Thursday, December 27, 2007

Zambia: Splinter Catholic Church Launched

NOTE: I'm personally not inclined to focus on the splinter groups too much but this is just so we know who's out there -- RG

The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
26 December 2007

A splinter Catholic Church called the Catholic Apostolic National Church of Zambia has been launched with Archbishop-elect, Luciano Mbewe, calling for more priests to join the church and fulfill their God-given role by marrying.

Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) spokesperson, Paul Samasumo, said in reaction that he did not have much information about the newly formed church but was aware that the Catholic bishops in Zambia would preside over the matter next month.

Father Samasumo said in an interview in Lusaka that the newly formed church had created parallel structures in the Roman Catholic Church and could not claim to be part of the Church.

Archbishop Mbewe said during the launch of the new church which has strong links with excommunicated prelate Emmanuel Milingo that the hour had come for priests in the Roman Catholic Church to start marrying and taking care of their forsaken children.

Archbishop Mbewe who is also the apostolic administrator of the new church said over the years most priests had laboured quietly and prudently to advocate for the restoration of married priests in the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Mbewe said during the ceremony held at Peace Embassy that there were moments that the priests hoped the restoration of married priests would be made possible.

Other church leaders who had since been co-opted in the church attended the lunch.

"We feel duty bound now to found our own Catholic church, an independent Catholic church where we can truly enjoy the freedom enjoyed by children of God. It should surprise no one to hear of yet another Catholic church," he said.

Archbishop Mbewe said there were other independent churches that came into existence especially in the 1870 AD when some bishops broke away from Rome over the issue of Papal infallibility.

He said freedom of worship as enshrined in the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) charters stipulated that it was an inalienable right to found churches and worship God without any interference from any quarter.

Archbishop Mbewe who served as a Roman Catholic priest for over 17 years said the problem of mandatory and compulsory celibacy for priests in the Roman Catholic Church was crucial.

He said profound pain and suffering had been caused to priests as a result of celibacy and that most of this pain and suffering was uncalled for.

He said the celibacy found in the Bible was not compulsory but optional. Archbishop Mbewe said Jesus Christ refused to make celibacy compulsory but left it optional.

"The majority of these priests and bishops do not have this gift, they are like the majority of humanity and they deserve to marry and still continue to minister to God's people," he said.

Archbishop Mbewe said it was a known fact that nearly all the apostles to Jesus and the first Pope, Peter were married and so were the other 28 Popes as the Holy Bible stated that being accompanied by a wife in the ministry was not a minus but a great asset.

He said celibacy was made compulsory in the 12th Century for dubious reasons but it was never accepted in practice.

He said the priests and bishops resisted the man-made law and they appeared celibate in public yet privately they were going out with women, a scenario, which he said even prevailed today.

Archbishop Mbewe said the celibacy issue had led to some priests contracting HIV/AIDs.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Mbewe said the church should work with the Government of the day. He said days are gone when the Church was the enemy of the State.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mexico's Catholic Church faces priest shortage

By Anahi Rama
December 24, 2007

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Believers this holiday season are filling church pews across Mexico, but a shortage of priests in one of the world's most Roman Catholic nations threatens to leave many of the faithful without pastors.

In a country where more than 85 percent of the population is Catholic, one priest is expected to serve some 7,000 followers.

By comparison, the United States, where only 22 percent of the population belongs to the Church, has one priest per 1,500 Catholics.

"This is a real crisis of vocation," said Elio Masferrer, a religion expert at Mexico's National School of Anthropology and History.

Some blame the rise of a secular Mexico, where young men have improving job opportunities and increasingly reject celibacy.

"These days there are a lot of distractions and temptations, like drugs," said Guadalupe Conde, an 84-year-old priest at the Spanish colonial San Francisco Church in the center of Mexico City. "Young people aren't thinking about faith."

An average of 240 priests entered service in Mexico each year between 2000 and 2005, down from around 280 annually in the previous decade, even as the population grew.

"There are some dioceses where only one new priest is ordained each year," said Jose de Jesus Aguilar, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City.


How to deal with the shortage of priests and the closing of parishes in many parts of the world has vexed the Vatican for decades.

It has consistently reaffirmed that only ordained male priests can say Mass and has rejected calls to extend the priesthood to married men or women in order to solve the crisis.

To compensate for the lack of new blood, older priests are putting off retirement. In Mexico's capital, the average age of priests is now 66, and at one downtown church, a 93-year-old cleric celebrates Mass in the morning and hears confession in the afternoon.

"Old priests have to work until they keel over," Aguilar said.

As the number of priests dwindles, the Church faces growing competition from evangelical churches that have sprung up in rural parts of Mexico and Central America. They usually have one minister or pastor attending just several hundred followers.

"The evangelical churches have a charismatic 'feel good' message that reaches young people," said Rafael Ramirez, a young Catholic priest who came to Mexico for a year from a parish in Houston, Texas.

But faith remains strong for many people in the world's second-biggest Catholic country after Brazil.

Several million people are believed to have visited the capital's Virgin of Guadalupe basilica this month on an annual pilgrimage.

(Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Xavier Briand)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Married priests? Some musings from England

In a December 21st interview in the Financial Times, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the 10th Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, offers his perspective on the possibilities of a married priesthood.

From the Financial Times:
...Murphy-O’Connor is gently subversive in making a case for the ordination of married men: “We have a number of married men in this diocese who are former Anglicans who are already married. If you say to me, ‘Do you think the church could change and ordain many married men?’ the answer is, ‘Yes, it could.’ ”...
While this is noteworthy because of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's stature and his relative conservatism on most church issues, it is not the first time the cardinal has spoken about this issue. When he was installed as Archbishop of Westminster in 2000, Murphy-O'Connor gave an interview to The Guardian in which he said:

"Disciplines can change. When a priest accepts celibacy when he is ordained that rule should be kept. But is it (marriage) incompatible with priesthood? The answer is obviously no. I would not rule it out. The matter will come up again."
Seven years later, he — and we — are still waiting...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Married Priests Available for Christmas Services

BRUNSWICK, Maine, Dec. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Married Roman Catholic priests affiliated with are making themselves available for the many Catholic Churches who will not have full Eucharist services this holiday season because of a shortage of priests. CITI Ministries (Celibacy Is the Issue) has spent 15 years locating and recruiting priests of integrity and promotes them through its website for anyone with spiritual needs.

In the last few years, married priests have provided ministry to over a quarter of a million people. Weddings on a beach, interfaith marriages, baptisms that were otherwise refused by a local pastor, anointing of the sick and funerals are just some of the ministerial services that have been requested by Catholics and others. Married priests are priests forever according to the church's Code of Canon Law which states, "once validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid." While the church refuses to accept the ministry of these priests, it has church laws that allow the faithful to request these services -- in fact, a priest cannot refuse according to Canon 843.

Anyone within CITI's 42 state coverage who is without a priest for Midnight Mass or Christmas Day services can, without permission from anyone, contact a priest at CITI's website or call 1-800-PRIEST 9 and request Christmas Liturgy for their group, whether it is inside a church building or in a private home. A partial listing of Home and public venue Masses already appears on the rentapriest website under "Faith Communities." Priests are also available for Lenten retreats and other spiritual services.

CITI is a 501.c3 nonprofit lay-based organization. Donations appreciated to assist us in locating and recruiting priests who have married, and promoting their availability to the general public. A special technology fundraising drive is currently taking place to help us update our internal systems and procedures. CITI Ministries, 14 Middle Street, Suite 2, Brunswick, ME 04011.

Bishops discuss married priests petition

December 6, 2007

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Philip Wilson has responded to a petition calling for married priests.

He gave an assurance that the Bishops had a discussion at last week's plenary meeting on the need to make "adequate pastoral and sacramental provision for the Church in Australia".

Catholica Australia reports the petition raised interest among the bishops and more than three hours were devoted to discussing the issue.

Dr Paul Collins, on behalf of the petition organisers, says he was “more than happy” with the formal letter response from Archbishop Wilson and general feedback from individual bishops.

“We were more than surprised with the level of interest the petition generated within the Church,” Dr Collins said.

“Our original hope had been to try and generate a response of around 10,000 signatures and to receive over 16,700, including over 160 responses from priests, exceeded their expectation by a long way,” he said.


Bishops Conference responds to Petition Signatories (Catholica Australia 4/12/07)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Desejo Proibido: a clerical telenovela from Brazil

Fr. Rich and I often remark on the soap opera quality that these clerical relationships can take on when couples are forced by Church regulations to lead a double life. Now, from Brazil, we have an actual telenovela clerical romance playing out in "Desejo Proibido" ("Forbidden Desire") on Globo.

Padre Miguel (Murilo Rosa) is a priest divided about his vocation and generally not seen in clerical garb in this soap opera. He has been sent by the Church to the town of Passaperto to investigate the alleged miracles attributed to the Virgem de Pedra. He meets a student, Laura (Fernanda Vasconcellos), and falls in love with her. As he tries to get out of his vows, he tells Laura that there is a "problem" but does not reveal his true identity. She assumes that he is married to someone else and so when he proposes to her, she rejects him and says she will marry Henrique. P. Miguel is heartbroken and asks his mentor, P. Inacio, to help him withdraw his request for dispensation. When Laura enters the church on her wedding day to be united with Henrique, there is P. Miguel at the altar ready to celebrate their marriage. Laura realizes that she loves Miguel and cannot marry Henrique and flees from the church. Stay tuned....

And if you read Portuguese and want to know more about the Brazilian Church's (cautious) response to this telenovela, see Padres da igreja católica supervisionam 'Desejo Proibido' in Bem Paraná.

