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85 The dispensations which are granted after such considerations--a minimal percentage when they are compared with the great number of good, worthy priests--provide in justice for the spiritual salvation of the individual and show at the same time the Church's concern to safeguard celibacy and the complete fidelity of all her ministers. In granting such dispensations the Church always acts with heartfelt regret, especially in the particularly lamentable cases in which refusal to bear worthily this sweet yoke of Christ results from crises in faith, or moral weakness, and is thus frequently a failure in responsibility and a source of scandal to the Christian people.
86 If these priests knew how much sorrow, dishonor and unrest they bring to the holy Church of God, if they reflected on the seriousness and beauty of their obligations and on the dangers to which they are exposed in this life and in the next, there would be greater care and reflection in their decisions; they would pray more assiduously and show greater courage and logic in forestalling the causes of their spiritual and moral collapse.
87 Mother Church takes particular interest in what befalls young priests who, no matter how great the zeal and enthusiasm with which they entered the sacred ministry, have nevertheless been troubled later on in performing their duties by feelings of hopelessness, doubt, desire, or folly. Hence, especially in these circumstances, it is the wish of the Church that every persuasive means available be used to lead our brothers from this wavering state and restore to them peace of soul, trust, penance, and their former zeal. It is only when no other solution can be found for a priest in this unhappy condition that he should be relieved of his office.
88 There are some whose priesthood cannot be saved, but whose serious dispositions nevertheless give promise of their being able to live as good Christian lay people. To these the Holy See, having studied all the circumstances with their bishops or with their religious superiors, sometimes grants a dispensation, thus letting love conquer sorrow. In order, however, that her unhappy but always dear son may have a salutary sign of her maternal grief and a keener remembrance of the universal need of God's mercy, in these cases she imposes some works of piety and reparation.
89 Inspiring this discipline, which is at once severe and merciful, are justice and truth, prudence and reserve. It is without doubt a discipline which will confirm good priests in their determination to live lives of purity and holiness. At the same time it will be a warning to those aspiring to the priesthood. Guided by the wisdom of those who educate them, they will approach their priesthood fully aware of its obligations and entirely forgetfully of self, responding generously to divine grace and the will of Christ and His Church.
90 Finally, and with deep joy, We thank our Lord because many priests who for a time had been unfaithful to their obligations have again, with the grace of the High Priest, found the path and given joy to all by becoming anew exemplary pastors. With admirable good will, they used all the means which were helpful to ensure their return, especially an intense life of prayer, humility, persevering effort sustained by regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance.
91 There is an irreplaceable and very effective means to ensure for our dear priests an easier and happier way of being faithful to their obligations, and it is one which they have the right and duty to find in you, venerable brother bishops. It was you who called them and destined them to be priests; it was you who placed your hands on their heads; with you they are one in sharing the honor of the priesthood by virtue of the Sacrament of Orders; it is you whom they make present in the community of the faithful; with you they are united in a spirit of trust and generosity since, in as far as is compatible with their order, they take upon themselves your duties and concerns. (137) In choosing a life dedicated to celibacy they follow the ancient examples of the prelates of the East and West; this provides a new motive for union between bishop and priest and a sound hope that they will live together more closely.
137. See Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, LG 28: AAS 57 (1965), 34-35 [TPS X, 378-79].
92 The love which Jesus had for His Apostles showed itself very clearly when he made them ministers of His real and Mystical Body; (See Jn 13-17) and even you in whose person "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the high priest, is present in the midst of those who believe," (139) know that you owe the best part of your hearts and pastoral care to your priests and to the young men preparing to be priests. (140) In no other way can you better show this conviction than in the conscious responsibility and sincere and unconquerable love with which you preside over the education of your seminarians, and help your priests in every way possible to remain faithful to their vocation and their duties.
139. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, LG 21: AAS 57 (1965), 24 [TPS X, 372-73]
140. Decree on the Priestly Ministry and Life, PO 7: AAS 58 (1966), 1001-03 [TPS XI, 450-52].
93 Your fraternal and kindly presence must fill up in advance the human loneliness of the priest, which is so often the cause of his discouragement and temptations. (141) Before being the superiors and judges of your priests, be their teachers, fathers, friends, their good and kind brothers always ready to understand, to sympathize and to help. Encourage your priests in every possible way to be your personal friends and to be very open with you. This will not weaken the relationship of juridical obedience; rather it will transform it into pastoral love so that they will obey more willingly, sincerely and securely. If they have a filial trust in you, your priests will be able in time to open up their souls and to confide their difficulties in you in the certainty that they can rely on your kindness to be protected from eventual defeat, without a servile fear of punishment, but in the filial expectation of correction, pardon and help, which will inspire them to resume their difficult journey with a new confidence.
