30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 28, 2018
4:00 pm, 8:00, 9:30 and 11:15am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
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. This weekend, I am talking about this at each of our Masses here at Saint Mary’s.
This got decided after some conversations involving Father Kunkel and our two deacons and their wives. I do have a perspective on this crisis and I also see a way forward.
But obviously, my perspective is limited because I am only one person. My thoughts today are also limited because I am going to focus on only one dimension of this issue.
How Did This Happen?
So, how did this happen?
How did our Church allow abuse to 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 baptized. In fact, it has meant setting the clergy above the rest of the members of the Church 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.
This culture, this clerical culture has set us up and 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 Mary’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. I realize that the Church teaches that ordination is not open to women.
Aside from that, we still need to make sure that women are included as equal partners in mission and ministry. I have listened to the thoughts and feelings of many women in our Church, some right here at Saint Mary’s, and I know that we have work to do on this.
And third, 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 definitely 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 and, God willing, you too hope, and it gives us a positive way forward at this time.