Henrique (left) and Laura (right) on the
wedding day that didn't happen

Padre Miguel yearning for Laura

NOTE: We shamelessly stole these photos from the soap opera's Web site...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Editorial: From Holland, a refreshing notion

National Catholic Reporter, December 14, 2007

American Catholics should take note of what is happening in the Netherlands. Not that it will result in sudden, dramatic change in the church, or that it needs to, but because it reveals a different, much freer way of being church than American Catholics are normally used to. Dutch Catholics have been facing all the same church issues we find here: a priest shortage, a leadership vacuum, an official preference for the temple priesthood over the pastoral, while the world races toward an unknown future like a crowded bus without brakes or headlights. They have some ideas.

Ah, those postmodern Dutch, so far ahead of us, with their eclectic and chaotic social liberalism, their blunt talk, bold experiments, utopian impatience with rules and tradition. What a refreshing notion they have: that because the Eucharist is the essence of Christian community, that community therefore has a right to it. And if the hierarchy fails to bestow that right from above, local communities can claim it from below: “Where two or three gather in my name,” share scripture, break bread, pass the cup, there is Real Presence, holy Communion, the freedom of the Holy Spirit to give charisms with or without official permission.

How generous and even true this all seems, yet how different for us, loyal American Catholics, waiting patiently for the hierarchy to give us Communion and the other sacraments only they can bestow. The logic goes like this: “No male, celibate priests -- no Eucharist; no Eucharist -- no church.” The vocation crisis threatens the existence of the church, we are told: Give us your sons or we will be forced to close or merge your parishes, substitute Communion services for Mass, crowd you into regional megachurches.

The Dutch aren’t buying it. There is no vocations crisis and no priest shortage if you count married men, women, former priests willing to serve. There is ample historical and theological precedent for models of ministry other than the one tied to clerical celibacy. Even the Vatican’s emphasis on the original Twelve as the only template for priesthood edits out the fact that most were probably married, that Jesus included women in his inner circle, and that Paul’s house church Eucharists were presided over by women.

If it is true that without Eucharist there can be no church, then how does Rome justify making preservation of the current clerical model more important than the survival of thousands of otherwise viable parishes? Where is the crisis of conscience among individual bishops, vicars of Christ and shepherds? How will they give an account of their stewardship of a church in which the baptized were increasingly denied the Eucharist, except on their rigidly limited and theologically unjustifiable terms, why the faithful died without confession and anointing because there was no priest who could come, and why other sacraments were by appointment only and often unavailable to the flock? What were they thinking?

Our Dutch Catholic brothers and sisters have been thinking long and hard about these questions. They know that for our church to be relevant, it must exist in the real world, the modern world it is committed to engage and serve. Serious problems challenge us: rapidly changing technologies, global demographic patterns and economic shifts that both enrich and despoil, wars and rumors of war, generational rifts that are fueling both religious fundamentalism and rootless secularism.

They are seeing the future with courage and welcoming it as eucharistic people. And we can learn from them about how to be church from below, with or without permission from above.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Even the happiest of men flaunt their woes

Another article offered in the spirit of occasionally offering dissenting views from reliable sources...

Albany Times Union
First published: Friday, December 7, 2007

It is time that certain Catholic liberals give up their knee-jerk response to the sexual abuse problem. "Let priests marry, let them have legitimate sexual pleasures and then they won't become pederasts," they say. This argument, heard usually from those who would claim to be feminists, reduces the wife in a marriage to the role of satisfying a man's sexual needs so he won't have to victimize young boys.

A recent study of schoolteachers as pederasts leaves little doubt that some married men and women will prey on their students whenever they think they can get away with it. They might just be the kind of people who enjoy variety in their sexual partners.

I never have been able to understand these layfolk who are obsessed with the abolition of celibacy. It may well be an appropriate modification of the structures of the Catholic Church in a time when most American young men do not find the priesthood attractive. However, a cursory reading of the literature on the personal and professional satisfaction among the clergy and reports from the spouses and children of Protestant (and Greek Orthodox and rabbinical) clergy seems to indicate that family relations are an enormous problem for many of them.

In addition to the usual problems of spouse and children, married clergy are subjected to the pressures from their parishioners, who often assume the spouse is an unpaid member of the parish team, and ecclesiastical authority, who often assume ministerial families must be like Caesar's wife -- beyond reproach in every way.

Those crusading Catholic lay leaders might consider the distinct possibility they would make the priest's life even more difficult. Survey data gathered at the National Opinion Research Center indicate that clergy score higher on measures of personal and professional satisfaction than any other professional group. While there are problems for the professional cleric (not enough money to raise an upper-middle-class family), there are rewards and satisfactions that seem on balance to be better than in any other profession.

Moreover, another NORC project found that Catholic priests had higher scores on measures of personal and professional satisfaction. They are, on the average, the happiest men in America. Priests don't want to admit this because it deprives them of their self-pity. There's nothing more satisfying than feeling sorry for yourself, whether you're a doctor, lawyer, accountant or priest.

I see in the newspapers that priests in Milwaukee are sending a delegation to meet with their archbishop about the terrible state of their morale. Their plight may in fact be worse than the average American priests, but I kind of doubt it. We live in a veil of tears where things routinely go wrong. There is no immunity from aggravations and heartache. Otherwise, why would so many priests seem to think a wife would solve all their problems?

The myth of a morale problem, combined with the shame of the sexual abuse crisis, probably explains why so many priests do not try to recruit young men to walk in their footsteps. The so-called vocation crisis may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-pity does not attract others to walk your path. Most priests are happy in their work. It is time they reveal this dirty little secret.

Andrew Greeley's e-mail address is

Monday, November 26, 2007


Rev. John Shuster

Given the sexual purity ethic that is fibrously embedded in the fabric of our faith, the Catholic in the pew doesn’t want to think about these realities, much less confront them. Most won’t even believe it when inconveniently confronted with its reality – and that is a major reason why the “celibacy” cloaking system continues to work so well for gay men in the priesthood. In response to the occasional emergence of this reality in the media, the Vatican responds that its priests may be gay, but they are celibate. That is a quick sound bite dodge comprised of technical language. People hear “celibacy” and they think “purity”. In reality, celibacy only means that a priest has not publicly married a woman – that’s the last thing a gay man wants to do. The canonical definition of celibacy focuses on public legal marriage, not on personal sexual continence for priests, although that aspect is also covered in Canon law. Most Catholics are unaware of this distinction and consequently are easily manipulated back into their comfortable, compliant pew seats.

For VOTF to be an instrument of change in the church, it is critical to factor into your strategy the fact that the corporate priesthood and hierarchy will not allow any changes that might expose or threaten the safe haven that protects and benefits its gay majority. The problem is not that priests are gay - that is accidental. The issue is that their political agenda is driving people away and contributing to problems that offset all the good things about our Roman Catholic faith. They are well aware that the Roman Catholic community will not support a predominantly gay and sexually active priesthood. They hide the reality of who they are, and the “laity”, who have lifetime investments in the religious insurance program component of Catholicism, are more than willing to enter into and embrace the illusion of priests as straight men living a life of sexual purity to retain their life long annuity investment in the promise of eternal life.

Church Reform Groups – a history of NOT changing the institutional church

There are numerous church reform groups that have come into existence since the repression of the spirit of Vatican II that began in the 70’s. In all that time, none of these groups has effected any real change in the role of Catholics in the institution, transparency of the hierarchy, accountability of church leadership, or the less than chaste and simple lifestyles of priests and church officials.

The reform groups still in existence today are essentially support groups – people who have gathered in response to injury. They have developed cottage industries of information exchange – conferences, speakers’ bureaus, newsletters, fundraising advertisements, national conventions, etc. These are worthwhile activities, but are only internally efficacious and operate primarily for the members’ mutual benefit. They have little to do with reform.

All of these activities have helped reform-minded Catholics personally as a subset group of the Roman Catholic Church, but they have not opened the priesthood to all who are called to serve. They have not made local bishops accountable to their people for ministerial project focus, general diocesan policies, or financial decisions. Their organizations have not stopped parishes from being closed. They have not slowed the attrition of straight priests leaving the corporate priesthood or the defection of cradle Catholics to other denominations. They were not able to detect, expose, or stop decades of systemic sexual abuse of our children. Some even deny the depth of this problem and told me and other supporters of the survivor’s movement in the mid 90’s to stand down because “the bishops are taking care of this problem.”

Church reform groups have essentially served the Vatican’s objectives well. These groups provide a place for Catholics to go when they figure out what is really going on in their institutional church. The Vatican knows this and is more than willing to let reform groups exist because they play a key role in its overall control strategy. Arch/bishops will even grant audiences to, and receive studies and position papers from well-meaning reform groups. The reform group members feel that they have achieved a great accomplishment in gaining an audience with the prelate. In reality, they have simply delivered him a detailed summary report of their activities. Pleasantries and mutual good wishes are usually exchanged between the prelate and his concerned guests in these rare meetings, but in the short and long run nothing changes. At the end of the meeting the reformers have been contained and led on by their own good intentions and the false hope and gratitude extended by their local arch/bishops.

Catholics who belong to reform groups usually continue to attend their local parish churches. Each Sunday they donate money to their local church, which is legally owned by the bishop or a corporation that the bishop controls. This system of episcopal ownership supports the Vatican’s agendas. There is an element of self-deception here – the idea that “I am just going to support my local parish because we have a good thing here.” Unfortunately, that is part of the codependency that is required for being a good Vatican Catholic. You focus on your local parish, but your donated resources are immediately added to the bishop’s balance sheet and continue to support the same mindsets and special arrangements that enabled the sex abuse atrocity to take place and be covered up by a predominantly gay hierarchy for decades. Partaking in this donation and ownership arrangement makes the laity full enablers of the Vatican agenda.

