Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Papa Francesco's Agenda

There is a renewed interest and energy in the Catholic Church, and the cause of this post-Vatican II aggiornamento is Pope Francis.

People both inside and outside the Catholic community are talking about him, about his style, about his message.

Some are negative, saying that he is undermining the authority of the papacy, especially in his calling together a group of eight cardinals to advise him on Church policy and reform of the Vatican bureaucracy.  When Pope Francis challenged “unbridled capitalism,” radio-talk host Rush Limbaugh said the pope didn’t know what he was talking about. Still others lament, “He’s just style. He’s the Vatican’s PR man.”

Others praise him as “the people’s pope,” assessing his style, his words, and his example as a refreshing return to Gospel values. “He gives me hope,” is a common response to the question, “What do you think of Francis?” Some of those close to him have noted that he does not want to see a “personality cult” develop around him as did around Pope John Paul II; he wants the cult to be Christ-centered. His choice as Time’s man of the year was bitter-sweet for him.

Few of us knew that Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was first runner-up in the conclave voting which had elected Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005. Eight years later Bergoglio’s name was seldom suggested as a possible replacement for the retiring Pope Benedict, but on March 13, 2013, he was elected with 90 out of a possible 115 votes. He accepted the office of Bishop of Rome, vicar of St. Peter, and chose the name Francis.

The information which trickles out of the secret conclave indicates that the majority of cardinals were looking for a leader who would restore Church credibility and could reform the Vatican Bank and Curia. Some of them insisted the Church needed a Gospel pope.

Pope Francis biographer Paul Vallely thinks that one of the major factors in the election of Bergoglio was a speech he made in the Synod Hall before the conclave. Each cardinal was allotted five minutes to address the assembly of voters. Vallely says that Bergoglio’s talk "lasted just three-and-a-half minutes…but it electrified the synod hall.”

Bergoglio reminded his brother cardinals that the only purpose of the Church is to go out to tell the world the good news about Jesus Christ, that the Church needed to surge forth to the peripheries, not just geographically but to the existential peripheries where people grapple with sin, injustice, ignorance and indifference to religion.

He spoke, it is said, from a few scribbled notes, but later in the day Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino of Havana, Cuba, asked Bergoglio for a copy of his remarks. The next day Bergoglio gave him a copy, and Ortega put it on his diocesan website.

In his book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Vallely provides a version of the talk:

            “But the Church has got too wrapped up in itself. It was too navel-gazing. It had become          ‘self-referential’ which had made it sick. It was suffering a 'kind of theological narcissism.’ When Jesus said, ’Behold I stand at the door and knock’ people assumed he was outside, wanting to come in. But sometimes Jesus knocks from within, wanting to be let out into the wider world. A self-referential Church wants to keep Jesus to itself, instead of letting him out to others.

            “The Church is supposed to be the mysterium lunae –the mystery of the moon is that it has no light but simply reflects the light of the sun. The Church must not fool itself that it  has light of its own; if it does that it falls in to what Henri de Lubac in The Splendor of  the Church called the greatest of evils –spiritual worldliness. That is what happens with a  self-referential Church, which refuses to go beyond itself.

             “Put simply, there are two images of the Church: a Church which evangelizes and comes out of  herself or a worldly Church, living within herself, of herself, for herself.  The next Pope should be someone who helps the Church surge forth to the peripheries like a sweet and comforting mother who offers the joy of Jesus to the world.”

These remarks or the gist of them provide the theology/philosophy motivating Pope Francis’ agenda. When he told priests that the shepherd should smell like the sheep, he was telling them to stop being “self-referential.” When he washed the feet of twelve prisoners (two of them women) on Holy Thursday, he was going out to the peripheries. When he chose not to live in the papal apartment, he was warning against spiritual worldliness.

It would be a mistake to put all the emphasis in the Church on its pope. The focus of the Church is Jesus Christ. The pope becomes for us the mystery of the moon, reflecting the light of Christ. His speech before the conclave, reminding his brothers of the Church’s purpose are worthy of ongoing reflection and will likely serve as a helpful preamble to interpreting Pope Francis’ agenda.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How Can You Tell?

How can you tell when a parish is fulfilling its purpose?

Canon Law’s definition of a parish is rather stark: “A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor (parochus) as its proper pastor (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop” (515).

Legally, then, any parish with these four elements (community, stability, a pastor, and the diocesan bishop) is a parish!

Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church put some meat on those bare bones. There should also be preaching of the Gospel, the celebration of the Lord’s supper, and manifest charity (26). The document on the laity adds a little more: the parish should be an example of community apostolate (active participation in liturgical life, engagement in apostolic works, spread of the word, and care of souls) plus working cooperation between laity and priests (10).

On the practical level, however, we need more.

Clearly a growing number of Catholics are “church shopping,” trying to find “a place where they are fed.”

What criteria make a parish a good parish? a place where the people are fed?

The people of St. Michael parish in Cincinnati were asked recently to answer the question, “What do you like about your parish?”

The top responses included: “a friendly, welcoming place,” “good music,” “good pastor,” “good preaching,” “the people.”

I think those responses can be summarized in one description; they like a church which is “pastoral.”

But is what they like necessarily what a parish should be?

A new book, recently published and growing in popularity, addresses the issue –Rebuilt: The Story of a Catholic Parish by Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity, Baltimore, and Timothy M. Dolan, lay associate (Ave Maria Press, 2013).

Their chief insight is that for a parish to be what it is supposed to be the parishioners must recognize that they are called to be not consumers but disciples!

White and Dolan list ten major mistakes they made in their initial effort to make the parish grow (e.g., trying to please everyone, wasting time and money, fearing to lead).

Resolved to change the parish’s status quo, the two leaders set out to change the parish culture. They started by “challenging church people and seeking lost people.” They decided to evangelize.

In their words, “We just decided to stop doing a lot of things we had been doing and instead concentrate on the weekend…we had a music program; what we needed was a worship program…we are convinced that churches will remain consumer-driven as long as people aren’t singing.”

