Priests, Pastors, and Pain

Priests, pastors and pain; three words that shouldn’t share the same sentence. Priests, pastors and hope? Yes. Priests, pastors and healing? By all means. But to learn of scandals perpetrated beneath the steeple; deception in the church rather than instruction? It takes its toll on the heartiest of souls.

The grand jury released a shocking report Tuesday that found over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused over 1,000 children over seven decades. And, as if that were not bad enough, the report found that church leaders covered up the sexual abuse – protecting the abusers instead of their victims.

News of the grand jury report, on top of earlier reports going back years about members of the clergy using their positions to become sexual predators, brings us face to face with one of life’s hardest questions: what do I do with a violated trust? Whether the perpetrator be a priest, a pastor, a rabbi or an evangelical leader, the struggle is a real one. When those who promised to nurture my soul bruised it, when those committed to taking care of me took advantage of me, how do I respond?

To be clear, I have no inside information on the case in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. I know nothing more about the allegations than any bystander might and far less than the investigators. It is not my job to assign guilt or innocence. But it is my desire to address the question many of us find ourselves facing at some point in life. When a leader lets me down, what do I do with the hurt?

Even deeper, at risk is our faith in God; if not His existence, at least His goodness. How could God allow this to happen? To be clear (and we must strive to be clear), God has strong words for pastors who purvey pain upon His people.

“You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. …you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve….I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” (Ezekiel 34:2-10 NLT)

The words could hardly be harsher. God sets a high standard for His leaders. “A bishop then must be blameless (I Timothy 3:2 NKJV). The Greek word translated “blameless” means, “not able to be held or taken hold of.” It carries with it the idea of “insufficient evidence.” Blameless, then, means a life unmarred by a prevailing sin, be it a vice, or habit, or attitude, or an event. He or she is beyond accusation.

Does this mean the minister never slips or sins? No. It does mean he or she never dwells in a state of sin that could be a reflection on the church. Does this mean the individual’s past is perfect and without blemish? No, but it does mean that any dark chapter of the past has been dealt with in such a manner that he and those closest to the issue have put it to rest.

Such a life demands special effort. The Apostle Paul recognized this. He wrote: “We worked hard day and night so that we would not be a burden to any of you. …we wanted to give you an example to follow” (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9 NLT).

Let all pastors be warned: this is a holy responsibility and a high calling.

Yet, let all believers be reminded, for every clergy person who violates a trust, there are thousands who guard it jealously. For every religious leader who stumbles, there are thousands who serve faithfully, carefully, and lovingly. This is no time for blanket dismissals.

There is no perfect pastor or priest, except one. We, in the Christian faith, have found Jesus Christ to be exactly that. The perfect Priest. Scripture gives us this promise about Him:

“For our high priest (Jesus) is able to understand our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin. Let us, then, feel very sure that we can come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we can receive mercy and grace to help us when we need it” (Hebrews 4:15–16 NCV).

We have a high priest who is able to understand. Since He understands, we find mercy and grace when we need it. We are not left to languish. We are not forgotten. We aren’t abandoned. Our God gets us.

Does this promise matter? If you ever wonder if God understands you, he does. If you ever wonder if God listens, he does. If you ever wonder if the Uncreated Creator can, in a million years, comprehend the challenges you face, then ponder long and hard the promise of the incarnation. Jesus is “able to understand our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15 NCV). The One who hears your prayers understands your pain.

In a perfect world, every pastor would protect the sheep and every priest would nurture the flock. The vast majority of them do. Yet, in the instances that they don’t, our Good Shepherd is still present.

©Max Lucado, August, 2018


13 comments on “Priests, Pastors, and Pain

  1. Thank you so much for this, Mr. Lucado. I am a practicing Catholic, and your words offer much comfort to my aching heart.

  2. Dear, Mr. Lucado, I, like Brittney, am a practicing Catholic. Thank you, always, for your faith-filled words. You continuously help me to see things in a better way.

  3. I, too, am a Catholic, committed to Christ. In all the responses I’ve read about this latest scandal, this most sums up my thoughts. Thank you, Max. Just wanted you to know I’d already written a quote from your recent book into a talk I will be giving at our parish retreat in October on the Holy Spirit. You are a gift to the body of Christ.

  4. I, too, am a Catholic, committed to Jesus and in service to the church for the last 41 years. Thank you for your words, Max, and for your pastor’s heart. The horrendous tragedy within the ranks of the Catholic Church must be addressed, as Pope Francis has begun to do so, yet the reality is that this abuse has occurred in other denominations, in Scouts, in political circles, work environments, etc. etc. As dark as this chapter is in the history of the Church, your words remind us that our trust should have always been in Jesus, and that His light will expose the darkness within structures and hearts, as He works to make His bride “spotless.” Also wanted to let you know that I had already written a talk for our upcoming parish retreat, quoting you on the Holy Spirit. You are a blessing to the body of Christ! Thank you.

