Tuesday, November 08, 2011
I think in many ways he is like many priests, conscious of being a dying breed, likely not to be replaced when he finally retires or dies. What he has built up in his parish over twenty years is likely to be swept away when he dies or retires. I am not sure if he is depressed but like many priests he seemed to lack hope, or a vision for the future. Many priests are conscious of having the baton handed on to them but are not sure whether they will pass it on to anyone.
I think Fr X is not an exception. One of the things that impressed me about Bishop Davies at the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Colloquium, some had asked a question that should have resulted in criticism of some priests, the Bishop began by saying, "All priests are good!" Obviously he wasn't oblivious to the fact that some priests are plainly not so, there are some priests in prison, some who are great sinners, or heretics, or whatever but it was a delight to hear a bishop suggest it was good just being a priest and all priests are fundamentally good.
So often one gets the impression that bishops see priests a potential problems. One older sick priest said to me of his own bishop, "he sees me as problem and looks forward to me being dead" or another priest, "he is happy to forget I exist until I am dead, then I'll be problem until he replaces me". Death seems to be on the mind many older priests. The relationship between bishops and priests is often far from the vision of Vatican II; that of father and son or Chief Shepherd and Co-workers.
Over the next few years in many dioceses in Europe, the Church is going to see a substantial reduction in the number of priests, most bishops see this as a management problem; managing decline as well as possible. Some have even got in experts to help people "cope with change". It might be common sense to some but to me it seems to be a lack of hope.
Vatican II is often called the Council of the Bishop. It saw a dramatic shift in the understanding of the theology of ministry from "priesthood" to "episkope" oversight. In its crudest interpretation it is a shift from grace to management. One of the reasons for the Year for Priests was about renewing a theology of priesthood, again and again Pope Benedict speaks of the priesthood as belonging and being centred on Christ, serving Christ. Individual priests might be bad, sad or mad but being a priest is good, celebrating the sacraments is good, preaching the Catholic Faith is good.
The sadness that many priests, including Fr X seem to have a loss of hope, it can only be restored when we realise Christ is the answer rather than clever strategies. I don't know what Christ would have done about the crisis that the lack of priests is going to bring about but the Cure D'Ars would have thrown himself on his knees before the Lord, Charles Borromeo would have ordered penance, fasts and processions. Prayer, penance, fasting; child like dependence on Christ have always been the Saints answer to Church's problems. Problems seem to start when we see the Church as ours rather than His.
Of course some bishops and priests would see the reduced number of clergy as an opportunity for lay leadership.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake