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Fixing the priesthood

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Michael Kelly |  20 February 2011

'Fixing the priesthood' by Chris JohnstonFor several weeks in late January and early February, I spent a lot of time at the bedside of a strapping 19-year-old athlete who was unconscious after a swimming mishap at a resort in Thailand. He never regained consciousness and died as a result of multiple organ failure.

A great deal of my time was spent accompanying the boy's family though this agony. Eventually I returned to Australia with his body for the Requiem.

It was an exhausting experience.

The funeral attracted 2000 mourners. Most of them seemed to be younger than 20 — an age where death has no palpable reality to it and when the myth of indestructibility is alive and well. Here was its firm rebuttal: Our lives spin on sixpence, as the boy's mother told me during our watch in Bangkok.

After the ceremony, I scarpered. I couldn't take it any more and we still had the burial ahead. But as I fled, an old friend — a senior Federal politician with whom I've crossed swords on occasion — came up and gave me a hug.

'Mick, that was just the best: you did a wonderful job for Joe and his family,' said my generous friend.

He added: 'You've gone up in my estimation.'

Struck dumb, I said thanks and continued my escape. I thought to myself that there is only one profession with lower social esteem these days than a Catholic priest and that is a politician. And here is one telling me I've risen in his estimation! With examiners like him, who needs to sit for the test?

Further thought on the melancholy state of the clergy and their public evaluation produced a fruitful and consoling insight. Being seen as an outsider is, in fact, a liberation. Swallowing flattery and exaggerated respect as if it's an entitlement is the one and certain path to self delusion.

In earlier generations in Australia, and perhaps till quite recently in Ireland and the United States, priests were treated as tribal heroes, a superior and exclusive caste, perhaps better educated and so much more awesome because of their involvement in the mysteries of meaning and purpose, life and death, good and evil.

But the sexual abuse scandals and their inept management by Church authorities have dealt lethal blows to that culture. Entries to seminaries and annual rates of ordination have plummeted.

And that's just the last 20 years. In fact, the numbers of priests and candidates for the priesthood have been in consistent decline since the 1960s.

It doesn't just stop at priests. The mother of a recently ordained bishop explained to me her misgivings about what had happened to her son: 'I told him no one listens to bishops anymore, son. You're going to live a very isolated life.'

All of which poses a question: what do we make of it all and where do we go from here? I'd like to take a leaf out of the book of life of the boy I buried — Joe Welch. He was a mountain of a lad, a successful representative footballer whom everyone expected to play front row for the Wallabies.

Joe wore his achievements with great humility. No trophy carrier was our Joe, no collector of emblems of success. He felt a faint pity for those who had to rely on reciting their achievements.

This was of piece with the way his family faced the loss of their cherished boy: face the facts, it's happened, didn't we have a wonderful life with him, aren't we lucky to have many friends to support us, aren't we grateful for the hope we have for Joe now, coming from the faith we shared with him.

Likewise with the state of the clergy; face the facts, it's had a good go in its present form which has had a life for 500 years. But it's over. It can't last because the numbers mean present requirements simply can't be met in the foreseeable future.

And no amount of importing clergy from the few places where there is an over supply — as Europe, North America and Australia have imported priests from India and Nigeria — will meet the need. They will run out too, as is clear from falling numbers of seminarians and ordinations in South India, previously the cradle of vocations.

The paradigm needs a full review. It's broken and no amount of plaster will hold it together.

And I have hope it will be reviewed. Why? Because it just can't go on. The numbers aren't there and reality will dawn even for those scurrying about with short term solutions.

What's more, the sexual abuse scandal and the ineptitude with which it's been handled by Church leadership are two factors concentrating the attention of anyone who cares to look: the present arrangements don't work and need a radical review.

So my friend, the politician, has done me a favor. Owning how bad things are, understanding the way you're seen by others, adopting a humble approach to deciding what to do next — unencumbered by the esteem in which you may want to be held — is the first step towards change. 

See also Michael Kelly's further article 'So, the number of priests has risen…' (UCAN News 21/2/11)


Michael KellyMichael Kelly SJ lives in Bangkok and is Executive Director of www.ucanews.com, an Asia wide news service for the Catholic Church. He is the founding Publisher of Eureka Street and Cath News. He has been a Jesuit for 40 years and a Catholic priest for more than 26 years. 

