Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Judge not lest ye be judged"?

And the award for most creative misuse of Sacred Scripture goes to...Bishop Angelo Daniel! Sometimes the lack of moral leadership from our so-called "shepherds" can be mind-boggling. -- RG

Italian bishop forgives "playboy in a cassock"
A priest discovered in bed with a female parishioner had been "pushed" into adultery claims his bishop
by Richard Owen
The Times
September 22, 2008

A priest who was found in bed with a parishioner's wife has been publicly exonerated by his local bishop, who said the woman had tempted the cleric and "led him astray".

The woman's affair with the priest at Chioggia, near Venice, came to light when her husband returned home unexpectedly from work and found them in flagrante delicto. The enraged husband stormed into the bishop's palace to demand an explanation, but before he could speak to the bishop the police were called to "calm him down."

Writing in the latest issue of the diocesan weekly newspaper, La Nuova Scintilla (The New Spark) the bishop, Monsignor Angelo Daniel, said the priest, 53, a notable Biblical scholar who teaches theology at Padua and Verona and was a "friend of the family", had been "pushed" into sexual misbehaviour.

Bishop Daniel quoted the words of Jesus Christ, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matthew 7, 1-5).

He said priests had a responsibility always to be "an example to others". "But we must not forget that in addition to the many who fortunately support their priest, there is no lack of others who tempt him to fall short of his duty".

He added "We are all fragile and capable of sin. The priesthood and the religious life do not guarantee us against weakness or make us impeccable....Those who share their weaknesses however can always be assured of the mercy and forgiveness of God. "

Bishop Daniel said "I have always respected the priest in question and I will continue to respect him. You cannot discount all the good a person has done in their life just because of one mistake." The priest is believed to have been transferred to another parish.

La Stampa said the story of the "playboy in a cassock" was reminiscent of Dino Risi's 1971 film The Priest's Wife, in which a singer played by Sophia Loren falls in love with a priest, played by Marcello Mastroianni, who goes on to become a monsignor in Rome.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Church needs to face decline

Marjorie Kowalski Cole
Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Published Thursday, September 25, 2008

Every four years Americans change leaders or not. Since we aren’t animals but humans gifted with big, thinking brains that we use to imagine the future and analyze the past, we don’t want regime change to become a brawl. Instead we read, think, argue and choose. To categorically refuse participation in the process is a bad idea — when, in history, have abdication and self-censorship not been dangerous habits?

Henry Adams once wrote, “The habit of expression leads to the search for something to express.” You could also say that the habit of self-censorship leads to undeveloped ideas, immature responses and more self-censorship.

So we study the candidates although leadership remains hard to define. Faith groups publish election guides, with Christians weighing the social gospel against candidates’ records and promises.

We’ve all noticed that some great leaders cultivate humility and try to return strength of character back to where it truly belongs — to the people. Jesus of Nazareth did this as he tramped through Galilee talking to ordinary individuals wherever he met them. A woman at a well, a tax collector in a tree, a paralytic lowered through a hole in the roof, a crowd of 5,000 “not counting the women and children” gathered on a mountainside: He empowered them all. He loved those uncounted women and children.

But thousands of years later, the church founded in his name has become an earthly institution reeling from a crisis brought on by its own power and secrecy. Catholics make up the largest denomination in the country and ex-Catholics possibly the second largest. All these people are not of one mind about what it means to be Catholic.

The priesthood as we know it is shrinking, possibly disappearing. The weekend of Oct. 4-5, no Masses will be celebrated in Fairbanks churches as urban priests visit priestless villages. We face a crisis in leadership, with bishops accountable to Rome and various lay groups calling for either change or retrenchment.

One reason people leave is the appalling cover-up of sex abuse of children, including native American children sent away from their parents to boarding schools in the Lower 48 states and in Alaska. The way that Catholic bishops hid or downplayed these crimes for decades rather than “give scandal to the faithful” is not lost on us. But the habit of keeping our mouths shut is hard for Catholics to break. If all these crises aren’t enough to get us to speak frankly with one another, will we ever?

