Sunday, February 3, 2019

How You Can Help a Priest

I’m right there with you waiting and wondering if something will ever be done about episcopal abuse of children, and if any real punishments will be levied against criminal bishops. 

It can be tempting to live in the black and white "I'm not doing anything until this gets fixed and addressed", but I'd like to suggest some things that involve work, are not totally black and white, and yet could also make a huge difference in helping our priests live more ordered and Christian lives, and thus these are things that could also help prevent future abuse and harm being done by our priests.  This is a compilation of some practical things you can do for the priests you know that might really help them avoid the situations that frequently contribute to priests finding themselves in the midst of scandal

1) One of the top indicators that a priest is close to either falling away or doing something completely devastating is that the priest has stopped praying, has stopped seeing a spiritual director, and has not taken his yearly retreat.  So, ask your pastor “Father, how’s your prayer life?”.  Also ask the priests you know, on a regular basis, “How is spiritual direction going for you?” and also ask the priests “How was your retreat?”

If there response to any of these is “I haven’t done it in a while” ask them “What can I and the parish do to help you get to spiritual direction?  What can we do to help you go on retreat?  Can we help track down coverage for you so you can take a week to go on retreat?  Does the parish need to hire someone to help lighten your load so that you can go to spiritual direction monthly and pray a holy hour each day?"

2) The 2nd Vatican Council said in one of its documents that priests ought to live in community as much as possible.  I believe if this were happening, the abuse numbers would have been way lower.  There is so much accountability that comes with living in community.  When guys are living in community, it is harder to be a drunk, it is harder to be addicted to porn, it is harder to get addicted to television or video games, and if a priest is out having an “affair” of any kind, you can bet that those living with him will almost assuredly figure it out quickly.

So are we ready to encourage OUR pastor to STOP living at OUR parish so that he can live in community with brother priests at a nearby parish?  Consider asking the priests you know “What could we do to help you live in community with brother priests?”

3) A sabbath day of rest is super important for any human being, particularly when you are plugged in, getting stretched in a lot of directions with emails, public appearances, talks, Mass, confessions, funerals, etc.  When is your priest’s day off? Ask him if he’s taking it.  Also, encourage other parishioners to not bother him on his day off.  I will say here that most of the people in my parishes know when my day off is, and yet some ask me to do things on my day off.  With regard to future events, encourage a spirit of not asking things of your pastor on his day off.  And just to be clear, I don’t mean so much “don’t call Father on Friday” but rather “Don’t ask father to come to something on a Friday a month from now.”  He can always say no, but don't put him in the position of having to say "no" in the first place!  For most human beings, one thing on the schedule on a day off is not a day off.

4) Here’s something particularly important for the men of a parish, but it can apply to men and women.  Friendship with the priest.  Usually in the mind of parishioners it seems like there are two options:
1) Father likes me and is my really good friend or
2) Father does not know me and/or is not my really good friend.

Here’s the deal, a priest's GOOD friends should NEVER be parishioners.  There is a power dynamic that is present there that keeps it from EVER being healthy.

So…ask your priest “Are you taking time to be with good priest friends, good lay friends outside the parish, and your family?”

5) At the same time, the men can and SHOULD invite Father into fraternal activities and events and comradery. “Father, the Knights are getting together at Bill’s and playing cards and having a beer, want to come?” 

Know and be okay with the fact that your pastor should be at lots of social events, but that at the same time, none of those should be major sources of deep and close friendships but rather fraternal in nature. 

Fight the temptation to say "Well, I tried to be Father's friend, but he didn't respond, so now I don't really approach him."

6) Invite the priests you know to come participate in manual labor with the men of the parish.  If he isn’t good at manual labor or is soft and effeminate, don’t dismiss him for that reason, but think about ways that you and some of the men of the parish might help him get more comfortable with doing some good hard manual labor.

The same goes for sports.   Invite Father to come play basketball or workout.  If he doesn’t know how to work out, get him a personal trainer who can coach him (a great parish Christmas gift).  "Father, a group of us work out in the mornings at the Y.  Would you like to join us?"

If he doesn’t know how to run or jog, find someone who can help coach him in that.  Surround him with a group of people from the parish who like to walk or bike and are training for some upcoming event, and bring him into the fold.  Exercise of some kind is absolutely essential to living out a healthy priesthood in our day where so much physical work has disappeared.

7) If your parish has a poverty outreach ministry, invite the priest to go on a home visit or work a shift at the food pantry.  As Pope Francis has called us to the margins, I have found that working with the poor in a direct way (not just guiding poverty outreach from my office) has helped me a great deal in confronting my own sinfulness.  As one person once said "the answer to our culture's pornography addiction is working in a soup kitchen".  I don't personally battle pornography, but lust in general, pride, greed, is all routed out by getting into contact and relationship with those in poverty.  Help get your priest out of his office!

I’ve asked my parishioners at both parishes to call me if they need someone to go on a St. Vincent DePaul home visit, and I’ve not had anyone invite me along in 6 years.  Help Father get involved in ministry to the poor and going to the margins, and help him do it with others and not just something he does alone.

These are just some of the main ideas that come to mind in helping our current priests and pastors live out their priesthood in a healthy way.  Let me know if there are other questions.  Do you have your own ideas for things to do?  Leave a comment.  Let us pray for our priests


  1. Excellent advice. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Hi Father John. I have viewed many of your videos from YouTube and was most impressed from your interview with Taylor Marshall. I am a Protestant but love your ministry. Your candor and commitment to the truth transcends all of our denominational differences. I would love to chat with you more. My email is
    God bless you.

  3. Thank you, Father Holowell. This is a really important topic, and you’ve offered some great insights. The whole question about how laypeople can support priests, helping them to be healthy and to grow, is vital. We tend to think often of what priests can do for lay people, but not so often about what lay people have to offer to their priests. There is no shortage of goodwill: many people love their priests, but they just aren’t aware of ways they can give to their priests.

    For over a decade, I’ve been volunteering for a non-profit that seeks to put these considerations front and center: The Christopher Inn International.

    The mission of Christopher Inn International is born of gratitude, and the mission is simple: to encourage and sustain priests in their vital service of shepherding the faithful. Priests need refreshment, opportunities for continued spiritual and intellectual development, and the chance to deepen bonds of fellowship with their brothers in the priesthood. Christopher Inn will offer all of these opportunities on-site, and will also provide a website for priests to continue their personal formation, to communicate with each other, and to assist one another with their knowledge and experience.

    The funding of Christopher Inn International will be provided by the generosity of private lay donors who desire to respond to the gift of the priesthood with a gift of their own: a place for priests to be renewed, refreshed, and personally formed for their life and ministry. Christopher Inn will not receive any funds from the formal structures of the Catholic Church.

    I’ve just returned from a two week trip to Ireland with members of the team. We’re currently looking for property to begin this apostolate in earnest, after 19 years of prayer, planning and waiting. Please keep us in your prayers!

  4. Great post Father. I especially liked the part about boundaries with a pastor and his parishioners. So important for people to learn boundaries.

  5. Friendly with many, familiar with few.

  6. Living in community is great for extrovert priests, but at least one of the best priests I know would loose his mind having to live in community....

    And supposedly, one of the bishops who lived down the hall from Theodore McCarrick in Washington DC didn't see anything...

  7. My pastor is a member of the Companions of Christ, a diocesan order of priests. They are growing and these priests are very committed to holding each other up and to growing in holiness. They live in community as much as possible, two or three to a house/rectory. It would be nice to see this all over the country.

  8. Hi, what part of Ireland are you in. I'm from the north, do to require any help?