A Modest Proposal

Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States. As the church prepares to observe the Year of the Priest, which begins on June 19, open discussion about how to sustain the church as a eucharistic community of faith and fortify the pastoral life of Catholic congregations has become imperative. For making do within the limits set by present demographic trends presents a double threat to Catholic life: Catholic communities will become only infrequent eucharistic communities, or eucharistic communities will be severed from the pastoral care and public witness of priests.

In 2008 the sociologist Dean Hoge said: “We need at least a doubling of ordinations to maintain the American priesthood as we know it now. But this is impossible.” Of current diocesan priests, only 70 percent are available for parish ministry, with the rest sick, retired or absent for a variety of reasons, according to Mary Gautier of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. An increasing number of Catholics are unable to participate in a Sunday or weekday Mass. All this prompts the question, Will the priest shortage impose a eucharistic famine on the Catholic people?

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The de facto remedy already applied in many places— making the priest a circuit rider moving from parish to parish to dispense the sacraments—risks narrowing the ministry of the priest and impoverishing the Christian life of the communities he serves. A narrowly sacramental definition of priesthood satisfies the requirements of only one of the three canons that define the pastoral responsibilities of the priest, Canon 530. As a consequence the sacramental office is as a practical matter severed from its integral connection with comprehensive pastoral care. Canons 528 and 529 provide a broader understanding of the priestly ministry. The first sees the priest as one who instructs, catechizes, fosters works of justice, shows special care for the education of children and brings the Gospel to those who have ceased to practice the faith. The second requires that he should come to know the faithful entrusted to his care, visit families, share their concerns, worries and griefs, help the sick and seek out the poor, the afflicted and the lonely. Diminishing numbers make it difficult to carry out this holistic vision of the priest’s pastoral ministry.

We hope that the upcoming Year of the Priest will lead to a broader discussion of the priesthood in the contemporary world and, in particular, will open examination of the various ways the shortage of priests can be addressed honestly and with imagination. New vocations can be promoted through youth rallies, the Internet and, as always, with prayer. In addition, the pastoral needs of parishes may also be met in part by more effective pastoral assignment of permanent deacons and by increased leadership by lay men and women.

What about the recruitment and training of married men as priests? Married priests already minister in the Catholic Church, both East and West. Addressing the married clergy of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Second Vatican Council exhorted “all those who have received the priesthood in the married state to persevere in their holy vocation and continue to devote their lives fully and generously to the flock entrusted to their care” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” No. 16). That exhortation now applies to the more than 100 former Anglican priests and Lutheran ministers who have entered the Catholic Church, been ordained and now serve in the Latin rite. As we face the challenges of the priest shortage, some of the more than 16,000 permanent deacons in the United States, many of them married, who experience a call to priestly ministry might be called to ordination with a similarly adapted discipline. In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard.

Our plea is modest. The bishops of the United States should take greater leadership in openly discussing the priest shortage and its possible remedies. These should not be conversations in which we face a problem only to find every new avenue of solution closed. Rather, they should be exchanges fully open to the possibilities offered by the Spirit.

In March, Cardinal Edward Egan, the newly retired archbishop of New York, said in a candid moment that the topic of married priests “is a perfectly legitimate discussion.” He added, “I think it should be looked at.” The cardinal later nuanced his statement, but the need for a creative re-visioning of priestly life to sustain the eucharistic life of the church in its fullest sense can no longer be delayed.

