Thursday, August 23, 2012

Non-Catholics look to the Priest

This reveals a lot.

I was talking with a couple of ladies the other day who were both surprised and offended to learn that ‘normal’ priests don’t take vows of poverty. I informed them that only ‘religious’ priests must do that. “Aren’t all priests supposed to be religious?” one of them quite predictable quipped.

They were visibly disturbed by this revelation, though.

One of them I know is Protestant. Seeing her indignation, I said, “But Protestant ministers don’t take vows of poverty.”

She retorted, “That’s different: they aren’t supposed to take a vow of poverty.” I said that if secular clergy were supposed to then they would. Obviously, they aren’t supposed to.

I went on, “Scientists don’t take vows of poverty, nor do professors... etc.” But my two interlocutors were not budging. By this point it had become a fruitless discussion. But it is clear, they were scandalized by this bit of news. It didn’t jive with what they knewwhat everyone out there knows (their words, not mine) – about the priesthood, and it disappointed them. Of course, they then made passing remarks about ‘most’ priests violating their vows of celibacy. I challenged them on that.

Eventually I shut up. I was flabbergasted, to say the least, by their amazement. I realized something: the world needs priests who take vows of poverty. People need there to be other people out there who live a better life than they do, who live an admirable form of life that they have no intention whatsoever of following. Such people might never darken the door of a Catholic Church, yet they still need it to be there doing its thing.

I realize that a great deal of the information they collected regarding the priesthood comes from the culturally dominant Protestant polemic against the ‘hypocritical and materialistic’ priesthood. Of course, just because it’s mainstream doesn’t make it correct. Protestants haven’t always been the best historians and sociologists of Catholicism. It’s a proud tradition of scientific incompetence, dating all the way back to the English Protestant’s, John Foxe’s, Acts and Monuments of 1563. Sometimes, what ‘everyone knows’ is, quite simply, false.

A quick glance at Canon Law reveals this:

Can. 281 §1. Since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration which is consistent with their condition, taking into account the nature of their function and the conditions of places and times, and by which they can provide for the necessities of their life as well as for the equitable payment of those whose services they need.

Can. 282 §1. Clerics are to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all things that have a semblance of vanity.

Can. 285 §4. Without the permission of their ordinary, they are not to take on the management of goods belonging to lay persons or secular offices which entail an obligation of rendering accounts. They are prohibited from giving surety even with their own goods without consultation with their proper ordinary. They also are to refrain from signing promissory notes, namely, those through which they assume an obligation to make payment on demand.

Can. 286 Clerics are prohibited from conducting business or trade personally or through others, for their own advantage or that of others, except with the permission of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

By way of contrast, referring to ‘religious,’ that is to say, monks, nuns, friars, etc., Canon Law states:

Can. 573 §2. The Christian faithful freely assume this [consecrated, religious] form of living in institutes of consecrated life canonically erected by competent authority of the Church. Through vows or other sacred bonds according to the proper laws of the institutes, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience and, through the charity to which the counsels lead, are joined in a special way to the Church and its mystery.

So there you have it. Frankly, their reaction immediately made me think about the clerical sexual abuse scandal. It is a scandal precisely because people set priests apart – even Protestants set them apart in a way they do not set their own clergy apart. In other words, they expect less from their own clergy than they expect from ours. Of course, as so many horror movies testify, in times of supernatural turmoil you don’t go running for the minister. You run for the closest Romish priest you can find. This is why it has been, and will always be the case that sexual abuse by a priest is front page news but by anybody else it somewhere towards the back of the paper. The blog my SCCB still carries, despite several complaints I have received over the past few months about it, that is to say, Sylvia’sSite, is a blog – it’s plain enough to see – fuelled by a profound sense of disappointment in priests, disappointment in a class of people that Sylvia has obviously held to a much higher standard than the rest of her fellow man. She had ever right to expect better, didn’t she?

Anyway, God bless our priests. I’m not a member of a 410,000 + group who are being continually judged by their weakest members. As a professor, at the worst I am lumped in with people who are 'airy fairy' and 'talk about useless things all day.' As a principal, well, as a principal, I've never been subjected to any form of bigotry - so far.
The Old Roast Beef of England - a lovely bit of bigotry by William Hogarth.


  1. I used to work with a fundamentalist gal who was very ant-Catholic. She talked quite often about the prayer group she was in and how they were always praying for acquaintances who seemed to be demon-possessed or demon-influenced. Finally, in exasperation one day, she asked me how to get in touch with our diocesan exorcist. So hmmm...when it got down to the nitty-gritty, she wanted a Catholic priest.

  2. This is a very good point. Thanks

  3. There is something, something I was not looking for, in Eugene Boylan's Difficulties In Mental Prayer, that helped me greatly in this regard. It speaks of the difference between secular and consecrated. The consecrated seek holiness within their lives lived within their charism. The secular seek holiness in formation before they leave seminary. This is paraphrase if you please, however, I think that the promise of one who is holy carries equal, if not greater, weight than the vow of one who seeks holiness. I do not know when seminaries began to be "different" in this regard, however, it seems reasonable that the intentional or unintentional change in this attitude may indeed have something to do with those shepherds who were, and still are, simply unprepared to be leading others to holiness who had/have not attained a certain degree of perfection.

