Friday, February 27, 2004
Peace, all. The Clergy Abuse report made front page headlines in my local paper this morning. I'm not sure I wanted to get into a charged topic during Lent, but here goes anyway. (More interesting than doing my taxes.) I'm concerned that too narrow an interpretation of this report will follow: that 1950 was the advent of sexual crimes by church folk against children (I would fall over in a faint if it were), that homosexuality, not opportunism is the reason for the bulk of crimes committed against boys, that four-plus percent of priests were predators is cause for a present-day witch-hunt. Many people who have firmly-made-up opinions will look through the report, find confirmation for their pet view, and embrace it. Result: no new insights, no progress on real root causes. My observations: - I've worked with many good diocesan priests through the years, but I can't say I necessarily find them more holy as a group than any other subset of intentional Catholics. In fact, I would say certain aspects of the modern dicoesan priest's lifestyle are more obstacles to holiness. - Foremost, the opportunity for lack of personal discipline is a big problem for a lot of guys. I know it would be for me. My sacramental commitment to my wife and child, my accountability to my parish and my pastor/employer are factors which make me more effective and fruitful as a minister, and far more grounded in reality than when I was single and "free." From my two years in rural ministry, I can see huge temptations in a lack of direct accountability. More accountability to the local parish is essential for a priest. Without it, an undisciplined pastor roams between grave misconduct (when the bishop steps in) and saintliness (when the money rolls in?), with a lot of room in between for persistent incompetency and self-indulgence. - I can't help but think that closing seminaries to all twenty-somethings and most thirty-somethings would be a good idea. Sure, you have an occasional prodigy who could handle the demands of modern parish ministry. But couldn't a seminary candidate under 40 go to school, get a specialized degree (say, in canon law, or liturgy, or something) and work for the chancery for ten or fifteen years? Couldn't these people be steered to lay ecclesial ministry or a monastery, depending on their sensibilities? Test them for ten years or so: see if they really have the right stuff. I've met a lot of the young, so-called conservative "new" priests. Good guys, really, and some are even holy. But in the last mid-century, these priests were curates for two decades or so before they tackled real responsibility as a pastor. Fifty years ago they would be youth ministers, liturgists, religious education directors, and the like. I wonder: when they get the 5-parishes-in-2-county assignment will they have the staying power? My real hope as this report surfaces is that we will go beyond a talk show reaction to it (getting caught up in politics, feelings (especially anger) and self-righteous self-applause) and make some progress. As a liberal, I don't want to see the hierarchy fade into scandal, incompetence, and irrelevancy. Good leadership is needed. Good examples of holiness are needed even more. If this report doesn't spark some true soul-searching and lead to significant reform, then it will have been a waste of time and paper.