My World of Religion, Politics, Entertainment and Social Issues

If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

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Location: Rochester, New York, United States

I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at www.youtube.com/priestray and I have a Facebook page.

Monday, February 28, 2005

MY PROPOSALS FOR VATICAN III

When we look at the history of Catholicism, it becomes immediately apparent that Church councils have been rather infrequent. Perhaps most striking in this regard was the long duration between the Council of Trent and Vatican I. The span between Vatican I and Vatican II was certainly small in comparison, but nevertheles long overdue.

While it has only been forty years since the close of Vatican II, much has transpired since 1965. My position is simply that existing conditions dictate the convening of Vatican III as soon as possible.To list all the issues that necessitate a Council would result in a rather lengthy article. I have therefore decided to focus on six issues that demand inmediate attention:

1) The Crisis in the Priesthood;
2) Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick;
3) Sacrament of Reconciliation;
4) Annulments;
5) Inclusive Language;
6) The Role of Women.

THE CRISIS IN THE PRIESTHOOD

While mandatory celibacy had its place in the history of our church, it has frankly run its course. This is not to deny that celibacy is a charism. I do indeed believe that some are called to a life of celibacy. However, as I have tried to emphasize in prior writings, I don´t believe that a call to celibacy and a call to the priesthood are necessarily one in the same. Therefore, I believe I am being reasonable by stating that a primary agenda item for Vatican III needs to be the reinstatement of married priest. This in turn would create optional celibacy for those who choose, as opposed to the current required state.

Our history informs us that married priests were in abundance until the year 1139. Even after 1139, secret marriages were common, until the unfortunate circumstances of the Inquisition enforced the celibacy rule. While celibacy worked to some extent through the 1960s, there has been a steady decline in seminary enrollment ever since.

If Vatican III should convene and continue to enforce the celibacy directive, I would be convinced that the only purpose would be to enforce the will of the hierarchy, so as to discourage dissent. Sole authority of the pope on the issue of mandatory celibacy needs to be challenged. At the very least. Vatican III participants will need to discuss the viability of autonomous decisions by bishops, based on the needs of their particular dioceses. Common sense dictates that the availability of the Eucharist should always take priority over a policy such as mandatory celibacy. A council has the potentital of emphasizing this point.

SACRAMENT OF ANOINTING THE SICK

Having an M.A. in Theology and an M. Div (Master of Divinity), I try to the best of my ability to be a good lay minister. (I am married and therefore cannot be ordained to the priesthood.) As a lay person, I found myself at a great disadvantage during the year I served as a chaplaincy intern in a hospice setting. While I like to feel I was a healing presence to the dying, I was not allowed to administer the Sacrament of Anointing, since its administration is reserved for priests. Considering the current priesthood shortage, I often wonder how many seriously ill or dying patients have to go without this important Sacrament. I therefore propose that Vatican III extend anointing privileges to the diaconate and properly trained lay ministers.

One of the instructions given to us by Jesus was to "heal the sick." While the implementation of married priests and the ordination of women would andd to the ranks of the clergy available for anointing, the aging baby-boomer generation will pose particular challenges to those who minister in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. Therefore, Vatican III will need to deal with the fact that priests, regardless of how many there are, could not handle the expected patients-load alone. Therefore, discussions on who can anoint must take place.

SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION

The Sacrament of Reconciliation / Penance was instituted as weekly confession came into disuse/misuse. In addition, the motion picture industry had much to do with the imagery that implied that the "Last Rites" was the proper setting for one to reconcile past sins. Current indications are that there is a lot of confusion over the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Vatican III will need to redefine what it means to:a) reconcile with others;b) reconcile with God. I propose that the Catholic Church take a close look at the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar, the faithfull seek forgiveness from God for sins committed during the previous year. In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jews seek forgiveness from individuals they have wronged during the privious year -the idea being that human belings must reconcile with each other before turning to God for forgiveness. I believe that it will be hatlthy for Vatican III to reflect on the Yom Kippur traditions.

ANNULMENTS

Admittedly, some Roman Catholics have related positive experiences with the annulment process. It allowed them to revisit the mistakes of their first unions, which in turn prepared them for their second marriages. Once relevant issues are examined by tribunals, successful couples are informed that their prior unions were invalid under the definitions of Canon Law. However, despite positive experiences some have with the annulment process, the process has caused much pain to others.

