NCR interview on Year for Priests

This not horrible interview comes from the ultra-lefty National Catholic Reporter comes this, with my emphases and comments.  There are flaws here, but it is interesting to read this in this publication.

Year aims to boost the priesthood
Aug. 04, 2009
By Jason Petosa

Year aims to boost the priesthood

Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a “Year for Priests” last June, saying its aim is “to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.”

It began on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 19, and is to conclude on that feast day in June 2010.

In announcing the Year for Priests, the pope said he wanted to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the Curé of Ars, the patron saint of parish priests.

“May this Year of the Priest bring all priests to identify themselves totally with Jesus, crucified and risen,” the pope said during a general audience held in St. Peter’s Square.

To get a better handle on the meaning and purpose of the Year for Priests, NCR interviewed Sulpician Superior General Fr. Ronald D. Witherup. The mission of the Sulpicians, who are headquartered in Paris, is to provide formation of priests. Technically, the Sulpicians are not a religious order, but rather a group of diocesan priests banded together for a particular ministry and approved by Rome.

NCR: With all that is going on in the church and the world, why institute a Year for Priests now?

Witherup: Many Vatican officials, among others, and some priests themselves, feel that that the priesthood has been under a cloud — the horrific pedophilia scandal in particular. The actions of a small percentage of priests have tarnished the whole group.

Also, for decades we have been dealing, in the wake of Vatican Council II, with what some feel is an insecure identity of the priesthood. Almost anyone would acknowledge that the council did not produce an adequate theology of the priesthood. … [Indeed.  Instead it seemed greatly to inflate the ministry of bishops pretty much at the expense of the priest.]

It seems a little strange that there would be any doubt as to what the corporate identity of a priest is.
The emphasis on corporate identity, I think, is the desire for a proper understanding of the priesthood so there is no confusion between the priesthood of the laity — the common priesthood of all the baptized — and the ordained priesthood. [YES.]

During the ’70s and into the ’80s, I think some people got carried away with the notion of many forms of ministry. And some priests felt insecure because of that. In the ’90s, though, I think this imbalance has been addressed and is not particularly prevalent today[I think that is overly optimistic.  While among younger priests there seems to be little inclination to conflate and confuse roles, there are many older priests - even in positions of power - who still have some screwy ideas.  Also, I think this tendency might be stronger among religious than diocesan.]

However, in different countries and cultures a uniform understanding of priesthood is not there. Especially in areas where you have strong ministries of catechists, deacons and the like in the absence of priests — people can get the wrong idea. That is not in any way to denigrate the important ministry of catechists and deacons, but they are not exercising the same ministries as priests.  [And so... it is important to take steps clearly to differentiate them.]

Is this special “Year of the Priest” also meant to be a heavy-duty marketing effort to attract men to the priesthood — and to really address the priest shortage?

Even the Holy See indicates there is a shortage despite the fact that the number of priests has grown to about 408,000 today. This is still not enough to keep pace with the worldwide growth of the Catholic population. So I wouldn’t be surprised that this will be a year to promote the vocation of priesthood to young men. I think the year will also be used to boost the morale and the image of priests in the church[I can't disagree.  But I think it is more than that.  It has to do with deeper issues of identity.]

Isn’t it a responsibility of bishops to provide the sacraments for their people? Given the drastic shortage of priests — which is worsening — shouldn’t we call out the bishops, at least to acknowledge the situation and to be accountable? [I think this is an attempt to push for some of those screwy ideas about priesthood mentioned above.]

It is true that not all bishops are doing as much as they should. For some bishops, it is not their highest priority — they have other priorities as shepherds. But it is a mistake for any organization not to promote future generations of leaders, because that is the future. But I think we are also up against an increased secularization of the world, especially the Western world. That is an enormous obstacle to overcome. Frankly, the vocation of priesthood is not necessarily attractive to young men today. They may be career-oriented. Some do not have a lot of stability in their lives. The idea of making a lifelong commitment and then being required to be celibate on top if it — this is a countercultural message.  [But it is one that young people have responded to in the past.  I think this is more of an identity and leadership issue than it is of overcoming cultural trends.]

