Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Canary in the Mine


Gaudium et Spes suggests that diocese should share or pool priests, it also encourages priests to work abroad, especially to help dioceses that through the newness of the Christian faith or because of persecution do not have enough priests. In some diocese in Ireland, as I reported here are substituting lay led services for Mass, and bringing about a great deal of confusion, others are importing priests from those places which are rich in vocations. There is a story about the diocese of Cork and Ross doing exactly that in the Irish Examiner. It certainly solves a problem of ensuring Mass is available but I must say I am uneasy about it.

There was a bit of a scandal a few years ago about the NHS recruiting midwives from Africa, the scandal was in some parts of Africa babies died because the midwives who had received their education and training in their homeland and should have been attending their births were working in Britain. For me that was an important "Life" issue. Higher salaries in Britain robbed African children of life!

It is slightly different, perhaps, with priests but perhaps simply bringing in priests from abroad is just patching a problem rather solving it. If a local Church isn't producing enough priests for its needs, there would appear to be a root and branch problem that touches the very heart of a Church's health. If a local Church isn't producing enough priests for its needs doesn't it indicate that it simply has lost the vision of the Catholic faith that sees the priesthood and the sacraments as life-giving?

I would suggest that an absence of vocations indicates a very serious problem with the sacraments, with the celebration of the liturgy, with the preaching of the Gospel itself, in a parish or most especially in a diocese. If there are no young men offering themselves for the priesthood, it is more than likely that there likely to be an absence of those wanting to embrace marriage -as the Church understands it- and to live a Christian family life, there is also likely to be a serious problem with every other area of Christian discipleship, including catechists and catholic teachers.

Vocations to the priesthood are like the canary in the mine, they are the first thing to die in an unhealthy environment. If in a few years a diocese will have only a handful of priests then within a generation the number of committed Catholics is going to match more or less the number of those priests. A shortage of priests should indicate the importance not of a clever management plan to manage decline but a radical audit as to whether and how the Catholic faith is being passed on. If it is being preached but not accepted then the Gospels give us a simple answer, "Shake the dust from your" and go elsewhere. We don't take that bit of the Gospel very seriously, today. Priest should not be museum keepers, preserving buildings and structures that no longer give life.

Maybe, simply acknowledging that the food that has been given in the recent past has not nourished or that the vine is too sick to produce fruit or that the workmen are simply not up to the task is something we as a Church are not good at but making such judgements seems to be part of the process of Evangelisation, as does shaking dust from feet.

My modest alternative proposal to lay-led services or importing priests is simple, import foreign bishops! If a diocese doesn't have enough priests or faces a steep decline, the problem must be with the "High Priest","the Chief Catechist", the Bishop. It seems pretty pointless to bring in Polish, Filipino or African priests only to have them drawn into a clerical culture that does not produce fruit, what is needed is a change of that culture, which only a bishop from outside can bring about.

27 comments:

Mike Cliffson said...

Wow!
Cool with it !
Are we catholic or are we catholic?
For all christendom, and for Ireland too?

Shane said...

Agreed. I posted recently about the grave vocations crisis facing the Irish Church but importing priests from abroad can only be a very temporary stopgap. First of all it's unfair on the priest and his community, and secondly a priest from a very different culture is unlikely to connect as well with his parishioners as a native, which is crucial in our day of mass apostasy. As I noted in my post, the problem of a vocations crisis reflects a wider crisis in the Church.

theraineyview said...

That makes a lot of sense, actually. I bet bishops from poor countries would be very surprised at the soft condition of church life here, too. It might invigorate us in several ways, not just through vocations but also through giving us all some perspective and inspiration. If we had a bishop in every sate who had lived through persecution we would probably have an improved attitude all around.

Fr Barry Tomlinson said...

I'm sure you are right about 'the canary'. On the other hand, my church, the Church of England, also suffering from liberal bishops, ordains nearly 500 priests each year. Perhaps celibacy is preventing some Catholics from responding to their vocation, though maybe this is a filter that helps determine how seriously they take that vocation.
And I wouldn't dare mention women priests!!

Anagnostis said...

