In the Face of Evil, Our Priests Need to Be Martyrs

Our church desperately needs priests willing to be victims and martyrs - willing to give up all to protect their sheep.

When mom died too early from cancer, in 2013, after the last of her eight children left home, I couldn’t have known how much I would come to miss her in the years that followed. Perhaps it is my nostalgic Irish heart, but as the years without her have widened, I’ve often found myself wanting just a day or two more with her. 

Of late, Judy Wells stands before me as a Jacob Marley-like ghost. Her hands, once so often clasped in prayer, seem now to swing a lantern of warning over her twenty-nine grandchildren, seemingly caught like a family of gazelles grazing amid fields of crouched lions. 

Mom’s memory speaks to my soul: Open your eyes, Kevin. Manfully fight for your children now—the shepherds have gone away.

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More than two dozen priests processed down the aisle at Judy Wells’ funeral. I imagine they wanted to offer their gratitude for her esteem for their priesthood. I think those priests realized that Mom—like the Blessed Mother—expected only heroism from them. Mom wanted men as priests who would fix their eyes on God and fight for her family as she once did—ones willing to take on the burden of their identity and the torment of the cross. Mom wanted martyrs. 

The septic current of moral pus that’s seized the conscience of the world thunders today through our Catholic Church. Within this sweeping diabolical mosaic—the trans agenda, normalization of homosexuality, impiety, vulgarity, and Disney-like hyper-wokeness—the priests mom esteemed seem to have fallen suspiciously and gravely silent. An ongoing, worldwide, systematic attack on truth and God’s natural laws seems to surge more powerfully each day, yet you would hardly know it’s an issue. 

Because so many priests have fallen quieter than Atlantis at the bottom of the sea, numberless Catholic schools have been tainted by the lengthening shadows of reengineered anthropology. Nine or so of my nieces and nephews, each in Catholic schools, have been contaminated by LGBTQ indoctrination by teachers and administrators. 

Last year, my fourth-grade nephew—who still believes in Santa Claus—saw his female classmate begin to present herself as a boy; new name, uniform, and bathroom. This change was promoted and given wide berth by the girl’s father—the then-assistant principal of the Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. A few months after this man stepped down from his administrative position, he publicly revealed himself as one who reviles the Catholic Church. In a podcast, he seemed to present himself as an atheist. This is the same man who last year led morning prayers for 500-plus Catholic school children. 

In the face of this red tide engraving itself into the unraveling character of our nation and too many of our schools, clergy seems, by and large, to have mysteriously erased it from homilies, lectures, and their writings. Is it a shrugging off of their sacred oath to defend the Church’s moral doctrine? Is it fear? Regardless, a grand hush seems to have befallen parishes throughout the land. 

In the meantime, this dark path of ideologies has branched off into multiple Church arteries, even into the highest reaches of the hierarchy. Cardinals Gerhard Marx of Germany and Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Hollerich have recently said the Church’s teaching on homosexuality may no longer be correct. It is Hollerich, in fact, that Pope Francis has appointed to oversee the ongoing process of the synod on synodality. 

Tens of thousands of Catholics continue to gather in dioceses throughout the world in the two-year “consultative preparatory phase” to exchange thoughts and ideas on the future Church. Considering the denuded catechesis of the last half-century, it is heartrending—really, it is horrifying—to imagine what looms at the conclusion of the synod in the fall of 2023.

In October of 2023, at the start of the assembly, Hollerich is expected to present a report on the minds of worldwide Catholics. The cardinal is recently quoted as saying: “There is no homosexuality at all in the New Testament. There is only discussion of homosexual acts, which were to some extent pagan cultic acts. That was naturally forbidden. I believe it is time for us to make a revision in the foundation of the teaching.”

Will the final document include the proposal to normalize and support the act of homosexuality in the Catholic Church? While wicked perverters and manipulators of moral doctrine have lurked in the Church for some time, they aren’t the focus of this piece. Rather, it is the troubling omen of clergy’s grave silence and unresponsiveness to the crisis of the surging worldwide woke agenda.

Is it an undisguised ascendency of fatherlessness that has blanketed clergy? Why has the lion’s share chosen silence rather than shepherding parishioners through it? Why will not all priests vigorously work to protect the purity of their parishes’ school-aged children? The answers are, of course, multitudinous—so before proposing what might be the single biggest cause behind this anti-fatherhood, permit me once more to speak of mom. 

Judy Wells soberly assessed things. Along with dad, she wanted to shield her children from the movements that could indelibly stain their souls. Because her existential fear was the quiet undertow of sin that could pick off a child, she worked to steer us to the choices that would bring peace and eternity with God. Of course, because mom knew the world’s ever-flowing tide of sin was mightier than her protective gaze, she knelt beside us each night to teach us to pray. And as we droned on with the prayers of small children, I imagine mom wordlessly begged God to be the pilot light within us that would never blink out. 

None of my siblings were paying any attention, but Mom had offered her life as a holocaust to us. She wanted no reward other than an unspoken hope that her children would maintain their faith and grow in virtue. The eight of us are faithful Catholics; concerning our virtue—no comment! 

Like birds building a thick winter’s nest straw by straw, mom fortified and protected us from the enticements of the world she knew could erode our consciences and pull us into black minefields of sin. “Trashy” sitcoms like Three’s Company were forbidden. Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, mystifyingly, never made it into our mailbox. Before attaining national fame, Howard Stern had become a big presence on a local radio station, but we didn’t know.

As I grew older, I used to walk unannounced into my parents’ bedroom to find my mom in the afternoon’s half-light, kneeling alone praying the Rosary for her children. She’d look up with hesitant eyes that told distinctly different stories: her self-consciousness at being caught in the raw nakedness of prayer and her hope that I’d kneel beside her. That open-hearted look hangs forever in my mind.

