Philippa Martyr: Meeting on clergy a golden opportunity

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Pope Francis greets Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, during Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in January 2020. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

Don’t forget the priesthood is a great, beautiful mystery

I was putting rat baits in our ceiling on the morning that I heard about the proposed February 2022 Vatican symposium on the priesthood.

As soon as I started reading the media reports, I heard the same old Church rats start gnawing away at their same old pet causes: celibacy and women.

It’s tired clickbait from people who believe that their own diocese’s spiritual poverty signals a Church-wide crisis that can only be solved by ordaining everyone in sight, immediately.

And yet what a wonderful opportunity this theological symposium in Rome could be. It’s so clear that many priests don’t understand – or have forgotten – who they really are. Many lay people have also never learned what a priest really is. (I’d love to tell you what a priest really is, but it would take the rest of my life, and I don’t think the editor could stand it.)

If your diocese has an empty seminary, you already know who’s responsible. That would be us.

This theological symposium is a chance to get back to basics – Priesthood 101. We desperately need to rediscover and refresh our understanding of the Catholic priesthood. It’s a moment to shine the spotlight on both the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all believers. Plenty of Catholics don’t know the difference between the two.

Some resent it and focus on the evils of clericalism and the need to increase lay collaboration. I am not sure what Church these people belong to.

I dare say there are places in the world where diocesan priests aren’t already collaborating willingly with lay people, and usually being completely bossed around by them. I just can’t think of any right now.

If we can remember that Catholic priests literally hold the Church together worldwide with the sacraments, then a lot of other things fall into place. They’ve made a lifelong commitment to serve us and be our fathers.

Fr Moises Carrasco is hugged by sister after vesting as a priest following his ordination to the priesthood in St Mary’s Cathedral in 2019. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The so-called vocations shortage is nothing of the kind. There are plenty of seminaries with good enrolment numbers across the world, in both the West and in developing countries.
The dioceses who strongly encourage Adoration for vocations, who are not ashamed of a male-only presence on the altar every Sunday, and who have sound formation programs, have no shortages.

If your diocese has an empty seminary, you already know who’s responsible. That would be us. We didn’t kick up enough fuss when the sanctuaries were invaded by well-meaning ladies.

We didn’t get hold of the local bishop after his Sunday Mass and speak sternly to him about bad priestly examples. We didn’t do Adoration for priests. We raised our (smaller) families with an unspoken belief that priests came from somewhere else – overseas, or other people’s families. Not our sons.

We swallowed the line that the priesthood was about leadership, administration, and niceness –which women can do equally well. We forgot the awkward stuff about sacrificial offerings, sanctity, and conversion of heart.

The priesthood is a mystery, and a great and beautiful one. So let’s take this wonderful opportunity to dive deep into it, rather than being distracted by the Church rats.

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