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‘Road to Renewal’ filled with too many bumps

The Diocese of Buffalo’s “Road to Renewal” has announced its decision on the makeup of the Diocese. What was sold to the faithful as a process that would right size the diocese and its parishes at a time of declining Mass attendance, declining reception of the Sacraments, with an aging Catholic population appears to have had an unannounced aim of making some parishes available for sale to raise cash to pay sexual abuse claims.

We should remember that an important reason why the diocese has fallen to this state is because for many years men who were potential pedophiles became priests. When they were found out instead of calling the police, bishops hid them in new parishes or sent them to Canada for a “cure” even though pedophilia is known to be virtually incurable.

Yet for more than 20 years, even before the sexual abuse crises struck in full fury, the diocese had already gone through several cycles of parish closing and mergers. I participated in the first two cycles, and I now believe that both were charades played out by a succession of bishops so that they would get their way with few questions or complaints from the laity. I did not participate in the most recent program, but the reaction of many laity indicates that it was more of the same.

What caught my attention was the closing of St. Bernadette in Orchard Park where my son and his family are parish members. This was a vital parish with many young families in a growing area of the towns’ of Hamburg and Orchard Park and should have been what the diocese would want to retain. But dollar signs overcame good judgment.

My son said with its closing the church is losing not only a parish but a community of people. For many their parish was not only a spiritual home but also a social home, a place where even family members who had moved away could return to celebrate special events with other family members.

We continue to be told that parish closings are necessary because of falling Mass attendance and a steady decline in the reception of the sacraments. However, it’s my perception that these have been in decline since the first parish closings some 20 years ago.

How do we stop all this? It’s easy, just “hire” more priests.

In the Diocese of Buffalo, the number of diocesan priests is currently 115. By 2030 this number will drop to 70 and by 2040 it is projected that there will be 38 priests active in the diocese although I suspect that is no more than a hopeful guess. Whatever way you look at this it is a dire situation for a sacramental church where only a celibate, ordained priest can celebrate all of the seven sacraments of the Church. Perhaps Permanent Deacons who are ordained members of the Catholic clergy should be given the opportunity to be ordained as priests. Many are married but that should not be a problem.

Until the 1st Lateran Council in 1123 married clergy in the Catholic Church were common. It was this council that declared that Bishops, Priests, and Deacons were not to live with women and must remain celibate. The actual motivation for this was to combat the medieval practice of primogeniture where a fathers lands would be passed onto his eldest son or in this case church lands going from the parish priest to his eldest son. Those who say that there is no correlation between celibacy and holiness may have a point.

Even today the clergy of eastern rite churches which are in communion with the Papacy are not required to be celibate and many are married. In addition, over the years 70 former priests of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. have been ordained as Catholic priests.

Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychologist, who devoted much of his life to the psychological treatment of priests. estimated that at any given time only 50% of priests, monks and bishops are actually celibate most having sexual relationships with consenting adults. But he wrote that men in authority such priests, bishops, monks and abbots who are lying about their own sex lives would likely hesitate to call out others even if they were abusing children.

The last time I suggested ordaining women priests in a column I upset some readers, but I believe that attitudes are changing albeit glacially on this subject. There is some talk about ordaining women as Permanent Deacons and some acceptance of the belief that Christ did not choose just men as Apostles but also chose women such as his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. Unfortunately, when the New Testament was written the achievements of women in any aspect of society were left out of most written records. There is also evidence that in the early church many congregations were organized and ministered by women.

Sixty years after Vatican II 80% of the ministry in the Church is done by lay people, 80% who are women. They are active in liturgical and pastoral ministries. They perform leadership and management functions for the Church. They are particularly involved in education in Catholic schools and catechetical work.

There are means for solving or at least alleviating the priest shortage before there are no longer any priests left. My fear is that the Church lacks the bold leadership to make and carry out what needs to be done.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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