Friday, May 28, 2010

An Excellent Comment

That a poster put on a recent post of mine regarding the psycho-sexual dynamics of clericalism:
Interesting post, sinner. I'd be interested to know exactly how long you think this clerical education/training has been a problem, leading to an unhealthy culture among priests. I know that it definitely goes back to before Vatican II, since I heard all about it from my grandfather who was a psychologist who examined many seminarians, diocesan and religious. He predicted shortly after World War II that there would be huge problems for the Church when that current crop of seminarians assumed authority within the Church.

There are a few comments in the article that I find especially interesting, given what I heard in my family. (1) Many a priest at the time was his mother's favorite, and perhaps joined the seminary more to please his mother than Christ. (2) There was a lot of immaturity among seminarians, characterized by a general unwillingness to face life the way normal people do. This usually took the form of preferring an easy, somewhat luxurious lifestyle, to the hard work of earning a living and raising a family.

I have to add, though, that I'm hesitant to adopt the idea that everything here just has to do with power. I can't give precise reasons right now, but it just seems a tad too simplistic.
I would agree, actually; the insistence on the conformism and authoritarianism is in many ways just to maintain a certain economic position. Though there are certainly power-hungry ambitious priests and bishops, as well as repressed ones who fetishize following orders fascistically, I think mainly the reasons they are so invested in maintaining their position, as I've discussed before, is just that lazy immaturity you describe.

Priests have a very cushy position, and are very much dependent. Their job could, frankly, be done almost entirely by unpaid volunteers, at least in our literate leisure society. So they have to create a whole clericalist mystique around the priesthood with all sorts of very specific barriers to entry, like mandatory celibacy, in order to justify their continued existence as a separate class. This, in turn, leads to a certain holier-than-thou clericalist pride of the type Fr. Z shows all the time in posts like this one.

I mean, they get to live off our donations for doing tasks that, if we're being honest, aren't exactly rocket science; they mainly involve reading words out-loud and waving their hands over things. Their "education" is largely superfluous, but they have to portray themselves as a profession in order to maintain the idea of the priesthood as a full-time job for special men requiring special skills so that people will continue being willing to pay them. But people are starting to see the man behind the curtain.

21 comments:

Pater, O.S.B. said...

This, in turn, leads to a certain holier-than-thou clericalist pride of the type Fr. Z shows all the time in posts like this one.

I believe you did not get the point of the post.

"...but they have to portray themselves as a profession in order to maintain the idea of the priesthood as a full-time job for special men requiring special skills so that people will continue being willing to pay them."

Perhaps being a priest per se need not be full time, but being a pastor is a full-time job. For "special men"? I would hope so. "Requiring special skills"? Certainly. Your part time priest thing is interesting. I would like to see more how you would distinguish between a simple priest and a pastor. I do not believe you have a realistic grasp on what the job requires, nor what its ideals are.

A Sinner said...

"I believe you did not get the point of the post."

The post (or at least the "anecdotes from readers" he posted) was a plug for the laity to give signs of feudal deference to priests under the cloak of the false humility of "Oh, it's not about me, it's about the dignity of the office I represent."

Treating priests as "VIPs"?! Come on!

"being a pastor is a full-time job"

It could be. I'm not against the idea of maintaining full-time salaried pastors. It may be the most efficient way to handle the tasks.

But it really only has to be, by nature, for the bishop.

Administrative/financial tasks could be given to a lay board or hired accountant or whatever. You don't need ordination for the purely bureaucratic functions. You might only need a priest "in charge" at the level of deanery or even vicariate.

And it's not like priests know everyone in their parish by name anymore, either. When spiritual direction is done (and most people don't take advantage, nor could they just as a question of numbers and time) it is just as likely to be done by permanent deacons or religious sisters or lay "pastoral associates," or even, now, lay "mentors" just trained in a weekend course or summer retreat (ala FOCUS). And, frankly, their advice is probably just as good as most priests. That was the original purpose of the Sponsor at baptism, after all.