  4. Holiness, Jeanne, is never a "once achieved, now I don't have to think about it" issue. I am a Carmelite nun. Our living environment is created to enhance the life of holiness in its most intense form. Yet, regardless of environment and the best of training, we come with our own fallen selves and must do battle with the "old man" at every turn. One does NOT "achieve" holiness prior to leaving seminary. In fact, the "religious" priesthood has always been looked upon by the Church as the higher state. The parish priest must also always strive for personal holiness but, his vocation requires that he do so through the service of his parish in obedience to his local bishop. The religious priest has the additional aid of a more rigorous obedience to his abbot/provincial/father prior. He also has the aid of living in community, to support him in his efforts in the spiritual life and he, unlike the secular priest, practices a more strict form of poverty, in union with the poverty of Christ.

    Both, of course, can become holy but both forms of priest - as with all of us - must make it a daily effort. Those who are not growing in the spiritual life are dying and falling away from it.

    1. Thank you Sister M.

      As I understand your comment there is nothing to the contrary in what I sought to convey.

      If it seemed so then I offer apology direct others to seek out Boylan's work, Difficulties in Mental Prayer. It was to me most delightful and surprising to find his comment in this regard amongst the valuable treatment of that which the title indicates.

  5. Odd, I expect the Protestant woman to know her Scriptures well enough to recall 1 Timothy 5:17-18.

    17 Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching.

    18 For the scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing," and, "A worker deserves his pay."
    --New American Bible

    Oh well it's just another bit of proof that if Protestants knew their Bible, they'd be Catholic.

    Your HTML cannot be accepted: Tag is not allowed: BLOCKQUOTE

  6. Our priest has three churches - translate that to three salaries, which works out to an annual salary of about $34,000.

    For that salary, he says Sunday Mass at each church, and two weekday Masses at the one where he lives - no other scheduled Sacraments, no classes or discussion groups for adults, no classes for children (parents teach their own children), no retreats, no Rosaries, no Eucharistic Adoration - nothing. Zip. Nada.

    In this poor rural Appalachian town. His salary exceeds that of virtually every single person in our parish. He's the first priest assigned here who actually accepts the full salary.

    He owns more expensive "toys" than any of his parishioners - bikes, boats, skiis ... we all need hobbies and recreation, but some of his hobbies cost more than a teacher earns in a year.

    He's away from the parish 2-3 days per week - boating or skiing or visiting friends. He doesn't visit parishioners.

    He's been a priest about 5 years. In the long run, I don't see him lasting. Have diocesan priests always been exempt from the vow of poverty? It seems wrong that our priest takes home what in this area is considered a "lavish" salary.

    1. perhaps instead of detracting from this priest in a public forum, you might befriend him and pray and do penance for him. I would hate to be judged by the dumb things I did 5 years into my voaction which 38 years later is strong and vibrant.

    2. The complaint is valid ... and verified ubiquitously in the US. Most of us (laity) pray hard for our priests, we love our priests and know how much we need them, but we lament the poor formation in most seminaries and - dare I say - rectories, which is not conducive to holiness. I've been in two US seminaries and have spent time in many rectories: I know whereof I speak.
      Also, remember: a remonstrative word - even spoken to a priest - may help him to save his soul. In the case above, which provides food for thought in view of the original post, I'd say that this is not detraction, but a threnos, as Greek Catholics call it, a lamentation of a pitiable and pitiful state, which we beg the Holy Father and our bishops to rectify. Examples of the last few decades, similar to 15th and 16th century decadence, are enough to prove the point.

    3. I would agree were this addressed to the bishop who cando something about it. It's not.

  7. Just stumbled on to your blog--well done.

    Vatican II (the real Vatican II, and not the "spirit" of Vatican II)addresses this issue directly:

    "Priests, moreover, are invited to embrace voluntary poverty by which they are more manifestly conformed to Christ and become eager in the sacred ministry. For Christ, though he was rich, became poor on account of us, that by his need we might become rich.(49) And by their example the apostles witnessed that a free gift of God is to be freely given,(50) with the knowledge of how to sustain both abundance and need.(51) A certain common use of goods, similar to the common possession of goods in the history of the primitive Church,(52) furnishes an excellent means of pastoral charity. By living this form of life, priests can laudably reduce to practice that spirit of poverty commended by Christ.

    Led by the Spirit of the Lord, who anointed the Savior and sent him to evangelize the poor,(53) priests, therefore, and also bishops, should avoid everything which in any way could turn the poor away. Before the other followers of Christ, let priests set aside every appearance of vanity in their possessions. Let them arrange their homes so that they might not appear unapproachable to anyone, lest anyone, even the most humble, fear to visit them."

    My son is recently ordained--I can tell you that he and other young priests I have met take this invitation seriously. Indeed, they recognize the scandal that can come from ignoring this invitation; a scandal to their own priesthood and to the world.

    Conversely, having attended a protestant funeral service yesterday at which he was also present (the grandfather of his best friend from childhood), the mystery and awe that the priesthood presents was palpable. After the prayer service (he sat among the congregation in his cassock), he was flocked by those in attendance.

  8. The person who mentioned the priest with the $34 grand salary - that's a problem that I've noticed here and there, for sure. Is it possible that this is simplicity for him? Maybe is is from a wealthy family and this is him 'slumming'? who knows.

    That amount of money wouldn't get you a cardboard box to live in in Manhattan, of course, but in a poor area it's alot of money. Priests and bishops should be careful with the examples they set - so should we all!

    I think priests are, statistically speaking, more aware of the obligation to simplicity than the laity - statistically - that doesn't mean they all get it right.

    Yes, pray for, understand, and forgive.

  9. This is very true. I know a female Methodist minister who claimed to come into contact with someone possessed. When asked if she performed an exorcism, she responded; "Heck no, I called a priest!"