“Ask a Priest: What If a Pastor’s Homilies Show His Anger?”

Q: A new pastor came to my parish four years ago. For the first year, it was business as usual. Since then, things have gotten progressively worse. The pastor started getting very angry toward the congregation and criticizing things during his homilies. Apparently, some people did not like his style, and they were bad-mouthing him behind the scenes. When he was unexpectedly renewed for another three-year term, he angrily spoke from the pulpit that “You are stuck with me.” His homilies are around 20 minutes, and he goes from speaking with a tense tone and saying nothing interesting to calling the people sinners. Some people have told him to shorten the homilies and change his tone, and rather than considering this advice, he publicly announces the criticism from the pulpit. Personally, I love going to Mass. Unfortunately, going to the parish Masses has made me very angry because of the tone of the priest as well as the people. It is not a happy environment. There is not another Catholic parish for 20 miles. Any suggestions about how I should go about things? – Anonymous

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This sounds like a very unfortunate situation. Certainly the devil takes special interest in dragging down priests and causing unrest in a parish, especially in a locale where the next closest Mass might be inaccessible for a lot of folks.

Being the only priest in the parish, perhaps the pastor has been feeling burnt out. He might be under pressure from the diocesan curia and from the day-to-day demands of shepherding his flock. The open criticism by the parishioners might have fueled the problem and put him on the defensive, producing a vicious circle.

It might help him a lot at this moment to feel as though someone in the parish supports him.

The first thing you could do is pray for him.

You might do your best to speak well of his good qualities (he must have some) and to encourage other parishioners to do the same.

Also helpful would be to reach out to him, either in the form of an encouraging letter or e-mail, or an offer to help him with a special project in the parish.

Here you could seek out others who would be interested in helping and encouraging the priest.

If he senses the support of at least some people, it might lead him to soften the homilies and to be open to positive suggestions.

Parishes can work best when there is a sense of respect and appreciation on all sides. This is the ideal you want to aim for.

Of course, there might be other factors involved in this situation. Perhaps the priest is going through a psychologically difficult time, for any variety of reasons.

If things don’t improve, you might consider contacting the chancery. There might a priest appointed by the bishop to help support the diocesan clergy.

Your pastor might also benefit from a retreat for priests. It would be a nice gesture if a group of parishioners would lend financial support to help the pastor attend such a retreat.

In the meantime, if you can’t find an alternative Mass, try to keep focused on the most important thing happening in the parish liturgies: Christ is coming to us in the readings and in the Eucharist, to nourish us.

Again, pray for this priest, please. He is, for the moment, Our Lord’s anointed one to guide the parish.

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