 



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An incisive piece ..pointing to the grim reality ahead..We need to brace up NOW if we dare dream of change..Thanks Mick!

Fr Cedric Prakash sj 21 February 2011

Most people don't care, but for those of us who do, this is uplifting. Interesting pairing of priest and politician and the reference to Ireland. In that country, the priest has come off the bottom of the pile to be replaced by - the politician!

Frank 21 February 2011

A very good article Michael. I look forward to reading Eureka Street and Cathnews. keep up the good work.

D. Nebauer rsj 21 February 2011

Thank you Michael. An article that I will re-read with great interest. Eureka always inspires the cry "EUREKA!"

Ray O'Donoghue 21 February 2011

Thanks Michael fro raising this most important question, it will be interesting to see some suggested models in answer to it. However, can I add one important dimension to your question and that is we need an Australian solution. We desperately need our Australian bishops to come up with an Australian solution. As your article notes, the notion that priests can be moved around a universal church like pieces on a chessboard and that they will be equally effective wherever they are placed is simply not true. Culture counts and so we need Australian bishops to consider the best means to meet Australian needs. And as Australia is an egalitarian community we need input from right across the nation.

John Edwards 21 February 2011

Thank you for raising such important issues. I think part of the answer might lie in changing the theology of ordination. In the Uniting Church ordination means a change in relationship but not in status, and the ministry of all the baptised is recognised as the ministry of Christ. Best not to be put on a pedestal in the first place!

Another part of the answer lies in honouring the pastoral ministry that priests like yourself offer at the pointy end of life, when you stand in the place of Christ and help people to bear the unbearable. This is where your theological training and life of prayer come into their own to bear fruit.

Lauren Mosso 21 February 2011

Excellent Article Michael.

The tainted nature of the priesthood is an unfortunately reality that we have to deal with. There is an additional problem that we need to throw into the mix, and that is that very few families these days are providing the type of spiritual nuturing to their children which would encourage their children to enter religious life.

In the short to medium term however, we should take heart from the faith communities which are producing vocations in increased numbers. The Melbourne Seminary has been attracting double digit number of candidates each year for some years now, and are ordaining three or four a year - still no where near what is required. Another ministry that seems to be going gangbusters is the permanent diacondate, especially in the United States - there are now more permanent deacons than there are religious orders priests which are in sharp decline. This indicates that there is interest among married men for ordained ministry. If this ministry were promoted more, Could this provide a glimpse into the future?

Neil 21 February 2011

I have been re-reading Anthony Beevor’s history of the Spanish civil war, and watching the Egyptian people going into the streets forcing their president to resign. Both pieces of history remind me of the present state of the Catholic Church.
We have something very good to say. We have a rich tradition and good people. But officially we are totally out of touch. Officially we answer questions no one is asking any more. We make pronouncements that go nowhere. We have educated the people but we still treat them like children. Instead of asking the really big questions we are fiddling with the translation of the Mass.

I hope Michael is listened to. I am not holding my breath.

Graham English 21 February 2011

I strongly suspect that the decline in the number of priests is, in part, due to an overall decline in the number of people interested in the divine. However much the priesthood needs to be reviewed, whilst the vast majority of people in Australia do not care about matters divine, I doubt there will be any great increase in numbers.

John Ryan 21 February 2011

This is a terrific article and dialogue like this is essential in the Catholic church in Australia. A new book, ‘Our Fathers’ by Chris McGillion and John O’Carroll, will be published in Australia in March by John Garratt Publishing. The book will reveal the thoughts of many priests about their vocation and their daily work, and just as importantly, the issues that they face not only today but also in the future.

John Garratt Publishing 21 February 2011

Michael, I wonder whether I might be able to get the ball rolling in suggesting one possible model. It's an incremental solution, in that while I'd like to see an Australian priesthood accessible to all Australians whether male and female, perhaps a first step is a minimalist one. I think a first step is a married priests whose license is to work within their own parish, on a partime and limited-term basis. That is, it is not fulltime, lifelong or celibate. True it is still a male-based priesthood - for now at least.

This model envisages married priests living in their own home, with their own family and with their own means of support. It would best suit an older or recently retired person, one of the many baby-boomers who have finished one career and are looking for an opportunity of making some further contribution to the community.