Mom was as guileless and meek a person as I’ll ever know, but she took things on for God. She fought for God. She knocked on neighbors’ doors, asking fallen-away Catholics, with impeccable courtesy, if they wanted to join our family for Sunday Mass. She handwrote tender, pleading letters to shacking-up couples encouraging them to separate and renew chaste relationships. She volunteered at a crisis pregnancy clinic in an awful part of town to counsel and restore the scarred souls of unmarried, pregnant mothers. 

Because Mom fought with an indomitable spirit, she would be heartbroken today at the masses of priests waylaid in protecting the young ones, the white-flag wavers who’ve refused to climb Golgotha to confront the venal pus. Jesus turned toward Jerusalem and was slaughtered; the majority of today’s clergy have genuflected to the power of the world and will comfortably lay their heads on their pillows tonight. 

Mom knew priests were meant to be victims and martyrs, men who wholly surrendered their lives to God as they confronted debauched behavior, distorted ideologies, and rampaging evil. Their lives were a type of sacred expiation so that their flock would be protected. Because holy priests have understood this reparative role for millennia, the best of them have undergone death, sustained torment, and sustained the lonely scorn of rejection. Valor is the sacred and ancient heirloom of holy priests; until this hour, it has been passed down from generation to generation.

Martyr-priests inherit and take on the challenges and issues unique to the generation in which they are born. The strong priest pushes back. St. Gregory the Great confronted various bands of barbarians, and St. Irenaeus beat back the Gnostics after watching the martyr St. Polycarp preach to the Christ-hating pagan Romans, who burned him at the stake. In a word, priests have always taken on the epochal sin that loomed directly before them. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of the agendo contra (action against) that priests must undergo to imitate the humiliation and crushing of Christ. A priest’s demonstration of valor and his willingness to suffer in his pushing back on the sin of his time is his most vivid testimony of crucified love. When Catholic parents see their pastor as the slaughtered lamb, one willing to consistently combat today’s poisonous gasses strangling their children, they will see Jesus Christ infused within him. And they will fight right alongside the man. 

Martyrdom for today’s priest is a single event: the fight against this seismic ideological upheaval of morality. Sadly, because so few priests have chosen to engage—and have remained noiseless within it—countless Catholic laity today are now fully supportive of “gender affirmation care,” sex transitions, homosexual marriage, and, of course, the free use of contraceptives. Some of the most dangerous people in the world in regard to the fight for abortion, euthanasia, and the woke new agenda are Roman Catholics. 

It is clearly a long wintertime in our collapsing Church. For the first time in the history of Christendom, emotions have gained the upper hand over reason in the moral realm, and young Catholics are fleeing the Church in droves. This is bad news for mom’s twenty-nine grandchildren. 

If these young ones adhere to settled moral doctrine—or share with others what their own mom and dad occasionally share about life and marriage around the dining room table—they will endure suffering in today’s society. A rapidly expanding sector of the intransigent world will alienate and even hate them for believing in God’s governance of His creation. Mom’s grandkids are left for slaughter. This past Sunday, my youngest daughter chose Joan of Arc as her Confirmation saint, and I was thinking—Man, that’s a good pick

Hearteningly, at this hinge point in time, there remains a remnant of hero-priests, those willing to work to unapologetically confront this shifting shadow of new moral codes. You will recognize them by their magnanimity, vigilance, and untamed prophetic voice. These muscular, joy-filled priests are the intercessors for today’s orphaned children. Their strength isn’t theirs; it is given to them by God. Accordingly, these men know they were ordained to become martyrs—which they understand is incompatible with remaining silent during these dark days. 

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” (John 10:11). Instinctually, the good shepherd isn’t risk-averse to the perils and hatred of the world. He’s unafraid because he’s tethered to his obligation: the saving of souls. A shepherd keeps his flock safe; it marks his identity. 

Alas, perhaps this comment offers the foundational reason why priests have gone underground and so few heroic priests seem to exist. This is what one of the priests whom mom loved told me:

Twenty years ago, when I was first a priest and preached on tough moral doctrines, the fear might have been, “What will my parishioners think; how will my parishioners handle my homily on contraception or homosexuality?” Today the question is, “What will my bishop say—how will he choose to handle me if I preach on homosexuality. What will the pope say? What will he do?” I think the shift is this—twenty years ago there was a fear of the public. Today there is the fear of leadership in our Church. 

For the tide of history to shift from decadence to a place of grace, a single option remains. Timid and flat-footed priests must fasten themselves to the cross by breaking through their self-imposed shackles of misapplied prudence, a cowardly fear of the world, and the dismantling of their homilies to cater to malformed parishioners. They must stop looking over their shoulder at their bishop and begin to crane their necks to look supernaturally into the face of God. Rather than considering any fuss or negative consequences their bishop might levy for a frank homily on the woke rabble and their pus, these priests might do better to consider the state of their eternal soul. 

And lastly, dear priests, recall the simple words of your patron saint, St. John Vianney, who said, “Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints—they are your public.” Consider imprinting those nineteen words into your soul.

The remaining faithful Catholic laity is praying and fasting for you. We look for a vanguard—magnanimous spiritual fathers willing to brawl to take on this pus. Until then, the war rages against our children. This, Fathers, is your martyrdom. 

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

  • Kevin Wells

    Kevin Wells is a former Major League Baseball writer, Catholic speaker, and author of Priest and Beggar: The Heroic Life of Venerable Aloysius Schwartz (Ignatius Press). His best-selling book The Priests We Need to Save the Church was published by Sophia Institute Press in 2019.

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