Until it is accepted that the Tridentine era is finished, over and done with, and that the era of Christendom (state religion) is already history, the Catholic community will succumb inevitablty to those forces pushing it into functional protestantism. The situation is complex and I don't wish to indulge in simplistic or glib prescriptions, but the as it is the clergy (such of them as remain) will end up 'curating' not simply buildings, but an entire system adapted to a world that no longer exists.

You cannot continue to prioritise things like presbyteral celibacy and seminary formation over maintaining the God-given sacramental economy and constitution of the Church. If you have no priests, ordain some! Every diocese, every parish includes men of good character perfectly capable of celebrating the Eucharist and the Hours. They don't have to preach, necessarily - they can read the bishop's sermon; they don't have to hear confessions until licensed to do so. They will, however provide everything necessary and their existance will put an end to the pressure in favour of anti-ecclesial, anti-sacramental "lay ministry" and the various ideological agendas driving it.

Independent said...

Anagnostis - is not the structure you suggest already used in the Eastern Churches, many in communion with the Holy See? Does it work well?

John Simlett said...

As long as we don't use G4

John Nolan said...

Anagnostis has a point. Many of these 'viri probati' will be university educated, liturgically sound and Latin-literate.

Are bishops still refusing to accept young men who are deemed too orthodox? And how many fail the 'psychological profiling'? During the Second World War the Royal Navy used this to vet potential officers, and a lot of excellent young men were denied commissions. By 1945 the RN lagged behind the USN in many areas - could there be a connection?

David O'Neill said...

The excuse for importing priests is that they celebrate Mass in the language of the immigrants they serve, but surely as a catholic (universal) church we always had a catholic (universal) language in the Latin of the Mass. A return to the Latin language - particularly as expressed in the 'usus antiqiuor' would solve that problem. It would also prevent priests from changing the words of the Mass to their own interpretation. Let us get back to solemnity in the Mass at 'say the black, do the red.'

nickbris said...

The vast majority of daily Mass attendees are women and they nearly all can seen praying the Rosary regularly.

There is no valid reason why they cannot become Priests and it would solve innumerable problems,celibacy has not been very much of a problem for Nuns so women Priests would fit in very comfortably with things as they are.

Mike Cliffson said...

Anagnostis:
Supertradmum in a previous post had a good point, tho a hard one: the church bought into the contraceptive mentality , and as a natural result smaller families, evn tho it be via NFP, it's been OUR plan , NOT God's.
Which we may trust the Lord that of those un born and unconcieved children, HE would have called enough and to spare.
God forgive me for paying off old scores, but this IS our experience : tho an appalling sinner , we have been blessed with eleven kids, sadly none yet priests nor nuns, and you cannot wander round Europe, Uk in this case with more than three (YES > 3! ) without getting ticked off all through the catholic church, orthodox, conservative , traddies, LMS, laiety AND priests And religious. Nobody repected our antything, having a large family in the catholic church over the last thirty years , and I suspect more, has been a fair target.
You want death, you get death.

Et Expecto said...

The tragedy is that there are young men around that would make excellent priests. I have recently been with a few on a walking pilgrimage to Walsingham. Somehow, many of them are put off from entering the priestly life because their vision of the priesthood is rather different from that of their bishop.

Fortunately, times are changing. There are signs that seminaries are reverting to the types of holy places that they once where. Also new bishops are beginning to be appointed, who are more successful in fostering vocations. The future could be brighter.

CE User said...

"Nickbris": I presume you are Catholic?

"Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" + paragraph 25 of Lumen Gentium says you are wrong. Or are you one of those who don't accept Vatican II?

Kevin said...

"There is no valid reason why they cannot become Priests". Apart from the clear example set by Christ, both in Himself and in His choice of Apostles.

nickbris said...

What has Vatican II got to do with the price of fish?

I have gone through life prepared to defend the integrity of Priests to the death,we have been brought into ignominious disgrace by the actions of some Priests and Bishops all over the planet; it has got so bad that the Clergy have to walk about like civilians.

I doubt very much that a woman would have brushed all this under the carpet.

Anil Wang said...

Anagnostis, you've missed the point entirely. Everything that you've said has been the trend in Ireland for decades. It's made the situation worse. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is to stop digging. When you're lost, the best thing to do is to retrace yourself until you're in familiar territory. The Church is old and has had to deal with far worse situations in its history. Nothing is new. What we're facing has been faced before. What worked before a hundred times before will work now. Celibacy, real old school seminary training (rather than the namby pamby superficial training in modern seminaries).

