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.
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.
I have often envisioned what it would be like to have a conversation with Pope Benedict XVI on a variety of church-related issues.
You may recall that I made a video a couple years ago that amounted to be a spoof of an imagined phone call between the pontiff and myself on the issue of clerical celibacy. Utilizing a combination of humor and serious-minded data, the video remains the most-watched of my YouTube entries.
In the video above, you won't find any humor, due to the very serious topic that is being addressed - namely, sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The more we learn, it has become apparent that our pontiff had first-hand knowledge of many abuse cases when, as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this dramatized video, I imagine having a cell-phone conversation with Benedict XVI, during which I make two recommendations to him.
Let us pray that Benedict does the right thing in the face of this highly-charged controversy.
Several years ago, prior to my ordination as a married priest, I wrote my '95 Theses.' After much contemplation, I have decided that it is time for another group of theses. This time, I have chosen one topic, as did Martin Luther. While the topic of Luther was indulgences, I feel it is important to make 40 points on the issue of mandated clerical celibacy. (The number ‘40’ is significant in a biblical sense.)
Before listing my 40 theses for your consideration, it is important to state that I fully realize that at least some priests are called to a life of celibacy. St. Paul realized as far back as the first century that some persons are called to a celibate life, whereas others are called to marriage. In our contemporary society, relationships have come to encompass many definitions, and I want to celebrate the coming together of all committed partnerships, just as I recognize and respect those who have been called to a life of celibacy. However, when celibacy is mandated as a condition for ordination to priestly life, questions must be raised, and I raise them here.
What follows are my ’40 Theses on Mandated Clerical Celibacy.’
1.)When Jesus invited his disciples to follow him, he did not instruct them to leave their spouses behind.
2.)Mandated celibacy violates natural law.
3.)Mandated celibacy celebrates a male hierarchy and diminishes the role of women.
4.)Mandated celibacy can lead to sexual frustration; sexual frustration can lead to sexual abuse.
5.)The primary beneficiary of mandated celibacy is the hierarchy.
6.)The call to priesthood is diminished by mandated celibacy.
7.)Mandated celibacy gives marriage a secondary status.
8.)Mandated celibacy obscures the first 11 centuries of a married priesthood.
9.)The commandment of Jesus to “love one another” takes on the dimension of “love only thy self” with mandated celibacy.
10.)Availability of the Eucharist is jeopardized with the policy of mandated celibacy.
11.)Our liturgy documents call us to active participation. Mandated celibacy calls our priests to a state of subjective pacifism.
12.)Mandated celibacy can create an unhealthy fear of women.
13.)25,000 priests in the United States entered into marriage. The policy of mandated celibacy keeps them on the sidelines.
14.)120,000 priests worldwide entered into marriage. As in the case of U.S. priests, they are sidelined by the policy of mandated celibacy.
15.)The ‘fathers’ of our 5th century church were guilty of distorting the leadership roles played by women of the first four centuries, in an attempt to set the stage toward eventual implementation of mandated celibacy in the 12th century.
16.)A celibate priest should not be a primary source of marriage counseling.
17.)Mandated celibacy can lead to faulty theology, such as Thomas Aquinas referring to women as “misbegotten males.”
18.)It should be no surprise that the “Fishers of Men” campaign, launched by the U.S. bishops to recruit potential seminarians, was a dismal failure. A counter-campaign needs to be launched, such as “Mandatory Celibacy Does Not Work.”
19.)Our bishops are guilty of hypocrisy: While rejecting optional celibacy, they nevertheless welcome married Protestant ministers who wish to convert to Catholicism and serve as Roman Catholic priests.
20.)The pope should not have absolute authority on the issue of mandated celibacy. The road to optional celibacy can be paved when individual bishops are allowed to use married priests on an as-needed basis.
21.)Bishops are afraid that optional celibacy will lead to further discussion on the ordination of women. The policy of mandatory celibacy will not silence this debate. Women must become equal partners at the altar.
22.)Jesus took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples (men & women). He did not say, “let celibate men alone do this in memory of me.”
23.)When Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, it was not for the sole purpose of enhancing the party. It was rather a witnessing event for the men and women present, so they together could go out and preach the good news as an inclusive discipleship. There was no mandated celibacy at this gathering.
24.)When Jesus multiplied the fish and the loaves, it was an example all men and women of faith were to follow, whereby they were expected to feed the hungry and nourish their spirituality as well. There was no place for mandated celibacy at the scene of this commissioning.
