Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I've written before about how reforming the priesthood to meet the needs of modern world will require not only making celibacy optional and formation less institutional, but also admitting that many of the essential tasks of clergy (namely, liturgy and sacraments) could easily be handled by part-time volunteers on the model of permanent deacons (and, frankly, in most parishes they already are; to the detriment of the lay-clerical distinction).

I got into a debate on a friend's facebook wall about models of the priesthood, and had some thoughts I'd like to share about the inefficiency of the expectations of the current model:

Most of what we need priests for could be done on a volunteer basis. The "limiting factor" by which the current "shortage" is defined, is mainly the problem of having enough clergy for liturgy and sacraments.

This could be easily solved by volunteers on the model of permanent deacons, while the larger pastoral or administrative duties could still be handled mainly by the full-time celibate priests.

It's not that we aren't getting enough priests to administrate, really, it's that we don't have enough priests to simply say Mass.

Because we simply don't need as many adminstrators/pastors as we need priests total. We could use several priests in each parish, the more the better really...but we definitely don't need several Pastors (or even Associates).

As it is, most pastors' work schedules aren't that grueling anyway. As much as we'd like to imagine a world where a pastor is spending himself constantly visiting all his parishioners and knowing them by name and going after lost sheep and organizing all sorts of events and programs for the parish, and thus has no time for a family...this just isn't happening even under the current model. And maintaining mandatory celibacy just so that we can be comforted by the idea that a feature is present that "might" help enable such a pastorate "someday," in some ideal vision that is not (and never has been) a reality...is putting the cart before the horse.

It's rather like going homeless because you refuse to sell the land on which you're planning to build your solid-gold house (which is never going to happen).
It's simply cargo-cult confusion of causation to believe that depriving a man of a family will somehow cause him to be so busy that he couldn't manage to have one anyway. Under that logic, you might as well deprive them of bathing. After all, some Sainted priests were such prolific pastors, they didn't even have time to bathe; therefore, if we deprive priests of bathing, they'll spend that time tirelessly pastoring! Except such a syllogism doesn't follow: just because an "ideal" pastor would work so hard he wouldn't have time for a family (or family), doesn't mean forbidding pastors to have families (or to bathe) will cause them to work hard. There is a naive reversal of cause and effect there. 999 times out of 1000, the extra time will simply be spent on nothing.

Requiring mandatory celibacy because it is imagined to be one feature of some pie-in-the-sky ideal system of tireless pastoring doesn't work if you aren't also requiring pastors to visit every family in the parish once a year and submit quantitative reports proving how he has started new programs, brought in converts, or helped solve spiritual problems, etc. And yet, they aren't going to implement such policies. It would scare even more men off (a good portion are there because it doesn't require that sort of effort) and neither would such requirements even be feasible (especially in a world where there are thousands of people per parish).

The reality is, most people expect priests to be there just to supply their sacramental and liturgical needs. Most parishes don't need anymore pastors or administrators, some of whom are apparently even able to effectively handle several parishes at once (and still only work 4 hours a day...) What we need is simply more priests to say Mass and hear confessions. It would even be nice to simply have a bunch of priests there in the parish to distribute communion rather than EMHC's, (and maybe even do public Office!)

But they put such barriers to entry that we don't even have enough deacons to dispense communion and so rely tragically on lay people. O
ne will sometimes hear the notion that "handing out ordination like candy" by ordaining "too many" men, would somehow cheapen it. But I fail to see how the devolution of clerical roles to the laity (for lack of clerics) cheapens ordination any less than simply ordaining those men, as the only value of holy orders are the sacred tasks that go with them! Delegating those tasks to laymen (rather than making those men clerics) just to preserve mandatory celibacy and unnecessarily rigorous training...thus suggests a serious perversion of priorities by some poeple when it comes to how they perceive the value or purpose of ordination.

