In Formation

Saturday, June 15

 

Concerning a range of issues in the Church

If you haven't seen it yet, check out this article by J.P. Zmirak (thanks to Dom Bettinelli for the link). The author uses Archbishop Weakland's life and penitent apology as an occasion to offer a sharp critique of post Vatican II changes in the Church. Whether you agree with him or not, it's fascinating to see the way he connects the Novus Ordo Missae, women priests, the feminization of the liturgy, and the vocations crisis to Rembert Weakland. Plus the links he includes are worth the price of admission.

Here's a provocative sample:

The Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft wrote in his delightful The Snakebite Letters, a sequel to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters:

"The proportion of gays, active or dormant, is even larger, much larger, among liturgists than among the clergy as a whole. That's why the new liturgy is so tepid and timid and tedious. Have you ever heard a single congregation anywhere in the world at any time in the last 25 years sing any one of those flat, unmusical 'responsorial psalms' with any passion at all? And yet, they keep feeding them this tepid, Laodicean pap, neither hot nor cold.

"They've gotten the most powerful and dramatic thing in the world--the ritual murder of the Son of God to save souls from Hell--to sound like a Barry Manilow song or a Rod McKuen poem. 'There's Power in the Blood' has become 'Listen to the Warm.' And they haven't got the foggiest idea that most this comes from messed up sexuality." (p 54).

Now this exchange is from one devil to another, so we shouldn't expect the comments to be quite fair, much less charitable. But Kreeft's demon is making an important point, which shouldn't be obscured by the fact that many chaste men of homosexual orientation serve faithfully as Catholic priests, and may well end up as saints. Snakebite is saying here that the vigorous, sacrificial, commanding aspect of the ritual liturgies makes a certain type of highly sensitive, insecure man--gay or straight--excruciatingly uncomfortable. While he may be drawn to the beauty of the rite, he cannot envision himself stepping forth as the man who plays Christ, the high priest and victim, God and man, the bridegroom who offers himself to the congregation in the form of his body and blood. Much better to play the "presider," the focal point of a horizontal "worship community," gathered to celebrate the memory of their beloved, long-departed moral teacher, that nice Jesus man who died so tragically young.


posted by Fr. Steve | 6/15/2002 |
 

A strengthened response on formation

Bloggers have (rightly, I think) lamented the bishops' rejection of Bishop Bruskewitz's amendment to include explicit study of the role dissent and homosexuality play in sexual abuse. However, these questions will surely be included in the upcoming Apostolic Visitation. In fact, the Charter includes a sharpened commitment to study formation for diocesan and religious priests. Here is their draft article on the Apostolic Visitation:

We pledge our complete cooperation with the Apostolic Visitation of our seminaries recommended in the concluding communique of the Interdicasterial Meeting with the Cardinals of the United States and the Conference Officers last April. As with the previous visitation, we look forward to this opportunity to strengthen our priestly formation programs so that they may provide God's people with mature and holy priests.

And the approved version:

ARTICLE 17. We pledge our complete cooperation with the Apostolic Visitation of our diocesan/eparchial seminaries and religious houses of formation recommended in the Interdicasterial Meeting with the Cardinals of the United States and the Conference Officers in April 2002. Unlike the previous visitation, these new visits will focus on the question of human formation for celibate chastity based on the criteria found in Pastores Dabo Vobis. We look forward to this opportunity to strengthen our priestly formation programs so that they may provide God's people with mature and holy priests. Dioceses/eparchies will develop systematic ongoing formation programs in keeping with the recent Conference document Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests (2001) so as to assist priests in their living out of their vocation.

I for one was glad to see this Article in the draft, and more encouraged to see it strengthened in the approved Charter. May God guide those who prepare and conduct the Apostolic Visitation!



Just not enough?

Victims' groups are dissatisfied with the draft approved by the bishops (link requires registration).