Most of what these two reformer-authors propose isn’t new; it’s just that they applied it: develop small faith groups, encourage tithing, promote lay ecclesial ministry, evangelize.

The start of their program for making a parish grow is the realization that only God can make a parish grow. The fertile soil for that growth is, in their experience, helping parishioners move from being consumers to disciples: “Our parish had become a consumer exchange, and, as such, it had lost its 'transforming power' in people’s lives.”

When Jesus sent the Church out into the world, he ordered, “Make disciples…”
White and Dolan spell out what they tried, acknowledge their mistakes, and urge others to make discipleship the catalyst for change.

There is no human agenda, formula or template for making a parish what a parish is supposed to be. The best we can do is allow Jesus to lead, and remember that being his disciple means picking up a cross.
Maybe that’s why we have a hard time making our parishes work –we’re still afraid of that cross.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Woman Cardinal?

Speculation about Pope Francis’ naming a woman as a cardinal this coming February was reportedly rebutted  by  the director of  the Vatican’s press office Father Federico Lomabrdi .  He called the rumor  “nonsense.” 

The Huffington Post quoted him as saying, “It is simply not a realistic possibility…” 

He went on to acknowledge, however, that it (naming a woman as cardinal) is theologically and theoretically possible! 

The history of the origin of cardinals in the Church and of the meaning of the term “cardinal” is still debated. 

Some think cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (hinge), supposing that cardinals were the men on whom ecclesiastical administration turned. 

Others suppose that the word comes from incardinare, a term which Church officials made up to describe bishops who were transferred to other dioceses after their own were invaded and/or destroyed by barbarians. 

Over time those named cardinal formed a body of privileged clergy, becoming advisors to the popes. 

The Third Lateran Council (1179) confirmed that cardinals alone were the electors of a new pope.  

Pope John XXIII in April of 1962 ordered that all cardinals should be ordained bishops. 

Current Church law (canon 351) explains, “The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate…those who are not yet bishops must receive Episcopal consecration.” 

Basing himself on that law, Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi is on solid ground in describing as “nonsense” the  rumors and speculation that Pope Francis will name a woman as cardinal. 

However, the pope can dispense from the requirement that a cardinal must be a bishop; such was the case with Vatican II theologians Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, and Urs von Balthasar. (De Lubac refused the offer of the red hat if acceptance required his being ordained a bishop; Pope John Paul II respected deLubac’s wish and set aside the requirement.) 

Since the College of cardinals is man-made and not an essential part of the Church’s institution, it could be abolished. There was a strong call for its dissolution in the 15th century. 
History indicates that laymen have been named cardinals (e.g., Fernando I de Medici in the 16th century, but, though he was never ordained a deacon, priest or bishop, he is said to have received the tonsure, one of the minor orders which made him officially a cleric, no longer a lay person). 

Theologically, theoretically then (as Father Lombardi acknowledged) Pope Francis could name a woman as cardinal but at this time law and custom militate strongly against it. 



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Digesting What Pope Francis Said

I’m trying to digest the many thought-provoking and challenging responses Pope Francis made in his now-famed interview with the editor of the Italian Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica. 

He was asked what he thought about an expression St Ignatius used in his Spiritual Exercises: “think with the Church.”

Pope Francis replied that no one is saved alone. He underscored the relationship each individual must have with the human community, and reminded that “the church is the people of God” and explained that “thinking with the Church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display this infallibiltas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together.”

He went on, “This is what I understand today as the ‘thinking with the Church’ of which St. Ignatius speaks. When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit.”

Then he cautioned that this infallibilitas of all the faithful is not a matter of populism. The hierarchical Church is part of the people of God, “pastors and people together. The Church is the totality of God’s people.” 

He was asked what he thought the Church needed most at this point in history, what he dreamed of for the Church.

Pope Francis replied that the church needs “the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds.”

He went on, “The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

Then he cautioned Church ministers that they “must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor, for example, is always in danger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax.” 

He was asked what he thought about the Roman Curia (the Church’s bureaucracy).

Pope Francis replied that the Curia and its offices are at the service of the pope and the bishops. “They must help both the particular churches and the bishops’ conferences. They are instruments of help.”

Then he cautioned, “In some cases, however, when they are not functioning well, they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship..” 

He was asked about the relationship between papal primacy and the collegiality of bishops (a hot but unresolved topic at the Second Vatican Council).

Pope Francis replied that the people, the bishops and the pope must walk together. He brought up the idea of synodality (one of the earliest structures in the Church to maintain unity and communion, a coming together to discuss problems, to express differing opinions, and then arrive at a decision).

He went on to say, “Synodality should be lived at various levels. Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synods of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic.”

Then he cautioned, “We must walk united with our differences: there is no other way to become one. This is the way of Jesus.”

(Jesuit historian Father John W. O’Malley reports that Pope Francis has read Bishop John R.Quinn’s book The Reform of the Papacy in which Quinn says, “Today’s synods seem distant from the ideal set forth in the council decree on bishops…The tendency since the council would appear to be to restrict the synod as much as possible.” 

I’m trying to digest what Pope Francis said in his famed interview. His responses seem to me to reflect both the letter and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

The full interview was published in the September 30  issue of America magazine (except for one sentence inadvertently omitted from Pope Francis’ reply to a question about women in the life of the Church. The missing sentence began his remarks: “It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the Church.”)

He went on to say, “The challenge of today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the Church is exercised for various areas of the Church.” 

I suspect I will be trying to digest what Pope Francis said for quite some time.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pope Francis as Pontiff

In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI sat for an extensive, book-length interview with German journalist Peter Sewald. It was published as Light of the World.

In three previous interviews Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had responded to a series of challenging questions with what critiques described as "frank" and "honest" answers: The Ratzinger Report (1987),  Salt  of the Earth (1996), and God and the World (2002).

Now Pope Francis has followed suit --an interview conducted in August, 2013, by Antonio Spadaro, SJ, with publication on September 19, 2013.

The main-stream press described the interview as "sending shock waves from the Vatican."

Pope Francis is quoted as saying, "The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you."

He also said, "During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person."

And he said, "The dogmatic and moral teachings of the Church are not all equivalent. The Church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."

