Cardinal Raymond Burke has recently laid some of the blame for the precipitous decline in priestly vocations upon the feminization of the liturgy. His assertion prompts two questions. What would qualify as “feminization”? Have we in fact done that to the liturgy? The question that the assertion should not prompt is, “Would a feminized liturgy actually cause young men to turn away from the idea of the priesthood, in indifference, perplexity, or bemused contempt?” For example, would a sight of two priests twirling a-tippytoe like big-bellied ballerinas at an Easter Vigil service, along with a troop of girls waving scarves and sashes, for six minutes and more, to Aaron Copland’s arrangement of The Lord of the Dance, have any natural appeal whatsoever to the overwhelming majority of boys and young men who know to what sex they belong?
Rather, that sight would pretty much guarantee that those fellows would be stifling laughter, or staring at their knees while waiting for it all to stop, or glancing toward the doors. And just imagine if one of the boys had made the dreadful mistake of inviting a non-Catholic friend to the service, or someone wondering why anybody should take religious faith seriously.
I sometimes wonder whether we Catholics actually want vocations to the priesthood. It’s reasonable to judge people’s intentions by their habitual actions. If I do something experimental in one of my college classes, and a host of good students flee the course, I might, if I were stubborn, try it again in modified form. But if it still happens that the good students flee, and I persist in what is an experiment no longer, a reasonable observer may conclude that I don’t care if they leave. It won’t matter if I express my supposed intentions all the time, crying out, “This course needs far more students in it, and far more of the best!” Why, I might pray for those students to enroll and to stay enrolled, just as reasonably as I might pray that I could keep banging my head against the wall and not have headaches. In fact, if my actions not only continue to fail me, but begin to hurt many others also, and I still persist, that reasonable observer may attribute to me more than incompetence or indifference. He may conclude that I really want the bad result; I am glad of it.
Our summer diocese, serving more than one hundred thousand Catholics, has no seminarians. I mean that literally: not one. They have ordained two men in the last ten years, one of whom has left the priesthood to get married. Churches are closing everywhere. The stalwart priest who is our pastor has had to say Mass for five churches scattered over twenty miles. The farther-flung diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, serving not quite one hundred thousand Catholics, has forty eight seminarians, at least two priests in every parish, no churches being shut down, and plenty of schools. The obvious question is, “Why doesn’t everyone try at least a few of the things they do in Lincoln?” Or, more properly put, “Why doesn’t everyone stop doing nine or ten of the things they never have done in Lincoln?”
Professional envy explains some of the resistance. Stubbornness explains some more. Timidity and worldly political commitments might also play a part. But I have begun to wonder whether some of our leaders are animated by a death-wish for a Church in which they no longer really believe. Here, then, from what I have observed in the failing diocese—and we are in an excellent position to observe—are the things you should do if you want to kill vocations to the priesthood. I will enumerate them in several categories:
Dilute the faith. Fighters want something to fight for. Make sure there is nothing to fight for. Do not preach the full doctrine of the Church. Never speak about the terrible sins of our age. Be more sensitive about offending a couple of the people who still show up for Mass, than about offending God. Cut the sixth commandment out of the ten. While you are at it, cut out the second, the third, and the ninth too.
Equate Christian “charity” with rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, God’s, your own, your children’s, and your community’s. Assume that everybody who is not named Hitler is going to heaven, because some middling bit of natural pleasantness is enough to please the Almighty. “Be nice,” said Jesus, “even as your Uncle Ronnie was nice,” your divorced Uncle Ronnie who lived with his girl friend, but was good to dogs and small children that were not his to take care of. Lower the bar so that even a moral cripple could fall over it, and at the same time make it seem as if the cripple’s feat of acrobatics, rather than the grace of God, will earn him a place in heaven. Never suggest that the faith is a matter of eternal life or death.
Turn the Sacrament into snack time. Get rid of any remaining altar rails. Make sure that everybody takes the Sacrament into his hands, like a fortune cookie. Tell the people to stand afterwards. Go as far as you can to prevent people from kneeling during Mass. Make it as difficult as possible for people to receive the sacrament of confession. Treat it as insignificant. If somebody does want the sacrament, roll your eyes and make sure that the penitent knows how much it annoys you. Don’t take the penitent’s sin seriously. In fact, give the penitent the impression that he can go on and commit the same sin with impunity. In this way you will make it likelier that a moose will amble down Main Street than that a sin-burdened soul will seek you out, or that a healthy line of them will be making their way to the confessional. And, while you are at it, make sure there are no confessionals. Turn them into closets for brooms, mops, and bleach.
Strip the altars. Are there paintings in your church? Cover them with whitewash, or take them down. Is there an old high altar in the back of the sanctuary? Chop it up and use it for fuel. Better still, tear down two or three old churches and build a new one in the shape of a gymnasium. If you place the stations of the Cross on the side walls, make them so small and ambiguous that no one can tell what they are from more than ten feet away. Put the priest’s chair in the center, at the back wall. Get rid of any trace of genuine folk art, or of the great artistic heritage of the Church. Sing twaddle instead. Wet sloppy twaddle.
Shut down your schools. Give them away to the government to manage, as they have done in Canada. Hire secularists to teach there, or, better, Catholics who hate the Church. If you have an all-male high school, turn it into a co-ed school. If you have a boys’ basketball program, and you don’t have the money for a girls’ basketball program, shut it down. Put RCIA into the hands of laymen of dubious learning and piety. Do the same for religion classes in school. Try to make sure that your classes in history or English will be just like those taught anywhere else. Make Catholic education into public education with holy water—as a stalwart in the battle to restore Catholicity to Catholic schools has put it to me most trenchantly.
Be effeminate. Get rid of every single hymn that has anything to do with Christian soldiership. Castrate the rest of the hymns. Or, better, favor hymns that make Jesus into a kind of safe sweet Boyfriend, with whom you can make out on the couch now and in heaven later. Let the music be led by women, especially women who like to be seen and heard performing it. Put the hand-raising cantor up front, to upstage the priest and Christ. Let girls do silly dance routines up and down the aisles. If you can, have five or six girls do that, in the company of one boy whose mother has obviously compelled his attendance, and who stands there gritting his teeth and fuming. Favor any musical instrument except the organ. Let the piano player tickle the keys like a hired performer at a bar, so that the communicants can, as they return to their pews, slip a fiver into the hat, right next to the long-stemmed champagne glass. Use as many altar girls as possible. Discourage the boys from joining. Give them nothing important to do. Use as many women lectors as possible. In fact, once Mass has become too bland for girls themselves, use the old ladies as acolytes, busying about the altar as if they were laying out the tablecloth and silverware for a party.
Never suggest that the Church needs men for anything. Make “man” into an obscenity. Never suggest that fathers and mothers play complementary roles in the family. Never suggest that Jesus had something important in mind when He chose twelve men as his brothers. Suggest instead that to be a genuine Christian, a man has to stop being a man. Buy the silly feminist notion that Christian women have been “oppressed” for nearly two thousand years.
Then pray for vocations, after you have done your level best to make sure that you will never have any.
Editor’s note: In the photo above, then Bishop George Niederauer, who later became Archbishop of San Francisco, celebrates Mass at Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City, along with girls who perform liturgical dances on the altar.