Pray for Priests. It’s the constant refrain of Kathleen Beckman, a friend and adviser to many of them. She is a founder of the Foundation for Prayer for Priests and the author of the upcoming Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls. At this time, when so much scandal is coming to light, it’s a call for more who believe in Christ and love their faith to take it more seriously. She talks about the priesthood and the Church and the call to prayer and sacrifice in an interview.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Some of the news stories — certainly the August Pennsylvania grand-jury report — that have come out about abuse are unbearable to read. It all gives some window into the suffering of men and women who have experienced abuse at the hands of priests. What is your prayer for those who have suffered such abuse?
Kathleen Beckman: As unbearable as it is read the horrific accounts of clergy sexual abuse, we must face this reality if justice is to be done for the victims and the perpetrators. The victim’s pain is a heavy weight upon my heart. At daily Mass and holy hour, I pray that victims will experience Christ’s personal, transformative love. Intercessory prayer is powerful; it stirs God’s heart to intervene in miraculous ways. Fasting and offering up suffering is part of my intercession. As a layperson, I have a duty to pray and work toward building up the Body of Christ. The Church is my family — hearts are broken, minds are baffled, we are ashamed of sins and crimes, and ridiculed for staying. The Church is God’s family. He will purify and revive us. I pray that we will earn the back trust through necessary reform and renewal.
Lopez: Do you pray for the perpetrators? Do you pray for those who have died?
Beckman: Indeed, I pray for the living and dead perpetrators because love of God demands prayer for the conversion of sinners and salvation of souls. As president of the Foundation for Prayer for Priests apostolate, I sometimes receive correspondence from lay, deacon, or clergy prison chaplains. A deacon once wrote asking for prayer for an anonymous elderly priest who had been incarcerated for years — despondent over his horrible deeds, living in fear that he would be forever damned to hell. The chaplain described the daily agony of this priest’s tormented soul as self-hatred consumed him. For love of the Eternal High Priest, I pray for the priest “most in need of His mercy.” If we aim to be Christ-like, justice and mercy must intertwine as they did when Jesus hung on the Cross praying to His Father for the forgiveness of his murderers.
Lopez: Fr. Roger Landry, a friend of mine from the Diocese of Fall River in Massachusetts, recently shared a comment someone made to him in a comment to one of his articles about this summer of scandal we’ve experienced: “We no longer trust you.” Another commented: “After 2002, we trusted the bishops, though they obviously did not trust us, the laity, with all of their programs, training and background checks. Now it is far too late. We cannot trust priests. We cannot trust religious. We cannot trust bishops. We cannot trust the Pope. . . . I want to be as clear as possible: I do not think you are a homosexual or a pedophile. I believe that you are possibly a very orthodox and good priest. Despite that, I would die before I let my son be alone with you, because I cannot trust you, and that goes for all priests, religious, and bishops. We cannot trust you.” It’s true. People don’t know whom to trust. How can trust be restored?
Beckmann: Thank you for sharing Fr. Roger Landry’s comment. It reveals the truth of the protective love of a mother for her son; her shattered trust in clergy. It’s understandable. I relate as the mother of two sons. But the Scriptures must guide my judgment of clergy or any group of individuals. For the sake of children, parents must be prudent, discerning, wise, prayerful, and protective. We must also make prudential judgement on an individual basis. It’s illogical and false to think that every priest poses harm to children. The legal statistics prove that the percentage of clergy abusers is approximately 3 percent. While it should be 0 percent, the vast majority of clergymen are not guilty of abuse. Moreover, with the many safeguards in place since at least 2002, statistically the Church is one of the safest places for children. I say this as a parent who sent two sons through 16 years of Catholic education. Yet, because 3 percent of priests proved to be predators, a sacred trust has been broken by the ones we call our spiritual fathers and shepherds. The apparent cover-up by some hierarchy demands justice, and reforms for more accountability and transparency.
When I read the Pennsylvania grand-jury report closely following the McCarrick scandal, I felt traumatized at a deeper level than expected. Reading about abuse brought back the horrific memory of a family member who was brutally murdered. After that traumatic event I lost trust in everyone; even God, for a time. I wrestled with the Lord because for the first time I experienced the horror of what one human being can do to another, and I no longer felt safe with anyone. God did not abandon me to live in fear or anger. Torrents of divine healing grace carried me forward toward forgiving the murderer, praying for his salvation. I believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit offers healing for every victim of trauma. God persists to renew our trust in Him and others. In listening to the clergy-abuse-victim accounts on TV and radio, it is edifying to know that most are willing to forgive.
Lopez: What is your prayer for bishops and cardinals? For the pope?
Beckmann: The pope, cardinals, and bishops are in need of a great deal of intercessory prayer and sacrifice for their foremost ministry, as the present crisis confirms. The light of truth has exposed the sin and evil operative in some leaders of the Church. Enemies attack from within and without, targeting clergy in positions of power and influence. In 1972 Pope Paul VI wrote, “We would say that, through some mysterious crack — no, it’s not mysterious; through some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, problems, unrest, dissatisfaction, confrontation. . . . The Church is no longer trusted.” Pope Paul VI’s words ring true. For the pope, cardinals, and bishops I take up Our Lady’s Rosary, confiding them to the Immaculate that they may be pure, humble, joyful, healed, and holy. I offer Holy Communions, fasting, and holy hours for them, imploring the Eternal Father to form them into courageous, wise, prayer warriors for the Church. I implore the Lord to help the pope, cardinals, and bishops to exemplify the Beatitudes (cf. Matt. 5:3–11).
Lopez: The Foundation for Prayer for Priests is, as the name suggests, primarily about prayer. But the concept of “thoughts and prayers” when evil happens has become a thing of ridicule. Why do you propose prayer has a real power here?
Beckmann: In the history of the Church we see the need to balance prayer with service. Often, in a crisis such as the Church’s present one, our human nature seeks to jump into action to fix things. But the necessary temporal works required as part of the solution to the clergy-abuse problem will be only as fruitful as the spiritual works that undergird them. If the Church doesn’t humbly kneel down in reparation and intercessory prayer for the victims first, how can we hope to be God’s instruments of reform and renewal? Where, if not in prayer, do we discern what is the will of God for this moment in time? The Foundation of Prayer for Priests originated from the 2012 Congregation for the Clergy’s plea, “The present situation of the Church in a secularized world and the subsequent crisis of faith has the pope, bishops, priests and faithful looking for a way forward. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that the real solution lies in the interior renewal of priests, and in this context the so-called ‘spiritual maternity for priests’ assumes a special role.” Prayer is mother of all virtue. It is not surprising that prayer is ridiculed by the lukewarm, activists, the worldly, and the demonic. In the history of the Church prayer warrior saints are proven instruments of reform and revival. Our battle is a spiritual one and the spiritually empowered smite the head of the serpent. We need saints.