Also, why shouldn't a parish have half-a-dozen such priests? And of course this model has simpler variations of of it yet again.

John Edwards 21 February 2011

Michael, I wonder whether I might be able to get the ball rolling in suggesting one possible model. It's an incremental solution, in that while I'd like to see an Australian priesthood accessible to all Australians whether male and female, perhaps a first step is a minimalist one. I think a first step is a married priests whose license is to work within their own parish, on a partime and limited-term basis. That is, it is not fulltime, lifelong or celibate. True it is still a male-based priesthood - for now at least. This model envisages married priests living in their own home, with their own family and with their own means of support. It would best suit an older or recently retired person, one of the many baby-boomers who have finished one career and are looking for an opportunity of making some further contribution to the community. Also, why shouldn't a parish have half-a-dozen such priests? And of course this model has simpler variations of of it yet again.

John Edwards 21 February 2011

A very good article, Michael, but I can't help wondering how the hierarchy which was responsible for the debacle of dealing with the sex abuse crisis is going to come up with a different paradigm for the priesthood. I think that not only are they not capable of it, they will be unwilling to do it as it would threaten their power structures.

Erik H 21 February 2011

A very thoughtful and honest account of where the priesthood sits socially.
Now, what about the new wording of the Mass, imposed and according to the press, little consultation.

How long will priests put up with this continual assault on their profession?

Jennifer Raper 21 February 2011

I agree with Graham English's earlier comment - it isn't just the perception of the priesthood. It's the structure, and the kind of people who have risen to the top of that structure. So many Catholics have rejected their kind of Catholicism. It will need a revolution.

Russell 21 February 2011

Last year I retired after 46 years in Catholic education, from teaching year three to supervising doctorates. I experienced up close a lot of young people. They are now as they were in 1964: as open and as closed, as selfish and as unselfish, as interested in the divine and as uninterested. Their homes are as dysfunctional and as functional as they were when then. They are as wounded, as insecure as we were. They are also different. They are more affluent and have more choices. Technology has changed, Catholic culture has collapsed, they have access to information we didn’t imagine. Their world is wider than ours, though not always deeper. In 1960 priesthood and religious life were from some sanctuaries for wounded or inadequate people or a moratorium from the inadequacies of our upbringing. They were for some a way of being educated. Most teachers in Catholic schools are now much better religiously educated than they were before the 1960s though less devout. Pre-1970s Catholicism is finished. That is the big difference. There is no pressure to stay, no prestige in being a priest, no sanctuary in the official Church.

Graham English 21 February 2011

I was a religious brother for four years, and then in priestly formation for seven year. At the end of this period I did not go through to ordination. One of the multiple (and in this case trivial) reasons I did not fulfil my formation's expection was that a gift of an elaborately embroidered chasuble when worn made me look like the Infant of Prague. Amongst many things, the expectation to wear all the phylacterys as the only means by which I would be known was, for me, symbolic of the dehumanising price I had to pay to respond to God's call through the church (read God AND people in that church call). Was I stupid, narrow minded, stubborn and obstinate? Or was I right and real to give up something that I felt and believed was right for me and the church? I'm not going back to formation and I don't want to leave the Catholic Church to became a minister in another Christian tradition. Sadly, I think the priesthood has to die out completely so as to rise anew for the future of the church in the world.

Ryan McBride 21 February 2011

A deeply touching article. As a kid I wanted to be a priest, a doctor and have found a way in my counselling practice to be both in a changing world. The old structures no longer work for me and for many who sit with me at times of great moment in life. We still need the rituals, the hand that reaches out and the ear that listens. So many of us still search for the things that help make meaning of our lives and place in the unity of creation. We look for the divine in a world that sees and understands things differently. I look around at what is happening in the Arab world right now and it in some way parallels the journey of the Church and the power structures in which I grew up. Democracy has changed the way we see ourselves. Modern communications have sent the pace of change into disconnecting hypermode. And deep down we try to know ourselves and look for that place where we belong and for that we need relationship. Your story is of very personal relationship with self and other. Your story is priestly and healing. Very much the way I search for meaning and see the divine. Thank you