The full text can be found at America magazine's online site.

Such remarks (here admittedly taken out of context) brought forth a variety of responses and explanations.

For example, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in a TV interview,  I think what he’s saying is, sometimes, if we come across as negative, as complaining too much, we lose the folks. We’ve got to be positive; we’ve got to be fresh; we’ve got to be affirming. ... I think he’s on to something. He’s a good teacher.”

When he was first elected pope, reports emerged that as Provincial Superior, head of all the Jesuits in Argentina, young Father Jorge Bergoglio began his leadership by rolling back his predecessor's changes and returning pre-Vatican II values and lifestyle.

He insisted that moral theology be taught from a Latin text-book, a requirement that proved troubling to the novices who did not know Latin.

Liberation Theology was taboo.

An older Jesuit, interviewed at the time of Bergoglio's election as Bishop of Rome, gave a less than enthusiastic response: "Yes I know Bergoglio. He's a person who has caused a lot of problems in the (Jesuit) Society and is highly controversial in his own country...We have spent two decades trying to fix the chaos that man left us."

In his assessment, British author Paul Vallely in his book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots (Bloomsbury, 2013) writes that despite his demands Bergoglio was described by some colleagues and students as "a marvelous leader," "a very spiritual man, humble with strong convictions," "responsible for attracting a large number of young men to join the Jesuits at a time when the numbers had fallen."

Now, as we assess the style and theology of Papa Francesco, we are aware that Bergoglio at some time and for some reason underwent a spiritual, theological metamorphosis. He comes across as a different man. Vallely believes the change came from experience, personal experience of living with and for the poor.

The pastoral Bergoglio tempered the clerical Bergoglio, and the result is Pope Francis, the "pope of surprises."

Vallely notes in his book that Pope Benedict had returned to the old practice of saying Mass with his back to the people, but "Francis made plain that this practice had been overturned for good reason, to make the people feel more included in the Church's liturgy. If he had ever doubted that, he learned its truth in the slums of Argentina." Again, another assertion that experience, pastoral experience, is formative.

Robert Mickens, Vatican Correspondent for The Tablet, thinks that cardinals and episcopal conferences are waiting to see what the new pope does next. Mickens thinks many bishops are licking a finger and holding it up in the air, trying to determine which way the wind is blowing.

However you assess Pope Francis and his impact upon the Church, you have to admit that he has people talking. His simplicity of lifestyle, his openness to the crowds, his policy of consultation, his concern for the poor, his defense of outsiders, and his appreciation for the environment have all coalesced into a formidable presence in the Catholic Church.

For centuries the term "pontiff" (from the Latin pontifex, which probably means "bridge builder") has been applied to bishops in the Catholic Church. When referring to the pope, the Bishop of Rome, it is usually rendered "Supreme Pontiff."

Although Pope Francis seems to prefer the title "Bishop of Rome," it may be more fitting to apply the designation "pontiff," for his style and his teaching have certainly become a bridge between the hierarchs and the people of God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Facing East or Facing the People?

Someone showed me a bulletin from his parish. The pastor was announcing that he had decided to offer Mass on the "High Privileged Altar" rather than at the altar facing the people.

He explained that this orientation is more reverential and keeps the priest from taking center stage. He wants to prevent the priest's personality from getting in the way of the Liturgy.

He wrote that from the start Christians faced east when they prayed. This posture, he said, is the time-honored ad orientem.

This facing eastward has been explained as a witness to the rising of the sun which in turn symbolized the universality of God and the source of salvation. For this reason, in some places, churches were built with the altar against the eastern wall.

History, however, muddies this seemingly simple explanation.

In the fourth century Christians in Rome built churches with the altar at the west end of the church, in an apse, and the people sat facing the altar, facing west. The priest, however, stood on the west side of the altar facing east, facing the people.

This architectural arrangement, putting the sanctuary at the west end of the building, was in imitation of the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem.

Writing in The Journal of the Institute For Sacred Architecture (vol. 10, 2005), Helen Dietz, PhD, explains that in some places the congregations in these west-facing Roman churches would turn and face east at the time of the consecration, the same direction the priest was facing.

Dietz writes, "Quite obviously, the importance of the people's facing east in the Christian church was that this posture signified they were 'the priesthood of the faithful,' who in this way showed that they joined in the sacrifice offered by the ministerial priest in his and their collective name."

Thus in some architectural arrangements, even when the priest faced east, he was facing the people (ad populum).

By the 8th or 9th century, again depending on the architecture of the church and the placing of the sanctuary, the priest's  position changed and he faced the apse or wall when he stood at the altar, with the people standing behind him.

The meaning of ad orientem changed from "to the east" to "to the wall" or "to the high altar fixed against the wall."  The altar whether on the north end or the south end of the church, whether on the east or the west, became ad orientem.

Priests who today want to celebrate Mass facing ad orientem do not necessarily mean they are facing east; they may mean they are facing the altar which is against the wall.

It was in the light of the liturgical renewal ordered by the Second Vatican Council that liturgists and architects were advised to create a worship space which allowed the presiding priest to face the congregation.

As many liturgists noted, the first Mass was not celebrated with Jesus facing a wall. The first Eucharist was celebrated at table with the disciples gathered around. Such was the custom of the early church.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (as included in the Roman Missal, third edition, 2011) maintains this revision of church architecture and the arrangement for celebrating the liturgy.

Article 303 says, "In building new churches, it is preferable for a single altar to be erected, one that in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of Christ.

"In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is so positioned that it makes the people's participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to artistic value, another fixed altar, skillfully made and properly dedicated, should be erected and the sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order that the attention of the faithful not be distracted from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way" (GIRM 303).

A  pastor's decision to celebrate Mass ad orientem can find some basis in history, but history shows that ad orientem is open to more than one interpretation.  

Whether a liturgy celebrated on a high altar fixed against the wall with the priest's back to the people is more reverent and prayerful is a matter of varying spirituality, ecclesiology, and even taste.

