NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part V
The mental and emotional "crippling" of the priesthood
Last week my direction was the rediscovery of the priesthood of the people, using Luke's Emmaus story. I asked if a reader found an ordained priest in that meeting of Jesus and his post-resurrection followers. In no way do I wish to diminish the value of today's ordained ministry. I called them/us "transition men" as I attempted to picture the fine work done by the Council of Trent, 1542, in establishing seminaries to educate and christianize a spiritually sick medieval hierarchy and clergy; last night our Public TV offered the history of the Medici popes, information that present day Rome would prefer not to be seen by ordinary people.
Catholica Australia's forum of 11/02/08 has Bill Dowsley referring to himself as a man of "simple faith". Perhaps Bill, this applies to all of us as we come out of the medieval shadows of our innocent ignorance, now being the time to rejoice that we as mature people are confronting historical truth and reality? This is the era in which you, me, and all have the opportunity to grow up and be adult Christians in the modern world. John the 23rd knew what he was doing when he opened church windows to let in fresh air.
Alvin Toffler (Future Shock 1970; The Third Wave 1980; Power Shift, 1990) gave us ample warning of a fast-moving progressive change in the modern world yet medieval institutions held to the illusion that time and the sun stood still in the Mediterranean. In 1970 Canadian Gregory Baum, a leading theologian at Vatican Two, gave us MAN BECOMING — GOD IN SECULAR EXPERIENCE, refreshing our minds with the Blondelian Shift and Bishop Irenaeus (178 ce) saying "The glory of God is man fully alive". Baum also gave us THE CREDIBILITY OF THE CHURCH TODAY, written shortly after Vatican Two as a response to Englishman Charles Davis, another leading Vatican Two-skilled theologian.
Realising the changing role of the priest…
As Neil Armstrong took mankind's first steps on the moon I sat alone in Holy Spirit rectory, "on duty", ready to respond to that sick call that never came after modern hospitalization. We were deep into the process of appreciating an entirely different picture of the universe. Subsequently with knowledge of modern medicine and communication I began to realize the role of the priest would change radically along with society. What would be the role of a Jesus priest in the modern world?
When Charles Davis left the Roman Church I foresaw personal faith battles ahead of me. Owen O'Sullivan OFM CaP offered us hope in THE SILENT SCHISM, 1997; Donal Dorr's TIME FOR CHANGE 2004 and Michael Crosby's psychologically sound THE DYSFUNCTIONAL CHURCH, 1991, and BRAVE NEW CHURCH by Fr. William Bausch, 1989. buoyed our spirits … while Rome closed deaf ears, remaining aloof from the Gospel.
As roman emperor Crassus left the crucified bodies of 6,600 of Spartacus's followers along the Via Appia for ten years so the path of John Paul Two and the Curia is lined with crucified theologians, such as Charles Curran and Leonardo Boff; the hierarchy has chosen ignorance to safeguard its power. The ordinary priest, trying to remain faithful to Jesus and people is squeezed under suffocating power. Priests were poorly prepared for THE CRUCIBLE OF CHANGE (Andrew Greeley, 1968).
Monsignor Richard Collins in 1931 rode 50 miles in an ambulance with my Mom and my dying father; I grew up knowing the name of the pastor who took his Thanksgiving Day dinner to a family in want. My life is rich with stories of good priests, real human beings who with Uncle Tuck (ordained 1922) came to our 15th Street home to have a bite; the parish priests of my grade school 1930's days, like Father Henry Plunkett were stellar examples of Christian living. They were faithful to their duty as sacramental priests, the sacred sign system of the 1600's now unable in 2008 to bring Jesus to the modern world.
We lived a simple life, all of us clergy and people wrongly informed about this "Veil of Tears" which I think was a hold-over from the Black Plague, the Irish Potato Famine, and the great American Depression. What a gift to be born in our age of transition and what a challenge for the glory and honor of the Creator to be so well-informed today? I am sure that Richard Collins and the Henry Plunketts would rejoice that their people today have such glorious insights. Vatican Two is the era where the laity steps up and goes into the whole world with the social message of Good News. St. Francis encouraged to preach always, sometimes using words. John the 23rd encouraged cloistered nuns to go into the world with the Jesus message. Stop the World (medieval) I want to get off! Take me to your leader — the Jesus who walks the streets of New York, Baghdad, and Sydney.
A "dark side"…
I am not naivë enough to by pass some clergy wounded by poor education, false pride, human laziness, isolation and loneliness. I knew many and feared for years that my seminary and ordination separation might leave me with a dark side that I could not face myself. I lived with men, so many alcoholics, who were pathologically ill, yet rose to the occasion of mechanically saying Sunday mass; on a Saturday night in 1966 I sat at a dinner table of six priests, who had too much to drink, and heard to my horror the pastor say "let's flip a coin to see who will give a few words to the people tomorrow".
