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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Snoozing on the Job: Pope Benedict

My uncle predicts that in 10 years the ecclesial structure of the Catholic Church is going to come crashing down.

It is not hard to see why. 3 priests retire or die for every new priest ordained. I can quote dozens of other statistics, but none of them says it as well as that one. It doesn't take a mathematician . . .

So what wise words does the pontiff have for us? Here's what he says:

"The first question . . . is: Are there true believers? And only then comes the second question: Are priests coming from them?"

Thanks, Benny! Way to do something about the problem.

Granted, these words were quoted from 1997, back in his 'pit bull of the Vatican' days and before he was pope. But what has he been doing lately? Touring around, writing some theological treatises on topics such as "hope", and imposing on us a ridiculous re-translation the words of the mass. And for what?

The Pope as CEO

With decades of John Paul II and now Benedict, people don't realize that the Pope--with all that power that they have worked so hard to centralize in his office--can actually be a Church administrator, and not just someone floating around making statements. They can study the problems--look at solutions--implement them.

The Cost of Discipleship

Let's all face the cold, hard truth: Folks out there just don't think the vocation of priesthood is worth forsaking marriage, parenthood and sex for anymore. There, I said it. If you have to balance between a call to ministry and a call to family, it's no surprise people pick the one with more flexibility than the option with no flexibility.

And let's be clear: No one thinks the ordained are on a higher plane than the rest of the rabble, anymore. In the past, the clergy had a more "pure" lifestyle, without the stain of sex, one step closer to God. People just don't buy that anymore. The pope also can't figure out why folks wouldn't want to be a priest in a church structure where power is more centralized by the day and where free, progressive thinking is actively fought against. The sad reality is that celibacy probably isn't the biggest problem out there, but we gotta start somewhere.

I think it is truly impressive that so many people have chosen a celibate lifestyle in order to follow their call. Regardless of all the pervs out there and others using religious orders to hide from their sexuality, there have really been a lot of folks who have made a supreme sacrifice. That is not a small thing by any means. It is a very impressive tradition, and there is no shortage of intense stories of heartbreak as people have wrestled with their call. But should such a high sacrifice be mandatory? I would love it if all clergy lived a life of radical poverty with the poor and willing to lead social justice causes, too. Let's require that sacrifice and forget the celibacy stuff.

So What's the Deal

The quoted article mentions smaller families as a source of the problem, too. Even Benedict recognizes this. But yet . . . he doesn't see how celibacy is an issue in relation to this! Let me explain this to him: People may not want to join the priesthood because it is up to them to continue their family lineage. With only 1-2 kids per family, there is a stronger expectation to produce children and provide financial security for the whole family. In the old days, poor families with multiple children were probably happy to offload some of them to the seminary.

The Good News

The good news is that the Church is going to have to do something about the shortage of priests. We are either going to diminish (and devalue) their role, recruit like hell in the third world, or open up the potential pool of priests to a larger population: Married folks and women. We are simply going to run out of priests, and there is very little reason to think that there is going to be any change in that without an institutional change of some kind. A more collegial, horizontal style of church organization (instead of hierarchical) would go a long way to help this, as well. The Church seems more than willing to just sit around and wait until the crisis become unbearable--but it will happen and it will happen soon.

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