The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Future shock?

posted by jmcgee

Across the way, over at Patheos, their shiny new Catholic portal-keeper Elizabeth Scalia has launched an ambitious series on the “Future of Catholicism.” It’s part of a larger look at the future of religion, and Elizabeth has collected an impressive lineup of people to write short (500 words or less) head-scratchers about what a future church may look like. (Among the less-impressive authors: this numbskull from Queens.)

But I do want you to check out the wise words of my colleague at NET — I call her “the wind beneath my wings” — Shu-Fy Pongnon. Shu-Fy is my assistant news director, and she brings to this enterprise (and every enterprise) a sharp eye, a keen brain and an enormous heart. Read her thoughts on how the future Catholic Church will include “the beautiful mess of me.”

Then, check out some of the others. You’ll be engaged and, I think, uplifted.

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posted July 20, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I must say I was disappointed to read about the future including married priests.

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Katie Angel

posted July 20, 2010 at 8:31 pm

What is so horrible about married priests? The Church has married priests until the 12th century – our first Bishop of Rome (Peter) was married (the Gospels talk about Peter’s mother-in-law).

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posted July 20, 2010 at 10:38 pm

The present includes married priests, too.

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Deacon Norb

posted July 21, 2010 at 4:44 am

Some comments on married priests:
–The Eastern/Byzantine Rite has always had the charism of the married priesthood. Western/Latin Rite Catholics tend to forget and/or discount that treasure and the experience it brings to the table for discussion. Folks on our side of Universal Catholicism need to pay close attention to how marriage and orders work together.
–Back in the 1970′s and 80′s, deacon candidates in the Western/ Latin Rite still in their seminary formation were told that married priests in the Latin/Western Rite were on the horizon and that most church experts at that time thought that they would come from the ranks of experienced and successful deacons whose marriages were stable and whose wives were supportive. Obviously that did not occur.
–Maybe four or so years ago, Bishop William Dendinger retired as the Army Chief of Chaplains (two-star Major General) and was appointed Ordinary of the Diocese of Grand Island Nebraska. One of the situations he found was a married Lutheran pastor who had gone through RCIA and was in the process of receiving a Vatican indult to be come a married Western/Latin Rite priest. He was completely supportive and in his homily at that ordination, Bishop Dendinger is quoted to have said that — at that time — there were over 500 married priests in the Western/Latin Rite here in the United States.

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posted July 21, 2010 at 9:39 am

Why did you focus your comments on married priests? Was that what you were asked to comment on? Often we as deacons are greeted with “Hello Father,” and when we say we are deacons, we are asked “What does a deacon do? Are you half a priest? When will you be really ordained?” Generally, folks mistakenly focus their concerns on the functions that deacons perform. { To Quote Deacon Ditewig}’ “What do deacons do that priests do not?” “What can a deacon do that a lay person cannot?” By focusing simply on functions, a person can miss the larger significance of ordained ministry. For example, we all realize that there is more to “being a priest” than simply the functions the priest performs; we know that there is more to “being married” than simply listing the various activities a married couple do during the day.’
Why did you not focus on the diaconate? To focus on the priesthood, plays into the mindset that only priests and bishops count and deacons not…..
A comment on this topic by a married priest either from the Eastern Churches or one ordained via the Pastoral Privision would have been more appropriate.
[Diakonos: I was asked to write 500 words about the Future of Catholicism. Period. And as I indicated, many of the questions I get asked repeatedly -- and my wife, too, for that matter -- involve married priests. I have an opinion on the topic and decided to express it. God knows, I'd be the last person to minimize the importance of the diaconate in the life of the Church. But the fact remains: we cannot have a Eucharistic Church without priests -- and the numbers indicate that will be a serious challenge for the Future of Catholicism. Dcn. G.]

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Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

posted July 21, 2010 at 11:18 am

Oh dear – a broad and wide ranging series of essays, which I myself was honored to contribute to the blog portion, and all we can do is reduce the comments to the married priest argument? I have already written too many words on Deacon Greg’s fine essay over at our mutual friend Paul’s FB page, I won’t go on about that here.
The essay that Deacon Greg refers to written by the talented Shu Fy Pongon is outstanding and I am sorry to see that her wisdom is ignored in order for a discussion about one topic to take hold.