25.)When a priest invokes the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts to make them holy, the Holy Spirit does not come because it is a celibate priest extending the invitation. The Holy Spirit rather comes on behalf of an inclusive community, whereby artificial barriers between the celibate and non-celibate are erased.
26.)The image of a celibate male as the highest form of piety is a sacrilege, especially when the Vatican instructs Anglicans that the consecration of women bishops will be a barrier to ecumenical talks.
27.)The so-called ‘priesthood shortage’ is of the Vatican’s own making. Mandated celibacy is no longer a noble pursuit – not that it ever was.
28.)Seminaries, once a staple of the American landscape, are quickly fading into the sunset. The reason is simply the expected adherence to mandatory celibacy as one completes the formation process.
29.)A healthy formation program would ideally be one in which a prospective priest is not chosen on the sole basis of promised obedience to a bishop and a promise to live a celibate life. A forced lifestyle, for the sake of the priesthood, can lead to multiple dysfunctions.
30.)Early councils of the church argued over the nature of Jesus, until such time it was agreed that He was fully human and fully divine. His human nature was to be with us, minus any distinctions between married, single, male or female persons. He promised the Kingdom to all the faithful. Mandated celibacy does not give a priest a special status or front-row seatin the Kingdom.
31.)The desire for a policy of optional celibacy should be equated with a desire for inclusivity, as opposed to disobedience to a bishop.
32.)As long as the mandated celibacy policy continues, our priests will continue to be victims of burn-out, considering our current ratio of one celibate priest per 3,500 Catholics in the United States.
33.)Although statistics indicate the number of Catholics in the United States is steadily increasing, parish closings are increasing as well. The blame for this can be at least partially placed on our pontiff’s insistence that the mandated celibacy policy for priests remains intact. The Vatican’s solution is to ‘warehouse’ Catholics into mega-churches. Let married priests come to the rescue!
34.)The imposition of mandatory celibacy had nothing to do with theology; it was rather an economic decision.
35.)Simplistic theology used by our hierarchy suggests that since Jesus was celibate, priests should live likewise. In the first place, we don’t know for sure that Jesus was celibate. (Neither his sexuality nor his marital status were discussed by the Gospel writers.) Anyone who could prove that Jesus was celibate would be hard-pressed to make the case that He expected his followers to be celibate.
36.)During the past decade, a few writers have substantiated claims that many so-called celibate priests have been involved in clandestine relationships. Keeping these relationships secret allows them to maintain their canonical priesthood. However, a validated relationship, such as a marriage, results in dismissal from the canonical state. This begs the question: How many priests are truly living according to a mandated celibate state?
37.)Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Jesus, remained at the foot of the Cross, while the male disciples ran, due to fear. The injustice, in terms of our priesthood, is that celibate men can be ordained and faithful women cannot. This needs to change!
38.)We have been taught to believe that to be in union with Rome, one must subscribe to all of the church’s core teachings, including the teaching on clerical celibacy. Although technically a policy, as opposed to a core belief, priests are nevertheless prohibited from questioning their bishops on the topic of celibacy. Bishops, in turn, are consistently told they are to refrain from talking about celibacy, since this is an issue reserved exclusively for the pontiff. It is time to allow open and honest dialogue!
39.)Those of us committed to reform will not be silent on the issue of mandated clerical celibacy. Furthermore, we will not be silent on the issue of sexist ordination policies. We want change, and we want it now!
40.)Jesus invited all who were thirsty to come to the water. Multitudes of Roman Catholics around the world have come to the water, and are seeking nourishment that can only be provided with a sufficient number of priests to tend to their sacramental needs. Mandatory celibacy is a hindrance, as opposed to an instrument of faith. Those of called to active ministry will be agents of the Gospel, with or without the blessings of Rome.
It appears that the lid of the Vatican box of secrets has been opened. When the Boston Globe was the first major publication to reveal the full scope of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States (2002), there was a mistaken impression that this was a problem unique to America. We now know this is not the case, because of international revelations that have come full circle in the past week.
It is safe to say that we have only begun to experience the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the United States, the Vatican has reluctantly admitted to far-reaching abuse cases that encompass all expanses of Europe and third world countries.
