Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Think celibacy ISN'T the issue? Listen to those who know.

..Finally, the Roseville conference ["The Other Health Crisis", December 2007], hosted by Care of the Soul (www.careofthesoul.org), a counseling, pastoral care, and fitness outreach, proposed that research be done to determine what effect mandatory celibacy has on a man's decision to become a priest in this culture...

Guest opinion column by Fr. Lawrence Ventline, founding director of Care of the Soul, in The Oakland Press, 3/11/2008. The rest of the column about the priest shortage and crisis in the Catholic clergy is worthwhile too.

Reflecting on the priest shortage in New York ("Of the 176 Catholic dioceses in the U.S., the Archdiocese of New York ranks 170th in terms of the ratio of seminarians to the total Catholic population, according to a December study by Catholic World Report."):

...New York's Irish community has provided the vast majority of parish priests for 200 years. Part of the problem facing the archdiocese is that an estimated 40% to 50% of Catholic New Yorkers are Hispanic, but Hispanic communities are not producing priests.

Dominican-born Alex Reyes, 24, of the Bronx, a third-year seminarian, said many Hispanic young men told him they might be interested in becoming priests if not for one thing.

"I know a lot of young Hispanic guys who are very interested in the priesthood, but to tell you the truth, the big problem is celibacy," Reyes said. "That is the main reason they hold off."...

Priests hope Pope Benedict visit inspires vocation, by Gary Stern, Westchester Journal News, March 11, 2008. Again, the human resource issues of the Catholic Church are explored in detail here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Catholic Church Reform: The Novel

I'm reading an interesting new book, Cardinal Mahony: A Novel, by Robert Blair Kaiser, a Catholic journalist who has covered the Church's affairs for several decades with particular expertise in the Second Vatican Council. Kaiser is also a co-founder of TakeBackOurChurch.org.

The premise of the novel is that Cardinal Mahony is kidnapped by a group of liberation theologians and made to answer for his administrative failures, particularly the mishandling of the priest sexual abuse crisis. He falls in love with his kidnappers and converts to their perspective and returns to the United States a different man, determined to refashion the Church along progressive, autochthonous lines. Don't ask me how it ends becuse I haven't got there yet (and I wouldn't tell you anyway!). But the journey itself is worthwhile, taking the reader through detailed, if fictional, musings on all the major theological issues in the 21st century Catholic Church in America. Those who enjoy "romans à clef" might want to try to figure out who some of the major fictional characters are modeled after. I would personally like to know which Latina theologian became the fictitious "Juana Magarita Obregón"...Another review from the National Catholic Reporter appears below.

By Robert Blair Kaiser
Humble-bee Press, 257 pages, $19.95

A fantasy novel for liberal Catholics
Reviewed By Dennis Coday

Robert Blair Kaiser’s Cardinal Mahony: A Novel is more a polemic wrapped in a tale of intrigue than it is a novel. Surprisingly, the book works pretty well as fiction and as argument.

The book is set in the near future. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles is kidnapped by a clandestine revolutionary group inspired by liberation theologians and taken to Mexico. The group, calling itself Para los Otros, puts the cardinal on trial and broadcasts the proceedings live to the whole world.

The group charges Mahony with “misfeasance and malfeasance,” saying he has “forgotten the sacred duties of his episcopal office,” “let the unwritten rules of his clerical club undermine the rule of the Gospel,” and “robbed the patrimony of Christ’s poor to enrich crafty lawyers -- and keep sodomizing priests out of prison.” Mahony is judged by a jury of his peers: six retired Latin American bishops.

I won’t give anything away by saying that the cardinal is found guilty. With the verdict read, the judge hands down the sentence announcing to “everyone in the court and 590 million television viewers, ‘We sentence Cardinal Mahony to become a Christian!’ ” Hokey as this sounds, in the context of the novel, it works.