Many victims of priests said they were disappointed that the bishops failed to insist that all priests who had abused minors be defrocked.

"You take away their ministry, take them out of their jobs, but they are still Roman Catholic priests," said Mark Serrano, a public relations executive in Washington and a member of the board of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

David Clohessy, director of the survivors network, said the bishops had made progress, but expressed skepticism about how thoroughly the new policies would be carried out.

"On paper, there is no question that the church has made more extensive promises and recommendations than ever, but it's still on paper," Mr. Clohessy said.

Recalling 1992, when the conference passed previous recommendations on child abuse, Mr. Clohessy said, "Those statements looked impressive, too."

I suspect nothing short of mass (or at least a few) resignations would have satisfied those who have been victimized by priests and shuffling bishops. (Of course, many who are not victims would have been thrilled to learn of a few resignations.) However, the bishops have gone on the record (again), and this time their commitments are very, very public. This meeting received unprecedented attention, and the bishops will be scrutinized like never before. Pity the bishop who shuffles another Shanley! If that happens, I suspect we'll see a slew of millstone wielding bishops tossing them over.

I hope and trust that the bishops will live by their word, be men of integrity, showing more concern for their flock (especially the least of these) than protecting wayward priests. Time will tell, of course. The future may (God forbid!) bring more rounds of scandal and disillusionment, but for now, I think we have little reason to be ashamed of what our bishops did this week.

Arguments can (and surely will) be made that the bishops focused on the consequences rather than the causes, that they took too little time, that they didn't allow orthodox viewpoints from the podium, that they should have passed strict sanctions for violator bishops, and the like. And I mostly agree with these critiques.

But at the end of the day, those critiques should not be allowed to eclipse the positive steps the bishops took to seek forgiveness, to restore credibility to their leadership, and to seek reconciliation and healing for the victims of abuse and all those in the Church and society who have suffered the fallout from the current scandal.

What do you think?

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/15/2002 |

Friday, June 14

 

Naysayer Neumayr

Without fail, George Neumayr's remarks are pithy and to the point. He highlights problems with no-holds barred. But this time, in his AmericanProwler article, I think he's gotten carried away. He laments that the blind are leading the blind in Dallas.

As is clear from my last post, I disagree. Why the difference in opinions between Mr. Neumayr and so many other observers? One wonders if there's some constututive constraint at work, preventing him from naming anything good about the bishops. (Yes, he does offer a toss away line that there are some good bishops, but the negative tone is clear.)

I suppose it's partly the mission of the AmericanProwler, but I'd bet that part of it also stems from his personal fear that his chief Episcopal Enemy, Cardinal Mahony, will survive the crisis.

Now, I'm no defender of Cardinal Mahony, and I can see hypocrisy as well as the next man. But going after Gregory, that's just silly. What's Neumayr think, that Bishop Gregory needs to apologize, then berate, bully, cajole all the senior prelates until they hand over the reigns or the few good bishops mount a rebellion? There's no way Bishop Gregory could win postive responses by starting with such demands. One wonders what Bishop Neumayr would have said in Bishop Gregory's place. How would he have accomplished his purposes in practice?

So why the relentlessly contrarian song? What Gregory says is true. The bishops are angry with one another, and they're angry that the media doesn't understand all the nuances, and plays up with zeal all the failings with only the occasional positive "balance piece." Now, I've already admitted that some of these cases are so flatly ridiculous that no bishop would pretend that justice was done. But many of the supposed 2/3 of "abuse-enabling bishops" were not the demons that Dallas and Neumayr make them out to be.

He derides Bishop Gregory thus:

After Gregory commiserated with the bishops' about their hurt feelings, he offered some patronizing remarks to the media about their sometimes "distorted" and "hysterical" coverage of the American Church:

"During the past five months the sexual abuse of children and young people, especially by priests, has been a focus of the national and local media. In my own many encounters with the media, I have been treated usually, if not invariably, with consideration . . . .