I was very pleased to learn yesterday that members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Austria are beginning to raise a question I raised in a video I made yesterday. Namely, Austrian bishops are now wondering if the policy of mandatory priestly celibacy has contributed to the sexual abuse crisis.
All Roman Catholic cardinals need to admit to a certain degree of guilt when it comes to conspiracies and cover-ups involving the sexual abuse crisis. Let us take a look at the oath they are required to take upon assuming their duties:
“I (name and surname), Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, promise and swear to be faithful henceforth and forever, while I live, to Christ and his Gospel, being constantly obedient to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church, to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, and of his canonically elected Successors; to maintain communion with the Catholic Church always, in word and deed: NOT TO REVEAL TO ANY ONE WHAT IS CONFIDED TO ME IN SECRET, NOR TO DIVULGE WHAT MAY BRING HARM OR DISHONOR TO HOLY CHURCH; to carry out with great diligence and faithfulness those tasks to which I am called by my service to the Church, in accord with the norms of the law. So help me Almighty God.”
Please notice the words in capital letters. These capitalized words are largely responsible for the mess the Roman Catholic Church now finds itself in.
I would like to close by providing an article from the New York Times (published yesterday) that addresses the resolve of Austrian bishops to look at the role mandatory celibacy may have played in the sexual abuse crisis:
Austrian Priests Suggest Celibacy May Be a Problem By ROBERT MACKEY New York Times March 13, 2010
On Thursday two senior Catholics in Austria, where reports of the sexual abuse of children by priests and nuns have been in the news, suggested that the role of priestly celibacy may need to be discussed as Catholics seek to understand and end scandals that have erupted across Europe and in the United States in recent years.
The Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, wrote in an article for a Catholic magazine that it was time for the Church to undertake an “unflinching examination” of what might be at the root of the problem of celibate clerics sexually abusing children.
As The Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, Riazat Butt, explained on Thursday, Archbishop Schönborn wrote that the discussion should “include the issue of priest training, as well as the question of what happened in the so-called sexual revolution,” as well as “the issue of priest celibacy and the issue of personality development. It requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the church and of society as a whole.”
On Thursday night, Archbishop Alois Kothgasser of Salzburg told Austrian television, “In the Church’s current situation, the question must be asked whether celibacy is an appropriate way of life for priests and an appropriate way of life for believers.”
As Reuters reports, “There have been daily reports of child sexual abuse in Austrian Catholic institutions since the arch-abbot of Salzburg’s St. Peter’s monastery quit Monday after admitting to sexually abusing a boy 40 years ago.”
On Friday, The Telegraph added, “Salzburg church officials revealed that a man said he was abused by a nun while a child – the first such accusation amid widening allegations of sexual misdeeds leveled against Austria’s Roman Catholic church.”
Neither of the Austrian archbishops directly suggested ending celibacy. In fact Archbishop Schönborn said on Friday that he was not saying that celibacy caused pedophilia. “If celibacy were the reason for sexual abuse,” he said, “there wouldn’t be any abuse in the rest of society.”
As this video report from France 24 explains, sex scandals have also affected the Catholic Church in Germany recently: Pope Benedict XVI met with Germany’s highest-ranking Roman Catholic leader Friday at the Vatican to discuss allegations that priests in the pope’s native country sexually abused children for decades, as my colleagues Nicholas Kulish and Rachel Donadio report.
As Reuters reported, another leading German Catholic, Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschk of Hamburg, told German Radio on Friday: “The celibate lifestyle can attract people who have an abnormal sexuality and cannot integrate sexuality into their lives. That’s when a dangerous situation can arise.” Bishop Jaschk added, “Just because one doesn’t live out one’s sexuality doesn’t mean it’s been turned off.”
Despite all these calls for a discussion of the issue, Pope Benedict defended “the value of sacred celibacy” in remarks on Friday and said that the ancient rule would not be changed because of “passing cultural fashions.”
I am sure that many of you are aware of major news that was released yesterday, concerning a letter written by Cardinal Ratzinger (currently Pope Benedict XVI) in 2001. In this letter, Cardinal Ratzinger ordered church leaders to keep all cases of reported sexual abuse secret. Further news has been released that indicates the fact that when our pontiff was archbishop in Munich, he moved an abusive priest from one parish to another, whereby more abuse occurred.