In 1967 I entered what would become 15 years of therapy and psychological education; I was aware that some clergy were psychotic and needed help, myself included. I became a State of California licensed therapist. I stayed spiritually sane by being a member of a Christian community; I ceased saying daily Mass while I increased my daily involvement with people. We had dialogue exchange over the Gospel; in a rural church built in 1898 we spent three Sundays on the story of the Prodigal Son and I will never forget the fisty-culfs that nearly occurred between husband and wife as they fought over their property and their drug-addicted son.
When the archbishop recommended I abandon the child I had fathered in 1978 I knew for sure there was no place for me, or love and understanding, in the Roman Institutional Church and its clergy.
In the Catholica Australia forum, PRIESTS TODAY 15/01/08, Nicholas posts an excellent appeal to carefully avoid "scapegoating the community of currently serving priests. They are victims as much as anyone, of a significant systemic problem". I am forwarding his message to my friends on Katholica list, USA. Change is difficult for all; major changes without any guidance were virtually impossible for many older priests to make. Job security, the haunting question of eternal salvation, meaningful use of one's life, the sexual revolution of the '60's etc., etc., all became pressing issues for ill trained clerics; the world had changed overnight and for many/some (who knows?) refuge was sought in isolated rectories and cameo appearances as the "magic man of sacraments". Caring for parish property and having a Sunday family are poor substitutes for owning one's own home and having children (and grand children). I recommend to the priest of today and tomorrow that he/she possess some skills of compatibility in social relationships, marriage being most helpful; early scripture (wisdom of old) recommends a bishop be the stable father of a family.
The fallout of the abuse scandal…
I receive daily two-dozen world wide reports on the clerical abuse scandal; some names of those accused are familiar, men with whom I spent time in seminary and played baseball with as a kid. My head and my computer are jammed with reports that blacken the reputation of almost all clergymen. I am quite knowledgeable about this cancerous death-bringing wound to the priesthood. I would encourage people to stand clear, myself able to handle the depression that accompanies working within the arena as I frequently talk to my woman therapist to stay balanced. I encourage people who attend Mass to put pressure on their bishop to go to the table of dialogue, giving up the secrecy that drowns truth; the issues of seminary training, clericalism, magic power, sexual orientation, drug addiction, maturity, and commitment to the way of Jesus are involved. The Jesus of community alone will bring healthy salvation. We need bring the bishop back into community membership. Vatican Two, as well as the world at large, has brought about quantum leap changes; change threatens while education liberates.
Adult education is a demanding and difficult field of endeavor, the average Roman Catholic having about a third grade level appreciation of her/his religion, based on the initial indoctrination at the time of childhood — first confession and communion. The ordained priest can be just as limited, having to adhere to medieval party-line theology that is controlled by Rome.
There is the story of Father Duffy, famous for his chaplaincy in WW1 and the Fighting 69th (actor Pat O'Brien). Duffy was a professor at Dunwoodie seminary, N.Y., when he assembled priests for dialogue education. Rome came down hard on him and he fled to the Army as did others like myself before Vatican Two. John Duryea, ordained 1943, son of two Stanford PhD's and himself a graduate of Leland Stanford's Palo Alto Farm wrote in his autobiography that seminary training was not directed at educating a man, more in making him a conformist to institutional thinking.
The mental and emotional crippling of the priesthood…
Luther was originally condemned by Leo X for daring to say that "burning heretics is against the will of God"*. In Marari Vos of August 1832 Gregory XV1 "described liberty of conscience as a mad opinion, condemning freedom of worship, the press, assembly, and education as a filthy sewer full of heretical vomit"*. In 1867 as Garabaldi advanced on the Papal States two American destroyers sailed from Lisbon to offer Pius the 9th refuge in the United States*. [*from; DeRosa, Vicars of Christ 1988] In response Pio Nono, holing up in the Vatican, sealed away healthy education with THE SYLLABUS OF ERRORS, a condemnation of truth that crippled the mind of every seminary professor worldwide, as well as brainwashing 200 of my seminary peers who would be ordained prior to Vatican Two.
How John Courtney Murray ever got the Document on Religious Freedom passed in 1965 is little short of direct intervention of the Almighty. Priests my age were mentally crippled before ordination; few have studied after being ordained. So many priests I have known have remained in priesthood as fear-filled men, afraid to be punished, afraid of human sexuality, afraid of life and adventure; their imaginations were torn from them in early seminary and I have seen age and loneliness continue to distort their minds. Some have grown and survived as human beings; the healthy received education in the public arena after ordination. There is no good text book 101 on clerical psychology.
Tom McMahon, San Jose,
NEXT WEEK: We will look at Joseph Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES and the valiant trek of men who devoted their youthful lives to God and people and the adult crucible in which they have been forced to live.
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part V
What are your thoughts on this commentary?