by Molly Metzig
July 19, 2007
A few weeks ago my grandfather came to visit from Chicago. We got to talking about my freshman year of college, and it didn’t take long for him to ask me if I had gone to church while I was there. After debating whether to respond with a casual “yeah, once in a while,” or get into what I knew from experience would be a futile debate, I just said “no.”
He then told me with great sincerity about how much his religion enhanced his life, and posed another question: “When this life is over and God asks you why you never went to Mass, what are you going to say?”
No one had ever asked me this before, and I had a hard time coming up with a response. Not only did the question presuppose the very existence of a Judgment Day, but I doubted my old-school Catholic grandpa would understand my feelings of alienation. So I feigned guilt, indicated that I would make more of an effort to attend church next year, and quickly changed the subject.
I went to Mass the following Sunday. My reason for going had less to do with my grandpa and more to do with the consolidation of Oshkosh’s six parishes into two.
I’ve been wary of this consolidation plan from the start. With church attendance dwindling and a generation of priests looking to retire with no one to take their places, I think it’s time for the Church to look for a solution more permanent than consolidation.
It’s neither a surprise nor a coincidence that those Christian denominations which allow for married pastors are not suffering the kind of clergy shortage that the Catholic Church currently faces. And while Americans generally practice Western Rite Catholicism, Eastern Rite priests are permitted to marry if they so choose.
Does this make Eastern Rite priests any less effective than their celibate Western Rite counterparts? Doubtful.
Ordaining female priests is another option, though probably less favorable as church authorities hold fast to the notion of male superiority. Last summer, Philadelphia archbishop Justin Rigali dubbed eight women “a threat to church unity” for attempting to participate in a priest ordination ceremony. While such a misogynist attitude might appeal to the more orthodox set, it estranges women as well as liberal Catholics — something the Church really can’t afford to do at this point.
In my mind, a religious leader is a spiritual teacher. And from my experience, good teachers recognize when it’s appropriate to steer away from the curriculum. It follows that the most effective priests are not the ones that stick hardest to the doctrine, but those who are personable, and open-minded while upholding their basic values of their faith: love, hope, humility, and charity.
But I guess the qualifications for clergy are strict for a reason. If the priesthood was not so exclusive, people would question the very need for a middleman.
And when people are spiritually self-sufficient, organized religion loses much of its influence.
The Catholic Church’s influence is waning at a crucial point in history. Global concern for nuclear warfare, economic collapse and international conflict grows, yet church leaders are too busy covering up scandals, subordinating women, and trying to rid the world of homosexuality to guide the faithful through the challenges that lie ahead. Closing down parish buildings doesn’t get to the root of the problem any more than does sending a pedophilic priest to another diocese. The Church has a decision to make: either waive the vow of celibacy, allow the ordination of women, or consolidate — and let the alienation continue indefinitely.
Oshkosh Northwestern Community Columnist Molly Metzig is an Oshkosh native studying journalism at the University of Oregon.