  5. Thank you for your comments on this Max. I, even as a sheep, need this reminder to be praying for spiritual leaders more often. Not that I don’t already, but admittedly, my own circle of concerns are foremost on my prayer lists. All too often, I take these heavenly gifts of faith, perseverance, strength and honor as a natural and unshakeable foundation in my leaders, spiritual or government. I take these qualities for granted, as though, it’s not a concern, but it should be. There was a song put out in recent years depicting this and that was when I first started praying about it. It seems that we all need to do this for our spiritual leaders more often. You would be most likely closer to Satan’s temptations for the fall of many sheep would be Satan’s pleasure, sadly..then that would mean less work for him, right ? Like a chess game to attack the leaders.. Kings, Queens or bishops.. We simply cannot let Satan win at this chess game. I see this more evident as I mature in the faith, that my responsibilities are greater than in days past, but you and your peers’ and the leaders of our governments, even greater. May the Good Lord above help those who suffered and restore their faith and may He walk with you daily as leaders, guiding you to paths of righteousness.

  6. Very powerful and so clearly stated. Thank you so much! Been troubled by what’s been going on in the Catholic Church and also recently with Pastor Bill Hybels. My heart just aches but I know I need to keep my focus on Jesus!

  7. The Catholics don’t have the market cornered on this. I stayed out of Church for many years because of various types of misbehavior by religious leaders in my community. Experience taught me that pastors don’t lie any more than the general public, but they don’t lie any less, either. The problem is they’re as human as we are, and all are subject to the same temptations, if not more so because of who they are. And also because of who they are, it’s harder to sweep their indiscretions under the rug. I agree with Mr. Lucado’s approach on handling their sin. May God show His infinite Grace and mercy to all of us.

  8. Yes, thank you Mr. Lucado. I, too, am a Catholic Christian and my heart aches for those who were victimized by their priests, pastors, teachers, and other mentors. You expressed perfectly what has happened and what our response should be. This was a blow/betrayal to the whole Body of Christ- Catholic, Baptist, Protestant, Evangelical, etc. and hurts all who have yet to believe, and we should grieve for our brothers and sisters and over those who hurt us, pray for them, and learn from this. Thank you for not writing off Catholicism and your Catholic brothers and sisters because of the scandal as many have, but instead addressing the real pain and how to handle it in a Godly way. God bless you.

  9. Thanks Pastor Max. Quite an encouraging and insiteful article…
    I was drawn to it,being an Anglican Priest and given the fact that Pastors often need to be ministered to. This has done that for me to some good degree. God Bless

  10. The day is coming when the true judge will take his place. To all who don’t feel the pain in all of this, pick up your stone. Just be careful who you throw it at God bless

  11. Thanks Max, a lovely response to the tragedy and sadness of such things, and indeed the minority among the thousands of churches and outreaches. I have been involved for over 40 years with such cases, from all denominations and faiths and over multiple generations, both with the abused and the abusers. In the light of such tragedy, as Christ-walkers in His grace, we do have a real hope and a joy that the media and secular thinking can’t grasp, and that is the gift of healing for the wounded hearts in Jesus Christ, even from the shameful things done under the cloak of His name. For me, I have witnessed the Gospel of Grace to us in Jesus Christ restoring and re-parenting many into an amazing wholeness, that reflects the beauty of His true heart, as they are tenderly and patiently embraced in and by His perfect compassion, love and grace. (cf; Hebrews 2:17,18; 7:26-28). Nothing can dim or exhaust God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, so what evil sought to destroy, grace abounds – blessing to a greater level than before, more than what could ever be imagined. His willingness and ability to heal and restore reveals just how great our God is!

    Let’s collectively pray that the wounded come to the Christ-resourced ones that are able to help in His grace and for them not to try and get a false sense of hope and healing through the bitterness and anger of a godless society and the media. True, Justice needs to be practiced, but that isn’t the foundation of healing and never can – because, the need to punish and hurt because I hurt will never come to an end, for bitterness keeps the injustice festering. Living as a victim becomes a destroying cancer to every soul, a darkness without end. Let’s grieve deeply for them

  12. Great message. May the Lord Jesus Christ continue to use you for his own glory. You always bless my heart.

  13. I was raised in a church and it’s “Christian” school (Non-denominational). It was extremely spiritually, physically, emotionally and sometimes sexually abusive to many of the students there. Even decades later, the abuses many of us experienced still causes serious issues. Many have outright rejected God. Many have and still struggle with drugs or alcohol abuse. The suicide rate among my fellow students is astoundingly high.

    We have lived under a veil of shame and silence for decades, as we were taught as children it was us that “wasn’t spiritual enough” and therefore we were the cause of the abuses we endured.

    I started speaking out recently about my experiences at this church and it’s school and community (we were not allowed to associate with anyone who didn’t go to that church and school). I have since been contacted and learned the horrific abuses my fellow students endured there. We were not protected by our parents when we spoke out, not by the other adults who may not have participated in the abuses but stood by while they happened. Fear, emotional manipulation and false shame stopped even adults and parents from taking a stand.

    Some of us attempted to speak to the leader of the church/school, who inflicted and encouraged much of the abuses, but he never acknowledged what he and others did to us children.

    It has taken me decades just to learn how to really forgive, I mean a true forgiveness that brings peace and release from the torturous memories. For decades I tried to forgive by sheer willpower, gritting my teeth while mentally saying over and over that I forgive all involved but never seeming to be able to get it to take place in my heart. Many of my fellow students have given up trying to forgive because they have the same struggle that I did. Many have felt they will always have to live with the bondage of hating the people involved and will never be free of it, even though they truly want to forgive.
    It is my deepest desire to see my fellow students to be able to truly forgive and heal from our past, but I do not know how to help them. I can barely identify the lies about myself that were ingrained in me as a child and teen there, so I don’t know how to help them either.

    God help us, and let no more of us die without knowing the truth of Christ and ourselves.

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