And, anyway, less than 1/1000th of Catholic men are priests currently; would bringing that ratio down to even just 1/100th really be "cheapening"? I suspect the powers that be perceive, at least subconsciously, that the rarity of the priest actually helps put him on more of a pedestal, makes him seem more exceptional, and thus increases his psychological power.

We need more priests, not so much to be pastors even, but just to say Mass, distribute communion, and do these other little tasks. But there only so many Residents with other jobs in the diocese, or who are retired, to go around.

In a certain sense, the market is working; we are getting as many priests as we need to fulfill the "business" aspects, just not as many as we need to fulfill the sacramental aspects (even though the latter is the real point of the priesthood in the first place!)

Few people are going to give up their whole life, forsake marriage family, and go to adult boarding school for five years... just to fulfill a task that takes only an hour a week, like Sunday Mass. And certainly not just to get their hands consecrated so they can distribute communion once a week. And yet it's Sunday Masses and consecrated hands with which to distribute communion...that are the main thing we need, the main thing we have a shortage of.

A full-time dedication of one's whole life to something which is, in fact, full-time like a pastoral curacy, makes sense. But expecting God to send us all sorts of full-time vocations to fill the gap in what is merely a part-time task...is unrealistic. Nor could we afford to maintain a full-time employee for just a one-hour task either!

And yet, for the sake of maintaining their precious mandatory celibacy...they'd rather have all sorts of EMHC's distributing communion, and have parishes where three out of four weeks a month a permanent deacon leads a "communion service" rather than Mass. If he can lead a communion service...he could say Mass. It's not rocket science, and would take no more time commitment.

The only other "solution" people might offer is that, "Well, if there are a bunch of part-time tasks required, why not consolidate them into one full-time position." But in this particular example, such efficiency would mean having priests whose job was to say 6 Masses per Sunday or something like that. Which might not be an unreasonable workload (regular people work eight hours a day), but it totally goes against the traditional limitations we put (and rightly so) on even just bination (saying Mass more than once per day, let alone six!)

Expecting someone to give up their whole life just to fill the gap when it comes to a one-hour-per-week (or even per-day) task...is simply unrealistic. Even if all sorts of men were willing (and if it weren't for the celibacy thing, who wouldn't want such a cushy position?) we couldn't afford to keep them on as a full-time employee just for that part-time work. And so most liturgical roles nowadays (including distributing communion!) are done by lay people, the priest-as-such is just the guy you call in to consecrate, absolve, or anoint.

The thing that requires priests to be full-time is mainly the administrative duties. But we need much fewer of those type than we need priests total. If that aspect could be abstracted from the priesthood as such, most of the liturgical/sacramental ministry could be handled on a volunteer basis by men in the parish. The salaried bureaucrats might still be mainly drawn from the celibates, but the bureaucratic aspect is not the essence of the priesthood (nor what there is a shortage of).


sortacatholic said...

I think you've talked about the possibility of non-stipendary (volunteer unpaid) priests before. The Anglicans and the Lutherans have had non-stipendary priests and pastors for years. I'm certain that such a system could easily be adapted to the Roman married diocesan clergy. Of course, Protestants are evil -- how could they have good ideas? ;-)

Reformist Catholics know that the secular clergy has been destroyed by forced celibacy, unchecked pastorates, and clerical demands for absolute lay deference. Yet some laity like the current system. Some laity prefer to objectify and infantalize the clergy. Some dread the possibility of priests living among them. Those who oppose reform should reflect on their support of a dysfunctional system that has perpetuated abuse and malfeasance. Ultramontanism is an opiate that blinds the laity to necessary change (Marx intended).

I completely support "promoting" married deacons to a non-stipendary part-time priesthood. However, some permanent deacons do not have solid theological training or homiletic aptitude. Permanent deacons should earn a full seminary degree (M.Div) before priestly ordination. There has to be quality with quantity. Not all non-stipendary priests will be noted theologians. Still, the laity are entitled not just to sacramental service but also strong homilies and pastoral abilities.

