When I joined the Army, we were quickly taught the Army Values, the Soldier’s Creed, and the Code of Conduct (and similar sets of rules/expectations). We learned them by memory and had to recite them – and live by them– even under stress. At the same time we began learning the unwritten rules of the Army. These became increasingly important as we rose in the ranks. For example, when we became sergeants we learned that “a private isn’t happy unless he’s complaining”, but that NCO’s are never to complain about officers or other NCO’s (or much of anything, really!) in front of the troops. Infractions of these unwritten rules were dealt with informally … but harshly(e.g. through shunning). Our commitment to the written and unwritten rules of our profession (and our commitment to the Army culture) created a brotherhood among us. We knew that we could trust one another to do what was right even when the chips were down. This was as vital as the knowledge in the written code that we would never be left behind.
What about us? Given our profession as priests and the constant warfare that is our calling, it is at least as important that we have our own culture of commitment. We have to trust one another and we have to ensure that we remain worthy of that trust. This trust flows naturally from our mutual service at the Holy Altar and from all our actions that reaffirm our dedication to Christ, His Church, and to all those who serve them.
This topic will also be dealt with in an upcoming Good Guys Wear Black podcast.
Code of Honor. The most famous code of honor is probably the one associated with the mafia (e.g. Omerta); “honor among thieves” means that criminals police themselves and do not compromise the activities of other criminals. This may not be the best start for us as the profession of thievery is immoral whereas our profession is a holy calling. Perhaps a better way to begin to understand the function of a code is by is looking at the way good and chivalrous husbands behave toward their wives (e.g. never complain about your wife in public; or more obviously, never, ever, ever threaten or strike your wife or children). The man who is seen breaking the unwritten rules of behavior is immediately recognized as unworthy of our respect and of membership in the fraternity of men.
Every profession and tribe has a code. As priests, we do, too. Or at least we should. Our connection is real. Our guidance is clear. We need to be able to rely on each other. We need to be able to trust each other. We need to recognize and act like we are all on the same team. Otherwise, whom can we ever trust (the allusion to God is real; there is an Incarnational/corporal aspect here!); with whom can we share our joys and struggles?
Here’s a first try at a priestly code of conduct (your comments can make it better).
1. Be the best priest – and brother – you can.
1 Timothy 3:2b-5, 7 (paraphrase). Be blameless, … temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, … not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; rule your own house well, having your children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); and maintain a good reputation, lest you fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Do everything well and in good order. Be all the things a priest is supposed to be (Christian, holy, virtuous, reliable, trustworthy, competent, etc.).
Don’t poison the well. Keep your pants up. Set up a reliable early warning system that will alert you and get you help long before real trouble hits home. When you mess up, you don’t just hurt yourself, you hurt all of us, everyone, and everything.
Make time for one another. Priests need priests. Not to gather intell or power (i.e. information and leverage), but out of friendship and charity.
2. Cover one another (aka “don’t be a jerk”).
Genesis 9: 20-23. And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.
If there is a charitable explanation for something dubious another priest has done or said, pick it (rather than the one that makes him look mean, idiotic, or heretical). This is simply the Christian virtue of charity; it should be automatic for men committed to holiness.
Do not criticize other priests, bishops, or parishes in front of laity. Most especially, do not criticize priests to or in front of their own parishioners or priests to or in front of their former parishioners. Obviously there are limits to this; see “accountability”, below.
Do not let parishioners complain about other priests or bishops in your presence.
Do not share information shared between priests in private with anyone else. This is just good manners and a subset of keeping confidences, but it is worth underscoring.
What happens in the rectory stays in the rectory. Do not divulge privileged information about a priest or his family to anyone for any purpose.
Don’t do things that will make a priest look bad in front of his parish or bishop. In fact, do things that will improve the standing of the priest in front of his parish and bishop. Stand up for brother priests in discussions with bishops and other priests (with rare exceptions). Keep people honest (i.e. when they are misrepresenting a brother priest).
3. Keep one another accountable, but follow the process.
Matthew 18:15-17. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
See also: 1 Corinthians 6: 1-6. Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
If a brother priest is doing something that is seriously wrong; he needs to be held accountable. Don’t hesitate to report him. This is obvious. We can’t allow our brotherhood to become a place to hide immoral, unethical, and, at least in a just society, illegal behavior.
Most behavior can be nipped in the bud by an attentive brother. Priests need priests and pastors need pastors. Men keep one another honest and on the right road. We can’t assume that they are aware of their problems or will take care of it themselves. We have to call one another on bad behavior.
Group “come to Jesus” meetings are completely appropriate. If a brother doesn’t hear it from one of us, it’s time for us to intervene.
Social Media does not trump the Gospel. It is NOT okay to ignore the rules of charity and propriety just because social media creates a place where such filth is normal. When laity descend into madness and disparage a brother’s character (even one with whom we disagree or whom we do not like), we should remind them of the sin of gossip (just like we would in “real life” which this is!). If we see another priest posting something that could be harmful or interpreted in a heretical way, take care of it in private.
In other words, let our love for one another be a sign of our discipleship to the Lord.