The Year for Priests, which ended last Friday, seems at first glance to have been a tremendous failure. That is not our conclusion but that of Benedict XVI, who made the startling admission at Mass in St Peter’s Square at the year’s end. He was referring, of course, to the dreadful deluge of clerical abuse cases in Europe and elsewhere over the past 12 months. He said that the media identification of the priesthood with paedophilia ought to have ruined a year that was meant to celebrate the divine gift of the priestly vocation.
But the year should not be written off as a public relations catastrophe, the Pope said, because for many of the world’s priests it has also been a time of quiet renewal. As he put it: “Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in ‘earthen vessels’ which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world.”
This is the second story of the Year for Priests. It doesn’t have the drama or the horror of the first narrative, which has rightly shocked many both inside and outside the Church. But it is true and inspiring and should not be totally eclipsed by the first story.
The year is over but we must continue to pray for our priests and to give them support, encouragement and practical help. We must also, as Pope Benedict reminds us, ask God to call young men so that they might share in the “new radiance of the priesthood”, which we pray will be the lasting legacy of the Year for Priests.