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Fr. Ricard: The ‘unapologetic’ truth about being a priest

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The consummate showman, Father R. Tony Ricard from the Archdiocese of New Orleans strolled down the center aisle from the back of the arena to begin his Feb. 23 workshop, “Diary of an Unapologetic Roman Catholic Priest.” Then, just to make sure he had the large audience’s attention, once on stage he reeled off a series of detailed story-jokes, always ending with the singsong punch line: “I don’t make ‘em up, I just repeat ’em.”Changing gears, he stressed as a priest, “You have to tell the truth. You can’t be afraid of what people think,” coming back to the workshop’s theme. “John said, ‘The truth will set you free,’ and it will. But I will never speak the truth that’s not backed by the magisterium of the church.”Then coming off the stage to sit in a chair, he read some of the 56 personal letters he wrote (but didn’t send, and are part of his diary) that also make up his new book, “What Is Truth?” He wrote to the likes of St. Peter, “to let him know I’m on my way up there,” Our Lady of Guadalupe, Martin Luther King, Jr., his own alcoholic father, the gay community and, finally, to himself.In the latter letter, the assistant to the president of his alma mater, St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, wrote he felt “blessed” and could never imagine what he’s doing today — giving speeches, retreats, revivals and youth talks across the United States and in 20 other countries — as a shy kid. “I’m thankful for being a Roman Catholic priest, but I’m not always happy,” he admitted. “I like to be approved by other priests, but a lot of them see me as just entertaining. If only they took the time to really know me.”But he added, “I have realized, I need to keep doing what I’m doing,” and “I’m glad for you giving me this platform to be a priest.”Before taking questions, he promised again to give the “unapologetic” truth. And a couple of queries tested that promise on two of the church’s hot-button issues. A young woman asked what he thought about the idea of having married priests. “I’m glad some Episcopalians priests have come into our church with their families,” he responded. “They have valuable lessons to teach us,” before adding, “but I’m glad I’m celibate. If I was married and had a family, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I do. Because what happens when my baby is sick and Miss Lilly’s husband is sick? Do I minister to the people of God, or do I stay with my child?“So I know celibacy is a gift.”A teenage girl wanted to know how to talk to her father, who is “so negative” about the church because of the ongoing sexual abuse scandal involving some priests.“You know, I’m glad you brought that up, because that’s one of the things that priests are afraid to talk about,” he said. “But we have to own up to what happened…. And part of what we have to do as a Roman Catholic Church is not only own up to it, but I think all of us should be angry.”Then he explained it’s “realizing that although the wound is healing, it’s still there. But also know that no matter what, the church was founded by the foundation of faith and by God. And that as long as God is involved, he’s going to make sure that we’re going to be all right.”Father Ricard concluded his always-in-motion workshop by saying he sees the image of God’s face when he looks out into the Congress crowd. He also often thinks about the people of God back in Louisiana who have supported him as a priest for 18 years.“So I want to thank you for the privilege of being a priest in the Roman Catholic Church,” he declared. “I want to thank you for being the people of our church. I want to thank you for allowing me to be the minister that I am.”{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0301/congricard/{/gallery}

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