"But I ask the media to allow me a moment of complete candor. During these last months, the image of Catholic hierarchy in this country has been distorted to an extent which I would not have thought possible six months ago. Sad and disturbing facts, often long in the past, have been readily presented in ways that create an erroneous image of the Church in 2002 as neglectful and uncaring in a matter about which we Bishops have cared a great deal for many years now.

"The advances we have made in trying to overcome the problem of the sexual abuse of children and young people have not been so quickly reported: more stringent screening of seminary candidates, seminary formation that makes healthy human development a major goal, and procedures to remove from ministry those who have proved a threat to children and young people.

"I am not only proud to defend this body from the distortions; I do it as a matter of justice to set the record straight so that the work we Bishops will be doing today and tomorrow will be seen in its proper perspective -- as an important piece of work that we have been doing together for twenty years."

These poor-us remarks reveal that the American bishops are still in Clintonian mode: Even as they bite their lower lips for the cameras, they mumble about their good deeds and mistreatment at the hands of a "hysterical" media.

Yes, good bishops do exist, but they are not calling the shots. The ones who saw the crisis coming hover near the edge of the episcopate, while the ones who denied its gravity and let the problem mushroom, such as Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, get to hog the mike.

If Neumayr thinks that Bishop Gregory could have robbed the mike from Cardinal Mahony by berating and bullying his brother bishops, he's wrong. He knows as well as anyone that Bishop Gregory needs to win a hearing with the bishops who control the fate of any decisions made in Dallas.

I'm not denying the horror of the current state of affairs in many dioceses, nor the important place the media has played in uncovering the evil. But I frankly can't see why Neumayr is so afraid of encouraging our bishops in these first steps toward remedy.

He says the blind are leading the blind in Dallas, but I'm afraid Mr. Neumayr can't even see that there's reason for hope.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/14/2002 |

Thursday, June 13

 

Bishop Gregory's Very Catholic Response

I'll simply add my voice to the growing chorus of gratitude and praise for Bishop Wilton Gregory.

The Penance that is necessary here is not the obligation of the Church at large in the United States, but the responsibility of the Bishops ourselves. Both "what we have done" and "what we have failed to do" contributed to the sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy and Church personnel. Moreover, our God-given duty as shepherds of the Lord's people holds us responsible and accountable to God and to the Church for the spiritual and moral health of all of God's children, especially those who are weak and most vulnerable. It is we who need to confess; and so we do.

� We are the ones, whether through ignorance or lack of vigilance, or � God forbid � with knowledge, who allowed priest abusers to remain in ministry and reassigned them to communities where they continued to abuse.

� We are the ones who chose not to report the criminal actions of priests to the authorities, because the law did not require this.

� We are the ones who worried more about the possibility of scandal than in bringing about the kind of openness that helps prevent abuse.

� And we are the ones who, at times, responded to victims and their families as adversaries and not as suffering members of the Church . . .

These have been months and years and decades of tremendous suffering and pain; especially for the victim-survivors and their families, but also for so many others in the Church. I renew my faith in the words of St. Paul, "where sin has increased, grace has far surpassed it," [Romans 5:20] and I invite each of you to do the same. In Jesus Christ there is no cross without resurrection; no death without life; no purgation without cleansing and grace. Let us embrace the grace that God gives us so abundantly, so that the work we do in these days together may be to his glory and contribute to full reconciliation and healing in the Church.

I was struck by the tack he took in his opening remarks. It was one big "Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa." And, though it was aired for the whole world to see, his confession and request for forgiveness seemed genuine. This was no simple posture or gesture, but an honest appeal to the victims, the faithful in the Church, and the world. No passing the buck this time. Instead, he embraced the burden willingly, with the transparency of a true leader, one who knows what it means to have integrity.

He knew well that the anger is largely at the bishops. And he wasn't sorry they had been caught, but sorry they had failed. That admission, that openness, that desire for forgiveness--that's what gives us reason to hope, to hope that things will one day be better by far than we find them today.

