Monday, January 04, 2010

Quis pastoriet ipsos pastores?



I had a rather splendid dinner last night with a group of clergy, good hard working men, some I haven’t seen for quite a time. I am bit ambiguous about clergy meetings, I don’t go to many, in part because I generally come away with varying degrees of depression. It is my resolution to do something about that.

At a lunch a few months ago there four or five priests from our diocese nearing retirement, they started talking about vocations, all of them said they would actively discourage anyone who wanted to be a priest. I think I was the only one who said that if I had my time over again I would still be delighted to be a priest, the others said, with varying amounts of vigour, they definitely wouldn’t. These weren’t “way out”, they were good dutiful men, actually priests I admire. It is sad but not too unusual to hear of retired priests who have giving up saying Mass when they have no congregation to say Mass for.

Amongst younger priests there seems to be a growing desire to take time out, a sabbatical or “time away from the parish”, sometimes they return, sometimes not.

What is evident is that I and my brothers seem to be more tired, maybe that is inevitable as the average age increases. What it is going to mean is that as the numbers of priests decreases, those remaining are going to be able to take on less work. The idea of multi-centred parishes, might be more likely to exist in the wishful minds of some bishops than in actuality.

It could just be my own turn of mind but it strikes me that many clergy who abound in practical charity, have lost hope and to some degree, maybe there is also a loss of faith too. For many priests I meet they feel they are going to be the last, often in a long line, to serve a particular parish. They see not only a lack of priestly and religious vocations but a lack of vocations to Catholic marriage, to teaching, to the Christian life.

As I get older, I realise how important friendships amongst priests are, just wasting time with the brothers. I was a bit sad not to be Rome this week for that international conference of priests, maybe next week when I am there there will still be something of that fraternal spirit. I don’t know why our official meetings are the most tedious events imaginable, maybe because we don’t actually listen to one another; priests and bishops can be notoriously bad at that.

Crucial to the well being of priests, obviously is the care given them by their people, for many of they are his friends and family, this in part is what the Year For Priests is about. The crucial element must be the Bishop, the one to whom Christ gives the responsibility to strengthen the brethren. I know many bishops today say they don’t want to interfere, I suspect they are thinking too much in terms of “managing”. The role of Christian shepherd is actually about loving, spending time with the flock. The role of a bishop is first and foremost to work with his co-workers the priests of his diocese, they are his prime responsibility, they are supposed to be his friends and family.

I had a friend, Sandra, who was a shepherdess, in a small way. She had about 150 sheep, the same number of priests in an average UK diocese, in the spring she spent most of her time in their shed, the rest of the year in their field, she loved them. During lambing people used avoid sitting near her at Mass because she smelt of sheep. She always struck me as the model of a shepherd.

During this Year for Priests pray for holy and loving to care God’s, but pray for even holier and more bishops to care for the shepherd’s of Christ’s flock.



25 comments:

fidelisjoff said...

Father I believe weathering the priestly vocation also depends largely on formation. This I am afraid is lacking in rigour both in terms of theology, particularly moral theology and spiritual discipline in daily routine (it would help if seminarians were permitted to dress the part). Seminaries need to provide a ballast that will last a life time. I am also concerned at the formation of Catholic cpnvert clergy that can leave a seminary with a rather patchy picture of Catholic theology and retain a fairly Protestant mindset as I have experienced with false interpretation of scripture and a lack of Catholic empathy. I do not in the main blame priests but the seminary formation and a lack of effective continuing faithful high quality formation once in a parish (you can only give what you receive).

Jack said...

a few points

1) As priests are transfered from parish to parish I think that the idea of looking after the emotional well-being of the priest and making sure he is ok has faded from the minds of tha laitiy

2) I think that the mentality of 'we're here to wind things down in an orderly manner" prevelent amongst many bishops has filtered down the priest in the parish

3) the mass exodus out of the church that began in the 1960's is beggining to show

4) the young people that don't abandon the faith often arn't interested in a priestly/religious vocation - here I plead guilty or are cannonically forbidden to - again I plead guilty

5) alledgedly in the past a large Catholic family would have at least one vocation within it

pelerin said...

It is extremely sad to learn that there are priests who say that they would actively discourage young men from becoming priests. It is no wonder vocations are so low today.

Also very sad to read that some retired priests have given up saying Mass if there is no congregation. I always understood that a priest was bound to celebrate Mass daily whether there was a congregation or not. And it was on learning that, that I realised the important fundamental difference between the Mass and a protestant service....

It is depressing that you describe your official meetings with fellow clergy as the 'most tedious events imaginable'. Perhaps the answer is to have more unofficial meetings? I understood that the golf course was a congenial meeting place for priests though not advisable in the present weather of course.

