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Second Thoughts

posted by awelborn

The third and last segment of Laurie Goodstein’s excellent NYTimes series on foreign-born priests in the US, focusing on India – and questions about what’s going on – from the supply end.

Bishop Pazhayattil said he chose which priests to send abroad very carefully. Some who volunteer, he said, could easily go astray so far from home.
And some do not want to go. The Rev. Jolly Vadakken had studied in Rome and worked short-term in parishes in Germany, Minneapolis and Birmingham. Tall and prepossessing, fluent in five languages, Father Vadakken had offers to work as a parish pastor in Italy and Atlanta. But he preferred to stay home.
In Irinjalakuda, he runs a Catholic resource center across the street from the diocese’s towering pink cathedral. He buzzes around the diocese on a motorcycle, often in his cassock, his cellphone ringing incessantly. He operates a suicide hot line (Kerala has one of the highest suicide rates in India), counsels couples, teaches courses in parenting and runs a program that mediates local conflicts.
He said he feels more vital here than he did in the United States or Europe, where he was needed only for the sacraments.
“In the other world, we are official priests,” he said. “We are satisfied just doing the Mass and sacraments, everything on time, everything perfect.
“In India, the people come close to us,” he continued. “The work satisfaction is different. Our ministry is so much wanted here.”
At the same time, the Catholic church in Irinjalakuda is expanding. When Bishop Pazhayattil was appointed in 1978, the diocese had 78 parishes; it now has 129. He said it was unlikely he would be so eager to send his priests to Europe or the United States in the future.
The rectors of both large seminaries in Aluva, with over 400 students each, each said in separate interviews that the Catholic church in the United States and Europe would eventually need to stop relying on India to supply priests.
“It is not a solution,” said Msgr. Bosco Puthur, the rector of St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary in Mangalapuzha. “It is only a stopgap that does not solve the problem.”

This was an excellent series. Kudos to Laurie for some really fair reporting. It’s a complex situation, and I would say that the only major piece missing is related to the situation before ordination – that is, foreign-born seminarians studying in the US for various dioceses, most of whom (my general observations indicate) come from Latin America, also recruited, also meeting with mixed records of “success,” if you want to use that word.



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Kozaburo

posted December 30, 2008 at 2:19 am


Would have also been nice to see something in there about Ukrainian priests. Almost every, if not *every* Ukie-priest I’ve met under 40 is from Ukraine.
And the reason there are no American Ukie priests is simple: The Roman-American bishops historically shoved the monastic rule (i.e. celibacy) down the throats of Eastern-Rite Catholics. They even opposed their ordinations to the episcopate. I’m fairly certain that celibacy is still forced upon the Ukrainians by their Latin brethren.
So when all is said and done, domestic Ukrainan-American men forego Holy Orders altogether. On the other hand, men from Ukraine marry and then enter the seminary with no problem. Then they come to the U.S. So all the Latin bishops have done is to block American-born men from becoming priests.
That said, there are some Ukrainian-American men who enter the seminary, and I’m guessing they’re on the fast track to Archimandrite if not bishop. St. Basil’s in Stamford is still operating and is the only Ukrainian Catholic seminary in the U.S. I’m not sure how many seminarians they get per year, but many of them are from Ukraine. Interestingly, the Ukrainian de-facto Patriarch, His Beatitude Patriarch Lubomyr Husar, was educated at St Basil’s.



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susanj

posted December 30, 2008 at 7:39 am


I also thought the series was excellent.
At St. John’s University in NY, where I taught before I moved to Minneapolis, we had a number of foreign-born seminarians. A significant number came from places like Africa, India and other parts of Asia as well as from Latin America.
St. John’s, through its Vincentian Center, also runs a yearly acculturation seminar for international priests that attempts to address some of the challenges faced by foreign priests when they arrive in their new parishes here.



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Michael Fronda

posted December 30, 2008 at 8:53 am


I understand what is being said about the different ministerial roles in different national settings. Still, it’s just a *bit* sad when a priest complains about *only* performing the sacraments.