VOTF – key things to realize and do if you really want to change the church

Hope is not a strategy. If you want to change an institution, you need to use the techniques applied by people like Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This means leafleting parishes, presenting letters to the archbishop with the media taping you for the evening news in front of his residence, and a relentless commitment to the art of polite public confrontation in multiple venues. Do you have the stomach for that as individuals and as an organization? I think you do because according to Vatican II, you are the real Roman Catholic Church. Today’s Catholicism is like a good meal being served on a dirty plate. Your institutional church has been hijacked and you as a group have the ability to take it back and restore its wholeness and respect in the eyes of the world.

Don’t be afraid to get into an adversarial relationship with church leadership. You will not risk eternal damnation for stepping out of the monarchical cult of personality model we have been trained in since childhood. Holding church officials accountable as equals is the only way you are going to accomplish change in the institutional church. Be pleasant, be polite, be confrontational, and go into any meeting knowing what you want to accomplish beforehand. They have their goals, so you must have yours. When they tell you that you are being a bad Catholic, you must answer that they are being bad arch/bishops.

Realize that your religious leadership is predominantly gay. Nothing is going to change unless it benefits the safety and sustenance of the gay majority that has taken control of the hierarchy and priesthood. Just as the Jewish leadership of the early church had to undergo a change of heart to open up the message of Jesus to Gentiles, today’s predominantly gay priesthood/hierarchy needs to open their leadership chairs to everyone. They will only do so if they are assured of their safety and your support.

Much hope is being placed on the John Jay study about the etiology of the sexual abuse crisis that is due out next year. This study has been funded by the bishops for over $300K. Imagine a university study declaring the safety of cell phone radio frequency radiation that was funded by a major cell phone carrier. I don’t put much hope in its outcome based on some of the initial information being leaked to the media. I believe it will provide many talking points to enable you to keep driving for truth and justice in our church. You will do much better to derive your information on clergy sex abuse from researchers like Tom Doyle, Louise Haggett, Patrick Wall, Marie Fortune, Marci Hamilton, M. G. Frawley-O’Day, and Richard Sipe, among others.

This past October, Chicago auxiliary bishop Paprocki, who is a professor of law at Loyola, addressed the legal community during a “red mass” in Grand Rapids, MI. Referring to the many lawsuits brought against priests and bishops in the past 5 years, he described the church as carrying a cross in dealing within the litigious culture of the United States. He lamented that “the Church is under attack” and declared that these attacks are coming from “the devil”. No arch/bishop that I am aware of has publicly rebuffed Paprocki for his comments or made the effort to clarify where responsibility belongs for the abuse. This says volumes about the mindset of today’s hierarchy. With this attitude coming from a bishop who is a law professor at a Catholic university, it is clear that our children are still very much at risk. VOTF has plenty of work to do in supporting SNAP in changing state statute of limitation laws and creating look back periods (“windows”) so that today’s survivors can bring their perpetrators to justice. When SNAP requests people to be present with them at government offices, local VOTF members should ride in like the cavalry to the rescue. Since justice cannot be found in the complicit chancery offices, we must achieve it for victim/survivors in our civil courts.

Individual survivors of clergy sex abuse have found strength, hope, and inspiration from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). VOTF has the same potential, on a much wider scope, to influence every Catholic in the pews who is confused, ashamed, and wanting to feel better about the administration and public image of their church. To gain their trust and support, you need to take concrete action to expose financial and sexual improprieties in our church leadership. I was very glad to see Mary Pat Fox quoted in two recent articles about clergy sex abuse. Every controversial article about the church should include a rebuttal statement from VOTF. You need to be available to the media to provide the other side of the story. You need to be standing up and demanding accountability of church leadership. You must require them to explain in detail what is driving their decisions. That duty of citizenship is honorable in our country and is worthy of praise and public support. That level of VOTF activity should be happening in every major city across the country. As an initial project, I suggest you support the vigiling parishes with media-attracting demonstrations of large numbers of people. Tell the world that clerical excess should not mean that communities have to lose their parish churches to pay off the legitimate restitution to survivors of clergy sex abuse by priest perpetrators and the arch/bishops that enabled that abuse.

VOTF leadership personnel who are directly or indirectly in the employment of the church are a liability to your effectiveness. The corporate world has a place for constructive criticism and progressive and successful companies welcome such from their employees. Church leadership has shown its lack of tolerance for internal reformers presenting constructive criticism and its vindictiveness in dealing with those who are not faithful to the power and control agendas of the arch/bishop. Anyone in your leadership who pays their mortgage with a church paycheck is compromised. The hierarchy will quickly bring pressure to bear upon them – either publicly or clandestinely.

The primary allegiance of the arch/bishops is not to the Catholics of the United States – it is to the Vatican. The Vatican comes first. Your needs are secondary. Your role is ancillary. Your arch/bishop’s task is to manage and control you – for your own spiritual and temporal good, of course. This all happens in a friendly and spiritually coated milieu, and it is your Catholic duty to comply with the will and directives of your arch/bishop. The episcopal world is monarchical in its mindset. Your interaction with arch/bishops happens within a Machiavellian framework – not the American democratic political arena of fair play and elections every four years. American Catholics are politically bi-cultural. The freedoms you exercise as a citizen do not exist as a parishioner. Don’t confuse the two and assume rights in the church that you really do not have to exercise. As a Catholic, you are a subject in a stratified monarchical church organization. Obey or pay the price.

Canon Law is about creating lines of clerical authority over church members and the punishments for crossing those lines. You will never win a contest within the institutional church using Canon Law arguments. The deck is stacked so the clerical establishment always wins over the laity in a Canon Law contest.

The church is much richer than you are led to believe. As survivors have found over the years, the bishops have almost unlimited resources to spend against any efforts that challenge their position. Bankruptcies have conveniently served as a two pronged strategy for the hierarchy – to stop legal proceedings that will reveal unsavory details to the public and to cry poor to the people filling the collection baskets on Sunday. Church revenue comes not only from parishes, but from educational institutions, medical enterprises, retirement facilities, land holdings, investments and more. The bishops will spend money to thwart your effective witness against their shortcomings. They will spend large amounts of church money to hire legal dream teams and top-tier public relations firms to stop bad press about their sexual and financial transgressions.

You do not own your parish church or school or other real or financial asset– the bishop owns them, according to your state laws, under the corporation sole of the current arch/bishop. Legally, you are a guest in the bishop’s church building. You are allowed to be there at the pleasure of your pastor and his arch/bishop. The vigiling parishes in the Boston and New York can provide fresh and specific details on the harshness of this reality. Even though you and generations of your family raised money for church building funds, you do not own your church. When you leaflet your parish, you will be asked to step off parish property and stand on the sidewalk. If you do not obey, the police will be called in by the pastor or the arch/diocesan lawyer to deal with you as a trespasser on “private property,” meaning the bishop’s private property.

VOTF is losing membership because the bishops have effectively co-opted your issues in the eyes of many Catholics. They’ve marketed their charter for the protection of children and young people and instituted diocesan “audits” to assure compliance. They are doing exactly what the donating Catholic wants to make all the ugliness go away. You must create new cogent issues that have gut-level appeal to the Catholic in the pews. VOTF is made up of a lot of sharp people. You have the brains and acumen do this effectively. You also have the Holy Spirit on your side. Once the issues are chosen, practical strategies with achievable outcomes must follow and be acted upon concretely. Never give up. Always be planning the next move. Like Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven”, remember that the pursuer always has the tactical advantage and the greatest chance for success.

Push your “priests of integrity” to join you and to work with you in your new issues and strategies. This will be a litmus test for them because it will put them right in the middle of the action and push them to take a position. The real priests of integrity will do the right thing and stand with you. You’ll find out who your true clerical supporters are when you ask them to join you in the streets.

Do you recall the traditional Catholic social concept of the “preferential option for the poor”? This principle has its roots in the biblical notion of justice where God calls us to be advocates for the voiceless and the powerless. The “poor” of our 21st century are the victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Support them even more than you have in the past because they are today’s voices crying in the desert. Use your prophetic voice—loudly, clearly, and often. Stand in the rain with the survivors when they call you for help. When victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse achieve justice and healing, our church will be well on the road to achieve the same and regain the respect we Roman Catholics and our abundant church tradition deserve in the eyes of the world.


Rev. John Shuster

I believe there is a direct relationship between sexual politics in the priesthood/hierarchy and any reform group’s ability to change the church. The key to VOTF’s survival and success lies in backing the right issues, understanding the needs and culture of the priesthood/hierarchy that owns and controls the church, and being relentless in the art of polite public confrontation that exposes sexual and financial improprieties and compels other Catholics to join and support you for change through strategic action.

Sexual politics in the priesthood/hierarchy

The myth of sexuality in the priesthood is that it is comprised overwhelmingly of straight men who are 99.9% sexually chaste in faithfulness to their promise/vow of celibacy. Mandatory celibacy is part of the power base of the priesthood/hierarchy. Because it serves a political function, a priest’s sexuality is not private, but a public issue. Catholics have been taught to honor and support priests because they profess to have forgone a traditional family to lead sexually chaste lives in prayer and service to the people of the church. That’s the ideal. The reality is quite different.

For centuries, gay men have been beaten, burned at the stake, tortured and killed for being whom God made them. They have suffered great loss personally and collectively. Like any group of persecuted people, they have sought safe places to hide and thrive. The priesthood, with its public and mandatory promise/vow of celibacy, became a perfect haven of safety and instant respect for gay men. It serves them well because it’s socially acceptable for them not to marry a woman and they live in-close with other men - somewhat beyond suspicion. They enjoy a comfortable lifestyle replete with the adulation of parishioners who have been taught to believe in the myth of total sexual abstinence within the clerical celibate lifestyle.

