Two principal themes stand out in Tom McMahon's reflection back on the Documents of Vatican II today: (i) A sense he has picked up that many priests feel abandoned by their institutional leaders; and (ii) that as the priesthood shrinks greater responsibility will fall to the laity. In a sense this is a reflection on the connection between priests and laity and how the majority of both have been abandoned by the institutional leaders.
Don't hide your light under a bushel basket..
Recently my friend Msgr. John O'Conner wrote a public letter to Sem-net, an internet junction of exchanging messages from those once together in seminary. Most contributors were never ordained yet continue to gather as an alumni group; I can go bonkers over this pacified group of laity, men and their wives of keen intelligence, as they sit back and watch a changing church, seemingly unaware of their fascinating potential. They continue to play well a role powerfully taught to them in Catholic grade school, go to Mass on Sunday, listen to the priest, and put their donation in the basket. I suspect many no longer go regularly to Mass, yet their archetypes of fear, old church, and priest are deep.
A few alumni have silently joined the rebellion; some speak with their actions, few offering any public words that contradict the old establishment. Most are unaware that Vatican Two was the storming of the Roman Bastille and the hierarchy have been disemboweled. I am sure that there are exceptions to the routine yet most seem frozen in time. I offer here that the present condition of the Roman Catholic parish church suits their immediate needs of burial, baptism, and marriage. In much of the San Francisco Bay Area Romanism is a rich man's religion and it's "I've got mine and leave me alone".
Catholics may not believe as they used to but they know they can get buried from the Church and matters of justice and peace are for a handful of radicals. Again universals are meaningless and there are 40 million "ex-Catholics" in America who negate my position. We need to hear from this 40 million, and soon; do I quote Jesus correctly when I say "let your light shine forth and don't hide your talent under a bushel basket"?
The priest of yesterday is an endangered species, many clerics hoping people will step up to take their non-clericalized place. Just like John Paul the 2nd filled the ranks of bishops worldwide with muted yes men, the present group of ordinary priests are innocent boys who haven't a clue as to what is going on. Clerical robots have taken over the leadership of the institution and all they know is an antiquated sacramental system.
The above may seem accusatory yet this author feels forced to my extreme position; this is my experience of the majority of men with whom I went to seminary and who followed me, again my stating that the alumni majority never were ordained. Since the days of Vatican Two no one tabs them as "failed priests" as the Irish once did to the likes of my two brothers who left seminary after a few years in the 1930's. During my 12 years of seminary one brother was with me for 3 months, when I was 13. When my brother Jim left I experienced one of the toughest days of my seminary career; we were such good friends and I was so lonely. I hadn't even yet shaved. The Irish from away back in the days of Cardinal Paul Cullen saw the boy who left the seminary as refusing the call of God and the term "ex-seminarian " was silently heavy. The ordination of a priest of today, more than likely already advanced to middle age, reminds me of Henry Ford's assembly line where they made model T's with rumble seats. (Late minute note: 8/2/10, Mercury News article ST. PATRICK'S SEMINARY FOLLOWS GROWTH TREND — we will pick up on this next time.)
Sticking by the good men active today as priests...
There are good men active today in the Roman Catholic priesthood, priests who have run the gauntlet and have remained human. I use his own letter to introduce you to Monsignor John O'Connor. Read and then I'll tell you more about John and why I have included his "apologia pro vita sua"...
From: John O'Connor [email address deleted from this version in Catholica]
Tom here: I walked down 16th Street with this tall and handsome priest while he was pastor of Mission Dolores on our way to Bucky treating me to a burrito at a Mexican Taqaria. Dressed in clerical collar and blue sweater this brilliant church historian had just interviewed me on the 1700's Mission Cemetery, I having been the caretaker during World War Two. Souvenir hunters had stolen the wooden grave markers of the indigenous people and I knew where they had been. The mission district is heavily Latino and Bucky cheerfully greeted everyone we passed in their native tongue. I always knew he was a good people priest. Monsignor John would be asked by Archbishop William Levada to become the pastor of the Cathedral, John reluctantly agreeing. Priests of my generations knew that a Cathedral assignment was the kiss of death, an invitation to boredom and alcoholism. Yet Bucky flourished until he was accused of sexual abuse.