John D 21 February 2011

Fixing the priesthood is not the name of the problem. Church leaders generally do not listen to what the people of God need and ask for, nor are they aware of what Catholics are capable of in being church. By not listening to the abused, nor to the women who hear a calling to ordained ministry, nor to gay Catholics, nor to Bishops and priests who have been coming forward since the 1960s with ideas for new forms of ministry, church leaders have lost the gift of listening. I don't think that most people have lost their hunger for the divine. Many have discovered that what they have been offered as food does not nourish them. Why does our church close down conversation about vital issues? Why are bishops themselves explicitly forbidden to explore the forbidden issues? The Body of Christ deserves better than what we have settled for.

alex 21 February 2011

There is great interest in the Divine but the hierarchical church is failing to engage with it. It is failing miserably in its primary task of spreading the good news of Divine Presence and Love in creation. Like all of us it needs to open itself to transformation. This transformation will surely involve a whole new vision of leadership (priesthood?), the eradication of the sin of sexism in its imaging of the Divine and its treatment of women and a valuing of all people's experience of The Divine in their lives.

Glenda 21 February 2011

I like the idea of fixing the priesthood which I know well in both Catholic and Anglican modes of existence.

May I note a current Anglican mode. In Esperance, the parish priest Sally Buckley worked year by year through Anglican academic training courses for ordination. So did Doug Murray who for many years was headmaster of the local high school.

Doug is moving more or less graciously into retirement.

And Esperance has a healthy parish with a healthy priesthood.

Gerard Costigan 21 February 2011

It was a treat to read this. Especially after recently reading Walbert Buhlmann's "Church of the future" where he makes the point that the Church has power it has not exercised. So, if the power given to Peter is shared with the Successors to the Apostles why cannot a new Council consider afresh the matter of priestly ordination as well as perhaps Christian sexual ethics.

Denis O'Leary 21 February 2011

I hate being cynical but your article does resonate with my deepest fears about the Church's approach that masks the reality of of the tragic loss of faith in the priesthood. I feel we are into denial and I do believe that the sexual scams involving Catholic priests has dented our credibility severely. I believe that facing this reality is better than masking ourselves in spiritualism. In addition, I admit that I am a priest from India. An 'imported' specimen that is educated enough to admit this reality...

Fr. Dominic Savio, C.Ss.R. 21 February 2011

I think John Ryan and Frank got to the point. People simply do not care. They come for weddings and funerals and bring their children to be baptised and then go away until the next 'event'. I am a female Anglican priest and minister to a beautiful community but in ten years we will be struggling to 'be' a community. The gospel will survive but not brought to people in the way it is now. The future? It is exciting and frightening.

Jorie Ryan 21 February 2011

Father Kelly's jeremiad about the priesthood is an example of what I call "miserabilism" - the notion that we are living in dark times, everything is falling apart, the Church is trapped in a downward spiral, there is no hope.

Miserabilism is usually contracted by relying too much on information about the Catholic Church as filtered through the mass media which is dominated by anti-Catholicism. Here bad news about the Church is highly prized, as is negative commentary from nominal Catholics and chip-on-the-shoulder Catholics.

The reality on the ground, at the coal face is quite different. I have been involved in numerous parishes both in Australia and Ireland. In my experience, the priesthood is held in high esteem. People have the common sense to know that the proportion of abusive priests is miniscule and that the vast majority of priests are men of average ability trying to do their job to the best of their ability. I was travelling widely in Ireland in 2009 when the Ryan Report came out. The press and electronic media lapsed into an hysteria which simply did not exist in parish communities. Of course, people felt sad and uncomfortable about the revelations but their attitude to the priests who were actally serving them was unchanged. If anything, people became more supportive and protective.

A lot of the reporting and commentating both in Ireland and in Australia is carried out by people who have very little connextion with grass-roots Catholicism. Much of it is a agenda-driven campaign calculated to damage the credibility of the Church. The faithful who go to Mass Sunday by Sunday do not see it that way and continue to value the priesthood and the men who serve in it.

I doubt very much if the sex abuse scandals have had much impact on seminary numbers. The number of vocations and ordinations went into a nose dive just after Vatican II, in the later 1960s, well before the sex abuse became public. I think it has much more to do with a general atmosphere of secularism, indifferentism and materialism. John Ryan is on to something when he speaks of the decline in the number of people interested in the 'divine'. Don't forget, too, that families are smaller now. In past generations, Catholic families of half a dozen or so children often gave two or three to the priesthood or the religious life. The recruiting pool has shrunk dramatically.