Gay men’s common history of suffering and the search for belonging, especially post Stonewall (google “Stonewall Riots” for background), has created a strong camaraderie among gay men in the priesthood. A core goal of the gay rights movement is to build political alliances that provide for the safety and well-being of the gay community. The common and well grounded fear of violence and persecution from straight people not only helps strengthen this bonding among gay men in general, but has also generated new political realities in the priesthood.

With the developing politicization of the gay rights movement and the widespread portrayal in our electronic media and literature of gay men as heroic yet still victimized by straight culture, much compassion has developed for the cause of gay rights. And rightly so. However, this compassion has superseded common sense and critical thinking at times. In certain venues, anyone attempting to criticize the shortcomings of a gay man and his leadership potential in a church setting can find himself or herself the target of a piranha-like attack from gay-friendly supporters. I think it is important to maintain a healthy balance between compassion for gay people and the realities of Catholic Church clerical gay politics.

Of the many effective gay priests I know, there are also those gay priests in leadership positions who lack the personal strength and qualities to provide balanced leadership that always finds the best solutions for the church. The worst gay church leaders I have met have been terminally narcissistic and vindictive towards anyone who might call them to task. The classic “power and control” explanation for their takeover and abuse of church power is a correct analysis in a general sense, but lacks the nuanced sexual politics specificity that many Catholics sense but find difficult to identify, articulate, and challenge. The need for clerical control has been expressed at the sexual level as well, and sometimes, unfortunately, with children and young people. I have spoken with gay survivors of clergy sex abuse. Often, their first sexual experience as confused gay teens was with the priest who was counseling them. The priest decided to “comfort” the teen by taking him to bed. That is abuse, statutory rape, and a legally prosecutable breach of a superior-subordinate relationship. Those priests belong in jail.

Priests who lead secret, active sexual lives are also open to blackmail and extortion. Those who abuse children are criminal manipulators by trade. They will use any means possible to gain access to children and then work to be protected once they have abused. When a predator priest finds out that Bishop Bill and Father Fred went on a gay cruise together last fall out of Miami, the bishop is compromised. The threat of outing makes Bishop Bill a compliant secret sponsor of the abuser. Is homosexual politics in the priesthood the sole cause of the sexual abuse crisis? No. Does it play a central role in the complex reality of the sexual abuse crisis? Yes, it does.

A number of gay priests of integrity have also left the clerical ranks in recent years. They have done so in many cases because they have rejected the sexual politics they have encountered and have a desire to lead a sexually authentic life with a partner/spouse. We have a number of partnered priests who are members of our Celibacy Is the Issue ( group to which I belong. These priests need to speak out and share their spiritual journeys with you and the wider church populace.

What is the percentage of straight versus gay priests in the Roman or Latin rite of the priesthood? The few studies that exist estimate a gay population of anywhere from 10 to near 70 percent. Why the inconclusive spread? The hierarchy has successfully resisted any comprehensive third-party study of the sexual orientation of the priesthood. Why won’t the bishops allow a full and open analysis? What do they have to hide? This same culture of clerical secrecy was encountered by journalists, police, and insurance investigators trying to get to the bottom of the clergy sex abuse atrocity. What are the bishops fighting to protect this secrecy?

There are indicators that point to the reality of a politicized homosexual majority in the priesthood and its hierarchy.

Richard Sipe has been researching sexuality in the priesthood for over 40 years. He is a psychologist and educator who recently co-authored Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes with Tom Doyle and Patrick Wall tracking the nearly 2000-year history of abuse in the church. After reading Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes I understood more clearly the issues that drove me out of my chosen profession of parish priest. One of Sipe’s latest research areas is the sexual orientation of bishops and how this impacts the inner workings and policies of the Roman Catholic Church. Richard and I exchange emails and he has posted some of our correspondence on his website. The following webpage from his site discusses priestly sexuality and provides a revealing list of papal and episcopal sexual orientation:

It is my opinion that today’s priesthood/hierarchy is over 50% gay. That number brings significant political power and influence to the group of men who legally own and direct our institutional Roman Catholic Church in the style of a medieval oligarchy.

The early church that was closest to Jesus was family-based and leadership was shared by women and men. According to Acts 15, it was a democratic church where everyone had a voice. We have an established history, a clear precedent, of a married priesthood in our tradition that was suppressed at the Second Lateran Council in 1139. Women were also priests in the early church for the first 500 years. (Torjesen, K. J. When Women Were Priests. Harper San Francisco. 1993) Despite parish closures and the reduction of sacramental ministry to the Faithful, the current hierarchy has reaffirmed that celibacy will stay, and no discussion is even allowed concerning the ordination of women. Given the dire need for more priests to drive our sacramental ecclesiology, what is the hierarchy really trying to safeguard and protect? Why do they limit membership in the priesthood only to men who promise not to marry women? We all know the standard answers we get from the Vatican in response to these questions about mandatory celibacy. Does the reality of a politicized homosexual majority in the priesthood/hierarchy change your perception concerning the motivation for these official reasons to maintain mandatory celibacy for priests and exclude women and married persons from the inner sanctums of church power?

In chapter seven of his book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Donald Cozzens provides varying information about the percentage of gay/straight men in the priesthood and seriously discusses the thesis that priesthood is a gay profession. The theme of homosexuality in the priesthood is a far from understated in his writing. It is a constant thread in this book.

I recently spoke with a respected journalist who has interviewed a number of Roman Catholic religious leaders – arch/bishops, religious provincials, etc. I told him of my interest in researching homosexuality in the priesthood and its political ramifications. He told me up front that he was gay and stated that all but one of the religious leaders he has interviewed recently are gay men. When I asked if, in his opinion, the priesthood was a predominantly gay profession, his response was “Yes. Most definitely.”

I was contacted by a “researcher” a few months ago, likely a journalist or an author, who is trying to document the transfer of funds from arch/diocesan bank accounts to gay rights organizations. She found some of my writing on the Internet, was impressed with my frankness, and thought that I could help her find a way to get through the organizational barbed-wire fences protecting such information in the institutional church. I told her up front that I had no magic wand to help her get this data. As I asked her more specific details about her project, she politely wound down the conversation and thanked me for my time. People are tracking this issue of sexual politics in the priesthood – at a number of different levels.

Like many married Roman Catholic priests, I have witnessed first-hand the practical consequences of the predominance of homosexual leadership in the priesthood. During my eighteen years in the seminary/priesthood a number of priests declared their love for me and invited me to bed. The most surprise kiss I ever received was from a priest. I heard many straight priests complain over the years how they were excluded from projects or promotions/assignments because they did not take part in the social and sexual activities of the gay majority. They were excluded and left behind because they were not gay.

As a young priest, I was very impressed with an older priest, Father Patrick. He was an excellent homilist, erudite, well-read, and witty. I wanted to get to know him better. I was a young priest looking for a mentor. We developed a friendship and spent hours discussing theology, etc. One night he asked me to sit down for a talk. He began the conversation by saying: “John Fitzpatrick and Patrick Fitzjohn.” At first, I laughed at his apparent play on words. Then it hit me (remember my name is John) and I understood what he was really saying. I started to feel nauseous. I was scandalized in the truest and deepest sense of the word. He just looked at me because the ball was in my court. He had come out to me and invited me, in not too subtle code, to engage in anal sex. I recovered enough from the shock to shake my head “no” in response. He ignored me from that day on.

I was an idealistic seminarian. I believed that once I graduated from the predominantly gay Midwestern seminary of the 70’s that I would be with the real, professional, and dedicated priests who lived the ideals I had learned in my Catholic upbringing. (My contacts in the priesthood tell me that the seminaries are still predominantly gay.) I quickly learned that there is a well-developed gay network in the priesthood and homosexual activity is a litmus test for franchise-level participation in the power structure. Something broke in me that day with Father Patrick. With hindsight, I have come to believe that mandatory celibacy has become a political tool used by gay men in the priesthood to sustain their safe haven and their financial and sexual arrangements. In today’s church, celibacy does not work to promote the Kingdom of Heaven, but to serve a small and secret kingdom right here in plain sight on earth.

It makes clear sense why one out of every three priests has left the corporate priesthood to marry – they were slowly and methodically driven out by the pervasive majority gay culture. Many straight priests were scandalized by the double standards they witnessed and they left the sexual corruption they encountered to start a new life. Married priests are usually described as having “left the priesthood to marry.” It should be more accurately stated that many straight priests decided to leave the clerical lifestyle because they found it difficult to live in a clearly homosexual environment – all men and no women. Once that decision was made, it was only natural for straight priests to marry women and get on with their lives. The gay priests stayed in the clerical system that they dominate and where they have their intimate significant-other relationships, while still publicly functioning as priests in good standing with the blessings of the Vatican.

Of the straight priests who have stayed, many have also taken to leading sexual double lives on a permanent or sporadic basis. I know of straight canonical priests who go from woman to woman and they too are moved from parish to parish when the scandal of their abuse of position is exposed. I’ve talked with women whom priests have romanced with the false hope of marriage then abandoned. There are also priests out there with hidden families. Imagine the denial and stress that places on wives of active canonical priests and their children. They are forced to live double lives too. They don’t deserve a life of secrecy and avoidance of the truth.

For every straight priest who has become sexually involved with a woman against his promise/vow of celibacy, I have observed three gay priests who have broken their vows with men. The straight priests tend to leave the corporate priesthood for traditional marriage life based on a spiritual model of partnership. Gay church officials stay because they own the church leadership system - culturally and legally. It protects and sustains them, and gives them a forum for love and security that is well hidden from critical view behind the veil of “celibacy”.