When it comes to answering letters and stuff...well, people wouldn't send letters to the parish if they knew it was a decentralized set-up. And I think many lay Catholics today are educated (or could be educated) enough to deal with answering questions.

If Girl Scout troops can do it with just volunteers (and less molestation), I'm pretty sure the Church could handle it too. It's not doing all that much more than them (and, frankly, on the level of actually helping through community service...in many places seems to be doing much less)

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

Sinner, I'm not sure Fr. Z's posting this for the sake of holier-than-thou clericalist pride or not. I have plenty of similar anecdotes in my own experience which I will always find humbling; the one that comes to my memory as the most humbling happened two days after my ordination, involving a lady at an airport's gift shop who was overjoyed to see a "young priest" (I was 28 at the time), and second to that would be four years later, involving an older couple I ran into at a pharmacy where a friend used to work. We won't even talk about what happens when I go to hospitals.

But --- and this might be one of the points you're getting at here (I really can't tell) --- I've never really shared these stories with too many people, and definitely have never thought to put it up on a blog. Now that I ponder it, I think it would just cheapen the memory and sully the humility found though each experience, turning it into a kind of "Look at me! Whoo hoo! Priesty dude over here! Woo hoo!" kind of deal.

As to the whole deal of "a priest's job consists mostly of reading things out loud and waving his hands over things," I've got to agree with Pater on this one. What most people (especially a lot of secular employers) don't tend to get is that on average, a priest has to wear a lot of hats and often does the jobs of counselor, teacher, consultant, salesman, administrator, diplomat, and peace-maker. Now in corporate- and program-size churches, there may be (and often are) educated/trained/trainable lay staff who can take on at least some of these duties on a paid or volunteer basis, but in pastoral- and family-size churches, that just ain't the norm. At least not in my experience, anyway.

A Sinner said...

It may not currently be the norm, but perhaps it could be. Especially if you had a good chunk of the male population of the parish in Orders of some sort (minor or major).

You also have to wonder if many of the "crises" a pastor is called to address...are not themselves caused by the current model. Wars between different liturgical factions in a parish, for example, wouldn't be a problem if they each could have their own priest...

Michael said...

What about the prayer element? What about offering sacrifices for their sins and others'? What about the shepherding of the flock? What about the apostles, high priests and Jesus himself in Scripture?

Lastly, what about the priest-Saints?

A Sinner said...

"What about the prayer element? What about offering sacrifices for their sins and others'?"

What about them? These sound like things EVERYONE should be doing.

But, at the same time, also like things that most priests don't, in fact, do any more than anyone else. Even though they HAVE gone through the whole long seminary resocialization.

Once again, people seem to equate the boarding-school seminary process with these sorts of results...and that may be the alleged intent or theory behind it.

But I see no evidence, in practice, that it is actually having any real effect. At least not in this regard. It may be having an effect, alright, but not nearly the one they claim its designed to achieve. Rather, its effects have been largely negative.

"What about the shepherding of the flock?"

In what way? The office of the parish pastor is not in the deposit of faith. The office of the bishop is, but the presbyters are there to be delegated by him in whatever pastoral model he sees as most effective.

Since around the time of Constantine, probably, this has, in the West, taken the form of a pastor acting like a mini-bishop over a parish like his mini-diocese.

But that is not the only possible model of diocesan organization. The Ethiopians have over a hundred priests per parish, just drawn from the peasantry, and they all take one week a year doing the priestly duties.

The bishop is the real pastor. And he delegates the task as he sees fit. Some of it is delegated to pastors or priests, but they in turn can certainly delegate down another level to lay volunteers for much of it.

"What about the apostles, high priests and Jesus himself in Scripture?

Lastly, what about the priest-Saints?"

Well, what about them?

You're not even making a coherent argument, just spouting a list of the old imagery and phraseology of the narrative of clerical exceptionalism and triumphalism.

But this model is actually one that has evolved significantly. And though clericalism is much older, the Cult of the Priesthood-As-Such has really only been around since the counter-reformation.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

A Sinner said:
"It may not currently be the norm, but perhaps it could be."

