Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Priest shortage - what solution?

Fr Philip Powell OP posts an interesting piece about the possible effects of appointing 'parish life co-ordinators' en lieu of resident pastors in parishes:
I'm not one to be shy about noting that the Church has had mistakes in her long, long history. These mistakes seemed to multiple after Vatican Two when the spirit of invention and make-believe possessed some in the leadership to hold and teach that the intent of the Council Fathers was inadequately expressed in the actual texts of the Council. Mistake after mistake followed. And they still follow. Here's a sure-fire way to ensure that your parish will almost never again have a resident pastor: the Parish Life Coordinator (PLC).
From Pittsburgh we read: "In what the bishop who appointed her called 'a historic moment,' Sister Dorothy Pawlus, a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, was commissioned July 15 as the first parish life collaborator in the Diocese of Pittsburgh."

So, what's the problem?

1) Without a priest in charge of the parish, young men won't have a model of priesthood to aspire to; no fault accrues to Sister for this, of course, but we know young men need male leadership in order to be properly challenged to sacrifice secular enticements. Sister's appointment is one more example of the feminization of the Church and another nail in the coffin of priestly vocations.

2) Once Sister and other PLC's (no doubt there will be huge pressure to appoint women in most of these positions) are appointed, it will take an Act of God to move them out when priests become available. Make no mistake: the PLC is not a temporary canonical solution to a temporary vocational problem. This is a move (sideways and under the guise of an "emergent crisis") to undermine presbyteral authority in the parish by emptying the role of pastor of its orders. IOW, this is a move to make it possible to be appointed Pastor (even if not in name) w/o being an ordained priest. Priests will simply become traveling Sacrament Machines. The office of Priest Director will fade as demand for priests grows. Interesting side note: priests now are starting to look a whole like bishops in the Patristic period!

3). This is the first step in a long series of steps leading us to the "inevitability" of women being ordained priests. Think: altar girls and the arguments used post facto to defend against attempts to suppress the practice: "But we've been using altar girls for years!" Some predictions:

a). even with the availability of newly ordained priests, PLC's will continue to "pastor" their parishes with Fr. Newbie hanging around for "mentoring." He will be graduated to a staff position and made a "member of the team."

b). Within five years (but before the Fr. Newbies arrive) PLC's will demand the right to preach at Mass since Fr. Sacramental Minister isn't in residence and doesn't know the parish. How can he possibly preach to us when he doesn't know us?

c). Look for a new book of ceremonies to appear from The Liturgical Press, Liturgies for Pastoral Life Coordinators quite soon. It will be argued that since PLC's play a special role in the life of the parish, the church needs liturgies designed to celebrate their unique ministry. Translation: we need liturgical validation for the invention of the PLC so that the concept of the PLC is more easily tolerated over time. Liturgies bestow legitimacy and normalize innovation.

d). Parishes administered by female PLC's will produce far fewer priestly vocations than parishes run by priest-pastors. This NOT b/c women intentionally deter vocations or somehow jinx boys into believing that the priesthood is bad--how many priests today trace their vocations back to a religious sister? My point is that w/o active, visible, and regular priestly leadership in a parish, a boy or young man cannot "see" the priesthood in action.
The entirety of his post deserves reading and corresponds in its broad outline with some of my concerns about how the priest-shortage in the Western world is being dealt with.
Now, I think that we should be careful about assuming that all moves towards appointing lay-staff to perform functions that priests previously did are ideologically motivated. However, it would be naive not to admit that there is a significant push in some quarters to see the priest-shortage as being an act of the Holy Spirit to make space for greater lay/female participation in the Church. This opinion must be firmly resisted. A proper understanding of the relationship between the Priesthood of the Baptized and the Ministerial Priesthood will lead to the conclusion that as the laity become more actively and enthusiastically involved in the Church's work, there will be an even greater need for holy and energetic pastors to guide and serve them. Additionally, a true renewal of religious spirit amongst the laity should lead to more and more young people hearing the call to priestly and religious life. One of the signs of a flourishing and wholesome lay movement within the Church is a flowering of religious and priestly vocations in its ranks.
So, what's the solution?
This is the tricky part. What is to be done in a diocese when there are insufficient clergy to staff the parishes? It would seem imprudent to totally eschew lay staffing of parishes. After all, if a layperson can fulfil some of a pastor's administrative functions, then it would seem irresponsible to leave a parish to simply feel the pain rather than make some kind of accommodation to get the work done.
However, Fr Philip's post does make clear that any such lay position should not be that of a 'priest substitute' and I quite agree with him that the use of communion services as a 'Mass substitute' is, in general, a very bad idea. (Ironically, this detachment of the reception of the Eucharist and the celebration of Mass is something that the Second Vatican Council set itself against.)
One possible way of mitigating the damage done by the replacement of a full-time Pastor by a PLC would be to make such an appointment temporary. In other words, make it a 3 or a 4 year appointment, with the PLC being appointed to another parish at that time, and a priest brought in to be pastor. In this way, if there are going to be PLCs, then at least no parish is going to be permanently deprived of a priest.

I think that Fr Philip's post also points to a certain need to appreciate the theology of the priest's relationship with his parish. A pastor, surely, is supposed to be a spiritual father and shepherd to his flock. Priests and people alike need to take that seriously. Pastors need to minister with that in mind, and the parish needs to realise just how much its integrity as a flock and a family depends on the unifying and guiding figure of the pastor.


bill bannon said...