When news of the sex abuse atrocity hit the media in 2002, do you recall the first corporate response from the US hierarchy? Their proclamation was “Celibacy does not cause pedophilia.” Most people nodded in agreement with this deflection, but there was a deeper issue at play. Of all the subjects they could have addressed, why did they choose to protect mandatory celibacy first and foremost? Mandatory celibacy and the myth of sexual continence/purity is critical to protecting the gay majority culture of the priesthood. So, it makes good sense for VOTF to choose celibacy as a central issue. With mandatory celibacy lifted for priesthood, all viable candidates will be able to present themselves for priestly studies and ordination. Many are called to priesthood, but few to mandatory celibacy. The influx of married persons and women into the priesthood would dilute the predominantly homosexual power block in the church. Will the current hierarchy ever allow that to happen?

Friday, November 23, 2007

La Niña Santa

Source: El Diario de Chihuahua and El Sol de Parral, various editions.

"La Niña Santa" -- "the Holy Girl" -- that is what the people of Jimenéz call her, according to her grandmother. She is just over one year old and her father is Oscar Rodolfo "Fito" Jordán (right), a priest in the diocese of Parral, Mexico.

Jordán met the mother while he was still in seminary at a business where she worked. They had common interests in music, reading and movies and soon fell in love with each other. They became more romantically involved. All the while, Jordán, already a deacon, vacillated between staying with his lover and being only a married deacon and continuing on the path to ordination.

Five days before he was to be ordained, his lover informed him that she was pregnant with their daughter. She told him that if he went through with the ordination, their relationship would be over. He was distraught but got ordained as his lover watched, unable to believe that he would actually do it. There is ongoing debate about whether or not the church authorities knew of the pregnancy when they ordained Jordán.

The woman's mother was very upset by the ordination. She went to the bishop who told her that what had happened was a sin but not a crime and that there were no penalties under canon law. At the time he declined to do anything about Fr. Jordán and said that if she was looking for child support, she could file a civil claim. The family has plenty of money and no interest in child support and, as the mother puts it so well, even if they won, who would pay the child support? The parishioners?

The family merely wanted Fr. Jordán removed from the priesthood since they felt he had become a priest under false pretenses. Furthermore, they were incensed by the fact that the church transferred him to a distant parish to protect him and that he seemed to be getting special privileges such as the right to carry the monstrance during a Mass with the papal nuncio.

Finding no relief from local church authorities, La Niña Santa's grandmother went to the Vatican with her case. On the way back, she ended up on the same flight as the bishop and confronted him so vehemently that the flight attendant had to intervene and the airline asked for a security escort for him when the plane reached its destination.

Now it seems like the family may gets its wish. The most recent news reports on this case indicate that Fr. Jordán, now a parochial vicar in a parish in Guadalupe y Calvo, will likely be suspended shortly.

And what about marriage? The family is not interested although Jordán has intermittently kept in touch with his lover and recognized the child as his. He offered to provide economic assistance as long as he could remain a priest.

Meanwhile both the grandmother and the bishop agree on one thing: there are many, many cases like Fr. Jordán's out there.

Stay tuned...

Murder in Mistrató

Source: Agence France Press, Univision, 11-23-2007

In the town of Mistrató in western Colombia, Fr. José Francey Díaz, a Roman Catholic priest, has been arrested in connection with the deaths of his lover, María del Carmen Arango, and their 5-year old daughter, María Camilla.

The corpses of the two victims were found burned to death on the outskirts of the village on February 15th. Near the ashes, police found a photograph of the victims with the priest. Subsequent DNA tests established that the priest was the father of the little girl.

Police hypothesize that the priest killed the woman and the girl following an argument with the woman who confronted him about an alleged infidelity and threatened to expose their relationship. The couple had been lovers for eleven years, according to the victim's brother. Fr. Díaz was 18 years older than his lover.

Australian Catholics at war over priest crisis

Barney Zwartz
The Age
November 24, 2007

Culture wars in the Catholic Church came to a rowdy head in Camberwell this week when a group of protesters disrupted a meeting held to gather support for ordaining married men.

Organiser Paul Collins said the busiest of the 700 people who went to Camberwell Civic Centre on Thursday night were the two security guards.

More than 20 protesters waving placards with slogans such as "we obey the pope" heckled and shouted, preventing most of the discussion, Mr Collins said.

Both sides agree that the church in Australia is in crisis over the shortage of priests. Where they differ is the solution. Progressives want to reverse the 1000-year-old celibacy condition and to discuss women priests.

Conservatives believe importing priests from Asia and Africa is the solution until the number of Australian vocations grows.

But many overseas-trained priests have trouble adapting to Australian culture, and Australian vocations are too few.

Mr Collins, a former priest, and co-organiser Frank Purcell hope to present a petition with nearly 17,000 signatures to Australia's Catholic bishops when they meet in Sydney next week. The petition urges the church to select and train married men for priesthood, to bridge the gap by bringing back priests who left to marry, and to begin a discussion on ordaining women — the most controversial aspect.

"We are not dissidents. We want to support the bishops," Mr Collins said. "We think about 28 of the 42 Australian bishops are pastoral bishops. They are concerned that many Catholics, especially in rural dioceses, are being deprived of the Mass, sacraments and local leadership.

"We think about eight might be anxious for higher office and not willing to blot their escutcheon, and only about five are really conservative and would agree with Cardinal (George) Pell."

Throughout Australia, parishes are being merged due to a lack of priests, and the situation worsens every year as priests retire or pass away and are not replaced. The average age is 63.

In Queensland, the parishes of Hughenden, Winton and Richmond are looked after by one priest, who travels 680 kilometres for three Masses every Sunday, according to Mr Collins. In Toowoomba, by 2014 there will be 14 active priests for 32 parishes in a diocese the size of Germany.

The problem is that ending the celibacy requirement needs Vatican approval. There are in fact about 20 married priests in Australia — former Anglicans who converted to Rome.

Canberra auxiliary bishop Pat Power has openly urged allowing priests to marry, while Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Michael Malone tried to raise the subject in a visit with Pope John Paul II in 2004. Unfortunately, the Pope was too ill to respond.

According to Mr Collins, not only won't the Vatican consider the problem, it doesn't understand it.

"In Rome, you trip over well-fed clerics everywhere, and these guys have no idea what it is to be parish priest in central-west Queensland, or Melbourne," he said.

Both sides agree there is no theological reason why married men cannot be ordained. It could happen with a stroke of the Pope's pen. For the first 1000 years of Christianity, most priests — and Popes — were married, but Gregory VII, who died in 1085, introduced celibacy to break lay control of the church.

Bishop Malone, chairman of the Australian bishops' commission for church ministry, told The Age the bishops would discuss the matter again next week.

"Not all my colleagues would agree, but I think the church needs to look seriously at it, and I support it," he said.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Counting Their Blessings: Eucharistic Ceremony Highlights Local Women Ordained as Priests

By Diane Reynolds
City Paper Online

Priest Andrea Johnson of Annapolis, dressed in a white robe, the red swirls on her sash rippling like water, lifts a goblet of wine to offer Holy Communion at the Stony Run Friends meetinghouse in North Baltimore on Nov. 12. Behind her, Deacon Gloria Carpeneto of Catonsville offers grape juice and gluten-free rice cakes to those on restricted diets.

Ordinary gestures, but an extraordinary stand--not only because the Roman Catholic Church forbids women to offer the Eucharist, but because these women want nothing less than to reform the structure of the church. Timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in downtown Baltimore, Johnson, her peers, and about 45 supporters chose the bishops' meeting as a symbolically appropriate moment to demonstrate their inclusive vision of Catholicism.

"Discrimination, hierarchical power, and exclusion are being challenged here today," Carpeneto says in her homily.

These women envision a Catholic Church in which the laity have a say in who leads them and in which the leadership is held accountable for its actions, says Bridget Mary Meehan, national spokeswoman for Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The national group performs female ordinations and it hosted the Nov. 12 liturgy along with the Women's Ordination Conference.

"We are not afraid," Meehan says. "The energy has taken us to a new place."

Johnson was ordained by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests last July, in New York, at the same time Carpeneto was ordained as a deacon.

In the vast ocean of Roman Catholicism, these female priests are a tiny drop. Womenpriests have ordained 24 female priests in the United States, and 25 more are in the pipeline; meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops counts more than 40,000 officially sanctioned male priests.

No matter that canon law 1024 forbids the ordination of women, or that Pope John Paul II shut down discussion about women priests in 1995, these women stake their claim to growing a female priesthood on a tradition that goes back to the earliest church. At the Stony Run liturgy, Womenpriests gave out polished stones of stained glass containing mustard seeds to symbolize the growth they expect from small beginnings.

For the first eight centuries of its existence, the early Christian church ordained women as priests and deacons, Meehan says. Biblical women, such as Lydia, ran house churches, and many first- and second-century Christian gravestones designate women as deacons. It was only much later, after the ninth century, that women were shut out of power.

"The scholarship supports us," Meehan says. "We not only know from the archeological evidence, but we know from the writings of popes and bishops that women in the early church were priests."

The women presiding at the Stony Run Eucharist were ordained by Bishop Patricia Fresen, who was herself ordained in 2005 by three male bishops in good standing with the pope, whose identities will only be revealed after their deaths, according to Meehan. Bishops who ordain women, or anyone else, without papal approval risk excommunication for violating sacred discipline. The new women priests, however, trace their succession back to Peter, the apostle Jesus named the rock of the church, and deem their illegal ordinations valid.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy does not agree. "Women can not be ordained to the priesthood," says Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. "There's a long and constant tradition in this area."

"It's a bit of a misnomer for them to call themselves Roman Catholics," says Mark Gray of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, which gathers data on the Catholic Church. "They're not recognized by the official Roman Catholic Church."

The women are no longer trying to gain Vatican approval. "We're not complaining, we're modeling," Meehan says. The law forbidding female ordination is discriminatory, and church tradition allows for holy disobedience in the face of injustice, she says. She quotes St. Thomas Aquinas to back up her assertion: "I would rather die excommunicated than violate my conscience."