I can see where that's a good vision, but much easier said than done. Even in corporate-size churches, you're still lucky if any more than 1% of the congregation volunteer for any task or position. Most people will go to church on Sunday because they feel it's an obligation or they really get something out of it, but most people also want to keep the Church out of their lives as much as possible, and their lives out of the Church. I think a lot of things can be blamed for this, including the current model of a parish.

Quoth:
"You also have to wonder if many of the 'crises' a pastor is called to address...are not themselves caused by the current model."
As a pastor, the crises I'm called to address involve someone whose leg was being amputated, or parents whose child was stealing from them to support a drug habit, and other things of this nature. Most of the crises I'm called on are personal to the members and their families, both when I served in the Trad Movement and now after I left it (as a result, I learned that Protestants have a lot more personal drama than Catholics!).

I think you're right that the "liturgy wars" can be solved to a degree by having a priest for each rite, as most people don't really care what other people are doing, as long as they get what works for them. When I was in the Indult community I mentioned a few posts ago, they did something like this. Fr. Gaeke was the pastor, and only did the Novus Ordo, while the Indult was offerred by two retired priests who alternated Sundays, Fr. Massarella and Fr. Henz. The result worked out great, we didn't have any liturgy wars there (there were times when our choir even collaborated with the NO choir at each others' Masses), but the result was that other than the choirs collaborating on occasion, you ended up with the equivalent of two parishes going to the same building, who never talked to each other. (Which, IMHO, is a much better option than fighting with each other!)

Though I really don't think liturgy is the major crisis a pastor has to address. Yet there are other things (e.g. sexual abuse, embezzlement of funds, etc.), which I do agree are a result of the model in both the big and the small picture.

Michaelsaid:
"What about the prayer element? What about offering sacrifices for their sins and others'? What about the shepherding of the flock? What about the apostles, high priests and Jesus himself in Scripture?

Lastly, what about the priest-Saints?"


These are all very important things, and address the spirituality of the priest. What we're talking about here, though, isn't the spirituality of a priest, but the day-to-day job of a priest.

In truth, a priest's job must be infused with his spirituality in order to be effective. But at the same time, on an existential level, the two are really completely separate things.

I think you did us a great service by bringing this up, though, and I hope that Sinner doesn't miss this opportunity for a future blog post. I commented on another of his posts that the laity are okay with knowing "[Gay priests] are out there," but freak the hell out if you start talking any kind of detail or naming names. Here we have the exact cultic imagery that the laity are raised (brainwashed) to believe about the priesthood, and my own belief is that's what causes the laity to put their heads in the sand or otherwise display the complete inability to face or even discuss the crisis in any more than the most superficial level of detail.

A Sinner said...

"Even in corporate-size churches,"

You say "even" in these churches, but I'd actually think it is much MORE likely to occur in these churches.

I'd think you'd actually be bound to get more volunteers in smaller churches because people can't defer responsibility due to the "bystander effect" where they assume "someone else will do it" like they might in a huge congregation.

"you're still lucky if any more than 1% of the congregation volunteer for any task or position."

Yes, we do need to build a culture of volunteering.

The Mormons seem to have accomplished this pretty well (with married, unsalaried people). Even the mainline protestants who, though collapsing as religions properly so called, still seem to do pretty well for themselves at least as these sorts of social clubs.

Catholics, on the other hand, seem to have no notion of Church as a social activity. But I think that's exactly because they have been excluded from positions of leadership and had their sense of initiative crushed for so long by the clerical monopoly on running things. There is still a notion among conservatives that the laity is to pay, pray, and obey.

So I think some of it is the nature of the tasks left to congregation. I don't want to be made an EMHC or a Lay Reader! But if they were ordaining men from the parish to various Orders, minor and major, I might be more interested.

As I said, somehow the girl scouts do it. Parents do seem more inclined to volunteer for their kids' activities like that. Maybe there is a way to tap into that dynamic. I'm always surprised at how "separate" the life of the parish school in my town seems to be from the life of the parish church.

