Busted Halo
April 13th, 2009

The Jerky Priest!

The Princess, The Priest and the War for the Perfect Wedding Episode 2

by and Dr. Christine B. Whelan & Fr. Eric Andrews CSP


Episode #2 “The Jerky Priest!”

Dr. Christine B. Whelan, is an Iowa-based social historian, professor, journalist and author. She is the author of Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love, and Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women.

Fr. Eric Andrews CSP is the pastor of Blessed John XXIII parish, which serves as the Catholic campus ministry for the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Prior to entering the priesthood, he worked for Jim Henson and the Muppets on a variety of television productions.

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  • Kris

    Interesting comments- and very similar to “live” discussions I’ve had. I also work for a church with sacraments, and my husband and I have helped with pre-cana days for about 5 years. The best comment from the video was that finding a church is different from hiring a hall because of the community factor. The priest & other church workers are correct in saying that we get a lot of “cold calls” from folks with no interest / understanding of community. Also correct is that the work of ministry becomes wearing. It is interesting that the priests (and lay ministers) are held to a higher standard than our engaged couples. We still have a notion that the work of community is to be done by the professionals (ordained or educated)… not so much in accepting the priesthood of all believers (baptism- anointed priest, et al).

    Still… the seekers are right. If we who have chosen the role of servant leaders are worn down by the numerous cold / rude calls… our question should be ‘how do we renew & sustain our spirit of hospitality”.

    Perhaps beginning a volunteer ministry for engaged folks would help. If a couple calls in for info, their name & phone is taken– a parishioner calls back and conducts a “congratulatory / welcomign interview”. He or she gets to know the couple, hears their story, etc THEN relates the rules, etc. If the couple wants to register and move forward, they can do so and then meet with teh priest. So we’ve cut down on his workload, introduced our newly returned couple to someone in the community (who will hopefully keep an eye out for them)… and isn’t that win/win, even if the couple marries elsewhere?

    Not that this approach will satisfy all couples who come… but it’s a start, at least.

  • cathyf

    I’m more uncomfortable with the snap judgement of “I don’t know you so you must be unknown to the Church.”

    My story isn’t about marriage, but the same notion. Last year my son was confirmed, and he asked a close family friend to be his sponsor. This friend has been a registered member of our parish for 9 years and sings in the choir each Sunday. But he is rather shy, and is single. (In our parish virtually all activity revolves around the school, and so there isn’t much for a childless person to get involved in.)

    The pastor was rather hostile to the idea of our friend being the sponsor, and our son did a few rounds before he realized that the pastor had no idea that the sponsor is a parishoner. The quote went something like, “Oh! That person whose hand I shake every Sunday morning but I never have known his name!”

    Saving the hostility until after you are sure that you want to be hostile will save everyone a lot of embarassment!

  • LauraLu

    Amen, Jenn! I am a secretary at a medium-sized Catholic parish, and I regularly get calls from people asking if they need to be registered to get married! I got one the other day where the reception was already planned for JUNE (next month) & they wanted Father to show up & marry them–at a picnic pavilion! First, there is the 6 month beforehand waiting period, & then there is the fact that they weren’t members (never had been, or the parents of the couple, either). I am also a rel. ed. teacher for 2nd grade, & this year’s class had 7 CHILDREN (OUT OF 13) who had parents were not attending Mass. How can you teach children the sacraments when they can’t even tell you where the tabernacle is (we end up taking “field trips” to the church!) It is frustrating.

  • Ken

    Beth K – you hit the nail on the head with your comment, “an unfortunate fact of life that people who appear at the outset to be genuine will disappoint you and Catholic clergy are well-known experts at this.” “…could very well simply be using you for what he hopes he can get out of you rather than valuing you as a whole person.” That exactly was my personal experience when my mother died. The local parish priest used to vist on Sunday and during the week. My mother used to tell me how much he enjoyed the cakes and pies she made. I was entrusted to make the funeral arangements with the local priest. I was told by his office that “father was too busy” and I had no right to ask for him. Another priest would do the funeral. I responded – “father” always found time to come to the house and eat, but now he is too busy. Too busy doing what? I got no answer.

  • NEC

    The question may demonstrate the ‘sense of entitlement’ many have today. No one has the ‘right’ to get married in the Church. The Church is the one who decides if the couple is ready or even suitable for marriage.