Interesting comment about bishops working with their co-workers ie priests. One of the French bishops was booed and whistled at yesterday at a Mass in Normandy by the congregation of a church whose priest was being replaced by the bishop with another priest after many years. The bishop was obviously flustered as he welcomed them all to the feast of All Saints (in fetching rainbow decorated vestments) at which there was laughter before the congregation left in protest. It appears that the priest being transferred was regarded by the bishop as being too 'papiste' regularly celebrating both rites which the congregation wanted to continue and the bishop is very liberal. A sad event which the French congregation is not taking lying down.

St Jean-Marie Vianney pray for priests and bishops.

Roberto said...

Hello Fr.

you be lucky if you get a very good support from a bishop, they are only interested in cossy life less hassle from ordinary people nor prreist on that matter. It is not like in the old days a real bishop was highly respect. pre-vatican II.
god bless us all.

alban said...

I do believe that is His Holiness Pope Shenouda in the centre, though he is somewhat older now than when this photograph was taken. He's a delightful man with an infectious sense of humour.

The Copts do a marvellous job of maintaining the Faith under circumstances that can be very difficult; they deserve our fervent admiration.

shadowlands said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan said...

"...lack of vocations to Christian Marriage...."

Some years ago I saw some marriage statistics for Westminster - only some 30% of the weddings solemnised in Catholic churches in that year (2004 I think) were between two Catholics. The other 70% were between Catholics and the non-Baptised or Non-Catholic Christians.

Of the 30% of those getting married who were baptised Catholics I wonder whether 5% were going to Mass and practising their Faith.


So I concluded from those figures that about 1 or 2 out of one hundred weddings in a Catholic Church here in England stood any chance of producing a Catholic family.

Does that figure seem about right?

Bryan Dunne

PS: I have never seen those figures since on the Westminster website.

Malcolm Kemp said...

I know an Anglican priest who has to retire within the next 12 months. He has no family of his own and regards his congregation as his family. Whenever I see him I think he looks sadder, more weary and more pessimistic than the last time.

In the C-of-E the churchwardens are required to look after the clergy and see to their welfare &c., Sometimes this works well but if the wardens don't like, or disagree with, the Vicar they can make matters worse for him and make his life quite unpleasant. I have seen it happen.

I find all church committees utterly unbearable and I try to avoid them like the plague.

All work - including God's work - is depressing sometimes. I think we all need to remember that very often you are doing a lot of good, rewarding, deeds to and for people without knowing at the time how much you are aprpeciated and how much good you have actually done. You only find out very much later - sometimes years later. I have found this many times in my work with junior choir children.

Michael Clifton said...

A priest is not bound to say Mass every day, even Parish Priests. The Parish priest is bound to say one Mass Pro Populo every Sunday and to provide as many Masses etc as are need in his Parish. However it is a good thing to say Mass every day even when retired. Bishop Clark said to me once regarding Bishops and it applies to priests as well, "Bishops in the workiing lives are Episcope Laborans (working), and when they are retired they are Episcopi Orantes (Praying). We retired priests should be prepared to help out as much as we are able to, and in my opinion to continue to wear clerical dress when so many of us do not do so.

PP said...

I think one of the causes of priestly lack of enthusiasm is that they don't really feel appreciated by the bishops.

Letters addressed to "Dear Sister/Father..." for the sake of a few female religious who administer parishes don't help (would it really be that much trouble to print out different letters?); constant emphasis on the role of the laity rather than encouraging them in their proper apostolates, endless demands re safeguarding, elf'n'safety regulations, form filling, financial demands etc. etc. just become increasingly burdensome and draining. I dread post arriving that bears the curial office /bishop's house frank.

The safeguarding agenda and consequences has created a rift between bishops and priests that will never be healed. We don't feel trusted, fear being suspended from ministry and turfed out of our parishes and homes at the slightest hint of suspicion.

Also disheartening is the way that we see some seminarians being treated by those who are responsible for their formation. It was bad enough in my day, but I know one good Catholic mother who begged her son to quit and return to his profession because she could see what seminary was doing to him. He is persevering, despite the obstacles that he is having to negotiate - but at what cost?

I'm afraid it will take more than a Year for Priests to revitalise and re-energise the priesthood in this land. Perhaps the consecration of a few more bishops of the calibre of Coadjutor Bishop-elect Davies might help, but one fears what influence the machinations of the wretched Bishops' Conference might have on them.

Oh dear, I have gone on!

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, Pelerin, how truly awful. It was obvious that parish and priest were so suited -- it was as if the bishop had to meddle deliberately with a sucessful parish. "no, can't have any orthodoxy here."