But his words were not naive, filled with triumphalistic Easter Sunday cheer. No, he is painfully aware that the bishops allowed this Good Friday to linger, the pain to fester. For too long the suffering was silent, hidden, destructive. Only now, with an openness borne of humility and conversion, can the suffering begin to redeem, to heal, to mend the Church and those the bishops have sworn to feed, protect, and tend.

The Church is reeling from the profound rupture this betrayal has caused in the hearts and minds of victims, their families and loved ones, and all those who look to Church leaders with longing to see and hear their Lord, Jesus Christ. Though the faith of the faithful in God has not (for the most part) been shaken, their confidence in the shepherds most definitely has. And Bishop Gregory gets it. Humbly and sincerely, he called on all his brother bishops to rise again to their high calling, their duty in Christ.

May God guide our Bishops for the duration of this conference and well on into the future, that they would embrace with zeal their duty as shepherds. May they be as Christ to us!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/13/2002 |
 

Protesting too much

In response to Mary Eberstadt's now famous piece, The Elephant in the Sacristy, and Mark Shea's pithy prophetics that this Crisis/Situation/MellofaHess is significantly about "boys, boys, boys, and boys," Mike Hardy, "Enemy of the Church?", dons his stats hat and attempts to demonstrate the possibility that homosexuality is not a risk factor for sexual abuse in the priesthood. Admittedly, demonstrating that a risk-factor is "possibly not a risk factor" is as simple as asserting the same. But I suspect he is really out to prove more than that. He wants to demonstrate that it isn't a risk factor. He at least would like to make that the dominant assumption before the real data is collected. However, it all seems a bit too much protesting to me. He admits his own interest in the outcome, and this surely informs his assumptions and the argument he makes.

I hope I�ve shown you how it is possible that homosexuality could not be a risk factor in spite of historical evidence that appears to show that the vast majority of abuse cases have been teenage boys. You would be correct in assuming I strongly believe that homosexuality is not a risk factor and that the abuse can be better explained by ease of intimate access to boys, possible underreporting of incidents by girls and improper definition of the risk groups in analyzing the data. You would also be correct in noting, however that I have not actually shown it is not a risk factor. The good news here is that the Catholic Church in America has a wealth of data in personnel records of its 50,000 priests. It can remove identifying information from these records and make key parts available to scholars to carefully study the history of abuse with all factors considered. They have alluded to doing just that in the draft proposal. Let�s hope they can deliver.

One of the "possible" explanations Mike offers for the disproportionate number of homosexual instances of abuse is incorrect. The fact is, girls are more likely to report than boys when they've been abused by men, not less. This is understandable because of the shame associated with homosexual relations in the culture and in our nature. Even with the qualifications he employs, Mike's attempt here is too interested to make for good science.

It is a tremendous strain to argue that homosexuality is not a risk factor for abuse. However, the conclusions one draws from that are not automatic. I do not believe that all homosexuals should be banned from the seminary. On this question, I follow Cardinal George's line. If men cannot ultimately envision themselves being a spouse to the Bride and Father to the Children of God, then they should not be ordained. However, he would not bar from study men who have struggled (or do struggle) with same-sex attraction. Of course, the challenges they would face are greater than those who don't struggle in similar ways, but they should not simply be rejected on that account--or so it seems to me.

If seminarians who struggle with same-sex attraction fully embrace the Church's teaching and are seeking to learn (and are progressing in their ability) to love the Church as Christ did, I don't see why they should be prevented from entering into formation. If we barred them simply because they have experienced same-sex attractions, we would be capitulating to those in the "gay rights" crowd who say "orientation" is fixed, irremediable, and that men who struggle with same-sex attraction cannot be healed.

I simply don't want to go that far. Perhaps it is just my stubborn belief in conversion.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/13/2002 |
 

Another Priest at St. Blog's

Father Rob Johansen, of Goodbye, Good Men review fame, has started his own blog. Welcome, Padre!

