Don’t abolish the priesthood. Redeem it.

Auxiliary Bishops Joseph L. Coffey and William J. Muhm of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, lie prostrate before Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio during their episcopal ordination at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington March 25, 2019. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) 

Several months ago I participated in a small campus conversation about the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. A Protestant speaker diverted our attention for a few minutes by offering a set-piece critique of celibacy as essentially wrong and absolutely intolerable. He listed its many flaws and vices, pointed to its inhumanity and de facto impossibility and called for its abolition. I was caught off guard; I should have spoken up, at least to point out (as the speaker should have known) that I have tried to hold all this together for over 50 years as a Jesuit, over 40 as a priest, all of that time as a celibate. But no one picked up on his theme, and the conversation quickly returned to the conversation’s main concern.

The event, small as it was, is hardly singular. This year has been another dismal one for revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church—painful for victims and their families, painful for all of us who care about the Catholic Church and especially dismal for the Catholic hierarchy that covered up so much of the abuse for so many decades. Analyses of this tragedy are unsurprisingly many, denunciations fiery, proposed remedies innumerable. Some essayists and opinion-makers with Catholic connections are now getting fiercer, proposing more radical solutions, and so the Catholic priesthood itself is now a common target of outrage. Abolish it!

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Some essayists and opinion-makers with Catholic connections are now getting fiercer, proposing more radical solutions, and so the Catholic priesthood itself is now a common target of outrage.

Three Critical Voices

Unsurprisingly, too, here in Boston where I live critiques of the priesthood itself have been fiery. The year began with Garry Wills’s January 2019 op-ed in The Boston Globe, “Celibacy isn’t the cause of the church sex-abuse crisis; the priesthood is,” an adequate recap of his caustic 2013 book Why Priests? His minimalist point: What we can’t find in the New Testament is illegitimate, and this includes much of the sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church; the priesthood was never intended by Christ and cannot be saved: “I don’t think it should work again. The priesthood is itself an affront to the Gospel.”

Echoing Wills, James Carroll, ever a familiar voice around town in Boston, recently published “Abolish the Priesthood” in the June 2019 issue of The Atlantic. This confessional essay hovers between regret and denunciation. Carroll speaks movingly, sadly, of his near despair at the situation in the church, his decision to stop attending Mass, his self-imposition of “a kind of internal exile,” a life in protest that neither condones the current church nor entirely abandons it.

Good so far. Had Carroll simply confessed this lament, I would have been grateful for his words. But he has in mind greater ambitions: “If I had stayed a priest, I see now, my faith, such as it was, would have been corrupted.” No priest can be innocent, since “a guilt-ridden clerical subculture of moral deficiency has made all priests party to a quiet dissembling about the deep disorder of their own condition.” It follows, Carroll thinks, that “the very priesthood is toxic.” Carroll prays for a better church, illumined by the works of mercy, free of hierarchy and involving, “for many, unauthorized expressions of prayer and worship—egalitarian, authentic, ecumenical; having nothing to do with diocesan borders, parish boundaries or the sacrament of holy orders.”

Around the time that Carroll’s piece appeared, my own school’s Harvard Divinity Bulletin published Robert Orsi’s “The Study of Religion on the Other Side of Disgust.” (Orsi, too, is familiar around here, since he taught at Harvard for a number of years.) Ostensibly an essay on the category of “disgust” in religious studies—perhaps akin to familiar proposals regarding religious envy, religious regret and more—Orsi’s real point lies in the subtitle: “Modern Catholic sexuality is a dark and troubled landscape.” The essay is a manifesto aimed at the Catholic Church, the religion of his youth, which now is the object of his disgust.

His target is even more sweeping than the abuse and its cover-up by sanctimonious prelates, since even the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the subject of dismay: “It may be that disgust is a distinctly Catholic emotion, given that the central act of worship in Catholicism, the sacrament of God’s real presence, is the reception, ingestion, and digestion of the consecrated bread and wine, which is to say God’s body and blood, in the community that gathers for and is constituted by this practice.”

Robert Orsi’s real point lies in the subtitle of his essay: “Modern Catholic sexuality is a dark and troubled landscape.”

Purifying the Church Through Passionate Love

At this point Orsi might have probed more deeply the sacred scandal of the Eucharist (as in John 6), since some scandals, God’s stumbling blocks, are revelatory. But instead, he rushes quickly to a grander conclusion: “It is not surprising that I, as a Catholic, am disgusted with Catholicism” as a whole and with the priesthood, in particular. No priest, he informs us, even a hypothetical “good priest,” is innocent, since any such priest surely “knew what was going on with his ‘brother priests’” and surely “colluded in the discourses, practices, and privileges that turned the vulnerable into victims.”

Citing statistics that no more than half of priests are faithful to celibacy, Orsi concludes with astounding certainty that “priests and prelates are always in possession of sexual dirt on each other. This makes every priest intimately vulnerable to the network of ‘brother priests,’ but it also gives priests a measure of control over it.” We priests are all in on the conspiracy. But there is even more: “Please make no mistake about this: it is impossible to separate ‘religion’ here from the rape of children, young people, women, seminarians and novices.” This looks to be the disgust of a person who has given up not just on priests and not just on Catholicism but on religion altogether.

Wills, Carroll and Orsi, though each writing in his own way, are all angry, and the priesthood is their target. Hard words from such authors, and we all do well to hear and feel the fire of such rebuke. The abuse, the insensitivity to victims, the cover-ups have been scandalous. Who would not be outraged? Nor is reform merely a matter of more rules and more committees, a church saved by lawyers. We must reform the church much more deeply and seriously, stripping away the clericalism, the old boys’ club mentality and the cluelessness of church officials who seem unable to talk to ordinary Catholics. All this must change, as we move beyond anger, in order to purify the Catholic Church by a still more passionate love of it.