And especially, in France, where it seems the practising Catholics are outnumbered 10-1 -- and then those loyal to the faith also have to contend with the SSPX forces, who sneer at everyone not them.

Last night, I went to assist our former supply priest at his home Mass. (He's 81, and can't drive now.)

As many of my readers know, I left my parish of 34 years because the pastor there told me not to "embarass people by chasing them" if they walk away from Communion - he said I was "through there" if I ever did that again -- I quit on the spot (right in the middle of assisting with Communion) -- it was virtually asking me to stop believing in the Real Presence, whether he knew it or not. I'd been attending the TLM for daily Mass (close to work) and at least I had somewhere to land.

Anyway, I was discussing with the 81 year old priest re: how young all the priests are in the Fraternity of St. Peter's is, by comparision to the average parish church. And in Fr.'s early days he'd also taught in the diocesan seminary -- and he was telling me they've NEVER recovered from the watered down teaching there that started to take hold in the late 60s.

His complaint was they harboured too many gays and gay friendlies and had created a bad atmosphere of hubris thinking they could remake theology to suit their liberal touchy-feely tastes. He said "what young man with a strong faith wants to have to contend with that -- in my day -- they threw those guys out -- they were VERY strict." And he particularly bemoaned the lack of good spiritual formation.

Later on, the right priest came along to boot out the heretics on the faculty, but by then it was too late. The seminary was closed down, and we've hardly had ANY vocations in a diocese with over a million Catholics. We send our seminarians up north - and they're not overly rigorous either.

The GOOD pious men are too often rooted out, or have to skate around "ex-sister Mary Miniskirt" and co-horts with their "psychological testing" to uproot anyone from holding "rigid opinions" a la "belief in the Real Presence" or "women shouldn't be priests." Sooner or later most orthodox men would unload on one of these terrorists and be bounced, or say "the hell with this - I don't need this."

and yet, in the TLM parish I've landed it -- one 19 year old just went off to seminary -- IN the upper midwest -- and although the parish is "new" 1.4 years old! Already this spring, one man will be ordained from the parish - he'd bounced from one seminary after 3 years into the Fraternity of St. Peter's seminiary. [The TLM community was the 1st in the US]

I think there are plenty of vocations -- and a lot of them are being choked in the cradle.

If the current crop of aging priests are feeling world weary -- it's no wonder, all the psychological and spritual NON support they've been dished out from their hippy bishops, who got there by kissing liberal butt -- but remember, Jesus started with 12 apostles (one clunkcer!) and it was the 11 and the disciples who eventually spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

So while the odds may look "impossible" -- nothing is impossible with God.

You think you have a vocation? The God bless you -- but DO YOUR RESEARCH before landing yourself in some liberal hell hole.

Norah said...

A very depressing post for a member of the laity to read.

We Faithful Catholics are hanging on white knuckled to our Faith and trying to keep our children Catholic because we believe in the Catholic Church. If our priests are so lukewarm about the Faith they will pass this on to their flock. What hope is there for Catholicism if the priests feel this way? Maybe we are really "winding down in an orderly manner" and there won't be any Catholic Church for my children and their children to attend.

A thoroughly depressing start to my day.

umblepie said...

This is a desperately sad post Father, and says much about the tragic state of our post-Vatican 2 Catholic Church in England. I believe that things will get better with a return to traditional Catholicism. We do need strong and courageous Bishops, loyal to the Holy Father and to the Church, prepared to speak out boldly for God and the Church against the evils of the modern world, and to lead and encourage by word and example, all priests and faithful who look to them for spiritual guidance and support. I stand to be corrected, but I suspect that the principle of 'collegiality' of Bishops since Vatican 2, has done more to undermine the individual authority and responsibility of each Bishop for their Diocese, than anything else. Each Bishop should have total autonomy in his diocese, responsible for everything spiritual and material therein appertaining to the Church. England was once known, with good reason, as the 'Dowry of Mary'. One day, with Our Lady's help, we pray that this will again be the case. 'Our Lady of Walsingham' - pray for our Church and our Country.

JARay said...

I find it very sad indeed that your retiree priests cease to say Mass. Blessed Charles de Foucauld was very upset when he had no one to serve his Masses because he then could not say Mass himself. I believe that it was later when priests were permitted to say Mass without a congregation of at least one.
In my humble opinion when priests say Mass because they have to, rather than because they want to, it must rub off on to the congregation who then question why they bothered turning up also. No wonder that you have declining vocations to the priesthood.
I think that "fidelisjoff" is talking a lot of common sense. I do agree with his post.When he talks of a protestant mindset and false interpretation of scripture I have just written to a good priest-friend of mine who recently sent me a copy of some of his sermons. I criticised his use of a quote from the common readings of Luke in which the Angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary is given as "Rejoice, so highly favoured. The Lord is with you". I read that gospel on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception during a Liturgy of the Word which I conducted. I told my little congregation that I was not going to read that gospel as it is printed, but I was going to correct it. I read it as "Hail, Full of Grace. The Lord is with you". I maintain that the 'translation' which is in the book was produced by a protestant mindset which denies the Immaculate Conception. St Jerome in his Vulgate is in no doubt about Gabriel's geeting "Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum."
But I digress!
JARay

James E said...

