Priesthood Past And Present

Catholic Church

The diocese is developing “pastoral areas”, the grouping of parishes. St Joseph’s links with Sacred Heart and Our Lady’s: there will be two priests for the three parishes. In these parishes, there are five churches where mass is celebrated each week: Our Lady’s, Sacred Heart and St Margaret’s, St Joseph’s and the Rosary Church. There are nine celebrations of mass. Would you care to plan how two priests will cover five churches and nine masses in 24 hours (especially when one of them is ill)? I shall take your good suggestions to the deanery planning meeting. No decisions will be made without consulting the people.

In 1962 the diocese had 112 priests and 72,000 people regularly at mass. In 1992 there were still 112 priests (but more churches in suburbs of towns and cities had been built) but only 37,000 people at mass. In 2017 there were 90 priests and 30,000 people. We shall see a sharp fall in the number of priests (so many are near or beyond retirement age) but we hope for no fall in the number of people. The people will be responsible for the parishes, overseeing the maintainance of property and buildings, handling the day-to-day organisation. There is no other way. How best may it be done? Bishop Patrick wants the people to feel fully involved. You are.

The so-called “good old days” are gone. Young boys brought into the junior seminary at age of 12 or 13, given good education, sent on to senior seminary at 18 and ordained at 24. A dreadful system. What would a boy of 12 know about sexuality, relationships, development and maturity? There were broken lives as the pain of difficult choices were met from age 17-23 or, worse, after ordination. There was bitterness, too, at the need to start ordinary life (education, training) for the young men and their families.

What an ugly system, playing the percentage game with young boys’ lives. And we reaped the whirlwind. Sexual abuse of children and women are two of the consequences, and the startling recent book “In the Closet of the Vatican” tells us the abuse has also been on boys and young men, abused becoming abusers. A sad constant factor. No more. The priesthood is a life of service for God.

A bad priest is far worse than no priest. Studying for the priesthood must be a mature choice and can only be made by someone who is mature. A case may be made for temporary priesthood (10-20 years), as in every work way of life, but the Church sees the priesthood as a life-long commitment, just as marriage is. Is the Church right?

The English-speaking world had a great number of its priests, missionaries and diocesan priests from Ireland. Not now. The hope or expectation was a priest and/or nun in many families. How awful to load such an expectation on a young boy or girl. But it happened. The blessing is that the awful system produced so many good sisters and priests. But the shame of abuse now uncovered in the last fifty years (worldwide, where the same system was/is practised in so-called Catholic countries) is a dreadful consequence.

A priests’ vocations’ director told me years ago “You have to get them before they meet girls.” That sickening attitude brought numbers to the seminaries but caused dreadful wounds.

God bless us all, especially the deeply hurt,

Fr John

(31st March 2019)

PS The other Christian Churches show us that ordaining women and married men would probably make little difference. They are worse off for numbers than the Catholic Church. What is needed is new thinking, not patching, stretching, making do for now, nimby, etc. New thinking. Women of the Church help us look in new ways to discover the will of God.

Related Link: Fr John’s Parish Newsletters