Do you think some effort will be made to fashion some kind of reconciliation with the 10,000 or so priests in the U.S. who left to get married — given that would be a pretty quick and substantial resource to help with the shortage?  [I think the questioner wants married priests.  Am I wrong?]

I don’t see anything so far to indicate that this is a direction the Vatican is going to take. … I don’t see the Vatican reaching out to those who have gone down another path, for the most part, because of celibacy questions.

Last year there was a Vatican-initiated visitation of U.S. seminaries. What was that all about?  [HUH?]

First of all, it is important to note that the general conclusion of the visitation’s report was positive. There were some critical comments on centers of formation run by religious communities. … There were concerns about some faculty members who were thought not to be adequately faithful to the magisterial teaching of the church. Two areas singled out were moral theology and the theology of priesthood, but the report said that these concerns were satisfactorily addressed.

There was a fear that the visitation would be a witch-hunt and that it particularly sought a “smoking gun” to explain why the pedophilia scandal happened. Some eagerly awaited blame to be put on the modern seminary formation system. The visitation found no such blame.  [hmmmm  I remember something about homosexuals in seminaries coming from that visitation.  No?  Do I not remember correctly?]

In fact, the reasons for the scandal are not fully understood at present, nor has a thorough study of the complex reasons for it been concluded. But at least one cannot say that seminaries were wholly to blame.   [?.... well... okay...]

Are today’s seminarians strong candidates?

Sometimes there are weaker candidates and this was pointed out in the report. Once in a while, seminaries are pressured into taking candidates who really aren’t very strong. Seminaries should resist pressure from bishops to do that, but this is easier said than done.  [In my travels, the men in formation whom I have met have been pretty darn good.  But... the plural of anecdote is not "data", contrary to popular belief.]

That happens because there is a big shortage of vocations?

Exactly, and therefore bishops and vocation directors are grasping at straws and trying to open the gates a little wider than perhaps is wise.  [I don't know about that.  I think that might be overly cynical.  I wonder if this fellow doesn't have some other concern floating around in the back of his head... such as... the seminarians are now more traditional....?  Just' askin']

What do you think some of today’s seminarians find attractive about going back to the 1950s and resurrecting old clerical stuff — like birettas and cassocks out in public — that most people thought was gone for good?  [Yep.... this is NCR, isn't it!]

Some seminarians, I think, are really enamored of what seems a very secure, unchanging lifestyle. They yearn for the time when everything was defined clearly in black and white. … I think there is a bit of nostalgia for that. And some, no doubt, like the built-in respect for authority that often went with the role of the priest.  [Okay, he lost me here.  I don't agree at all.  Sure, some seminarians may be involved in that.  I think most seminarians are interested in that which supports their identity.  They aren't nostalgic for something they never knew.  They see the utility in what is "clerical"... which I think the questioners and probably respondent here are taking as "bad".]

Some younger seminarians think that if we put the trappings of the priesthood back in place, especially the clerical side of it, the rest of the Catholic ethos will come with it. [And I think that is a condescending view.  The men are smarter than that and they are not laboring under the burden of the baggage certain older priests - even just a little older - are still carrying around.]

I think that is a naive expectation. There’s no going back. [Nor is there much desire... unless we are talking about a time when there were lots of vocations, hospitals and schools were being opened, people got married in church and there were lines at confessionals.  Yah... let's go back to that!   But this "they want to turn the clock back" thing is simply rubbish and the simple fling of a lazy mind.]  On the other hand, this is a generation of people, perhaps a couple of generations, who are looking for some kind of still point in a very shifting and fluctuating world[It has ever been so.  We have prayed for centuries about the vicissitudes of this world, this world in which nothing is fixed and stable.] They have experienced such rapid change, and so many things seem to be in flux, that they are looking for stability. They see the church and the priesthood as providing that sort of stability.  [Did he just suggest that men seek priesthood for the stability?  Not some other reason?]

