Should I be concerned about my parish's parochial vicar?

About two years ago, my parish got a new parochial vicar who had just been ordained. We will call him Fr Bill for simplicity’s sake. Immediately after he came, he was instantly a huge hit with the teenagers, while simultaneously a huge problem for the elderly members of the church. He was outgoing and knowledgable, but at the same time arrogant and insensitive. My wife and I wrote off the character flaws as natural human weakness, and assumed that as a new priest he would naturally get better as time went by. However, this is not case. As time has gone on, his arrogance has increased exponentially to the point where he makes rude comments about our pastor and deacons behind their backs, in what seems to be a power grab.

Another disturbing trend is that “Fr Bill” has become extremely… Close… With five teenage male members of the parish. All the children are homeschooled, and at Fr bills instruction, began to serve daily mass. Three or four times a week after mass he takes them out to breakfast, where they will stay for hours apparently “talking about life.” My son, who is also homeschooled, used to be best friends with two of the children, but now, the “Fr Bill club” refused to Aknowledge him. In fact, the boys never seem to interact with anyone outside of their own new group. In what little Interactions my son has with his old friends, Fr Bill is described as “a new best friend”, an “older brother”, and a “third parent.” They also go to confession weekly with him, and defend him so aggressively at any perceived slight that huge fights have been started over a simple sentence.

My wife and I have forbidden our children to go to confession with Fr Bill, or to spend any time with him outside of mass. Is this justified? Many other parents feel the same way, and a few have even talked about leaving the parish out of concern. Fr Bill remains hugely popular with most of the other teenagers in the parish, though my son says that even now many teens are starting to view him as “slightly creepy.”

Should my wife and I do anything, or let this run its course? It is entirely possible that it is a mountain out of molehill situation. Another interesting fact is that Fr Bill completely ignores my whole family, something which has started quite recently…

The fact he spends so much time with a particular group of teenage boys is very Unusual. The fact that he avoids certain families is even more strange. All of this combined with his unabashed arrogance, my wife and I are feeling very worried about the future of our parish. Any advice would be hugely appreciated. Thank you.

Yes, you should be concerned and yes you should say something. However, you have two separate issues-- his treatment of parishioners in general and his demeanor that is off-putting and then also his seemingly inappropriate interest in certain boys.

You need to make an appointment with your pastor, tell him of your concerns regarding how the associate interacts with parishioners, seems to have favorites and pets. And of course the talking about the pastor and deacons in a derogatory manner behind their backs needs to stop.

The facts about him singling out a small group of teen boys and spending time with them off parish grounds is another issue. Try not to comingle these two issues into one.

Look to your diocesan safe environment policy. If a priest is going to foster vocations by interacting with young men, he should be interacting with ALL young men of the parish in formal events, not picking out a few and taking them off by themselves. It sounds an awful lot like grooming behavior. And, probably against diocesan policy.

Be informed, be factual, be concerned for the good of your parish.

Yes–check diocesan policy. He might easily be in violation.

It sounds as if this priest is violating the safe environment safeguards that essentially every US diocese has in place because of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. You should not be concerned about making a “mountain out of a molehill.” You should be concerned about the possibility that sitting by and doing nothing will leave a young person in harm’s way–and it is a profound harm that can strike at the root of a young person’s faith and trust in the Church–or else leave a young priest in danger of abuse allegations against which he will have little defense. I think if you imagine your confessor or any priest who has insinuated himself into a position of trust trying something with you even one time, how that would affect you! You can also imagine what it would do to a young priest to suffer allegations of improper conduct because he thought he was above the rules put in place to protect him from such allegations.

