PopeWatch: Smarmy Priests

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After Mass last Saturday, January 11, 2013, Pope Francis had some remarks about the priesthood:


“We are anointed by the Spirit, and when a priest is far from Jesus Christ he can lose this unction. In his life, no: essentially he has it… but he loses it. And instead of being anointed he ends up being smarmy. And how damaging to the Church are smarmy priests! Those who put their strength in artificial things, in vanity, in an attitude… in a cutesy language… But how often do we hear it said with sorrow: ‘This is a butterfly-priest,’ because they are always vain… [This kind of priest] does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ! He has lost the unction: he is smarmy.”

“We priests have so many limits. We are sinners, all. But if we go to Jesus Christ, if we seek the Lord in prayer – prayer of intercession, prayer of adoration – we are good priests, even though we are sinners. But if we are far from Jesus Christ, we necessarily compensate for this with other, worldly attitudes. And so [we see] all these figures… priest-wheeler dealers, priest-tycoons… But the priest who adores Jesus Christ, the priest who talks with Jesus Christ, the priest who seeks Jesus Christ and who is allowed to seek Jesus Christ: this is the centre of our life. If that is not there, we lose everything. And what will we give to the people?”

“Our relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship of anointing for the people,grows in us priests more and more each day.

“But it is good to find priests who have given their lives as priests, truly, of whom the people say: “Yes, he’s difficult, he’s this or that… But he is a priest! And people know! On the other hand, when people see priest idolaters, so to speak, priests who instead of having Jesus have little idols… worshippers of the god Narcissus… When people see [priests like this] they say ‘poor guy!’ The relationship with Jesus Christ saves us from worldliness and idolatry that makes us smarmy, preserves us in the anointing [we have received]. And today, this is my hope for you who have been kind enough to come here to concelebrate with me: Even if you lose everything in life, don’t lose this relationship with Jesus Christ! This is your victory. Go forward with this!”

Priests come in all personality types:  extroverts, introverts, joyous, sad, humorous, serious, choleric, patient, and all different types of abilities and weaknesses.  As the Pope indicated it is the priest’s dedication to Christ that makes all the difference and covers over the differences from priest to priest.  If a priest conveys that he has unshakable faith in Christ and His teachings, and that he would be willing to lay down his life if need be in defense of those teachings, then his strengths and his weaknesses otherwise are of interest but will not effect his ability to be a good priest.  Ardent faith inspires ardent faith, and a priest who has that has the one essential requirement of his vocation.

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  1. Donald, I am glad you explained what he meant there because I was not having much success on my own. (This post is not another parody, for those wondering.) Related to priestly vocations, B16 made much the same point as Francis in a more elegant manner:
    “The experience of Peter, certainly unique, is nonetheless representative of the call of every apostle of the Gospel, who must never be discouraged in proclaiming Christ to all men, even to the ends of the world. However, today’s text [Lk 5:1-11] is a reflection on the vocation to the priesthood and the consecrated life. It is the work of God. The human person is not the author of his own vocation but responds to the divine call. Human weakness should not be afraid if God calls. It is necessary to have confidence in his strength, which acts in our poverty; we must rely more and more on the power of his mercy, which transforms and renews.”
    I happened to be reading JPII’s encyclical “Reconciliation and Penance” and he makes an eloquant point related to holiness in the priesthood:
    “But I also add that even in order to be a good and effective minister of penance the priest needs to have recourse to the source of grace and holiness present in this sacrament. We priests, on the basis of our personal experience, can certainly say that the more careful we are to receive the sacrament of penance and to approach it frequently and with good dispositions, the better we fulfill our own ministry as confessors and ensure that our penitents benefit from it. And on the other hand, this ministry would lose much of its effectiveness if in some way we were to stop being good penitents. Such is the internal logic of this great sacrament. It invites all of us priests of Christ to pay renewed attention to our personal confession.”
    I guess I miss B16 and JPII and the confidence I had in them what they had to say.

  2. I think Pope Francis had some good things to say here. It is much needed. I have seen priests who are “smarmy” in exactly the way Pope Francis described, and they make me extremely suspicious. Our pope is pointing out repeatedly, here, and in other areas that the priest is there to serve, not to be admired. Priests who seek to be admired are not being good priests. In my own parish one of the priests who was a “butterfly priest” as Pope Francis described was caught up in the pedophilia scandal. I would check on my boys (altar servers) in the back of the church because he had my spidey-senses tingling. I made sure he knew I was checking up on them. And then he was named in a lawsuit and ultimately admitted when witnesses were called forward to engaging in anonymous gay sex in public restrooms. It was his manner of being a priest that raised my suspicions, and it was as Pope Francis described. The best priests I’ve seen have been humble servants who connect you to Christ. They were strong men, all of them, but using their strength for your spiritual protection. The worst ones connect you to your “feelings” about things, and draw attention to themselves by changing the words of the Mass, turning sermons into bad drama, and speaking more about “community” than Jesus. Pope Francis is not perfect, but he’s right on the money here.

  3. “Smarmy” is as “Smarmy” does. From what I can tell there are some priests you’d think are “smarmy” and they are more “Catholic” than the Catholic church. Then again, there are those who you’d never think were “smarmy” and holy smokes they are!

  4. What on God’s earth does “smarmy” mean??

    Did the Pope really say the word “smarmy” in Italian or Spanish, or whatever language he gave this statement in?

  5. Sorry, I did some further research on the word “smarmy”, and its basically a word used to describe a used-car salesman of sorts. Slick and polite, but insincere. I learnt a new word today.

    But seriously, what word did the Pope use for “smarmy”. I’m dead curious.

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