Where a seminary is well run - the theological education is orthodox and the spiritual life is taken seriously - young men will continue to offer themselves for priestly ministry. In both Melbourne and Sydney George Pell's reforms brought about a sharp upswing in recruiting. A lot depends on the diocese. There is no shortage of priests in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga after Bishop Brennan's seminary was set up. The Archdiocese of Perth under Barry Hickey has two flourishing seminaries, several ordinations every year and is exporting priests to the mission. By contrast, the neighbouring Archdiocese of Adelaide recently closed its seminary, the number of men training for the priesthood can be counted on one hand and an ordination is a relatively rare event. What we have is not a vocations crisis but a vocations-management crsis.

Sylvester 21 February 2011

Thanks, Mike, for the piece and for sharing with us your experience of priestly ministry and your reflection on it. I find it inspiiring and encouraging.

James Uravil 21 February 2011

Rule by priests or hierarchy depends on the priests having special traits - knowledge of the mysteries, prestige of office, the power to condemn and curse the recalcitrant. Education of the masses, especially in The West has meant that many parishioners are better educated than their parish priest, even in theology. The status of many of the laity society, e.g.doctors, lawyers, business women, sports women and men, carries more prestige. As for being declared ex-communicated they reply: "Let God be my judge!" The misbehaviour of some priests has not helped the prestige of the priesthood in the eyes of the faithful but I think it is secondary to huge social changes brought about by universal education, the rapid advance in commnications, and the stresses and strains of trying to keep up with the pace of life & change in a modern industrial society. The Imperial style of rule that followed the official recognition of Christanity by the Emperor Constantine has had its day. The Pope as Emperor asserting power over his subjects through the agency of his knights (Bishops)and his footsoldiers (Priests)just does gel with the democratic spirit that wants freedom, equality and the fellowship of women and men.

Uncle Pat 21 February 2011

Thank you Michael for a deeply thought through article. However looking back ; I am 62, I remember the 'early days' of youth.Nuns and Brothers , plenty of Clergy but a Church in which fear of damnation reigned.That picture is pre Vatican 11. By the time I left school in the later 60's we had Mass in English and the celebrant faced the people. For quite a while I stopped attending Church - even while in the hell hole that was Vietnam. I experienced the bigotary of mixed marriage when my brother dared marry an Anglican; I was briefly engaged to one too - my mother objected - and I revolted at the hypocritical attitudes and lack of charity.University life opened my eyes to other Faiths.Thirty years teaching, mostly in Catholic schools.Post graduate studies in RE and Theology ; 27 years of happy marriage to a devout Catholic brought me back to my Faith- but with different eyes. A recent stint in Parish Pastoral work showed the reality of today's priesthood; elderly, tired, overworked , stressed; yet fired with the desire to bring the Good News. The answer? A need to change the old and look to the new?

Gavin O'Brien Canberra 21 February 2011

What a piece of CRAP! In Latin america for the first time we are having a boom of vocations. In el Salvador now there are more than 500 priest with more than 500 seminarians.

Tony de New York 22 February 2011

Thank you Sylvester, for informing contributors who agree with Father Michael Kelly's article that both Melbourne and Sydney George Pell's reforms brought about a sharp upswing in recruiting. There is no shortage of priests in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga after Bishop Brennan"s seminary was set up. The Archdiocese of Perth under Barry Hickey has two flourishing seminaries. Parramatta Diocese's seminary under Bishop Anthony Fisher is doing very well. As Sylvester said, where a seminary is well run-the theological education is orthodox and the spiritual life is taken seriously then the seminary will flourish. All Bishops eventually have to retire, and I am sure loyal orthodox Bishops will replace them so the future of the Church is good. Napoleon said "There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.

Ron Cini 22 February 2011

Michael, I sense Joe Welch could be forming a choir of praise as his departure has become a small catalyst for yet another attempt at dialogue around the topic of priesthood.

