[Editor’s Note: Mark DeYoung is a current master’s in theology graduate student at Catholic University of America and a former seminarian in the Archdiocese of New York. He is one of the original signers of a letter by a group of Catholic men asking Pope Francis to answer the accusations made in the recent letter from the former nuncio from the Holy See to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. The organization, called Catholic Men United for Christ, has encouraged signatories to fast for the good of the Church. Young spoke with Kathryn Jean Lopez about the reasons for the letter.]
Lopez: Why are you encouraging fasts? Why do you believe that can have any kind of power?
DeYoung: In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples find themselves powerless to drive out a certain evil spirit, and in that confusion, they ask the Lord why they were unable. He reminds them that, “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” As many of us read excerpts from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, we could not help but think that this is the kind of evil to which Jesus refers.
Therefore, the signatories of the Catholic Men United for Christ letter will take on a difficult fast every Friday for the remainder of the year, and we will continue into 2019 if there is not an adequate response. Taking our direction from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in relation to fasting, we also seek our own interior conversions, recognizing that we each need “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed.”
What does it mean to be a man “in love with Christ and His Church”?
Christ established the Church as His bride. We cannot have Christ without the Church. A Christian’s faith is never solely a private affair, but his or her salvation is worked out through Jesus’ Church. Many of us are shocked and heartbroken when we look at the state of Christ’s Bride in many places around the world, but we know that Christ will not abandon her. We laymen (along with all faithful, baptized Catholics) have a role to play in returning the Bride to her purity and glory, and we recommit our efforts in that regard.
What does “radical purification” look like for the Church?
Radical purification can include many things, but first and foremost, it seems to me that it requires honesty and humility before God. In the Gospel of Luke, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector presents two very different ways of approaching God. The Pharisee boasts, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” while the tax collector lowers himself and pleads, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
We ask our bishops and the Holy Father to recommit themselves to such honesty and humility, to spiritually lead us, to speak to us as pastors and shepherds, and to guide us toward renewal. But we as laymen, hopefully in the spirit of the tax collector, are also renewing our commitment to humble ourselves before God. If we are honest, we must acknowledge that we have also played a role in this. We have been unfaithful in our marriages, lacking in our commitment to chastity as single men, and in many cases, we have not assumed leadership, or even involvement, in our own parish communities.
You seriously considered being a priest. Is it something of a miracle that anyone would going forward?
Yes and no. For those parents who were already uncomfortable sending a son into the seminary or encouraging a daughter to enter religious life, recent scandals and revelations will simply reinforce that commitment. For those who, with good reasons, in a spirit of distrust and fear, refuse to let their children be involved in liturgy and other parish activities, the seeds that would normally be planted for a religious vocation to come to fruition in adulthood will simply never be planted.
Yet God still calls and provides. And sometimes amid scandal, truly holy people are called to lead, and the crisis itself can become the impetus which draws out certain men and women to awaken from a lukewarm faith. I have seen this myself. There are many, many good, honest men (the overwhelming majority) studying and preparing for the priesthood despite and sometimes because of the crisis (as well as the newly ordained priests who have entered parish life in recent years). I have great hope that they will be the courageous leaders and bishops who will oversee renewal and a new growth in vocations.
How can lay people be encouraging to priests who truly seek to be holy? Is this an important part of the renewal?
One of the great tragedies in all of this is that faithful priests (the vast majority of them) are now looked at with suspicion and derision. I remember marching in a Stations of the Cross during Holy Week a few years back. As we passed a bar, a man, upon seeing the priest leading our group, shouted out, “Heads up everyone. Time to hide your children.” What a cross to live with on a daily basis! I think our priests will continue to further enter into a period of great suffering and humiliation.
So yes, loneliness, isolation, and the temptation to simply be dispensers of the sacraments may become the lot of many priests, who are no longer trusted and allowed to be fathers to their spiritual children. Rules and restrictions based on justified fears squelch the freedom of good priests to be manly examples to their flocks. Many good men have left the priesthood for these very reasons.
It is the job for all the faithful to reestablish trust between the clergy and faithful so that they can use their personalities and talents for the Kingdom in complete freedom (i.e. think of John Paul II being trusted enough as a young priest to take young adult groups out into the mountains for outdoor adventures and spiritual nourishment).
Additionally, good, holy families and lay people can counter this trend by affirming priests as fathers and men, providing them with places of welcome, rest, and affirmation.
Near the conclusion of the letter, there is this: “Trusting in our Lord Jesus Christ, we have full confidence that the light of the Holy Trinity will break through this present darkness revealing the full beauty of our beloved Church.” How can you trust God when evil has all happened in His Church?
Evil is a mystery that is very hard to explain. Fortunately (and unfortunately), God allows us in our freedom to choose for or against Him, even extending that freedom to those entrusted with the leadership of His Church. As a result, evil can and often does flourish, sometimes even more nefariously within places of worship. I acknowledge that this is a trite and incomplete answer for any of the victims of sexual assault or abuse at the hands of clergymen (as well as for the parents of those victims). I am sorry, and I hope you can find trust in God once again, despite the horrors that have been perpetrated upon you and your children by supposed spiritual leaders.
At the end of the day, Jesus assures us that He will be with us “always, even to the close of the age,” and since the early days of the Church, the Holy Spirit has been given to us (and remains with us) to fulfill that very promise. As an act of faith based on sound reasons, I believe this, as do my brothers who have courageously signed our petition.