Thursday, February 24, 2011

So, the number of priests has risen…

Exactly what I was thinking when I read the news reports on the supposed increase in the number of priests but didn't have the time to do the research to refute the official conclusions. Thank you, Fr. Kelly!

by Fr. Michael Kelly, SJ
UCA News

Great attention has been paid over the last week to the Vatican’s announcement that the gross number of priests in the world has risen in the last decade. On our own site, the story rated the highest number of visitors on the day of the announcement and across the world, the story gained extensive exposure.

Without being as cynical about the announcement as the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli might suggest that we be (”There are lies, damn lies and statistics”), the figures merit more considered assessment if they are to reveal what the real condition of the Church’s clergy is.

The abiding question about any claim that a number is growing is “growing relative to what?” If anyone who has a business were told their profit had grown or the owner of a piece of property were told it had increased in value, the real question for both is: in relation to what?

Has the value of the property increased ahead of or behind the rate of return on shares or money? Has the profit on the business provided its owner with an appropriate rate of return on the investment that created the business in the first place?

Simply saying that the price of property has risen or profits in a business have increased without these qualifiers is not really very helpful.

So, the number of priests has risen in the last decade. But relative to what? The number of Catholics has risen in the same time by 128 million according to the Vatican’s own figures. Even if the number of priests has risen by 50,000 (as the growth reported for the previous year suggests) in the last decade, that still represents half the rate of growth of the Catholic population the priests are ordained to serve.

Relative to the number of priests needed to serve the growing Catholic population, the number of priests has actually declined. The Church was better off, in relative terms, a decade ago.

But the questions about gross numbers need to be even more searching. Where are the large populations of Catholics and how are they faring in ordinations? What is the median or even average ages of the clergy and how do they compare with a decade ago?

Are the Vatican statistics including those priests who have left active ministry but are not laicized? Many leaving priesthood today don’t bother with applying for laicization because it takes so long and the Vatican is very reluctant to grant it. So priests leave, take other jobs, may get married but still appear in the books, misleadingly, as priests.

With a few exceptions - India, Thailand and Korea in Asia and Nigeria and the Congo in Africa - the number of priests per Catholic is going south.

The spread of the clergy worldwide is very uneven. In an aside to an Australian bishop on his Ad Limina visit to Rome, Pope John Paul II lamented that Italy alone had 35,000 priests and asked what impact they made when other countries with large populations of Catholics had so few. Italy has about nine percent of the world’s clergy for just on three percent of the world’s baptized Catholics. The Philippines has just on 2.2 percent of the world’s priests for 4.5 percent of baptized Catholics worldwide.

The Western world, as is widely known, is witnessing not just the decline in gross numbers of priests but their rapid aging as well. In Australia, the average age of priests is nearly 70 where it may be little more than half that in some developing countries.

In other words, unless figures are set in their real and relative contexts, they aren’t very helpful.

But these statistics prompt even more basic questions. What are we talking about when we use the word priest? What is at the core of a priest’s ministry? Compare that to what priests actually do. What are the things priests do that in many places around the world that are done by unacclaimed and unordained lay people? What are the terms of access to priestly ministry and why are they restricted to celibate males?

Aren’t there plenty of ministries in the Church - teaching, financial and staff administration, service of the sick and poor, introductions to the Christian faith as catechists, etc - that should have a way of being recognized, celebrated and commissioned as part of the service of the Church to the faith community and beyond?

More than 20 years ago, a priest now in his late 80s asked me a question: “Michael, do you know what the two issues were that Paul VI reserved to himself and would not allow their discussion on the floor of Vatican II?”

I replied that I didn’t know, that I was nine years of age when the Council began and 12 when it closed.

“Contraception and clerical celibacy,” he replied. “And what are the two things that bedeviled the Church since? Female anatomy and the nature of ministry.”

Celibacy was slated for consideration at the 1971 Synod of Bishops but got bumped off the agenda in favour of social justice and produced the groundbreaking document Justice in the World. It has been the fountainhead of extensive action and reflection in the Church ever since.

But maybe it’s time to put ministry back on the agenda.

Father Michael Kelly SJ is executive director of UCA News. He has worked in radio and TV production since 1982 and as a journalist in Australia and Asia for various publications, religious and secular.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

German man married to nun ordained as priest with pope's approval

What's even more curious about this article than the Pastoral Provision finally striking in Germany is that this man's wife, also a former Lutheran, first became a Carmelite nun while still being married to him. So we have a double challenge to the celibacy/chastity requirements...

By Kirsten Grieshaber
Canadian Press

BERLIN — In a rare move that needed the pope's approval, a Lutheran convert was ordained Tuesday as a Catholic priest in Germany and is being allowed to remain married to his wife — who has already become a nun.