Much of the time, I feel we are skirting around the edges of the issue of priesthood - especially as Graham English points out that the church leaders are getting into a flurry over certain questionable linguistic fascinations - but if we see this as a distraction and dig deeper, we will be offered amazing insights into how priestly action is transforming people’s lives. This vision is illuminated when we see priesthood not as a noun but as a verb. I think the present crisis is forcing us - through very uncomfortable experiences - to understand that priesthood is a way of being that is ordained upon each Baptised person.

Thank you Michael for opening this topic in a priestly manner.

Vic O'Callaghan 22 February 2011

Twenty nine comments are probably not enough to form a focus group but from them there emerges for me a picture of two divisions. There are those who seek the security of certainty in this life and those who accept uncertainty at being at the core of human existence; of those who find consolation in being told what to believe and to do by God's agents and those who believe God wants them to be God's agents in whatever sort of society they have to live out their lives with and for others.

Of course the divisions interlock in places but it seems to me that for the most part there is a communication gap that only the Holy Spirit can help us leap across. I think we all still believe that the Spirit is like the wind - it blows where it will - and that is the Mystery.

Uncle Pat 22 February 2011

So good to hear your voice, loud and clear Mick, and to have plain talk about a situation that impoverishes us all.

Since we last met I have spent many months attending Sunday services in a chapel in the USA where the Dean is a married woman, and her assistant deans are variously male, female, married and single, black and white. The experience has been moving and inspiring for a number of reasons, not least being the symbolically powerful experience of watching a good woman and mother baptise a childn and then carry him in her arms down the length of her own church.

But let me put in a word too for the many Catholic priests who have also moved and inspired women of my generation. Maligned and so unsung. God bless them all. And you too.

Morag Fraser 22 February 2011

What a strange comment from Sylvester...'In past generations, Catholic families of half a dozen or so children often gave two or three to the priesthood or the religious life.' So much for the idea of vocation as a calling!

JanetM 22 February 2011

I work in the area of Death, Dying & Bereavement and palliative care. What has struck me for many years now is how frightened/terrified priests can be of either embracing their own death and dying or other people's death & dying. I am currently a Board member of a UnitingCare (UCA) Board and we are also seeing ministers who are struggling to grieve for their losses in healthy and life-giving ways.

Until there is a groundswell of priests/ministers who are prepared to work through their own grief (individually and collectively)of a society that no longer recognises their vocation as priests or ministers, in ways that are meaningful and life-giving to themselves and their communities (a kenosis) then this emptying out of 'what is & has been' can't make room for the spirit to move us in new and enriching ways.

After all we are ALL human beings ... and will die as a human being with all its unknowns & feelings etc regardless of who we think we are. Rituals of sorrow for a dying Church will make room for new life "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!"
(2 Cor. 5:18) ... May God bless each person in their struggle to live out their lives in faith and life-giving/life-generating ways.

Mary Tehan 22 February 2011

I taught a course in palliative care spitituality to nurses for some years. Time and again they told me of their amazement at the problem priests had with their own impending death. I don't know what this is about but I would guess it is anxiety. So much of our Catholic socialisation (I am 66) was based on fear and anxiety. That kind off ideology sows the seeds of its own destruction. We grew up in a dysfunctional Church that at the highest level has become more dysfunctional. Without fear the people have walked away from it. Michael is right. We need a new model. A few extra young men in seminaries means nothing much if they are being trained in the old model.

Graham English 22 February 2011

When considering the problems with the priesthood its important to also realise that marriage is also in trouble.

Putting aside the devastating impact of the sexual abuse scandal, the decline of priestly vocations can also be understand in the context of a basic decline in commitment, full stop. Half of all marriages are failing. As someone working in the youth ministry field, I have sat and discussed many times with other youth ministers (who've been around a while) a new generation who have been raised to flit from one thing to another like butterflies.

In recent months there have been articles in the press highlighting the fact that many young adults do not understand or embrace 'monogamy' as meaning to 'forsake all others'... but have an odd morality that leads them to think you can have a commited relationship but have regular 'hook ups' with other people.

The other big issue is that the priesthood flows from a personal response to a call from God. This spiritual dimension seems to not be spoken about much. Strangely, I think. We live in a highly secularised society - and Church - one that looks for clever strategies and programs, but ultimately religious vocations are birthed out of a personal and intimate encounter with God.

