time in seminary. Since that time, the woman had gotten married and was now raising her family in a small farming community.

Shortly after entering their small home, he felt an unusual depth of warmth, alien to the warm sensation he had come to know so well. This feeling struck his core. He found the small children to be happy and obedient, with a spirited radiance. His friend's husband was humble and hardworking. And his friend seemed bathed in a peace that flowed into every room she entered. He realized that nothing in their home seemed superficial. In fact, he had forgotten that such homes existed. Every action was genuine, of right order, and seemed to spring from the heart, like rays of warm sunshine stretching throughout the small house. He felt he had stepped into another dimension.

Then, a question came from his friend: "Father, would you like to lead us in the Rosary?" He told them he hadn't brought his rosary with him.

"What they didn't know," the priest admitted to me, "was that I didn't know how to pray the Rosary. I didn't even know the Mysteries. I basically thought the rosary was just women's jewelry. So I just told them I'd sit with them during their family Rosary." They all fell to their knees and began praying the Rosary. It was then that a foreign voice seemed to awaken within him, one that began calling him home to a purity and life of grace he did not know.

The next day, the whole family attended daily Mass together. "At first, I thought, 'Oh! Isn't this cute and quaint. They're going to Mass and praying the Rosary together as a family.' Then I spent a few more days with them, and my thinking changed. An overwhelming sense of joy came to me because of this family, who I thought was living the old way of Catholicism. But what they were showing me was a living, breathing example of a joyful Catholic family life. Here was joy. Here was truth."

Upon returning to his "hipster" parish, the priest felt compelled to incorporate his newborn Catholic awareness into his established, progressive priestly way. Almost immediately, though, he fell back into his old habits. Reorienting his priesthood and incorporating a devoted prayer life proved too cumbersome. He felt hopelessly inadequate in mustering the necessary courage to shed his prideful behavior. The Oregon family had, however, pricked his conscience and unchained a new interior voice. Now, shamefully, he regarded the warming of his heart as the sham that it was.

"I finally saw that what I experienced during the charismatic days and the warmth I experienced [in Oregon] as needing to be interlocked," he said. "I just didn't know how – or want to – bring the two together."

The priest eventually received a transfer to a country parish in a remote area of the state, where he was introduced to his predecessor, who would shortly be relocated. His parish seemed to belong to a different spiritual universe. He repeatedly saw the priest rise before dawn to make a daily Holy Hour. The priest wore an easy smile, had a bushy beard, and dressed in a long cassock that whipped when he played soccer and baseball with kids in the schoolyard. He seemed to always be in the chapel, praying the Rosary, poring over Scripture, or busy with a work of charity. He watched the priest celebrate Mass with a mystic's reverence. He saw a man who resembled Jesus.

"Once again, initially, I was put off by him because of his style of priesthood. He was too much of a priest," the priest said. "He had something that I simply did not have. But after he transferred, I saw that what he had drew me. He had a stability to him. His prayer life consistently came first in his life. Here was a priest who prepared his own soul before he tried to present the Faith to others. Prayer and devotion were always first for him. So once again, my mind was taken back to the [Oregon] family."

When he decided to begin to reform his priesthood, to imitate the life of the departing priest, he knew he needed to account for the vast landscape of his moral failings. He visited a holy Discalced Carmelite priest and confessed the nest of sin that ranged from childhood to the present day. Thereafter, he began to pray the Rosary and celebrate the Mass with greater reverence. He increased his prayer life and began to spiritually direct high school kids – but he still felt himself adrift. The Catholic devotions didn't feel connected to his soul.

One evening, a devout teenage girl who was considering religious life told him she was seeing monsters. Within a few days, it was determined by the large city's chief exorcist that a wild chorus of demons had taken possession of her soul. Satan didn't want to let this girl go; he wasn't budging. So, over the course of the next year and a half, this priest assisted the exorcist to help drive out the demons that had infested and seized control over this worn-out young woman.

Throughout this time, Satan occasionally unmasked the priest's past shortcomings and mocked him. It was humiliating; he had nowhere to run or hide. That old warming of the heart in the face of this depraved, malevolent force was a disgraced and pitiful remembrance.

"There is an intensity of impact on the human soul when it is confronted by demons, when Satan stares you down. When you see demons and what they're capable of, there comes the reality that there is most certainly a hell. Becoming aware of this dimension changed everything in my priesthood.

"I'll never go back to where I was. I'm just going to be a priest from now on – a real priest."

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 'Unsolved' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback and story ideas. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, if you give me permission to publish a quote of yours, please do not contact me at a later time to request that I delete your name. Only in limited circumstances will I quote anonymous sources. Thank you and God bless!)

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