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/13/2002 |

Wednesday, June 12

 

Trouble-time in Texas or Time for Hope?

Here's the schedule of the Bishops' Conference, plus a sobering report about the extent of the problem across the country and the need for attention to the bishops' role in the Situation (Yes, Steve Schultz, I still choose to use the label because "crisis" offers no more clarity and is cliched. We're always "in crisis."):

Roughly two-thirds of the top U.S. Catholic leaders have allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working, a practice that spans decades and continues today, a three-month Dallas Morning News review shows. Church spokesmen did not dispute the results of the study, which is the first of its kind and depicts a far broader pattern than has emerged this year in Boston. That archdiocese's employment of known child molesters has made international news and led Pope John Paul II to summon American cardinals to Rome in April.

Now, with the world watching and the crisis deepening, members of the Catholic hierarchy are in Dallas to debate a draft policy on abuse � which does not address church leaders' roles in concealing or enabling it.

Thankfully, it appears that many of the bishops, Cardinal George and Wilton Gregory among them, understand that this gathering is about them as much or more than problem priests. Cardinal George wrote this:

A crisis of authority in the Church cannot be resolved if bishops don�t act like bishops. A bishop has responsibility before Christ for keeping people united to Christ. A bishop therefore sets boundaries, in the matter of sexual misconduct or any other matter; but, more fundamentally, he encourages people to live virtuously in Christ. When people are �in Christ� and not full of themselves and their own lives, they are the Church. Since the bishop is the visible point of reference for union with Christ, people divorced from their bishop are not part of the apostolic Church. Hence the terrible trial for the Church when priests and people and bishops are not together in purpose and in life.

On June 2, a leading Chicago paper complained that, �It has been difficult for Chicago-area Catholics to formulate the end of this sentence: �My cardinal gets the loss of confidence in the hierarchy, and he says we really have to...� In fact, a bishop who doesn�t get the loss of confidence in the hierarchy today must be comatose. But bishops cannot address that loss outside of the context of faith which creates the Church as Church.
The sentence therefore has to finish like this: �My cardinal gets the loss of confidence in the hierarchy, and he says we really have to ask for the grace to be more faithful disciples, in what we believe and in how we act, bishops and people together around Jesus Christ.�


And Bishop Gregory said this:

It is so central. People know that priests aren't perfect. They know sometimes we're not great preachers. They know we can be cantankerous. They know we may drink too much. They know our flaws. That's not news. And they forgive us that. But to harm their kids...and for the bishops...

Dallas is about us as bishops. The spotlight has shifted from the priest who abuses to the bishop who doesn't handle the situation fairly. We must convince our people that first of all we are terribly open and contrite. And we have a firm resolve to mend our ways.

Let us pray fervently for the Holy Spirit's continued guidance of bishops like these, who seem, after all, to "get it."

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/12/2002 |

Tuesday, June 11

 

Should we give up on chastity just because it's hard?

Anthony Marquis, of Veni Sancte Spiritus, adds his voice to the discussion of celibacy, concluding, somehow, that it's just unworkable. He writes:

The ideal of celibacy is wonderful: true, beautiful and good. But in practice it does not work. I know some will say that celibacy just needs a chance to work -- but after almost ten centuries of enforced celibacy, here we are. One thought I had while driving this past weekend, reflecting on my own experience with vocation and seminary life, is that the underlying reason heterosexual men drop out of seminary and priesthood is that celibacy, as practiced in today's Church, is emasculating. You have smart, creative, and healthy men being driven crazy by a system that treats grown men like children. No wonder that immature and childish men, masters of subterfuge, are being busted for sexual misbehavior . . . . Celibacy is wonderful in theory, but life is not lived in the idealistic vacuum.

