Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The manufactured crisis in vocations

Once again we have a clear demonstration that truth is far more attractive than falsehood. The late Bishop Kenneth Untener of the Diocese of Saginaw died leaving his successor exactly zero incoming seminarians. Instead, he left behind a network of nuns and laywoman administrators in charge at parishes.

Fortunately, Bishop Robert Carlson was sent there from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in February of 2005. In the year since he's been there, he has gotten 16 seminarians and hopes to have 20 in the Fall.

Those who, like Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh (now being named as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., to take the place of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick), think that more lay involvement is the answer need only look at the disaster that Bishop Untener left behind him to see how false that idea is.

There are bishops, including David Zubik of Green Bay (a Wuerl protégé) and Wuerl, who say there's no difference in the parish life with the administrators versus with priests. That, however, is simply not true and I know that from personal experience.

Here in the Diocese of Winona, where we haven't had an ordination for four years, the typical set up is for two or three parishes to be served by one priest, some of whom aren't the most mentally stable. Some have lay or Religious helpers, others do not. Daily Mass is hit or miss -- sometimes Sunday Mass is as well. Confession means having to drive around to find out who's having it and when, and you need to do that within a 30-mile radius in case a priest doesn't show up when you expect him to.

These things do not change when there's a layperson, Religious or even a deacon in charge because of the priest's absence. None of them can celebrate Mass or hear confessions. None of them are fathers.

I cannot bring myself to entrust what's going on in my life and family to a deacon, much less some non-habited nun -- even a habited nun. Perhaps I can do it with a deacon if I know that man and know that his formation, training and experience are more than mine. At least with a deacon, he has the grace of orders. But I certainly cannot do it with a nun.

There will have been changes in the way parishioners relate in those parishes. With a priest, there is a father and a fatherly relationship. You can't have that with a nun. Even with a deacon, the deacon is there as a servant -- that's what his title means -- not as a father. Because the Catholic Church is based on the identity of the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- she has to reflect that in day-to-day life and we do that through the ministry of the episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate. Without priests in parishes as fathers, the faith of the Church is going to suffer.

It's not enough for priests to come simply to dispense sacraments. That's reducing their role to mere functionaries, like a machine in an assembly plant. Their role is far more than that -- it's a human and spiritual role that is irreplaceable. Without it, the Church will not be able to live its life to the fullest.

So when someone like Bishop Carlson comes along who is strong, firm on the teachings of the Church, models manly behavior to other men, and is not afraid to make demands of young men to follow the Lord unreservedly as a priest, they inevitably respond.

It's something other bishops need to learn rather than throwing up their hands and saying, "Oh, what can I do? I'll have to rely on laity more now." Sorry, Excellency. That's going to get you and the people of your diocese exactly nowhere. Take a stand, be firm, don't waver, make demands -- and watch the seminary fill up before your eyes.

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