Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What is becoming of the priesthood?

*This week's announcement by the Roman Catholic Church that the act of

ordaining a woman is a sin equivalent to child sexual about is perhaps the

most appalling and fatuous thing it has done in the entire sorry and

pathetic failure to honesty deal with the paedo-ephebo-philiac clerical

culture it allowed to develop, lived in denial of, shuffled around to avoid

its exposure, blamed the victims for, created false scapegoats to blame and

obstructed the civil authorities seeking criminal remedies.*

Michael Russell has commented on the Vatican’s latest attempt to rid itself from the Tar Baby of pederasty. I can’t reach his blog, but you can get the gist of his article from his opening sentence. My old English teacher-self admires it even if it is a run-on sentence. But from my viewpoint, it is not surprising that the Vatican is comparing pederasty and women’s ordination. It must feel the same to those who have since the fourth century seen women as a threat to their faith and their vocation. Those feelings have always been there among many RC clerics. Smoke screens abound when responsibility for one’s actions are lain at the feet of others.

Years ago when the politics of Roman Catholicism were beginning to dismantle the Spirit-led changes of Vatican II, this fear of women, this fear of the feminine or might I say the “the non-macho” was reprised by the counter-reformative response to the fresh air that John XXIII’s Council engendered. Counter-reformations are always reactive and eventually mean-spirited. We need but watch the use of the inquisition as it responded to the Reformation in 16th century and how the monarchs of Europe used the Church to control their subjects. It should not surprise us then, such compilations of apples and broomsticks in the present Vatican offering. The sad thing is that the Vatican still thinks that it speaks for the faithful, for people who find in Christ the model of their faith in all that is Holy and who try to live their lives according to the Gospel.

As a former Roman Catholic who used to listen to the pronouncements from Rome as a guide for my life in Christ, I know all too many people who allow the Vatican to define their faith because they choose not to think for themselves. But the majority of those Roman Catholics who love their Church and who try to live lives worthy of their calling, know that the moral compass that one once expected from the Vatican is no longer there. Much of the loss of faith in western culture and the “anti-religionism” that has gathered strength in the last 25 years can be laid at the feet of the Vatican. By this I do NOT mean Roman Catholics. I mean that the sheer inanity of some of the statements that have come from high-ranking clerics of Roman Catholicism in their defensive postures—whether it was the final declaration that Galileo was right in the ‘90’s or the stupidity of the latest comment about women’s ordination have made all religion a laughing stock.

Except for John Cockrell’s portrayal on the final episode of “In Plain Sight” I have not seen a positive imaging of clergy in the media, print or video in years. We are always portrayed as na├»ve idiots, self-serving bigots or downright evil. No longer are we seen as self-sacrificing persons who stand as the plumb line, the sign of God’s goodness in a community. No longer is the wisdom of one trained in pastoral care, theology and Scripture wanted by those in the faith to help guide the Church. I must admit that the likes of Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps on Free Church side do not help matters either. And even our pontificating Archbishop of Canterbury has stepped into the role of trying to bring us back into an ecclesiastical image of the 1950’s rather than open himself to the reality of a world that is no longer wowed by academic hair-splitting or enthused by covenant-inspired colonialism.

At the center of much of the transformational church or the Total Ministry efforts I find a type of anti-clericalism. I find no fault in the raising up of local people to provide ministry to congregations who cannot afford a seminary –trained priest. But I would then ask the question why can’t a small congregation afford a seminary-trained priest? Why have the costs of seminaries become so great that our candidates must enslave themselves to debt that can never be recouped in their careers? I have no problem with locally-trained clergy IF they are going to be really trained. But some of what I see in the Total Ministry concepts is a thinly veiled bishop-concentrated control or a type of congregationalism that I do not believe that serves the Episcopal Church in the long-run.

From what I read in the Christian Scripture and what I have studied of the history of the last 2 millennia, what has helped Christianity to survive is the continued revelation of the message of love and respect that is exemplified in Christ Jesus. The Church (whether it was the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the various Protestant developments, or the individual congregations in small villages throughout the world) has been a vacillating organization that has been both the epitome of evil and power-mongering AND the place where that Gospel of God’s goodness can be manifested, often at the same time. The Counter-Reformation of the 16th century gave us the abuse of the Spanish Inquisition and St. Teresa of Avila at the same time. Martin Luther’s Theses in Germany fostered both the elegance of salvation theology based in grace and the horror of the Peasant Revolt at the same time.

So what the present age tells me is that the Church is going to remain, perhaps not in the particular guise as those of us who are seminary-trained clerics have known, but it will survive because it is needed to provide a locus for that image of goodness, beauty and truth as St. Benedict understood as the manifestation of God. There will always be a need for those who have dedicated their lives to the furthering of that goodness in the ordained life. There will always be a need for those who will stand as plumb lines in the Church. There will always be those who will be supported by the faithful to remind them of their need for repentance, for solace when the evil of the world (or Church) seems to overwhelm, or when the Gospel is confusing. There will always be those who are called by God and confirmed by the Church to serve rather than be served, to be trusted by the community of faith to be about God’s work with them and to speak God’s truth despite current opinion. I just hope that the image of priest can be reclaimed in the Church. It is a vocation worthy of the sacrifice.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah, I don't know where the institutional priesthood is headed. Sometimes I think it may be going the way of the Dodo Bird - just shortly before the Institutional Church, itself.

And, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Jesus did not come to establish "the church" - his disciples did that - but the Realm of God. We have failed miserably at both.

Jesus did not establish the priesthood. The institutional church did that.

We did fine for centuries w/o the institutional church. Perhaps we're being called to "get back to basics".

Or, maybe we're just ridding a current wave of anti-clericalism which we have brought upon ourselves.

I don't know. What do you think?

SCG said...

Good commentary, especially after a weekend at one of the residential seminaries (Sewanee). The question came up about the possibility of online courses... and the answer (for now) is no. I think that is going to be a mistake.

Mompriest said...

The leaders of the RC Church, like a few leaders of the Anglican Church, are stuck in the past, in a need for there to be a convention, the "we've always done it this way" idea. They are incapable of seeing that the world has changed, is changing, and that perhaps the Holy Spirit is part of that change - or maybe transformation - is a better way to say it. It is a transformational understanding of who God is, who Christ is, who we are, men and women, that enables a church to ordain women and believe that we can stand at the altar and invite peope into the fullness of the Body of Christ.

Muthah+ said...

I don't feel like a Dodo bird. And even though there is a 500 year sea change going on in the Church, I do not think that the Church is doing to die. Faith/Religion will always reinvent itself. We have too much history over the past 5,000 years that says that Faith/Religion will always reconfigure. But the thing that bothers me is that many decisions about the church are being made without looking at that history--without thinking about looking at what it necessary for the future, what always has been in the reinventions that the Church/Faith/Religion has returned to over the centuries.

Even if we are a part of sea-change, can we not look at how the faith has re invented itself in the past to direct us for the future?

What did the Reformation reclaim in faith 500 years ago? What happened in the year 1000 that brought about the age of Cathedrals and monastaries? What in 6th century brought out concepts that changed the faith through the theology of Augustine, Ambrose, et. al? What was it about Jesus that made such a differnece in the understanding of God for a whole civilization? What was it about the changes following the Babylonian Exile that brought such reinvention of Judaism at that time and what about David's era that brought a new vision of faith to the people of Israel?

No, Elizabeth, the Church as it is will pass away, but the Faith/Religion experience will always be with us and I think that there will always be the "God person/priest/parson will always be someone that society will need to claim that access to the Holy in their lives.