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Jim

posted December 30, 2008 at 9:07 am


Agreed……..a well-balanced series, without the usual misconceptions about the priesthood.
This whole issue raises the question of the role of the local church. The U.S. is hardly mission territory…………….it’s sad that it has to depend on foreign born priests. But it’s also sad that some dioceses have to take in seminarians rejected by their home dioceses…………..and sad that bishops are sent to dioceses in the U.S. that they know nothing about.
It’s all about the question of how you view the universal Church: is the local Church merely a franchise of the Vatican or is the Pope just the first among the world’s bishops. Right now that question is balanced on the issue of authority, but that emphasis has its effects on the local Church. Ideally, a diocese should be able to produce its own seminarians, priests and bishops. The present situation makes that less than likely to happen.
Let’s face it: the U.S. can use the stopgap measure of an imported priesthood for one reason: it has the money to do so. This is not new. The priesthood in post-WWII Florida was largely imported from English-speaking Ireland. Florida then was overwhelmed by newly arrived Catholics. The present situation is occurring in mature dioceses that should be able to meet their own needs. It requires something beyond the stopgap.



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Curmudgeon

posted December 30, 2008 at 10:51 am


I grew up in Southern California. I joke that I didn’t know that priests were allowed to NOT speak with a brogue. Every parish priest I knew until college was born in Ireland. And our pastor was not shy about asserting that he came here because it was a weathier place. (“I wouldn’t be driving a Jaguar if I had stayed on that farm in Ireland!”)
The trend continues. I’m visiting my parents and their local parish is staffed by a Filipino priest. (To be fair, about 90% of the congregation is Filipino, too. My parents are new to the neighborhood, so I can’t be sure if the priest is following the people here, or vice versa.)
In the ‘old days’ (i.e. when I was in grade school), Ireland had a surplus of clergy, so exporting them to FL and CA was not a problem for anyone.
What irritates me now is the American assumption that we can import priests from other places that are so much less well staffed than our own parishes. (The Kenyan priest whose habit was to preach a long time to make up for the hours long walk of his parishioners is one example.)
I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why we think we are entitled to this level of staffing. We have the ingenuity (and frankly, the money) to reconfigure our parochial life to include more creative staffing patterns and not depend as much on clergy. I am not advocating doing away with the sacraments, mind you, just dealing with our priest/people ratio in a way that doesn’t take clergy out of parts of the world where they are scarce, in order to bring them to a place where they are relatively plentiful.



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Elena

posted December 30, 2008 at 12:51 pm


I hope it is easy for these priests serving in the U.S. to go home to see their families when they need or want to go.



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Kozaburo

posted December 30, 2008 at 1:25 pm


I think the U.S. ceased to be an official “mission territory” in the 1960s. The priest numbers until then were artificially inflated by the missionaries. Could be wrong on that… going by something an ex-nun told me.



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Curmudgeon

posted December 30, 2008 at 2:20 pm


There were a few places that were still officially mission territory until the early 1960’s, but very few. New Mexico was one of them (which is ironic since it was colonized so early by a Catholic country.)
But most of the rest of the US was out of the jurisdiction of Propaganda Fide long before that. I’m thinking around the end of the 19th C? I’m not sure, though.



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Tom Kelty

posted December 30, 2008 at 4:48 pm


I think that the NYT articles were a gentle reminder to all of us that we have little reason to feel comfortable about the Roman Catholic Church in the USA or anywhere else.
The figures alone are shocking. Brazil prides itself on being the most catholic country in the world and has 1 priest per 8,500 baptized. The ratio in the USA is 1,500 to 1. The active priests are aging out and few are eager to enter seminaries.
The answers to all this are in our pews, married men and dedicated females would be happy to serve beyond the roles assigned them until now.
For the first 1,200 years Bishops and priests were married. The church embraced celibacy to solve a temporal problem regarding the transfer of property to the pastor’s first born son. It is time for Vatican 3 to resolve this and other issues so that our faith can present itself to the world as truly holy and united. Done properly missionaries would only be needed in pagan countries.



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Kate

posted December 30, 2008 at 5:56 pm


The bishop of our diocese recently closed and amalgamated a number of parishes as part of his determination to no longer be reliant on imported priests – though our city has traditionally had inflated numbers of religious, not foreign born so much. Anyway, witnessing the high pitch of emotion and anger….you betcher booty american Catholics feel entitled. It’s pretty darn ridiculous when you can’t even convince a group that there’s no need for 4 small parishes of <200 families within 2 square miles (each with a priest, and a retired priest in residence), when in the same diocese there are parishes with one priest for several thousand families.
No wonder so many bishops would rather import priests than cut back, particularly in diocese which had church ‘building booms’ in the last 30 years.