Some say that instead of a shortage of priests, we have a failure of vision on the part of the hierarchy, which refuses to recognize vocations of women and married people. Women are going ahead with ordinations anyway, and some have been excommunicated for it. Three unnamed bishops, in good standing with Rome, have even ordained women bishops but have asked that their own names not be revealed until their deaths.

Despite this crisis, it is difficult for Catholics to be frank with one another in an institutional setting. You rarely find Catholics talking about women’s ordination or optional celibacy over doughnuts after Mass, even though most Catholics in this country think such changes are a good idea. Why don’t we talk freely with one another about decision making? Do we feel it’s not our place?

Some conservative Catholics say that change should come from the top down, and it’s our role to submit. But canon law and Catholic teaching also mandate that the laity follow their conscience and speak up. Most of all, Catholics need to be free to talk with one another in an atmosphere free of suspicion, and to speak truth not only to power but to one another.

To further this dialogue, Call to Action Alaska has invited a speaker from Chicago to take part in talks on Oct. 1 and 2 in Fairbanks. Two Alaskans educated in theology and Nicole Sotelo from Chicago will address questions on leadership at Wood Center Ballroom, UAF, Wednesday Oct. 1, 7 p.m. The following evening, Thursday, Oct. 2, Sotelo will speak at the Noel Wien Library, 7 p.m., on Women in the Church. Sotelo is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the author of “Women Healing from Abuse” (Paulist Press).

These talks, open to all, will continue the vigorous traditions of a church that does not read scripture literally but has always insisted on interpretation and has always been open to ongoing revelation.

Marjorie Kowalski Cole is a Fairbanks author and co-chair of Call to Action Alaska, the state chapter of the nationwide, 25,000-member Catholic group that has worked for peace and justice during the past three decades.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Questioning Celibacy: Open Letter to Cardinal Sean O'Malley

Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) and its National Working Group for Priest Support have issued a letter to Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, calling for "a serious ecclesial review of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests".

September 15, 2008

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFMCap
Chair: Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations
2121 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02135-3193

Dear Cardinal O’Malley,

In view of a priest shortage which increasingly compromises the ability of the faith community to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, we respectfully request that you and your brother bishops use your pastoral and apostolic authority to call for a serious ecclesial review of mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests. We do so because we feel compelled to exercise our responsibility as mandated by the Council: To the extent of their knowledge, competence and authority, the laity are entitled and indeed sometimes duty-bound to express their opinion on matters which concern the good of the church.(Lumen Gentium 37)

We appreciate the charism of celibacy as a unique gift to be freely embraced. For those to whom this gift is given, it can become a special quality in their personal relationships with God and with others, manifesting itself in a joy and compassion that enhances their ministry. But for those who have not received this gift, it is experienced as burdensome to their vocation of priestly ministry.

For many young men, the requirement of celibacy is a major obstacle preventing them from responding to a call to the priesthood. We have seen a 60 % drop in vocations in the past forty years, adding considerably to the workload stress of an already overburdened and aging priesthood.

Solutions that have been proffered, such as recruiting non-native priests from poor countries, substituting communion services for Mass, lowering standards for admission to seminaries, parish closures, and priests pastoring multiple parishes, fail to address the long-term systemic issues that are at the root of the problem.

Additionally, we point to what many believe are other consequences of the discipline of mandatory celibacy, such as a clerical environment in which many diocesan priests feel unsupported by their bishops, are distanced from their brother priests, maintain few close personal friendships, and look forward to retirement, only to find it a time of illness and loneliness.

More is being written and openly discussed about priests’ health and well being, with increased reports of stress, depression, heart attacks, and even suicide. We express our growing concern about how difficult it can be to work and live in a clerical culture that on some deep and profound levels seems to be unhealthy and dysfunctional.

We also believe the discipline of mandatory celibacy fosters a culture of clericalism which enables church leadership to put the needs of the institution ahead of the needs of the faithful, including victims of clerical sexual abuse. This clerical culture can also put the needs of the institution ahead of the need for due process and justice for priests accused of such abuse.

We believe many of you share these concerns, but for reasons we cannot fathom have not found a way to address them in a meaningful and pastoral way.