Then Archbishop William Levada suspended John according to the mandates of the Dallas bishops conference … "any hint of sexual abuse and you're out!" … just plain out with no hope of trial or sentence of guilt or innocence. The priest was gone, shuffled into a limbo of oblivion and years went by. John, who had higher education and a social studies degree, hired a lawyer and a private investigator, finally his accuser being shown to have no factual evidence of who John was and where he had been stationed. Bucky was innocent and falsely accused. The now second in command of the Roman Catholic Church and then archbishop of San Francisco William Levada refused to reinstate Monsignor O'Connor as pastor and Bucky remains to this day in that unjust limbo that protects wayward bishops. The whole process in Dallas was a clever plan to shield bishops from investigation and take the heat off the hierarchy while scapegoating the priests. (2010 some bishops are being caught in the net, in Europe, Canada,and the USA and I suspect more are to come.)
What I really want a reader to note is John's praise and recognition of laity: "I have been supported, loved and amazed by so many wonderful and inspiring people". I sense that John is sane today, not because he is an ordained educated priest, but mainly because of people involvement and support, this all beginning with our noble parents. There are hundreds of priests out there that have been abandoned, men who dedicated their lives to God and people only to find in time that the business side of religion (the bishop's church) deserted them.
There is a feisty Irish cleric who has done fine work protecting defenseless priests who have been accused. Monsignor Michael Higgins is a canon lawyer who runs JUSTICE FOR PRIESTS AND DEACONS, down south of Los Angeles [www.justiceforpriests.org]. Countries like Australia will do well to know of his work as the clerical scandal heats up and spreads worldwide. Some priests are genuinely guilty while all priests are vulnerable, almost all defenseless. I mentioned Mike and his work here to send an alert to LAITY of how they can become part of justice for clerics (and I am sure Mike knows of the plight of nuns as well who have tangled with the old boys' club). My Alumni association has a number of lawyers and I encourage them to get off the duff to lend a hand, or a buck, to some of my accused brothers. One can contact Michael Higgins through the website above. Mike's an Irish fighter for truth and he has his episcopal enemies.
The burden falls to the people of God — the Laity...
30 years ago I was accused of a heinous crime in the Roman institution, the simple audacity that I married as a priest and fathered two children. A community of Christian people surrounded our family and made it possible for Elaine and myself to raise our sons in dignity and comfort. Our children were not illegitimate kids and our marriage was based on my understanding of the right for priests to marry, a God-given right suppressed by a pathological misogynistic hierarchy in 1139 c.e.. Some laity, numbers with whom I shared eucharist for 20 years, turned on me — ignorant catholics who knew nothing of history and clerical marriage and who saw me as church property that they owned, the non-human who was an image priest but not a person. As the Trentan priesthood dies and educated men refuse to work as priests within a medieval system, the burden of carrying on the work and message of Jesus falls to the People of God, the LAITY, whom Jesus had in mind from the days of Emmaus [Luke 24]. Take a look at those original Christians … they aren't clerics!
Next week I will introduce you to three more priests, one fictional, an other futuristic and ancient, while the third is a super hero. Do some thinking on what your baptism has done for you and what such has meant to you. Are you a follower of Jesus the risen one? Are you familiar with the Apostle Peter calling people a priestly people?
Zoroaster, 6000 years ago seems to have gotten his name (Brilliant Light) from being an enlightened teacher. The Sistine Chapel has the great painting of Christ the Light of the World. YOU are the Body of Christ, the Light of the World! Don't hide your gift. Recognize the wonderful power you have to educate right within your neighborhood and family.
Tom McMahon in San Jose. Ca. the lay man who once had his anointed hands kissed by the kindest man I have ever known: Joe Higgins (see last week's commentary) was a prince of a human being. Mr. Higgins came every Christmas morning from across 15th St. to pay his wife's and his own respects to my Mom, the widow McMahon. They had a meaningful liturgy; after a simple hand clasp and greeting Mom offered Joe a bit of whisky, he replying silently with thumb and fore finger symbolizing very small. With the shot glass downed in one sallow Joe bowed his head and left, returning to Bea who was an invalid. Their short eucharist was filled with respect for the person. I saw it then and now as a Jesus' exchange. 29/07/2010
What are your thoughts on this commentary?