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8 years 6 months ago
What a wonderful step in the right direction but... How long will the Diocesan institution be allowed to discriminate against those "damaged" candidtaes ? Not even corporate America could get away with the overt discrimination practiced by the "private enterprise" known as the Diocese. Fortunately religious communities have recognized the talents offered by these, perceived to be damaged and embraced them and given them the opportunity to serve the Church and the people of God as priests without recrimination. One only has to look at the past 50 years of diocesan priesthood to see how well those "healthy" men did in making our Church a home where all are welcome. Ironically this same Diocesan system gets up "in arms" when a new Ordinary is named who is not "one of their own" and comes from a religious community ! Rather than rejecting damaged candidates the American church would be wise to help guide their talents and desire to serve the benefit of us all.
michael sprague
8 years 6 months ago
If married priests are the answer, why are mainline Protestant churches having a more difficult time with their vocations?
8 years 6 months ago
It really is worthy of pity to read what America's editors believe the answer is to the priest "shortage". It's the same mantra-like nonsense that has droned on nonstop since the post Vatican II plunge. The married priesthood. Just what we need: priests who are unable to make the commitment to God alone, but are willing to give it a try with a good woman by their side. Or, faithless former priests who are willing to once again take up their broken vows with their wives tagging along. Why is it that the Fraternity of St. Peter has more vocations than it can handle? They use the tried and true method of sound doctrine, meaningful liturgy and a little toughness during priestly formation. We have enough whining priests of the new school. What we need now are real men who understand what commitment to God and Church is about. That doesn't come from man-boys who view the priesthood as an option and not a vocation from God.
JUDITH OFALLON
8 years 6 months ago
Ninety-three of the previous 94 writers assumed that priests are absolutely essential in a eucharistic church. Why? None of Jesus' apostles were priests. I'm sure he could have recruited one or more priests if he'd wanted to ~ there were lots of Jewish priests in his society. Instead, he chose 12 lay workmen ~ and accepted a group of lay women as followers. Perhaps he thought that lay people could handle the activities involved in going forth to teach all nations ~ including those pertaining to community worship. Radical thought ...
RICHARD WEEKS
8 years 6 months ago
THE 95 PLUS COMMENTS BEFORE ME TRULY INDICATE THAT THERE IS A DEEP NEED FOR OPEN DISCUSSION ON THE PROBLEM OF SHORTAGE OF VOCATIONS TO THE PRIESTHOOD AND CONSECRATED LIFE, ETC. IT'S INTERESTING THAT THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF VOCATIONS TO THE DEACONATE. AGE AND OTHER "CRITERIA" ARE USED TO KEEP CLASSES LOW. WHAT WE(THE CHURCH)FOCUS ON IS THE IMPORTANT THING; SPENDING TIME ON "SHOULD HE BE CALLED PRIEST OR PRESIDER" MISSES THE WHOLE POINT. VIVA VATICAN II, LET'S HAVE VATICAN III.....PROGRESS IS DIFFICULT. LOOK HOW LONG IT TOOK WOMEN IN AMERICA TO GET THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE!
JUDITH OFALLON
8 years 6 months ago
In addition to Dick Weeks' comment on the abundance of vocations to the deaconate (#96), it's worth noting the tremendous number of Catholic men & women of all ages who have felt called to the LAY MINISTRY since Vatican II. When contrasted to the decrease in vocations to the priesthood during the same period, these facts just might be telling us something about the Holy Spirit's current action in American Catholics.
8 years 6 months ago
May 25, 2009 Dear Editor, I was a bit dismayed as I read the Editorial, “A Modest Proposal” (5/4) concerning vocations to the priesthood, in the context of the upcoming Year of the Priest. What bothered me was that an excellent magazine would give in to the lock-step thinking and pre-existent concepts that continue to dominate the discussion. I was the vocation director for my religious community (The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts) for over four years, and I have seen that the problems and solutions are not as one-dimensional as re-presented in the editorial. A married priesthood will not suffice as an answer. Catholics who have put no more than a dollar in the Sunday collection basket since 1954 have benefited by a celibate priesthood. Will tithing all of the sudden be welcome in the Catholic Church, with each congregant putting $40 or $50 in the weekly collection to support the Catholic pastor, and his family, as well as the community? How real a possibility is this? If the bishop re-assigns the priest to the area of town that is characterized by poverty and crime, will his family argue against this? Just a few things to consider. The obstacles blocking God’s call are severe. One problem has been around for a while now—Christian catechesis, and with it, sacramental formation. The way we “do” education and sacraments has become very problematic. Not many parishes have teens who willingly return after Confirmation. Many don’t return until marriage preparation, and then to baptize little Sam, and then for Sam’s First Communion, and then for Sam’s Confirmation. And then the cycle repeats itself. Through these years what religious formation they had as young people disappears. Priesthood is not attractive to young men. Unfortunately very, very few parents raise the vocation question with their children. Too many Catholic parents find the Catholic Priesthood to be unattractive. Even if a high school teen finds an interest, say, after a weekend retreat, his parents might talk him out of it, or at least not be very supportive. Catholic parents and teens are not immune to our culture’s depiction (through the media) of the Church and Priesthood as undesirable. An answer lies in the first part of the editorial: a vibrant, active, pastoral life in the parish. Faith is caught, not taught, the saying goes. The pastor must live out visibly the fullness of his priesthood, as the editorial noted as to be found in Canons 528 and 529. Many pastors (even young ones) refuse to visit their parishioners in the local hospital. This only injures the parish’s self-concept as being one body, the body of Christ. Parishioners must also be willing to shed blood, sweat and tears alongside the pastor in establishing meaningful catechesis, influential liturgy, compassionate social outreach, and a sound financial standing. Such activity is not opposed to praying for vocations to the Priesthood. We pray as if it all depends on God, and act as if it all depends on us. (Rev.) David Lupo, ss.cc. Fairhaven, Massachusetts
8 years 5 months ago
I knew Jesuits were liberal but my goodness!!! Is there any Catholicism left in this magazine? For those who disagree with Church teachings there are the protestant churches. Most of them have male and female ministers, single and married,homosexuals,bisexuals etc, etc, etc. Don't you realize that you have already separated yourself from the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church???? You just hurt our Church. We don't need you.
Mary Ann Hinsdale
8 years 5 months ago

