Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Root of All Evil

This article just out, about the Arizona case, claims that even a suspended priest remained on the diocesan payroll for canonical reasons until he could be laicized. And this article, from the US scandal earlier in the decade, seems to imply that even priests who are laicized get a stipend or pension, like clerical alimony of some sort! And, of course, laicization can only come directly from the Vatican.

This economic aspect to everything is one of the three prongs in the socio-political structure of the clergy that needs to be reformed according to my own three-point plan.

There are three things which characterize the current clerical structure that are non-essential even if deeply engrained, and which need to be loosened:

1) Mandatory Celibacy. Optional celibacy would be fine for individual priests, but you need a certain critical mass of family men to anchor the priesthood as a whole in regular society. Otherwise, they will be out of touch and in their own isolated world of loyalties primarily to other priests.

2) Seminary Formation. The adult-boarding-school model is coddling and creepy. The institutionalizing in their own little isolated compound for all those years is unnecessary and tends to distance them from outside relationships while encouraging conformism to a very narrow subset of mindsets; when you spend all day with people of the same sex, same religion, with the same uniform, doing the same activities, whose goal is the same basic lifestyle, this is bound to create a certain institutional myopia. As well as scaring away those men perhaps inclined to more independent living. Such independence is, contrary to their beliefs, actually a sign of a mature socialization. Though the dangers of asocial or even antisocial behavior need to be guarded against, it is counter-productive to try to screen for that through a culture of forced socialization, limited mobility, and repressive constant surveillance.

3) Pay. The idea of the priesthood as always a full-time paid position is perhaps the root issue. Money is almost always at the heart of corruption, and most of the problems in the current crisis are related to the fact that priests are employees of the clerical bureaucracy, and so there are all these legal hurdles placed in the way of dealing with them. Volunteers have no contract and can be legally dismissed and disassociated from entirely for any reason or no reason at all, without any complicated process. When livelihood is not at stake, you'll find that things are a lot less intractable in an organization. It is primarily the conception of the priesthood as someone's full-time occupation, from which they draw their material livelihood, which makes the clergy into an Institution separate from the people, and so inflexible.

Volunteers can be switched up and re-organized much more effectively than full-time salaried employees. You can always marginalize (or simply dismiss) those who are problematic or stagnating, and bring in or promote the young blood with innovative ideas.
It can be very hard to deal with insubordinate dependents and employees, who are protected by all sorts of rights and processes. But it is really easy to deal with insubordinate volunteers. If an employee priest refuses to use the new translation, to stop giving communion on the hand, or is preaching heresy (or molesting children) can suspend him, I guess, but have to keep paying him apparently until a long process in Rome is completed, which is a huge drain on resources, and makes the idea of enacting change more complicated than simply declaring it. A volunteer priest pulls something like that, however, and you can simply ban him from Church property and get police to prosecute him as a trespasser if he comes anywhere near the altar, and then just appoint another volunteer man to say Sunday Mass for the parish. Easy as that.

I think addressing any one of these areas would be a huge step for structural reform. But I also think that they are not mutually exclusive.

Sure, you could have married priests without the other two reforms, but do you really expect married men to go to a live-in seminary? And there is always the common objection about the salary not being enough to support a family (though, as I've also pointed out, they could probably decide that for themselves based on their own needs and means).

Sure, you could have priests be part-time volunteers while maintaining the other two structures, but do you really expect someone to remain single and go through five years of re-socialization in a seminary...only to be expected to get their own outside job to support themselves upon completion? At most, if you were to still demand celibacy, but not salary them, you couldn't expect them to dedicate five years of their life full-time for training; they'd have to be formed independently, more like in a Secular Institute. Diocesan priests are, after all, seculars, not Religious or pseudo-Religious. At least, they shouldn't be.

And sure, you could have priests be celibate and paid while still making seminary more independent like regular university rather than a minimum security prison. But especially after this scandal, do you really expect the bishops to give up that sort monitoring of the candidates if they are also going to be financially supporting and institutionally responsible for them?

Really, all three reforms are needed in tandem. The vision of the secular priesthood as an all-encompassing lifestyle, as basically a form of Religious Life, needs to be deconstructed. A model of the diocesan priesthood more like that of the Permanent Diaconate is needed. As a volunteer part-time position delegated to men from the parish as needed without requiring some elaborate "formation" which doesn't even seem to accomplish all that much; saying Mass isn't rocket science.

Though the two systems are not mutually exclusive. Men could be optionally celibate as long as some were married to anchor the institution in lay society. And some priests (both married and not, though more often not) could be full-time paid pastors to oversee the administrative aspects. And if someone wanted a full institutional life in the service of the Church, they could go to a monastery or join a religious community.

This is essentially the model that exists in the East and which existed during the early Church. It is the model proposed in the article I mentioned a few months ago.

These reforms would allow for the "small group" parish model that people need to make the Church something intimately personal in their lives, and truly the basis of their friendships and families, rather than the big impersonal (and clueless) institution it has become to many.


sortacatholic said...

Sorry that this is mega long combox entry. I agree that a non-stipendary (volunteer) vocational model for married priests would work well overall. As you've suggested, money is an excellent way to enforce loyalty, group cohesion, and ideological unity. Are bishops willing to part with strong ideological control through rectories in return for more healthy priests?

Maybe there should be a division of labor in the presbyterate to accommodate a married volunteer clergy.

Volunteer married priests with children may be parochial vicars (assistants) in a parish. An adequate supply of married assistants could cover parishes when married priests depart the diocese. Hopefully bishops would offer married priests the opportunity to serve in churches within their own community.

Older married priests of retirement age and with grown children might be offered a non-stipendary pastorate within the diocese. This arrangement might work with smaller parishes that successfully delegate some admin tasks to others.

Celibates would often (but not always) be offered long-term pastorates after some years of service as parochial vicars. They would head parishes that require undivided priestly attention.

Bishops should also allow celibates the option to live outside a rectory in exchange for a pay raise that would consist of the rectory room and board that would have been allotted to him. Associate priests with higher degrees might view “off-campus life” as an opportunity to take an adjunct position at a local college for example. (Most likely celibates would be pushed into hospital ministry or circuit-riding.) As seen, rectories don't stop priests from bar cruising and hooking up anyway. Rectories strike me as places of unhealthy psychological development. A true vocation to celibacy shouldn't require surveillance.

A Sinner said...

I'm not sure a priest is strictly speaking required to live in a rectory, is he? I know of priests with vacation homes and such, so I'm not sure. I agree, this notion that keeping them on a tight leash is actually accomplishing anything is ridiculous; all it does is annoy the good ones while not stopping the bad at all.

colkoch said...

This is one of the best assessments of change for the priesthood I have ever read. There is a lot to think about here and I am very glad you left a ling to this on my blog.