When scandal comes to your parish

As with all the various trials we face in our lives, it seems as though prayer may be the only way forward

(Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

We packed up the moving van and headed up the freeway, transplanting our family from Southern California up to the San Francisco Bay Area. We were excited about the future, sad about what we were leaving behind, and anxious about starting a new life in a new place. 

One of our biggest worries was if we’d be able to find a Catholic parish that felt like home.

We were leaving a small and tight-knit parish taken care of by Norbertine canons, a lovely experience we won’t soon forget, and felt like we were heading out into the unknown.

We arrived at a parish that seemed like a great fit. There were lots of young families, a friendly atmosphere, and Mass times that made sense for us given our hectic life.

We breathed a sigh of relief. 

Dorothy Small and the Rev. Renerio Sabuga Jr., known to parishioners in Woodland as “Father Jong.” Small contended in a 2017 lawsuit that Sabuga pursued her romantically and sexually assaulted her. (photo: Sacramento Bee/courtesy of Dorothy Small)

Not long after settling into the parish, however, our world was rocked. The pastor of the parish was accused of lewd conduct, arrested in an undercover sting operation, and promptly removed from his position.

We were confused, angry, and hurt.

This parish priest baptized our second child, and even though we knew the behavior he was accused of had no impact on his ability to confect the Sacraments, it still left an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomachs.

The parish was immediately split between those who were unwavering in their support, exercising a level of Christian forgiveness that was beyond what we were able to muster at the time, and those who packed up and moved to another nearby option. 

We fell into the second category, joining a parish that was closer to the new home we had recently purchased, and thanks be to God our new parish felt even more like home: even more young families, a beautiful Church built in the early 1900s, and a more traditional Mass.

Shortly after we arrived, a new pastor was brought in, and he immediately took charge of the parish in a manner that inspired most of us sitting in the pews. He was the catalyst for bringing Perpetual Adoration to our chapel, bringing the altar rails out of the storage room and putting them back in place, and even starting the process of bringing the Traditional Latin Mass back once per month.

Our excitement about his arrival at our parish was soon ripped away, however, as news broke in the mainstream media that he was accused of inappropriate behavior with another adult. We sat and watched as he was promptly removed by our bishop pending an investigation.

As Catholics, we know our faith doesn’t depend on the behaviors of our priests, bishops, or even ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt when scandal comes to the one place in our lives that we expect to be scandal free.

What we are left with is the difficult journey of navigating emotions of disappointment, anger, and despair, and balancing those with the call of Jesus to live a life of radical forgiveness.

Sadly, my family is not the only one who has experienced such a journey.

One fellow Catholic on Twitter, who wished to remain anonymous, shared a similar roller coaster after facing a comparable situation at her parish. 

“The anger comes with the feeling you were lied to and betrayed. Did he actually care about you and others, or was it a facade?” 

As with all the various trials we face in our lives, it seems as though prayer may be the only way forward.

We need to pray for ourselves, that we remember the Church was founded by Jesus Christ and as he promised, the gates of hell will never prevail against it.

We need to pray for ourselves to be able to open our hearts to the forgiveness God calls us to, most especially during difficult times such as these.

We need to pray for our fellow parishioners, that they hold tight to their faith and never stop attending Mass or leave the Church because of the behavior of a priest or anyone else within the Church for that matter.

We need to pray for any victims associated with these types of accusations, that they will have the support they need to push through and carry on in the face of the trauma they have faced, and that they will find solace in the embrace of Jesus.

And most of all, we need to pray for our priests.

They are most assuredly under the attack of the devil and his minions more intensely than the rest of us, and our priests need our prayers to strengthen them against the temptations they face on a daily basis. The devil knows that a scandal among the priesthood is a scandal that will pull the faithful away from the Church, and because of that, it’s the page of his playbook he returns to again and again. 

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for the gift of our priests.

Through them, we experience your presence in the sacraments.

Help our priests to be strong in their vocation.

Set their souls on fire with love for your people.

Grant them the wisdom, understanding, and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Inspire them with the vision of your Kingdom.

Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel.

Allow them to experience joy in their ministry.

Help them to become instruments of your divine grace.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest.


-from the USCCB

Full story at Angelus.


  1. Time and time again, we still need to remind ourselves the smae thing pointed out in the article—-the efficacy of Sanctifying Grace contained in tje Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist, does not depend on the virtue of the minister.

    Would we be better off by avoiding the Sacraments all together because of either a percieved or actual clerical abuse, or receiving them from someone whose moral life is questionable, but still has all Sacramental faculties?

  2. I believe we should also give thanks for the many priests who are faithful to their vows. Perhaps I am nieve, but my understanding is that the vast majority of priests are in that category.

  3. Linda Maria says:

    A priest has a big responsibility! It is far more, than saying Mass, and giving the Sacraments! If you are married and rasing children, you most certainly hope for good priests, in a good parish church, for your family! Single young people need spiritual and moral guidance too, and older folks, all alone, are in need of spiritual guidance and support! Every Catholic should be able to depend on their parish church and priests! There is far too much irrational instability and immorality, poor leadership, as well as instability liturgically, in today’s Church! I don’t think things will ever be fixed, however, in my lifetime, sadly!