  • Jenn

    Amen Fr. Eric! I’m a DRE at 2 parishes. I see so many people who think it’s their gift to receive the Sacraments… not just marriage, but Eucharist and Confirmation. It is a gift from God. But what is the point if there is no involvement in the Church? Sacraments should be more than something that is just done because our family did it. They are Sacraments before God. I see too many people who are there for the one time ritual and I never see them again (even though they promise they’ll be involved). I agree when Fr Eric said show your face around the parish a while and then ask for a Sacrament. Sacraments should be about the community NOT just the individual. If I’m going to let someone vow before God in a Sacrament, as a staff person, I should be able to feel like they are being honest before God (and not just lying to me to get what they want- sorry for the generalization, but I’ve been lied to far too many times!). Show me you want to be a part of the community, and I’ll show you a welcoming staff/priest. I think it is time to start making our Sacraments a sacred important part of our church (and not just something we do because the church is pretty, or because grandma will be mad if we don’t). It’s about relationship like Fr Eric said… relationship with God.

  • Aaron

    Dr. Whelan makes some pretty big assumptions when she talks about young people wanting to come back to the Church and raise their kids in the faith, etc. She then contradicts that when she says they’ll have to deal with this “jerky” priest for the next several months. Why only several months? If they saw their wedding as the first step back to the Church, they’d expect to “deal with” the priest for the long term: when they go to Confession, when their babies are baptized, etc. Whether she realizes it or not, that shows she’s thinking in terms of a temporary relationship with the priest that will end the day of the wedding.

    That’s exactly what Fr. Andrews is concerned about, and what he hears in many of the phone calls he gets. Fortunately, we still have some beautiful Catholic churches, and plenty of lapsed or non-Catholics think of them when they start looking for a photogenic place to get married. Some also want to get married where Mom and Grandma got married (or maybe Mom and Grandma want it), regardless of the faith of the bride and groom. Priests get FAR more of those calls than they get from practicing Catholic parishioners who just got engaged.

    I’m also not sure why both women in the video were so hung up on the fact that she wasn’t congratulated by someone she didn’t know personally. Surely we can all agree that not every engagement is automatically a good thing to be applauded? If the priest doesn’t know them, how can he know whether to offer congratulations or warnings?

    TNcathguy, you didn’t attack anyone even slightly. All the attacks and name-calling in this thread have come from one very angry source.

  • TNcathguy

    @K Beth- I, too, am sorry to hear that you’ve had bad experiences within the Catholic church. I wasn’t trying to attack you, though upon review that is how I came across, and I apologize for that. You were correct in assuming that I’m a Roman Catholic male that knows Fr. Eric, however, I’m not all that young, not a canidate for the seminary, and I don’t make donations to his church, and yet he’s still one of the more reasonable priest I know, and I too know quite a few priests, not all of whom I’d trust as far as I can throw them. I’m very aware of the problem in the church of them just moving problem clergy around, as one of our former bishops was just such a person. So, my point, which I was unsuccessful in making, wasn’t a defense of all clergy, but just this one particular priest.

    Again, I do want to say I’m sorry that I came across as attacking your opinions, and admit my choice of wording wasn’t the best. I do have to agree with what some else wrote about it being a short 2 minute video, thus I think that perhaps the time constraints may have attributed to some of the very valid points you’ve presented not being addressed properly. In all honesty I don’t know that short video answers to rather broad questions is the best forum, but that is kind of a byproduct of the American public’s soundbyte length attention span, unfortunately.

    One last time, I can’t say sorry enough for opening up a bigger can of worms than I had intended, and again it was not my intent to attack you in anyway, merely just attempting to defend a friend. I hope that you accept my apology.

  • LouieLouie

    Hi, K Beth! I appreciate your opinions on this website. I’m so sorry to hear that you had such a terrible experience as a former Catholic. I hope that you have found our Lord in another way that can be comforting to you. To me, whether you are Protestant or Catholic, it’s the Word of God that enters your heart and your lives.
    I’m a cradle Catholic, and I love our Church. I had the opportunity to be married in the Church by a wonderful , understanding priest. Please do not think all priests are bad. Sure, there are some bad apples out there, but there are some good ones, too.
    Good luck on your spiritual journey. May God bless you.

  • Josephine

    “It is an unfortunate fact of life that people who appear at the outset to be genuine will disappoint you”

    I’m truly very sorry that you have had so many bad life experiences K Beth but lashing out on a priest after watching a 2 minute video of him seems very harsh. I pray that you heal your wounds.

  • KBeth

    @TNCathguy- Warmest greetings. Your screen name and the fact that you describe Eric Andrews as a “pastor” and someone that you personally know suggests strongly that you are a young Roman Catholic male in a University parish– college age. Twenty or thirty years from now there is a good possibility you will remember this man differently than the way you now view him. Why is he spending time with *you* when he has already admitted being overwhelmed with people wanting his time and attention in general– to the point where he dreads a call from a new bride? In your case you are a possible new recruit for the seminary, and it sounds like they have been working on you. A significant part of Andrews’ job description would consist of rendering an ongoing sales pitch to fellows like you in order to further his bishop’s desperate efforts to address the American Catholic clergy’s pathetic rate of attrition. Surely you’ve heard about their vocations crisis before today, yes?

