Our Own Penance

To add to the tragedy of pedophile priests (Signs of the Times, 3/18), there have been no words of sorrow, no admissions of complicity, no words of compassion from the pope or his Vatican officials addressed directly to the victims (and their families) of sexual abuse by priests. The victims have been stonewalled and ignored. The only thing we hear about is damage to the church.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly exhorted us that there is no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness. In order to make just amends, we must begin by doing our own penance at the highest level in the church. Anything less only adds to this continuing injustice that eats away at any credibility we may yet have.


(Rev.) Charles E. Irvin
Manchester, Mich.

Ritual Symbol

I am in general agreement with Timothy Padgett’s Kyrie and Kumbaya (3/4). I have no problem with the author’s desire to reintegrate traditional music into our liturgies; our cache of extraordinarily lovely church music accumulated for centuries has been scanted. But I do not agree with his harsh put-down of today’s liturgies; he fears that they reflect, rather than act as an alternative to, our secular culture. My experience is that our vernacularized liturgies can and do invite us into the depths of ritual symbol. All we really need is what each person can bring to the eucharistic table: the faith to be aware that Christ lives and is here. That is real depth and the heart of real mysticism.

(Rev.) Walter J. Paulits
Pasadena, Md.

Spiritual Leadership

I found many things to disagree with in the article The Priest-Pastor as C.E.O. (3/11). A C.E.O. is the last thing a pastor should be. Priests are far too prone to spend their time doing administrative work that could better be left to the lay ministers of the parish.

What we need in our church is more spiritual leadership. I know that priests do much more than celebrate Mass, but most of them complain that they never have enough time, for example, to prepare their Sunday sermons as they would like. God knows how much we need better sermons, considering that most Catholics do not read America or any other Catholic magazine, and the number of people taking Scripture or other classes is small. The Sunday sermon is their sole source of spiritual education and encouragement. With the lower number of priests and the fact that some parishes must share priests, spiritual counseling or personal advice or visits from priests when one is sick are getting scarce.

We certainly do not want a monastic model for our priests, but I have yet to see one who acts like a monk. What they do often act like is a C.E.O., worrying about the budget, engaging in fund-raising, and at times even micromanaging. I much prefer the pastor, the shepherd. Shepherds may have been disdained in Jesus’ time, but it was an image he chose, even to the point of saying that the Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. I can’t imagine a C.E.O. giving his life for his sheep. Look at what happened with Enron.

Lucy Fuchs
Brandon, Fla.

Undue Emphasis

I disagree with the point of view indicated in the article The Priest-Pastor as C.E.O. (3/11). The priest’s job is not to maintain the orderliness of the church; his vocation is to bring the people, his flock, to Christ. Calling the priest a manager and training him as one would bring undue emphasis on the financial bottom line (the foremost concern of any manager) to the detriment of his more important role as another Christ, offering spiritual help, compassion and support to his parishioners.

Anne Bartol, O.S.C.
Langhorne, Pa.

Winter Days

The Rev. Robert Kress’s recent article, Priest-Pastor as C.E.O. (3/11), was certainly one of the most insightful I have read on the present priest crisis. I was most appreciative of the way he wove into his article the profound views of Karl Rahner on priesthood in the modern church, especially his insights on the priest as a connecting person. I hope that many seminaries and courses on priesthood reflect on and request reprints of Father Kress’s brief but profound piece of writing. Most important, I hope it finds its way into the hands of many an overworked, overwhelmed priest who needs a scholarly but down-to-earth treatment of what the ordained priesthood really is in these winter days of the Roman system. Finally, I hope that this article will stimulate others of its kind in response, and perhaps further pieces by Father Kress himself.

David H. Powell
Glendale, N.Y.

Dynamic Expertise

God save us from longing for a church where orderliness and appropriate managerial skills become the defining quality of the ordained (3/11). To the extent that we must function as an organization (pay bills, mow grass, repair plumbing), laypeople are simply better qualified, better educated and more experienced for the task. Since baptism calls all people to the task of maintaining and expanding the body of Christ for the world, it makes better theological sense and better stewardship if the priesthood of believers is called to accountability in their areas of dynamic expertise. Managerial/financial areas would be better handled by lay administrators working with the ordained for the parish or diocese.

The term pastoral care has become so vague as to be less than helpful. The people of God are called to care for one another. Baptism is the charism essential for prayer, love and supportnot ordination. The work of caring, by right, is the responsibility of the people of God if they are actually going to live as the people of God.

Linda Ann Ballard, O.S.C.
Kansas City, Mo.

Light and Air

Regarding Bishops Weigh in on Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors and The Vatican on Gay Priests (Signs of the Times, 3/18), and speaking from the pain of our diocese losing two bishops in a row to the scandal, I submit that promulgating banns for bishops could be a preventive medicine. Every edition of a Catholic newspaper in the country would have a little box: The apostolic nuncio is considering nominating the following men for the rank of bishop. (List names and present addresses.) If anyone knows any reason why any of these men should not be elevated to the episcopacy, let him or her speak up now. The mailing address of the apostolic nuncio is printed below. Prevalent in the corridors of power in our church is the temptation to clone oneself, body and soul. In secret. Where sin festers. The banns would send streams of fresh light and fresh air through those same corridors.

James N. Gelson, S.J.
Highland Beach, Fla.

Has to Change

I enjoyed The Priest-Pastor as C.E.O. (3/11), by the Rev. Robert Kress. Given the current sexual abuse catastrophe in Boston and elsewhere, there may be another role the parish priest is called to assume. At present the laity are very disappointed, discouraged and outraged at Cardinal Bernard Law, and they do not trust where their money is going when it is addressed to the chancery. On the other hand, the people are very supportive (generally) of their local priests who have received letters, phone messages, loving gestures from parishioners outside the church and even from non-Catholics on the street. This puts the parish priest in the unusual position of being the local mediator of credibility between the people and the bishop. He has become the bridge-builder between the bishop and the people. The term pontifex comes to mind. As local representative of the bishop, this fits well into the identification of the diocesan priest in his relation to the diocesan bishop. The bishop is the pontifex in the diocese.

It is a unique time for a priest. Parish priests have the opportunity gently to encourage their bishop to recognize that the signs of the times have touched us again. It is time for Vatican III. The sad phenomenon of Boston is not unique in the country, nor is it limited to our national borders. I would hope that my own bishop, Cardinal Law, would take the lead. No one better than he has experienced the bewilderment, the betrayal and the anger felt by the people. He had five two-hour listening sessions with his priests followed by a huge, six-hour gathering of lay leaders at the World Trade Center in Boston. At the conclusion of that day, he humbly admitted that he was part of the problem and asked if he could not also be part of the solution. Several told him point blank that he should resign. The problems presented to him were systemic arrogance, secrecy and unaccountable power within the leadership of the Catholic Church. All this has to change, said the people. The selection of bishops, their accountability to the local community, the position of women in the church and the question of their ordination, the ordination of married men and the opening of the financial records for the community’s scrutiny have to be addressed. It is time for a new council and a new Code of Canon Law.

What a wonderful time to be a parish priest and to share in the bishop’s role of pontifex!

(Rev) Patrick J. McLaughlin
Medford, Mass.

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