We believe our Holy Father Benedict XVI demonstrated during his visit earlier this year that he will not turn a deaf ear to the voices of his flock. We trust he will heed the voices of his brother bishops as we trust you will heed ours.


Dan Bartley,
Voice of the Faithful

John Ryan,
National Working Group for Priest Support,
Voice of the Faithful

cc: CCLCV Committee Members

Friday, September 19, 2008

Top Polish theologian rejects Vatican demand to retract article

To our CITI friends and readers: I received this depressing notice from Revd. Dr. Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski, friend and editor of Open Theology, an online bilingual and ecumenical theology journal to which I have contributed translations of works by some of the prominent liberation theologians. I realize it departs slightly from our main theme but is indicative of the closed minds in the Vatican that are, as Leonardo Boff pointed out in a recent interview, bent on controlling everything from theology to liturgy to the movements. Please keep Fr. Waclaw in your prayers. -- Rebel Girl

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Catholic News Service
September 17, 2008

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A top Polish theologian known for his work in the field of ecumenism has rejected a demand from the Vatican to retract and rewrite an article criticizing the Vatican's attitude toward Christians of other denominations.

Oblate Father Waclaw Hryniewicz received the demand in a January letter from Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after publishing the article in an online theological journal.

However, he later refused to publish an "approved retraction" and could now face a publishing ban and suspension, according to a church source in Poland.

Contacted by telephone, Father Hryniewicz, who retired in 2005 from the Catholic University of Lublin, told Catholic News Service: "I am close to death and do not see how I can now go against my conscience by writing an article with clarifications and rectifications, even though I've been told to expect disciplinary sanctions. What worries me most of all is that this judgment may now be expanded to cover all my previous work as well, in which I expressed similar views and convictions."

The Polish bishops' conference spokesman, Father Jozef Kloch, told CNS in mid-September that Polish church leaders had not been notified of the demand issued to the 72-year-old Father Hryniewicz, who had surgery for cancer this summer.

However, the editor of Poland's Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny weekly, Marian Father Adam Boniecki, who regularly publishes the academic's work, said he was aware the professor faced a "collision" with the doctrinal congregation.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic University of Lublin, Beata Gorka, said in a Sept. 12 interview with CNS that Father Hryniewicz was well-known for views on ecumenism and universal salvation "which some theologians consider controversial," but added that staff at the Catholic university were responsible for their own opinions.

"If a decision is made to withdraw his ... canonical license, Professor Hryniewicz would not be able to teach in a church department here," the spokeswoman said.

"But while some staffers disagree with his teachings, we're not aware that any petition has been collected against him," she said. "The university doesn't interfere with people's views, provided they're ethical, and doesn't believe anyone should be condemned for their views if they are in line with church doctrine."

Father Hryniewicz, who headed the university's Ecumenical Institute, has published more than 820 books and papers and held teaching posts in six countries, including the United States.

He was a member of the joint international commission for Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, 1979-2005, and a consultant to the Vatican on Christian unity, 1979-1984. He also was a member of the interdenominational committee of European church leaders that drafted a 2001 ecumenical charter.

In September 2007 his Polish-language article, "The Savior uses many tunes," was published in Open Theology, an interfaith Web discussion group. The 1,100-word article was critical of a July 2007 doctrinal congregation document, "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church."

Father Hryniewicz's article said the Vatican document had "disappointed many theologians engaged in ecumenical dialogue" by "stressing what divides, not what unites Christians," and had been a "serious regression" by "seeking to interpret the Second Vatican Council in the spirit of pre-conciliar teaching."

In the Vatican letter, given to the priest Jan. 31 by Father Heinz Wilhelm Steckling, the Rome-based superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Archbishop Amato said the article lacked "scientific and methodological rigor" and was "written in emotional language perceived as showing little respect for the authority of the dicastery."

The French-language letter, shown to CNS, added that the congregation "deplored above all" Father Hryniewicz's "gratuitous judgment that the Roman Curia is going back to the old ecclesiology and ecumenical theology before Vatican II" and "wishing to have a monopoly of the truth."

"The secretary of the congregation demands specifically that you write another article revising your position and evaluation," the letter added.