Not all permanent deacons have the aptitude or desire to become priests. The permanent married diaconate has to be valued as a separate calling.

Agostino Taumaturgo said...

"Yet some laity like the current system. Some laity prefer to objectify and infantalize the clergy. Some dread the possibility of priests living among them."

Right here, you've just hit the nail on the head, for a great many problems. Whether you choose to call it indoctrination, brainwashing, upbringing, or whatever word you choose to go by, there are a lot of laity who want nothing to do with the idea of a priest being "just a regular person." In fact, they just can't seem to handle it. I don't know what percentage they are of the lay faithful as a whole, but from what I've seen, it's this percentage that also tends to be more faithful when it comes to putting money in the basket. So of course, you can't rock that particular boat!

I want to say more, I really, really want to say more on this, but will hold back for the time being.

"Those who oppose reform should reflect on their support of a dysfunctional system that has perpetuated abuse and malfeasance. Ultramontanism is an opiate that blinds the laity to necessary change (Marx intended)."

This is beautifully written. Actually, I'm working on a post for my own blog that addresses this subject in tandem with clerical celibacy, and the first sentence is something like: "Few creatures on this earth are as hypocritical as many laity of the Catholic Church." I'm talking about the type of laity you describe, and for pretty much the same reason. You put it succinctly.

I'm still not totally on board with the idea of a married priesthood, though I've no problem with a non-stipendary priesthood or even a "Canon 9" situation when necessity warrants it. Speaking as someone who has a real job, I think it's important to stay integrated into the world and keep in touch with how it works, and having a real job is probably one of the best ways to break the wall of isolation between cleric and world. But that's just my personal opinion.

Jeffrey Smith said...

In theory, married clergy ought to work. There's a problem, though. I've known dozens of Protestant ministers over the years and observed Protestant congregations closely. I can only conclude that the people who hold married clergy up as a way to solve so many problems the Church has haven't ever for one second taken a look at how it actually works in Protestant denominations. Frankly, it's a disaster. The vast majority of married Protestant ministers are overworked, underpaid, and so stressed out that they leave the ministry in droves. Their wives are under constant pressure to be unpaid, 24/7 volunteers for everything that comes along, and their children are watched constantly for any sign of imperfection. They also tend to spend a fair amount of time unemployed because most of the congregations can't afford to pay them enough to support a family. Meanwhile, the mainline denominations are dying off fast and the Evangelicals are in big trouble because their young people scarper as soon as they can.
If you closely compare the Church's problems with everyone else's problems, the Church looks like a paragon of success. Let's face it. The grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence.

A Sinner said...

Well, Jeffrey, I sort of have to ask if you even read the post:

1) because the post itself was not really about married priests as such. The whole point was about the suggestion that priests NOT always be full-time salaried employees, but simply volunteers to say Mass (which doesn't take that long).

Part of the problem with Protestant ministers is surely the fact that they don't even preform sacraments and so probably have even LESS of a reason to exist as a full-time position.

Your objections all have to do with the assumption that all priests must be full-time salaried pastors, but the whole point of the post is to question that.

2) I did, in fact, say that "The salaried bureaucrats might still be mainly drawn from the celibates, but the bureaucratic aspect is not the essence of the priesthood (nor what there is a shortage of)."

3) Another major point is that we have to assume that we'd get pretty much the same number of celibate vocations even if it weren't "required" (after all, we're told, we're not making anyone be celibate, merely picking from the men who are "already called"). So the married priests would just supplement the structure we have now, not replace it.

4) But finally, a point I've made on other posts; even if some married men were assigned to full-time salaried pastors...THEY could figure out those problems on their own. They would know the salary in advanced offered by the dioceses, they could figure out if it were enough for their family. Their wife working or marital troubles or the children misbehaving could simply be used as a learning experience for the Catholic community that priests aren't some sort of holier-than-thou supermen, but simply like everyone else.