Womenpriests further maintains that the true Roman Catholic Church is not located solely in the Vatican: It is in the grass-roots body of millions upon millions of believers, many of whom are disaffected by how the power structure covered up clergy sex abuse and who are clamoring for a new direction.

"It's a groundswell of change that will eventually work its way to the Vatican," says Teri Rizzo of Baltimore, who attended the liturgy.

Not only has Womenpriests been ordaining women for the past two years, but the group has accepted gay men, married men, and a man with a physical disability--none of whom would have been considered for the vocation--as candidates for ordination

There's also a practical need that Rizzo and Meehan argue will force open the priesthood. Since 1965, according to the data compiled by CARA, the number of U.S. priests has declined from 58,632 in 1965 to 41,449 in 2007, while during the same period the number of U.S. Catholics increased from 45.6 million to 64.4 million.

"We're a Eucharistic people and when there are not enough priests we're going to lose the Eucharist on a daily basis," Rizzo says. "The Eucharist is so crucial to our identity."

Meehan says that Catholics will react as churches threaten to shut their doors. "People would rather have a married priest, male or female, than close their parish," she says.

Peg Devine of Philadelphia says she started becoming disillusioned with the Roman Catholic Church after her eighth-grade daughter got in trouble at her Catholic elementary school for writing on a school locker. The parish monsignor demanded her expulsion for the act, though the girl had never been in trouble before. Devine says after the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandals broke out in Philadelphia, she decided that something was so amiss with the church hierarchy that she could not go back.

"They aren't doing this right," she says, explaining that she couldn't believe a monsignor would try to expel her daughter for writing on a locker, while overlooking sex abuse by priests in the diocese.

The Catholic Church's sex scandals have undermined the authority of the traditional hierarchy in the eyes of many faithful, not just the Devines. A recent CARA poll shows that 42 percent of U.S. Catholics believe the scandals have damaged the authority of priests and bishops a great deal, up five percentage points from 2003.

Peg Devine and her husband tried an Episcopal church, but it didn't feel right. Then they found the Community of St. Mary Magdalene in Drexel Hill, outside of Philadelphia, a congregation of about 25 led by Eileen DiFranco, ordained a priest under the auspices of Womenpriests in July 2006.

Her family has come home to the Catholicism they loved, Peg Devine says, but wielded with a gentler, more democratic hand. "Just the small things, like Eileen taking the Eucharist last . . . demonstrated humility," she says.

For Meehan, who is also an ordained priest, it's foolish for the Catholic Church hierarchy to deny the obvious conclusion. "[Catholics] are ready for women priests," she says. "When people experience women as priests it's accepted immediately and intuitively as right."

The church's hierarchy doesn't agree. According to CARA, most Catholics aren't even thinking about the issue of women priests. And the first seven women priests ordained on the Danube in 2002 were excommunicated from the church. Since then, no other women priests have been. However, DiFranco says she found a statement by her cardinal on the internet announcing that her actions had been reported to the pope.

Meehan dismisses the excommunications. Once baptized a Catholic, always a Catholic, she says. "We are passionately Roman Catholic Church," she says. "What can they do, burn us at the stake?"

Joan of Arc, who was burned to death for heresy in 1431, is a role model for the group. A few decades after her death, the church declared Joan an innocent martyr and, in 1920, made her a saint. The women priests hope the church has a similar change of heart about them and welcome dialogue.

Mary Bunting of Baltimore, who supports the movement, doesn't expect to see the official acceptance of women priests in her lifetime. But it's a beginning, she says, and it's happening. "We're planting a seed of a tree that we will never be able to sit under," Bunting says. "But somebody has to plant it."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In Holland, They're Inventing Their Own Mass, Copyrighted by the Dutch Dominicans

By Sandro Magister, October 3, 2007,

ROMA, October 3, 2007. In restoring full citizenship to the ancient rite of the Mass, with the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum," Benedict XVI said that he wanted in part to react to the excess of "creativity" that in the new rite "frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear."

In view of what happens in some areas of the Church, this creativity affects not only the liturgy, but also the very foundations of Catholic doctrine.

In Nijmegen, Holland, in the church of the Augustinian friars, each Sunday the Mass is concelebrated by a Protestant and a Catholic, with one presiding over the liturgy of the Word and the sermon, and the other over the liturgy of the Eucharist, in alternation. The Catholic is almost always a layperson, and is often a woman. For the Eucharistic prayer, the texts of the missal are passed over in favor of texts composed by the former Jesuit Huub Oosterhuis.

The bread and wine are shared by all. No bishop has ever authorized this form of celebration. But Fr. Lambert van Gelder, one of the Augustinians who promote it, is sure that he is in the right: "In the Church there are different forms of participation, we are full-fledged members of the ecclesial community. I don't consider myself a schismatic at all."

Also in Holland, the Dominicans have gone even farther, with the consent of the provincials of the order. Two weeks before the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" went into effect, they distributed in all the 1,300 Catholic parishes a 9,500-word booklet entitled "Kerk en Ambt", "The Church and the Ministry," in which they propose to make into a general rule what is already practiced spontaneously in various places.

The proposal of the Dominican fathers is that, in the absence of a priest, a person chosen from the community should preside over the celebration of the Mass: "Whether they be men or women, homo or heterosexual, married or unmarried is irrelevant." The person selected and the community are exhorted to pronounce together the words of the institution of the Eucharist: "Pronouncing these words is not thought to be the sole prerogative of the priest. The words constitute a conscious declaration of faith by the whole community."

The booklet opens with the explicit approval of the superiors of the Dutch province of the Order of Preachers, and its first pages are dedicated to a description of what happens on Sundays in the churches of Holland. Because of a shortage of priests, the Mass is not celebrated in all the churches.

From 2002 to 2004, the overall number of Sunday Masses in Holland fell from 2,200 to 1,900. At the same time, there was a rise from 550 to 630 in the number of "services of Word and communion," meaning substitute liturgies, without a priest and therefore without sacramental celebration, in which communion is distributed using hosts that were consecrated earlier. In some churches, the faithful clearly understand the distinction between the Mass and the substitute rite. But in others they don't, and the two ceremonies are thought to be equal in value, entirely interchangeable.

Even more, the fact that it is a group of the faithful that selects the man or woman who leads the celebration of the substitute liturgy reinforces among the faithful the idea that their selection "from below" is more important than the sending of a priest from outside of the community, and "from above."

The same is true of the formulation of the prayers and the arrangement of the rite. It's preferred to give creativity free rein. The words of consecration are often replaced during the Mass by "expressions easier to understand and more in tune with modern faith experience." In the substitute rite, it often happens that non-consecrated hosts are added among the consecrated hosts, and all of them are distributed together for communion.

Within these practices, the Dutch Dominicans distinguish three widespread expectations: that men and women be selected "from below" to preside over the Eucharistic celebration; that, ideally, "this choice would be followed by a confirmation or blessing or ordination by Church authority"; that the words of consecration "could be pronounced both by those who preside in the Eucharist and by the community from which they take their origin."

In the view of the Dutch Dominicans, these three expectations are well grounded in Vatican Council II. The decisive action by the Council, in their judgment, was that of placing the chapter on the "people of God" before the one on the "hierarchical organisation built up from top downwards by the pope and the bishops" within the constitution on the Church.

This implies the replacement of a "pyramidal" Church with an "organic" Church, with the initiative belonging to the laity. And this also implies a different vision of the Eucharist. The idea that the Mass is a "sacrifice” the Dutch Dominicans maintain is also connected to a "vertical," hierarchical model in which only the priest may validly pronounce the words of consecration. A male and celibate priest, as prescribed by "an antiquated view of sexuality."

But the model of the Church as the "people of God" produces a more liberal and egalitarian vision of the Eucharist, as a simple "sharing of bread and wine by brothers and sisters, in which Jesus is in our midst," as "a table which is open also for people from different religious traditions."

The booklet from the Dutch Dominicans ends by exhorting the parishes to choose "from below" the persons who are to preside over the Eucharist. If, for disciplinary reasons, the bishop does not confirm such persons because they are married, or because they are women the parishes should continue along their way regardless: "They should know that in any case they are able to celebrate a real and genuine Eucharist whenever they come together in prayer and share the bread and wine."

The authors of the booklet are fathers Harrie Salemans, a pastor in Utrecht; Jan Nieuwenhuis, the former director of the ecumenical center of the Dominicans in Amsterdam; and Andre Lascaris and Ad Willems, former professor of theology at the university of Nijmegen. In the bibliography that they cite, another more famous Dutch Dominican theologian stands out Edward Schillebeeckx, 93, who during the 1980's came under the scrutiny of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith for ideas similar to the ones included in the booklet.

The Dutch bishops' conference is refraining from making an official reply. But it has already let it be known that the Dominicans' proposal appears to be "in conflict with the doctrine of the Catholic Church." From Rome, the general curia of the Order of Preachers reacted feebly. In a press release on September 18 which was not posted on the order's website it described the booklet as a "surprise" and took its distance from the proposed "solution." But it said it shared the "concern" of its Dutch confreres on the shortage of priests: "It may be that they feel as if the Church authorities have not dealt adequately with this question, and as a result they are pushing for a more open dialogue. [...] We believe that this concern must be answered with theological reflection and a prudent pastoral approach between the entire Church and the Dominican order."

From Holland, the Dominicans have announced that the booklet will be reprinted soon, after the first 2,500 copies quickly ran out.

Town's Churches Might Pair Up: West Hartford Faces Shortage Of Priests

This is what the future looks like for all of us unless the Roman Catholic priesthood and current way of staffing and administering our Church is radically reformed. It (and worse) is what is happening now in many clerically underserved communities across the globe.

