Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Prick To The Conscience

     There aren’t many things I expect a priest to do for his flock. (There are a few things I expect him not to do, and woe betide his parishioners if he does any of them.) But in recent years one of my expectations has been confounded. For example, I hardly expect a priest to show significant courage in the face of the previously expressed displeasure of the Church’s higher-ups.

     Father Ed Kealey, who has retired from active ministry on account of age and infirmity, was first to impress me with his courage. Some years ago, he upbraided a large gathering of clergy, many of whom were his hierarchical superiors, for their prissy, almost dismissive attitude toward the clerical sexual-abuse scandals the whole world knows about. I was greatly impressed, especially as I knew that Father Ed was already disdained by the power structure of the Diocese of Rockville Center for his involvement in Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic organization many priests and bishops regard as an irritation and a threat to their perquisites.

     This morning I heard statements that have forced me to revise my prior opinion of a priest of whom I’ve spoken harshly in the past. Before I name him, I shall tell you why my assessment of him has improved.

     The Catholic Church has suffered several attacks and disruptions over the centuries. Some of those disruptions have come from within the clergy. The profligacy, dissolution, and libidinousness of the Renaissance popes, in particular, came near to destroying the Church entirely. Indeed, it was their conduct that made possible the Protestant Schism and all that followed from it.

     One of the more significant changes the Church instituted in response to unacceptable behavior among its clerics was to forbid the ordination of married men, and to forbid ordained priests to marry. I could go into the particular dynamics that made married clerics a blight upon the Church in medieval Europe, but that’s a large subject that deserves its own essay. Suffice it to say that clerical benefices were being handed down from priests to their sons in a fashion that was outrage of the Old World. The clerical abuse called simony was closely associated with it. The only way to put a stop to it at that time was to put an end to the fathering of sons by priests. That required the rule of clerical celibacy, which was made formal and official by Pope Gregory VII in 1074 A.D.

     Today, of course, we have the scandals involving the sexual abuse of minors by clerics, a thing so monstrous that for some time many Catholics could not credit it. Only after a series of confessions – usually compelled by the emergence of unambiguous evidence – by pedophile priests did it become indisputable that something was rotten within the Church. Changes had to be made...but of what sort?

     The question is still being debated among the high bishops and cardinals. Pope Francis is said to be deeply involved in those discussions. That doesn’t speak well of the likely outcome. During his years in Argentina Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio protected a number of priests from facing accusations that, at the very least, deserved to be addressed by a court of law.

     Peripheral to this but deserving of mention this morning is the pope’s decree, following upon similar decrees by his predecessors, that Church will not consider the approval of priestly marriage. Neither will he permit consideration of the ordination of women. Most Catholic clergy will concede that those measures, if adopted, would help to reduce the frequency of clerical sex abuses, both by improving the fund of applicants for the priesthood and by reducing the number of opportunities for abuse to occur. However, with the pope firmly against them, it’s become professionally hazardous for a priest to suggest that they be considered. Priests have been disciplined, sometimes severely, for daring to suggest them to their congregations.

     What measures, then, are under discussion? The rumblings from the Vatican aren’t encouraging. What results from the conferences might amount to nothing more than cosmetics.

     Before I go any deeper into this matter, I must make certain declarations about my personal convictions that many Catholics will find shocking.

     First, the pope is not infallible as that notion is commonly understood. Yes, the Church teaches that the Supreme Pontiff is infallible on matters of faith or morals, but this is impossible to accept given the egregious sinfulness and excesses of so many popes throughout history. Indeed, at least one pope, Benedict IX, has been credibly accused of practicing witchcraft. Some apologists for the infallibility doctrine have tried to finesse this, claiming that being infallible is not the same as being impeccable — i.e., without sin — and that sinfulness does not therefore imply that the pope could promulgate false doctrines. That defense, to put it mildly, isn’t terribly convincing.

     For papal infallibility to be reasonable, it should be interpreted in a different fashion, to wit: if the faithful follow the pope’s teachings on faith and morals, then they are spiritually indemnified even if those teachings are absolutely wrong. Any other approach would attribute to a mortal man a characteristic that mortal men have never exhibited.

     Second, clerical celibacy and the denial of ordination to women are merely Churchly personnel policies. Nothing in the Gospels mandates either. For any cleric of any altitude to claim otherwise isn’t just wrong; it’s deceitful. Most of the Apostles were married men. For a thousand years priests were permitted to marry, though only a celibate priest could ascend to the rank of bishop. Feel free to search the Gospels and the records of the early Church.

     Third, clergy have no authority over lay Catholics in any sense. We are the Church; they are the servants of the Church. Christ established that relation when He proclaimed that He had come “not to be served, but to serve,” and instructed His disciples that “the first shall be last, and the last first.” A priest’s special status as one who can validly administer the seven sacraments implies no other power. His responsibilities are to promulgate the teachings of Christ and to administer the sacraments as appropriate.

