Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Three-Point Plan

Let me suggest a three-point plan to his Holiness:

First: stop implying that this is only a matter of a few bad apples in the basket. Don’t try to blame society for permissiveness and giving clergy a wrong model. This problem goes back centuries, and it resides in the structures of the Church.

Second: end the Catholic Church’s fatal confusion between two honourable vocations — celibacy and the priesthood. Some people are called to celibacy so that by renouncing one particular human relationship, they can open themselves in chastity to many more. Others are called to priesthood, a representative and often a leadership role in the Church. But it has been a nine-century-long folly to say that all priests should be celibate.

Third: put an end to the equally fatal notion that ordination effects a great change in the relationship of a priest to the rest of the human race. The problem is that special people may feel that they are entitled to play by special rules. That’s how a great many well-meaning people, anguished by their inappropriate and externally-imposed call to celibacy, have distorted their religious vocation, and worked out their frustrations by playing sexual power-games with the innocent and vulnerable. And it's also why the Church, assuming special rules applied to special people, covered up for them afterwards.

I think this third point must also address the structure of seminary formation, whereby seminarians are distanced from the rest of society, institutionalized in their own little compound, socialized into the narrow world of the clergy, and treated in a manner that is coddling and patronizing all while it is heavily implied (or directly said) that the ontological nature of their priesthood in the abstract somehow makes them concretely and practically different from other people even outside their ministerial functions.

We've discussed this before, and I've talked to a bunch of guys now who, though we feel personally called to celibacy and even the priesthood, just find cringe-worthy the idea of spending all day in the same building doing the same activities with a bunch of adult male virgins. Not to denigrate adult male virginity for the right motives, but it does raise some questions (and some eyebrows) in a society that doesn't value that. Especially when there is a whole crowd of them in an authoritarian environment wearing the same clothes, thinking the same thoughts, following a rigid schedule of common activities. Sure, they can say that it's a "sacrifice" because of their moral views, but there will always be that lingering doubt (subconsciously or explicitly) in many of our minds about whether these men adopted their religion and their vocation simply as a convenient justification for their own inhibitions or hang-ups or deviancy or pathetic lack of real manhood.

In other words, they can say their abnormality (relative to society) is due to their moral beliefs, but at the end of the day I suspect that even if Catholicism didn't exist...many of them would still be adult male virgins, if you see what I mean. I guess no one's motives are totally pure in finding religion, but when the basis of your religion is your own psychosexual make-up then that's not going to be a healthy situation. And when and if sexual awakening finally does happen, you're going to wind up with a lot of confusion and serious problems with celibacy.

I'm less willing that Mr. MacCulloch to say that celibacy caused any otherwise healthy men to become perverts. But as I've discussed several times before, the sort of institutional environment where Sex is linked irrevocably with bound to attract a lot of people who are already freaks.

What's more, though, it cuts priests off from lay society, puts them on a pedestal in their own little world, makes their strongest bonds within the institution, and only reinforces an us-them mentality regarding everyone else.

But molesters remain a tiny percent. The real problem is those who did nothing, covered it up, or (in its current manifestation) defend the institution like a good-little bureaucrat rather than fighting for reform. It is clear that many seminarians and priests are not "normal guys" but rather awkward nerdy types. And the connection of that with mandatory celibacy is clear: if you ban sex and family life, you're going to wind up attracting a lot of frustrated beta-males, petty and weak and defiantly out-of-touch with mainstream society, as the behavior of the Pope and bishops is showing this week. They just don't know how to take decisive action.

We need some alphas in there to clean house and stop all this old-womanly dithering and hand-wringing, real guys willing to kick ass and take names. I'm not saying there isn't a place for other personalities (and optional celibacy) too, but they need to be led by the strong men; putting betas in charge is always a disaster (case in point: the current one). But you just aren't going to get many of those alphas (at least not in this day and age) if you expect them not to have sex or a family. Instead, you'll just keep getting Milhouses and Milquetoasts.


Tony said...

"put an end to the equally fatal notion that ordination effects a great change in the relationship of a priest to the rest of the human race."

STFU. Ordination does effect a great change in the relationship of a priest to the rest of humanity, fool!

Mr.T as bishop!

He'll lay the smack-down.