At this time in the Church's history, the positioning of the priest and people around the altar is the norm. It has been adopted to emphasize community (Christ is present in his people), exercise the common priesthood (all the baptized share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ), and promote the active participation of the people (a primary goal of Vatican II's liturgical renewal).

The ad orientem of today is orientation to Christ with, in and through the people.

That is the germ of the matter.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Recommendations to Committee of Eight Cardinals

Pope Francis has formed a committee of eight (possibly nine) cardinals to advise him on governing the Church, especially in reform of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy.

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston is one of the reformers. He has asked US bishops for their recommendations, and some of the bishops have asked members of their dioceses for suggestions.

One strong recommendation I hope to see  echoes the proposal made at the Second Vatican Council by a patriarch of the Melkite Rite, Maximos IV Saigh.

He recommended the formation of a small group of bishops who would serve on a rotating basis, selected from around the world, as an advisory board for the pope, but also as a committee which would oversee the Curia. The bishops would direct the Curia!

He was responding to the idea that the bishops form a college which carries on the office of the college of apostles.

The New Testament shows that the early Church thought of the apostles, not just Peter, as the authority in the Church. Paul went to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and presbyters to settle the issue about whether Gentile converts to Christ had to practice Jewish customs.

Over time Church authority came to be identified with the bishop of Rome and the exercise of that authority was centralized in one man. At Vatican II the bishops wanted to reclaim as a college the authority exercised by the college of apostles. Some members of the Curia were not happy about that idea and worked very hard to derail any such suggestion.

Historian Father John O'Malley believes that collegiality was one of the "issues under the issues" at Vatican II.  He meant that many of the discussions about directives and changes in various areas of Church life often came back to who had authority.

For example, who is in charge of the language in which a given nation worships? Does the pope (Curia) decide the vernacular or does the local conference of bishops? Vatican II decided the bishops had the authority. The US bishops, however, seemed to release that authority when the Curia objected to a proposed English translation of the Roman Missal and insisted on the Curia's translation.

Pope Paul VI offered the bishops a compromise over the collegiality issue when he called for the Synod of Bishops, a collegial body of advisers who, the pope said, would have the task of informing and advising. And, he went on, "It may also have deliberative power when such power is given it by the Sovereign Pontiff."

As retired bishop of San Francisco John R. Quinn noted in his recent book Ever Ancient, Ever New, "In fact, no synod to date has been given deliberative power, and (as a consequence) the synods held since Vatican II have not been a sharing by the bishops in the government of the universal Church but are rather a way for bishops to collaborate with the pope in his primatial function. What large numbers of the bishops at Vatican II desired was a means whereby they would share, as successors of the apostles, with the pope in the government of the universal Church."

A second recommendation for the committee of eight would be to effect a concerted effort to see that the personnel of all the offices of the Curia truly represent the Church's world-wide, multi-cultural membership.

Theologian Yves Congar noted decades ago that the immense diversity of the Church and the broader trends of the world require wide representation in the central office if it is to be an effective leader.

Congar went on to say that "we need to see development beyond a merely 'diplomatic representation,' going beyond simply personnel who are international by origin but still purely Roman by mentality; there needs to be at the heart of the Church a representation of the problems.

"Being out of touch, even a little, with living contact at the base or at the periphery is always dangerous for those in charge...What we are talking about here is not, properly speaking, decentralization, but rather the question of avoiding the danger of isolation."

And a third recommendation is the development of a vehicle for the advice of lay men and women in the administration of the Church.

The active participation of the laity in the liturgy should spill over into the active involvement of the laity in the running of the Church. Just as the Curia is subject to papal primacy, so lay involvement does not threaten the essential hierarchical structure of the Church.

If the Church is the people of God then the people of God ought to have some say in the Church.

While the implementation of these three recommendations may strike fear in the hearts of some members of the Church, the three are fully in keeping with the direction set by Vatican II. Those who oppose the style of Pope Francis with his emphasis on a pastoral Church may have to re-think the essence of Church and the style of the Master.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Helmut Schuller in Cincinnati

Father Helmut Schüller, a co-founder of the Austrian Pfarrer-Initiative, spoke in Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, July 27, 2013, to a gathering of about 300 concerning the history and goals of the Austrian Priests Initiative.

The session was held at the Fairview-Clifton German Language School and was part of Schüller's three-week, fifteen-city tour (July 16 - August 7), sponsored by a coalition of ten Church reform-minded organizations.

Under the title of  "Catholic Tipping Point Tour," Schüller recalled the start of the Initiative in 2006 as a response to several issues facing the Church in Austria and in the world at large, such as the decline in the number of priests, the closing of parishes, the failure to allow the laity greater sharing of responsibility for the Church's mission and ministry.

After efforts at dialog with Austrian bishops and less than successful meetings with Church officials in Rome, the members of the Initiative decided to make a bold appeal for disobedience of specific Church disciplines, including the prohibition against talking about ordination of women and of married men to the priesthood.

Other areas of concern are the prohibition of preaching by competent lay people as well as the refusal of communion to members of Christian churches, to divorced-remarried people, and to those who have officially left the Church.

Inclusion of a petition for church reform in every liturgy, refusal by priests to travel from parish to parish to parish to offer multiple Masses on Sundays and feast days, and advocating the appointment of a "presiding leader" in every parish (a re-imaging of the priesthood) as an antidote against closing or consolidating parishes are other issues promoted by the Initiative.

In his Cincinnati talk, Schüller described himself as "a common priest, not a rebel,"  as one of many pastors who are trying to lead "the Church into a very uncertain future." He added, "We have to be advocates of the people of the Church."

Schuller, though dubbed by some of his critics as "ein unruhestifter" (a trouble-maker), comes across as a mild mannered, soft-spoken advocate, out-going and yet as eager to listen as to talk.

His remarks were occasionally punctuated by applause from his Cincinnati audience, the majority of whom were women, and most of them senior citizens. (He noted that according to a newspaper item, 80% of the Church's services in the USA are offered by women.)

Schuller was born in Austria on December 24, 1952. He was ordained in 1977, and has served in several positions in the Vienna diocese, including for four years as Vicar General for Cardinal Christoph Schőnborn, who dismissed him from that office for his differing opinions.