    It is an unfortunate fact of life that people who appear at the outset to be genuine will disappoint you and Catholic clergy are well-known experts at this. Andrews could very well simply be using you for what he hopes he can get out of you rather than valuing you as a whole person. If you confront him with the question in later years my money says he will complain about how “busy” he is and avoid you unless you write him a donation check. In any case your only defense of Andrews boils down to: “he’s my personal buddy and I like him, so there!” That’s not much more than indicating he is your familial tribesman and you are faithful to the “team” you belong to no matter what.

    You have suggested that my assessment of the American Catholic clergy is “shallow” because (you assume) I don’t know many clergymen or religious orders through personal contact. In fact I have known quite a large number of American Catholic clergy and Roman Catholic priests in other countries and other parts of the world for a lot of years–most while I was a regular attender at Catholic services, more recently than you probably have guessed. The molestation and cover-up scandals in the American Catholic church are just the tip of the iceberg– the compulsion of this country’s group of “Catholic” clergy to behave in abusive, callous and unhealthy ways towards non-clergy is quite pervasive, as these brides are experiencing. As soon as you stop being a potential seminary recruit, stop giving donations or providing free labor for their pet projects you will be treated very differently. It’s not what they are *supposed* to do if they live up to the teachings of Catholicism– sadly, it’s what they actually *DO.* Scripture has fallen by the wayside and all we are left with in this country is a mega-corporation’s self-perpetuating tea party– keeping up appearances for appearances’ sake and maintaining a permanent, comfortable, unquestioned and recession-proof living situation for the clergy who have forgotten what their true role was supposed to be.

    TNCathguy, *you* are correct that one should not shop around for a clergyman whose haircut matches the bridesmaids dresses but it appears *you* did not listen to Eric Andrews’ video closely enough– you decided what you WANTED the point to be and convinced yourself that your buddy would agree with you and that his words mean what you want them to mean. In fact Eric Andrews said it was all right for people to pick and choose between more serious clergymen or slightly chubby doughnut-eating guys who play with frog dolls– shopping around. Also, he encouraged the engaged couple to bring gifts of food to the clergyman BEFORE trying to get on his appointment book for the pre-Cana process precisely because the priests feel entitled to deny the couple access to their services. According to Andrews the couple needed to butter him up to prevent him from pulling the various tricks and games designed to avoid engaged couples in the first place like being rude and negotiating tough financial terms as the first order of business and finding any way possible to be a discouragement in what should be a happy time. Eric Andrews is defending the rude behavior. According to his own words he thinks it’s a funny way for priests to manipulate people into leaving them alone and calling someone else. His laughter speaks volumes.

    Many American Catholic clergy such as Andrews often feign a sense of persecution from persistent parishioners as a smokescreen to distract us from their insipid laziness and callousness. If a pre-Cana appointment costs five doughnuts, how much is the going price for an indulgence from clergyman Andrews these days? A whole chocolate cake?

    If the American priests had been doing their jobs in the first place the pre-Cana process wouldn’t be such a hassle and a lost cause destined for divorce. It is the priests’ lack of concern for the souls of their flock for so many decades that has led to an American Catholic population of superficial, materialistic, unchaste (and often racist) heathens who have no knowledge whatsoever of scripture and don’t care to learn.

    It’s the American priests’ own fault that American Catholic engaged couples present themselves in such a wretched fashion– they have been charged with the responsibility of teaching these people how to live as true Christians from birth; however, these people don’t know or care about anything spiritual– they only care about throwing beautiful parties. Maybe they learned that at the fish fry fundraisers.

    PS– in all the “advice” Eric Andrews offered this woman he never encouraged her to pray or read the scripture.

  • cstyle

    This is terrific! Totally intriguing. Kudos to the producers, you’ve created something interesting, relevant and thought provoking. One thought: Don’t jump on KBeth here. She is doing exactly what you want — she is participating, sharing her thoughts. Are some of them a little edgy, yes, but isn’t that what you are soliciting when you call an episode, “The Jerky Priest” or when you set the whole concept up as a war between the bride and the priest? KBeth is entering into the dialogue in the same spirit with which you’ve started it.

  • TNGirl

    KBeth, your extreme anger and rush to conclusion are disturbing. Fr. Eric makes an important point in a lighthearted way. One doesn’t shop for a church as for a caterer or reception venue. Priests are overwhelmed, and his suggestion that an engaged couple return to the community–they do want the sacrament of marriage–as they prepare is an excellent suggestion.