It should be no surprise that I disagree with Anthony's pessimistic and reckless dismissal of "ten centuries of enforced celibacy." He had bad experiences in a religious house of formation, and I understand why he left. But it is bad science and simply wrong-headed to extrapolate from his personal experience to all other houses and seminaries (and across ten centuries, no less!). Similarly, because formation (including celibacy) was emasculating for him, he concludes it isn't workable for anyone.

Another symptom of this wrong-headed approach is to paint the entire priesthood with the brush of a few bad priests. Yes, there are problems with men living up to their celibate commitments. And one "easy solution" might be abandoning mandatory celibacy. But wait. If we employed this logic to the problem of infidelity in marriage, we would have even more reason to conclude that chastity is a wonderful ideal, but is manifestly impractical. The only conclusion is that we should give up on chastity.

No. The answer to these "impracticalities" (or, more accurately, difficulties) is not giving up chastity. Nor is it giving up celibacy for priests. The answer is depending more on God's grace to fulfill our vocations. When God calls, he provides sufficient grace to fulfill the call--whether that call is to celibacy or marriage.

The impulse to give up on our ideals is a result of thinking it all depends on us. Of course, it doesn't.

Link fixed
Here's a working link to the Washington Post article on celibacy I referenced earlier.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/11/2002 |
 

Isn't it unfair?

In response to my last post about celibacy, Judy wrote:

I have a question. I have no problem w/priestly celibacy - I figure that if you can't faithfully live this life then don't become a priest! However, don't you think the Church's insistance on the value and rightness of priestly celibacy is weakend by the fact that She accepts married clergy (from other denominations) into the priesthood? How do you men "in formation" feel about this? How do your instructors explain this (what seems to me to be a) contradiction?

My sense of my fellow seminarians is that they embrace the value of celibacy for its witness and the practical benefits for ministry. A few wish that they had the option of becoming married, but clearly everyone who is in formation now understands the discipline, so the "sample" is skewed in favor of the current discipline. This is not a driving issue of discussion among seminarians or faculty. The formation aims at having us grow into the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, first as disciples then as priests. Right now, for the Latin Rite, ordination to the priesthood requires a promise of celibacy. It is worth noting that married permanent deacons and married priests also promise that they will not remarry should their wives die.

The short answer to Judy's question is no. Though it can be a bit awkward when one of those ordained is married and others are not--what will family who would love grandchildren think about the contradiction?--there is no sense of injustice. We know that we have no right to the priesthood. We freely commit ourselves to celibacy; no one is forcing us in this direction. (For a very positive treatment of celibacy, see this Washington Post article.) Furthermore, we don't see married priests as any less priests than celibate ones. To think otherwise would entail a rejection of Eastern Rite Catholics (and the Orthodox Churches).

For a less anecdotal view, consider findings from a recent poll of priests, included in a Dallas Morning News piece on married priests:

Dr. Dean Hoge, a sociology professor at Catholic University, has been surveying priests since 1970. His most recent survey, part of the "Pulpit and Pew" research initiative at Duke University Divinity School in 2001, found that:

� 72 percent of priests agree that the U.S. Catholic Church should continue to welcome married Episcopal priests.

� 52 percent agree that priests who have resigned should be invited to reapply for permission to function as priests, whether married or single.

� 56 percent believe that celibacy should be a matter of personal choice for priests.

Dr. Hoge says that, although the rule allowing former Episcopal priests who are married to become Catholic priests is unfair to others, there doesn't appear to be any resentment.

One of Amy Welborn's readers questions her Catholicity because she raised the issue of optional celibacy at this time. Though I have argued here (and will continue to do so) that there are graces and benefits of a celibate priesthood, I welcome the discussion because it helps all of us keep focused on what the Church needs. Among other things, the Church needs priests. But we all know She doesn't just need men willing to be celibate; She needs men who are good, wise, and holy priests--be they married or celibate.