He remains today pastor of St. Stephen Church in the village of Probstdorf, serving also as university chaplain at the Catholic University of Vienna and as a youth minister at a Catholic high school.

In November of 2012 the Vatican withdrew from him the title of Monsignor though no reasons were given for the retraction.

Addressing the appeal to disobedience and the reaction it has garnered, Schüller based the Initiative's bold statement on the grounds that in  many cases the hierarchy's expectation of obedience is a means to stifle reform and their use of "obedience" itself lacks control and accountability.

Further, Schüller explained, the members of the Initiative realize there are many cases of silent disobedience every day (e.g., lay persons preaching, or priests' giving communion to non-Catholics) and so the call to disobedience simply articulates what is already happening.

Although the Austrian Priests-Initiative and Schüller in particular are irritants to Cardinal Schőnborn, the Austrian hierarchs are reluctant to stifle or retaliate in light of the overwhelming support the Initiative has garnered among Austrian Catholics.

About 15% of the Austrian priests are publicly members of the Initiative, and some 80% of the laity are judged to support its objectives.

One powerful motivating force energizing the Initiative is the lingering spirit of the Second Vatican Council, especially the Council's teaching on the Church as communio and the recognition of the sensus fidelium.

The Council, Schüller said, was a gift to the Church, not a danger. He also warned against the possible connotation attached to the English term "lay," since in the language of many the term "lay" implies one is uninformed, unprofessional, or even incompetent.

On the evening of his public talk, Schüller also met with a group of Cincinnati-area priests to discuss the Initiative and to affirm that "Wir sind eine Kirche bewegung" (We are a Church movement).

There are approximately 45 priests in the Cincinnati area who are members of the US version of the Initiative, that is, the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP). There are similar associations of priests in Ireland, Australia, England, and Germany.

Though some US hierarchs have forbidden Schüller to speak in church-owned buildings during his tour, his audiences have numbered some 250 in New York, 500 in Boston, 350 in Philadelphia, 500 in Chicago, and the 300 in Cincinnati.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Pastoring By The Book?

Many parishes have  priests who are pastoring by the book.

Upon receiving their new assignments they undertake a ministry of correction. Their first foray is usually a reaction to liturgical practices which they deem contrary to the standards of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

The old pastor, in their estimation, was lackadaisical about rubrics and unresponsive to directions from the Curia or the diocesan Liturgy Office. His sloppy rule-keeping has diminished respect for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

He has even allowed the laity to participate in roles that are reserved to the clergy.

The new pastor must now come in and clean up the mess, often in the face of misunderstanding, opposition or even hostility from parishioners.

He is, however, willing to endure the tensions that follow from his corrective measures for the sake of doing it right, of getting things back to the way they should be.

He quotes documents in support of his changes. He is simply asking parish members to respect his office, accede to his education, accept his sincere efforts to establish a liturgy and a parish that is united in its uniformity to the directives and decrees. He can justify by the book what he says and does.

This pastoring by the book, however, is only one side of a pastor's role. The  late theologian Bernard Häring, C.SS. R., in his book Priesthood Imperiled balances the picture.

Häring advises priests to "concentrate all your attention and energies on becoming, as it were, a kind of sacrament, a visible and convincing sign of healing, forgiveness, and nonviolence as much as is possible!"

He continues, "The priesthood is not at all a step upward on the social ladder, but rather a particular commitment to descend, in humility and service, to where the people are..."

Priests who govern by the book, however, may cringe at Häring's reservations about ritualism: "Some fifty years ago, ritualism was one of the major plagues in the Church...Ritualism in any form can simultaneously become a humbling and self-exalting sickness...Even though extreme cases of ritual scrupulosity and mean-spirited control have greatly diminished, ritualism still exists...it remains a most serious obstacle to inculturation and liturgical spontaneity."

Häring did not oppose laws or rituals. He was, after all, the author of the groundbreaking The Law of Christ  (1966, English edition), a three-volume work on moral theology for priests and laity. Two decades later he issued a new three-volume comprehensive presentation on Catholic moral theology titled Free and Faithful in Christ.

No, Häring proposed a balanced approach to morality and to priesthood, but he would suggest that those who choose to "do it by the book" must include the Scriptures as the balancing book in their arsenal of pastoral practices.

"Priests," Häring insisted, "can never meditate enough on the four songs of the Servant [Is 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12], considered by Jesus to be his program for life and service, and, therefore, also the plan for his followers."

Pastoring by the book is only half the practice. The Gospel and Jesus' style of pastoring are equally if not more essential guides for being faithful to the role of priest/pastor.

We priests cannot pastor by the book --we can justify what we say and do only by the books!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

AUSCP Meeting: Agenda and Votes

About 200 priests from across the country assembled in Seattle, Washington, June 24-27, for the second annual assembly of the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP).

Key-note speakers addressed issues related to the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

Among the assembly's agenda was consideration of 15 proposals offered by members as potential resolutions from the AUSCP.

The pattern of acceptance and rejection of the proposals suggests that the AUSCP is taking a moderate stand in its efforts to renew the Church and support Vatican II.

The association voted to accept a proposal to promote ongoing discussion of and support for changes in Canon Law which would allow the ordination of women to the order of the diaconate.

Membership, however, rejected the proposal calling for study of and open discussion for the ordination of women and married men to the priesthood.

The proposal to urge the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to encourage the re-introduction of general absolution (in reference to the Sacrament of Penance) in U. S. parishes was also passed.

Other proposals rejected included: asking the USCCB to appoint a bishop as liaison to the AUSCP; asking the pope to allow use of the former (1974) Sacramentary; asking that the selection of diocesan bishops become a more transparent process in which the local churches have a voice.

Discussions about the various proposals included highly nuanced argumentation, not necessarily opposed to some resolutions in principle but rejecting them as worded or with understanding that corollaries to the proposal may be misunderstood or misdirected.

