On Monday afternoon I had a call from a hospice chaplain with Group Health asking if I could provide the sacrament of the sick for one of her clients who was approaching death. Faced with the difficulty in getting access to local Catholic priests she has turned to me on many occasions in the past. Sometimes I am able to "push the right buttons" at the appropriate local parish to get a priest there and arrange for the person to be included in regular communion rounds. In this case, death was imminent, and a delay in making arrangements was not appropriate.
I arrived at the adult care facility on the other side of Seattle from my home the next morning at 10am and met Appolonia Cobala, a devout Polish lady in her 80's, and her loving daughter Helen. Helen explained that she had called 12 different nearby parishes the day earlier and was unable to arrange for a priest to visit her mother. She was most appreciative for my prompt response, adding that she fully supported a married clergy.
We had a very beautiful celebration of the sacrament of the sick together. She then asked if I could assist her with a graveside service at the local Catholic cemetery when her mom passed. I explained that unfortunately the previous auxiliary bishop had issued an edict banning any resigned priests and me explicitly in doing so. Although any layman is allowed to conduct graveside services at Catholic cemeteries, or clergy from any other denomination, the one group that is barred is resigned priests. She was sad to hear about this. I told her to call me and I could put her into contact with a canonical priest who would provide a nice service when her mother passed.
This exchange brought out in microcosm the continued tragedy of the ripple effect of the current clergy shortage as well as the vindictive polices of the Institution toward resigned priests. Over and over again, good Catholics pay the price for these narrow policies that place mandatory celibacy over the pastoral care of God's people. A close friend shared a similar story regarding the difficulty in finding a priest to annoint his Dad, a daily Mass Catholic in his 90's who sent 2 sons into the priesthood and has generously supported the Church over his long lifetime. It was Louise Haggett's frustration with finding pastoral care for her dear mother that ultimately lead her to launch CITI. And it goes on and on.
I felt privileged to be able to respond to Helen's efforts to find help for her mother Appolonia. But how many similar needs go unmet and how many good Catholics become more and more disillusioned by this indifference to their sacramental needs and rejection of the many resigned priests ready to respond?
Fr. Pat Callahan
Married Catholic Priest