Tell your pastor everything that you know and insist that this priest stop taking young people on outings outside the parish without the explicit permission of the pastor, the parents of the young people, and another adult along to supervise. Under no circumstances should any employee of a parish, let alone a priest, cultivate the kind of intense and closed social habits with young people that you are describing. If the pastor does not make that change immediately and ride herd on this young priest vigilantly, tell the vicar of clergy for your diocese yourself. Even if this priest is doing nothing wrong, he would still be leaving himself ripe for claims of abuse later on down the line. This needs to stop now. I would also not consider it an act of gossip or calumny to tell the pastor the sorts of things this young priest says behind his back. Those offenses against the truth only apply when someone has no legitimate need to know about the unflattering truth about someone else. Your pastor has a right and a need to know about everything you have described. He cannot be responsible for these things if they are hidden from him. He must also tell your bishop.

In the old days, you might not be able to insist on being believed. Now you can.

Good advice as usual form 1ke and well said by Easter Joy.
Please take action immediately.

Mary.

The OP does not need to check diocesan policy. In safe environment training, volunteers in the Church who work around young people are encouraged to share concerns they have with those who have the authority and duty to see to it that a safe environment is maintained. They are urged not to self-edit or to diagnose the problem, but to tell those who have supervision over the program whenever they see something that might be a concern.

The reason is that if there are one or two small incidents mentioned discretely made to a supervisor, the supervisor can take care of any problems while they are still small. If, on the other hand, there are lots of “small incidents” happening over and over that no one thinks are “big enough” to say anything about, the supervisor will not be able to recognize a pattern of opportunistic behavior that leaves children vulnerable or a pattern of foolish risks that can leave a priestly career vulnerable.

Tell the pastor. If things do not change, tell the vicar for clergy for your diocese. Don’t mess around with these things. Make sure that those who need to see in order to do their duty are given light on the situation. When we did not know better, that was a different situation. Now that we know better, we have to do better.

Given the recent priest sexual abuse scandals, most people are on hyper alert. What once may have been looked at as a blessing may be looked upon with suspicion, Is this priest a pedophile? Well, yes maybe and then again no maybe not. If he is a pedophile he isn’t sneaking around. From what you described most of his encounters with teenagers are in groups and in public.

Since your son isn’t serving Mass with him and your son isn’t going out to breakfast with this priest, all of your information is second-hand or third-hand.

My concern is that when you forbid your children to go to confession to Fr. Bill you might be fueling the fire of an unjust fear and gossip. If you don’t want your children to confess to him, it would be fair to suggest “Fr John is a good priest why don’t you see him today instead!” however if you are saying (in case you are) “Fr Bill is creepy don’t go to him” might not be a wise move as a parent since you have no proof it sets a bad example to your children.

God bless and hopefully he is really a good priest, praying for your parish.

I would encourage you to report any wrongdoing, I really would. However after reading your post it seems all you have are “creepy feelings” from what you have heard your son say he has heard from others that is why I would be hesitant to report that’s all.

This, this, this, all of the above!

These are two separate serious issues. The gossip and so on is poisonous and bad, but the issues with the kids is much more worrisome. I’m a catechist at our church, and everything you describe with that scenario is a violation of basic safe environment standards.

Bring these things up with your pastor, as EasterJoy recommends. Be courteous and professional but also quite firm. If a meeting doesn’t cut it, and you don’t see changes within a set period of time (say, a few weeks), follow up with a letter to the pastor and cc the bishop and (if your diocese has one) the diocesan safe environment coordinator on that letter.

I should clarify that by “changes” I mean “changes in the behavior of the priest.” The kids will probably still be cliquey about him, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do about that. If he’s still inviting specific ones out over and over again like this, then there is most definitely a problem that must be addressed. Leaving aside absolutely everything else, difficult though it is, here’s another consideration: even if the priest’s intentions are only good and pure and he has technically done nothing wrong with these kids, appearances are strongly against him, and are arguably scandalous. The priest, should he be innocent, deserves better treatment of his character. We actually discuss this during our safe environment training. If you aren’t alone with a kid, you can’t be accused of anything, and there are false accusers out there. They’re rare, but far from unheard-of, and one false accusation can ruin your life.