Harm Klueting, 61, was ordained by Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner in a private ceremony at the city's seminary, the Cologne archdiocese said.

Pope Benedict XVI gave Klueting a special permission to remain married to his wife Edeltraud Klueting, who became a Catholic Carmelite nun in 2004.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's chief spokesman, said the exception is rare but there have been similar cases.

"It doesn't happen every day," he said.

Klueting and his wife were Lutherans when they married in 1977 and both served as Lutheran clerics before converting to Catholicism several years ago. They have two grown children.

The Cologne archdiocese said in a statement that the couple would not have to take the traditional vow of celibacy as long as they remain married — a highly unusual move since celibacy is normally a key requirement for Catholic priests.

Klueting and his family could not be reached for comment, and it was not clear whether they still lived together as a couple.

Lombardi said he didn't have any specific information about the Kluetings, including what the pope said about the case.

Klueting is a professor for historical theology at the University of Cologne and teaches Catholic theology at Fribourg University in Switzerland. From now on, he also will provide services as a spiritual counsellor for university students.

The archdiocese published pictures of the ordination ceremony showing Klueting with short grey hair and a beard, wearing a simple white priest vestment as he received his blessings from Meisner, who was wearing a festive yellow embroidered robe and a golden cardinal's hat.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII first allowed clergymen who had converted to Catholicism to remain married, the Cologne diocese said in its statement. However, each case has to be approved by the pope himself, the statement said, adding that in the past married priests also had been ordained in the German cities of Hamburg and Regensburg.

Last month, three former Anglican bishops were ordained as Catholic priests in London, becoming the first ex-bishops to take advantage of a new Vatican system designed to make it easier for Anglicans to embrace Roman Catholicism.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Seven out of ten Flemish priests oppose celibacy, support women priests

La Croix

Brussels (AFP) - Seven out of ten Flemish priests are against celibacy for priests, are for the access of women to the priesthood and don't consider themselves in line with the Belgian primate André-Joseph Léonard, according to a poll taken by De Standaard newspaper among priests in the north of the country.

According to this survey taken between the end of December and the middle of January among all the priests in Flanders (the north of Belgium) and which approximately one third of them answered, 73.3% think it would be better to end the celibacy requirement for priests.

Around 15.6% have the opposite opinion, and 11.1% didn't respond.

Moreover, 68.7% believe women should no longer be excluded from the priesthood, 14% oppose this and 17.3% didn't respond.

In addition, 69.1% don't think they are in line with the head of the Belgian church, Mgr André-Joseph Léonard, who has been in office since January 2010 and is thought to be very conservative. Moreover, 77.8% think the Belgian clergy is in a state of crisis.

The poll was conducted by the newspaper among 724 Flemish priests between December 24, 2010 and January 10, 2011, by letter or e-mail. Two hundred and forty eight agreed to participate in the poll.

The Belgian church, after those in the United States, Ireland and Germany, has been shaken for over six months by pedophilia scandals.

In April 2010, the Bishop of Bruges acknowledged having abused his nephew over a dozen years and resigned. Some 475 people have stated that they were abused by priests in their youth.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Valentine's Gift for a Married Priest in Argentina

by Maria Martinez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Voz

Rio Tercero: This year's Valentine's Day will be a memorable one for the Vitalis. Adrian (43), who left the priesthood 14 years ago to marry Alejandra (41), showed her the dispensation letter he had received several days earlier from the Vatican that day.

They have been waiting almost ten years for this paper which will now allow them to get married in the Church. They will be able to do it now, accompanied by their two sons, Bruno (13) and Renzo (10).

The Pope doesn't sign dispensations frequently. In this case, it strips the former priest of the obligation of celibacy and reduces him to lay status. For the Church, the lay person is a Christian who performs his religious mission outside of the priestly area.

Dispensation is the formal process through which a priest regularizes his situation in the Church after his separation.

Vitali, like many others who have resigned from the priesthood, really remains a priest, since ordination is considered a "character sacrament" which, like baptism and confirmation, is never lost.

However, he is suspended from priestly ministry.

The Vitalis admit that the dispensation came late. "It's extemporaneous", says Adrian, and although he acknowledges that he had thought about rejecting it, he says he changed his mind after listening to his wife.

"It didn't add or take away anything from me. But for her, it's a way of vindicating our love as a couple," he remarks.

The love story. Alejandra says the love story surprised them while he was a priest in the Villa El Libertador neighborhood in Cordoba, and she was an active youth collaborator in the Church in tasks he performed in villas and jails.

"In that same church that at that moment judged me, criticized me, looked at me badly, I want to claim that we still love each other and that we are a family. I want to receive the sacrament of marriage, and moreover I don't feel represented by all the men who lead the Catholic Church, who, as men, are fallible, who make mistakes," she notes.