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Sandra Miesel

posted December 30, 2008 at 8:41 pm


At the risk of sounding like a broken record every time this issue comes up: before the Hildebrandine reforms of the 11th C, secular clergy in the West could marry before ordination but once ordained, they had to foreswear all future marital relations with their wives. (If they slipped up, the sin was regarded as worse than incest.) The wives, if widowed, weren’t allowed to remarry. Clerical marriage was never universal, East or West.
Preventing property transfers across generation was historian Jack Goody’s theory about the imposition of celibacy but this is not accepted by most medievalists. High Church offices remained concentrated in certain families even after the Reform–nephews were just as useful as sons in that regard.
I also wish to point out that my small but explosively growing diocese is recruiting good, orthodox (and dare I say “masculine”) priests at a higher rate than its larger neighbor, Indianapolis. My own parish has 9 seminarians studying for the priesthood at present. The upsurge seems to be the result of good mentoring and a lively Vocations Director. So it can be done, naysayers.



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Jim

posted December 30, 2008 at 10:09 pm


“Clerical marriage was never universal, East or West.”
In fact, neither was clerical celibacy.
The issue is whether either tradition should be the rule.
It’s a question of discipline, not theology.



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Tim Ferguson

posted December 31, 2008 at 10:51 am


While there are questions and challenges about “importing” priests, I would hate to see it end. I think the advantages to the Church of cross-pollination are too much to miss out on. The United States has, historically, been both a receiver and a sender of missionaries. In the mid 20th century, we probably sent many more than we received, and now we might be more on the receiving end.
It’s true that growing local Churches need local clergy, but I believe that the Church as a whole benefits from clergy sharing, even if there are some problems related to cultural and linguistic understanding, and motives for foreign clergy (I’ve heard some priests speculate that certain bishops like foreign clergy because they’re more “docile,” and there’s the ongoing canard that foreign priests, especially those from poorer countries, want to come to America to lead lives of leisure. Some do, I’m sure. Others whom I’ve met are eager to work at evangelizing what’s seen as a materialistic behemoth in other parts of the world).
Those who want to bring up the issues of married priests and women’s ordination as the solution to all of our problems need only to look at the health and vitality of the Episcopalian Church to prove their point. Yes, celibacy is a discipline in the Latin Church, but it is a discipline that has worked quite well for centuries, and is a very treasured and valuable sign.
I believe that the vocations are out there – God is still calling young men to lives of celibacy and priesthood. The question is, what are we doing to help them clear away the societal detritus that prevents them from hearing and answering, and how is the current priestly formation system accepting and forming those who are called?



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Jim

posted December 31, 2008 at 12:10 pm


“Yes, celibacy is a discipline in the Latin Church, but it is a discipline that has worked quite well for centuries, and is a very treasured and valuable sign.”
I don’t think that the evidence is clear that it has worked quite well lately.
It is a very treasured and valuable sign and I would hope that it would not be cast aside and derogated, as the married priesthood was by the Western Church. Theologically, Matrimony and Holy Orders are NOT in conflict.
I realize that the celibate presbyterate has a lot invested in the status quo. And I, for one, do think that there are some practical problems to be overcome with a married diocesan priesthood. But it clearly is doable, has some real possibilities and probably should be tried on a larger scale. After all, it legitimately exists in both East and West now.
It surely would be better than doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.



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Blake Helgoth

posted December 31, 2008 at 12:20 pm


The reality is that the USA should be exporting priest. However, we created the priest shortage by letting our seminaries and vocation offices be overrun with homosexual, agenda driven priests and professors in the 70’s, 80′ and 90’s. Many orthodox men we asked to leave because they did not support the agenda of those in charge. Some grew their hair long, wore sandals and made it through. The vast majority, though, were lucky if they did not wind up questioning their own faith. When I was in the seminary in the early 90’s, over 20% of the men left either because the were kicked out or disillusioned. (I could tell you stories of young men that were reduced to tears at night because of the situation.) These were good men who would have made good priests.
Many seminaries and vocation offices have gone through a degree of reform, but more needs to be done. Things are beginning to change. Most of the young men in seminary formation toady are solid, in love with the Lord and in it for the right reasons. However, much damage has been done and it will take quite a while for it to be repaired. If foreign priests can help in the meantime, then we should use them. However, if this solution distracts our bishops from addressing the real problems, then the end result will be not be a solution but a greater problem.