There are fewer priests because there is no edge to modern Catholicism. If Catholicism is just like the rest of society, there's little point in being Catholic, sacrificing a chunk of time every Sunday, sacrificing your future life in the secular world (were you can make a lot of money) to be a priest (which aren't paid that much), or even living the Catholic life.

God is with his Church. If he weren't, there would be no point in Catholicism existing.


Anagnostis said...

Priests are an absolute necessity. Celibacy, properly understood and undertaken, and seminary formation are both excellent things but they are not necessary (notwithstanding the "itching ears" of those agitating to dogmatise western practice in the former case). If a bunch of roughnecked fishermen (with wives and children, some of them) were good enough for the Lord, we oughtn't to turn up our fastidious noses at the prospect.

My own feeling is that the whole mystique around "vocation" has become damagingly overblown in the west. Parishes need priests. If a man is devout, right-living and right-believing; if he's senior, literate, prays and has compassion then there's no reason why he can't also be ordained to stand at the altar and offer the Sacrifice for the people.

I have huge respect for the Roman Catholic clergy - as fine a body of men as you'll meet anywhere - but I can't help suspecting that a major obstacle to the ordination of viri probati is a certain professional jealousy which would insist upon 'pure' and rigorously academic formation as the only respectable route to ordination; witness the manner in which the Council's restoration of the diaconate has been effectively subverted by raising the academic bar to more or less prohibitive levels.

If i were a bishop with a vacant parish, i'd ask the people to nominate a presbyter and a deacon from among their number, and after a minimum of necessary preliminaries, I'd come down and ordain them. I'd appoint a parish committee to take care of the everyday stuff and let the clergy do what they're ordained to do.

We can debate why things have come to the present pass - no doubt all sorts of factors are involved. It no longer matters. The Constantinian era of the Church is over for the west, just as it ended for the East 500 years ago. Adapt to this reality, changing those things which can be changed in order to ensure the survival of those that can't, or prepare to be subsumed, body and soul by our new masters.

Ttony said...

76 ureThey
Anagnostis and I have previous, but I suggest that, challenging (not JUST a posh way of saying "wrong") as much of what he has written above is, the last paragraph of his 7.51 pm post is not substantially different from what one Cardinal Ratzinger said not many years ago and is something which should keep us awake at nights.

I'll argue with him about whether the West means Europe, or the whole of the first and second world (remembering all the while that I'll live and die in Europe); I will reject his proposal about a sort of Congregationalist nomination for ordination; but all the while I'll be worried that he is pointing us towards a tolling bell that has been ringing for some time.

Highland Cathedral said...

Every diocese ought to do an audit to show how things like Mass attendance have changed over the last X years. I would imagine that the figures would not be very heartening in most, if not all, dioceses. Then the person in charge of the diocese (the Bishop) should be totally open and announce that the situation is bad/dreadful, whatever, and that something needs to be done to improve the situation. He will then say that the priority for the remaining years while he is the Bishop will be to (a) stop the decline and (b) get the numbers going up again. Then he will announce what exactly he is going to do about it, other than just create a few bureaucracies which are given the job. At the end of each year there will be a big announcement as to how well the diocese is doing. If the situation has not improved after X years the Bishop will announce that he is going to make way for somebody who can do a better job. As the rot seems to start in the teenage years then something needs to be done in the (Catholic?) schools. The Bishop could announce that he is going to see that the schools do a better job. He could also make it very clear that he is going to oppose (publicly) any nonsense in his diocese where so-called Catholics announce to the world that they don’t agree with this, that or the other Catholic doctrine. He is going to make it plain that if people want to be Catholics (and nobody is forced to be) then they accept the authority of the Church in doctrinal matters and that that includes moral issues. As people like to point out in other situations, the status quo is not an option.

JARay said...