"The paper may be written in Polish and submitted to competent superiors, who will revise it in advance of publication. It is demanded that you do this within three months," the letter said.

However, in a March 27 reply, the professor said he had been "deeply involved in the process of ecumenical reconciliation" and had attempted "to share the pain and sorrow" of non-Catholics who had been "profoundly hurt" by the Vatican document.

"I wrote my comments in consonance with my own conscience," Father Hryniewicz said.

"You may be sure in the future I will not comment on any documents of the CDF. I have been sufficiently discouraged by the present experience," he said.

The vicar general of the Lublin Archdiocese, Auxiliary Bishop Artur Mizinski, said Sept. 11 he could not comment on the controversy or likely sanctions the professor is facing.

However, the Polish church source said Sept. 12 that Father Hryniewicz had received no reply to his letter. The source added that the Oblates' Poznan-based Polish province has written to the general superior insisting there was "nothing in the life and writings of Father Hryniewicz which deserves such an attitude."

Father Steckling has asked the congregation not to proceed with "disciplinary sanctions" threatened in earlier correspondence, the source told CNS. However, the general superior did not meet and discuss the controversy with Father Hryniewicz during a June visit to Lublin.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Letter to the Pope: Your Silence Isn’t Holy

I found a summary of this recent open letter to Pope Benedict XVI on the blog of Libération, a French left-wing newspaper, and decided to look for the complete original text and translate it. The title is the one that appeared on the blog. The author, Dominique Venturini, is president of Plein Jour, a support organization for women who are involved with priests and that advocates for optional celibacy. Venturini is a former Dominican nun who became involved in a relationship with a priest. She is the author of two books: L’impossible voyage. Pour l'amour d'un prêtre (“The Impossible Journey: For love of a priest”, Cardère Editeur) and Sous le signe du Bélier. Un prêtre a-t-il le droit d'aimer? (“Under the Sign of the Ram: Does a priest have the right to love?”, Cardère Editeur). The first is her life story; the second, the story of her priest-friend, Jean-Marie.

Opinions expressed in this letter are those of Ms. Venturini. I personally disagree with her about the correlation between celibacy and pedophilia but recognize that her view is common among those in the movement to make celibacy optional. -- Rebel Girl

August 20, 2008

To our brother Benedict XVI:

Even though all our previous messages have gone unanswered, we trust in your willingness to reform.

“If you have faith, you can lift mountains of prejudice”

On the occasion of your stay in France, please allow us to tell you about our current unease in the face of an institution that stubbornly denies sexuality and renders women inferior.

If the WYD [World Youth Day] in Sydney was able to give the Church a dynamic image, its hidden face is no less shadowy. You apologized to the victims of pedophile priests, and that’s only fair. It is high time that the scandal of dissimulation by the Church on the subject of priestly celibacy cease. Already in 1962, the document “Crimen sollicitationis” ordered the bishops to keep secret, hidden away, all cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy. The victims were required to remain silent. This cynical reflexion from one bishop: “Only silence can quench your thirst for justice.” Camouflage is not constructive. You can change things.

One is forced to observe that the sexual misconduct is endemic, as the whole world has been contaminated by it. In the United States, in 2004, 4,400 out of 42,000 priests were accused. The best known case was that of Fr. O’Grady who, for 20 years, was able to carry out his sexual abuses against young people, in complete tranquility. The victims ran into a wall of denial from the hierarchy, which was more concerned about preserving its reputation than aiding the children. Welcome the criticism! You can change things.

Keeping secrets ends up protecting the guilty, who are simply moved from one place to another.

In England, G. Wilmer, a former student under the Salesians, testifies about his broken life (Golias, No.120). The Salesians offered him £20,000 to buy his silence. The bishops and religious superiors think they are above civil law which they infringe without blinking. Out of respect for the law, you can change things.

How do you explain that Catholic priests are so inclined to pedophilia? Clerical celibacy imposed uniformly on everyone is most probably the cause. Doesn’t repressed sexuality engender a lack of balance? Hence the search for compensatory and sometimes criminal forms of satisfaction. Why not let candidates for priestly ministry have free choice? Not every man is meant to live alone. Can a depressed “old boy” communicate anything to his flock except his ill-being?

