Friday, November 3, 2006

Some Reflections on the Priesthood

This column by Father Ron Rolheiser ran in our Catholic Herald. After looking back on his thirty years as a priest, he looks ahead.
Roman Catholics still understand a priest too much in terms of his cultic role. There is undue significance given to the cultic powers a priest has been given to preside at Eucharist and administer the sacraments.

It's almost as if somewhere we got the idea it's the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their greatest task.

Fr. Rolheiser has a different take.
Partly because of this the priest is too easily cast in the role of the tribal medicine man. Like the medicine man, he is respected and revered because he is feared. But he is not genuinely loved, nor understood, because he is never perceived and accepted as being fully human like the rest of us.

That's not the problem I perceive. What I find more problematic is priests' tendency to become exceptionally defensive and manipulative rather than forthrightly dealing with issues, such as issues of liturgy, sacraments, and personnel.
More debilitating still is the Catholic community's understanding of the priest as a sexual being. Bottomline, a priest is expected to act as if were not a being full of sexual complexity.

Maybe this is a problem for priests like him who talk about sexuality so vaguely. An example or two might clarify what he means.
Unfortunately, that is rarely afforded us and, consequently, we must pretend, pretend that we are eunuchs. No eunuch can preach effectively to the full-blooded. That is why we are politely listened to, even as it is taken for granted that we have nothing vital to say about real life.

Or the problem is in his emasculated prose, rather than his congregation.
It's an interesting speculation as to why the Catholic community wants its priests to radiate naivete and non-complexity.

A question that might be answered by actually asking some actual people. Instead he asks it rhetorically, putting distance between him and us.
Finally, we tend to leave no room for our priests to be weak. I am not speaking here of weak in the moral sense, but weak in the way Jesus was weak and in the way that any truly sensitive person is: vulnerable, not always together, emotionally over-wrought, chronically over-extended, and prone to cry very needy tears at times.

His ideal pastor is a natural for the title role in a parish production of Camille.
And so my plea is this: Please don't, consciously or unconsciously, ask your priest to dress in medieval clothes, to stay in the sanctuary, and to be so timid as to be unable to dare the perilous task of living.

Because if we do, it might make Father cry?
Let him be himself: complex, weak, sexed, masculine, involved, needy, and free not to pretend.

Yes, yes, we've got it, Father needs to be weak.
Small wonder hardly anyone wants to join us!

They can always switch to his recruiting slogan: The Seminary Is Looking For A Few Weak Men.


  1. Isn't this part of the Progressive Catholic movement?

    I am not sure where the Milw Diocese fits into the ream of progressiveness, but earlier posts suggests they are quite well known for their openness towards changing the language of traditional teachings.

    What do you think?

  2. If by Movement you mean something that gets you somewhere, I am unaware of any Progressive Catholic Movement in Milwaukee.

    If by Movement you mean flurries of activity while staying in one place, there are many Progressive Catholic Movements to choose from in Milwaukee.

  3. I picked up the impression that the Milw Archdiocese followed their own directives, which has caused waves with the Vatican.

    But, perhaps that is typical, and I am just naive about Catholic politics.

    At any rate. With your comment:
    "become exceptionally defensive and manipulative rather than forthrightly dealing with issues, such as issues of liturgy, sacraments, and personnel."

    Don't you think they have to be exceptionally deft at dealing with the hotbed [pun intended] of issues they are continually having to answer for?

    Between having to console and protect, you have to manipulate and deflect at the same time.

    What do you think?

  4. "Don't you think they have to be exceptionally deft ..."

    I don't recall anyone saying their pastor handled something deftly. Maybe they need follow-up training in that regard.

    "... at dealing with the hotbed [pun intended] of issues they are continually having to answer for?"

    What I don't understand is why they create issues. Like I've said before, why have us volunteer time to catechise about things that the pastor's words or parish practices contradict? By that I mean*, what do the pastors hope to accomplish by having us work at cross-purposes? I've asked two successive pastors. One said it would be too much work for someone to coordinate this. The other acknowledged the conflict, but not that something ought to be done about it.

    "Between having to console and protect, you have to manipulate and deflect at the same time."

    The "consoling" I've seen has been saying anything that will make parishioners take their issue and go away, see Acts 16:10. That protects the pastor or the status quo, not the parishioners.

    *["Virgil" commented earlier that this makes such catechisis that much more important, so I'm clarifying.]

  5. Anonymous3:18 PM

    When will the Rolheiser Railroad finally run out of gas? Fr. Ron is one of the most disturbing Catholic clerics actively publishing today. See Joseph Fromm's book review on the Holy Longing.


  6. Fr. Rolheiser is disturbing because he has communist and homosexual undercurrents within his writings that is quite repulsive. Not to mention he is active atacking the Holy Father when ever he can.

  7. You're practically pigeonholing him into the bit on George Carlin's FM & AM album in which "He asked what a 'pinko-Commie-fag' might sound like, then lisped 'Workers of the world unite.'" It takes more than quoting a source to constitute endorsing everything they espouse.