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Priest Crisis, Shortage Deepen While Rome Fiddles
Canadian Bishop Resigns to Marry

By Christine Schenk csj

While the number of priests continues to plummet amidst worldwide reports of sex abuse coverups, the Vatican seems more focused on getting nuns back in the classroom, scapegoating gay clergy and controlling whether people stand or kneel at the Eucharistic Prayer. That the Eucharist itself is rapidly becoming unavailable, does not seem to have registered with Rome’s decision makers. But it may be only a matter of time.

In a recent radio interview, 52 year old Bishop Raymond Dumais announced that he is living with a woman whom he wants to marry. Dumais resigned as bishop of Gaspe, Quebec in July 2001. The President of the Rimouski archdiocesan forum, Fr. Guy Lagace, told a Quebec newspaper: “Celibacy should not become a barrier to men interested in becoming priests. Raymond Dumais is not the only person to be living in this situation.”

In October, Bishops of seven dioceses in the northern two thirds of the country presented
a report to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops noting that most priests are “advanced in age” and in some communities Mass is celebrated only two or three
times a year. The situation has been made worse by about 11,000 abuse claims filed against the Canadian government and Catholic and Protestant Churches who ran residential schools in the region. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who served as missionary priests and are now aging or gone, operated most of those schools.

Robert Blair Kaiser, writing in the November 30 issue of The Tablet, believes “there are uncounted numbers of Roman rite parish priests, principally in Latin America and Africa, who are, de facto, married—while their bishops pretend not to know. That is why the Roman Congregations for Bishops and for the Evangelization of Peoples keep selecting bishops from religious orders who are presumed not to have wives.” Kaiser, who is the Rome correspondent for The Tablet, notes that “the Pope has not listened to requests to ordain married men from the bishops of Brazil, Canada, Indonesia and the South Pacific.”

The former master general of the Dominicans, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, also recently spoke in favor of optional celibacy. In a lecture delivered for Britain’s National Conference of Priests, Radcliffe highlighted Vatican II’s expansion of the notion of ministry pointing out that in the United States 80 per cent of Catholic ministers are now lay people and of these 80 per cent are women. He believes this may lead priests to feel “less special,” and finds the arguments favoring a married clergy to be “extremely strong, perhaps overwhelming.”

If there is consternation in Rome over the pending Eucharistic famine, there is little sign of it. Instead curial bureaucrats seem preoccupied with restoring a pre Vatican II Church. Some recent developments:

  • A draft of a document on homosexuality in the priesthood is circulating in several Vatican
    congregations. According to Robert Blair Kaiser and John Allen, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter the document “will advise bishops and religious superiors that homosexuals are risky material for ordination, should not be admitted to the seminary and should not be ordained” (Kaiser). Most observers believe that while the document could be disastrous for the morale of priests, it may also galvanize reform of clerical structures. Such a ruling will not be enforceable and will further alienate the Catholic “middle management” (priests, bishops and seminary rectors), on whom all bureaucracies rely.

  • A November 19 document released by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education could be viewed as a slap in the face to lay teachers who, in the U.S. make up 92.5 per cent of all Catholic teachers. The document called for rediscovering “the essential” in the presence of religious men and women in schools saying their role is “irreplaceable.” The document gave short shrift to committed Catholic lay teachers who make considerable sacrifices to teach in Catholic schools.

  • In November U.S. Bishops approved without debate new translations of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and the ordination rite foisted on them in 1997 by the Congregation on Divine Worship. They also approved a new review process for the
    lectionary. The original lectionary revision was approved by a large majority of U.S. Bishops after a ten year collaborative effort with English speaking translation experts. Final acceptance was denied by non-English speaking functionaries at the Vatican because of the use of inclusive language. Erie’s Bishop Donald Trautman, former chair of the liturgy committee, criticized the new requirements as “unbalanced...not proclaimable and in need of action.”

  • The new GIRM document also says lay ministers may not approach the altar before the priest receives communion and that everyone must kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer despite the fact that thousands of churches no longer have kneelers.

Many believe that recent decisions emanating from Rome are typical of those that occur at the end of a long papacy when curial decisions have little integrated oversight. One must hope that this is true. However, all the retrograde decisions in the world are unlikely to stem the rising tide favoring optional celibacy. The future of Catholicism as a Eucharistic family depends on recognition of the diversity of priestly calls given by the Spirit. We count on that same Spirit to make all things new.

Winter 2003



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