For many years, I have maintained there is a strong connection between the policy of mandatory priestly celibacy and sexual abuse. Although I am not a psychologist, I have read with great interest the findings of reputable experts who have studied the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. Many psychologists are in full agreement that when an institution requires celibacy of a person who may not be called to this lifestyle, the result can be sexual dysfunction, or even worse, acts of sexual abuse may emerge.
I continue to argue for a return to the traditional priesthood. By this, I simply mean that we must consider the fact that during the first 1,139 years of the church, marriage was normative for priests. When mandatory celibacy was imposed in 1139, it was because of financial factors, as opposed to reasons of faith.
I strongly believe that if married priests and women priests are allowed to serve alongside celibate priests, there will be a healthier clerical environment in the Roman Catholic Church.
Following this blog post, you will find a press release from SNAP, in which they listed cities where demonstrations will take place concerning the news story I described, in addition to responding to international sexual abuse cases that are only now coming to light.
In the video above, I try to make a strong case for a connection between mandatory priestly celibacy and sexual abuse. I hope you take the time to watch.
Peace to all, Ray
PRESS RELEASE FROM SNAP
WHEN Saturday, March 13 and Sunday, March 14 (See exact times below.)
WHERE In front of chanceries, cathedrals, churches and government buildings in CA, CT, DC, FL, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, MI, MO, NC, NY, OH, PA, RI, TX, and WI. (See details below.)
WHO Clergy sex abuse victims who belong to a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org), along with their loved ones and concerned Catholics
Just hours ago, reports out of Germany claim the Pope himself knowingly allowed a predator priest to remain in ministry, where at least one other child was abused.
A few weeks ago, Vatican officials were forced to address the clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis that is spreading like wildfire across Europe. Scores of media accounts are appearing and hundreds of victims are coming forward in Germany, Ireland, Austria and the Netherlands. Just yesterday, the Pope met with the head of the German Catholic church over scandals breaking there. In Italy, law enforcement wiretaps have revealed charges of a gay prostitution ring using at least one seminarian and operated by two Vatican insiders. The Pope's brother is embroiled in a controversy over accusations of sexual abuse in a widely-known church choir which he headed for 30 years.
In Ireland and The Netherlands, the Catholic hierarchy is planning internal surveys about the numbers of predator priests. But American victims feel independent investigations by secular authorities (as was done in parts of Ireland and in the US by several grand juries) are much more likely to expose the corrupt church leadership and to deter future recklessness, callousness and deceit.
German and Austrian church officials are talking about revamping their internal child sex policies. But US victims believe church policies are essentially meaningless and that it's much more effective to reform outdated secular laws which bishops exploit to escape responsibility for hiding and moving predators.
Two weeks ago, the AP reported "While the focus of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church centered on the United States for several years, abuse scandals have in recent years (also) erupted in the Philippines, Poland, Mexico, Italy, Canada and elsewhere."
Exact locations and times:
CA - Rancho Mirage, Sunday, March 14 at 3:00 PM Whitewater Park, 71-560 San Jacinto Drive (Major Cross streets are HWY 111 & Bob Hope Drive) Contact: Dave Price, 760-219-3635
CA - Los Angeles, Sunday, March 14 at 10:45 AM Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, 555 W. Temple St (at N Grand) Contact: Carlos Perez, 818-723-8016
CA - Oakland, Sunday, March 14 at 12:00 PM The Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison Street (Between 21st & Grand) Contact: Melanie Sakoda, 925-708-6175
CA - San Diego, Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 12:30 PM Cathedral of St. Joseph, 1535 Third (corner of Third and Beech) Contact: Paul Livingtson, 619-677-7133
CA - San Francisco, Sunday, March 14 at 9:00 AM St. Mary Cathedral, 1111 Gough Street (Between Ellis & Geary) Contact: Melanie Sakoda, 925-708-6175,
CT - Hartford, Sunday, March 14 at 11:30 AM St. Joseph Cathedral, 140 Farmington Ave (corner of Farmington and Sigourney) Contact: Beth McCabe, 860-335-8187 & Kathy Rector, 860-384-4372