Journalist Bob Kaiser, who was Time magazine's correspondent at the Council, offered anecdotes about his experiences and perceptions. He recalled the many times  he had seated around his dinner table some of the "stars" of the Council: bishops, theologians (Rahner, Kung, Congar), engaging them in assessing the struggles and direction set by the Council.

He said again and again, "The Council was a learning experience for the bishops."

The current Tablet journalist at the Vatican Bob Mickens spoke about the election of Pope Francis and the effect his unusual papal style is having on the Vatican bureaucracy and on bishops' conferences around the world.

He noted that some have criticized Papa Francesco for change only in style, but Mickens reminded the assembly that historian John O'Malley insists that after all is said and done style turns out to be substantive.

Theologian Catherine Clifford and canon lawyer Jim Coriden addressed issues rising from Lumen Gentium and the efforts of some people to restrict the aggiornamento Pope John XXIII sorely wanted for the Church.

Priest/pastor/author Pat Brennan was unable to speak to the assembly because of illness. Bishop Donald Trautman, former ordinary of the Erie diocese, substituted, urging the AUSCP to continue its efforts at renewal and to enter into dialogue with the episcopacy.

Among AUSCP's goals and objectives for 2013 is widening awareness that the AUSCP exists, building bridges between the AUSCP and religious men and women, raising funds to develop a support staff, and inviting brother priests to gatherings which engage the vision of Vatican II.

Common prayer, meals, discussions and recreation created a stronger bond among the nearly 200 who attended. Total membership is slightly less than 1000 priests.

AUSCP was founded in 2011.

The AUSCP website is http://www.uscatholicpriests.org/

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Old Guys in the AUSCP

The average age of the members of the Association of U. S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) is about 70, and one of its aims is to promote the direction and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

I recently read a blog critical of the AUSCP, a blog which took special note of the average age of the members and commented, "Are you getting the picture here? This is not a youth movement."

The blogger continued, "I'm saying this movement is fading....For a growing number of Catholics, Vatican II is simply another part of  Catholic history...What's coming, not too far in the future now, is a re-appraisal...a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses, a rediscovery of what Vatican II really says...When that happens, I think the old, V2 pro or con dialectic will be as gone as the dinosaurs."

This assessment may be true. Twenty years from now most of the current members of the AUSCP will be dead. Twenty years from now there may be a reappraisal of the Council. Twenty years from now there may be a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses.

But part of the dynamic for that reappraisal and more sober assessment will be the energy expended by the old guys in the AUSCP who cherished and promoted what Vatican II did.

Some of the strongest critics of the AUSCP and their Vatican II-orientation were youngsters or not even born when the Council took place.

Some of the strongest critics of Vatican II create a "straw list" of items which they say  Vatican II said, and then use their list to ridicule AUSCP's efforts to promote the Council's directions and spirit.

Perhaps the major reason that most of the AUSCP members are 70 or older is that these men remember the days before the Council.

Vatican II Changes

Without denying that there were abuses and misdirection in the immediate wake of the Council, the majority of the AUSCP members cherish the many good results produced by Vatican II's aggiornamento, resourcement, and rapprochment.

A partial list of the happy results of Vatican II includes:

1) greater participation of the people in the liturgy

2) restored awareness that the Holy Spirit works in all the people of God

3) biblical literacy among the laity

4) restoration of permanent diaconate

5) return of the Rite of Christian Initiation

6) renewed emphasis on Church as communio/koinonia (eucharistic ecclesiology)

7) retrieval of the theology of the common priesthood

8) hospitable recognition of other Christians

9) reaching out to the world as friend rather than enemy

10) re-evaluation of marriage as partnership of life and love rather than simply legal contract

11) re-examination of collegiality of episcopacy

12) recognition of the right to religious freedom

The list could go on.

Members of the AUSCP remember what it was like before. They are eager (perhaps anxious) to see maintenance of these changes and the promotion of the directions set by the Council.

They have reason to be concerned.

Vatican II called for an updating of the liturgy, a simplification of the rites, the elimination of accretions, the restoration of elements that were lost. Papal permission to use the pre-Vatican II Mass (Tridentine Rite) which the bishops voted to change is counter to the Council's directives.

Vatican II acknowledged the role of the bishop in his diocese and the role of bishops' conferences when it comes to liturgy and the vernacular. Curial rejection of the US Bishops' translation and their insistence on a new Roman Missal translation that is more than awkward counters the Council's direction.

Vatican II returned to the concept of episcopal collegiality. The idea of a Bishops' Synod with an agenda prepared by the Curia runs counter to the collegial spirit envisioned by the Council.

Vatican II urged ongoing dialogue with members of Christian denominations and with other religions. The current official dialogue barely exists and falls far short of the direction set by the Council.


Most members of the AUSCP lived in the pre-Vatican II church. They experienced both the excitement and the confusion that came as the Council's aftermath. They struggled with the changes, sometimes changes they did not at first want or understand. But they lived it.

For most of the ASUSCP members Vatican II was a gift and they are eager to hand it on to future generations. They do not want the Church to go back to the way it was.  They know what it was like. They see the value in what we have in the Vatican II tradition.

It takes a long time for the deliberations of a Council to be reviewed, a long time for its decisions to be accepted.

The AUSCP simply wants to keep the vision alive.

The blogger critical of the AUSCP, of its aged members and their agenda, noted that more and more of the faithful are not buying the concern about Vatican II as proposed by the Association.

That may be true. But the AUSCP believes that Vatican II, as Pope John put it, "rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of a most splendid light. It is now only dawn."

The AUSCP believes that there must be among all of us (clergy and laity) what Pope John asked of the bishops in council: "serenity of mind, brotherly concord, moderation in proposals, dignity in discussion, and wisdom of deliberation."

The AUSCP believes that the Council's documents "have lost nothing of their brilliance," as Pope John Paul II said in 2001. "They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative tests of the magisterium, within the Church's tradition."

The Holy Spirit, fifty years ago, gave the Church a sense of direction in an ecumenical council, in which the college of bishops has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 883).

The membership of the AUSCP may be a fading one, but the importance of Vatican II is not.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Association of Priests To Meet in June

The Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP) will hold its second annual national assembly, June 24-27, 2013, in Seattle, WA.