    • Linda Maria says:

      It is also vey discouraging, to volunteer for what may at first seem to be very worthwhile activities in a parish church– then, to discover that you may be one of a very very few Catholics, who actualy believes in Church teachings, and Christian Morality– and to be ridiculed by others, for it! Many Catholics today, have also not received any religious and moral training! True, orthodox Catholics, have all but disappeared, since Vatican II!! There is far too much rejection of Church teachings, and immorality and sexual sin (and belief in it!) in many post-Vatican II-era parishes!

      • Linda Maria says:

        I also have felt badly, in the post-Concilliar era, for good, orthodox priests, who receive little support, from parishioners and from their local bishop!

        • Im addition to the prayer noted th this Article, asking for the intersession of St. John Vianny, the patron saint of parish priests, would be nice.

  4. Michael McDermott says:

    There was a recent Scandalous Allegation made against a Nor-Cal Pastor in the Oakland Diocese, which most of the parishioners first learned about by seeing a photo of the Pastor on the local evening news, along with an ugly story – although the story held out a slim consolation, in that at least No Underage Boys (unlike the Homosex Ephebophile scandals of other Diocese) were apparently targeted.

    The Bishop placed the Pastor on leave – and then came and said Mass at the Parish and explained in his Homily what was going on and how it was being handled.
    Bishop Barber was Exemplary in his Candid Homily, and made sure to point out that Due Process Required withholding judgment until the facts were discovered.
    The Parish was reassured that…

    • Michael McDermott says:

      The Parish was reassured that there would be No Coverup, but that the Rights of All involved would be respected, and no one would be found guilty of anything without first receiving a Fair Chance to Defend themselves,
      No Kangaroo Court of Media Slander – but a reasoned and rational response from the Leadership. Would that such brave Men had been around in Boston / LA and other places when needed to set things right and prevent the Spread of Evil, instead of the Law / Mahoney musical chairs scam.

  5. We need to pray to Jesus and Blessed Mother the Rosary to show us their Way, to what Roman Catholic Parish They want us to join as members to worship the Blessed Trinity and Honor the Saints and Holy Angels, as there we will receive the Sanctifying Graces we need to be and remain holy in God’s eyes.

    • Call it a lack of Faith but its not helping much…..only an uprising by the Faithful Laity will fix this.

    • Anonymous says:

      As an older traditional Catholic, we were always taught that God wants you in the parish that you are assigned to. You have a duty to that parish and its priests. You owe them your monetary contribution and your prayers and your presence. Going to a different parish required the permission of both the pastor of your assigned parish and the pastor of the parish you wanted to attend. You needed a serious reason.

  6. We get a scandal a week in the San Jose diocese (most gay friendly diocese in the US) but it is like water running off a duck’s back as bishop PJ is still in good standing with the Vatican. Go figure!


  7. John Torres says:

    Almost all of the problems within the Catholic Church as an organization today stem from years and years of corrupt leadership from the bishops.
    When is the last time your parish priest gave a sermon about sin? Most Catholics today have no idea what a sin is. Is it being against the Dreamers? Is it a sin when you like President Trump? The Catholics bishops in general are very PC.

    As a result, the parish priests get little shepherding, and so do we.

  8. How can the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself convert and get people to become members of the true Church when it is constantly having scandal after scandal ? Yea! become a Catholic. Good grief , when is our inept and lousy Church leadership going to if ever going to wake up as they are allowing the church to literally fall apart and become irrelevant. Reform is needed from the top down and we the lazy laity have got to speak out and demand accountability of those in charge who are letting this happen.

  9. I pray daily for our priests. They are constantly under attack. In my area those parishes that have Eucharistic Adoration and offer regular confession not just on Saturday afternoon for an hour but every day when there is Mass are the most thriving. The example of other lay people praying before the altar and lining up to go to confession seems to attract more and more people to the parish and to RCIA. At a recent funeral of a member of a well known family the pastor announced that confession was available before he began the funeral Mass. The priest hearing confessions finally got out of the confessional at communion. What a wonderful gift to the deceased and his family.

    • Anonymous says:

      Perpetual Adoration if possible, if not 40 Hour or at least a long time per week or month really helps.
      If not, parishioners can do a Holy Hour whenever they can.
      Offering of the Rosary daily or at least on Saturdays. Parishioners can do this.
      Chaplet of Mercy at 3:00 pm daily if possible or at least Monthly. Parishioners can do this.
      Tuesday devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help usually on the 1st Tuesday of the Month.
      Confessions before Mass like said above.
      Enthronement of the Sacred Heart.
      These are things I’ve seen at thriving parishes and things Ive seen turn a parish from lukewarm to fervent.

  10. This is a very difficult time for the Catholic Church. But this is not new…the Church has survived other crises throughout the course of history. The Church will survive, and may even flourish, however, do not be surprised if parishes are closed and the number of Catholics declined in the next decade. Pray for our Pope, the Church and live as a real Christian.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Most of the priests I know who had trouble controlling their sexual appetites are either dead or in prison. If you count just saying things that were of a sexual nature, I can number 4 or maybe 5 out of all the priests I have met. That still is too high of a number.
    When scandal came to our parish, the diocese made a counselor and the chancellor available to us if we needed them.

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