This discipline marginalizes priests. Without having experienced it, can they really understand a professional job with its forms of servitude? Their status and their function shelter them from the risks and hazards of life. They are unaware of the tasks, steps and struggles that common mortals must take on for their survival and to meet the needs of their families. How can they proclaim the Good News without having experienced the depth of human relationships for themselves? In the face of this over-protection, you can change things.

And when, in their forties, affection and sexuality are awakened in the priests, what is your attitude towards the woman? Is she condemned for instigating this surge of love? And here is our man tangled up in a double commitment: the Church or his partner? Either he resolutely eliminates the latter. Or he gives her crumbs of his time and leads a double life. It’s similar to a married man who, for years, promises his mistress that he is going to get a divorce. Faced with this tearing apart, you can change things.

But who talks about the suffering of the woman? So much media attention has been focused on the victims of pedophilia but they have remained silent about what the companions of priests must endure. And with good reason! Because their existence is denied and clandestine. Because of the prohibition, they must renounce life as a couple, and very often motherhood. Suffering also exists for the priest but it is tempered. He keeps his social status, his relationships, the job he loves. Whereas she, totally dependent, has lost everything. And with a strong sense of guilt as well. What a mess! Faced with the suffering of these women, you can change things.

You tolerate exceptions to the mandatory celibacy rule. Eastern rite priests, Anglicans or Protestant pastors who have returned to the Roman Church, can function fully as priests.

What can be said about the inhumane way in which priests who have renounced their ministry in order to get married have been rejected? No support for that one who, suddenly, is deprived of money, of shelter, of work and has to secure his and his companion’s livelihood anyhow. He is forbidden from taking on any religious responsibility. What a shame for the communities who you deprive of these dynamic and generous people! How can you justify exclusion, whether of married priests, remarried divorced people, or homosexuals, when Jesus did not hesitate to share a meal with people deemed to be disrespectable?

We expect of you that you will listen to the people of God, to their frustration, to mentalities that have changed and can no longer bear the intransigence of obsolete rules. We are calling on you to reestablish the dialogue between the hierarchy and the laity, in an atmosphere of trust. To accept that men and women in this day and age are responsible and free to lead their lives according to their conscience, without the interference of an authoritarian religious power. To recognize that Christians who are moved by the spirit of God are as empowered as the clergy to, with their collaboration, testify to the light of the Gospel through their life in the midst of the world.


Dominique Venturini
President of Plein Jour

Sunday, September 14, 2008

75 year old grandfather ordained in Argentina

I just think this story -- and the photo -- are really sweet...Can you imagine a future with multigenerational priestly families? -- RG

By Juan Carlos Vaca (translation by Rebel Girl)
La Nacion
September 13, 2008

CORDOBA.- At age 75, Raúl Arturo Vera was ordained a priest in the city Río Cuarto. But it's not the fact that he is a septuagenarian that's remarkable but rather the fact that he is the father of two sons -- one of whom is currently a priest -- and the grandfather of two.

He has just been sworn to celibacy by the bishop of his diocese, Msgr. Eduardo Martín. "Even though I was married for over 40 years, I made my promise with absolute conviction. Perhaps some would say that if I thought of anything else I would be an old goat. But no, I gave my vow in full conviction of what this precept means for a priest", he told La Nacion.

Before his ordination, Vera was a deacon for many years and in recent months he has been living in a parish that is tended by another priest, Ariel D Andrea.

After today, he has the faculty to hear the confessions of the faithful. He will do this with a life experience that other priests haven't had -- that of having been married and being a father and a grandfather.

"Ah! This is what people tell you; it's not what I'm putting forward or what I think. I know that many faithful have commented that maybe I will be better able to understand the problems they might be having with their children or their marriage. What I want is to be able to work for the people, to be useful to others, to serve my brothers and sisters", he indicated.

Raúl was widowed a year ago when Graciela Gómez, whom he had married in 1965, died. They met at the end of the 60s when they were both catechists in north Córdoba.