The association began in August of 2011, and held its first national conference in Florida in June of 2012. About 240 priests from around the country attended that meeting. A similar number is expected to gather in Seattle. Total membership is around 900; some 45 Cincinnati priests are members.

Eager to support the direction and reforms of the Second Vatican Council the AUSCP has chosen "Lumen Gentium: God's Pilgrim People" as the theme for the 2013 assembly. (Last year's theme focused on Vatican II's document on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium.)

The format for this year's meetings is similar to last year's: keynote talks, discussions, consideration of resolutions and voting for or against certain proposals.

Among the proposals offered by some members of the association for this year is a  resolution to urge the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to use their power and authority to resolve the pastoral and sacramental challenges rising from an increase in the number of Catholics and a decline in the number of priests.

The assembly will also consider whether to ask the Holy Father for permission to use the old (1974) Sacramentary prayers at Mass in light of the awkwardness that many priests find with the translation in today's Roman Missal.

One resolution for consideration and vote supports a comprehensive plan for improved, more effective evangelization.

Some issues will be more controversial, such as the ordination of women to the diaconate, a request for permission to use general absolution more frequently, ordination of women and married men to the priesthood, and wider lay/clergy consultation in the selection of bishops.

A slate of 15 proposals will likely take place at the meeting, but if last year's discussions are indicative not all proposals will pass.

The publication of the association's agenda has elicited criticism from some priests and laity across the country. One priest made a special point of noting that most of the AUSCP priests are 70 and older, implying that their gatherings to specially promote Vatican II initiatives would be short lived, and after their demise a more reasoned approach to Vatican II can be pursued.

Keynote speakers scheduled for the Seattle meeting are Father Patrick Brennan (a pastor), Catherine Clifford (a theologian), Robert Kaiser (a journalist who was an observer at Vatican II), Robert Mickens (a Vatican journalist), and James Coriden (a canon lawyer).

Additional information about the AUSCP is available at http://www.uscatholicpriests.org/

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

God's Preference: For or With?

It is my conviction that God does not like to do things for us, but much prefers to do things with us.

This observation colors my understanding of prayer, of ministry, of spiritual life, of Church.

The Bible supports my conviction. God created human beings in his image and then commissioned them, "Be fertile and multiply...fill the earth and subdue it...have dominion..." (cf. Gen 1:28).

As biblical history unfolds we see God calling people like Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and sending them out in his name. He accompanies them on their mission but he expects them to act, to be the instruments of his saving grace. Jesus' calling of disciples and sending them out verifies the divine preference; he could do it all on his own but he prefers to work with and through fallible human beings. The incarnation proves the rule; God became a human being and in that humanness worked out the Father's plan of salvation.

My conviction about God's preference to work with rather than for may seem to challenge the insight that "it's all grace." In fact, it complements it. God gives us the ability to choose, the inspiration to make good choices, and the confidence that when we do his will we are helping to make his kingdom come!

Dorothy Day saw it perfectly. In an article she wrote in May of 1954 she said, "Our life of grace and our life of the body go on beautifully intermingled and harmonious. 'All is grace,' as the dying priest whispered to his friend in The Diary of a Country Priest (by George Bernanos). The Little Flower also said, 'All is grace.'"

Grace provides the direction and energy for us to do the things of God. Grace builds on nature.

Many a grandmother invites her grandchild into the kitchen to help her bake cookies. She could do it by herself more efficiently, more cleanly, but she wants to share the experience with a beloved child and create a bonding moment. The messiness of allowing the child to add ingredients, stir the mixture, and press out the cookie dough is a deeper form of love than simply handing the child a cookie and saying, "Run along now, and don't get crumbs all over the floor!"

God's patience trumps his efficiency. God allows his beloved to get crumbs all over the floor, much preferring to do things with us than for us.

This divine attitude explains the practice of prayer, especially prayers of petition. When we ask God for something we are neither informing the Father of something he does not already know nor are we trying to cajole him into doing us a favor. God already wants what is best for his children. Our prayer of petition is our participation in the divine will. We pray with the conviction that God's will should be done even if it is contrary to our own.

I wonder if sometimes things don't turn out the way we want simply because we didn't participate, we didn't add anything to the mixture. Our failure to become involved, to do our share, does not nullify the divine plan (Judas Iscariot's failure to "get with the program" did not stop Jesus' great act of love) but it may in fact create an obstacle that must later be overcome. Prayer sensitizes us to God's will, not the other way round.

This divine attitude helps explain why God has routinely called people to ministry. We have to believe that God could do things far more efficiently without our help, but his preference for our involvement and cooperation demonstrate a genuine "hands-on" kind of love and patience.

"Calling people" is a prime characteristic of salvation history. Hilaire Belloc once famously noted our puzzlement in God's calling the sons of Jacob to be the foundation of his chosen people: "How odd of God to choose the Jews."

Still more puzzling is why God has chosen us to be heralds of the Gospel and participants in the saving work of the Church.

Our awareness of the divine attitude of relying on people helps us assess our spiritual lives. There is meaning to our existence, even if we are not likely to bend the course of history or always be faithful participants in the program. One's spiritual life is to be a concerted effort to be open to God's call, to focus upon the divine will, to hold ourselves in readiness for whatever God may ask next.

Thomas Merton once summarized that consequence in a prayer:
            My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead my by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen. 
The Second Vatican Council restored our awareness that the Church is a communio, a community of people, a community of local churches. It is this insight that urges the active participation of all the people in liturgy and in the mission and ministry of the Church. By virtue of our baptism we enter into the priesthood of Jesus Christ and all the baptized are to exercise that priesthood "by the reception of the sacraments, by prayer and thanksgiving, by the witness of a holy life, self-denial and active charity" (Lumen Gentium, #10).

It's my conviction that God does not like to do things for us, but much prefers to do things with us. And that observation makes a lot of difference.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Something's Not Right, But...

Something's not right when a parish becomes popular because it has short, quick Masses. If religion is simply fulfilling obligations, it may make sense to get to Mass and "get it over with." If religion is an intimate relationship with God, hurrying through Mass is rude and counter-productive.

