On Clerical Culture

Fr AAbout that abuse report in Australia, commentators and experts take aim at clerical culture.

Father Thomas Doyle:

If you want to recommend one thing, it is that there has to be a primary concern on the care of the present victims, the ones who are there, those whose souls have either been damaged beyond repair or who are seriously suffering.

Listening – letting them cry, be angry, yell, scream, whatever … and trying to help the people understand, you know: ‘You aren’t guilty of anything,'” is “more important than all the protocols, all the structures, all the policies, all the paperwork, all the talk, talk, talk that has been going on.”

Not only victims. But family members, allies, and parishioners who feel betrayed by priest or bishop. We need to make a ministry of listening. And more, telling people it is okay to vent. And we will patiently listen. It is about showing mercy, not just talk, talk, talking about it. It’s the artist’s principle. It has to be about showing, not telling.

More from Fr Doyle:

Father Doyle called clericalism “a virus that has infected the church,” leading to a culture of cover-up because people believe that churchmen “are in some form or way sacred and above ordinary people, and because of this sacredness, because of their importance, they must be held as more important and protected more.”

If I were starting to look at this, I would ponder some serious shifts:

  • Candidates younger than age thirty to thirty-five would be judged as exceptions to the rule. I think there are prodigies in ministry. I don’t think it’s a reasonable assumption for the majority.
  • Close all men-only seminaries and integrate students and faculty into a graduate school for theology. Maybe that means integrating lay people into an existing seminary in a diocese. If for no other reason, clergy, deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers could be all reading from the same theological page. The men-only environment fits in a monastery. Period.
  • Before a candidate is considered for priesthood candidacy, there should be a serious component of ministry already in evidence in their lives. A prerequisite for graduate school would be a written reflection on that ministry experience. Something like a Masters’ thesis in length and showing the ability to integrate what a person does with who a person is.
  • During studies, a continuing component of ministry in a parish is needed. Ten hours a week during academic periods, and full time during summers and a pastoral year. The thing is to make connections with people as a primary ministry of the priest. Continuing self-reflection during all this time, and professional interaction with lay people and clergy colleagues: essential.
  • Instead of a transitional diaconate (or perhaps along with it) a thirty day retreat. Annual eight-day retreats while in formation. Needless to say, 6 to 8 day retreats every year thereafter.

I don’t expect these changes to really take root. Bishops don’t listen to me. But if they did, I think we would get better priests, better prepared for service, and maybe only one generation of embitterment as the fallout from the abuse and cover-up crisis. As it is, I predict a lingering discontentment and faltering steps to restoring a moral and spiritual credibility to the institutional Church.

Posted in bishops, Commentary, Ministry | 4 Comments

Church Musician Self-Citation

We had a small choir for today’s funeral at the parish. I was thinking about the five musicians who assembled to assist with the music. Four were recruits from our parish’s music ministry.

My second predecessor is now legally blind and navigates the physical world with a cane and drivers, and finds her way in music through memory. She was asked to sing the Ave Maria. She has the diploma, the Church resumé, plus touring and recording experience

The psalmist is of the generation previous to mine and has served the Church here and in her country of origin since childhood.

The woman who cantored the Gospel Acclamation often worships at more than one weekend Mass, and is one of the people who provides the impulse behind the parish’s Divine Mercy devotions.

The fourth singer sings faithfully in both the Spanish choir and with the 8AM Mass, bookending the Lord’s Day worship at our parish.

One was a family friend, a musician who serves at another church in our area. She sang and played “Amazing Grace” at the family’s request.

I didn’t need to know the denomination or academic pedigree of our guest. I could tell by the woman’s demeanor and how she presented herself during worship that she was an experience church musician, and sensitive to the demands of ministry.

An exercise in contrast was reading through commentary on this thread at CMAA.

I call the members of our choir “church musicians”, but I’m not sure I would describe all choir members of all church choirs as such.

I think its laudable and natural to think well of one’s colleagues. I don’t think the spiritual life of Christianity is a kind of zero-sum game in which one’s own virtues elevate one’s homies above the rest of the masses.

I think it is helpful to have a vocabulary to distinguish between the amateur enthusiast and the professional.

Perhaps. But I think the earning of a living is something separate from providing music in a worship setting. A lot of people in music make money at it. Many fine musicians labor and serve for not a single cent.

(Church musicians) are undeniably PRAYING at the same time.

I think spiritual people pray. I’ve encountered the occasional church musician who has been overcome with nervousness or some similar malady during worship. Was it as important that they already prayed in preparation, or that others were praying during liturgy? I appreciate the emphasis on the spiritual here, but my corollary might read:

People served by church musicians are undeniably praying.

When I encounter people in the secular world and I am asked about my profession, I tell them I’m a church musician. That tells the story accurately enough.

Posted in Liturgical Music, Ministry | Leave a comment

Papal Self-Citation

Frequent commenter FrMichael mentioned Pope Francis in a comment, referring to …

… the endless self-citation he is apt to do …

Apparently all recent popes do it. I checked the footnotes in three early papal documents, all apostolic exhortations: Familiaris Consortio, Sacramentum Caritatis, and Amoris Laetitia.

Here’s how the last three popes come out citing their own works in proportion to the total number of footnotes and references. It seems Pope Francis is the mean, not the extreme:

  • John Paul II: 29 self-citation and 182 total footnotes. 16% proportion.
  • Benedict XVI: 22 self-citations and 256 total footnotes. 9% proportion.
  • Francis: 48 self-citations and 391 total footnotes. 12% proportion.

To be clear, I didn’t scan for ibidem references in any of these documents, so all of these are low estimates.

