Monday, December 13, 2010

When It Comes To Power And Accountability There Really Is Two Catholic Churches And Priests Are Going To Have To Decide Which One They Belong To

It's not hard for me to imagine that many of our priests feel this describes their relationship to the hierarchy.

Every once in awhile I come across an article where in the comment section one commenter unintentionally hi jacks the topic.  One such article is currently posted at the National Catholic Reporter website.  It's an article written by Phyllis Zagano entitled "Rome's checkbook strategy on women's religious".  The comment which diverted the topic was this one:

As a priest I must object, and express my offense and outrage, to the constant "guilt by association" with the "clerical" church, as once again presented in this article. I am da--ed tired of it! This kind of gross oversimplification and villainaization of an entire group within the church is no different that the gross oversimplification and "villainization" of religious women as a "group." Yes, women religious and women in general have more than ample reason to be angy with the church. And, guess what, it case the thought never crossed your mind, many priests also have ample reason to be angry! For the love of Christ, can we stop this nonsense? In what way is it helping?

Actually it has crossed my mind that many priests also think they have ample reason to be angry.  I don't think 'stopping this nonsense' is going to be especially effective.  I do think if all these angry priests broke silence and stepped outside the clerical black line, that their da--ed bi--ching might be more effective and believable.  Anonymous posts on the NCR don't cut it for me, no matter how much truth their might be in the message.

I suspect it might be these three paragraphs in Zagano's article which precipitated the anonymous priest's comments:

What does it all look like now? The world is beginning to see two Catholic Churches: one for bishops and priests and another for the rest of us. The one for clerics collects the money and controls the sacraments.

The church for the rest of us looks to women religious (and, now, male deacons) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. These ministers of prayer and service slake the deep thirst of all of us for the Living Word. They do so largely without access to the collection basket.

Do priests and bishops get involved in all this Christian charity? Of course they do, but not so well that they’re the first ones you think of when it comes to works of mercy.

I happen to think Zagano is dead on when she writes the "world is beginning to see two Catholic Churches, one for bishops and priests and another for the rest of us."  If priests don't want to be associated with the clerical version of Catholic church, if they want to be seen as part of the caring and concerned Catholic church, then they need to start shouting out and supporting that Catholic church.  Inadvertently taking over a post with anonymous bitching about blanket vilification smacks of a victim not an agent of any meaningful change.

I understand why priests are not predisposed to opening up about injustice in the Church.  Part of it is conditioning and part of it is economic survival.  I just have a tough time generating much sympathy for the economic survival part when two million Americans are without employment for absolutely no reason or fault of their own. Unemployment is always easier to take when you can attribute it to taking some kind of stand than it is when you are just tossed out like so much unnecessary garbage with no hope of recycling.

These kinds of lay offs happen because everyday people have no leverage.  Unions used to provide the kind of leverage which made employers somewhat accountable to their employees.  Not so much anymore.  The thing is with the current priest shortage, disaffected priests have a serious amount of leverage.  It's got to be the conditioning thing that stops them from considering using their leverage--or maybe even realising they have such leverage. 

Cardinal Law could speak to the leverage priests had in the Archdiocese of Boston.  It didn't even take a majority of  Archdiocesan priests to take a stand.  It only took enough to threaten the functioning of the Archdiocese.  American nuns have no such leverage, not being able to function sacramentally.  Their leverage used to be in their numbers and relative wealth.  Zagano thinks the lack of numbers now make the wealth appear to be a plum ripe for picking.  A numbers situation which is working against American nuns could work just the opposite for American priests. Funny how that power differential thing works as opposed to just wealth.  Priests have the power, nuns have the wealth.  Lack of meaningful power always trumps amount of accumulated wealth.--see American middle class.

If the above anonymous priest is this angry and frustrated about how the rank and file clergy are being  painted, he should turn his writing skills towards his fellow priests. But first he should understand that if his buttons got pushed this badly by this article, there is a reason for that, and that reason resides with in his own psyche. When he then gets past being a powerless victim, he might just see that far from being powerless victims, priests have huge power with in this system, they've just been conditioned not to use it.  It's time to break that conditioning and take some risks of behalf of the whole Church.  It's only what the Man they purport to emulate would do---and did.


  1. I think of some of the diocesan priests I know. They're old, beyond the normal retirement age. Many of them are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Here in Canada the hierarchy may not be quite as crazy as those in the USA but there is definitely a split between the employees and management on many, many issues.

    In 2001 the average of non-retired priests in the USA was 56.

    Source: Boston College: Facts and Figures, the state of the Priesthood

    (Good article, by the way.)


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  3. p2p,
    Most of those 56 yr. old priests in 2001, had not paid into the social security system as it is not the Church’s policy to do so. What will happen to these men when they retire if they speak out now?