And in conclusion?

This year will be a great opportunity for the church, and especially for priests. I hope that people will embrace it as a way to support priests and their ministry — a ministry that is also respectful of the diverse ministries that exist in the church[yah Yah.... we have been doing that incessantly for a few decades now, I think.  We are not going to forget in a year even if we didn't mention them again and again all year anyway.] This should not be a time to re-clericalize the priesthood or put it on a false pedestal, but to place it again on its firm spiritual foundations that rest in Jesus Christ, the great high priest.

Jason Petosa, a former NCR publisher, is the owner of Steadfast Publishing in Kansas City, Mo.

 

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16 Responses to NCR interview on Year for Priests

  1. thefeds says:

    Father Z,
    As usual, your comments are right on target. I knew Fr. Witherup back in the eighties, having taken a semester course in Koine Greek from him. He also was the Dean of Students at St. Patrick’s in Menlo Park.

  2. RichR says:

    This should not be a time to re-clericalize the priesthood

    That’s like saying we shouldn’t regalize kings.

  3. ipadre says:

    Typical of NCR. Try to trash something good the Holy Father is trying to do. It is time to rebuild the priesthood. We have been broken and beaten from all sides – within and without. The old and the young priest have all suffered. Time for IDENTITY – “I am a Priest!” The Church and the world does not need empty suits (or cassocks), we need men who are completely dedicated to the Church with no apology. What would a doctor be if he didn’t have the identity of doctor or a salesman who wasn’t convinced of his product. Priests need to know who they are and Whom they serve and do it with conviction in a confused world!

  4. Tony from Oz says:

    “I hope that people will embrace it as a way to support priests and their ministry—a ministry that is also respectful of the diverse ministries that exist in the church.”

    Father, I have been told, by an FSSP priest, that the post-conciliar use of the term, ‘ministries’, is a nonsense and that this term has never been used to describe activities – especially lay activities – other than the priesthood, and the various gradations leading up to it, in the previous 2,000 years history of the Church. What is your view on that?

  5. iudicame says:

    But… the plural of anecdote is not “data”, contrary to popular belief.

    COOL

    m

  6. Agnes says:

    Tony, I think it’s an attempt to tap into the baptismal priesthood idea, calling everything we do a ministry. The problem of vocabulary muddies the waters. Yes, laity should be actively instructing, coordinating activities, retreats, working both in and out of their parishes to spread and uphold the faith. “Lay activity” is probably a better term. But we shouldn’t be messing around in priestly duties like handling the Blessed Sacrament!

  7. Thomas S says:

    ~Do you think some effort will be made to fashion some kind of reconciliation with the 10,000 or so priests in the U.S. who left to get married—given that would be a pretty quick and substantial resource to help with the shortage?~

    There’s a great idea. “Hey, they weren’t faithful the first time around, let’s give them another try.”

    Naked attempt to inject the presbyterate with dissidents in the hopes of a trickle UP effect.

  8. Jonathan says:

    “What do you think some of today’s seminarians find attractive about going back to the 1950s and resurrecting old clerical stuff—like birettas and cassocks out in public—that most people thought was gone for good?”

    Oh no! We can’t let them wear cassocks! Then we’d be taking a step back! Run away from tradition!

  9. MikeM says:

    “Frankly, the vocation of priesthood is not necessarily attractive to young men today. They may be career-oriented. Some do not have a lot of stability in their lives. The idea of making a lifelong commitment and then being required to be celibate on top if it—this is a countercultural message. [But it is one that young people have responded to in the past. I think this is more of an identity and leadership issue than it is of overcoming cultural trends.]”

    As a young man who has considered the priesthood (I’m not on that path right now) I think changing cultural dynamics do make a commitment to the priesthood seem more difficult. Two generations ago, I would be seriously considering getting married before too long (if I felt called to the married life.) Now, I would be rather surprised if I got married in less than five years. In that context, it’s a lot harder to commit to the priesthood because my life has not been oriented with the idea that I’d be settling into anything permanent any time soon.

