Should faith be shaken by a priest's misdeeds?

The public scandal of a Catholic priest who left the Church to become an Episcopalian so that he could marry a woman he’s been dating for two years has upset me. In Mass this past weekend, I found myself questioning (not necessarily doubting) transubstantiation. I am really torn up about how this priest, who was such a vehement defender of the Catholic faith, can easily switch to another denomination that does not believe in transubstantiation. I have always been a devout Catholic and a defender of our Church. I think that I have believed in the Real Presence and I am really upset that I can’t shake these questioning feelings.

Your question reminded me of a story told of St. Francis of Assisi in an article titled A Crisis of Saints by Fr. Roger Landry. I strongly urge you to read the whole article. Here is Fr. Landry’s retelling of the story of St. Francis:

Francis of Assisi lived in the thirteenth century, which was a time of terrible immorality in central Italy. Priests were setting horrible examples. Lay immorality was terrible, too. Francis himself while a young man gave scandal to others by his carefree ways. But eventually he was converted back to the Lord, founded the Franciscans, helped God rebuild his Church, and became one of the great saints of all time.

There is a story told of Francis of Assisi that sticks in my mind from one of the biographies I read as a seminarian. Once one of the brothers in the Order of Friars Minor who was sensitive to scandal asked him, “Brother Francis, what would you do if you knew that a priest celebrating Mass had three concubines on the side?” Francis replied, “When it came time for holy Communion, I would go to receive the sacred body of my Lord from the priest’s anointed hands.”

Try not to brood over why another man, even a priest, could apparently set aside his faith so easily. It really boils down to sin and the free will to engage in rebellion against God; it’s nothing more complicated than that. Whenever you find yourself tempted to brood, say a prayer for that priest for his conversion and the conversion of the woman with whom he consorted. When you find yourself questioning, remember John Henry Cardinal Newman’s maxim that “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt,” and then pray for the grace of a strengthened faith.

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