141. See ibid. PO 7
94 Venerable brothers, all of you are certainly convinced that to restore to the soul of a priest joy in and enthusiasm for his vocation, interior peace and salvation, is an urgent and glorious ministry which has an incalculable influence on a multitude of souls. There will be times when you must exercise your authority by showing a just severity toward those few who, after having resisted your kindness, by their conduct cause scandal to the People of God; but you will take the necessary precautions to ensure their seeing the error of their ways. Following the example of our Lord Jesus, "the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls," (1P 2,25) do not crush the "bruised reed" nor quench the "smoldering wick"; (See Mt 12,20) like Jesus, heal their wounds, (See Lc 9,11) save what was lost; (See Mt 18,11) with eagerness and love go in search of the lost sheep and bring him back to the warmth of the sheepfold (See Lc 15,4ff) and like Him, try until the end (Ibid., Lc 22,48) to call back the unfaithful friend.
95 We are certain, venerable brothers, that you will leave nothing undone to foster, by your teaching, prudence and pastoral zeal, the ideal of consecrated celibacy among your clergy. We are sure too that you will never neglect those priests who have strayed from the house of God, their true home, no matter where their painful odyssey has led them; for they still remain your sons.
96 Priestly virtue is a treasure that belongs to the whole Church. It is an enrichment and a splendor above the ordinary, which redounds to the building up and the profit of the entire People of God. We wish therefore to address to all the faithful, Our children in Christ, an affectionate and urgent exhortation. We wish that they too feel responsible for the virtue of those brothers of theirs who have undertaken the mission of serving them in the priesthood for the salvation of their souls. They should pray and work for priestly vocations; they should help priests wholeheartedly, with filial love and ready collaboration; they should have the firm intention of offering them the consolation of a joyous response to their pastoral labors. They should encourage these, their fathers in Christ, to overcome the difficulties of every sort which they encounter as they fulfill their duties, with entire faithfulness, to the edification of all. In a spirit of faith and Christian love, they should foster a deep respect and a delicate reserve in their dealings with priests, on account of their condition as men entirely consecrated to Christ and to the Church.
97 Our invitation goes out specially to those lay people who seek God with greater earnestness and intensity, and strive after Christian perfection while living in the midst of their fellow men. By their devoted and warm friendship they can be of great assistance to the Church's ministers since it is the laity, occupied with temporal affairs while at the same time aiming at a more generous and perfect conformity to their baptismal vocation, who are in a position, in many cases, to enlighten and encourage the priest. The integrity of his vocation, one that plunges him into the mystery of Christ and the Church, can suffer harm from various circumstances and from contamination by a destructive worldliness. In this way the whole People of God will honor Christ our Lord in those who represent Him and of whom He has said: "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me," (Mt 10,40) promising an assured reward to anyone who in any way shows charity toward those whom He has sent. (See ibid., Mt 10,42)
98 Venerable brothers, pastors of God's flock throughout the world, and dearly beloved priests, Our sons and brothers: as We come to the end of this letter which We have addressed to you, We invite you, with a soul responsive to Christ's great love, to turn your eyes and heart with renewed confidence and filial hope to the most loving Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church, and to invoke for the Catholic priesthood her powerful and maternal intercession. In her the People of God admire and venerate the image of the Church, and model of faith, charity and perfect union with Him. May Mary Virgin and Mother obtain for the Church, which also is hailed as virgin and mother, (150) to rejoice always, though with due humility, in the faithfulness of her priests to the sublime gift of holy virginity they have received, and to see it flourishing and appreciated ever more and more in every walk of life, so that the army of those who "follow the divine Lamb wherever He goes" (Ap 14,4) may increase throughout the earth.
150. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, LG 63-64: AAS 57 (196;), 64 [TPS X, 398].
99 The Church proclaims her hope in Christ; she is conscious of the critical shortage of priests when compared with the spiritual necessities of the world's population; but she is confident in her expectation which is founded on the infinite and mysterious power of grace, that the high spiritual quality of her ministers will bring about an increase also in their numbers, for everything is possible to God. (Mc 10,27; see Lc 1,37) In this faith and in this hope, may the apostolic blessing which we impart with all Our heart be for all a pledge of heavenly graces and the testimony of Our fatherly affection.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, June 24, 1967, the feast of St. John the Baptist, in the fifth year of Our pontificate.
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