    I have a personal High School friend who studied canon law during the time of Vatican 2, he mostly worked in the chancery, and was being groomed to be a bishop -- then the JPII, litmus tested Bishops were appointed. This man, in his early 50's decided to spend some time with the Trapistist monks, and stayed at their monastery for 3 to 4 years Episcopacy he could not take more of the silent life. He is now the pastor at a very poor parish and has to travel 60 miles once a month to say mass at another poor parish without a priest! . I recently spoke to him and he is truly a saintly man, but he can only shepherd his flock even though he posses the power of the pen to face up to Bishops. It is not easy for many of these older priests to say anything. Many of the younger ones are the brain washed JPII priests! Some of them may grow and develop to understand the errors of the Episcopacy. Others will grow in their feelings of omniscience and in the ideas that their Bishops are the All powerful TEACHERS of their dioceses. JPII was a wonderful leader that lead the RCC back a millennium.

    There continues to be the undercurrent in the “lay” press about the new scandal of the money laundering at the Vatican Bank. What will become of a RCC that goes from one self caused Episcopal crises to the next? Remember it was JP I who vowed to clean up the Vatican Bank and this vibrant and seemingly heathy man was found dead in his quarters of unknown causes less than a month after these comments. When I asked Italian people on the street about it, they overwhelmingly believed he was poisoned by the mafia of Southern Europe. dennis

  4. Dennis,

    The number of new priests is way below the number needed for equilibrium. Today's average age must be almost 60. You're right these men don't have the financial means to be independent. Many of them are very good men. We won't hear too much from them in public, no matter what they may offer as private counsel.

    The article I linked to referred to the older priests as "servant-leader" priests with the younger JP2 priests as "cultic". Talk about a clash of culture.

    Maybe there are three churches, the inner-circle of Bishops and up, the outer circle of diocesan priests, deacons, nuns etc, then there are the rest of us.


  5. Why, it's enough to make a preacher curse! Ba Dum Bump. :D


  6. P2P, I read the Hodge article that you referred us, his analysis is good, but for many it is the whole idea of returning to a cultic priesthood that JP2 liked is not at all adequate. The idea that in So. America the priesthood is not as dominant and I think not as well respected as a cultic priesthood demands is probably a better direction for Christianity. However, i think in the current religious market as it is marketed in the US, there will be many who will join other denominations. I have spoken to some Mexican families attending Protestant Churches who define themselves as Catholics.

    I think the most important thing that the Episcopacy and priests must keep in mind is that integrity is the mark of a real Christian leader. The mainline RCC Episcopacy in much of the world lacks not only the perception of integrity but have in fact given people the reason not to respect them. Will there be three churches? Laity, priests and Episcopate. I think so but with many problems and the loss of many or most independent thinkers who understand the lack of Episcopal and Clerical integrity. Facts are that the Episcopal template demonstrates a sinful authoritarianism that has very little integrity. Priests caught in a cultic priesthood, like their Bishops, make themselves into little emperors that lack a clear spirituality. Is this really what Christianity is all about?

  7. Dennis, I agree whole heartedly. The issue for meaningful clerical authority is integrity. I also think your observation about people moving to Evangelical communities but still considering themselves Catholic needs to be seriously looked at. It seems to say the connection with Catholicism is very strong and very real, and yet doesn't extend to the clerical part of the Church. It sort of says that people are taking the spirituality to heart while leaving the clericalism behind.

    Word verification is nurses, which is kind of what I was trying to allude too. When a person is seeking healing it doesn't matter all that much who does the nursing if the medicine works.

  8. Dennis,

    All authoritarian roles, including the "cultic" priest are, by definition, bound to fail. Humans are imperfect and cannot live up to the ideal. It is much more powerful and effective to be a servant leader by guiding and empowering those who choose to follow.


    My teen, when younger, asked "Why can't we go to a happy church?" There are some things evangelicals do very well that fulfill the needs of their congregations. We Catholics could learn a thing or two from them.

    Through the media we hear more and more about fundamentalism of various sorts. There are those in the Catholic hierarchy, who I feel certain, admire Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against secular society. They envy the passion of fundamentalist Islam. They use the same sort of language and thinking.

    Cardinal Burke is one of them. He would prefer to run a Catholic university in the manner of a present day Islamic Madrasah school with a curriculum of only Latin, scripture, math, and religious history. His view of religious instruction is in accord with that of the poorest Pakistani illiterate. Those are the types of cathedral schools the Roman Catholic church ran from the 6th century on, during the "Dark Ages". Once again he shows preference for the Church of the thirteenth century.

    Burke certainly doesn't see the university as the Caliphate of Cordoba did 929-1021 AD. He doesn't seem to understand that the formal notion of academic freedom dates back to 1155 at the University of Bologna. It was created (Normally I would say CE for "common era" but anno domini seems more appropriate here.) How long would it be before Burke found his own Giordano Bruno to burn? JP2 and the Ratz certainly have burned Hans Kung and other Catholic theologians, even if it is figuratively, not literally.

    That's the past the Vatican and other fundamentalists want as their refuge. In Canada, moderate Muslim university students are struggling to find a "path to acceptance" inspired more by the Caliphate of Cordoba that two centuries of Saudi Wahhabism.

    Burke should study history before he repeats it.