U.S.C.C. Watch: Clergy Crisis

Conventional liberal wisdom holds that the Catholic Church is suffering a vocation crisis because of its rigid restriction of the priesthood to celibate males. Hence it is supposedly necessary that priests be allowed to marry, that women be ordained to the priesthood, and that “resigned” priests be fully reinstated.

Women deacons, too, must be ordained to “regularize” the parish ministries that they already perform, and to pave the way for women’s ordination to the presbyterate. The Canon Law Society of America issued a statement in October advocating women deacons.

The scandal and harm caused by pedophile priests is directly attributed to priests being male and to the unhealthy sexual repression that results from mandatory celibacy. The NCCB released a pastoral on pedophile priests prepared by the Committees on Family and Women, also in October.

The Church’s ability to attract vocations, claim the liberal doomsayers, is crippled by a Climate of Fear engendered by an oppressive patriarchal hierarchy and by resistance to healthy change.

At least one bishop has ventured into these heavy headwinds to challenge such claims. Omaha’s Archbishop Elden Curtiss, undaunted by liberal blasts for his role in the dismissal last April of a woman theologian from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, recently wrote in his archdiocesan newspaper that the vocation crisis is “artificial and contrived”; that it is “precipitated and continued by people who want to change the Church’s agenda…. And the same people who precipitate a decline in vocations by their negative actions call for the ordination of married men and women to replace the vocations they have discouraged. They have a death wish for the ordained priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines them.”

He noted that dioceses which “promote orthodoxy and loyalty” do not have a vocation crisis, while others languish for vocations.

Young people do not want to commit themselves to dioceses or communities that permit or simply ignore dissent from Church doctrine. They do not want to be associated with people who are angry at the Church’s leadership or reject magisterial teaching. They do not want to be battered by agendas that are not the Church’s and radical movements that disparage their desire to be priests, religious or loyal lay leaders in the Church.

Archbishop Curtiss criticized vocation directors who make a “determined effort to discourage orthodox candidates.” His words caused a squall in some vocation directors’ offices. Ironically, their comments effectively substantiated what the archbishop said. Boston’s Fr. Robert Flagg does not accept “rigid” young men or those who are nostalgic for “the church of the 40s or 50s.” Chicago’s Fr. John Klein thinks men who “try to hold onto something” are unsuitable for a Church whose unpredictable future he compares to a carnival ride.

In Missouri, strong winds blow from opposite directions. St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali, in a homily given at a Mass for new monsignors, said, “Every vocation to the priesthood is a personal calling from Christ. It represents a choice that he makes, a gift that he gives,” and he noted the pope’s great satisfaction in offering the Eucharist “like every priest in the world, every day with and for the people of God, and in the Eucharist to find the source of his pastoral strength.”

But on the western edge of the state, at the Midwest Regional Convention of the Catholic Press Association in Kansas City (cosponsored by the National Catholic Reporter), NCR editor Tom Fox reports “how Catholics are caught in a bind between their love of the papacy and of the Eucharist and how Vatican intransigence on priestly celibacy [is] forcing the church away from Eucharistic-centered communities.”

At this meeting, attended by press sent by their dioceses, Fr. Norman Rotert, vicar general of Kansas City-St. Joseph, predicted, “Women are the ones who identify and nurture vocations, and they are not doing it anymore, and all the preaching in the world is not going to change their minds.” He sees “no possibility of salvaging the priesthood as we know it today…. We must celebrate the Eucharist or we will die…. If the Church decided to allow women and married people to receive the Sacrament of Ordination, I think it would eventually restore the Church’s ability to effectively teach sexual morality.”

It is not hard to see why men are not studying for that diocese.

With all the turbulence in the Church’s internal climate it is no wonder so many Catholics are confused. Only those strongly grounded in the Church’s truth can withstand the heavy weather and guide others through it.


  • Helen Hull Hitchcock

    Helen Hull Hitchcock is founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She is also editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, a monthly publication of Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, of which she is a co-founder. She is married to James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University. The Hitchcocks have four daughters and six grandchildren, and live in St. Louis.

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