Today, 12 November, the day the Nation officially celebrates Veterans’ Day this year, I am sitting here reflecting on my time as an Active Duty Army Chaplain (Catholic), I’ve got a few thoughts and maybe some questions.
I have served with some wonderful female chaplains. Some have been my bosses, some have been co-workers, some I have supervised. I have also worked with women who were pastoral co-ordinators, religious education directors, and enlisted soldiers. Every one of them brought a dimension to pastoral ministry that we celibate males will never have. My question is, why can we not have women priests? The argument that Jesus didn’t ordain women therefore the Church cannot ordain women makes no sense. Jesus didn’t ordain anybody. But, since Jesus didn’t ordain any Irish men, I should’t be a priest either. It looks to me that the hierarchy is afraid of women and what they might do to the good old boy way of doing things in the Church. War Story: at one of our chapels a female chaplain replaced the male chaplain in charge; by the force of her own prayer life, her pastoral sensitivity, and her personality, she made the chapel less restrictive and more open to everybody; the only thing the male chaplains and staff complained about was that we could’t find anything in the kitchen; she was great for the community and all of us.) The Church can use some cleaning out and a rejuvenation of pastoral sensitivity and leadership. The Church and all of us are suffering because of the stubborn intransigence of the hierarchy in not allowing women priests. Forbidding the subject even to be discussed is encouraging not only discussion, but also action as many women are responding to what they believe the Spirit is calling them to – the ordained priesthood. Good for them!
I also served with a number of married priests. Some the official Church knew about, and some it didn’t. These gentlemen also brought a sensitivity and wisdom to pastoral ministry that we celibate males will never have. Why can’t priests be married? Also, if celibacy is such a great gift, why can’t we talk about it? Something is amiss here.
Then there is the matter of our GLBT brothers and sisters. I have very strong feelings when I hear soldiers with whom I have served described in official Church documents and communications as “intrinsically disordered”. Who has the right to say that? It seems to me to me that anybody who makes a statement like that is intrinsically disordered themselves, regardless of what authority they cite. Did Jesus use that term or anything like it anywhere?
Like any soldier I have served under some pretty messed up bosses. Its part of life. Fortunately they were the exceptions, not the rule. But even with that, there is in the Army an attitude of mutual respect built into the culture. There is nothing even close to that in the Church system. Such respect might be a stated value, but it is certainly not an operational value. The bishops could learn a lot from our military leaders. But, the bishops appear to be unable to learn from anybody, even Jesus.
Everyplace I served I met good folks who were not allowed to receive the sacraments because their earlier marriages had failed, and they had remarried. Annulments didn’t work for them, so they were out in the cold. No matter what glossy terms the church system uses to describe them, they are still being denied the sacraments. Something has to be done. Jesus did nothing like this. More and more of us are simply ignoring these ridiculous laws, but often the folks impacted by this are so afraid that they will still not receive the sacraments. Perhaps the Austrian Priests’ Initiative is right, since this is one of their concerns. The hierarchy has no right to treat folks this way, especially since they claim to be acting in the name of Jesus.
One of the things the Army is known for is the AAR (After Action Review) – basically, what went well, what didn’t, how can this be improved. The Church system needs something like this at the higher levels. Often it is already happening on local levels. But since the hierarchy already knows everything, it cannot learn, and it certainly cannot accept blame for anything. Something hs to happen here.
Certainly in the American hierarchy there must be some bishops who do not go along with the actions a few of the bishops are taking, such as using Eucharist as a weapon to control people in their ideas and actions, issuing threats and excommunications for folks who belong to certain organizations, etc. If these bishops don’t stand up during the current NCCB meeting and argue for a more pastoral and reasonable approach to dealing with the folks, they have only themselves to blame. Many folks are just walking away, and no doubt it pains them to do this. They want to be loved and cared about, not judged and punished. They are persons, not things or statistics. Jesus knew that in his day, and we all need our bishops to know it in our day. The folks know down deep that this is not the way Jesus took care of folks. IMHO the hierarchy has long since left the Gospel behind, and is focused instead on protecting themselves and their interests, no matter how they gloss it.
Soldiers are encouraged to think, to know the mission, understand their roles and responsibilities in accomplishing it, and think constantly how they can improve it. Soldiers in leadership are expected to know and take care of their folks. Not bad habits. The bishops could learn a lot.
There is more on this at phrogge.wordpress.com
Just sayin . . .
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Even in disgrace, there might be something to learn from military leadership. Senior generals pay for their mistakes often losing their jobs or being reduced in rank to the “last rank held honorable” before retiring. This is a very difficult, painful, often public, yet not less necessary aspect of maintianing the intergrity of an organization and its leaders.
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