Hartford Courant
November 19, 2007

The Archdiocese of Hartford, anticipating a time when there might be only three priests left to serve all of West Hartford, is considering a plan that could dramatically alter the way people worship — pairing up the town's six Catholic churches.

The plan is similar to those carried out across the archdiocese already — at least 50 parishes have been merged or linked in the past decade, according to diocesan officials — but it would affect one of the state's more vibrant Catholic communities at a time when its parishes are growing, not shrinking.

The same cannot be said for the priest population in West Hartford, however. Of the nine priests assigned in town now, two are eligible for retirement and several more will be eligible in the coming years. This means it is conceivable that only three priests would remain to serve the six churches if the archdiocese couldn't find reinforcements.

"It's serious," said the Rev. George Couturier, who administers the archdiocese's restructuring committee. "It takes anywhere from four to eight years for a seminarian to be trained, so by 2009 we'd have to have a miracle if we wanted to replace all these priests."

The plan is raising concerns in West Hartford's Catholic community, with some even saying it is time for the Vatican to end the celibacy requirement for priests.

In the absence of major change, however, something must be done because the archdiocese expects to be down to six priests in West Hartford soon.

The proposed solution, which will be aired before the Catholic community tonight at St. Mark's, is to create three sets of linked parishes with a school in each set.

As the plan stands now, this means that St. Brigid Church would be linked with St. Helena Church, St. Thomas the Apostle would be linked with St. Mark the Evangelist, and St. Timothy's would be linked with St. Peter Claver. The churches would not only share priests, if the numbers dwindle dramatically, but other resources as well.

The potential for change is dramatic. If two churches must share one priest, that could lead to a reduced Mass schedule and potentially fewer opportunities for Catholics to take communion, which is the central point of their worship service. Even going down to one priest for each parish would have an impact on the number of Masses held weekly, officials said.

"It's going to dramatically change the face of how we worship, if it comes to that," said Jayne O'Donnell, director of religious education and a member of the parish council at St. Timothy's. "Only the priest can consecrate the Eucharist. We think that our priests have a responsibility to serve us by celebrating the Mass. We view that as a right."

Mary Kilian, a "cradle Catholic" and a member of St. Helena Church for 30 years, said she views the parish linkages as "inevitable."

"There's no fighting it," Kilian said. "We'll just have to do the best we can."

But Kilian acknowledged that the changes on the horizon have the potential to not only alter the way she worships, but the identity of each of the parishes because so much of that identity is wrapped up in the priest who leads the church.

"The priest was and still is the big decision maker," Kilian said. "The parish councils in our churches are advisory only. They can decide something and he can take it or leave it."

What is happening in West Hartford illuminates a problem that the Catholic Church has struggled for years, without much success, to solve — fewer and fewer men are entering the priesthood. The problem is so serious that church leaders have had to take drastic steps, closing churches and schools, or merging parishes across the nation.

In the Hartford Archdiocese alone, which encompasses Hartford, New Haven and Litchfield counties, another 29 priests will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, church officials estimate. This means that there could be roughly 200 priests left to serve 213 parishes.

The Rev. Michael Dolan, who was put in charge of recruitment four months ago, said he must ordain 10 new priests a year in order to staff the parishes the archdiocese operates now. This year, he expects to ordain only two men, and both are from Nigeria.

The archdiocese has a three-part plan to recruit more men to the priesthood, Dolan said. It involves reaching out to young men through campus ministry, older men who are looking for a more rewarding career, and "reverts" — Catholics who left the faith and then returned.

"Reverts tend to be very strong in their faith because they've already asked all the questions," Dolan said.

Dolan rejects the idea that the Catholic Church cannot solve the priest shortage without changing the rule that allows only celibate men to be ordained as priests, but it's a growing opinion among the laity, according to some church officials.

"If we were talking 15 years ago, I would say [that opinion] was unusual," said the Rev. Jim Leary, of St. Peter Claver Church. "Today, I would say it's common."

The parish council at St. Timothy's, for example, not only objected to the linkage plan in the letter it sent to the diocesan restructuring committee, it also strongly urged the archdiocese to seek a change to the celibacy rule, which the committee called "arbitrary."

"The idea that someone's gender or their desire to marry and have children should disqualify them from the priesthood just doesn't make sense in our current day and age," the council wrote.

"Our crisis could virtually disappear overnight by simply changing the policy around ordination," the council wrote. "A good first step might be reaching out to men who have left the priesthood for marriage. The additional step of opening the priesthood to both married and celibate men and women would bring new life and vitality to Catholic seminaries which have sat underutilized for far too many years."

The Rev. Henry Cody, pastor at St. Timothy's, echoed the views expressed by his parishioners, when asked about the priest shortage problem this past week.

"Our situation is getting rather desperate," Cody said, adding that unless the church is able to recruit more men to the priesthood, it might have to reconsider the rules for ordination.

Changing that policy is not within the control of any individual priest or even bishop, however — only the Vatican can do that, and diocesan officials don't see that decision on the horizon.

The priest shortage has been developing over the past 40 years, they said, and nothing the church has done has retarded it much.

Leary, who was ordained in 1968, said that when he was a student at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield in the 1960s, it was "jampacked." By the time he returned to the seminary for a teaching job in the early 1970s, Leary said, "enrollment was already dwindling."

The school eventually shut down and now holds diocesan offices, a conference center and housing for retired priests.

More changes are on the horizon. After the restructuring committee is finished in West Hartford, Couturier said, it will move on to Southington, which also has six churches, and New Hartford. The committee has already tackled the problem in Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, Meriden and a slew of smaller communities, he said.

In Torrington, where four parishes now operate as a cluster and share four priests and one central office building, parishioners have 11 services to choose from on weekends, said the Rev. Christopher Tiano, who is pastor of the four parishes.

Mass is held three times a weekend at the two larger churches and two times a weekend at the smaller parishes, he said. Mass is also held daily at the two larger parishes. He attends every Mass on weekends, even if it is just to read the announcements and greet people after the service, Tiano said.

"You don't always have the choice of your own parish saying Mass [if the times aren't convenient]," Tiano said, adding that parishioners seem to enjoy the variety of attending different churches. "I think people fear the change, but once the change happens they find it's good for them because it provides more opportunities."

Letter to the Editor: Let Priests Marry

Hartford Courant
November 26, 2007

In regard to Courant articles about the combining of Roman Catholic parishes in West Hartford [Page 1, Nov. 19, "Town's Churches Might Pair Up; Connecticut section, Nov. 20, "Church Linkages OK'd"]:

It's a shame that this is necessary, and that other parishes in the archdiocese have even been closed. The reason given is the shortage of priests. If the hierarchy of the church would cease being so archaic, it might find a way to welcome back priests who left and married. There are groups of them waiting for this to occur.

Also, there is no God-given reason to prevent a married person from being ordained. How long will the hierarchy value mandatory celibacy above the right of the people of God to the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments?

Marriage does not seem to interfere with the ability of Eastern Rite clergy to fulfill their priestly duties. Will it come down to six priests for all of Connecticut?

David Donoghue

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fr. Francis Mary Stone; EWTN Priest Steps Down

This month, the Catholic blogs are heating up with the news that Franciscan Father Francis Mary Stone, host of EWTN's Life on the Rock program, has stepped down from the program and taken a leave of absence to re-assess his calling to the priesthood, following his romantic involvement with a widow whom he was helping. In a letter read to EWTN viewers, Fr. Francis Mary says:

Dear Family: Regretfully, I have a message that does not come without significant pain to both you and me. I have to tell you in all honesty and truth, that I have been personally involved with helping a widow and her struggling family. Over the course of time, the mother and I have grown very close. As a result, I am compelled to take some time off to prayerfully and honestly discern my future.

I am truly sorry of the impact this may have on so many. I am not unaware of the gravity and magnitude of the situation, yet after much wise counsel, it is really something that I must deal with now for the good of all.

With that said, it is best that I deal with it away from EWTN. Therefore, I have asked for and graciously been granted some extended time to prayerfully discern my vocation.

To those who are part of the EWTN family locally, and others throughout the world, especially all those who have supported me so faithfully in my priestly vocation and ministry here on Life on the Rock, I sincerely apologize. I ask for your prayers and understanding during this time that is so very difficult, but yet so very necessary.

Please lift me up in your humble prayers to Jesus through Mary, our Mother, in Grace and Mercy.

Fr Francis Mary, MFVA
Fr. Francis Mary, your brothers and sisters in CITI are praying for you and with you and please contact CITI if you want to speak to other priests who have walked this path and get their advice. Whatever choice you make prayerfully, God will bless you. Falling in love with another human being is NOT a sin.

The Other Health Crisis: Why Priests Are Coping Poorly

This article struck a chord with me since I recently found out that a young priest who was in our parish for several years and who I thought was doing well has been admitted into inpatient rehab for alcoholism. This is why we are insisting on this issue and keeping up this blog. It is why God said: "It is not good for man to be alone" and created woman to be a partner for him. (Gen. 2:18) No, I'm not simplifying matters. Just about every study shows that married men are healthier and live longer than single men -- RG

by Paul Stanosz
November 23, 2007

It’s been a rough year in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where I have been a priest since 1984. Recently the archdiocese announced the closing of the academic program at its 151-year-old seminary. Its central offices-on forty-four acres of prime real estate-are for sale to pay clergy sexual-abuse claims, and bankruptcy looms because a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in July opened the possibility that the statute of limitations on abuse cases may be extended.

Among priests, meanwhile, there is much talk of high stress, poor health, and low morale. More and more are battling burnout and depression as well as suffering heart attacks and dying prematurely. Two have committed suicide in recent years. At the archdiocese’s spring assembly of priests last May, I heard a lot of talk about how the limitations of canon law and parish structures add to the administrative burden and stress experienced by priests. There was a keen sense of the many pitfalls and the growing personnel crisis within the priesthood, and of the polarization that exists between recently ordained and long-time priests-what some call JPII priests and Vatican II priests, respectively.