It will never happen because married priests (assuming as you do, they are male) will have wives-and Rome never consults women.  I hate to think how they would have to undergo seminary training (like the "married deacons"?).  And what will the role of the wives be at ordinations (like the now all male priesthood, where the men "dress" other men?).  I say, women first.

8 years 5 months ago

Normal 0

Normal 0 There is sinful misogyny in the operation of the Church. Women do most of the work of the Church at the parish level and are relegated to the ‘fields’.  The ceiling is not made of glass it is made of spiritual arrogance that is apparent for the entire world to see.  There is no theological argument that women are unfit to lead,  they are just 'traditionally' unwelcome by the male hierarchy to the male hierarchy in the Catholic Church. The Church has lost its fundamental Christian moorings when it comes to justice for women, and humanity. The work of the Holy Spirit during the “pedophile crisis” has brought to light the truth, that men are unfit to lead. There is no women who would have sent a child abuser to another parish. The fact that 'America' would parce the Vatican's stand on celibacy before considering supporting women is another example of spiritual arrogance and blatant misogny. The Church is heading for a disaster that the Spirit will inflict for its continued sinful and arrogant behavior. Do we all see the parallels that Jesus faced with the Pharisees?

Judy Alves

8 years 4 months ago

While I agree with the idea behind asking married men to join the preisthood

and/or asking those preists who left to become married to re-join and re-assume their preistly roles -

since Episcopal married men are allowed to be ordained now with Church blessing-

I still do not believe that enough men will answer the call.

There are steadfast, holy women in every parish, many of whom are single, who have "the call" and are denied the role. What about them? What about their vocation(s)?

8 years 4 months ago
In 1959, after making my first communion, I wanted to be an altar boy.  I knew the Latin, I was dependable, and it was an honor I aspired to.  I was told in no uncerain terms that even the stupidest, laziest, most uninterested boy in my class was preferable to me, because I was female.
No surprise that nothing has changed in 50 years.  The Jesuits - in all their santimonious glory - still ignore women.
8 years 4 months ago
I heartily appreciate your Editorial " A Modest Proposal"  and thank you deeply for it; however, I take issue with your statement "In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard."  May I respectfully point out that although the official Church prefers to identify dispensed married Roman Catholic priests juridically as "laymen within the Church", we prefer to identify them sacramentally and pastorally as "priests" who may be approached for sacramental ministry in emergency cases according to Canons 976, 986, n. 2, 1335,and 844. n.2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law,  because "laicization" or the reduction of a priest to the status of a layman violates the Council of Trent definition in Session 23, Ch. 4, Can. 4 : "If anyone says that a validly ordained priest can again be converted into a layman, let him be anathematized or condemned" ( Cf. New Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1583;and [url=http://www.rentapriest.com]www.rentapriest.com[/url]  ). 
Rev. Dr. Neil Parado, Co-Chair of Alphamega Christian Community of Manitoba, Inc.
 