Cathy Ransom 25 February 2011

Thank you for naming the elephant in the room. It would be wrong to make any inference that the state you describe is attributable to a community wide decline in interest in, or reverence for, the divine. Quite the opposite in my experience. This is to be expected given the nature of the times. We desperately need leaders. Once priests were leaders. It is time for the Roman Church to grow up and assume an adult place in the leadership of the world. It ia expected of you-now! Release your pent up enthusiasm and free yourself for the role you are called to do. Men, women, ordained and lay-all are called to lead if the gift is there. Embrace it or become irrelevant.

Graham Patison 25 February 2011

Thank you Michael for a challenging article on the Priesthood. We need Bishops that stand up and are counted, also a "get real" Roman Curia. I would like to see some of those Cardinals spending pastoral time with priests attempting to run not one but up to three parishes in places like far western NSW or the Kimberly or in the other challenging parts of the world. The "pontificators" live in a huge palace in Rome so far removed from reality.When one or two of our Bishops do speak up they are soon castigated by fellow bishops. Two examples that come to mind are Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and Bishop Pat Power, and in Europe Cardinal Schooborn OP,of Vienna.I am struggling to live my Faith but am quickly becomming disillusioned with the attitudes of our church bureaucracy and the serious clerical sexual abuse scandals and even more the enept and dishonest handling of these grave crimes. I am also aware of the gallant priests attempting to live the Gospel of Jesus,and struggle with little support. M.M.Coffey

Margaret M. Copffey 66/137 Victoria St. Ashfield 02 March 2011

As an enthusiastic 21 year old Catholic convert in 1960, I knew next to nothing about Catholic schooling.

I soon learned that some Catholic parents, especially the most devout or spiritually ambitious among them, placed their adolescent boys in minor seminaries.

In wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandals, I sometimes wonder if there's a disproportionate number of abusers among those ordained due to parental expectations (in contrast to those having a true vocation).

That resonates with my proposal in 'The Lost Child' in The Tablet Educational Supplement (13 March 1982): that education must replace indoctrination. Even more so today, young people don't accept being told what to believe nor compulsory Mass attendance. But they do respond to the example set by their elders.

As Francis of Assisi is said to have advised his followers: 'When preaching the gospel, use words only if necessary.'

Gordon rowland 04 March 2011

Thank goodness Sylvester introduced a ray of light and truth into this debate.If Fr Kelly is concerned about the loss of respect for the priest he need look no further than to the respondents recorded here, none of whom address him as someone special but as one of the suffering laity.

Try a parish rather than a publishing house, Father, and you will find that your experience of life that you describe in the death of the young man in Thailand is repeated day after day in Catholic parish life. The problem with Catholicism is that too many of its priests do not give themselves selflessly to God's ministry and seem to be ashamed to be identified as Catholic priests. ("Call me Paddy, mate").

But I still love and respect you Michael and agree that we are in a serious crisis and need the priests and particularly the bishops of this country to step back, get rid of the grand delusions of psychology,in-service seminars, talk fests and feminism with which they seem to be obsessed and become Christ's ordained priests once more, humbled and committed to selfless service. (Perhaps even to the point of giving one's life to God as He gave his to us).

John Frawley 06 March 2011

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Frank Brennan | 13 February 2011

Kevin Rudd says 'sorry'

Three years since Kevin Rudd's National Apology to the Stolen Generations, discriminatory aspects of John Howard's Intervention are still in place. Let's hope that by the fourth anniversary, we are no longer singling out Aborigines for such 'special treatment'.


Pope's guide to social networking

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Andrew Hamilton | 02 February 2011

Benedict's World Day of Social Communications address shows how an elderly, intelligent man might reflect on the massive changes in social communication. He associates social networking with the young, and trusts in their freedom to use it well.


King James Bible a masterpiece but not an idol

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Philip Harvey | 01 February 2011

King James Bible2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It will be said that the King James is the soul of our language and that it shares pre-eminence with the Bard. But all of this talk will be at odds with the actual purpose for which it was created.


Stories of rebuilding after the floods

9 Comments
 | 19 January 2011

When the media focus on expressions of anger and try to identify people to blame, they encourage people to remain paralysed by grief and to break connections precisely at the time when they need to be strengthened.