Obviously, annulments are not always granted. Furthermore, I can´t begin to relate how many persons I have encountered who are totally confused by tne process. For example, I am often in a position of having to correct people who have incorrectly deduced that they have been excommunicated by the Church due to a divorce. (A person is not excommunicatd because of divorce. However, if a divorced person remarries without an annulment, the Church can deny such a person the Sacraments.) I have also encountered divorced women wiht children who fear the Church will declare their children to be invalid if an annulment is granted. (The Church never declares children to be invalid.)

Vatican III either needs to simplify the annulment process or get rid of it altogether. We need to be a welcoming Church -not one that scares members away. Perhaps in place of the annulment process, we can instead create a better structured pre-cana program, whereby prospective marriage partners are properly prepared for the duties of sacramental unions. Priests and couples could then decide together whether enough maturity exists for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE

Just when it seemed we were on the verge of having an inclusive-language Sacramentary, it was sent back to the drawing boards. If we are to both maintain current Church memberships, as well as attract new members, we must have liturgical language that is all-embracing. I was deeply distressed when the powers-that-be rejected proposals for an NRSV (Vew Revised Standard Version) Lectionary. The currently used NAB is flawed in terms of translations from the Greek. As we now know, Latin translations of the Greek were not faithful to the original intent. The NRSV has taken the accepted Greek translations and modified them somewhat so that men and women alike can be embraced by the Word of God and therefore put the words into Christ-like actions.

When one gazes at a typical assembly in a catholic sanctuary, missing age groups seem to be teens and young adults. If we are to attract them, and thereby preserve the Church for future generations, we need to be inclusive in both our practices and our language. I therefore urge Vatican II to carefully examine this important issue.

THE ROLE OF WOMEN

My support of women extends all the way to ordination. Perhaps the largest sin of the Church in previous centuries was that of the exclusion and persecution of women. While some significant advances have been made since Vatican II, Vatican III can go a much greater distance. As I often state, Jesus could have chosen anyone to spread the news about his Resurrection. The fact that he chose a woman is highly significant. Women were also highly significant in the churches under Paul´s guidance. Therefore, if Vatican III does not elevate the sature of women, I will once again be convinced that if will be an attempt to reinforce hierarchical rules over the inclusivity exhibited by Jesus Christ.We can no longer sit back and allow bishops to give us the all-too-familiar line: "The Pope has already spoken on this, and we therefore can´t discuss it." After all, our pontififf never declared the banning of women from ordination infalibly. For him to do so would be a huge mistake, and I think be realizes this.

CONCLUSION

I have put forth what I consider to be pressing issues for the next Vatican council. Critics will continue to emphasize that not enough time has passed since Vatican II to convene another council. My argument is simply that our Church cannot continue on its present course. If it does, it will be doomed to self-destruction. At the very least, Vatican II opened the door to a wider understanding of what it means to be disciples of Christ. It is now time for Vatican III, so the dialogue can continue.

Some Thoughts on Priestly Celibacy

As the Catholic Church continues to face a major crisis in terms of a priest shortage, the issue of celibacy will be at the forefront of theological and ecclesial debates. In fact, so much has been taking place concerning the celibacy issue that I have updated this page on February 28, 2005, in order to bring forth stronger arguments than those previously presented. While my remarks will primarily concern married men, I am on record for supporting the ordination of women as well.

As I present this updated thesis on celibacy, we are in the midst of a pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church. For the record, I try to distance the two issues. While I don't label celibacy as the cause of pedophilia, an all-male, celibate clergy does provide an attractive secretive environment in which potential pedophiles can easily hide. Nevertheless, the primary purpose of this web page is the issue of celibacy, whereby I draw upon historical, theological and ecclesiological dimensions of the priesthood.

I am sure I am in the company of multitudes of men who feel called to the priesthood. Yet, one obstacle stands in our way: we are married. A primary question for married men who have gone through the equivalent of a seminary education is simply this: Is it possible to be called to both ordination as a priest and the married state? I say it is entirely possible.

