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GOD Provides (An Editorial)

A FutureChurch member recently wrote to outgoing U.S. Bishops’ Liturgy Committee Chair Cardinal Francis George to request discussion of ending mandatory celibacy and opening the diaconate to qualified women rather than lose Mass and the sacraments. The Cardinal’s reply was less than encouraging:

"It is hard to tell whether this letter writing campaign indicates a concern for the availability of the Eucharist or is just another occasion to advance an agenda that has little to do with Catholic tradition... At the present time in this country, the Eucharist is readily available, what is missing is practicing Catholics.”

I will put aside my observation that it is practicing Catholics who cared enough to write to the Cardinal who, by the way, was just elected Vice President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference. Likewise I leave aside the fact that married priests and female deacons have been part of the Catholic tradition since New Testament times.

Instead, I want to address the thinly veiled accusation that to support a change in who can be Catholic priests and deacons constitutes an “agenda.” Such an accusation presumes a self-seeking motivation on the part of those who raise the issue. It overlooks the possibility that such people may truly have the good of God’s people as their first concern as much as the cardinals and bishops do.

Here are two real life examples

Lee is a Catholic priest who left the active ministry to marry. He and his wife and children are vital members of a large and vibrant Florida parish. The aging pastor must frequently take time off for health reasons. When he does, there is often no one to celebrate Eucharist on Sundays, let alone weekdays. In addition to his full time job, Lee effectively functions as a deacon in this parish. He ministers to the aged and sick, works with the youth group and, when the pastor is gone, conducts Word and Communion services. He is not permitted to preside at the Eucharist.

Does Lee’s desire to fully exercise his priesthood constitute an “agenda?”

Celine is a Catholic nun who for 15 years served as parish life coordinator to a three hundred family parish in Michigan. Several “circuit-riding priests” came on Sundays to celebrate Eucharist at the parish. If someone cancelled she, on occasion, telephoned as many as 40 different priests to find a substitute. One Sunday afternoon three baptisms were planned. Out of town family members had arrived to attend the ceremony. At the last minute, the scheduled priest couldn’t come. Celine tried in vain to find a replacement. Finally, in desperation, she conducted the baptisms herself. (There is canonical provision for this when authorized by the bishop). Later, several diocesan priests criticized Celine for her action in behalf of her parishioners.

Does Celine’s desire to bring Catholic people the sacraments constitute an “agenda?”

I have some other questions:
• Why is it assumed that aspiring to the priesthood or the diaconate is politically motivated rather than a response to God's love poured out on the Church?
• Why aren’t our bishops doing more to meet with people like Lee and Celine, to encourage them and bring their pastoral experience and wisdom to other bishops, including the Pope?
• Could it be that married men and women love God and desire to serve the People of God as much as our cardinals, bishops and priests do?

If our episcopal leaders can bring themselves to focus on what God’s provident love is already doing among us, perhaps we will be better able to have trusting conversations about our shared sacramental future.

Christine Schenk


Winter 2005



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