I noticed a woman walking along the road again, today, on the way to daily Mass. I asked if she'd like a ride since I recognized her from being at Mass yesterday (one of perhaps eight of us). She gladly accepted.
Turns out she is visiting a friend in the area, and hearing of the atrocities against children in Iraq caused her to locate the nearest parish for daily Mass. She is a lovely woman and Catholic; we immediately hit it off.
I admit to being sorry to hear she is leaving the area tomorrow to begin her return to her home state and city. Seems to be how His Real Presence has it--always giving me a touch of consolation but keeping it brief.
After Mass, I offered her a ride back to wherever she was staying. We talked more, and she asked some about the parish, noting that the Mass was astounding lesser attended and extremely brief. I made the comment that the priest is not a well man. "Physically, you mean?" she asked. "No, within. He is not plugged into his priestly vocation with both prongs in the socket."
She admitted that after she remained awhile yesterday, she commented to those around her that she'd never been to such a short Mass. The others said, "It is the priest. This is how he wants it." (They neglected to mention they ran out via many complaints to the bishop and the unspoken threat of withholding donations, an African priest awhile back because they did not like his wanting more adoration time, although it may have also been due to difficulty understanding his accent. In fairness, it likely was not the handful of daily Mass attendees who were opposed to the more spiritually desirous priest.)
Then she turned to me and said, "But you must never say anything negative aloud or otherwise, even in thought, about any priest. It is a SIN." I thanked her and said I needed this reminder. I did mention that at times it may be necessary to warn others of serious situations. She agreed. I suppose the determining factor is what is considered serious and not so serious.
Continuing the rather lengthy (and gas-costly) drive to my hermitage, I pondered what the woman said and realized it is not Scriptural--not the part about saying or thinking negative about priests, even if fact or for the safety of others. I consider both physical safety as well as spiritual safety.
However, what is in Scripture is to not think or say negative about anyone, not just priests. For that, I have done wrong and need to clean up my inner and outer thoughts and words. I have had negative thoughts and words even after addressing the situation to others or trying to fraternally correct. And I have not taken two others with me, to try again to explain to various persons, the wrongs. In the past, I have done so but now not for a long time. It is not usually easy to get someone or two others to come with and fraternally confront and correct another. Most don't want to get involved or risk being on that person's "bad side."
These thoughts now allude to the Scripture in which we are told if one has done wrong against us, we are to address it to the person hoping for change. If he or she does not apologize or correct the wrong, then we are to go to a couple others and explain, and take them with us to confront and hopefully correct the one who did wrong. If that does not produce positive results, we are to go to the Church leaders who will then (hopefully) intervene.
Obviously, if we need to go to others after speaking to the person directly first, we necessarily have to explain to those others what the person did or said that was not right (according to our perspective which hopefully is morally and spiritually sound and just). What we think and say, then, are negatives about the person.
We now enter into the discussion once more of detraction of others. It is not a black-or-white area of moral right or wrong. Each situation has to be considered, with all the facts laid out reasonably. What is wrong, I suppose, is to keep repeating another person's wrongs or the negatives behind the person's back or publicly (slander and libel as well as detraction), without following the charitable steps toward correction and justice that Jesus in Scripture advises.
I return to the thoughts of how St. John the Apostle greeted people routinely with: Little children, let us love one another [for love is of God]. I think this might serve me best, to repeat within myself and if necessary at some point, speak or write to others. I don't need to be thinking, writing, or speaking that a priest is unwell or has issues. Obviously, the visiting woman realized that or she would not have asked about him or commented on the brief and altered Mass.
The sin (it seems) is in not loving others and speaking ill of anyone unless necessary for a known, higher good, in truth and love, and for the sake of souls--our own and theirs. Where would we be had Jesus (or His apostles) not spoken negative truths about various situations of high priests, scribes, the early church communities, and people doing wrongs? I suspect the key in this is the word "truths." And, the purpose is key. If the purpose is for correction and uplift, that seems far different than if the purpose is not for any desire for improvement, and if we think we ourselves are beyond reproach, too.
Mea culpa! But if we remain silent on matters of wrongs committed, even if they are priests, we risk not only others souls but also that of the priest. We bring down all in the Body of Christ if we dare not follow the way of fraternal correction, and of truth. Love requires truth.
The woman and I agreed to pray all the more for the priest to have a deeper conversion of heart. But you see, even that suggests we see or think or recognize something is not for the best.
These matters are never simple, are they? But I do appreciate the reminder, and I must consider more and more: Little children, love one another.