When one looks at the history of celibacy in the Catholic Church, it soon becomes apparent that this state of life became mandatory due to financial considerations, not because priests were supposed to emulate Christ by remaining single. When one focuses more specifically upon the medieval period, we can clearly see that church property was donated by kings and princes in exchange for faithful service. A controversy arose when married priests in turn left this property to their heirs. To make a long story short, celibacy soon followed as a requirement for ordination, so as to prevent such property transactions between heirs. (There was nothing theological in the celibacy directive.) As a side note to this history, it is interesting to note that the imposition of celibacy in 1139 was not the end of married priests. We now know that secret marriages took place after 1139, whereby married priests continued to serve. Unfortunately, the Council of Trent and the infamous Inquisition sought out such marriages, whereupon Trent served as a catalyst for several centuries of mandatory celibacy. (A sad commentary indeed!)

Since the diaconate is an ordained ministry open to married men, I spent several years in discernment over this possibility. However, I ultimately reached the conlusion that I am being called to the priesthood as a married person. I would urge other men going through similar discernment to consider the differences between the diaconate and priesthood. While the diaconate is primarily an ordained ministry of service, the priesthood is highly sacramental and pastoral in character. My suspicion is that many who apply to the diaconate are in reality being called to the priesthood and should therefore consider joining the crusade to end the requirement of mandatory celibacy.

There has been much discussion about the need for Vatican III. A primary agenda would need to be inclusive of the current crisis in ministry within the Catholic Church. There are many talented persons with advanced theological degrees who are being constantly reminded of what they "can't do" in the Church, as opposed to being affirmed for the gifts they bring. For example, I completed a field study as a hospice chaplain a few years ago, whereby I visited the dying on a regular basis. Since I am married, and therefore not eligible for ordination, I am not allowed to use the title 'chaplain' within the Catholic Church, but I nevertheless carried the title with the ecumenical organization for which I did my field work. Furthermore, I am not officially allowed to preach within the Catholic Church, especially as evidenced by the 2000 Revision of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, which states that "the homily may be given by the priest celebrant, by a concelebrating priest, or even by a deacon, but never by a lay person." Perhaps one of the ironies here lies in the fact that while I have more theological education than the average deacon, I am not allowed to preach in a Catholic Church, yet I can do so in an ecumenical capacity. (However, there are ways around the roadblocks.) Nevertheless, like many of my counterparts, I am facing the sad reality that as I am ending several years of hard work on my theological studies, there will be very little I can do in the way of ministry as a lay person in the Catholic Church.

My goal is to work 'within' the Catholic Church for a change in the celibacy requirement for the priesthood. I have been able to do a lot of this work in my capacity as national secretary of CORPUS (www.corpus.org), and will be continuing with work via my free-lance writing.

In addition to the wonderful information provided at the CORPUS website, you may also find some statistics at the website of CITI (Celibacy Is the Issue). (Their site is www.rentapriest.com.) Most relevant statistics to the arguments I am presenting here are as follows: 1.) Prior to the year 1139 when celibacy was made mandatory, popes, bishops and priests were allowed to marry; 2.) In the past 25 years, over 20,000 priests have left the priesthood to marry--an average of 400 per state--and 110,000 throughout the world; 3.) We can assume, based on the tradition during Jesus' time, that his disciples were mostly married men. For further historical facts and reflections, as well as insights from married priests, I highly recommend spending some time at www.rentapriest.com or www.corpus.org.

One of the statistics not mentioned by CITI, yet vital to my arguments, is the fact that there is only one priest per 2,500 Catholics in most dioceses in the U.S. In conjunction with this, there is a correspondingly high death rate amongst priests. This can be attributed to the pressures on our celibate clergy, many of whom are dying at relatively young ages. To highlight this point, we are facing a major crisis in Rochester, New York, in that we currently have 140 active priests serving 350,000 Catholics. The ordination of married men will be an important step toward alleviating the pressure corresponding to premature deaths. We can not expect our celibate priests to carry the burdens of their ministries alone. At the very least, part-time married priests need to be affirmed by the Universal Church so the faithful can be assured of weekly eucharistic celebrations. Perhaps more dramatically, how many terminally ill patients are facing deaths without the prospect of anointing, simply because there are not enough priests to administer the sacrament? LET MARRIED MEN FILL THE VOID!

