Church: People? or, Hierarchy?

Over the past three months much has been written and spoken about the Church  — because of the situation we find ourselves following the barrage of news regarding the sexual abuse of minors.

What are the causes?  Who is to blame?  What needs to change?  Where does change begin?

My reflection falls in line with thoughts offered by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ and many others.

First:  to what degree has THE CHURCH FAILED?  If by Church we mean the people of God, then failure is minimal.  If by Church we mean the hierarchical-leadership of the Church, failure is much greater.  In fact, let’s don’t blame the “Church as the People of God”.  The CHURCH IS NOT THE HIERARCHY.  The Church is the People of God.

Second, while many seem to want to blame homosexuality in the clergy as THE root cause of the problem [Examples:  Archbishop Vigano and Cardinal Burke] This, in my opinion, is not it —- especially when espoused my men who seem to enjoy parading around in ornate dress, gowns, and gloves.

I am not saying celibate-chastity is not an issue/problem — and I will get to that later.

    But, I want to begin with what I see as a major problem — An outdated sense of authority and clericalism and [2] the defense of the power that comes from clericalism.

To understand from where power comes, it is necessary to go back to “who is the Church?”  If the Church is the PEOPLE OF GOD — then power comes from God as given to the PEOPLE.

However, if the Church is the Hierarchy, then one can believe that when Jesus gave the “keys” to Peter — as a sign that authority was given Primarily to Peter as the first Pope, then one can say that those ordained have a greater share in authority — in fact, add all the authority of the PEOPLE TOGETHER, and it is still not enough to equal what the ordained have.

This then trickles down to parish life where FATHER KNOWS BEST.  The parish is where 75 year old men and women address their 30 year old pastor as FATHER.  The parish is where someone arrives one day — usually in July — and he seems to think that what he knows and feels and believes —- is greater than those who have been there 20, 30, 40 or more years.  The unique, lived history can be ignored by someone who wears a ROMAN collar.

So, what can be done?

[1] In seeking candidates for priesthood [in today’s world, men], we not only examine for a healthy sexual history, we also look for psycho-sexual behavior.  We look for people who relate to men and women equally well.  We look for a servant’s heart — we look for those who LISTEN before they speak — we look for leaders who have  HISTORY OF PRIOR SERVICE in food pantries, service in mentor programs, volunteers in after-school tutoring, etc.   We ask about teamwork and working with others.  Having POTENTIAL is not enough — we want to see and hear about prior service.

[2] Have titles become a PROBLEM? Protestant ministers have served well with “titles” such as Reverend, Pastor, Doctor.  Does the word father itself give  some people the wrong idea of entitlement —- then, maybe this needs to be examined when interviewing candidates for priesthood [see # 1].  FATHER does put someone above others in today’s world of male-privilege.  FATHER IS NOT your first name.

[3] The ROMAN COLLAR — I admit my ignorance of the history of the Roman collar.  But I DO KNOW — that there are many priests who see their identity in the collar and/or a cassock.  Apart from the collar and/or cassock, they are unable to relate human person-to-human person.

I was amused [but not surprised] to see a photo of the bishops of the US gathered for mass during their recent retreat at Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago.  There they were: in their collars, albs, chasubles, and zuchettos.  This was a private retreat for bishops — everyone knows you are a bishop — can you pray without all the adornment?  You were a man — a human person before you were ordained.  Now, you are ONLY an ordained-man.

I believe in professional attire and dressing appropriately for the occasion.  I know what it feels like to have the respect of people regardless of what I wear.

There is a history in France, Belgium, Germany — and perhaps other countries — where priests wear a coat & tie as much as a collar.

[4]  MONEY — until there is 100% transparency and knowledge by the people, the golden rule applies —- THE ONE WITH THE GOLD MAKES THE RULES.

Lay men and women should not only review DIOCESAN AND PARISH BUDGETS, they should MAKE the budget.  “Discretionary”  accounts need to be explained.  Line-items such as “Bishop’s House” need to be examined and transparent.

[4a] Leadership – Diocesan Councils, Parish Councils, Diocesan/Parish listening sessions need to be real and ACTIVE.  There were times in the 70’s ad 80’s when these groups were actively engaged — with the authoritarian swing to the right — these groups are formalities on paper and not a force for change.

[5] SERVICE – the Church will regain credibility through service — visible, tangible service.  CHURCHES that the RC Church wants to minimize as “faith communities” are leading through service.  We have a long history of social service in orphanages, schools, and hospitals.  Catholic Charities maintains that presence in most of our country.

We are falling behind in providing CATHOLIC EDUCATION to those who cannot afford tuition.  We are falling behind in housing the homeless and feeding people 365 days of the year.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are great — feeding the hungry is more than a project.

Here in Lake Charles — one of our non-denominational faith gatherings provides shelter for more than 100 people on our cold days — in their sanctuary — it so happened this weekend that the cold night was on Saturday night — the homeless helped to re-arrange the sanctuary in time for morning worship and joined in prayer and song — before eating lunch and watching the Saints v. Rams game on large screen television.  This faith gathering got support from folks across the community —- Catholic dollars were shared with a true community service.

Until the current leadership is willing to change, PEOPLE have two ways to vote — with their feet and with their checkbooks.  While some want to blame growing secularism and hedonism as the cause for declining attendance and income — other reasons exist — [a] a feeling of being shut out; [b] dogmatic preaching that is removed from daily life  [c] smart people who are THINKING and realize some teachings just are not correct.

I said I would comment on sexuality — here goes:  The Church needs to admit that is has been well served by gay priests from its beginning.  The Church needs to realize that gay men and women have been a rich part of our history — in leadership, music, art, and service.

Homosexuality is not pedophilia.

As has been shown over the past 18 months — we have a problem with sexuality in our world.  People of power in the theater, television, the arts, sports, etc. have used THEIR POWER to over-power and demand from others what the victims did not want to yield.

Yes, sexual-accountability needs to be real and effective.

But —- the challenges facing the Church [PEOPLE OF GOD] are bigger than sexual-challenges.  We as Church must use our VOICE and the two votes we have — checkbook and presence.






About thegospelforliving

Retired Catholic Priest - now serving the community as a paralegal and charter school consultant.
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1 Response to Church: People? or, Hierarchy?

  1. John Hixson says:

    Spot on.

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