- Boycott the Knights of Columbus
- A wedding sermon.
- An open letter to my parish community.
- Why was a college student in the car of drunken Archbishop-elect Cordileone at 12:26 AM, when Cordileone was arrested for a DUI?
- When the Church married Same-Sex couples.
- How It All began
- The Supreme Court’s Decisions and the New Mason-Dixon Line
- What the Vatican & American bishops DO NOT want you (and Politicians) to know.
- The Morality of Sex, gay & straight.
- San Francisco in archbishop Cordileone’s sight
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Roman Catholic priesthood and the ordination of women
I read an article this morning regarding a group protesting on behalf of the ordination of women at the Vatican. A few years ago I was having lunch with my niece who was in her last year of High School studies at the time. Amy announced to the table “The problem I have with the [Roman Catholic] Church is that they refuse to ordain women.” I put down my knife and fork, looked at my dear niece and said “The problem I have with the [Roman Catholic] Church is that they ordain men.” She smiled and laughed.
When I was assigned as the new pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Fresno I met with a group of women who were advocating for the ordination of women. I shared with them a story. The diocesan vocation director (the person who attempts to recruit new priests) asked all the clergy in our diocese to preach sermons to attract new recruits. A group of priests had gathered for a meal and someone asked us all a hypothetical question. If your nephew came to you and informed you that he wanted to become a priest, would you encourage or discourage him? Everyone present, old and young, said they would discourage their nephew from pursuing ordination to the priesthood.
The point here is simple. The Roman Catholic priesthood, as it currently exists needs radical reform. Let me review just a few issues. Retirement benefits should be protected by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa). Most lay Catholics are unaware that their priest’s retirement program is not protected by law. In simple language what this means is that a person can serve as a priest for 20, 30, 40 years and be denied retirement by the bishop. Retirement for priests is considered “a gift” which may be granted, or withdrawn at the pleasure of bishop.
Is this just? Would you want such an arrangement for yourself? If you worked for a soul-less profit oriented corporation, you would be treated better. Oh, I forgot to mention in our diocese you may retire at 75, because the bishop is so “gracious” he will permit you to request “early” retirement at 70.
Salary should be raised. In our diocese priest receive an annual salary of $16,000.00, that figure is taken from my tax return. At this point many of you are thinking, but priests take vows of poverty. Wrong! Diocesan priests do not take such vows. Priests who are members of religious orders do take vows of poverty; however, the flip side to those vows is that the order/congregation assumes financial responsibility for its members. To be ordained a priest requires 4 years of undergraduate studies and 4 years of post graduate studies. Obviously, one does not enter the priesthood to become wealthy, but there is another point here. The Church’s financial policies towards priests have NOTHING to do with money. They are about control. By paying poverty level salaries to priest you effectively rob them of autonomy.
Why should lay Catholics care about this? If your priest cannot speak the truth from the pulpit, you are robbed of the truth. You too become a victim of manipulation by the bishop. The bishop in turn, is controlled and manipulated by the Curia (Vatican bureaucracy). Essentially, the whole Church becomes an organization who’s primary purpose is to manipulate and control individuals; rather than, proclaim the truth.
Celibacy should be restored as a gift from the Holy Spirit to those individuals called to monastic life. The Orthodox Church has preserved this practice of the early Church. In the Orthodox Church before a person is ordained they must either 1) marry or 2) join a monastic community. Their rationale for this practice is simply that no person may fruitfully engage in ministerial service without the support of a community of love. That community of love is either a spouse, or a monastic/religious community. In the western [Roman Catholic] Church, this ancient practice of the Church was discarded and celibacy was required by the pope of all who were ordained. Celibacy has nothing to do with sex, it is about institutional power and wealth. In fact bishops are aware that most priests “struggle” with celibacy.
Celibacy means you are not and will not marry. Bishops expect their priests to be discreet, as my own bishop said to a brother priest. “We all struggle with celibacy, please don’t say anything more. There are some things a bishop doesn’t want to know.” Wink, wink, be discreet. Stay out of the newspaper and the evening news. Celibacy means that a bishop may move priests, at will. If a priest was married moving the priest would mean moving the whole family. Celibacy gives Roman Catholic bishops much more power than their Orthodox or Episcopal counterparts. It also provides an inexpensive work force and the revenues generated by a priest in his career accrue to the institution and not to the priest’s spouse/family.
By speaking of these few issues, I have only begun to scratch the surface of what all of this means in the life of a Roman Catholic priest. An elderly monsignor once told me, “every day I have lunch and dinner alone with my cat. I ask myself, does this please God?” Think of the emotional costs of loneliness, isolation, powerlessness over your personal life and you will quickly understand why there is a “shortage” of priests. You will also begin to understand why, although I am in favor of ordination of women, I would not support the change until the Roman Catholic priesthood is reformed first.
The obvious way to force a reform of the priesthood is to eliminate mandatory celibacy. Priest would then be able to marry. They would have to be paid a just and living wage. Their retirements and other benefits would come into line with the employment norms of society. Priests would gain financial independence and the self-esteem and freedom of speech that accompanies such independence. Lay people would hear sermons from an individual who understands their practical lives, because he himself lives like them. Which was the very purpose of the diocesan priesthood in the first place.
I cannot tell you how many priests wish they could say the foregoing to their parishioners, but dare not. As one of my pastors, the late monsignor Patrick G. Daugherty once said to me privately, “the worse thing you can do is make the bishop frown!” My parents left everything and came to this country so that my brother and I would never have to fear a “knock on the door” never fear making “a commissar frown.” Reform the priesthood and ordain women as deacons, priests and bishops, then there will be no shortage of priests. We will have a healthy, honest and spiritual priesthood and Church.