We must reform the church much more deeply and seriously, stripping away the clericalism, the old boys’ club mentality and the cluelessness of church officials who seem unable to talk to ordinary Catholics.

Priesthood Is Not a Mistake

But even now, even in the Catholic Church as it is in 2019, it would be a serious mistake to give up on the priesthood. Yes, the priesthood has a history, and it has changed over time; it will surely keep changing in the future, too. But it is not a merely extrinsic accretion inimical to “true” Christianity. Medieval clerics did not invent the sacraments merely to bolster their power or suffocate the holy in just certain places, times, things. The priesthood is not a mistake imposed on an imagined pure and original community. Rather, it is part of that community’s learning to be God’s holy community, the Body of Christ, over the centuries.

The promise of the enduring and repeated real presence of Christ in the breaking of the bread pushed the church to find its way toward a priesthood. That the church discovered the priestly function is in a real sense a reaffirmation of our roots in a Judaism that was not mistaken in having a priesthood. That we, too, have priests also marks common ground with other great religions, like Hinduism, so rich in temples, rituals and the work of priests as well.

Ignoring the Continuing Faith of Catholics

But what most clearly distinguishes these essays is the authors’ decision to make it all personal. Carroll has often referred to the fact that he was a priest and reminds us of this fact in The Atlantic; Orsi was never a priest, but he, too, reminds us of his staunch Catholic upbringing and even of his mother’s long service as a valued staff member at Fordham University. Even Wills reminds us of his “seminary days.” To announce that one has grown up Catholic and has Catholic memories can be edifying, and Catholicism is always the better for its memories and personal stories. But in these cases, biography is employed to lend credibility to the devastating criticisms that follow: “I am (or was) a Catholic, so I know what I am saying when I denounce the priesthood.”

But the autobiographical turn, even if good journalism, is never enough. Such stories turn out to undermine the arguments made, by seeming to ignore the continuing faith of Catholics, which is told in the innumerable stories of people who are also angered and scandalized but still see the value of the Catholic Church, finding in its sacramental life something deeper and more enduring than the pretensions of the hierarchy and wickedness of some clergy. As I see in my weekend parish and on campus at Harvard, people still come to church—not merely out of habit, nor out of now-antiquated feelings of obligation, nor because they are insensitive to the crisis. They come because they still see the value of the sacraments, still find God present in this worship, still reverence the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and yes, can still see their priest as very different indeed from the gang of abusers and their sanctimonious enablers.

People come because they still find God at Mass and can still pray along with a priest humble enough to lead the congregation in prayer and worship. And yes, there are very many priests who have done their work, celebrated the sacraments, preached again and again the Good News, kept their vows and, in our times, mourned with those who mourn. Despite the complaint that all the “good” priests are really co-conspirators, their stories need to be heard as a more than adequate rejoinder to the “look at me” stance of Carroll and Orsi.

I suppose I could even counter Carroll’s and Orsi’s appeals to their Catholic roots with my own story: born and raised Catholic, and as I mentioned above, more than 50 years a Jesuit, more than 40 years a priest. If Carroll and Orsi want to remind us that they are Catholics who yearn for a Catholicism without priests, though a priest and a celibate I have still managed to live in the same real world as Carroll and Orsi and remain a priest. I see the same things that they see, yet I keep on praying with the community on Sundays and often during the week. Early every morning I pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

I, too, have written academic books. I, too, sit in a professor’s chair, not despite being a priest but as a priest. I stay in the church not out of laziness or cluelessness to the magnitude of the crisis or a failure to understand “religion” properly and certainly not because I lack options. Rather, I remain a true believer: God still comes to us; the sacraments still work; people still believe and worship; priests, even when we are less holy than our parishioners and students, have a necessary role to play in God’s holy church. It is not more honest or insightful to call for the abolition of the priesthood than to insist on its redemption.

There are very many priests who have done their work, celebrated the sacraments, preached again and again the Good News, kept their vows and, in our times, mourned with those who mourn.

Radical Companionship

To erase the priestly role would be to forget that the church is essentially a sacramental community, infused with the holiness of God. God makes the church holy in its very materiality, in the things of this world, as it is—always sinful, never perfect, yet always still a place made holy by God’s choosing to dwell here. Ordinary bread and ordinary wine become the body and blood of Christ; an ordinary human community is ever surprised to find that it is (still) the Body of Christ who gives us his body and blood, not to disgust us but to draw us into radical companionship with God and one another, a participation from which there is no easy turning back.

Ordinary people become priests because they are called by God and by the community to take up this role. To be a priest and a celibate one is a way of being holy in a world desperately in need of such witness. That all God’s people are holy and able to speak and act in God’s name does not rule out this special, enduring role in the community. That there is a priesthood does not mean that priests need to have license to limit or control the holy, as if to protect God’s presence from the people. The holy is in any case well beyond the power of the bureaucrats.

Redeem the priesthood, yes. Reconnect it to the holiness of God, and begin seriously to imagine a Catholic Church in which any of God’s people may be called to this privilege and burden. This is our hope against hope, reaching far beyond passionate yet ultimately clueless proposals to banish priesthood altogether.

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Nora Bolcon
1 month ago

And here we have another America Mag writer who is cooperating with the hierarchy and keeping the obvious worst problem of the priesthood out of his article - SEXISM - The Misogyny of the priesthood. A grave sin of hatred which Jesus nor any apostle ever invented or would have supported since they actually believed Jesus when he commanded everyone treat all others as they wish to be treated. Women ran churches in their homes as presbyters and presided over Holy Eucharist when they did so just like male presbyters. Presbyters were the first priests. There were no ordained priests in the New Testament and Jews were born priests or not - they were not ordained. Gentiles could not ever be a Jewish priests - it is possible that Levite women could be.

