Page 8, 17th May 2002

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Page 8, 17th May 2002 — Priests are the best school governors
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Priests are the best school governors

Education Eric Hester

On March 30, Julie Burchill wrote in The Guardian this: "I'd venture for a start that Catholicism has caused more paedophilia than it has cured; in my opinion, the reason why this church is so dead set against abortion is so that its priests can have a steady stream of children to molest."

As one who was a headmaster of Catholic comprehensive and grammar schools, let me say how disgusting is that Guardian article and what heroic men I have always found our priests to be.

St Thomas More wrote of priests who had given up their vocation that we should regard them as we would soldiers who had volunteered to fight in the most dangerous part of the battlefield but who then deserted. This brilliant comparison shows us how we should regard our own priests: as men who have volunteered to fight in the most dangerous part of the battlefield and are still loyally fighting the good fight. We normally regard such soldiers as heroes and that, I suggest, is how we should regard our priests.

Why are these men heroes? First, for their great loyalty to the Church that they love. Like a faithful husband, they united with their spouse, Holy Mother Church, in good days and they are not going to desert when things are bad. Saintly patience is their next virtue: patient with the trendy who want to introduce liberation theology and with their ecclesiastical superiors who want them to look after two or three parishes. These good priests are not the ones who write crack-brained articles in The Tablet. These are the men who quietly spend hours of their lives in confessional boxes.

Any priest in his mid 50s or over, and that means most priests, will have had massive changes to endure. In the last 35 years, there have been over 50 changes in the way that the priest has to say Mass. The poor priest gets the blame for all that is wrong, instead of being seen as someone who has suffered. He has been forced to endure changes many of which he knew would lead to a weakening of faith. He may have had pressures on him to move the tabernacle, to end May processions, to give a homily instead of a proper sermon, 'to spend less time in the confessional or to remove statues.

Most parish priests will be chairman of governors of a primary school and at least an ordinary governor of a comprehensive school. Catholic governing bodies now have less power than they have ever had but they spend more time in meetings. Nowadays, any priest might have to spend hours in formulating responses to government initiatives.

Good priests must be tempted to write at the bottom of the agenda for the governors' meeting — "500 days indulgence". Never believe the idea that PPs are bad or tyrannical governors. In all my experience, the best governors were parish priests. If I were not bound by confidentiality, I could relate hundreds of examples of wonderful pastoral care of families known personally to me. Good priests suffer agonies of conscience because, out of loyalty to their diocesan bureaucracies, they have to give public support to defective books of religious education, or even to so-called sex education programmes in school, in defiance of the Holy Father's express instructions. Yet I have never known a priest to speak in any public, or semi-public situation against his bishop.

The patron saint of parish priests is, of course, St John Vianney. He is usually named simply as the Cure d' Ars. This is right: every good priest identifies with his parish. The rest of us should try to ensure that every parishioner identifies with his parish priest. Priests are being persecuted by the media. Let all loyal Catholics stick by our heroic priests. Let us pray for them to Our Blessed Lady, mother of priests.




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