Father, I know a young priest from a northern diocese who abandoned his priesthood a few years ago. The bishop made no attempt to enquire after his well being or offer financial assistance. Surely as a father in Christ it is his duty to care for his priest, especially those that stray!

Peter said...

It is important for those who know priests to reassure them and to support them. When one disagrees with something a priest does, such as offer poor liturgy, that encouragement is probably more important.
I expect that some whose early years were in the 1970s feel that they have wasted their time. Despite trying hard with modern liturgy and youth orientated groups, no catechism by rote, no latin or tradition they have seen ever diminishing congregations. Now they see their innovations being reversed. No wonder they need a boost. We must show that we value and support them despite their failings: ours may be worse even if less public.
My guess is that many readers of this blog are far from Brighton and do not get all our needs from our own parish. Well we must try to help our own clergy.
Thanks Father.

Anonymous said...

If you think your life is tough, imagine how much worse it is for the traditionalist clergy - often impoverished, treated overbearingly by their superiors, overworked, unceasing and selfish demands made upon them by the laity many of whom seem to imagine that the only god priest is the one whose life, from a human perspective, is totally unacceptable, "tortured" during their seminary formation only to experience the above upon ordination, and then the horrible loneliness that celibacy brings - it's no wonder I got out!!

Former trad seminarian.

Jack said...

It just struck me that this is something that the anglican ordinate could help with, whilst I'm not a big fan of the idea of 'married priests' it could potentially be a useful stop-gap until the vocations crisis abates

Crux Fidelis said...

That is the most depressing thing I've read this year.


Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us

St Joseph, Patron of the universal Church, pray for us

St Jean Marie Vianney, pray for us

Basil said...

The situation you mention reminds me of those caught in a lovless marriage. The only solution is prayer - and a spiritual life that fosters total devotion to Jesus. Do the prists you refer to actually pray? Without constant prayer, the priestly life is meaningless.

JARay said...

Think of the alternative!
A priest friend of mine was chatting with me and said that he had been to New Zealand with a fellow priest, for a holiday.
I was interested because I had been in New Zealand with my son the previous year (2008).
My priest friend said that he had been to Arrowtown and I immediately exclaimed that I had been there when I visited.
He said that he arrived there, and went to the church just after the dear nun who now runs the parish, had finished her Liturgy!. My friend then said that had they known, they could have said Mass there. The nun was not impressed and gave them both the impression that she was in charge and their Masses were not wanted.
When my son and I were there, we attended the last Mass said in Queenstown by its priest. He was being moved to Invercargill and Queenstown was to have no priest at all. Now the priest from Queenstown also had charge of Arrowtown where my priest friend found himself not wanted by the nun!
I'm sure that most of you will have no idea of the places which I have just mentioned, but Queenstown is one of the main tourist locations in New Zealand and Arrowtown is a pretty tourist location about 15km away from Queenstown. When my son and I were there for the "last" Mass the church was totally packed!
God help New Zealand!!
JARay

JARay said...

I should add that my information is that there now is a priest saying Mass in Queenstown but he is a retired priest in his 80s.
So what should retired priests do?
Hmmmmm!
JARay

Independent said...

I suppose we all know the old joke that clergy are like manure in that spread over an area they do a lot of good but in a heap they stink. Of course it is not true.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Is it any wonder why I'm looking outside of my home diocese?

The welfare of many of my priest friends has been nothing but constant persecution for fidelity to the Faith...(let alone myself)...

Even as a VERY introverted person, it is necessary to have a small function of people to which you connect in order to function.

I will especially remember the priests in your diocese during my Holy Hour later tonight

Physiocrat said...

I wonder if it is in part the effect of saying the Novus Ordo Mass, facing the people, in the vernacular, day in, day out. It does not nourish. In particular, in the ICEL English, and with some of the more dismal modern musical settings, and prayed in a re-ordered or modern church, it has great power to depress.

Of course one should not believe in conspiracies but if the Novus Ordo had been designed to have this effect, whoever was responsible could hardly have done a better job.

It seems that the way back is through the use of the Extraordinary Form, Gregorian Chant and regular confession.