It might make sense to (and some places probably do) make the parish school the centerpiece of the social life of the parish and to more strongly identify the social network that organically arises from the school (between students, and also then between the parents) with that of the parish as a whole.

I know in my town, the public high school is the "hub" of the social network even for adults. And the best Catholic community, in terms of actual community (it was also very good on faith stuff except liturgy), I have ever seen was in the context of a Catholic private dorm on the campus of a public university.

In other words, you have to make it easy for people. And I think you also have to offer more than purely religious activity, which isn't enough to bind or bond people. This is why I like the "small group" model that a lot of protestant churches have started adopting which finds a place for actual organic friendship groups to be situated within the context of the larger parish.

There needs to be a lot of secular activity (meals, movies, game-nights?) marginally connected to it in order to keep people interested, it's not enough to always have to look for a "religious" excuse to meet.

I think part of the problem is also the modern American notion of the nuclear family as the primary social sphere of the adult. I think many people are actually very isolated by that. It's tough in suburbia where people are at work all day, but offering some sort of Buffet after Sunday Mass might be a start.

A Sinner said...

"Most of the crises I'm called on are personal to the members and their families"

Ah, I see what you mean. Yet, I still can't help but wonder if people need to be weaned off that model of calling a priest in such a crisis.

I would be wary of the job of a priest just becoming that of a religiously-themed social worker.

Being a professional shoulder-to-cry-on or advice-giver can be a noble task, but in some ways sounds more like something associated with the diaconate, if anything. It certainly isn't essential to the nature of the priesthood (nor is the priesthood necessary for preforming that task)

I've heard priests complain about people who start to call them for everything because they aren't adult enough to handle stresses on their own.

I was actually in the room once when a woman called a priest I knew because the police were circling her house because her brother had broken parole and was hiding out in the woods nearby.

I mean...why call a priest for that?! What can he possibly do? (He just tried to calm her and told her to talk to the police). We need to wean people off that idea and the emotional dependency that goes with it.

I'm reminded of the "Listen Lady" Simpson's episode with Reverend Lovejoy and Ned Flanders where the reverend gets all disillusioned ("Reverend! I swallowed a paper clip!") and so Marge becomes the hotline at the church for all the needy people to call and ask about their problems.

Obviously, in big crises it is more justified, but still...my family has never called a priest (except for the Last Rites) in the case of a death or crisis or emergency.

We consult family and friends, and would probably turn to a psychologist or professional social worker before a priest, because they specialize in training for that (whereas for a priest it is secondary to his theology and liturgy, etc).

People may need "someone to listen" but that doesnt necessarily have to be a priest, nor even a service provided formally by the church. In my experience, priests often aren't even necessarily the best prepared to give such advice (for one thing, exactly because they don't have families of their own)

If I had a spiritual or theological question, I'd ask a priest. And though the romantic idea of a world where spirituality is organically united with everything is nice...we live in a world of increasing specialization and priests wearing many hats like that may not be the most efficient use (nor give the best results).

A certain type of person likes turning to a priest with their problems (even those only tangentially spiritual) because of his authority and mystique. But maybe if we deconstruct that, people will become more willing to talk to their own friends or family, or at least lay social workers or volunteers.

A Sinner said...

"What we're talking about here, though, isn't the spirituality of a priest, but the day-to-day job of a priest."

Thank you! I've been trying to explain that distinction for a long time with certain people, but you've said it better than I could.

I think a huge problem in the Church today is that confusion of priests' spirituality or personal holiness with their competence on the job. A monk's "job" may be personal holiness, but for a secular priest..well, that is not his raison d'etre.

The priesthood exists to provide the sacramental ministry to the laity, not for the sake of the priests. It's not an end in itself. It is not (primarily) about his personal sanctification.

I had to explain this the other day when someone who is discerning a vocation accused my ideas about reform of "ruining" the priesthood for priests who DID want to live under the current regime!

I had to respond that the priesthood (at least the diocesan priesthood) doesn't exist FOR priests. It's for the laity and providing them with the sacraments and liturgy. And so if the current model isn't most beneficial to the laity and providing that to them...it really doesn't matter whether priests find it most favorable for themselves or not (though many priests don't like the current model EITHER).