Though I see value in the debate about celibacy, facile arguments like that of Louise Haggett, founder of C.I.T.I. (Celibacy is the Issue), get it almost completely wrong:

"There are two crises in the church right now � a worldwide shortage of priests and the scandal of some 300 priests involved in abuse," says Mrs. Haggett, of Massachusetts. "Optional celibacy would end both those problems only because it would open up the pool to more psychologically fit people."

Consider, for example, Father Stack, profiled in the Washington Post article I referenced earlier. He freely embraced celibacy as an identification with Christ. I'll leave you to decide whether he's "psychologically fit."

This is Stack's prayer room, where he spends an hour at the beginning of each day. "That's a huge part of why I'm a celibate priest," he says. Much as a celibate needs people, he needs solitude, too. But he is not really alone. Celibacy clears a space for profound intimacy with God and Jesus.

"I have a great yearning to be with God, to be alone with God, like you being alone with your wife," Stack says. "I sit in there and talk to Him, and He talks to me. I don't know how else to put it. I hate to use the word: It's awesome."

Recently he was in his prayer room preparing a homily. He read from the 14th chapter of John. Jesus said: "And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him." Alone with God, the celibate felt that love to the bottom of his soul, and he started weeping.

I won't claim that celibate priests are all like Father Stack, but he's saying celibacy is a grace. The problem is not celibacy, whatever Louise Haggett wants to think. I'd welcome plenty more Father Stacks. How about you?

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/11/2002 |

Monday, June 10

 

Clashing Cultures: Celibacy, the Church, and the World

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. offers his thoughts on the challenges facing the bishops this week in Dallas (link requires free registration). At the end of his piece, he highlights issues that weren't included in the documents, but are sure to be swirling in the air this week.

The draft document does not explicitly raise the question of homosexuality, but it is a matter of obvious concern. Noting the large proportion of offenses against adolescent boys, some bishops will seek to screen out all homosexually inclined seminarians. Others will see the issue rather as one of obtaining psychologically mature candidates capable of living up to their commitment to celibacy.

Will the issue of clerical celibacy arise at Dallas? I expect that if it is discussed, the point will be to insist on its being more clearly taught and more faithfully observed. The current rule is firmly in place and has been reaffirmed throughout the 20th century. Priests who make a firm and sincere commitment to celibacy pose no danger to society. The problem comes from the ordination of men who are not convinced of the value of celibacy or are unable to observe it. In our sex-saturated society it is difficult to transmit the church's tradition on this point.

A married priesthood, while it might diminish certain problems, would bring in a host of others, like adultery, divorce or contraception. In addition, the renunciation of mandatory celibacy would violate an immemorial tradition and obscure the Catholic idea of the priest as a person set apart for sacred functions.


At present, it looks exceedingly attractive to relax the celibacy requirement to broaden the pool of candidates for the priesthood. Cardinal Dulles has named a few potential problems with such a change. Let me add another.

In response to my post touting the benefits of celibacy, Mike Hardy, formerly of Enemy of the Church? fame, noted something a Dominican priest friend said:

his friends in ministry to mainline protestant denominations speak of how the right to marry becomes a duty to marry. That a protestant minister who is called to celibacy and does not marry (even though he is allowed to) is automatically suspected of being gay and is held in suspicion by his flock.

Mike's friend makes a good point. Any man studying for the priesthood today is suspect, sexually speaking. Many wonder whether seminarians will become predatory priests. Many more have doubts about their sexual orientation. Consider, for example, what a fellow seminarian told me. His mother informed a friend that he was studying for the priesthood. And her friend's response was as unsurprising as it was unusual: Why, is he gay? What was unusual was that the woman said it. She said what many only think. Assumptions, like this one, would be increased concerning men who would willingly choose to remain celibate even though they had the chance to get married.