A Sinner said...

I think what the author was trying to get at was simply the idea of Clericalism. Ordination effects a change in terms of ministerial powers and role, but not human nature, if you see what I mean.

Permanent deacons (who also receive a character) seem to "get" this...but priests in seminary are still inculcated with these arrogant ideas that put them on a separate plane of existence from other people even outside their ministerial functions.

It goes to some of their heads (as a crutch for already low self-esteem, very often) and this is a huge problem. It becomes an all-encompassing Identity.

And unfortunately this "identity politics" of priest "set apart" or "different" from the laity even outside specific priestly being, if anything, MORE zealously emphasized by the conservative young hot-heads going into the priesthood these days.

And this is unfortunately being used by recruiters in all the immature fantasy Ad Campaigns for vocations where the priest is portrayed basically like some sort of Super-Hero, or Secret Agent, or Neo from the Matrix! It's very disturbing to see something like:

And the adulation and deference they receive from obsequious laity does nothing to help.

This elitism that develops is the problem. Clericalism is the scourge.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Vocation semminars and the such just seem ridiculous to me. To think that it's something "marketable", that if you present it in just the right light that people will want it just goes to show how much the predominent American consumerist mindset has infected the Western world (if not all the world).
I was talking about this the other day with a friend, and I believe that vocations are quite a natural (read: normal) thing considered that the person grows up in an environment/community where their faith is practiced. If one is a man, and was brought up in the Faith since a child, and has served as altar boy or whathaveyou, and is used to a priest being part of the local diocesan life, would it not be natural for him to one day discover a calling if he indeed had a certain zeal for the Lord? And I don't mean just with priests, I refer to religious as well. I think that (and again, this is just me theorizing all the way, so take it for what it's worth), contrary to what happens nowadays, where you have people going halfway across the globe if need be to answer a religious call (looking for just the right fit), in a "healthier" environment people with a calling would tend to seek the religious orders they'd have contact with locally (be they active or contemplative).

Anyway, just my 2 cents.

A Sinner said...

I'd tend to agree. More and more I'm feeling like, however I end up serving the Church, it will be locally, in my stomping grounds, among "my people" as it were. The missionary calling is very particular, and not everyone has it. The detachment from family, old friends, and outside social networks is one of the huge problems I see in the secular clergy that I've discussed here before.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I've come more or less to this "localized" view in an odd way. I grew up (in a fallen away "Catholic" family) hearing about how miracles were these bizarre happenings, and for a long time that was the idea I had of them (even when I had fallen away myself). But over the course of these past 3 years, since my reconversion, I've com eto believe that the biggest miracles, perhaps are very trivial, commonplace things. Not that I'm taking anything away from Fatima-type miracles, but I believe we witness the most extraordinary miracles each and every day and we pay no heed to them, either because they happen right in front of us with regularity, or because we ascribe them to ourselves. I think I'll stick to a comment I made in one of my first posts on my blog: God is manifest in the small things.

sortacatholic said...

re: 'alpha males': I have this suspicion that "manly priest" is seminary-code for "no homo". I used to hang out with seminarians. They were real boneheads, but were very interested in sports. I don't play a mean game of b-ball because I'm vertically and horizontally challenged, but I do my best. But I played along with them. Seems though that the seminary selected men who were physically adept but intellectually vacuous.

Sometimes I'll come across articles in conservative Catholic papers that make seminarians out to be All-American quarterbacks. This is laughable, as anyone who has experience with real seminarians knows. Still, why do people nurse this ridiculous idea that sports=manly=heterosexual? This strange prejudice needs to be set right, or else people are going to be very disappointed in their "reform" of the seminaries.

A Sinner said...

I agree, using sports as a litmus test isnt going to get you anywhere.

Usually a sports-team has one leader (the Captain or whatever) and all the other guys are betas following him. That's sort of the whole point. They may still be masculine, but they aren't leaders.

We're not getting many "Captains" in the seminaries, that's for sure. We're getting a lot of cronies.

Furthermore, trying to "man up" the priesthood by concentrating on all sorts of external stereotypes shows an utter lack of understanding of masculinity and manhood, I would agree.

In cases like that, it's almost like someone with a fetish for jocks is directing the whole thing...

It's all very disturbing.