Priests and the Mask of Holiness

I have an hypothesis that partially explains why some priests fall into grave sins, whether the sins are lust or greed or whatever else. I call it the Mask of Holiness.

Many priests are Christians of ordinary even mediocre holiness. They sometimes fall into mortal sin, and then repent. They have lukewarm faith. They have doubts and some disbeliefs concerning Church teaching. But they are in the state of grace, and they are relatively faithful to their role in the Church.

However, their parishioners think of them as being holier than they are. They consider the priest to be more faithful, more wise, more everything than is the case. And so the priest ends up wearing a mask of holiness, really more imposed on him by the expectations and misperceptions of others, than of his own making.

Living for a long time behind that mask, the priest realizes that he can sin many times, even gravely, and there is no change in the way that he is treated. The mask protects him. He is anonymous in his sins. His spiritual life can fall into an utter shambles, and no one notices. His sinning can increase progressively, with no negative repercussions from persons who surround him.

And this process can reach such an extreme, that the priest begins embezzling money from the parish, or has an affair with a woman, or begins to sexually abuse kids or teens. And the mask holds up. He remains hidden behind the mask. And if he is accused, the mask protects him. Very many persons will not believe the accusation. He can get away with more and more sins, without consequences.

Now this is only part of the problem of the priest abuse crisis. I stand by my earlier remarks on the difference between homosexual priests and abuser priests. But the whole explanation cannot be that we keep choosing abusers to become priests. Something is causing priests to fall into grave sin while they are in the priesthood.

Another part of the problem may be the loneliness of the job. And it may be that the priest shortage takes away from the priest the former comradery that was present when there were many priests. It is certainly also true that sinful secular society tempts the priest toward sexual sins. So there are many factors. This idea of the mask of holiness does seem to me to be a substantial part of the problem.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian

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9 Responses to Priests and the Mask of Holiness

  1. Dora says:

    Makes complete sense, but if we are all called to holiness, no good priest should be isolated. For example, we have parish councils that help them make decisions — and it should not be adversarial. I know one rare holy priest who joins the women’s daily rosary after 8am Mass — not as their leader. You can see he is absorbing their energy, while taking on “the smell of the sheep,” so to speak. (He is the only one I ever saw who did this).
    It seems we should see priests occasionally on public outings with groups of parish men. The priest gives up having his own family, and the parish is his new family, isn’t it? I was honored to grow up with a Dad who went golfing with his priest (rented clubs), a good priest in a very, very small town. I suppose just like a priest, the laity can wear a mask and pretend to be holy as well, going to church every week, but never changing the direction of their life.

  2. Marco says:

    One of the problem, Ron, is that too many homosexual priests have been ordained. And most of them aren’t only sexually active, they even defend their sin, they disagree with the Church’s teaching about homosexuality and thus they don’t repent nor they ask the Grace of Repentance, and they also teach grave heresies to the faithful, since they don’t believe in the teaching of the Church in the first place.

    You can see it even in the latest scandals: only a small part of those abuses were related to paedophilia (since paedophilia is the abuse of children, not of teens and young adults), and only a small part of the abuses against teens and young adults were heterosexual.

    So i think that the honsexualization of the Church is indeed a huge problem. This Italian priest was denouncing the gay culture in the Church a decade ago, but nobody listened to him

    • Marco says:

      P.s: sorry Ron, i just realized that the English translation of the article has been made with an online translator, but i think you should be able to understand his article nonetheless.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I agree that homosexuals should not be ordained, nor be given leadership positions in the parish. But this will not happen unless everyone knows and lives by the teaching of the Church.

    • Marco says:

      But if i’m not mistaken, many decades ago we didn’t have all these homosexual priests in the Church, and things were better as a result. I agree that everyone should strive to live the catholic faith, as difficult as it may be, but preventing homosexual from being ordained to the priesthood would be a right step in the good direction.

  3. Dora says:

    Ron, this sex abuse situation is so sad… please clarify:
    Is this where the schism begins?
    Is now the right time for women deacons?
    Do you think there would be sexual abuse of the women deacons?

  4. Christine says:

    In the Diocese to which I belong, we are riddled with homosexual priests.
    Although, everyone can be delivered from their negative attitudes and their sinfulness, it is mind-boggling how deeply their conviction is ingrained in their mind-set. I am not saying that one cannot change, but the church must not admit those with homosexual tendencies into the priesthood.

    I also think, that the fallen angels are very busy goading on everyone to sexual misdemeanours.
    Satan and his gang would like to see our church destroyed through the sexual sins of the priests. But the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    I agree with Pope Benedikt, when he said as Professor Ratzinger in 1969,
    “From the crisis of today the church of tomorrow will emerge- a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.
    …It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”

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