"In truth, a priest's job must be infused with his spirituality in order to be effective. But at the same time, on an existential level, the two are really completely separate things."

I agree with the second sentence. On a practical level, they are totally separate.

I disagree, however, that a priest's work "must" be infused with his spirituality to be effective. Look at Marcel Maciel; not a perfect example, but still, he was certainly "effective". I've quoted Yves Congar before in saying, "We need a really good Bad Pope".

This goes to the heart of what I was saying about Realism the other day. There is, in many ways, little connection between a priest's personal holiness and internal life...and his external competence and effectiveness (if he can "fake it").

Martin Sheen was in a movie called "Catholics" or "The Conflict" that is about an abbot who has no faith, but who has kept up the appearances and been a very effective leader in sanctifying his brethren nonetheless.

We aren't Donatists. A priests personal holiness is between him and God, and I really don't care more about his than about anyone else's. What should matter when selecting and training priests is competence and creative leadership...not an emphasis on his personal spirituality or "discipline" on the level of the internal forum.

A Sinner said...

"Here we have the exact cultic imagery that the laity are raised (brainwashed) to believe about the priesthood, and my own belief is that's what causes the laity to put their heads in the sand or otherwise display the complete inability to face or even discuss the crisis in any more than the most superficial level of detail."

Exactly.

In fact, I would question the validity of the notion of priests having a "priestly spirituality" or mysticism separate from that of all the baptized.

Obviously, we all apply spirituality to the specifics of our state in life...but the exclusively clerical piety expressed by having a separate motif of images and phrases for priests, which exalt the notion of the priestly state as different from the lay state even just when it comes to the man's private relationship with God...I don't buy that.

And now, in the "theology of the body" (which isn't terrible, but still...) we see an attempt to create a correspondingly "special" spirituality just for the married too. I'm not comfortable with that sort of spiritual division among God's people. Every individual is radically equal before God, in the internal forum. "Priestly spiritualities" should be identical to lay spiritualities.

Anonymous said...

This is probably one aspect of what Vatican II called for that people seem to have forgotten or twisted to their own ends-the whole idea that holiness is for everyone. Of course, its not a new idea at all (for instance, magisterially, if that's a word, Pius XI talks about it in his encyclical on St. Francis de Sales).

I would agree with you on the general subject of not holding the priest up as some sort of Superman and the problematic situation we find ourselves in with a certain unhealthy deference the laity give to the clerics. All of the Faithful are supposed to strive for holiness, many of them can fill specialized roles that most clergy simply cannot fill. The clergy do not always have the answer to all of life's problems. I know from experience (even though I'm not ordained yet) that people have a certain unrealistic expectation of your Jack-of-all-trades prowess in all things under the sun. There are plenty of times where I just have to say, "I don't know, but I can help you find what you are looking for."

As to a special priestly spirituality, I think there can be one but it depends on what you mean by "spirituality". The priest alone can confect the Eucharist, bless things, etc. etc. Right there you have the makings for a special spirituality. Does that mean it is massively different from what is good and useful for the laity? No, but it is different at least in a sense. Personally, I am a big fan of Carmelite spirituality and style of prayer and I advise anyone who wants a prayer life to look into it-lay, cleric, consecrated, whatever. In this sense, this spirituality will not differ greatly and what is generally applicable to the cleric will be applicable to the layman-at least as far as personal holiness is concerned.

A Sinner said...

"The priest alone can confect the Eucharist, bless things, etc. etc. Right there you have the makings for a special spirituality."

Yes, but I don't exactly see why a priests ability to confect the Eucharist would effect his spirituality except right there and then during the Mass.

Even then, it probably shouldn't amount to anything more than the prayers of preparation and thanksgiving for Mass being phrased so that the priest says "celebrated" rather than merely "attended" or "assisted at".

Unfortunately, some priests (and literature for priests) seem to have this whole "priestly identity" which becomes their primary identity (even above their baptismal identity) and their spiritual life thus becomes obsessed with the office they hold.