The only way to connect Catholicism's Ordained Priesthood back to God would be to ordain women priests and bishops immediately. Sexism and all other forms of hatred make everything they are attached to unholy, sinful, and self-destructive. The only ingredient absolutely necessary for clericalism to keep its power is patriarchy. Get rid of the hate-filled discrimination against all women in our church and Christ will bless us with a just and Godly priesthood like we had when the church first began. Do it not, then our hatred of women will eventually and continually dissolve what is left of the heart of our church and its priesthood. Love is the cure but it is always a choice and not one our Pope Francis is willing to support.

Sadly, this writer is so cooperative with the present sexist evil, he probably has not been honest with himself, in that he is definitely a part of the problem, until he can demand women be equally ordained to men in our church publicly and write it down in his articles despite what Pope Francis might do to him in recourse.

Optional celibacy would likely increase our abuse situation unless we are including ordaining married women as well as men to priesthood. Married men, especially when they are given power over women, abuse both children and women more than single or celibate men, not less.

Celibacy as a sacrifice for the kingdom of God is something Jesus supported in the Gospels. So perhaps our protestant friend is simply overly dependent on sex and does not realize many other people have greater ability to control their sexual appetites than he has. The ability to lead a celibate life, for men or women, for reasons of faith, should be counted as a strength not a weakness.
Matt 19:12
For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others--and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

Celibacy is not the problem - Hatred of Women is the problem, and the legal support of that hatred allowed to remain in our church's laws, teachings and doctrines. Shame on us all - it is always the cancer we won't talk about that is the one we need to discuss the most in order to save our lives.

J Cosgrove
4 weeks 1 day ago

Men are different from women. For several characteristics they are different from women in a large degree. My wife said she really didn’t understand men when we married. She read the “Right Stuff”. had a couple sons and watched them and their playmates. She is now a proud "Hockey Mom" and has an appreciation of the differences. She also said that about 90% of the volunteers in a parish are women and if you want to see nearly all the men disappear, have women priests. Most of the women would disappear too.

J Cosgrove
4 weeks 1 day ago

My daughter said as she grew older that she realized on some key characteristics the bell curve for men and women are identical but that the outliers on some are nearly all men. And for other characteristics the outliers are often women. A healthy society is one that recognizes that.

J Cosgrove
4 weeks 1 day ago

And a quote attributed to Orwell but probably a compilation of his and Kipling’s writings.

People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks 1 day ago

And in this age this writer would likely include rough women since now women fight with violence in our world in our military's too.

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks 1 day ago

That would depend if your daughter's vantage point was inclusive of the rule, scientifically, and it was ascertained to be by gender biology, not gender being trained by culture and environment which the later is likely the case. You and your daughter need to recognize that both of you have been taught a baseless version of gender theory and it has been drilled into your heads since your Catholic baptisms. Brainwashing works that's why it is commonly used around the globe, just ask any terrorist or skin head.

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks 1 day ago

J both you and your wife are clearly victims of our church's brainwashing, where every time a child does something that could fit gender stereotyping, you consider it evidence that the stereotypes are correct.

Enormous amounts of testing have been done on this subject and the same answers keep coming out of them. About half the time males act according to what we have taught them by stereotype, and half the time they do not and the same goes for women.

For something or a standard to be deemed not even worthy of a scientific theory, it really only has to be proven incorrect once. So this is evidence that you and your wife's assumptions, based on preconceived ideas have no basis in reality or they would fit at least most people in both genders the vast majority of the time and they do not.

Science has already found that men and women think, act, desire, and require the same things, to be happy, including sexually, more alike then even different groups of men or women singularly. You are simply incorrect.

In fact, in a very recent study done, we find that women and men when questioned, anonymously, about what they preferred sexually, verses when the same people were questioned with their identity's known, by the same questioner, women commonly sought to be more aggressive in bed, and the males sought to be more passive sexually when their identities were not known than before when the questioner knew their identities. These people were questioned in the same week.

Many women are doing all the other tasks in church because they have been left with nothing else to do. Also, many laymen feel guilt taking those roles because women are kept from being priests and deacons. So this exclusion creates a weaker inactive laity with imbalance everywhere.

In protestant churches ordained women priests and pastors do as well as their male counterparts.

In fact, protestant churches have been fixing the sexism ongoing over the last 40 years, within their hierarchies, and now WE are losing more women, for the last five years, than they have been, and as of 2018 protestant churches that allow women priests and bishops have not only stopped decreasing, they have started increasing, often with both male and female converts from Roman Catholicism. Meanwhile the only reason the U.S. Catholic Church does not show decrease is immigration from South America and our steady birth rate. Protestant churches with no bias against women pastors, priests and bishops have also no vocation crisis. Which only helps to prove we have never had a vocation crises either but merely a misogyny crises.

Our refusal to ordain women the same as men and to priesthood is one of the top three reasons most commonly given by people for leaving Catholicism and this is especially true of our under 35 group.

I too am a mother. What I noticed raising my son and daughter is even when I did not push any stereotype on my kids, it didn't stop TV and toy makers and advertisers from pushing stereotypes on them. This had the effect on my five year old son of nightly lining up his dinosaurs in a row and covering them with blankets and feeding them from his sister's doll's baby bottle. But he didn't play with dolls you know? - girls did that.

All people are different. Different groups often act according to racial stereotyping too. This does not mean black people are created to innately seek different things and should be judged by that difference. It means stereotypes are taught.

