Plenary voices: Fr Michael de Stoop

This is an intervention given at the Plenary by Fr Michael de Stoop, Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney.

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Pope Francis ordains one of 16 new priests during a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 2018. The pope urged the new priests to be merciful with people who approach them, especially in the confessional. Photo: CNS, Tony Gentile, Reuters

In the voices of the Plenary members, I hear the continued growth in our awareness of how terrible was the violent and insensitive crimes in our nations’ history. Consequently, we feel shame and confusion in response to so many of us in past generations having so readily disregarded the majesty of God’s love in the very attempt to defend it. Without experiencing the horror of sin and the love of God, which infinitely surpasses our shame, we could remain ambivalent to what sin truly is as God sees it and how it grieves the Holy Spirit.

We’ve been invited to listen to what God is doing in the Church in Australia. Clearly, God is calling us to repentance for the widespread avoidance that enabled the abuse crisis.

From what I’ve been discerning in our interactions, may I suggest that God is also calling us to be attentive to another form of avoidance? Due to the shame we’re experiencing in response to the dreadful crimes of clergy sexual abuse, I’ve heard some people expressing their fear about promoting priestly vocations.

Contrary to such despair, we can clearly see that God is still calling men to become priests by virtue of the distinct increase in number of seminarians and newly ordained clergy.

What deserves even more of our listening attention is that this noteworthy increase is taking place in the dioceses that are now – just in recent years – promoting and fostering priestly vocations. These dioceses in Australia – considerable in number – are the very ones that had no vocations for decades. Literally. Was this past drought in priestly vocations attributed to God not having called men to the Sacrament of Holy Orders? Or, have vocations not been promoted out of fear that some people would be hurt due to being wounded by their earthly and spiritual fathers? If the latter is true, as sad as this wounding is, such pain warrants an even greater need for priests, spiritual fathers shaped after the heart of Christ, who are sensitive to the needs of those who are suffering. For such pain prevents people who are hurting from receiving the loving gaze of God the Father.

St Ignatius of Loyola knew from his own experience how shame can cause discouragement, for after his conversion he wrote in his autobiography: “he experienced intense shame and sorrow at the thought of not having made a good use of the favours and graces which God had bestowed upon him.” Consequently, “he felt an inclination to give up the life he was leading.” Where would we be right now if he did?