I was at Mass in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle sometime last year when the pastor spoke for a few minutes about the need to contribute to a fundraising appeal. The needs of the Cathedral were not conveyed in terms of strengthening the community of faithful or, particularly, the missionary imperative of the Gospel. Instead, the fundraising need was put in terms of the vast number of “programs” that the Cathedral serves as home for—and how these programs would be hurt if the appeal’s goals were not met.
In his speech, Francis outlined the different reasons why priests may become “embittered” in their ministry, noting that his observations came from many conversations with priests and are not only his opinion.
Today, he said, there seems to be a “general atmosphere” of “widespread mediocrity” – and not only in the priesthood.
“The fact remains that much bitterness in the life of a priest” is rooted in the omissions of his bishop, Francis said in a footnote of the speech.
Priests risk losing their ministry as pastors, their role as teachers of the faith, he said, as they become “suffocated” by management problems and personnel emergencies.
But, he added, “who is the catechist of that permanent disciple who is the priest? The bishop of course!”
Francis said it could be argued that priests do not usually want to be educated by bishops, but even if this is true, “it is not a good reason” for bishops to give up the “munus docendi.”
“The holy people of God have the right to have priests who teach them to believe; and deacons and priests have the right to have a bishop who teaches them in turn to believe and hope in the One Master, the Way, the Truth and the Life, who inflames their faith,” he said.
The pope also said that, as a priest, he would want his bishop to help him believe, not just make him happy, and lamented that often bishops end up only attending to their priests in times of crisis, and not making the time to listen to them outside of emergencies.