    Also, since the priesthood excludes the married life, I feel like the two really need to be considered side by side, and yet, with people getting married later and later, it’s difficult to give that path the consideration it deserves until later and later.

    I think that, at least in our culture, the Church might be more successful in recruiting priests if it made a greater recruiting push among single men 5-10 year older than their usual current targets.

  10. irishgirl says:

    Tony from Oz and Agnes-yay! My thoughts exactly!

    The terms ‘minister’ and ‘ministry’ should only apply to the priesthood!

    There’s also another term for ‘lay activity’: ‘LAY APOSTOLATE’. Don’t hear that word too much…

    NCR…just another dissident publication…

    Your analysis was as usual, spot on, Father Z!

  11. Aaron says:

    I love the way they keep insisting “the reasons for the scandal are not fully understood at present”, like we’re all scratching our heads over it, puzzled as can be, just can’t imagine where that came from.

    The reasons for the scandal are quite clear to anyone who’s been paying attention at all. Which, of course, is why he hasn’t seen a “thorough study of the complex reasons for it.” Everyone knows the reasons, and wants no part of discussing them.

  12. robtbrown says:

    Aaron,

    I completely agree. The scandal is not fully understood by people like Fr Witherup due to the influence (directly or indirectly) of people like Karl Rahner and a certain Protestant Scriptural hermeneutic. These people are adept at criticizing the Counter Reformation Church. Their concept of the Church, however, has been so influenced by Protestantism (not only ministries but also all the Sacraments) that they haven’t a clue about what caused the scandals.

  13. Trevor says:

    I don’t think Fr. Witherup was insinuating the ‘traditional’ seminarians were the weaker candidates bishops were forced to take in some cases. Catholic World Report does a yearly study of the numbers of seminarians in each diocese in the United States. A few years ago, the Diocese of Lubbock was the number two diocese in the number of seminarians (per capita). However, they’ve recently experienced a severe fall-off. The reason? Lubbock no longer takes seminarians from Mexico (many of whom were applying to the Diocese simply to gain entry into the US). In this case, there were weaker candidates, and it didn’t have anything to do with a candidate’s orthodoxy.

  14. Genevieve says:

    Re: “What do you think some of today’s seminarians find attractive about going back to the 1950s and resurrecting old clerical stuff—like birettas and cassocks out in public—that most people thought was gone for good?”

    I don’t think the LifeTeen program is too popular among this crowd, but they do mention this in their “youth minister” section under the heading “Set Apart: It’s What Catholics Do”

    “Our Churches historically – minus a few decades in this past century – have been built with the mindset that they are places “set apart” from the ordinary world. When we walk into Church it ought to feel and look like something special, a place marked for an experience that is out of this world. Indeed the mystery of the Mass is an experience all together out of this world, as we step out of time to participate in the timelessness of the Paschal Mystery.

    “Our Priests are set apart as well. Set apart for a work that is indeed out of this world. This is why our Priests wear the collar and the vestments at Mass. In the same way too our religious sisters and brothers as well are marked for something greater in the wearing of a habit.

  15. Jayna says:

    “This should not be a time to re-clericalize the priesthood or put it on a false pedestal, but to place it again on its firm spiritual foundations that rest in Jesus Christ, the great high priest.”

    I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure priests are clerics and should be clericalized. Seriously, am I missing something here? As to a false pedestal, I almost have no words. Given the fact that liberals have done their best to completely eradicate any distinction between priests and laity, shouldn’t we use this year to at least try to reinstate some sense of hierarchy? Our priests deserve our respect and admiration. When you treat them just as you would anyone else you lose all sense of who it is they are and who they represent and what it is they are called to do. Shouldn’t a proper understanding of the role and identity of priests be the firm spiritual foundations he speaks of?

  16. JohnE says:

    “They yearn for the time when everything was defined clearly in black and white.”

    I like our priests to be clearly identifiable in their blacks and whites also.