My projection is that unless Vatican III rescinds the mandatory celibacy directive, we will see sporadic ordinations of married men by maverick bishops with a broader vision than cardinals behind the Vatican walls. Such bold initiatives would obviously cause Vatican officials to excommunicate the maverick bishops and thus declare the ordinations to be invalid. However, the excommunications in turn would cause an uproar amongst the faithful, whereby the Vatican would have no choice but to restore the bishops and wisely revisit the celibacy issue carefully. (Wouldn't such a scenario make a wonderful Hollywood movie? Any enterprising screenwriters need not pay me a royalty for the script idea.)

I have received inquiries about a theory that has been circulating concerning the possibility that Jesus was married. Until recently, I would have dismissed such a theory as being either heretical or outlandish. However, a recent documentary has given me cause to discern this issue more carefully. To briefly elaborate, a documentary was aired on the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) cable network on December 19, 1999. As part of its "Biography" series, a two-hour program was presented on Jesus. Some notable scholars presented their argument for Jesus being married. While current materials, Biblical or otherwise, don't allow for a concrete answer one way or the other, the argument presented is nevertheless interesting. If one carefully considers the rabbinical laws of antiquity, marriage was expected of males by the age of twenty. For those carrying the title of 'rabbi', or 'teacher', marriage was an absolute requirement. At least in Orthodox Judaism, this requirement is still valid today. If one considers that Jesus is referred to as 'rabbi' throughout the Gospel tradition, the possibility of his marriage cannot be discounted. Another possibility presented in the A&E documentary is the theory that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, since she appears at pivotal points in the Gospels, and we now know through scholarly research that Mary was not the sinner she was portrayed to be for many centuries. (However, I found the arguments concerning Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene to be weak.) Nevertheless, if scholars promoting these arguments can further substantiate their research, the celibacy issue will certainly be given more credibility.

If you are convinced by the arguments I have presented, I would urge you to write to your respective bishops in support of an end to mandatory celibacy. My comments are in no way designed to negate the wonderful work being done by our celibate priests. I do believe that celibacy is a charism; correspondingly, I believe that 'some' are called to this way of life. However, I recall disagreeing with those overseeing my discernment when I was considering the priesthood prior to my years as a married person. When I made a decision to enter into marriage, I was repeatedly told that if I was not called to a life of celibacy, I was not being called to the priesthood. Well, after many years of careful discernment, I can tell you that I am indeed called to ordained priesthood, just as I was called to the married state.

I am sure that skeptics wonder why I spend so much time on the celibacy issue. Those who know me well are aware that I have been working vigorously toward the implementation of a married priesthood for approximately ten years. I believe that my passions are being appropriately placed. If I articulate a certain degree of frustration in the context of my remarks, it is due to the fact that as a lay minister, I believe I am trying to be a disciple of Christ, while at the same time, the Vatican has placed handcuffs on me. By this, I simply mean that I am often in an awkward position of performing a 'charade' as a priest. While I certainly don't misrepresent myself as being an ordained person, there have been countless occasions when persons I have ministered to have referred to me as 'father.' This has been especially apparent when I conduct communion services in a nursing home. (While I feel I am performing a useful function as a lay minister, I would certainly be more effective as an ordained priest.)

On several occasions, some of my wonderful Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopalian friends have tried to entice me toward pursuing the ordination tract in their respective churches. While I have been flattered that they have recognized my speaking and pastoral skills, I believe my true calling is in the context of the Roman Catholic Church. Ironically, there have been isolated cases throughout the world where ordained married clergy from the Episcopalian Church have been accepted as priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, when a Roman Catholic priest decides to marry, he is ostracized by the powers-that-be. (This is injustice on a grand scale!)

My prayer is that the Vatican will visit the issue of celibacy as soon as possible. Catholics cherish weekly consecration of the eucharist. This can only continue with sufficient priests in every parish. There are many married men and women who feel called to fill this very need. If you'll excuse the sarcasm, if Vatican III should continue to enforce mandatory celibacy, I will be convinced that the only purpose will be to reinforce the VSMC (Vatican Single Mens' Club). Let us pray that common sense will prevail at the next council.