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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Commenting on the Bishops meeting - personal sanctity

I have been following the reports on the opening of the US Bishop's meeting in Washington DC and was struck by a few points in Bishop Skylstad opening address -

The priesthood in this country has suffered through a very difficult time. A handful of our brother priests have caused all priests to have to endure an avalanche of negative public attention. Perhaps never so much as during the scandals of the past four years has so much attention been focused on the priesthood, not for all of its wonder, commitment, dedication and perseverance, but for the darkness and sin which overwhelmed some.

What about the responsibilities of some of our "brother bishops" for what has happened? Isn't it this over-emphasis on presenting a "common face" among bishops what contributed to the scandal in the first place? The bishop's responsibility is for his flock, not for public relations.

What is equally reassuring is something else I find in my own experience of priests and know to be true in the experience of other bishops with their priests; something which is also supported by research. That is the high level of morale among priests. Three different and recent studies confirm that more than 90% of our priests report satisfaction with their lives as priests. What’s more, that high level of morale is confirmed by the fact that 90% of the priests interviewed for those studies say that they would make the choice of priesthood again, if they had it to do all over.

I don't know how it is in Bishop Skylstad's diocese but the reality is that a desire to become a priest is not the same as saying that there is a high morale. What it means is that we are willing to answer God's call despite the unpleasantness of the current situation, not that we are happy with the present situation.

However, I have also noticed on a couple of blog sites, even ones that I like, a disparaging of morale by proclaiming that what is needed is "personal sanctification and holiness". I think that this misses the point - All of us are called to sanctification - though I think that a call to "personal sanctification" is a bit too similar to a call for a "personal relationship with Jesus". We are all called to sanctification in Christ and with the whole world. We do not save ourselves and we are not saved alone.

I have been baptized and ordained to be prophet, priest, and teacher. These roles inherently require a relationship with others - calling them to conversion, leading them in prayer, speaking the truths of the faith. If morale is declining it isn't because of some act of self-pity, it is a concern that we are losing our ability to do that which we have been called and ordained to do.

Confessionals with glass windows to protect penitents from the priest who is supposed to represent Christ and to protect the priest from the penitent who has come seeking God's grace.

No longer are we able to minister with the use of touch, especially in our ministry with children.

Make sure that whatever ministry you do, that there are others watching just so you don't get sued.

Yes, I'm all for seeking a holy life, but I have been called to be a priest and to minister to those in need of God's grace. If I can't minister because I have become a sign of fear rather than grace, than something is definitely wrong and it is not going to be solved by telling the priest to keep a stiff upper lip in the name of "personal holiness" as if I could answer my call to the priesthood by locking myself in some desert cell. I don't get holiness by myself, I get it by ministering to God's holy people. I don't worry when some anti-Catholic makes a joke about the priesthood and pedophelia, I worry when a parishioner does.

So, the issue of priest morale isn't about making the priest happy and content in his role, the issue is whether we will be able to live that role at all.


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