16 June 2012

Irish College, Homosexuality, Celibacy, Secular Clergy

There has been an angry response to Cardinal Dolan's report in Ireland from a group of dissenting Catholic priests called the Association of Catholic Priests.  The name makes them sound official, and they are anything but official.  These are priests who never dress as priests.  Some do not believe in the Real Presence.  Some are openly sexually active... on both sides of the street so to speak.  They do have a lot in common with a group of priests in Austria recently taken to task by the Pope.

Irish newspapers love anything that attacks the hierarchy and upper ranks of the Catholic Church.  It doesn't spring from nothing... this hate ... but arises from years upon years of abusive misuse of power by the Episcopate in Ireland.  Now that the Holy Father and Cardinal Ouellet have spoken openly about the problems in Ireland, one doesn't get tarred and feathered for speaking about how ill served the Irish people have been by any of those in Holy Orders.  Nonetheless, every Irishman knows when the local priest is a saint and will tell you plainly that this is a fact and an exception to the rule.  How many times have I heard, "Ah, but Father is a saint."

My own experience in Ireland over the years is that the Church is a shambles.  There are isolated pockets of light, but in general one can be forgiven for being given the extreme impression that the Catholic people and Catholic Church in Ireland would be well served by having everyone in Holy Orders deported to Italy.  When I first heard such thoughts, I thought they were belly-aching and griping of the lowest order.  Having seen and experienced some things first hand, I agree more than I disagree.

The Irish sometimes grow up never seeing their priest dressed in clerics.  The priest prefers to dress like he is going to golf.  Folks call such priests "Father Trendy".  I know a number of those like that and they are not all rotten apples but they are easily led astray.  Between the ones from Maynooth and those from the Irish College, it is the ones from the Irish College who seem to be the biggest part of the problem... and that is a very great shame.

The best thing that could happen in Ireland is if Mother Agnes Donovan of the Sisters of Life in New York City were sent to Ireland as Apostolic Administrator of the Church ... an idea guaranteed to "freak" out the left and the right.  Since that is right unlikely, I am by way of it pointing to the need for a miracle.  Cardinal Dolan cited the Irish College's reputation as a hotbed of homosexual 'activity' as the central problem.  Those outraged from his report say the College is merely gay friendly.  Most of us know that the issue in the Catholic Church isn't about homosexuality alone but few are prepared to give the appearance of not praising the gift of celibacy.

It isn't the gift of celibacy that is the problem.  The grace of celibacy given by God is powerful.  But God does not give said grace to all priests, nor does He transmit it by ordination.  The Latin Rite has an enforced discipline of clerical celibacy for priests and bishops.  It is not doctrine at all but discipline, but of late it has been spoken of with as much devotion and passion as one might speak of the Eucharist itself.  

Change in the Church is glacial, but I am convinced that the idea of celibate secular diocesan clergy is the underlying problem.  The orders aren't the problem they are gifts where clerical celibacy is often both grace and vow.  But the secular clergy of diocesan priests not in religious orders has been coming apart at the seams for a very long time.  It presumes a world in the West and a worldview among Catholic Westerners that has been gone for a very long time.  The model leaves a diocesan priest all by himself in a rectory incapable of doing everything a priest needs to do in a parish.  Many say they like being alone, and that should be a red flag that something has gone wrong.  Being alone is proper only to the hermit, and it is manifestly not spiritually salutary or wise for a priest to be flying solo in a parish.  Common sense knows this, but in the Church we prefer to go along with the status quo until long after a change was needed.

It doesn't mean the end of the Church, but it does have an impact upon the Church's mission to evangelise in very profound ways.  Souls are lost because the solo priest is burned out.  Souls are lost because the priest's private life is sexually at odds with his vows, but there is no one to notice and no one in the Chancery able to monitor such things until someone winds up in gaol/jail, Court, or in the Press.  Such a pity we cannot look at this calmly but only think in terms of those who attack us from the various groups of our enemies.  Circling the wagons only works for so long.  Eventually one must break out of the mode to go get food and drink. 

The Eastern model of parish priesthood is adapted for the various stresses and crises we face.  The normal model in the parish is the married priest and his family.  2, 3 or more monks may also be placed in a parish in some parts of the non-Catholic world.  It is from the monastic celibates and the widowed parish priests that the higher clergy are drawn.  Not that the Eastern Orthodox have everything worked out. They don't  However, their idea of the parish family church with the priest's own family at the head of it is one tried and tested by time that works.  The lone ranger... one secular diocesan priest who is an avowed celibate living alone in a large rectory is a recipe for disaster.

The Lord sent out his own two by two.  I don't think he was merely hinting at something.  I believe that two by two model should be the central idea for the deployment of clergy and the governance of parishes.  A blog isn't a place to explore these ideas in full.  I can only give some hints toward what I would have put in a paper or lecture.  But as one of the few celibate Anglican priests who has been reconciled with the Catholic Church in the USA, I feel I am not under any compulsion to sing the praises of the discipline of celibacy for the secular clergy as the incoming married priests are required to do.  I don't mean required to do so by the Church but rather required to do so by a kind of sense that they must justify their existence by giving praise for the status quo of the discipline of the Latin Church or by a desire to conform to the expectations of the discipline and the general expectations of the hierarchy.

As it has developed there are very few people actually given the grace of celibacy.  With the laity beginning to see the ordained clergy as a club of homosexuals and sex-criminals with their Enablers, the Laity's loyalty, love, and money will keep departing.  Praise of celibacy as a discipline is odious frankly.  It is a discipline or a tool.  Praise belongs where it is due with the Lord, His Gospel and His Sacraments.  

Praise of God for the grace and gift of celibacy is wonderful.  Now if a celibate secular diocesan priesthood is a charism of penance, that is a different matter.  As it is, it is just a law for the secular priests, and one that I have been shocked to learn unfortunately first hand has too few actual adherents among the priesthood.

If you keep doing the same thing, getting the same results and you make no change but rather keep doing the same things expecting different results you have landed in the lap of insanity.  Perhaps part of some sort of reunion with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox will be the source of light and guidance with an elimination of a celibate secular diocesan priesthood as the norm and a return in the Latin West to the model of the East which is in some ways like that of the Latin West before the Cluniac Reform.  Yet in other ways it is profoundly different.

It takes humility to look at a discipline and see that perhaps our brothers in the Eastern lung of the Church have the answer we need.  The Eastern model would have been the proper one to give incoming Anglicans in a particular Church as it is the one most consistent with the Anglcian Patrimony and proven experience.  It takes humility and grace to allow for disciplinary differences whilst adhering to dogmatic unity.  Something must give when it comes to the clerical celibacy of the Latin West and the kinds of mess we have in Ireland and at the Irish College in Rome.  Even if my ideas are beyond the Pale, no pun intended, someone will need to completely overhaul the secular diocesan clergy in order to turn the focus away from the appalling sex abuse toward a productive future discipline through which the Catholic Church can get on with the work of the Gospel of Christ.

The Irish College in Rome only came into my awareness because it was where Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter was trained for the Catholic diaconate and priesthood.  My point of reference was the venerable English College and to a less degree the North American one.  I pray the Irish College can be renewed and made to be a Celtic shining light for the Church once more.

+Good Shepherd, guide us in Thy straight way.