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posted July 21, 2010 at 2:04 pm

The future of Catholicism does not necessarily equate with the future of Roman Catholicism.
Often do we Roman Catholics here loose perspective on this.
A) We think Catholicism = Roman Catholicism, and B) We tend to see things and view debates from a Eurocentric or Amero-centric viewpoint.
(See Ted G. Jelen’s essay in the series). Not only that but some of the very debating points come from this perspective.
We might debate about married clergy while our brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere are confronted with HIV, access to water, education and health care and social justice. Can we as a truly catholic church justify our consumerist, first world lifestyle. Are we living off the poverty of others? Live simply so that others may simply live.

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posted July 21, 2010 at 5:16 pm

I have never met any priest in 50 years who has moaned and lamented that he never was able to marry. Most today seem so exhausted and overworked the last thing they would want to worry about was raising a family.
With fewer priests the demands on them are immeasurable. I don’t think having married priests will solve anything.
[Con: you, or your children, along with many people in the pews, might feel differently in about 20 years. Dcn. G.]

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posted July 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

I will probably be near dead in 20 years and I have no children. Thankfully I doubt I will ever see married priests.
Do you hear priests clamoring to able to be married? I don’t. If they changed the law tomorrow what would that say to all those who left the priesthood to be married? What would it say to those who stayed?
[You raise some good points, Con. But the timeless teaching of the church has always been that a man must be married BEFORE he receives Holy Orders. It is that way in both the East, and the West -- where converts can become priests, and Catholics and converts become deacons. And no, I don't hear priests clamoring to be married -- probably for that reason I just mentioned. They have already made peace with their decision to be celibate. The clamor I'm hearing is coming from the pews. It's small now -- we don't have a serious shortage yet in Brooklyn -- but as the need grows so, I suspect, will the noise. Dcn. G.]

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Guardini Fan

posted July 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Deacon Greg: I enjoy your blog very much and likewise found Patheos series fascinating.
I’d only add one comment about your comments: While I share your concern about number of priesthood vocations, it does not follow that allowing priests to marry will increase their number (after the anticipated first wave of permanent deacons and laicized priests). Virtually all denominations that allow a married clergy are likewise hurting for vocations. Simply put, there is no empirical evidence that links the ability to marry with an increase in those seeking ordination.
The cause of the vocation shortage lies far deeper; cultural and social factors operate to dissuade young people from viewing organized religion as something to which they are willing to dedicate their lives. Our young people grow up in familial/cultural instability and breathe the air of post-Christian syncretism. The problem is much greater than celibacy.

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Deacon Norb

posted July 22, 2010 at 7:29 am

Guardini Fan:
As a rule I do not re-enter a blog I have already posted on. Some of your insights, however, need to be explored:
I have been convinced for the longest time that the reason we do (or do not) have priestly vocations depends directly on the trust that American mothers have for the Church in general and the priesthood in specific. If that trust is there — the vocations will be also.
The last priestly ordinations in my town have been of men whose mothers were 100% supportive — constantly. One was a single mom/widow herself (Fr. John’s father died when he was ten or so); another was so supportive of her priest son, a daughter became a novice of a major convent of religious sisters a few years after his ordination; a third somehow managed to be the driving force behind the resurrection of a “Vocations Club” at a local RC high school — the first such organization that school had seen in over twenty years.
BUT the opposite is also true. Wherever American mothers are not supportive of their sons being priests, it will not ever happen. I have asked some American mothers about this issue and many agree with me that this connection exists. When I ask why some American mothers do not support the priestly vocation in their own sons, I get a lot of the wider answers you might expect.
IF that is the case, however (and I believe it is), then the American Bishops have to first make peace with American Catholic mothers. The rest will fall into place.

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posted July 22, 2010 at 7:30 am

You say you hear the clamoring from the pews. That is interesting as I wonder why they are clamoring? Do they think they are being short changed in some way? I don’t see it now but in the future things will be different. Parishes will merge, mass schedules will not be as they are and “priests on demand” won’t be the case. I always am floored when someone comes to a rectory and asks to see a priest and they expect immediate attention. Did you ever go to a Protestant church or synagogue and expect to find anyone?
[Con...Well, unlike most other religions, we are a sacramental Church, and five of our seven sacraments require the participation of a priest (or bishop). So until recently, priests have always been available for those things, and people's expectations have always been that, if there's a problem or a question, the priest can help. Dcn. G.]

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