J Cosgrove
4 weeks 1 day ago

I suggest you check out physical characteristics by gender. Tendencies by gender. Also occupational deaths by gender.
Brainwashing? And by the Church? That is even more absurd. The Church especially has nothing to do with it. That's a bogus comment at best. If there were no differences then how did the differences in society arise? Long before the Church.
One's eyes and reason are all that are needed to understand. I'm sorry but God made the natural law and human nature.

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks 1 day ago

I have checked all those things and so have many scientists and their eyes and research proved you wrong. Most differences in gender are related to procreation and none of them create a reason to believe women think or act according to gender without being taught to do so. There exists certain physical attributes that are different between genders overall as most men are taller and physically stronger than most women but there are certain women who are stronger than most men. This is also true of different races, i.e. African American Men are overall taller and better and faster runners than White American Men but there are certain white men that are faster and taller than most African American Men. None of these differences should be cause to keep men or women or black men or white men from priesthood as priesthood does not require any physical talent lacking in any of these groups and therefore discrimination serves only as an act of hatred and unjust bias.

Religion has actually caused much of our misogyny throughout history and we now know that it also causes poverty and violence around the globe. Women have often been oppressed by men because child bearing often killed women in their youth making it more difficult for them to gain control in the past. However there still have always been both queens and kings. No doubt you blame black people for their own enslavement based on your line of reasoning.

Also, there is nothing absurd in proclaiming the Roman Catholic Church brainwashes now and the past its people, All brainwashing is a threat to take something valuable from someone if they don't conform their thinking to get in line or a threat to torture or keep necessary physical safety from a person to brain wash them. Apparently you have never heard of the inquisition - this time period in church history created a device by which Inquisitors, who were sent by the Pope, to torture women (more than men), used this device to tear off females breasts while they were alive until they agreed to whatever the church taught on any subject. This device still exists today. Even now our pope tells us and all the clergy that they could be excommunicated if they even write down in articles like this one that maybe we should consider ordaining women priests. That is why this writer hints at the idea but never outright states it in this article. All of this constitutes coercion and brainwashing forms. If you ask a Mooney if he was brainwashed, he will tell you absolutely not too, even though he was starved as a part of his indoctrination and he says this because brain washing works and it can take years to over come its effects.

J Cosgrove
4 weeks 1 day ago

Those who disagree with you are brainwashed. All this brainwashing and somehow you escaped it. You postulate no one has an independent intellect except yourself. But by your understanding, you do not know if what you are saying is part of a brainwashing by others.

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks 1 day ago

Nope - I do not claim that at all. I absolutely was brainwashed by our church's misogyny and that is why I didn't fight more when I was younger and felt deeply in my heart called to ordained priesthood. When I told my family and friends and priest(s) about my strong calling, I was either made to feel that I was mistaken, or that I just needed to understand that kind of change could never happen in my life time (I was 15 at the time), or I was led to feel ashamed of my calling and that I should not talk about it.

This brainwashing drove me to extreme depression, a severe lack of self esteem, to be suicidal because the pain of this rejection and oppression never left me for a day, and I could not understand why. It led me to a 3 pack of cigarette habit a day, sexually promiscuity too as an escape from the pain, and as this discrimination caused my faith to decline for years. This also caused me to leave Catholicism for several years. Eventually, God came to the rescue, as I realized I went through this only to have God call me back to Catholicism with the mission to stand up for justice and the gospel truth that Jesus always commands us to treat all the same, and the same as we wish to be treated, or we sin and do great damage to others. God told me, in prayer, I first called you to priesthood and that call is still true but I send you back as a prophet because this second vocation is needed first before the first calling can be realized. It took years of healing to restore most of my self worth and self esteem, a great deal of counseling, and some even with kind priests, to no longer hate myself and blame myself for my rejection, by my people, whom I was called to love and lead. I am not at all fully healed even now. I wish I could say that I was but as I said this brainwashing has long term effects and it still has a small hold on me.

As for believing and judging only by what one sees, as you stated earlier, if you and your family were to see a man walking down the street, collapse in front of you with a big blood stain on his shirt but no one around him anywhere, would you all assume that walking in daylight causes men to collapse and leak blood thru their chest? No - I think common sense would have you checking did something you did not see happen to this man before you saw him collapse and die in front of you - like maybe he got shot in the chest and did not die until later on after losing enough blood. Looks can be deceiving and that is why research is necessary to come to the facts and truth of any situation.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
3 weeks 3 days ago

Nice try.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
3 weeks 3 days ago

The list of what you do not know is long. There have been many societies that have centered power in the hands of women. You speak as if God has ordained one model for how we should live together and act when in fact women have increasingly been doing the same jobs and tasks as men. This is societal evolution, which you might lament and apparently ignore.
Yes, the RCC is a cult, it is also the religion of the state, which is a role it has proudly taken on in different countries during different historical periods to secure its power (look up Concordats) and to the detriment of the poor and oppressed. Today is no different, as evidenced by its war against women and its complicit support of govt malfeasance such as the nomination of Kavanagh.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
3 weeks 3 days ago

Brilliant. Clericalism is exactly excluding women from the priesthood. Deep and serious reform, this "stripping away the clericalism, the old boys’ club mentality " can only be refuted by making the priesthood available to women. This will do wonders towards the elimination of sexual predatory behavior of children by priests. Any discussion to reform the church without the seriously considering the ordination of women is just treading water. Unfortunately this church will collapse , the "devoted" are pretty old and will soon pass, and there is a shrinking pool of men available or willing to be priests.

Luis Gutierrez
1 month ago

The redemption of the priesthood is impaired as long as women are excluded from ordination. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. The Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal. It is time for the Church to liberate herself from the shackle patriarchal gender theory.

