A Calling in Crisis
Conversations with Catholic priests
(Page 3 of 5)
Over the years, in conjunction with the decline in the number of priests (some of whom left because of Vatican II), this affected the way priests work.Skip to next paragraph
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"In the socalled good old days, the pastor made all of the decisions," says the Rev. Thomas McGreevy, the third Dominican priest here and a man who was ordained nearly 40 years ago. "Maybe this is a time when the Holy Spirit is wanting the laity to be more involved, and the way to do that is to take away the traditional leaders."
"To my parents, being a good Catholic lay person meant going to mass, sending your children to Catholic schools, and supporting the church financially," says Fones, who taught high school for a few years before entering seminary. "Today, I think people want more than that."
This has been both challenge and opportunity for Father McGreevy, the pastor and senior priest here, who has had to remind himself that "this father does not know best." "More and more, I'm beginning to realize that my role as pastor is to help the lay person recognize their gifts from God and put that in service to humanity," he says. "I see myself as a 'Christ-bearer,' and not for the function of proselytizing but for the purpose of loving, of forgiving, of reconciling, which is a lot harder than proselytizing."
Over the five years he's been here, parishioners have noticed the difference. "One of the good things Mike is doing is inviting people into other aspects of his life having supper, working in the garden and not just at the services or through the confessional screen," says Denise Gosar, an artist and parishioner at the church. "He's learning to delegate and to let go."
It now seems obvious that this democratization of priest and parish (especially obvious in the United States, a country founded on political democracy as well as the separation of church and state) also has opened the church leadership to more questioning and criticism including how it handled the revelations of sexual abuse.
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On a cool, overcast Sunday following mass at the St. Thomas More University Parish, anger flashes now and then among many of the parishioners gathered outside. But the general atti-tude regarding the ongoing scandal involving priests elsewhere around the country is more muted.
"It's very disappointing and sad," says Larry Wibbenmeyer, a parole and probation officer.
"If there's anything that would make me angry, it would be knowing that the church had knowledge of this and let it continue," says Mr. Wibbenmeyer, who's had considerable experience with sex offenders and whose wife, Dorothy, is a counselor who has worked with their victims. "It's really distressing that these representatives of the church have done something so horrific."
Others note that sexual abuse of minors is more likely to involve adults who are not priests. "It isn't a Catholic thing," says Dave Tobin, a retired postal worker. "But if it isn't addressed, it will be a Catholic thing. The fault was the church was about 10 years behind the professionals [in psychology and law enforcement] in how to deal with it. It's very sad."
For some, the sexual abuse of minors by priests raises fundamental questions about a male-dominated church hierarchy and about who can become a priest. "I think optional celibacy eventually is going to happen," says Patricia Armstrong, a writer and poet who converted to Roman Catholicism years ago.
If that happens (and there's no sign that it will under the current Vatican leadership), it will lead to the question of married priests.
There are in fact already some married priests in the Roman Catholic Church. In the United States, these are priests who have converted from other faiths mostly former Episcopal clergymen. In some countries where the Orthodox Church is dominant Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia for example the Vatican centuries ago agreed to allow priests of the Eastern Catholic churches to be married.
"Maybe it's time to be serious about asking about the gifts that women can bring to the ministry," says Ms. Gosar. "And not just the ministry of children and music, but the ministry of preaching and the sacraments."