  • smoore

    Whoa, KBeth. Were we watching the same film? Father Eric is speaking to an issue that priests face too often: couples show up requesting a big Catholic wedding who haven’t darkened the doors into the church for years. A priest is obligated to help couples see that requesting the sacrament of marriage is not like hiring the caterer and all the rest of it. I think that IS part of “tending to the needs of souls.” A spiritual act of mercy, in fact.

  • Bill McGarvey

    K Beth, Thank you for taking the time to watch our new series; we appreciate and welcome robust discussion as well as provocative commentary and disagreement among our readers. That said, I think your remarks regarding Fr. Eric Andrews–the priest in our series–not only miss the point, they are unfair.

    The series grew out of the disconnect brides like Christine Whelan felt when preparing her wedding and priests like Fr. Eric experienced when trying to ready couples for the sacrament of marriage. The Princess and the Priest is intended to be a bridge of sorts between the world of brides’ concerns about their weddings and the issues that concern priests and the church. While they discuss real topics and issues it is clearly done in a lighthearted manner. I think it’s pretty clear that Fr. Eric is not looking to fill his belly or suggesting how to bribe a priest. He is emphasizing that the entire wedding process is not simply about flower arrangements and menus…it’s also about one’s relationship to their faith and their faith community.

    Finally, to claim that Fr Eric “doesn‚Äôt care about the gospel as much as his next promotion from his bishop” is an irresponsible accusation that seems borne out of your anger toward the Catholic Church instead of your familiarity with Fr Eric. I’m sorry to hear that your experience of the Catholic Church was so negative, K Beth. We have many readers here at BustedHalo who have also had bad experiences of the Church. For some of them our site has also been a bridge to understanding Catholicism in a different light. Fr. Eric is both a colleague and a friend of mine and, though he certainly doesn’t need me–nor would he ever ask me–to defend him, he is one of the finest examples of the priesthood I’ve come across.

  • TNcathguy

    I’m going to have to disagree with the “Fr. Eric is a jerk” sentiment. Fr. Eric is actually a really good priest and pastor, and one of the easiest people to turn to when you need help, or even just someone to listen. I admit that his more laid-back personality isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t make him a jerk if it isn’t. Also, I find it a little telling that the second thing the previous comment said was “how typical of the shallowness that is the current essence of the Catholic priesthood….” which in itself is a shallow view of the priesthood in itself. What I mean is that there are many different kinds of priest, much like there are many different orders of priests. Also, if you actually knew Fr. Eric, you’d know that priest is just one of many different roles that he fills. In regards to the latest episode of the webseries, what he was saying when he said bring coffee or doughnuts was make it casual, and get to know the priest just like you’d get to know anyone else that you’re going to deal with in your life. Also, the reality is that you don’t have to be best friends with the priest, but it is a must to be at the very least aquainted with him being that you are asking him to stand as your witness of your union before God. It isn’t exactly the same but would you ask random stranger to be a bridesmaid or groomsman for your wedding, or be one someone you don’t even know yourself? No, you would, and so it shouldn’t be any different when choosing a priest. I also see the point being made about how off putting it is for the priest to open up with money questions, and actually have had some similiar deals which I’m not going to get into.

    Bottomline, Fr. Eric isn’t a jerk, and he’s not going to sugar coat things too much, because that doesn’t help anyone.

  • K Beth

    I completely agree that Eric Andrews (the “priest”) is a jerk. How typical of the shallowness that is the current essence of the Catholic “priesthood,” especially in the United States. Andrews shows no concern for the pastoral or spiritual needs of the woman who has already raised a red flag for help by indicating that she has not been involved in any kind of church life for a while. Instead he is glib and treats the whole thing as a laughing matter and suggests that she bribe the local priest with food in order to get on the schedule for a wedding in the parish. He is more concerned with having a full belly than he is with the very serious matters staring him in the face– He has even been so cruel as to laugh in her face and treat it like a joke when people call a parish looking for one of the sacraments, rather than an open door to begin reaching souls with the gospel (probably because he doesn’t care about the gospel as much as his next promotion from his bishop). NO WONDER so many people come to their senses and realize that collar-wearing careerists like him cannot be trusted on a regular basis and WALK AWAY from their local parishes and dioceses. People like Andrews make me ashamed that I was ever known by the label of “Catholic” and assure me that I was completely right to turn away from them and towards the Bible. Sad thing, when a church that is supposed to be dedicated to Christ instead becomes a bloated and bilious, morally bankrupt mega-corporation that spends more time and effort to protect child molesters from prosecution or to organize a beer-guzzling fish-fry fundraiser than to tend to the needs of souls.

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