Barry Fitzpatrick
1 month ago

I too was raised Catholic and remain so. I grew up in a Brooklyn NY parish with six curates and a pastor, not one of whom ever abused a parishioner or anyone who came for their help. These men were not co-conspirators in any evil clericalism. These men, as I and others recall, got dirty with us sheep on many an occasion and never once held themselves above the rest of us. They brought Christ to us and brought us to Christ. They, I suspect, would be among the first, all six of them, to suggest that serious reform is needed, but not reform drowning in anger, no, reform overcome with an abundance of love. I had to confront abuse by authority figures in Catholic institutions twice in my career, and both times the victims were the primary concern of my superiors, and both times the abusers were totally removed from any opportunity to interact with those they abused or others for that matter. No, as Fr. Clooney so wisely explains, this is not a crisis that calls for the elimination of the role, rather it calls for a hope-filled re-examination of how the "priest" might best serve the faithful as a companion on the way. The hope for so many of us will include seeing some presently excluded take on that role. But the hope will not give in to the despair that denies the enduring healthy relationships that so many priests have fostered so that we might see and come to know Jesus. Thanks, Fr. Clooney.

Brian McCarthy
4 weeks 1 day ago

Well said. I think I actually worked for you in Baltimore! Would love to connect!

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

I recall you, Fr. Clooney, writing ... **I can only try to imagine the sentiments of a woman who has experienced, with humility and conviction, this calling, faced as she is with the prospect of the Church’s insistence that it is incapable of ordaining women -- as if to say: "Even if God calls, the Church cannot."** (https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/30-years-priest-gratitude-joy-and-quiet-lament).
It's nice that priests might try to imagine what it's like for women to be discriminated against by the church, but it does us women no good, and it's not enough, and it does tarnish the priesthood and implicate all priests that you guys let it go on. Would you feel this complacent if the church refused to ordain men because of their race? The priesthood should be ashamed, and BTW, the reasons people stay Catholic in the face of church-promoted injustice is about Christianity, not about Catholicism and its priesthood.

Christian Jensen
1 month ago

Regarding Mr. Carroll's article, he did mention the retention of priests, although differently defined. "There will be leaders who gather communities in worship, and because the tradition is rich, striking chords deep in human history, such sacramental enablers may well be known as priests." What I got from his article is that classism in the Church will disappear. Being a priest will be a matter of function, based on one's charism like the rest of the gifts of the Spirit.

Michael Bindner
1 month ago

The sacramental priesthood is and has been a wonderful thing. It has been marked by both holiness and self-sacrifice, even unto martyrdom, and has been the key to the practice of Catholic Christianity for millennia. What has not served us well is its exclusivity of worship. Sacramental Communion without a priesthood is possible, even though there were abuses in the first century, just as the evolution of a celibate and largely asexual male priesthood has contributed to modern issues of sexual abuse, not by all, but by a damaging few.

The Mass stole much from Seder and Shabbat dinner, which Christ and his disciples were both immersed in from birth. That these be done in the home rather than at temple or in synagogue was not a consideration. Catholic families could be trusted with a new rite to bring Christ into the home in the way priests do for the larger community. As women can preside at Passover and on Friday, so to can they at a Catholic variant or for the community.

Sexual abuse is not a factor in either mode. Remember, it happens more often in families than in sacristies or on retreat.

What needs to be examined is the role misogyny and ignorance played in our current sexual morality and traditions, starting with the consolidation of ministerial roles in a male overseers (call them pastor or bishop, it does not matter) and the mistaken view that the Eden story was about disobedience through women and transmitted through female sexuality rather than what a textual analysis shows is an allegory on blame and the need for forgiveness (which was mitigated by the command of Christ to forgive as we are forgiven and the sacrifice of Jesus by the divine rather than to the divine in solidarity with human suffering).

Everything from sacred continence to the asexual ideals leading to teaching on contraception need rethinking, whether related to priesthood or everyday sexual ethics for everyone who is not asexual or celibate and homosexual (or the few heterosexual celibates remaining in the priesthood).

Ernie Sherretta
1 month ago

Jesus never ordained anyone, never laid hands on anyone but SENT his disciples to catch people by their service, compassion, forgiveness and love- agape. He never wore vestments but condemed them in Mt 23. Rome took over the Way of Jesus and the rest is history. The choice for me is either Jesus or Christianity. Given the history of Christianity and the confusion of denominations, I choose Jesus. Celebrate Eucharist in your homes, serve the poor and share so all have their needs met. Acts 2

Randal Agostini
1 month ago

I thank Fr. Francis for his admirable and insightful defense of the priesthood as well as his clear understanding of the various reactions to the sexual abuse crisis. The Priesthood was ordained by Jesus Christ through Peter and the Apostles and their role was to continue the work of Christ as Teacher and Healer and example so that all may seek salvation.
This article shows how mismanagement of the crisis by church hierarchy has the potential to destroy the Church, because it provides fodder to those who seek solutions through anger. Without priests we lose the sacraments, because ordination itself is a sacrament and not something that we will upon ourselves.
Whether Priests are cowered or whether they are constrained by obedience it should be clearly understood that they need to create their own voice. As someone suggested - they know the dirt - and they can expose it so that it may be cleaned up.
It is my belief that behavior can be controlled. I learned this from my parents, in boarding school, the military and my spouse, which leads me to believe that a large portion of this problem is a shortage of proper administration. If someone were to design a corporate Institution to be managed the way the Catholic Church is managed we would call it a recipe for disaster. Priests are trained for one function - the propagation of the faith, yet they are expected to be Real Estate Executives, Human Resource and Operations Managers, Corporate Directors and and Finance Officers all rolled into one. How on earth the Church held together in the twentieth century is another Mystery.
It is time that Church Hierarchy concentrate on the Faith and create a path for the Laity to take charge of all the material needs of the Church.