As some of you know I live in Western Australia. We are in the happy position of having two Seminaries in the Perth region. One is diocesan the other neo-catechumenate. Our previous, now retired, Archbishop was always willing to accept priests from any country and it is over a decade now since my parish had an "Australian" priest. We have our PP from Vietnam and his assistant from Nigeria. We have had priests from not just those two countries but also India, South Korea, Chile and even one from Ireland! Almost all of the seminarians in the neo-catechmenate Seminary are from South America and the Philipines and after ordination they serve in the Archdiocese for some time before being moved to other countries.
Our archdiocesan seminary is quite full of seminarians but most of them do not originate in Australia although they belong here now. Our previous archbishop in his time in Office ordained over 100 priests.
Things are not as black as some of you seem to believe. At one time our local seminary was closed but Archbishop Hickey chose to re-open it and we now have more seminarians than any other seminary in Australia!

Malvenu said...


Father, you wrote: “If a local Church isn't producing enough priests for its needs, doesn't it indicate that it simply has lost the vision of the Catholic faith that sees the priesthood and the sacraments as life-giving?”

I may be a new Catholic but it seems to me that the answer to your question is obvious: of course it does. Some of our Churches are virtually indistinguishable from Protestant Churches in terms of the liturgy. So why deny oneself contraception, access to abortion, women priests and bishops, married priests, meat on Fridays, etc. for the sake of saying the Hail Mary after the bidding prayers (for those of us outside A & B!)?
Or, why bother trying to get your head round transubstantiation, apostolic succession, papal infallibility, Confession, penance, purgatory, Hell, etc, when you can say the sinner’s prayer and then get on with your life?

The fact is watered-down Catholicism is rubbish. Just as rubbish as what it points at (if not worse because of what it purports to be).

I may be a new Catholic but I have experienced a watered-down version and, thanks to you, Father, a Catholicism that is ardent, serious, pursuing holiness, and, may I say, emphasising more traditional elements of the Church than most (in my limited experience).

There is no point in surrendering and making our religion more rubbish – as some have suggested. We need to start taking it more seriously. I thought your suggestion of replacing the bishops a little controversial at first, but it seems to me that it will take something drastic. Small brick-by-brick movements of lay faithful, and even the odd priest sticking two fingers up at the humdrum, and actually saying the black and doing the red as it were, will struggle to effect the revolution that is required to re-unite the Church with its past and overcome the hermeneutic of rupture that exists in every folky-guitar, improvised, “Good morning everybody and welcome to mass” Mass that currently passes as an excuse for the liturgy of the One, True, Church. Bishops have much greater power to effect such change, therefore we need Bishops who will stand up and do it.

Thank you, Father Ray, for showing me faithful Catholicism, and for a great post!

Mark

Genty said...

As for renewal, perhaps we could make a start right at the beginning of life by returning to an old tradition and mandating that at least one baptismal name, preferably the main one, should be that of a Christian saint. A small, but significant step. If parents insist on an unusual moniker in the belief it will make their child stand out, there are plenty of those in the catalogue.

gemoftheocean said...

Nickbris, I can't agree with you about the possibility of ordaining women to be priests. I would be the first to approve of females assisting with serving, EM, reader etc. -- but for one simple reason, women should not be ordained. We can't know if Jesus would approve of women priests. He didn't ordain any.

One could argue that most of the reasons a woman wouldn't be accepted in that role are largely muted in today's western society. IE women's brains and talents and efforts are more acknowledged, for instance. And one could argue it is enough to be human, or is it so important to be a male human?

But it does come down to what a sacrament is. Sacraments depend on both the form, and the function. Would Jesus pick women today? Honestly don't know. But we can't presume he would. A priest could *want* to turn say, stale ginger ale and pizza with all the trimming into the Body and Blood of Christ. He could have full intent, but you may as well feed it to pigs, because it wouldn't be a valid sacrament.

The pope Himself doesn't have the authority to muck with the practices Jesus laid out, particularly with respect to ordination, Eucharist, etc. It's not like the pope can count on getting a reliable Western Union telegram from upstairs.

If a woman priests were to be ordained, the bishops would have essentially done the same as using fruitcake and beer for the Eucharist. Sure, Jesus *could* have, but He didn't. Sacraments are too important to take a chance with.

Apart from this all important point, I can think of a few practical problems that would still remain -- it would not surprise me, if some evil men decided it would be fun to go to a woman for confession to tell her all sorts of perverted things he allegedly did, just for some sort of weird sexual gratification. I do not know whether or not this has actually happened to say, Anglican women priests, but I wouldn't put it past some creeps to try it on. And what about calling priests out in the middle of the night to hear someone's dying confession -- there could always be that pervert out there, waiting to rape and kill a female priest. I suppose these 'practical problems' could be worked around -- but it still doesn't overcome the basic intrinsic problem -- the pope (nor any bishops for that matter) have the authority to change it, and more than they have the power to say 'Diet Coke and fish is all you have for Communion? You're good to go.'