After attending a number of meetings of the Milwaukee Archdiocese Priests Alliance, I talked with my archbishop, Timothy Dolan, about the low morale of priests. He subsequently asked me to join the archdiocese’s Wellness Committee, which seeks to promote the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of priests. (More than 60 percent of all large- and medium-size U.S. employers have wellness programs, and dioceses are getting on the bandwagon too.) The committee meetings made clear that while there are no easy solutions to the malaise afflicting priests today-as a group we struggled even to name the problem and its causes-certain facts must be acknowledged if progress is to be made.

First, our bishops must be honest about the crisis of health, morale, and collegiality among priests. At a recent Milwaukee Council of Priests meeting, the vicar for clergy announced that “the wheels are falling off the wagons,” and that he was overwhelmed with the problems of priests under fifty years of age. Such bluntness is rare. Many people are afraid that speaking about the problem will affect vocational recruitment.

In any case, simply ordaining more priests will not resolve the malaise. Bishops in recent years have been too quick to fill seminaries with fervent men who may or may not have genuine vocations. As a result, our seminaries now house a new breed of unsuitable candidates, men with poor relational and leadership skills. Ordained into a U.S. church that is losing its vitality, these men often seek to turn back the clock by embracing disciplines and devotional practices that flourished in the middle of the last century.

In my research as a sociologist I have interviewed many who see the priesthood as a refuge from a depraved secular world, a place where their personal limitations and modest abilities are no obstacle to advancement (see “More on the Seminaries: Let’s Be Candid about the Candidates,” Commonweal, December 1, 2006). All too frequently these men are filled with a sense of their own sacred status, and are prone to conflict with the laity and fellow priests. Such men, my research suggests, are more likely to become unhappy and disgruntled when their sense of chosenness and elevated status no longer sustains them through the more prosaic ups and downs of the priesthood. (According to a study by Dean Hoge, one in seven priests ordained since the 1990s resigned in his first five years of ministry-a very steep attrition rate). Worse still, their unhappiness often leads priests to break their vows of celibacy or fall into addictive behaviors.

Another problem lies in the haste with which bishops appoint the recently ordained to pastorates. Priestly formation after ordination used to begin with many years spent learning the ropes as an associate pastor or parochial vicar under the tutelage of a pastor. Increasingly, however, ordained priests with only two or three years of experience are being thrust into pastorates. They have little opportunity to learn about administration. Studies by Katarina Schuth and Hoge found that most priests felt unprepared for financial administration and personnel management. Fortunately, some men who come to the priesthood after another career bring these skills with them, but many do not. And seminaries, which have already increased the time candidates must spend studying philosophy, see little chance to expand already bulging curricula.

The morale of priests would be improved, and stress and polarization reduced, if dioceses invested more in postordination training. Presbyters and church officials should accept that life-long formation and training are essential. Most dioceses require continuing education of their priests. In Milwaukee, priests receive $1,000 a year for this purpose, and though that is more than what many dioceses provide, it is dwarfed by what U.S. corporations spend on continuing education for their employees. In addition, where corporations are highly directive in determining what continued schooling, conferences, and conventions employees attend, there is little direction given or accountability for priests regarding continuing formation. Unfortunately, some priests also believe the ontological change and sacramental faculties conferred by ordination render any further ministerial training unnecessary.

Yet even if these institutional problems are addressed, the morale of priests will improve only if we understand more fully the larger sources of the current crisis in the church. Churches are inevitably shaped by external economic, social, and cultural conditions, and many factors have contributed to the general weakening of Catholic practice. No longer a shunned, ghettoized, immigrant minority, Catholics today are largely a suburban population, better educated and more affluent than their grandparents. They have succeeded in joining the cultural mainstream, sending their children to public schools, and abandoning Sunday Mass in favor of soccer, TV, or shopping. These competing influences are not easily overcome by the latest chancery or central-office program for increasing Mass attendance, evangelization, vocations, and stewardship. In Milwaukee, archdiocesan officials often mandate well-intentioned programs to slow the drift away from the church. Parish priests, pushed by diocesan officials to implement these new programs, feel frustrated when the end result is the same: the people aren’t filling up the pews or supporting the church financially.

The steep decline in religiosity among Catholic youth is also evidence of an acute crisis. Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith’s analysis of the recent National Study of Youth and Religion is sobering. The massive study ranked U.S. Catholic teenagers well behind their Protestant peers in adherence to their religious tradition’s beliefs, norms, practices, and commitments. Smith attributes this trend to a decline in practice among parents, a paucity of full-time youth ministers, the demise of Catholic schools and their replacement with weak CCD programs, and to the upward mobility and acculturation of a once largely working-class immigrant population. According to this account, the financial success, social mobility, and cultural mainstreaming of American Catholics have led to the end of the urban parish-school-neighborhood enclaves that formed and cemented the communities and the faith of immigrant Catholics.

In other words, large social, cultural, and economic forces-and not simply internal forces such as the alleged dilution of Catholicism by Vatican II reforms-have contributed to Catholicism’s decline. And that decline is not about to reverse itself. It seems unlikely that young people who have only the foggiest understanding of the Catholic tradition will suddenly return to the church as adults. Furthermore, the rate at which Catholics marry outside the church is skyrocketing. As a result, Roman Catholicism in the next two decades will almost certainly face the sort of enormous decline that mainline Protestant denominations suffered in the 1960s. Even Hispanic Catholics are drifting away at a rate of about 1 percent a year, largely to Pentecostal and Evangelical congregations.

There are no simple answers to these problems. Catholics will not be returning to their cultural ghettoes, of course. And while I doubt that a return to preconciliar practices would reenergize the church and halt its decline, neither am I convinced that the progressives’ agenda-women’s ordination, married clergy, same-sex unions, the easing of divorce restrictions, and the acceptance of abortion under certain circumstances-would revive moribund parishes and bring a return to Sunday Mass. One widely shared perception is that it is precisely those mainline Protestant denominations that have embraced such positions that face the steepest declines in membership, while strict groups such as Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Mormons continue to grow rapidly. Sociologists such as Rodney Stark, Roger Finke, Christian Smith, and others have advanced the theory that stricter religions, the ones that maintain a higher level of tension with the surrounding culture, are more likely to flourish. When newly arrived Catholics were seen as foreigners and dangerously different from the Protestant mainstream in the first half of the twentieth century, Catholic practice was high, and so was conformity to church teaching. As Charles Morris shrewdly observed in American Catholic, “The old-line bishops instinctively understood that strength lay in a prickly apartness from America’s great leveling engine, a proud declaration of difference.” Not surprisingly, as Catholics have succeeded, and embraced the mores of their surrounding culture, many have ceased to attend Mass or embrace the church’s teaching.

An aging presbyterate should not exhaust itself in implementing new programs that are at best only Band-Aids. Instead, we must acknowledge the magnitude and the complexity of the forces that lie behind American Catholicism’s loss of vigor, and stop blaming Vatican II or the bumbling bishops who shielded pedophiles and failed to protect children. We should avoid blithely scapegoating “the culture of death” and the evil of the secular world. After all, there are currents of sin and grace in both the church and the world. An eagerness to blame “the world” may keep us from seeing our own failure to embody the compassion and virtue of Jesus Christ.

Catholicism will evolve; it always has. In the past, missionary efforts, charismatic figures like Francis of Assisi or Ignatius of Loyola, dynamic leadership, global population shifts, new discoveries, and even catastrophes have led to renewed religious vitality. What will eventually stem the current decline cannot be known yet. In the meantime, we must learn to be a different kind of church. We’ve made progress in overcoming our pretensions to being a triumphal, all-knowing, sinless church. But more progress remains to be made; and paradoxically, it begins with acknowledging-and in a certain sense accepting-the decline of U.S. Catholicism.

My archbishop likes to say that we are in the hope business, but we must not be in the false-hope business. For me personally, acknowledging that the church and priesthood are in decline will lower my expectations of my bishops, brother priests, and my parishioners. So, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and moved by the faithfulness of the Catholics who remain-and ecstatic when bishops do things right. I’ll learn to say “no” when diocesan officials ask me to take a third, fourth, or fifth parish. I’m not advocating apathy in the face of decline; I’m merely recognizing that the decline began before me and will continue after me. Even Pope John Paul II, with all his vision, courage, and tenacity, was unable to return the masses to the church. The new evangelization he called for remains to be undertaken.

And so I anticipate ministering to a shrinking Catholic flock as I grow old. This does not mean that the work and mission of the presbyterate will be increasingly irrelevant. On the contrary, it will be all the more pressing and challenging. Embracing this reality decreases my anxiety, sharpens my vision, makes my expectations more realistic, and makes my spirit less likely to burn out; it leads me to care for my health, so that I will be able to care for those entrusted to me. To restore health to our pastoral function, we priests first need to admit our own pain and disorientation in a foundering church.

Though much will change in the U.S. church and its priesthood in coming decades, these changes need not bring additional stress, depression, overwork, heart attacks, early death, or intergenerational conflict for priests. As I see it, the greatest threat to priests’ well-being is denial. We priests know we are in trouble, even if bishops are reluctant to admit it. The problems are embodied in the worn, torn, aging, and overweight colleagues I observed at my diocese’s recent assembly of priests. The crisis is right there in front of us, and the forced optimism of those afraid of appearing insufficiently orthodox-or disloyal to Rome-strikes me as a failure of perception, honesty, and faith. Overcoming such denial will be the beginning of a renewal in the church and in the morale of its priests.

Rev. Paul Stanosz is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the author of The Struggle for Celibacy(Herder and Herder/Crossroad).