I won't deny that this impression is partly a consequence of the current Situation. Part of it is also a result of--er--laxity in seminary expectations and moral teaching in past decades, that chastity was not sufficiently embraced by seminarians and/or faculty in some places at some times. But part of it is surely also the inability of the world (and many in the Church) to fully understand and accept the Catholic view of sexuality--that it's about others not about us; about giving, not receiving.

In the current climate, the world (and much of the Church) assumes that there must be something wrong with anyone who would be willing to give up sex. They must be either repressed, immature, or ashamed and hiding from their sexual orientation. Lost in many quarters is the Christian vision of sane, loving, self-donation for the sake of others.

Christ calls His priests to follow Him, in life and lifestyle, all the way to the Cross, if need be. Giving up sex (and marriage) is only the most conspicuous of the self-denials priests must accept. (We all know that renunciation of pride is manifestly harder.) One of the graces of celibacy is that it forces priests to see clearly that they are dependent, that they must look to the heart, mind, and will of Him who called them to share his ministry.

Especially in the current climate of concern about homosexual priests, any relaxation of the celibacy requirement would make it difficult for heterosexual men to choose celibacy. And I say that, even though most of the men with whom I study today believe they could be better priests if they remained celibate.

I whole-heartedly believe (with Jesus, Paul, and the long celibate tradition in the Catholic Church) that there are ministerial benefits of celibacy. And, though there are good reasons for relaxing the requirements in exceptional cases, a change in that expectation could have as many negative consequences as positive. We don't simply need more priests. We need more priests who have freely chosen to give all for the Church, just as Christ, the Bridegroom, gave all for His Bride.

Thoughts? Reactions?

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/10/2002 |
 

Stay close to the source

On Saturday, I served at the presbyteral ordination of two men in my home diocese of Lansing, Michigan. During the homily, Bishop Carl Mengeling spoke with passion about the essential identification priests must make with Jesus Christ who is the source of their priesthood. He said it's not possible for priests to have a spiritual life and some other life. They (like all the baptized) have only one life. And that must be a spiritual one. On that day, the focus was on priests, who must have a deep spiritual connection with the source of their life and priesthood.

The bishop continued by offering reflections on Gregory the Great's exhortations to shepherds and pastors. Gregory articulates a high standard for those who would preach and lead Christ's flock. Priests are called to feed that flock. But, as a stream dries up if it becomes disconnected from its source, so will priests dry up in their ability to feed the flock and live the life of a good shepherd if they disconnect themselves from Christ. Bishop Mengeling called the two men who would be ordained, all the priests gathered, and himself to recommit themselves to the source of their life and ministry. And that source--the only source of anything good--is the Bridegroom who died for all our sins. Priests join Christ in loving sacrifice for His Bride, the Church. Such is the responsibility and the privilege of the priesthood.

These new priests, like all priests before them, declared their intentions before the entire Church:

Bishop: My sons, before you proceed to the order of the prebyterate, declare before the people your intention to undertake the office. Are you resolved, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of the priesthood in the presbyteral order as a conscientious fellow worker with the bishops in caring for the Lord's flock?

Candidates: I am

Bishop: Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God and the sanctification of God's people?

Candidates: I am

Bishop: Are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?

Candidates: I am

Bishop:Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely to every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?

Candidates: I am, with the help of God


That says it all. All priests resolutely commit themselves to faithful ministry in word and sacrament, to the salvation of God's people, to live on into the person of Jesus the High Priest. And, they hear and say that all their promises and intentions are only possible with the help of God.

Bishop Mengeling hit the point hard. Jesus himself said in John 5:30, "I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me." Jesus is the perfect pattern for those who are called to minister in his name: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Ministry, the bishop said, only makes sense in Christ. It is futile if priests are disconnected from the vine.

The hope for the Church of Lansing, and the Catholic Church universal, is for Christ's disciples (and especially their shepherds) to live that truth. Seek only the Father's will, which is the salvation of the world. And always, always, remember (and really believe) that without Him, we can do nothing.

posted by Fr. Steve | 6/10/2002 |