Everything is phrased from the perspective of a priest, even though outside the performance of the sacraments, he is not practically different.

I mean, what was this recent "Year of the Priest" for if not that sort of attitude?

Anonymous said...

Well, there's the matter of living out ones calling according to that calling. Again, its not drastically different but it is different. I am reminded of one of St. Paul of the Cross's pieces of advice to a layman-you can live like a Carthusian if you are married.

Again, it comes to what we understand by spirituality. As I said in my comment about Carmelite spirituality-I think its suitable for everyone. In that sense, its generally applicable without any real distinction between clerical vs. lay status. However, the priest is going to have to live out his calling as a priest different than the married layman is going to live out his calling as a married layman. They both sacrifice and offer sacrifice, but in very different ways.

It seems this is an instance of when the abuse of something does not preclude the use of that same thing. Sure, the Church is in a shambles and there have been plenty of abuses in the area of the clergy but I don't think the clergy as a "caste" (I would disagree with this portrayal) is the problem. An ivory tower dream or appeals to the practices of schismatics is not going to fix anything. We have to take into account reality and human nature.

Anonymous said...

Oops, that should be "can't live as a Carthusian"...

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

A Sinner said:
"I disagree, however, that a priest's work 'must' be infused with his spirituality to be effective."
Actually, I stand behind my statement, though I feel the need to qualify it somewhat.

I do believe that a priest's job needs to be infused with his spirituality in order for him to be effective, in the same way that any Christian's witness for Christ needs to be infused with his spirituality for it to be effective.

I've given this some thought, and it's possible that this might just be nothing more than a feeling on my part with nothing to back it up, so I won't push it as any kind of "authoritative" statement. But at the same time, I don't equate spirituality with "holiness" or "perfection." I tend to equate it more or less (super-short answer!) with "keeping on trying" in spite of your personal life, no matter how many times you might fail.

No matter who you are, cleric or laic, the people can pick up on the fact that you're at least trying to do the right thing and trying to walk with God, and they really respond to that. Now you're right when you say it's possible to "fake it," but the only way to do that is to do what a Protestant pastor once told me: keep your people away from your house and out of your personal life as much as possible. Eventually, though, that approach will be blown wide open (as in Maciel's case, even after his death), and can potentially cause more harm for the Church than good.

Again, this is just my opinion, though.

"Unfortunately, some priests (and literature for priests) seem to have this whole 'priestly identity' which becomes their primary identity (even above their baptismal identity) and their spiritual life thus becomes obsessed with the office they hold."
Unfortunately, there's a lot of truth there. Me personally, I agree with you that a priest's spirituality is no different from a layman's, as we are all members of the same Family of Christ. Any priest who loses sight of this is bound to fall under the weight of his own hubris at some time or other.

As to the "priestly identity," I would say that stems from the fact that priests as a group get to see things that a lot of people can't relate to. I say this not on a spiritual level (far from it!), but on an "on-the-job" level. It's the same as doctors see a lot of things non-doctors don't, ditto for lawyers, and I'm sure every other profession, too. In short, it's ultimately a professional identity and a professional culture that's reinforced by one's own experiences within that profession, whether by dealing with other priests or when dealing with how you're perceived by the laity.

Now with that being said, I have a particular problem when that "identity" becomes confused for a "spirituality" for it's own sake. I do think that an individual's spirituality should take into account and incorporate his professional duties, but at the same time I hold that it is still just an individual spirituality, nothing more.

Anonymous said:
"Right there you have the makings for a special spirituality. Does that mean it is massively different from what is good and useful for the laity? No, but it is different at least in a sense."
This is pretty much what I was saying in my last paragraph above. The individual's spirituality ideally should take into account his profession --- in this case the priest's power to sacrifice and absolve, but should also touch upon his other duties --- but ultimately, it is still an individual's personal spirituality.

A Sinner said...

