This past weekend, Archbishop Lori requested that a homily which he recorded be played at all Masses in the Archdiocese. Therefore, I did not preach. I am posting the homily that I gave this past August 26. It still reflects my basic perspective on the current Church situation and may be of some help at this time. My prayers and best wishes!
Father Michael Schleupner32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 11, 2018
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore
The Church Crisis
Angry, ashamed, disappointed, disheartened, shocked – these are some of the feelings I have heard from Catholics in the past two months.
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the McCarrick scandal have been very painful for all of us, and that includes me. I do have a perspective on this crisis and I also see a way forward.
I discussed this with Father Joe and he felt that it would be good for me to share this with you. Obviously, my perspective is limited because I am only one person.
My thoughts today are also limited because I am focusing on only one dimension of the issue. I just want to say that up front.
How Did This Happen?
The question is: how did our Church allow abuse to go unchecked? How did some of our leaders, some of our bishops, fail to address this properly?
There are a number of possible answers. I am focusing on one because I am convinced that this is very much at the heart of the problem.
The major issue is the clerical culture or clericalism in our Church. What do I mean by that?
Clericalism means setting one group, the clergy, ordained priests, apart from the rest of the members of the Church. In fact, it has meant setting the clergy above others and treating them in that way.
The origins of this go back to fifteen hundred years ago. Without getting into all of that history, I would say that the clergy continued to view themselves as apart and above for at least several centuries after that status was no longer helpful to society.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is putting down the clerical culture in his own religious tradition. The scribes and other leaders also held themselves apart and above the other people in their religion.
Well, this culture, this clerical culture has created the environment that allowed the present problem to happen. Here is why I say that.
The Clerical Culture
If we look upon the clergy as apart and above, as almost the core of our religion, then we – or at least we clergy – feel the need to protect the clergy, ourselves.
For us to admit of imperfection in our ranks may seem to admit of imperfection in our Church. For us to admit of moral failure in our ranks may seem to admit of moral failure in our religion.
I am not justifying that rationale. I am simply saying that this has been the human dynamic at play for hundreds of years.
The result is that there developed the tendency to cover up mistakes and even serious moral flaws. This was done by us, the ordained bishops and priests.
This was very shortsighted and morally wrong, but it was part of the clerical culture. It has ended up hurting minors and adults and hurting the entire Church.
Now, the clerical culture is not nearly as alive today as it used to be. But, remnants of it still linger in some places.
We need to move completely away from a clerical culture to a People of God culture. We need a culture that respects, empowers and allows all the baptized – all of you – to participate in the full life of our Church.
We already have the vision for this in the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. Now we need to implement it fully.
That takes me to some thoughts on how to move forward. I have three ideas – I know that there are other things we have to do and some that we are already doing, but I want to highlight three big directions that I think we need to take.
Moving to a People of God Culture
First, as I said, we need to include all the baptized, all of you in the entire mission of the Church. This includes the setting of direction, the ministry, the oversight and the accountability systems.
There are many ways that this is already happening, and we can see this right here at Saint Matthew’s. But, we need to make sure that this happens in all places and on all levels of the Church, from top to bottom.
Second, we need especially to assure the role of women in our Church. As I say this, I think of today’s first reading and again of the gospel.
In both passages, widows are central to the concern. And the reason is that women in general and widows especially had no rights.
They could not even have title to or inherit their husband’s money. Jesus shows special sensitivity to widows and all women.
Today, we in our Church have work to do on the dignity and role of women. I realize that the Church teaches that ordination is not open to women.
But aside from that, we still need to make sure that women are included as equal partners in mission and ministry. I say this after having listened to the thoughts and feelings of many women especially over the past thirty years.
The third direction that I see is that we need to open up the issue of ordaining married men to the priesthood. There is absolutely nothing to preclude this.
I am not speaking of our religious orders, like the Franciscans and Jesuits, where celibacy is part of the commitment to community living and religious life. But I am speaking of the diocesan priesthood.
In fact, the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have a tradition of ordaining married men to the priesthood. We in the Western or Latin Rite now need to do the same.
I have had these thoughts for many years, since I was a young priest, and not just since the current crisis.
I believe these directions will end a clerical culture and lead us into a full People of God culture. This will energize our Church.
It will lead us to a renewed priesthood and a renewed community of faith. That gives me hope, and it gives us a positive way forward at this time.