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Our readersDecember 02, 2000

Chalices and Chairs

Let me see if I have this right: According to the lead item in Signs of the Times (11/4), someone in the Vatican, honoring the ancient tradition of not allowing the laity to get too persnickety, decided that extraordinary ministers, after 20 years of doing so, may no longer purify Communion vessels. This prompted a discussion at some length by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, who added to their considerations the matter of ministers consuming any remaining consecrated wine. The committee in turn unanimously approved a motion to place an action item before the National Conference of Catholic Bishops asking its president to request an indult enabling ministers to perform these tasks when warranted. The new instructions also led the 240-member Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions to rearrange its October meeting agenda to consider the matter. It subsequently urged appointment of an interdisciplinary ad hoc committee in the bishops conference to study and make recommendations ASAP, and on and on....

Still, I must be missing something here. People, Christians among them, are being sold into slavery in the Sudan, dismembered in Central Africa, martyred in India, forced to flee their homes in East Timor, politically repressed by some Central and South American regimes (with which some Catholic hierarchs have unseemly ties) and denied weekly celebration of the Eucharist because of the shortage of ordained ministers; yet no one is even blushing at the waste of clerical/hierarchical time being devoted to consideration of who may do the dishes, so to speak. The flurry of activity surrounding such housekeeping issues causes other anecdotal flurriesrearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?to assume proportions nothing less than heroic.

Robin Ryan Bughman

Stamford, Conn.

Not Mutually Exclusive

Thank you for the reasoned and well-balanced issue on the crisis in the priesthood (11/4).

I was called to a vocation as a husband 15 years ago, and to a vocation as a father five years later. Since becoming active in my local parish, I have perceived a vocation to the priesthood (not to the permanent diaconate). In my case, these callings are not mutually exclusive. I am certain I have been called to the vocations of marriage, fatherhood and priesthood.

Could it be possible that the worsening crisis in the priesthood you so plainly present is a quiet whisper from the Holy Spirit to the church to accept optional celibacy? Perhaps we should listen to the Spirit with the same openness, courage and humility that Father Donald Cozzens prescribes.

William Barlak

Burbank, Calif.

Coney Island

James Martin, S.J., quotes (11/4) the references by the Rev. Donald Cozzens in The Changing Face of the Priesthood to estimates of the number of homosexuals in the American clergy ranging from 23 percent to 58 percent. Whoa! Steady on! These are hefty numbers. Nearly one fourth to more than half the priests in the United States are gay?

Father Cozzens appears to hold up a mirror to the clergy, but, to me, it’s a Coney Island mirror in which the image is so distorted it’s unrecognizable. At age 75, I’ve never encountered this so-pictured presbyterate in Asia, Europe or the United States.

(Rev.) George P. Carlin

New York, N.Y.

'Blessed Are They'

The Rev. Donald Cozzens’s article (11/4) contains the same lopsided and misleading impression given by his book The Changing Face of the Priesthood. Many priests and seminarians are appalled by his analysis of the present crisis and his complete failure to give any moral evaluation of sexual misconduct except pedophilia. His use of passé psychological theories is embarrassing, but I am most dismayed by his demonizing of the opposition. Those of us who disagree with his so-called liberal stance are characterized as fearful, suspicious and unwilling to dialogue. The truth is that many younger priests and seminarians have been coerced into silent acquiescence of an agenda deceptively called liberal. Yes, indeed, we do need dialogue, but it is not going to start by identifying your opposition with ultramontane 19th-century causes and making oneself a representative of Pope John XXIII. There are literally thousands of young priests and seminarians who survive seminaries and religious communities where they are coerced into accepting behavior with which they profoundly disagree. Many others have given up studying for the priesthood because of this disedifying spectacle. In many seminaries in the past 20 years, students put up with the ignoring of the Catholic tradition and the disparagement of Pope John Paul II.

The problems outlined by James Martin, S.J., who correctly points out the ambiguity of the word gay, would not be so widespread if some clergy had been guided by a simple scriptural teaching; Blessed are they who walk according to the Law of the Lord. I have been working full time with priests as a spiritual director and psychologist for 30 years, and it is my profound conviction that this crisis has been caused by substituting secular values and shaky psychological theories for the teaching of the Gospel and the traditions of the Catholic Church.

Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.

Bronx, N.Y.

