Recently a good friend and, in many ways mentor, wrote this in his blog: “I am more a follower of Jesus of Nazareth than the Jesus of Rome“ (http://anothervoice-greenleaf.org/2013/04/30/why-i-remain-catholic/). I feel the same way myself. I think it is possible while remaining in the many goods of the Catholic tradition, at the same time to “transcend” the limitations of the roman system and be in the good that is everywhere in everybody. I believe the fundamental roman doctrines, but don’t much care for the systemic abuses. I think Jesus left the system long ago, but remains very close to his folks. I do not want to be without Eucharist, but I don’t believe only a male celibate priest can “make it happen”. Same goes for many other such considerations.
It seems to me that many, thankfully not all, bishops really believe they are princely autocrats who can rule by simple fiat while ignoring the legitimate questions and needs of “the faithful”. Jesus did not to go along with this sort of thing in his day, so probably he would not go along with it today. Yet, claiming to be acting in Jesus name, one american archbishop had the audacity to say that “Catholics who promote ‘same-sex marriage’ act contrary to Catholic law and should not approach for holy Communion; they also risk having holy Communion withheld from them.” This same archbishop threatened dire consequences for any priests taking part in a conference of reform-minded catholics being held in his archdiocese. Many priests ignored his order, just as many folks are ignoring his statements on same sex marriage. Jesus did not act like this, so why is the archbishop doing this sort of thing? Because he can. He can act with impunity. No one has confronted him. I would ask, though, who has the right to deny any person access to Jesus in the Eucharist for any reason? The retired auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese known for his pastoral sense said, “Don’t stop going to communion, you’re okay”.
Also while the catholic understanding of Eucharist may be unique, it is not the only way to respond to Jesus’ saying “do this in memory of me”, or “whenever two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them”. When Jesus said this he mentioned nothing about permission of the bishop, believing the right things, etc. One local bishop went so far as to say that parishioners who had formed their own community after he had closed their parish, were not receiving the “real Christ” since their pastor had been excommunicated. All, of course, in Jesus’ name. This same bishop has stated that any who disagree with him or do not follow his directive are putting their immortal soul in peril, and are in danger of losing their eternal salvation. I certainly do not subscribe to any of this. I think the only danger to anything here is to bishops’ power as more folks are coming to see through this charade and realize the emperor has no clothes. None of these hierarchical antics are about the Gospel. They are about power.
On occasion I have the privilege of “covering” a local medical center for emergencies. I find this ministry deeply satisfying, and I enjoy it. Yet, there are pastoral ministers on staff there every day. Why can’t they celebrate the sacraments and minister to patients and staff whom they meet every day? Why do I, a celibate ordained male, have to come riding in on my white horse to save the day? Why cannot these pastoral ministers celebrate the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick? I see the current practice as an insult to the dignity and dedication of these pastoral ministers, as well as serious disregard for the rights and need of hospital patients and staff to celebrate these sacraments.
While I really enjoy helping out in parishes, hospitals, etc, I think this making use of us retired priests is at best a stop gap measure to address the priest shortage. It is not a real world or authentic solution. We “old guys” are dying off, too. Parishes need to be a community, and the community needs to include someone leading Eucharist and sacramental ministry who is part of and knows the community. Circuit riders, as most of us retired guys are, is not solution, just a finger in the dike. There is no long term plan for addressing this situation. The diminishing number of priests seems to be a blessing in disguise as it is focusing attention on the failure of the current roman system to acknowledge the rights of catholics to the Sacraments and the Eucharist. What the church management does with all this remains to be seen. With Pope Francis there seems to be hope.
I am impressed with what has come to be known as the Austrian Priests’ Initiative and its “Appeal to Disobedience”. I find this document to be very pastoral, and I have no problem with it. In fact, I admire it, and I have no trouble going along with it. It makes perfect sense. The roman system as it is today has hurt and is hurting countless numbers of folks who deserve better. The Appeal reminds us both that our responsibility is to serve Christ’s people and that we have to follow our own conscience in everything. Makes sense to me. This sort of thing is a real threat to folks who think every word from Rome or a bishop on whatever is to be taken as the absolute word of God to be obeyed unquestionably, and there is no room for discussion or other points of view. The religious police are active.
It bothers me that many priests fear the bishop so much that they are afraid to say or do anything even remotely controversial. I do not judge them, since I am in a different category and not subject to whatever threats they might face, but it does bother me. A few months back I spoke at a meeting with the bishop and area priests. I said a number of things that I had heard other priests say. Virtually none of them spoke at all. Last year I attended a gathering of a number of priests from our state province, some five dioceses. In the course of discussions we divided up into diocesan groups to discuss what we were looking for. Priests from other dioceses talked about Vatican II, collaboration, etc. Priests from our diocese talked about their fear of what the bishop might do if he found out we were at this meeting, or that some of us had taken part in a previous presentation sponsored by a “unapproved” renewal group. This sort of thing disturbs me. Perfect fear casts out love. Locally this seems to be our situation.
Just sayin . . .