He says that the same night his wife died, August 7th of last year, he "stayed a while drinking tea with my sons in the kitchen. We talked a lot about the past, the present and the future. I told them that I was at the last stage of my life and I was thinking that I could provide greater service to the Church and the people by becoming a priest. They supported me in this idea."

He raised this concern with the bishop who also agreed to Raúl's wish. In part, his way was smoothed by having studied to be a deacon in 1990. Now he had to complement those courses at the Rio Cuarto Seminary with classes in moral theology and canon law. Last July he completed them. "I got an 8" he said.

Raúl was born in Dean Funes, a city in northern Cordoba. His father was a bricklayer. He died when Raúl was 14 years old, at the end of the 40s. They were a large family. "We were in a very difficult situation, as they say, on the streets. But my mother was a woman of much faith; she did not sit down and cry over her suffering but gathered herself up and moved forward," he reminisces.

In 1949, Raúl managed to get hired as an employee of the Post Office. His first salary was 200 pesos, with which he essentially became the head of the family. At the same time he cultivated his religious life, linked to Catholic Action.

He taught catechism -- the work through which he met Graciela whom he married after a 5-year courtship. They have two sons, Raúl, who is now a priest, and Daniel, who got married and gave him two grandchildren. Last night, Raúl walked his father up to his priestly consecration.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Married priesthood is a special calling, too

And a challenge from Syracuse (Post-Standard, 9/8/2008)...

To the Editor:

Celibacy at what cost? St. Anthony? St. Mary's, St. Margaret's, St. Lucy's, St. James, St Andrew's - the list goes on.

The diocese announced about 40 parishes will close within three years, the downsizing due to less priests. The church continues to lose more priests, with the average age around 65. Hundreds of parishes have no resident priest.

How many churches would remain open if we restored a married priesthood? Corpus reports state there are over 50,000 married priests in the United States and 100,000 worldwide. We should remember that some of our popes were married priests and some were children of priests.

Celibacy is a special calling, but so is a married priesthood. Within the Catholic Church, bishops have accepted the Episcopalian and Lutheran priests as their own. A number of bishops have heard the call of the faithful and have given our deacons and women more pastoral roles.

Will local parishes remain open, will our bishops, our shepherds, hear the voice of the faithful, or will those voices scatter in the wind?

Sharon Daniels

Catholic priests in massive demand

More glimpses into the priestless future if the Catholic Church stays on its present course...

Virginia's Catholic priests are being stretched thin as the number of priests declines and the number of parishioners increases.

By Rob Johnson
The Roanoke Times
September 8, 2008

For a clergyman so in demand, helping fulfill the spiritual needs of more than 1,000 families in three Catholic churches, the Rev. Nixon Negparanon spends a lot of time alone.

His Sundays sometimes begin on Saturday night, driving 30 miles from his home parish at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church in Southwest Roanoke County to the modest wood frame house in Rocky Mount that serves as the rectory for Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.

On such an evening in late August, the 34-year-old Negparanon cooked his Sunday lunch in solitude -- reheating it nearly 18 hours later during a brief break before his 26-mile commute to Resurrection Catholic Church in Moneta for a baptism.

"I must be prepared ahead to have time to eat. It is the only way," said the native of the Philippines. After the baptism, he led Resurrection's Mass at 4 p.m.

Some Sundays are longer -- if there are ill parishioners to be visited in the Smith Mountain Lake area, for instance. Only then does Negparanon settle back into the church-furnished Toyota Camry and complete the final 37-mile leg of his circuit.

With ministerial tasks stretching across three counties, Negparanon and his brisk Sundays underscore the effects of the Roman Catholic Church's growing shortage of priests in the United States. Parishes must increasingly share pastors, more and more of whom must be imported from overseas on temporary assignment. Soon, some Southwest Virginia parishes may be faced with holding services without a priest.

"I am on loan, you might say," said Negparanon of his scheduled three-year stint in Virginia. Ironically, having grown up in a nation in which Roman Catholic priests from the U.S. and Europe led in spreading their denomination, Negparanon now views himself as a missionary: "You Americans planted the seed of faith in my country. Now it's payback time."