Rhett Segall
1 month ago

A priest is a mediator between God and people. Jesus was not a member of the official Judaic priesthood. But He was, is, THE mediator between God and us. The first letter of Peter underscores that all Jesus' followers are called to a priestly vocation of mediating God's love. Yet within Christ's community it's clear that Jesus singled out 12 to focus and clarify God's love for all. The Church in its Tradition has understood that other members of the community are called to be this special (not better) sign of Christ's priesthood which in turn, As Fr. Clooney stresses, can only be fulfilled in union with Christ's holiness.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

People don't need priests as mediators between themselves and God. Jesus told people to speak directly to God themselves.

Rhett Segall
1 month ago

Yes and no. God has willed to come to us through others. "No one comes to the Father except through me" Jesus said. And because of Jesus we have the confidence to go to the Father for others, in other words to act in a priestly manner.

Crystal Watson
4 weeks 1 day ago

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he said to speak directly to God as "our Father" ... he didn't say anything about intermediaries ... Matthew 6:9

Will Nier
1 month ago

Maybe they should start by ordaining some qualified Nuns and religious Brothers. We have a Nun in my parish who handles the Eucharistic Service on Thursday and she give dynamic homilies. I would rather hear her 7 days a week then whatever it is that Father is talkin about.

Paul Hierholzer
4 weeks 1 day ago

“Modern Catholic sexuality is a dark and troubled landscape.” So too was ancient and medieval Catholic sexuality, from which the modern priesthood was formed. Let it go--it's self-serving and bears no fruit.

J Jones
4 weeks 1 day ago

I am interested that the author seems to object to Catholics employing their Catholic biographies "to lend credibility to the devastating criticisms that follow: "I am (or was) a Catholic, so I know what I am saying when I denounce the priesthood".

I often include my Catholic history when speaking as Catholic in public spaces or to conservatives Catholics who tend to respond any criticism of the Church from within or without as an "attack" which demands they assume a pose of "counterattack". This warfare often takes the form of branding the critic an outsider of one kind of another. In asserting my Catholic history, I am communicating, in part, that I am no outsider. I am a sacramental native, a participant of long and deeply sincere and much-guided standing who has committed full and long years of my life exclusively to service in the Church. In doing so, I am saying to these self-appointed warriors that I will not allow myself to be pushed out of town because I am, in fact, a townie.

That is how I understand Carroll and Will (Orsi is new to me).

Asserting my native status and, thus, my "right" to speak to my experience as a response to these self-appointed warriors patrolling the castle mote is just one reason I include my Catholic biography.

When I am directing my criticisms to clerics and I include my biography, I am also saying (and I suspect others are saying) to you, too, that I am a townie. I, like you, am a native of the Church. And I am saying that, in the Church, I recognize a corporatized secular institution. I am saying that, because of that, the Church is no longer very mysterious. I am saying most of us now understand that corporate-like institutions are prone to corruption. I am telling you that most of us know how that corruption that works: it requires human beings who are actively corrupt ("in my thoughts and in my words and in what I have done") and it requires many, many more human beings who are passively corrupt ("in my thoughts and in my words ... and in what I have failed to do"). It requires people who are willing to actively defile and defraud the people with whom the institution is in relationship AND it requires people who are willing to passively betray the people with whom the institution is in relationship. I am telling you I believe the Church and its corporate members have behaved in actively and passively corrupt ways. I am a native, a townie, a Catholic telling you I don't believe that the only problems here are the actively corrupt priests and hierarchs. I am a native, a townie, a Catholic telling you I believe there remains a tremendous amount of untouched and largely unacknowledged passive corruption. Corruption is never acceptable. It is shattering when the corrupt, perhaps most especially the passively corrupt, are Catholic priests. I can only imagine how difficult it could be for otherwise good men to confront the reality that their own passivity has and does contribute to the defiling and defrauding their Catholic brothers and sisters and to the betrayal of the participation of their Catholic brothers and sisters.

We natives, we townies, we Catholics are telling you that the world outside the corporate-like Church has changed for the good. It has, in fact, changed in a Christian direction. Inclusion is sacred. Oppression of the marginalized is unacceptable. Women are worthy of delivering the Good News. When we dissenters include our Catholic biographies as we tell you of our criticisms, we are telling you that it is our very Catholic identity that expects better of you. We are telling you that the Church has much to learn from the world that is, in many ways, miles ahead on the Christian journey.

When we tell you our Catholic biographies, we are telling you that we are among the brothers and sisters you are to pray to when YOU pray the Confiteor, when you confess to almighty God and to us, your brothers and sisters, that you have greatly sinned, in your thoughts and in your words, in what you have done and in what you have failed to do, through your fault, through your fault, through your most grievous fault.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to love the Eucharist, to love the Mass, to believe it is healing and to then confront the reality that one's own passivity has led so many Catholics to walk away. I understand that the Church has constructed a story that absolves you all of that responsibility: the Church tells us that everywhere you go, you might be causing harm but your sacraments are still legit; and if we were truly faithful Catholics, we wouldn't have any problem believing and participating with you. How much easier on your own hearts and souls and consciences to blame the defrauded and defiled and betrayed for "abandoning the Eucharist" and, especially, to blame those who won't go away quietly, burying their Catholic histories and Catholic anger and Catholic knowledge and Catholic grief and Catholic disgust and Catholic experience.

J Jones
3 weeks 6 days ago

The decision of the leaders at the Jesuit high school in Indianapolis not to fire a gay teacher is a profound act that offers one alternative to the passive corruption of the clergy.