And personally, I wouldn't cast a woman to play Hamlet either -- you could, just like you can set the play on Mars in the year 3024, but then you really wouldn't be playing Hamlet, would you?

RichardT said...

Father, most of what you say seems correct.

"It seems pretty pointless to bring in Polish, Filipino or African priests only to have them drawn into a clerical culture that does not produce fruit"

I suppose the only question is whether foreign priests do end up succumbing to an English 'fruitless' clerical culture, or if they retain their own.

There would be a good argument for importing foreign priests if they brought with them, and kept hold of, a vigorous Catholic culture that invigorated the laity.

That way they might bring about more 'home' vocations.

But yes, if a diocese is failing then the quickest and most certain solution must be to chance the bishop.

Anagnostis said...

Anil Wang - one of us is missing the point, certainly; but whatever the problems in Irish Catholicism today, they are certainly not a consequence of ordaining viri probati.

Ttony is characteristically generous in disagreement, but I don't understand the imputation of "congregationalism". Functional congregationalism, as exemplified by the "Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion" is exactly where you're heading without sufficient priests. What I'm recommending as an alternative is nothing other than Apostolic practice, implicit in the term "presbyter", implicit in the relevant canons of the early councils, implicit in the Orthodox rite of ordination, explicit in the normative practice of much of the Orthodox Church in rural areas (I don't know anything about Eastern Catholicism - I assume practice varies considerably).

The restriction of priestly orders exclusively to celibate men at the end of seven years' seminary formation is an entirely modern (post-Tridentine) phenomenon. It served the Roman Catholic Church well in its day, but that day is dead and gone and it's not coming back. It was celibate men with seven years' seminary formation (old style) who engineered and promoted the post-Conciliar collapse. What on earth have you to fear from returning to earlier norms, other than the rolling back of an excessively romanticised (also modern) and ultimately very damaging sacerdotalism?

Meanwhile Protestantism, neo- and paleo- advances apace both within the Catholic Church and in those territories formerly solidly Catholic...

JARay said...

Anagnostis has had two goes at saying the same thing so I'm having a second go too.
Married priests create a set of problems which a celibate clergy do not have. First just how far back in time does being "modern" go? The Council of Trent is hardly a "modern" one. The Roman Church has had a celibate clergy for a lot,lot,lot,lot longer than a couple of hundred years.
Married clergy brings with it the problem of support and the burden of family obligations. Celibate clergy do not have those problems.
Then, too, the scandal of possible divorce cannot be dismissed. This could well originate from someone being fed up with being a priest's wife who would come second to her husband's parish obligations.
Somehow, too, I don't see much call for married nuns!
The first obligation which a priest has is to his flock and not to any other body. Seven years (it was six when I was there) is not too long to equip a future priest with the knowledge and religious formation which he requires. Indeed, he should never cease futhering his religious knowledge and religious formation. It is a lifetime task.
Finally, one does not defeat Protestantism by copying it.

Anagnostis said...

I've encountered totally ill-equipped priests with doctorates. I'm sure we all have; whereas a priest who impresses me as among the wisest, kindest, most dedicated and devout I ever met has three grown-up children and describes his training as "two weeks at the cathedral with the Archbishop".

This is not to say "seminary bad - viri probati good" - I've already made that clear. Rigorous academic training is an excellent thing for those adapted to it - but it's not what makes a priest! Nor is it any guarantee of a dedicated, devout, right-believing, scandal-free, presbyterate.

"Finally, one does not defeat Protestantism by copying it"

Perfectly true. There are two ways Protestantism wins - when you copy it, and when you react to it. In either case you end up being defined by it - for, or against. One sees this constantly in all the discourse about "recovering Catholic identity", whether it relates to Latin, fasting, the veneration of images or any number of other things preoccupying Traddie bloggers: "we should do more X because X makes it clear we're not 'Protestant'; we should never do Y because Y is 'Protestant' (even if Y has been the constant practice since Apostolic times in regions that never heard of 'Protestant').