But the deficit of priests is deepening at a time when the number of Catholic congregants is on the increase. Among the 152 Virginia churches in the Diocese of Richmond -- covering most of the state but excluding populous Northern Virginia -- the number of active priests fell by 33 percent between 1975 and 2005, to 158. Meanwhile, in a part of the South where Baptists and other Protestant denominations prevail, the ranks of Catholics in the diocese more than doubled to 223,595. In Western Virginia, Catholic parishes in Blacksburg and Moneta, in particular, are showing vibrant growth.

More troubling than keeping up with growth, there's far less help coming through the priest-training pipeline: The diocese had only 16 men attending seminaries in 2005, fewer than one-third of the seminarians in school 30 years earlier.

Catholic officials say the paucity of pastors has several causes, including the requirement that priests maintain celibacy. But that tradition is centuries old and existed during times when the ranks of Catholic clergy were robust. Other factors cited include decades of growth in the economy that increase secular career options and increasing opportunities for college scholarships and loans that vie for the attention of potential seminary students. Further, highly publicized child sex abuse scandals involving priests, which have prompted apologies from Pope Benedict XVI, have eroded the prestige of the priesthood, church officials acknowledge.

Nearly half of the Richmond diocese's parishes share pastors. Some priests such as Negparanon, and Monsignor Joseph Lehman, the pastor at Our Lady of Nazareth, split their time among as many as four churches. Negparanon and Lehman, responsible for three parishes, take turns in making the weekly commutes to Rocky Mount and Moneta.

"They look tired. You can see the drain on their faces," said Lori Ghiringhelli, a senior member of the laity at Francis of Assisi -- a 260-family parish founded in 1983 that has never had a priest all its own. Yet she said the visiting clerics never let their fatigue show during Mass: "They give everything they have."

But some parishes may soon have to give up some visits from of the priests and the worship services that they lead. Diocese officials have ordered local planning committees to formulate a new plan -- scheduled to be unveiled in October -- that will likely adjust the current priest-sharing arrangements in Virginia.

The plan could result in the elimination of some weekday Masses and cutting back on Sunday services at a few churches that have more than one Mass on Sunday, according to the Rev. Remi Sojka, chairman of the planning committee for 13 Roanoke-area parishes. Sojka is also the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Salem.

Another possible result of the new plan, said Sojka, is that more services might be held without the presence of a priest. In such cases, the worship, which by canon law can't include all the rites of a full Mass, would usually be led by the likes of an ordained deacon, or someone such as Chris Barrett, a seminary-trained employee of the diocese who is currently Resurrection Catholic Church's pastoral coordinator. His position allows him to perform many of the services that usually fall to a priest, such as presiding over a funeral.

"I can do just about everything except celebrate Mass," he said, partly because he isn't authorized to consecrate the communal bread and wine. Also, Barrett said, "I can't preach."

But Sojka said some congregants tend to rely too heavily on priests to lead the liturgy and sermonize. For example, he said, trained laymen are authorized to offer a message, called a "theological reflection," during a worship service.

"They can be just as good as a sermon by a priest," he said.

Still, the lack of a priest in Catholic worship detracts from the traditional atmosphere that is symbolic of the denomination's very core and critical to its identity.

"Only a priest can give the long, beautiful Eucharistic prayer. Without the priest, something special is lost," said Gerald McDermott, professor of religion at Roanoke College, who was raised Catholic but is now an Episcopalian.

Barrett, who once planned on joining the priesthood, completed six years of Catholic seminary study but changed his mind. "I met the woman who would become my wife, so that was that," he said.

He said that although his nonordained position permits him to fulfill many theological requirements, he can't replace the intangible value of a priest: "There's a unique intensity about a priest-led Mass."

The presence of Negparanon at the Sunday afternoon baptism of Alexander Kazmer in Resurrection Catholic's sanctuary has an iconic quality. Friends and family gather about the priest, who wears a white vestment as prescribed for the ceremony. The priest and the child have both come far for this moment. Alexander, born in Russia, is the adopted son of Paul and Janet Kazmer, who regularly attend Resurrection Catholic. Thus Moneta's newest Catholic, from across the Atlantic Ocean, is welcomed to the faith by a missionary from the other side of the Pacific. Said Negparanon after the baptism: "This is why I came here."