J Jones
3 weeks 6 days ago

Duplicate

J Jones
3 weeks 6 days ago

Duplicate

John Chuchman
4 weeks 1 day ago

A few good priests does not justify a sexist clericalism.

John Chuchman
4 weeks 1 day ago

Who said we need intermediaries twixt God and us?

Jack Feehily
4 weeks 1 day ago

I am guessing that America has leaned so far to the left that it attracts readers who are smitten with vitriol and cynicism. This article is written by a Jesuit who identifies himself as one living as a celibate for more than 40 years and yet is attacked mercilessly by those whose well ground axes seem very sharp from years of wielding. Here’s how I would summarize most of what the attacker’s have said: Doesn’t everyone know by now the Catholic Church is a corrupt institution dominated by homophile clerics who are not only eager to perpetrate sexual abuse or to cover it up, but are also guilty of dominating the people they serve especially those who are women. Their solution is either to eliminate priests altogether or to replace the present crew with women and others unbound to celibacy. It all sounds so pure were it not coming from people all of whom are presumably no strangers to human failures, vices, and character defects of every kind. While there are horrific and abominable aspects to the abuse and coverup saga, and while we should listen closely to those who step forward as victims, Christianity is supposed to be all about redemption and mercy as well as righteousness and truth. Are there any who come to this forum so sinless that they only see and disseminate the faults and crimes of others, or only wish to tear apart the institutional aspects of the church cleric by cleric. Last time I took a personal inventory of myself, I found sin and goodness. So many people here seem to think that if you have done certain foul things they render you incapable of any kind of love, compassion, or goodness. What kind of anthropology, theology, or psychology does this belie? Uncomplex human behavior, no redemption, and no searching for our best selves? Who among us with all our sins and transgressions can be ungrateful for a God who rebukes us even as he calls us to be repentant and holy. This is good news that I and many priests not only preach but attempt to live out day by day. God, have mercy on the just and the unjust.

Nora Bolcon
4 weeks 1 day ago

So I guess you would just have us send our kids into the sacristy naked and watch them be raped because "Hey - everybody's got some weaknesses."

I am going to guess you have no children.

I, for one, am thankful for the many men and women who have spoken in defense of women, on this thread, and have spoken against the sin of sexism being perpetrated against the women of our church. This is perhaps the only writings that still give me hope we can actually become a church worth saving in the future.

J Jones
4 weeks 1 day ago

Norah, Jack is a priest.

J Jones
4 weeks 1 day ago

Jack, corruption in corporate-like institutions includes
- speaking the party line when you don't believe it because your relationship with God and your ministry has taught you it isn't true
- speaking the party line when you don't believe it and know the party line causes harm;
- looking the other way when you know others are speaking the party line and don't believe it and/or know it causes harm
- going to one's hierarchical superior with a concern and then washing one's hands of it

These are but a few examples of the kinds of passive corruptions which I believe many, many hundreds and thousands of otherwise good priests (and religious brothers and sisters) are guilty.

Should you priests be forgiven and granted mercy for being human? Of course. Christianity at its core assures God extends both, and Christianity at its core demands humans extend both to you as well.

Christian forrgiveness and Christian mercy from God and humans, however, do not preclude the need for Christian honesty and Christian accountability. I believe this is especially true when the persons who have behaved in these passively corrupt ways are Catholic priests who proclaim they are the sole path to "Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God".

I join you in your cry for God's mercy and I join you in your confidence that God will have mercy.

Now let's get down to the business of honesty about the passive corruption in the Church.

J Jones
4 weeks 1 day ago

Duplicate

Brian McCarthy
4 weeks 1 day ago

We are a sacramental church. There really is no way to abolish the priesthood and retain that nature. I do think the culture of the priesthood needs to die. We need no princes in the church. We need no overlords. I think priests need to be servants and stop expecting to be served and to be obeyed. The clericalism that has been pervasive needs to stop. There should be no "benefits" to being a priest. One should become one out of a sense of calling and self-sacrifice. How about really embracing the spirit of Vatican II? Let's have a more empowered laity and let's return to our original spirit in all matters. It is time for vows to mean something. Poverty should mean poverty. It continues to stun me when I see the upper-middle class lifestyles lived by members of religious orders that profess poverty! Do bishops and cardinals really need grand residences? It needs to happen but I do not think it ever will. My own diocese in NC is in the process of establishing a minor seminary in Belmont. It is so clear that the students are being inculturated to clericalism at its worst.

Crystal Watson
4 weeks 1 day ago

When I once asked a priest in a religious order about why poverty didn't really mean poverty in the order, he told me I was confusing poverty with being poor.

J Jones
4 weeks 1 day ago

Brian, thank you. "There should be 'no benefits' to being a priest." When I was discerning vowed religious life, I quit my $40,000 fully benefitted job, gave up almost everything I owned and volunteered for a decade. I lived on my savings, parked my car at a family member's house in a far away state. After having been a homeowner, I had roommates in small apartments after when I wasn't living and working in Catholic intentional communities with communal subsistence budgets. I travelled everywhere by city bus and Amtrak's cheapest schedules. I learned to use libraries again, and I quit drying my clothes because they lasted longer. I stayed out of all but the cheapest, mostly ethnic restaurants, and I discovered Dollar Tree where everything really is a dollar. If I couldn't get it there, I probably didn't really need it. For two years, I worked as a VISTA and restricted myself to living entirely on my $900 month stipend - housing, transportation, food, medication, everything.

I was blown away when I started visiting vowed religious communities. It was immediately clear that entering vowed life would mean re-entering middle class American life at the comfortable end of that continuum. The only difference would be that none of it would be in my name.