I'll give another angle on priests and manliness....because there is no solution in replacing a woman with a feminine priest ideologically speaking.
In Sirach 42:14 it says, "the severity of a man is better than a woman's indulgence."
The passage regards relating to the children in the family and even if both parents are imbalanced...the man being too severe and the woman being too indulgent,Scripture is saying even at that...the severity of the male will conduce more to the salvation of the children since "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" as one of the proverbial books says.
Is it possible that amongst the clergy from the Popes down, the concept of the "pastoral" solution to this or that problem really has come to mean exclusively...the non severe, more femine, more nurturing solution....(think only of the lack of punishment that pervaded the handling of the sex abuse crisis).
In the 20th century you had Von Balthasar, Rahner and John Paul II all believing not in an empty hell per se as universalists believe but in holding out hope that maybe no one is there and that maybe all repented prior to death because they cooperated with God's antecedent will that all be saved.
The reason I see all three men being feminine therein is that it requires ignoring Scripture to even get there at that theological place: the book of Wisdom in the 12th chapter notes the condemnation of the Canaanites 26
But they who took no heed of punishment which was but child's play were to experience a condemnation worthy of God.
For in the things through which they suffered distress, since they were tortured by the very things they deemed gods, They saw and recognized the true God whom before they had refused to know; with this, their final condemnation came upon them.

And Christ's words on Judas are totally foreboding and not things one says about anyone destined for Heaven ("it were better for that man had he never been born") and it could be argued that Christ used the prophetic past of Judas when He prayed to His Father in JOhn before Judas sinned.... "those whom thou gaves me I guarded and not one of them perished but the son of perdition".
This was said prior to Judas sinning and is like Isaiah speaking about Christ in the past tense in 53:2 "there is no beauty in him nor comliness and we have seen him and there is no sightliness that we might be desirous of him."
Polls have noted Catholic dissatisfaction with our homilies some years back and I wonder if that is not because our homilies are too often non masculine and pastoral....in this Fr. Corapi seems like an anomaly.
Christ by comparison was never dull because He did not edit out the severe side of things. He was not bound by these rules of the pastoral and we see Him rebuking a man who He has just cured in John and tells him to sin no more lest something worse befall him. That kind of talk is now a no no and that kind of talk is reminiscent of my first quote from Sirach..."the severity of a man".
Indeed when talking to the Samaritan woman Christ chides her on not having one husband for sure...but having 5...and He is not too pastoral when He notes to her... "you worship what you do not know, we worship what we know for salvation is from the Jews."
Spirit of Vatican II?....or spirit of Council of Trent?
What I'm driving at is that male bodies are not enough to have a masculine ideal for young people.
Male severity, male non fear of conflict, male facing of the foreboding must be present in our sermons...and one sees it in Corapi e.g. and not everywhere...not in other sermons on EWTN at the Masses.
Being nice is very feminine and very pastoral and was in Christ in a very deep way but alongside that was a severity. He drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip and we have not had one Pope who could bring himself to act similar on behalf of children in the recent crisis. Because we convinced ourselves that to be Christian is to be always nice. Well...Christ was a man and He was not always nice in the manner in which we use that term.
Male bodies are insufficient. From Rome down there needs to be a return to imitating Christ in all His aspects....not just in His soft moments. Until that happens, the body...whether male or female...will be immaterial. Maleness unlike the feminine has to be achieved. In the Vulgate Bible in I Corinthians 16:13 there is an exhortation... "viriliter agite"....behave in a masculine manner...the NAB degenderizes the passage now...but it was noting that maleness is an achievement...not a given. We don't tell women "be a woman" because they already are. We do tell them "act like a lady"...but that is not the same as "be a man" about this crisis.

Dcn Scott Dodge said...

It's funny how deacons never factor into the equation, especially in articles by religious order priests. Now, like lay parish life coordinators, deacons are not substitutes for priests, or mini-priests with limited faculties. However, it does bear noting that when the diaconate was restored as a permanent order, the Council Fathers had in mind those areas of the Church that were quite spread out and oftenw without resident pastors.

I do agree that a better model for a parish or mission without a resident pastor looks rather like a Eastern Rite or Orthodox Christian community who, rather than daily Communion services, daily celebrates Morning and Evening prayer. Deacons can preach at one or both of these celebrations. Sundays can be problematic and a priest should be made available to say Mass and hear confessions. Ideally, this is the pastor, or at least the same priest who knows the community and is known by the community. At least with deacons baptisms and marriages can be licitly and regularly celebrated.

There are some missing parts to Fr. Powell's post. The sad truth is that even with a resident priest/pastor many young men still don't have a model of priesthood to which to aspire, or that inspires them. Priests and bishops must assume their fair share of the responsibility as to why there aren't more priestly vocations. Where there are vocations bishops in particular make a concerted and personal effort. Bp Carlson in Saginaw is his own vocations director. In the end, I am afraid Fr. Powell's post, as well-intentioned as it is, comes across as a fear-driven take that offers no constructive solutions.

Another issue he side-steps is a canonical issue. The people have a right to the sacraments. Let's rejoice that our bishops understand this, even if the solutions aren't perfect.