Something's wrong when the Church lacks sufficient priests to meet the needs of the people, and the leadership's only response to this shortage is to encourage more prayers for more vocations. Maybe leaders need to take another look at how God calls people.

Something's misguided when ordination to the episcopacy is a reward or an honor given to a man because of the office he holds. Bishops are successors of the apostles, and as such they are ordained not for themselves but for the people of God. The custom of assigning a newly ordained bishop to an imaginary diocese proves the point.

Something's out of balance when Cardinal Jozef Suenens of Belgium must ask his fellow bishops at the Second Vatican Council, "Why are we even discussing the reality of the church when half the church is not even represented here?" His observation led to inviting women to be present as auditors at the final two sessions.

Something's amiss when an ecumenical council directs that "the rite of the Mass is to be revised...the rites are to be simplified...parts which were lost through the vicissitudes of history are to be restored" and then a later pope decides to open the door to using the old rite anyway.

But something’s very reassuring when the cardinals of the Church elect a man to the papacy who is humble, pastoral, and not afraid. A real shepherd!

Something’s encouraging when the new pope selects Church leaders from around the world to help him in assessing the Church’s bureaucracy. Reform of the Curia is probable.

Something good is happening when the pope meets with the leadership of women religious, encouraging them to be of service to God’s people. The door to dialog is open.

Something’s back on track when signs of poverty and simplicity rather than wealth and pomp mark the life and lifestyle of the vicar of St. Peter. Pope Francis is challenging the mindset of many Church members as well as critics.

Something’s bringing hope and new life to the Church when Protestants declare themselves “very optimistic” about Pope Francis at the Protestant Kirkentag (the 34th annual gathering) held in Munich May 1-5.

Something good is happening in the Catholic Church as we observe the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II –perhaps another Pentecost moment when the people of God will be inspired all over again to bring the Gospel into the world. Let us pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Hair In Your Soup?

Once upon a time a gourmet chef took over the day-to-day operations of a highly acclaimed and successful restaurant. The menu was superb, the presentation excellent, patrons numerous, but one of the chef's policies gradually allowed a major problem to develop: poor service. There were not enough waiters. Business suffered.

Applications to serve were numerous, but the gourmet chef  rejected most of them. He insisted that all who served had to be bald! He said that this control assured that no patron would ever find a hair in his soup!

Priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati recently received a memo containing "open listings," that is, positions in parishes and other church-related offices needing a priest. The listings are "open" in the sense that priests may nominate themselves or other priests for these positions.

One listing in this memo is unique. The Priests' Personnel Office is looking for a priest who will serve as "parochial administrator" of one parish and as "parochial vicar" to assist the pastor of three other parishes. (A parochial vicar is what we used to call "an associate pastor," and a parochial administrator is a quasi-pastor, that is, a priest who takes the place of a pastor; cf. Canons 539-540).

Such an arrangement implies that the diocese does not have enough priests for all its parishes. The priest shortage is having an impact upon people in  general and upon priests in particular.

In 1959, before Vatican II,  the Archbishop of Cincinnati Most Reverend Karl J. Alter commissioned a study which concluded that there was a "threatening shortage of priests for the immediate future" of the archdiocese.

His study was accurate; the shortage, however, was not confined to "the immediate future."  The statistics for 2012 show that the Archdiocese has 176 active diocesan priests plus 95 who are sick, retired or away. An additional 237 religious priests serve in the diocese, some of them in parishes. The number of parishes is 214; of that total, 152 have resident pastors and 62 are without resident pastors though administered by priests.

These stats reflect the reason for that unique open listing mentioned above and for the development of so-called "pastoral regions," that is, arranging one priest to serve as pastor or parochial administrator of more than one parish in a given area.

Yet another open listing seeks "Parochial Vicar for Champaign County Region" which includes four parishes --one priest to serve as associate pastor in a rural area of the diocese which includes four congregations.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, of course, is not alone in coping with the priest shortage. Across the country, according to studies published by the Center for Applied Research for the Apostolate (CARA), there was in 2009 "slightly more than one active diocesan priest per parish (1.05) in the United States."  At the present trend by 2035 the estimate of priest per parish is 0.84; the number of Catholics "per active diocesan priest would be 2,210."

At the present moment, according to CARA, there are "about 63,800 Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses in an average week" in the United States.

There are still some who think priests work only on weekends. They forget about administrative duties, communion calls, anointing the sick, weddings, funerals, fielding complaints, confessions, staff meetings, parish council, finance commission, etc, etc, etc. Priests are not as available, even in emergencies, as many parishioners would like them to be.

The hierarchy's concern for the priest shortage is real. Bishops are constantly urging more prayers for vocations and initiating vocation recruitment programs.

At the same time there have been calls for the development of a new paradigm for priestly service. Those we call priests today normally fulfill three roles; they are priests (sacramental role), they are evangelists (the prophetic role), and they are leaders (the servant/leadership role).

Presbyteros is the term we usually translate as "priest," but it is more accurately rendered "elder." The Greek word for priest is hiereus, one who offers sacrifice. The roles are not necessarily identical.

Is it possible to ordain men who would fulfill the first role (that is, preside at liturgy, shrive people of their sins, anoint the sick, etc) without at the same time serving as professional teachers and administrator/leaders?

Are there men in the parish congregation who could serve as priests and yet remain in secular jobs and be husbands and fathers?

I remember being told by a non-Catholic professor at Vanderbilt University back in 1987, "Your church is going to have to make up its mind which is more important: celibacy or eucharist."

His bold assessment has challenged my thinking all these years.

Once upon a time a gourmet chef took over the day-to-day operations of a highly acclaimed and successful restaurant. The menu was superb, the presentation excellent, patrons numerous, but one of the chef's policies gradually allowed a major problem to develop: poor service. There were not enough waiters. Business suffered.

Applications to serve were numerous, but the gourmet chef  rejected most of them. He insisted that all who served had to be bald! He said that his requirement assured that no patron would ever find a hair in his soup!