 
8 years 4 months ago
I heartily appreciate your Editorial " A Modest Proposal"  and thank you deeply for it; however, I take issue with your statement "In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard."  May I respectfully point out that although the official Church prefers to identify dispensed married Roman Catholic priests juridically as "laymen within the Church", we prefer to identify them sacramentally and pastorally as "priests" who may be approached for sacramental ministry in emergency cases according to Canons 976, 986, n. 2, 1335,and 844. n.2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law,  because "laicization" or the reduction of a priest to the status of a layman violates the Council of Trent definition in Session 23, Ch. 4, Can. 4 : "If anyone says that a validly ordained priest can again be converted into a layman, let him be anathematized or condemned" ( Cf. New Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1583;and [url=http://www.rentapriest.com]www.rentapriest.com[/url]  ). 
Rev. Dr. Neil Parado, Co-Chair of Alphamega Christian Community of Manitoba, Inc.
 
 
8 years 4 months ago
I heartily appreciate your Editorial " A Modest Proposal"  and thank you deeply for it; however, I take issue with your statement "In addition, the views and desires of some of the more than 25,000 priests who have been laicized (and are now either single or married) should also be heard."  May I respectfully point out that although the official Church prefers to identify dispensed married Roman Catholic priests juridically as "laymen within the Church", we prefer to identify them sacramentally and pastorally as "priests" who may be approached for sacramental ministry in emergency cases according to Canons 976, 986, n. 2, 1335,and 844. n.2 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law,  because "laicization" or the reduction of a priest to the status of a layman violates the Council of Trent definition in Session 23, Ch. 4, Can. 4 : "If anyone says that a validly ordained priest can again be converted into a layman, let him be anathematized or condemned" ( Cf. New Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1583;and [url=http://www.rentapriest.com]www.rentapriest.com[/url]  ). 
Rev. Dr. Neil Parado, Co-Chair of Alphamega Christian Community of Manitoba, Inc.
 
 
8 years 4 months ago
Rev. Dr. Anthony Padovano  wrote:
"Bishops once accepted our vocation as priests, asking for celibacy as an
addition. Now bishops are asked to recognize the preservation of our
vocation to priesthood, accepting our marital status as an addition to that
vocation."   We are earnestly praying for the restoration of
optional celibacy and the return of willing and qualified
married Roman Catholic priests to canonical or official church
ministry . Currently, there are over 100, 000 married Roman Catholic priests
world-wide. There is plenty of room for both celibate and married priests in the
Vineyard of the Lord, where presently there is a crisis in lack of adequate
pastoral leadership and service.  Rev. Bobski
Makinano
8 years 3 months ago

At the current historical discussion regarding the married priesthood, the 'sensus fidelium' worldwide has affirmed the validation of the married priest-ministry. The pressing, most notable 'quaestio disputanda'  is  when and how to recommence this originative, venerable touchstone of service fittingly among the present, various ministerial structures of the Church.

8 years 2 months ago
what an unfortunate title.
i'm guessing you want to be taken more seriously than swift...
8 years 1 month ago

I hope the Catholic Church will not overlook to tap its vast reserve of disenfranchised married clergy.  Their only only fault was to make a delayed desicion to raise a family. If the church would heed the common assertion, very well knwon in the Catholic countries, that "once a priest, always a priest," it has nothing to lose by mobilizing them, instead of suppressing their willingness to continue their vocation.

Whether ecclesiastically accepted or not, its verity is something  the church has not given enough judicious consideration. Why, indeed, put to waste thousand of years of training and experience of the married clergy when there's a shortage of priests to take care the spiritual needs and communal welfare of the faithfuls. In a world thirsting for models, married priests will have the credibility of actually struggling in a Christian like way to raise their family and serve the community. Being heads of a family, they will not be preaching in a vacuum on issues relating to marriage and child raising.  They are right at the forefront of real life experience.

The church is very well adviced to harness again the services of our lost clergy. Adherence to the celibacy rule is no longer working to build the church; on the contrary, it is hurting the institution where it counts most.  There is a steady loss of priest because the celibacy rule is calling them to become supermen to defy the law of nature. 

BOB BROWER
7 years 11 months ago

Not only married men but women must be discussed in the year of the priest.

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