Mahony returns to Los Angeles a changed man. He moves out of his palatial residence, turning it over to the Los Angeles Catholic Worker for a homeless shelter, and moves into a room on the AIDS ward of Queen of Angels Hospital and serves the patients there as a chaplain.

He also puts together a kitchen cabinet comprising a layman who helped found Para los Otros, an Australian Jesuit theologian, a Latina lawyer and a Jewish labor organizer. Together they develop a plan to establish a church more open to American-style democracy and reforms in the church such as elected bishops, married priests and women priests.

This sets off a series of machinations from the Vatican in league with conservative elements of the U.S. church to stop the movement. In response, Mahony’s crew dips into its own bag of dirty tricks, which brings the novel to a cliff-hanger ending and sets the reader up for a sequel.

A few implausibilities detract from the novel. The testimony brought against Cardinal Mahony in his trial -- testimony about the child sex abuse scandal, about million-dollar cost overruns to build a new cathedral and such -- is readily available. I wasn’t convinced that being confronted with it in a jungle courtroom would somehow convert Mahony, let alone hold a worldwide television audience mesmerized.

Mr. Kaiser knows his subject. From 1999 to 2005, he was a contributing editor in Rome for Newsweek magazine. His coverage of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) for Time magazine earned him an Overseas Press Club Award. He also knows the players in the American Catholic church today and gives them convincing voices in his novel, making the story a sounding board for American Catholics who dream of the kind of reforms Mahony’s kitchen cabinet seeks.

NCR senior correspondent John L. Allen Jr. met the real Cardinal Roger Mahony at the Vatican in late November when the cardinal was attending the consistory that installed 28 new cardinals. Cardinal Mahony told Mr. Allen that he had read Mr. Kaiser’s book on the plane trip from Los Angeles. Asked for a reaction, Mr. Allen says, Cardinal Mahony “simply laughed.”

Mr. Kaiser’s ambition for the novel is revealed just inside the front cover. The book is dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe, whom Mr. Kaiser calls a “Conneticut schoolteacher who had the grit and gumption to write her message novel.”

The author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin rode the winds of a changing zeitgeist. Clearly, Mr. Kaiser hopes similar breezes are blowing.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ireland: Serving priests admit breaking celibacy vow

By Conor Ryan
The Irish Examiner
03 March 2008

More than a dozen serving Catholic priests have told a radio poll they have broken their celibacy vows, but continue to work in parishes.

A survey of ordained priests by Newstalk 106’s Moncrieff Show also revealed an atmosphere of dissatisfaction with the Church’s rules on its clergy abstaining from sex.

It asked 15 questions of 584 priests by phone and letter. However, only 80 agreed to respond.

Of those 12 priests said they had broken their chastity vows since their ordination.

“I am a human person liable to sinfulness and weakness like all humans,” one man replied.

One priest admitted he had “struggled, fallen and risen again” while another replied “if chaste means not involved in a genital sexual union — no”.

The majority of priests said they had kept their promise to abstain from sex.

“I took a vow of chastity at ordination. It’s like any other commitment you live by it, you remain faithful to it,” a celibate priest said.

When asked if they supported the removal of this condition by the Church and should ordained men be allowed to marry, 48 priests said they did, although a similar amount felt Pope Benedict XVI would never change the rule even if it was contributing to the decline in the number of people pursuing vocations.

“The celibacy issue has been one of the occasions for many priests who have much more to offer leaving the active ministry. It is also a fact, I believe, in the decline in numbers offering themselves for consideration as candidates for ordained ministry,” a priest said.

However, many of those who responded felt the celibacy issue was being overplayed and used as a rod to beat the Church.

“I get the impression that those who talk most about it only want to get a dig at the Church. They are not concerned about the welfare of the Church or of individual Catholics,” said one man.

According to the survey team many of the priests contacted opted out of questioning when asked about celibacy.

A slim majority supported the call to allow women to become ordained ministers.

The full results of the survey will be carried on the Moncrieff Show today at 2pm to 4.30pm.