(If a kid really needs to talk to a trusted adult one-on-one for some reason, incidentally, then the adult is supposed to insist on it being in a private-but-public setting: think a church bench outside the church where anyone can walk by, or even in the middle of a church pew while the church is open to the public.)

The problems with how he treats adults, the unprofessionalism with which he airs problems with his brother priests and the deacons, and his unusually chummy relationships with young people are different issues in terms of the sort of violation of the pastor’s trust that they represent, but they are not necessarily separate in terms of the picture they may be painting of this priest’s total pattern of behavior.

The combination of all of these “separate” character issues really make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. For instance, someone with a manipulative personality will often be contemptuous and cold and towards those they cannot manipulate, while at the very same time seeming to be nothing but solicitousness and warmth towards those they think they can manipulate. A kind priest will be kind to everyone. A manipulative person will make a great show of good will towards those they hope to prey upon or whom they hope to lull into a false sense of security, but can be very prickly towards those who offer them no opportunity for gain. They can be very jealous towards those who have power over them, since they naturally resent anyone telling them what to do instead of the other way around. Often, they will work to covertly undermine the authority of those who could step in and stop them, too. You might often see adults who are just OK with adults but light up around kids, but you just don’t see healthy adults with such vastly different attitudes when dealing with others. This ought to be particularly true of a priest, who has presumably had some formation and in this day and age has been screened for psychological maturity. Something is not adding up, or at least not adding up to anything we could stand to see going on.

I totally agree with keeping children and young people well clear of this priest until the reason behind this pattern of behavior comes to light. This is a hundred times true if he seems to be a different person to the pastor’s face than behind his back, because that would mark him as a deceiver. This kind of behavior raises all sorts of red flags, but especially in a priest.

Still, smoke detectors can go off when the house is not on fire. Red flags and hair standing up aren’t unerring indications of something wrong. Don’t leap to conclusions about what this priest is, OP. Just continue acting on your concern of what he might be, based on the serious harm that could ensue if he is.

What does he do that makes him arrogant? Just wondering. As for a power grab, what power is there to grab?

In a large parish, the pastor usually delegates the leadership work so that various members of the clergy who are assigned there will have areas of decision-making that are their province. If someone resents the right of others on the staff to make decisions and instead wants to be free to do an end-run around the legitimate system of decision-making that a pastor has set up, that is a power grab. If you’ve seen someone do this, you know it is fairly common for someone breaking a policy to put down the policy-maker as an excuse for the violation. Sometimes this is just a foible of human nature–we all make excuses for ourselves when we try to rationalize why the rules do not apply to us–but sometimes it comes out of a seriously flawed character.

An unapologetic lack of obedience in a member of the clergy is a fault worth taking very seriously:

*‘There is not in the whole world a monster to be compared
with a priest in the state of sin,
for the unfortunate man will not bear with correction.’ *
St. Jerome

Well stated.

:thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

His “public” encounters include some that are off of parish grounds and out of the earshot of his pastor. These are not open to all comers, but are arranged so that he is spending time with a “hand-picked” group of young men whom he flatters with his attention. . I hate to say it, but this sounds way too much like the stuff we were warned to report in our archdiocesan training on the protection of young adults from predators. This is just the kind of thing–right down to being described as “a new best friend”, an “older brother”, and a “third parent” to some select few young people–that youth ministers who abused teens did as a way to groom their victims.

IOW, he may not be dangerous, but he’s acting in just the ways described by actual offenders who described in the training videos the methods that they themselves employed when they were grooming teens and young adults for abuse.

More to the point, if he is NOT grooming these kids for abuse, he is leaving himself wide open to later allegations of abuse by how he is acting! This really needs to stop, for everyone’s sake.

If the smoke detectors went off when he first came, I’m afraid they are ringing off the walls right now. I appreciate your post, it was well thought out and intelligent. At this point, a meeting with our pastor is likely.