Modest Proposals

I submit a modest response to your issue The Future of the Priesthood (11/14). Indeed, the present crisis facing the priesthood seems complex and serious - to me, a layman and an outsider. Rather than trying to repair a structure that may have outlived its usefulness, it seems to me that ideas of reorganization should be explored. The following are thoughts that occurred to me, and probably to many others:

1. Recall married priests to the priestly ministry;

2. Ordain women;

3. Consider the idea of short service enlistment for the clergy and religious life, as is done by the armed forces, for example;

4. Allow the clergy the possibility of a change of vocation, as might other professionals;

5. Allow the celebration of the Mass by brothers and sisters who are properly qualified;

6. A review should be made of how other religions organize their people;

7. It would help if there were less harshness and less rigidity, in some views of the church; and

8. In short, the organization of the church and religious life should get a modern look and be open to experimentation...aggiornamento!

Philip T. Cortese, M.D.

Amsterdam, N.Y.

Nominal Decrease

Your blind spot regarding contraception and the church’s consistent ethic of life may be politically correct, but it is an ultimately misleading position to hold (Editorial, 10/14). Sadly, your editorial sounds less like a pro-life statement than a lukewarm call for reason. Should the pro-life movement truly be satisfied with a nominal decrease in the approximately 4,000 state-sanctioned killings that occur each day in this country? Are we Catholics really supposed to look at the issue of contraception as the sacrificial lamb to be given up in our ultimate quest for fewer abortions?

While the church’s opposition to birth control is based on the inseparable qualities of unity and procreation, there are many other reasons to speak out against it. It’s common knowledge that hormonal contraception (the pill, Depo-provera, Norplant) causes millions of abortions each year (when you consider that human life begins at fertilization). If that weren’t bad enough, look at the human suffering brought on with the aid of contraception, despite its goals to the contrary: more abortions, divorce, infidelity and sexually transmitted diseases; women viewed as objects and children as unwanted byproducts. If you want a reliable source, read Humanae Vitae, a most prophetic encyclical that 32 years ago accurately predicted the moral decay in which we find our society.

As a church, we cannot simply strive for a country free of abortion and let contraception go unchallenged as a benign and basic right, because abortion and contraception are firmly linked. Consider the language of the court majority in the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reads in part, ...people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception fails. It sounds to me as if the church knows exactly whence she speaks. Contraception is intimately related to the abortion issueboth legally and morally.

When mankind decides to usurp God’s ultimate authoritybe it by contraception, abortion, euthanasia or capital punishmentit continues down a slippery slope of death and destruction.

Michael Artigues, M.D.

McComb, Miss.

Survival of Ministries

As I read Joseph Claude Harris’s article on the shrinking supply of priests (11/14), I noticed a news item in the local newspaper that reported alarm on the part of Bishop Thomas V. Dailey of Brooklyn about the decline in the number of priests. These items made me wonder whether church leaders think this crisis is new. Those of us who work in seminary education know that all statistical evidence has shown a steady decline in the numbers of priests for at least 25 years. In some dioceses, the priest shortage threatens the core of the church’s sacramental life. This fact vindicates the prediction that the researcher Dean Hoge made 20 years ago, when he said that the most radical solution to the priest shortage was to do nothing.

The shortage of parish priests is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to 19,500 U.S. parishes that need priests and lay ministers to work with them, we also have 2,500 hospitals and health care facilities, 8,100 elementary and secondary schools, 238 colleges and universities, and 2,260 social service agencies. The religious who founded, sponsored and staffed these institutions are disappearing rapidly, and as far as I know there is no plan to replace them with strong leaders who are also theologically competent. We have done an excellent job of finding qualified administrators for hospitals, schools and other church agencies. If these institutions are to survive as ministries, there is an urgent need to form a new generation of lay leaders in the same rich theological and spiritual tradition that gave rise to them in the first place.

Charles E. Bouchard, O.P.

St. Louis, Mo.

Into the Light

From my vantage point as a psychotherapist, James Martin, S.J., raises important issues around authenticity and integrating identity in The Church and the Homosexual Priest (11/4). From sorting out the meaning of self-identifying as homosexual vs. gay, to a life of silence similar to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the consequences to one’s ministerial career, Father Martin articulates the confusion and conflicts many priests face today. The emotional burden of living a shame-based life, constantly deflecting the reality of one’s sexual orientation, comes at great cost, as seen in the consulting offices of many therapists.

As long as church teaching remains that homosexuality is an objective disorder, homosexual priests will find themselves experiencing a sense of defectiveness, or they will recognize that they can no longer defend something that they themselves do not believe to be the truth. While no easy answers are apparent, America is to be applauded for bringing this issue into the light.

Charles G. Martel

Boston, Mass.

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