Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Need More Priests

We need more priests.

Several studies have been published over the past four decades, and the statistics in one of those reports indicate that the number of Roman Catholic priests in the United States has declined from 58,534 in 1981 to 38,275 in 2012.

Recent stats for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati list 487 priests: 261 are diocesan priests, 226 are from religious orders. Most of the priests in religious orders are not assigned to parishes, but have other ministries. Of the diocesan priests 163 are active in the diocese, 5 are active outside the diocese, and 93 are retired/sick/absent.

The Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is 461,129 (out of a total population of 2,994,520).

The archdiocese is divided into 212 parishes, of which 149 have resident pastors and 63 are administered by non-resident priests.

Such a panoply of statistics can be mind-boggling, and somewhat impersonal. The “rubber meets the road,” however, when a parish is told, “You will now have to share a pastor with one or more of your neighboring parishes.”

As priests retire or are needed in other assignments, fewer priests are available to serve as full time pastors in one parish. As a consequence, many parishes share a pastor.

July 1 is the usual time in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for moving pastors and assigning new ones. For example, there is the Fort Recovery Cluster of Parishes (Mary Help of Christians Parish in Fort Recovery, St. Joseph Parish in St Joseph, St. Peter Parish in St Peter, and St. Paul Parish in Sharpsburg. They will need an associate pastor (aka parochial vicar).

Or there is a cluster made up of St. Joseph Parish, Wapakoneta, Immaculate Conception/St Lawrence in Botkins, and St John Evangelist Parish in Wapakoneta, with the pastor and an associate pastor covering seven weekend Masses. They will need an associate pastor.

And in the greater Cincinnati area is the pastoral region of St Anthony, St Cecilia and St Margaret/St John to be served by one pastor and one associate. St. Teresa, Covedale, and St. William, Price Hill, already share a pastor. St Vivian, Finneytown, and St Bartholomew, Cincinnati, share a pastor.  Years ago St. Peter and Paul, St Elizabeth, and St Matthew in Norwood combined to form Holy Trinity Parish.

Future plans call for St. Clare, College Hill, and Little Flower, Mt Airy, to share a pastor, and likewise for St Michael, Sharonville, and St Gabriel, Glendale.

These changes (forming pastoral regions or clustering under one pastor) are difficult for parishioners. The Mass schedules and other services to which they have become accustomed are likely to change.

Cincinnati Archbishop Karl J. Alter recognized back in the 1950s that his diocese was not ordaining enough priests to keep up with retirements and the increase in the Catholic population. And this forecast was made before the Second Vatican Council, which some Catholics have blamed for the growing priest shortage.

Happily the Archdiocese of Cincinnati celebrates this Spring the ordination of seven new priests. Their ministry is obviously needed.

The scarcity of  priests and the utmost importance of the Eucharist cry out for a change in the way we have been about the Father’s business. What are we to do?

The observation attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And likewise the wisdom of Alfred Lord Tennyson: The old order changeth yielding place to the new, and God fulfills himself in many ways.

We need more priests. I wonder what Paul would do. Prayer is obviously appropriate but maybe it is not enough. Perhaps God is waiting for us to do something. What shall we do?


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Can (May) Women Preach?

Articles in the March 1, 2016, issue of L’Osservatore Romano, generally regarded as a semi-official Vatican newspaper, raised again the question of whether women should be allowed to preach in the Catholic Church?

This issue differs from whether women should be ordained priests. In the Catholic tradition as opposed to many Protestant denominations “women as preachers” does not imply “women as ordained” ministers.

The question in the Catholic tradition is whether women can or may preach the Gospel, even in a church setting. Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People confirms that lay persons (men and women) have a role in the evangelizing mission of the Church.

Affirming the apostolate of the laity, the decree says, “the true apostle is on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers to draw them towards the faith, or to the faithful to instruct them, strengthen them, incite them to a more fervent life…” (Apostolicam actuositatem #6).

God gives a variety of gifts to the people, and each has “the right and the duty of exercising them in the Church and in the world for the good of human beings and the development of the Church…” (#3).

Experience amply demonstrates that some lay persons have the gift of preaching, and that some clergymen do not. Ordination does not necessarily confer the preaching charism on the one ordained.

If the question is “Can lay persons (men or women) preach?” the answer is that some have the manifest ability to do so and to do it well.

If the question is “May lay persons (men or women) preach?” the answer is that some have been authorized to do so and do so in accord with Church law.

Canon 766 acknowledges that “Lay persons can be permitted to preach in a church or oratory, if necessity requires it in certain circumstance or it seems advantageous in particular cases, according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops and without prejudice to canon 767.1.”

Commentators on this law explain that the diocesan bishop can give permission for lay persons to preach. Lay persons, for example, do legitimately preach retreats, parish missions and days of reflection.

Canon 767, however, insists that preaching of the homily at Mass is reserved to a priest or deacon. Commentators on this law interpret the wording to imply that homilies in other liturgical contexts are not necessarily reserved to priests and deacons.

Although the articles in L’Osservatore Romano focused on women as preachers, legal restrictions about laity preaching a homily at Mass do not focus on “gender” or “the sex of the preacher,” but on whether the preacher is lay or clerical.

The question then is not whether women may preach, but rather whether  lay people may preach.

The issue of women as preachers, however, is of special concern to Dominican Sisters (two of the newspaper articles were by Dominican Sisters, Catherine Aubin and Madeleine Fredell) whose religious order is officially known as “the Order of Preachers.” The irony is palpable.

One argument against having women preach the homily is that lay preaching at that point in the liturgy violates the role of the priest-presider (or of the deacon) as one who preaches for the bishop. If women were ordained deacons then they could preach.

Another argument opposing women as preachers is that it would lead to ongoing and unwarranted feminization of the Church. Cardinal Raymond Burke has said that a radical feminist movement has strongly influenced the Church, leading to a complete collapse of the teaching of the faith and to rampant liturgical experimentation.

Some oppose the preaching of women in any church-setting basing themselves on 1 Corinthians: “As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate” (cf 14:33-34).

Arguments in favor of women as preachers of the homily include the realization that some women have the gift for preaching, that women can add a female perspective to Scripture and Church life that may escape the male perspective, that lay persons in general may be better suited to preach to women and/or children given their varying life experiences.

Enzo Bianchi, author of the primary article on women as preachers in L’Ossrervatore Romano, noted that there was time in the history of the church that  “preaching by the laity was also authorized in the liturgical setting and that in the Middle Ages even some women received this authorization from the Pope.” He added that the ban on lay preaching by the laity was raised by Pope Gregory IX in 1228.

That the Vatican just a few decades ago approved of lay persons preaching the homily is obvious from the Directory on Children’s Masses  (Pueros Baptizatos, November 1, 1973): “There is no reason why one of the adults should not preach a homily to the children after the gospel, especially if the priest has difficulty in adapting himself to the mentality of the children” (#24).

That the issue of women as preachers was raised again in a semi-official Vatican newspaper suggests that Pope Francis might be open to a change in Church discipline about lay preaching. He has said that he wants women to have a greater role in the Church, and this may be one of the ways in which to further this goal.

His concern for good preaching, for orthodoxy, and for recognizing charisms given to the faithful undermine the fear that unqualified, unorthodox, ill-prepared lay people would be authorized to preach the homily.

Perhaps the time has come for a more intimate inclusion of the laity (men and women) in evangelization and preaching.

Vatican II acknowledged, “It is a fact that many men cannot hear the Gospel and come to acknowledge Christ except through the laymen they associate with” (Apostolocam Actuositatem, #13).