     If this be heresy, make the most of it. I stand by it nonetheless.

     This morning, the celebrant at Mass delivered an impassioned statement about the sex-abuse scandals. The high points were as follows:

  • The Church hierarchy has been corrupted by the pursuit of power and status.
  • Better that the hierarchy collapse and the entire edifice be bankrupted than that the evils be allowed to continue.
  • Every possible method of redress must be considered, including clerical marriage and the ordination of women.

     These are massively courageous declarations coming from a man in a Roman collar. Other priests have been severely disciplined for such statements. The priest who uttered them was one I’ve criticized for customizing the Mass to his tastes, for mixing his politics into his preaching, and for his routine practice of self-promotion: Father Francis X. Pizzarelli of the Society of St. Louis de Montfort.

     Father Francis, you’re a better man than I knew. Know that you have my sincerest apologies. May God bless and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you.


Glenda T Goode said...

I will start with this statement, I am not a catholic. My opinions should be considered from that point of view.

In my opinion the Catholic Church has two problems. One is the uncontrolled sexual activities of people who are supposedly celibate.

The second is the good old boy club mentality that exists in the leadership of the church. This is a power hungry hierarchy that is dedicated to keeping people in their positions of power and influence regardless of their failings.

NAMBLA has nothing on the Catholic priesthood and leadership. The abuses in the church are evil in nature. People who use their positions of presumed authority to abuse children are monsters who should be viciously culled from the organization. This type predator should be removed from society as well and not just the church.

I think ultimately the issue of celibacy and the lack of ability to control their sexual urges is the source of all of this. The Catholic Church owes its congregation an honest and trustworthy leadership in the Priesthood, and all other positions of authority. If you cannot find people who can and will remain celibate then you have to allow marriage for the priesthood. There is a need to provide leadership at the local level that can be respected by the people without question.

Protestant churches have had married pastors and most generally the pastor and their spouse become fantastic advocates for their churches. The Catholic Church would be wise to follow the same path to restore the faith the parishioners have in their church.

The longer the Catholic Church takes to make a definitive policy change to stop this epidemic of abuse by clergy, the weaker and less viable the church will become. I believe that the Christian community needs all of the various denominational churches to flourish in order to survive. If we see the collapse of the Catholic Church as a viable congregation in our society we will surely see other denominations being torn down in the future.

Every day that this crisis remains unresolved by the Catholic Church is one more day of bad press and ill feelings towards not only the local congregations but towards the Vatican as well. This cannot go on much longer without serious and permanent damage being done that will very likely will not be repairable.

Serbian viking said...

I have enjoyed your blog for years and never posted before. There may be no expressed barrier to the ordination of women in the Gospels, but Paul is pretty clear he is against it ( I Timothy 2:11-15). My own experience with female clergy of the Lutheran and Methodist churches I've attended is uniformly negative. Those churches are totally "converged" and I find it the rare woman indeed who can hold to the truth and keep the forces of our evil culture out of the church.

Linda Fox said...

I really have no difficulty with ordination of married priests - for them, drawing from the diaconate would suffice. Or, mandate a longer period of time in which they serve as deacons before ordination.

The real problem is the women - both the wives, and women who might be ordained.

Women are largely emotional, not rational creatures. A FEW, trained in disciplines that use logical thinking processes, might have some ability to use those rational processes to make many life decisions, and generally manage their lives without excessive emotional drama.

A few, those with autistic tendencies, might not tap into emotional excesses as often as most women. It must be said, that most autistics are NOT spectacularly gifted in logic and reasoning - they just suck at the emotions part of the brain.

However, even the most "not like most women" female cannot escape the differences in her brain, back in the older sections of the grey matter, that make her 'go-to' response one that is emotionally based.

How does that affect ordination?

For female priests, they would be more prone to ignoring stated doctrine to respond to a gooey, 'feelz' situation with a parishioner. Add to that the normal hormone-influenced mood swings, and you have a less than ideal clerical makeup. I would think that the LONG experience of the Episcopal church and other churches that regularly ordain women might give one to proceed with EXTREME caution - if not forego the notion of female priests altogether.

For wives of priests, many women regularly and automatically overstep the boundaries between the minister and the wife of a minister. Too many seemingly staid and sober women go apeshit at some point in the marriage. With women initiating the majority of divorces, it's a pitfall waiting to open up.

A better solution is to look at older men (50+) who are widowed, or separated from their wives (with or without a divorce - many think that the church forbids divorce - they do not - however, remarriage is the barrier). No minor children to care for would be best.

I'm telling you, women - like Eve - will be the downfall of the Catholic Church. They just can't help it - it's in their nature to be contrary and willful.