And, for that instantaneous return to the middle class, I would have to agree to pretend publicly to believe God demanded I brand as sinners my long-coupled and mostly Catholic gay friends.

That was a corruption my soul could not abide.

I still grieve the loss of communal prayer and a chapel down the hall and communal living. But I know that the struggle to create that on a daily is worth the preservation of my freedom to tell the truth about who I sincerely believe God to be and to extend my labor and time and earnings serving that truth.

Oz Jewel
4 weeks ago

Priesthood. There is a long history of humankind being in two minds about actually relating to God up close and personal - allured by His majesty and glory and terrified by His power and holiness.
Many (and maybe all as far as I know) civilisations prior to and contemporary with the Hebrews developed places where they had encounters with the Other and people who were delegated to do the actual meetings to take worship and sacrifices and petitions in and bring messages, answers and blessings out. Just as much as most humans like sweet things to eat, they are also inclined to religious behaviour of some kind.
Grace builds on nature, does not seek to abolish or pervert it, so God has shaped and formed and guided and refined and directed this religiousness and He did so by consciously choosing a random man and raising a family and then a tribe and then a nation as people who getting progressively to know the good side and the dangers of this appetite or tendency.
The pinnacle of that divine schooling was a people whose laws were both civil and religious at the same time and who had a caste of rulers and a caste of priests which were not of the same tribe.

When His Son became incarnate, He had to be of one or the other and God had destined that He be of royal blood and that His history included a priest king Melchizedek who had ruled there centuries before and performed priestly offices too.
So, royalty and priesthood resided both in Our Lord and the society He founded was endowed with men called to the tasks or offices with which He was the origin and source and charged to carry these into the future.
There we have it, a hierarchy of sovereign rule and a chosen priesthood and a consecrated nation.
All of is shared by each child of God, none equally endowed in gift, power or authority.

Remember, it was Judas who disagreed with the choices Jesus made while He watched and listened to the will of His Abba.

J Jones
3 weeks 5 days ago

The decision at Brebruf in Indianapolis is an act that is redemptive of the priesthood. The decision there was based on the informed consciences of the persons involved, among them Jesuit priests, who honored and responded to and made manifest what they had learned in their relationships with God and in their ministerial relationships with the people who shared their lives and stories with those priests. This is redemptive. And it is glorious because of the spiritual honesty it represents. The content aside, this is the spiritual integrity and courage I was raised to believe was the hallmark of a good priest, the hallmark of a disciple of Christ as opposed to an institutional company man. I shared this now with a gay Catholic friend who longs to be return to the Church she loves. She chooses, for now, to go to a church where the pastor "would rather be excluded because of who she includes rather than included because of she excludes". I will go to the Jesuit cathedral today to say a prayer of Thanksgiving for those Catholics in Indianapolis made the same choice. I feel hopeful for the first time in a long time. LGBTQ Catholics may be able to come home and straight allies like me may be able to come home without leaving my LGBTQ brothers and sisters alone on the steps outside.

arthur mccaffrey
3 weeks 5 days ago

a priest is arguing not to eliminate the priesthood--i.e. let him still have a job. Well, Prof. Clooney your plea just got an F in my book--all of the good things you cite about sacramentality and holiness can all be done by lay people. To paraphrase Wills, "who needs priests?" ---to you that may sound "clueless", but Catholic laypeople do not need priests to remind them that they are essentially a "sacramental community, infused with the holiness of God." Not only is the priesthood the source of much corruption and evil, but in the 21st century it is patently redundant. Sorry--here's your pink slip, see you on the unemployment line!

Ross Warnell
3 weeks 5 days ago

By making the ordained priesthood into the seat of all power and authority the ecclesiastical machinery of the Roman Catholic Church has deprived 99+ percent of their identity as a Royal Priesthood and a Holy Nation. Am I against authority? No. Am I against setting aside people for servanthood in the community? Of course not! Am I against a self-serving ecclesiastical caste who see their job as more shaman than servant (Eucharist as religious object rather than Eucharist as the center of a functioning Body of Christ)? You bet your sweet rootie patootie I am!

J Jones
3 weeks 4 days ago

More on the corporation... https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/just-catholic/problem-clericalism-makes-transparency-impossible

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
3 weeks 3 days ago

Priesthood is problematic PRECISELY because it excludes women from participating if they in fact have a calling. There is a deadness to the RCC that is readily apparent once you step away and engage other Christian denominations where women are ordained as ministers. That women are spiritually gifted is irrefutable and that the RCC sexism refutes this in undeniable. It does so at its own peril. Look around, where are the young women? Not in the pews. And this means that children will not be in the pews since you know, they are the childbearers too.

Suzanne Harris
3 weeks 1 day ago

I've known many good priests, both diocesan and members of religious orders. None of them was perfect, but they all tried to be good men. With very few exceptions, though, they all shared an attitude that their ordination as priests gave them authority over the lay people they came in contact with. "Father says" is/was considered by them to be the deciding argument on just about any question. This is the attitude we need to reform, and it will not change until the selection and training of priests changes. We cannot look at the last thousand years of church history and choose to continue in the model of celibate, male clergy, Not to say that celibate males shouldn't be allowed in the priesthood, it's just that that shouldn't be the only model—based on early church history where we see a greater diversity. We also see that early church leaders were there to serve the people, not the other way around. What happened was that priesthood became part of the feudal order where power and social standing were connected to title and position. Unless and until we can get back to a service model of church leadership, with only the "chosen few" having a voice in church governance, we will continue to have significant problems. As St. Paul said early in the game, "There are many gifts but the same spirit." The way to reform the priesthood is to recognize that truth.

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