"Now you're right when you say it's possible to "fake it," but the only way to do that is to do what a Protestant pastor once told me: keep your people away from your house and out of your personal life as much as possible. Eventually, though, that approach will be blown wide open"

Well, it may or may not be. I bet there are people who have gone to their graves phonies and no one was ever the wiser. And there are even people so talented, that there personal indiscretions didnt really matter even when they were more or less an open secret (like MLK)

But certainly, of course, I would agree that it is not a good approach to take, and is a dangerous one (for your own soul, obviously, but also for your career).

I'm definitely not trying to advocate being a phony! But, rather, saying that I don't really care if someone else is.

My recent post on the screening process for seminarians got me thinking about how obsessed they seem to be with the angle of sexuality and abstinence above all considerations of competence, intelligence, efficiency, charisma, etc. They're not selecting people on the basis of great grades, superb writing, or demonstrated leadership in previous jobs. No, they're looking at how long it's been since you last had sex and whether you like porn...

I really don't care what my pastor does when he goes home if his advice is good, his preaching is dynamic, his liturgy is sound. Though I know for a lot of the simpler folk...it does matter (though it shouldnt).

In some ways it seems like the analysis in that one article I quoted ("Best and flawed") whereby the psychological dynamic they are trying to sustain is one where holiness is over-equated with sexual abstinence, and where thus the perceived holiness of clerics is used to psychologically manipulated the laity, and also whereby sexuality is used as the locus of internal control over the will of the priest himself by the institution. It gives me the heebie-jeebies to say the least.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

You see, now we're agreeing to agree again. You've really gone and done it this time! *lol*

Personally, I could care less about a priest's personal life, too. Though you're right about how it matters to a lot of people, I would say this is the result of the brainwashing that's been perpetrated ever since the Devotional Revolution (which is where the whole "pay, pray, and obey" deal came from in the first place).

I also agree with your observation about the dynamic (which the laity generally swallow whole) of holiness being equated with sexual repression (I know you said abstinence, but let's just call it what it is). Last time I checked, holiness covers a lot more than just a person's sexuality.

A Sinner said...

"Last time I checked, holiness covers a lot more than just a person's sexuality."

And even then, there is a lot more to being an effective priest than holiness.

I've met priests I suspected were holy (who can ever really know), but without people-skills; I thought, maybe they should go into a strict cloistered monastery or something, but not the secular priesthood. I've met others, very devout, but not particularly interested in being innovative or being leaders in their community.

Stephen said...

Sinner and Thaumaturge,

I think you're right that we shouldn't expect all priests to be supermen. I also think that in general we are too quick to yell "Phony, hypocrite!" when somebody in a position of authority sins. We all have weaknesses, and we shouldn't be shocked by that.

However, I don't think it's possible to be a good priest even by these somewhat lower standards without trying honestly to live out what one preaches. It's hard to do something well, over the long run, if you really don't believe in it. It's even harder when you're a priest and expected to be better than average, which--face it--people expect, rightly or wrongly.

To finish, I'll give you an anecdote from another family member who worked at the diocese's chancery office. She remarked that after spending years working with priests she could tell, without asking, which priests prayed every day and which didn't. A priest's personal life has a quiet, but very important effect on his ministry.

A Sinner said...

"To finish, I'll give you an anecdote from another family member who worked at the diocese's chancery office. She remarked that after spending years working with priests she could tell, without asking, which priests prayed every day and which didn't. A priest's personal life has a quiet, but very important effect on his ministry."

Yes, but I wonder how much this might apply to ALL Catholics in ALL professions. Certainly, for a priest especially, having to bear the cognitive dissonance of "faking it" constantly...could get exhausting. But, on the other hand, I'm sure prayer helps ALL people deal with whatever state of life they find themselves in.

My point is just that a priests job is not, primarily, sexual abstinence or even "being holy". A consecrated religious, sure, but a secular priest is hired for actual concrete tasks. To do things, not to be things.

And yet the twisted screening process seems to act as if the whole focus of the position, the whole point, is mainly the sexual abstinence. As if the primary perquisites are not talent, competence, or charisma...but merely the ability to be sexually abstinent. It's rather sick.