CO - Colorado Springs, March 14 at 9:15 AM St. Mary Catholic Cathedral, 22 W Kiowa St. Contact: John Murphy, 719-322-6597
DC - Washington, Saturday, March 13 at 6:30 PM Irish Embassy, 2234 Massachusetts Ave. N. WE Contact: Becky Ianni, 703-801-6044 & David Lorenz, 301-906-9161
DC - Washington, Sunday, March 14 at 1:00 PM German Consulate, 4645 Reservoir Rd. NW Contact: Becky Ianni, 703-801-6044 & David Lorenz, 301-906-9161
FL - Miami, Sunday, March 14 at 10:30 AM St. Mary's Cathedral, 7525 NW 2nd Ave Contact: Barbara Dorris, 314-503-0003
FL - Orlando,Sunday, March 14 at 11:45 AM St. James Cathedral, 215 N Orange Ave. (at Robinson St.) Contact: Robert Keane, 386-676-0298
FL - Palm Beach Gardens, Sunday, March 14 at 1:30 PM St. Ignatius Cathedral, 9999N Military Trail Contact: Barbara Dorris, 314-503-0003
FL - St. Augustine, Sunday, March 14 at 11:45 AM Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine, 38 Cathedral Place Contact: Kristine Ward, 937-272-0308
FL - Venice, Saturday, March 13 at 4:15 PM Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave West Contact: Barbara Dorris, 314-503-0003
IL - Chicago, Saturday, March 13 at 1:00 PM German Consulate, 676 N. Michigan Contact: Barbara Blaine, 312-399-4747
IL - Chicago, Sunday, March 14 at 1:00 PM Holy Name Cathedral, 730 N Wabash Contact: Therese Albrecht, 708-263-3050
IL - Peoria, Sunday, March 14 at 11:15 AM The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, 607 NE Madison Avenue (at Hancock St) Contact: Jeff Jones, 815-985-9441
IL - Rockford,Sunday, March 14 at 10:00 AM St. Peter Cathedral, 1243 N. Church St. Contact:Kate Bochte, 630-768-1860
IL - Springfield,Sunday, March 14 at 9:30 AM Immaculate Conception Cathedral, 241 E. Lawrence Contact: Jeff Jones, 815-985-9441
IN - Fort Wayne, Saturday, March 13 at 6:00 PM Immaculate Conception Cathedral, 1100 South Calhoun Contact: Therese Albrecht, 708-263-3050
IN - South Bend, Sunday, March 14 at 9:30 AM St. Matthew, 1701 Miami Street Contact: Therese Albrecht, 708-263-3050
KY - Louisville, Saturday, March 13 at 5:15 PM to 6:45 PM Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. 5th St. (between Muhammed Ali and Liberty) Contact: Colleen Powell, 502-479-0246
MA - Boston, Saturday, March 13 at 1:30 PM Federal Building, 55 New Sudbury St. Contact: Ann Webb, 617-513-8442 & Robert Costello, 781-414-1178
MD - Baltimore, Saturday, March 13 at 12:30 PM Office of the Chancellor, 320 Cathedral Street Contact: Dave Lorenz, 301-906-9161 & Frank Dingle
MI - Detroit, Sunday, March 14 at 10:30 AM Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, 9844 Woodward Ave Contact: Barbara Blaine, 312-399-4747
MO - Columbia, Sunday, March 14 at 11:30 AM St. Thomas More Newman Center, 701 Maryland Ave., (corner of Turner Ave.) Contact: Judy Jones, 636-433-2511
MO - St. Louis, Sunday, March 14 at 6:00 PM St. Louis Cathedral, 4431 Lindell (corner of Lindell and Newstead) Contact: Peggy Fitzpatrick, 314-845-9438
NC - Charlotte, Saturday, March 13 at 5:00 PM St. Patrick's Cathedral, 1621 Dilworth Road, East Contact: David Fortwengler, 704-562-4529
NY - New York, Sunday, March 14 at 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM St. Patrick's Cathedral, 5th Ave. & 49th St. Contact: Mary Caplan, 917-439-4187 & Glen Echevarria, 646-763-4260
OH - Columbus, Sunday, March 14 at 11:15 AM-12:30 PM Across the street from St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral, 212 E Broad St Contact: Carol Zamonski, 614 447-2084
OH - Dayton, Sunday, March 14 at 11:45 AM St. Joseph's Church, 200 2nd St. Contact: Ginny Hoehne, 973-726-9360
OH -Toledo, Sunday, March 14 at 12:00 PM Holy Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood Ave Contact: Barbara Blaine, 312-399-4747
PA - Philadelphia, Sunday, March 14 at 1:00 PM - 1:30 PM St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, 100 E Wynnewood Rd., Wynnewood, PA 19096 Contact: Karen Polesir, 267-992-9463
RI - Providence, Saturday, March 13 at 11:00 AM Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, One Cathedral Square Contact: Ann Barrett Doyle, 781-439-5208 & Ann Webb, 617-513-8442
TX - San Antonio, Saturday, March 13 at 1:00 PM San Fernando Cathedral,115 Main Plaza Contact: Barbara Boehland, 210-725-8329
WI - Madison, Saturday, March 13 at 9:45 AM Diocese of Madison- Pastoral Center, 702 South High Point Road (at Donofrio Dr.) Contact: David Clohessy, 314-566-9790
CONTACT Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-503-0003), David Clohessy (314-566-9790), Peter Isely (414-429-7259)
If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you are certainly aware of my ministerial activities. For the most part, any ministries I partake in are voluntary. The one exception is my role as a wedding officiant, for which I charge a standard fee of $100.00 (to cover preparation, meetings with couples, rehearsals and ceremony).