Yes, this is exactly the context I meant when I used the term power grab. I’m sorry if I was not clear.

Your points are very valid, we have been very careful with the terminology used to explain to our children our mindset. The younger ones are unaware of any problems, the older son is more aware, just because of his exposure to the other boys and Fr bill.

While on a confirmation retreat, (this is on video), Fr Bill was quoted as saying that he was a “man of great virtue” and he takes great pride in his personal holiness. i don’t have any proof of any other statements like this on video, but he makes comments like this frequently.

Also there is an elderly deacon at our parish, who cannot walk well. During one mass, Fr Bill was purifying on the altar, when he wished for a page on book to be turned. This apparently is something that the deacons normally do for him, but for whatever reason, this deacon had forgotten and was sitting down. Fr Bill made a large show of stating at the book, then at the deacon, then the book again. It is little occurrences like this that have made the lay people aware that there is tension.

As far as other instances, on the same confirmation retreat, he was allotted a time slot of 30 minutes to talk to the teens. He talked for an hour and a half, causing the rest of the day to be very behind schedule. This retreat follows the same structure every year for the past 10 years.

Make a written list of your concerns. Be very specific, and stick to the facts. Avoid inflammatory rhetoric and drawing conclusions, but be clear about what has you concerned. If something is “hearsay” that you think is important, then say that it is hearsay, say who you heard it from, but tell the pastor everything you know and everything you have heard.

For instance, in place of vaguely referring to a “power grab,” you might say:

Fr. Bill has violated policies and arrangements put into place by the pastor or other staff members and has made derogatory remarks about the person who made the policy in the process. For instance:

–According to the report of one of the servers later to another server not invited, he told the servers he was taking to breakfast that there would be no permission forms needed for going out of breakfast, saying, “Sr. Lucy is form-crazy. We’re just going out to breakfast, it isn’t at the parish, and it isn’t any of Sr. Lucy’s business.”

–He told one of the parishioners that asked about a possible problem with parish policy that it is no violation of policy for him to drive his servers home from breakfast at a restaurant by himself, even though he’d have to drive at least one of them alone in the car to do it. He said, “He’s sixteen years old. Besides, for crying out loud, I’m a priest, what do you think I’m going to do? I’m not one of those perverts.”

–He did not like the duty assignments that Deacon John made for Event X and re-did them entirely, saying “Whoever put Deacon John in charge of scheduling anything has to be just as incompetent as Deacon John is. I’m the only one around here who knows how to get anything done.”

–He has fired three different people from acting as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, even though Deacon Allen is in charge of training people in those roles and making those assignments. We were told by these people that they were “fired,” but we do not know if Deacon Allen is aware of why these people “quit.”

et cetera…

:eek:

I have never ever heard a holy priest refer to himself as a “man of great virtue,” let alone imply that in a million years he thought the state of his own soul was something to be proud of. (I don’t think I’ve heard any priest ever say anything like that!! I don’t know if they’d even joke about that!)

No, do not let this man be a confessor for you or your children. Stop short of saying anything bad about him to anyone who does not have authority over him, but by the same token I would steer clear of him and bring the most worrisome incidents to the pastor’s attention. If someone asks you why you steer clear of him, it is OK to relate some incidents that cause concern, provided you make it clear what is hearsay, what is first-hand knowledge, and that you are not convicting him but only doing your parental duty to be on the safe side. If the pastor says he knows and has elected to do nothing about the off-campus fraternization with young parishioners, or anything of that level of seriousness, tell the vicar of clergy for your diocese in writing. A pastor ought to be able to run his own parish his own way, but he does not have the authority to leave his parishioners vulnerable to a possible predator nor the diocese open to lawsuits by looking the other way when children or young people might be in any danger. Every parish must follow the abuse prevention policies their bishop has put into place. No exceptions, no excuses, and no looking the other way.

IOW: When it is about the roof, you can decide to let it go. When it is about vulnerable young people, you must speak up.

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