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Tom Kelty

posted December 31, 2008 at 3:21 pm


My hope and prayer is that celibates and a married clergy will make peace and respect each other all over the world. But not before we ordain women. Ordaining women would correct a grave injustice, centuries old, and eradicate the vocation problem. Would it be a perfect solution? There is no such animal. And you can bet your last dime on the fact that the male celibate clergy will not surrender one iota of power without a shootout. We see intimations of the coming fight in the tactics of B16 and his not very sly policy changes favoring a return to the Tridentine rite. A little latin here and there and recently giving priests the authority to celebrate Mass in Latin, WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THEIR BISHOPS.
BTW,anecdotal reports of an increase in vocations do not stand up under scrutiny. Little blips on the vocation radar disappear in the universal tally. And it is sad to see that some prefer a more muscular clergy, ignoring all that Christ taught us about the abuse of power.



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Curmudgeon

posted January 1, 2009 at 6:49 pm


While there is no theological reason for clerical celibacy and I do think that women should be ordained, we have to face the fact that in the consumerist West, changing either of these ‘bars’ to ordination would be like putting a pig through a python.
There would be an initial upsurge, and then I think we would be right back where we started.
Priests from poor countries come here because we offer more money than their home dioceses. Americans don’t embrace ministry because it doesn’t pay a ‘family income.’ (i.e. very much at all.)
The clergy is becoming feminized in many Protestant denominations because women are still seen as the ‘second income’ in many families. (Much the way the teaching profession became feminized a century ago.)
And, as a lay woman working for the last 30 years, I don’t see a huge groundswell of other, younger women eager to take my place. I’ve asked, but they draw a sharp intake of breath when they hear the ‘cap’ on the salary. (Even if they go into teaching, not notoriously lucrative, they can expect to earn about double what they would in ministry, albeit, not in a Catholic school, of course.)
This doesn’t even begin to cover the way that ministry is viewed by many – as a refuge for those who can’t function in the ‘real world.’ Many the time I have been met with shock and wonder when someone realizes that I actually went to school for as long as a lawyer to do what I do.
I certainly didn’t go into ministry for the money (or the recognition.) But we can’t ignore the realities of status and finances in the current vocation crisis.
Just throwing that out there. Lest we think that there are ‘easy solutions’ like just ordaining more kinds of people.



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Jeannette

posted January 1, 2009 at 7:55 pm


For some reason, I keep having this crazy notion that maybe priests should encourage Catholics to obey Church teaching on contraceptives, welcome the ensuing children (at Mass!) and some of this “priest shortage problem” will be solved.
And, women ordinations are a big NO. Fuggedaboudit. Move on.
Married priests are neither forbidden nor encouraged; I strongly suspect they won’t become more common in the Latin Church unless and until God tells a pope to start allowing it more. “Blog commenter” is way down on the list of people who get consulted on this, as it should be. You can opine all ya want (that’s what we’re here for), but just remember that our opinion is given exactly the weight it deserves…



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Jim

posted January 1, 2009 at 8:41 pm


“Married priests are neither forbidden nor encouraged; I strongly suspect they won’t become more common in the Latin Church unless and until God tells a pope to start allowing it more. “Blog commenter” is way down on the list of people who get consulted on this, as it should be. You can opine all ya want (that’s what we’re here for), but just remember that our opinion is given exactly the weight it deserves…”
Please keep in mind that the Pope’s inclinations and preferences on matters of Church discipline are not infallible, nor are they, I suspect, a matter on which God instructs him. The Pope can be wrong on such a matter.



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Blake Helgoth

posted January 2, 2009 at 9:13 pm


Again, I think the “priest shortage” is mostly self inflicted. the number of men who were asked to leave in the 70s, 80s and 90s for holding fast to the teachings of the Church is considerable.



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Jim

posted January 2, 2009 at 10:23 pm


” the number of men who were asked to leave in the 70s, 80s and 90s for holding fast to the teachings of the Church is considerable.”
Really? “Considerable”?? Can you name five? Can you name one?



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