Few professions in this day and age are as afflicted as the Roman Catholic priesthood. The uncovering of the Boston sexual abuse scandals rapidly led to similar outbreaks across the country, and the priesthood has been marred by a reputation of sexual misconduct ever since. Scarcely can a young man say he wants to be a priest without being accused of being either homosexual or a pedophile, or both.
In an atmosphere of such suspicion, it is now generally the case that young men discerning vocations to the priesthood do, at the very least, honestly want to be priests. There would be very little reason to feign such a desire in this day and age. In the seminary process, such a man is afforded the opportunity to learn just what it is he is getting himself into.
While many assume that the vow of celibacy is of necessity the most difficult sacrifice that priests have to endure, priests tend to be of the opinion that it is among their profession’s greatest blessings. Comparatively few priests, in fact, believe that it would be possible for them to be both good priests and good husbands. Rather, what priests often look upon as the most difficult part of their life is the people.
When a priest is assigned to a parish, he is also assigned to the parishioners, and they can, at times, be difficult to work with. While it is true that working with people is difficult in any profession, this burden is especially heavy in the priesthood for two distinct reasons.
First, the people dealt with in the priesthood are extraordinarily diverse in both their needs and their demands, while the people dealt with in most other professions tend to have something in common. For instance, people who work in healthcare tend to work alongside people who also work in healthcare. Rarely is a priest’s day-to-day business conducted with other priests. Rather, it is conducted with the people in his congregation, who occupy a vast range of occupations and levels of occupation.
To this must be added the fact that people are generally very possessive of their priests. That is, congregations have the amazing tendency to presume that they are in control of their parish, and that they are to give orders to their pastors. Jesus instituted a priesthood of service, and the people at whose service that priesthood exists rarely seem to have forgotten it. Their demands are at the same time spiritual, religious, temporal, social, and psychological, and they are presented in a manner ranging from rage to felicity, and sure to include sorrow in between.
People are a difficult burden for priests to endure, and yet, they all claim that priesthood is a remarkable joy.