Alejandra states that she knows of former priests who were compelled to "marry in silence and in small chapels".

In the papal dispensation they showed, which seems a bit impersonal, they are asked, for example, to celebrate the wedding "cautiously and without pomp."

Adrian wonders "what the pomp would be." And his wife notes: "I don't know whether it will be with pomp or on a shoestring. I want everybody to see me happy and to no longer feel expelled from that church."

Why talk about it? Adrian admits the reason he is making this situation public: "I'm trying to inform the people of God that these things happen, things that nobody explains and generally nobody knows about. We aren't seeking anything else. I think it's news because there hasn't been room to tell it, nobody was aware, the Church doesn't inform the faithful."

While she's hurrying to prepare the mate, Alejandra adds: "Marriage is frustrating for the priest who leaves the priesthood. It's like a dark story, all boxed up. That's why I imagine a fiesta now with lots of people and with the happiness we couldn't experience before."

In the dispensation, other impositions on Adrian are that, on being suspended from the priesthood, "he won't be able to be a lector in the Church, or distribute the Eucharist, or lead or give theological classes in Catholic institutes."

Opening the debate. A chapter is closed for this couple with the arrival of the paper from the Vatican. But Alejandra implores that a more open debate be held so that the Church will discuss issues related to celibacy, in addition to its role in social policy.

Adrian states that the Federación Latinoamericana de Sacerdotes Católicos Casados [Latin American Federation of Catholic Married Priests] has 150,000 members in this situation. “Most of them don't ask for dispensation," he adds.

As an example, he cites the married priests' group in Cordoba, of which he is a member, in which only three of the almost 60 members have solicited it. "And I got it," he adds.

"I asked for it five years after leaving the priesthood. They make you feel like you're in exile. For all of us, there's a distancing from the Church. Most don't ask for it, because there's not a pastoral policy of accompanying those who leave the priestly role, either emotionally or in work-related matters."

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Open Letter to the US Catholic Bishops

An Open Letter to the U.S. Catholic
Bishops on the Forthcoming Missal
ANTHONY RUFF | FEBRUARY 14, 2011 [America Magazine]
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,

With a heavy heart, I have recently made a difficult decision concerning the new English missal. I have decided to withdraw from all my upcoming speaking engagements on the Roman Missal in dioceses across the United States. After talking with my confessor and much prayer, I have concluded that I cannot promote the new missal translation with integrity. I’m sure bishops want a speaker who can put the new missal in a positive light, and that would require me to say things I do not believe.

I love the Church, I love the sacred liturgy, I love chant in Latin and English, and I treasure being involved with all these as a monk and priest. It has been an honor to serve until recently as chairman of the music committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) that prepared all the chants for the new missal. But my involvement in that process, as well as my observation of the Holy See’s handling of scandal, has gradually opened my eyes to the deep problems in the structures of authority of our church.

The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity…I weep.

I see a good deal of disillusionment with the Catholic Church among my friends and acquaintances. Some leave the Catholic Church out of conviction, some gradually drift away, some join other denominations, some remain Catholic with difficulty. My response is to stay in this church for life and do my best to serve her. This I hope to do by stating the truth as I see it, with charity and respect. I would be ready to participate in future liturgical projects under more favorable conditions.

I am sorry for the difficulties I am causing others by withdrawing, but I know this is the right thing to do. I will be praying for you and all leaders in our church.

Pax in Christo,

Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B.

Anthony Ruff, O.S.B., is a Benedictine monk of Saint John’s Abbey and a professor of liturgy and Gregorian chant. He was on the committee which drafted the 2007 document “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship” for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is founder of the National Catholic Youth Choir and blogs at Pray Tell. His letter above to the U.S. bishops is printed in its entirety.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Catholic theologians call for an end to compulsory celibacy


Over one hundred Catholic theologians have called for radical reform of the Catholic Church, like the end to compulsory celibacy, in a bid to mend the damage caused by recent sex scandals.

Around a third of all Catholic theology professors at universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, on Friday called for reforms to the Catholic Church, according to a report in the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

"It looks like we struck a nerve," said Judith Könemann a professor from Münster and one of 144 signatories of the declaration.

The professors said that they no longer wanted to stay quiet in the face of child sex abuse scandals that came to light last year and plunged the Catholic Church into an unprecedented crisis.

The theologians want to start an open dialogue about the future of the Catholic Church.

"We have the responsibility, to contribute to a new start," the undersigned text said

They called for an end to compulsory celibacy, and for women to be allowed into the priesthood. The theologians also called for the Catholic laity to have more say in the selection of bishops.

There hasn't been a comparable revolt by theologians since 1989 when more than 220 academics signed the "Cologne Declaration", which protested against the authoritarian leadership style of the late Pope, John Paul II.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

The full text of the memorandum and signatories is available online.