My primary source of income comes from my secular job, which I have held for the past twenty-one years. In the context of this government job, I thought I would share with you a brief essay I wrote, in advance of a feature article that will appear soon in Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle. In this article, the newspaper will be focusing on charges from the public that are often articulated, whereby some tax-payers feel government employees have better benefits and salaries than those in the private sector, and there is occasionally an assumption that workers in the private sector work harder than government employees represented by unions.
In my brief essay, I try to defend the work ethics of most government employees. Using myself as an example, I could probably earn more in the private sector with the same type of job, and I certainly won't be rich in retirement (hope to retire within two years). Yet, the rewards of being a public servant are many.
So, without further delay, here is my essay:
MY SECULAR JOB IN CITY HALL by Ray Grosswirth
March 12, 2010
As a Civil Service employee with the City of Rochester for the past twenty-one years, I have been represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The local chapter of AFSCME has consistently worked very hard toward satisfactory working conditions and benefits for all union-represented City employees. However, there seems to be a public perception that City employees are overpaid and have better benefits than their counterparts in the private sector. At best, this is a misrepresentation that needs to be corrected.
In my present capacity in City Hall, I am supervisor of the accounts payable sector within the Accounting Bureau/Department of Finance. It is fair to say that I work to the point of exhaustion each week, and as I compared my salary ($40,000 annually) with persons in similar positions within the private sector, I could certainly do better financially with a corporate enterprise. Additionally, I would perhaps be less likely to suffer a heart attack in a private sector job than in my current fast-paced circumstances. However, I chose a career as a Civil Service employee, because I value the opportunity to serve the public and to engage with co-workers who are wonderful people, in terms of their collective work ethics and determination to see that the Mayor’s goals for the City are carried out expeditiously.
Speaking for myself, I am certainly not getting rich as a government employee, and I will certainly not be living a life of luxury as a retiree in the near future. In fact, my level of commitment is such that it is extremely rare for me to take a lunch hour, and I have given up countless weeks of vacation, due to the demands and pressures of my job. (I get five weeks vacation per year, but generally take one; unused time can only be carried over for one additional year, so I have lost countless weeks.) I have also put in countless hours of overtime without pay, because of my determination to clear my desk of vital paperwork each day. If I were to add up all the hours I have literally donated to City Hall, they would easily add up to a year of work for which the City had to pay me nothing. In addition, I have only utilized sick time once, and that was in 1996 (was extremely ill on a few occasions, but came to work anyway). I share this information to simply emphasize that most City employees I am in contact with are similarly motivated to do their very best as a matter of routine.
If taxpayers are to be disgruntled over paychecks issued to government employees, perhaps this anger should be aimed at some of the upper management with three-figure salaries, who are often paid for simply delegating work, as opposed to engaging in the difficult hands-on responsibilities of union workers.
City employees continue to share in the sacrifices that are expected of all in tough economic times. For example, the latest agreement between our local union and the City administration reflects the fact that instead of the usual 3.5% salary increase for the average employee, the increase in 2010 is instead 2%.
This has been an attempt on my part to defend the integrity and hard work that are characteristic of the vast majority of union workers within the City of Rochester employment base. Are there slackers within this enterprise? Most certainly. However, for the most part, we, as City of Rochester employees, are persons who work diligently on a daily basis to make sure that the public-at-large is serviced in the very best possible way.
In the future, I hope those in the private sector who criticize government employees will take the time to look at all the facts before making unsubstantiated charges relative to salaries or benefits.