I’m aware that FrMichael is not the sum of critics of the Holy Father. But let’s remember that every public critic is part of the overall narrative. The most common criticism I’ve read is that the Holy Father has a ghostwriter. That can be presented as bad news. God has never seemed to think so. Jesus had four, and those are only the authorized ones.

In this age of rampant and easy criticism (and I confess my own part in that) as we engage it, we can consider the questions: is it true, is it kind, is it necessary? I’d think any third party would want to apply this as she or he reads the commentary of another. Especially now in the era of President Trump, and that goes for both sides.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Politics | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 311: The Highest Gospel Values

amoris laetitia memeIs the Church’s integrity on moral teaching harmed when other aspects are emphasized? Many people would answer affirmatively. Often enough, the personal encounter with a minister of the Church is full enough of charity and mercy. Many good people who adhere strongly to Church teaching indeed manage to put a charitable and gentle face on their accompaniment of sinners. Often enough, such encounters are out of the public eye. We know neither how truly pastoral these encounters are, nor what (if any) accommodations were made. It would seem that “confusion” is sown when details get public and particular decisions get criticized.

311. The teaching of moral theology should not fail to incorporate these considerations, for although it is quite true that concern must be shown for the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching, special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of the Gospel,(Evangelii Gaudium 36-37) particularly the primacy of charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of God’s love. At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.*

Pope Francis offers a lengthy note on this:

*Perhaps out of a certain scrupulosity, concealed beneath a zeal for fidelity to the truth, some priests demand of penitents a purpose of amendment so lacking in nuance that it causes mercy to be obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice. For this reason, it is helpful to recall the teaching of Saint John Paul II, who stated that the possibility of a new fall “should not prejudice the authenticity of the resolution” (Letter to Cardinal William W. Baum on the occasion of the Course on the Internal Forum organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary [22 March 1996], 5).

We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. For this reason, we should always consider “inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy”.(International Theological Commission, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized (19 April 2007), 2)

Agree or disagree?

For your reference, remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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The Seven Percent Finding

australian-diocesesOn BBC this morning, this item from Australia.

An inquiry examining institutional sex abuse in Australia has heard 7% of the nation’s Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

Australian bishops and religious orders weren’t singled out. Consider sports like gymnastics and soccer, Scouting, schools, and likely the number one location for abuse, though non-institutional, the home. The government’s committee cast its eyes far and wide:

(M)ore than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia were identified in claims of sexual abuse, with a total of 1,880 alleged perpetrators between 1980 and 2015.

The meme that blames homosexuals targeting teenagers is pretty much dismissed by the Australian numbers:

The average age of the victims was 10.5 for girls and 11.5 for boys.

This aligns with the Jay Report: average age well into pre-adolescence and girls younger than boys.

Seven percent is crushing. It would be in any American diocese, where the percentage here have hovered around half that, if memory serves. Other cultural factors have already battered the Church by chasing away members. I wonder what this report will do for remnant Catholics in parishes down under. More discouraging exits by believers who see that the Church has abandoned them.

Many people may feel that things have moved on. We have francisbishops now instead of JP2-bishops. Institutions have not only lawyered up, but insurance companies now require due diligence. I still think bishops and parishes must provide significant leadership in special and extraordinary ways to win back the trust of those who believe Church has left them behind.

The key is to take actions that match the perception of the institution as less moral and more sinful than victims of abuse and cover-up. That may or may not be true in all cases. But there is a sense that non-believers and newcomers have a conversion journey as a prelude to belief. Likewise responsible leaders must recognize they are being held to the same standard of morality, ethics, and membership. In the early centuries, those who committed serious sin entered an Order of Penitents. I don’t know how an institution fits into something like an Order. Until the institution figures it out, these discouraging reports will continue to drive wedges between bishops, victims and their allies, chanceries, parishes, clergy, religious orders, parents, and the ideological extremes of Catholicism.

Posted in sex abuse | Tagged | 5 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 310: All Human Beings Receive Mercy

amoris laetitia memeThese citation of mercy echo the Scriptures, mainly Saint John on love. We are able to love because God first loved us.

310. We cannot forget that “mercy is not only the working of the Father; it becomes a criterion for knowing who his true children are. In a word, we are called to show mercy because mercy was first shown to us”.(Misericordiae Vultus 9) This is not sheer romanticism or a lukewarm response to God’s love, which always seeks what is best for us, for “mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness which she shows to believers; nothing in her preaching and her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy”.(Misericordiae Vultus 10) It is true that at times “we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems”.(Evangelii Gaudium 47)

For your reference Amoris Laetitia is online here.

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Gladhanding at Mass

As I wind down blogging on this site, I thought I’d touch on some last topics. Long-time readers likely know my opinions on liturgical burps such as applause, percussion instruments, and lay ministries. So there may be a handful of topics that get some repeat attention this month. And something new, at least today.

We have four semi-retired part-time priests serving my parish. Lots of liturgical things have great variety in practice. The Sign of Peace is one of them. One priest mentions “briefly” when he announces “permission” to exchange peace. But given he’s in many ways typically Filipino, that just means the mean for most American parishes. Our pastor emeritus always comes to exchange peace with the choir.

At my last parish, it was more-or-less a practice for music ministers not to shake, hug, or kiss one another, but go out into the pews. That remains my practice in the new place. I greet pewfolk in my proximity. When I get back to the choir, I just bow. It seems more seemly than shaking five to twenty hands.

A few things …

Public activities in church send a message. People watch. I’m a skeptic on musicians keeping to themselves. We have enough of a challenge to encourage people to join up; they don’t need to see closed groups on public display. Sometime soon I’ll be encouraging my musical charges to get out a bit. After the warm-up prayer in the practice room–that’s a good time to exchange peace. During Mass, let it spread.

Posted in Liturgy | 2 Comments