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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
11 Jan 2002
A Manufactured Priest Shortage

Exceptional misfortune or ecclesial mendacity?

In most dioceses across the country, Catholics have been led to believe that the current "shortage of priests" has been a wholly unexpected and rather unexplainable curse. They have been asked to pray for an increase in vocations which have mysteriously dried up in these modern times.

Rather then objectively evaluating the possible causes of this "shortage" 1 and coming up with solutions, many bishops are focusing on accommodations of how to function with less (or possibly no) priests. Certain measures which would otherwise be cause for outrage are accepted as appropriate measures in the current "vocations crisis".

This is not to say the "priest shortage" is not very real and very serious, but so are its underlying causes, two of which will be examined here. The first is an indirect attack that has been waged through the various reforms put in place since the Second Vatican Council. The second is an explicit screening process that has allowed progressive bishops to prevent the ordination of even slightly orthodox Catholic candidates. Strictly speaking, the first is a more formal cause, while the second is a means to propagate and extend the "shortage" for certain aims. The first explains how we've come to this point, while the second exposes the dishonesty (and outright treachery) of those with no intention of reversing the trend.

The numbers

Like every other Church vital sign subject to statistical measurement, the number of Catholic priests has significantly decreased since the close of the Council. Such a widely-recognized fact should not need much supporting argumentation, but it is useful to consider just how significantly the U.S. alone has been effected:

With the average age of priests constantly increasing, it is not uncommon for a diocese like Seattle to see more retirements than ordinations in a given year.

Novelties take their toll

The modern novelties which have plagued Christendom since Conciliar days have arguably been the greatest contributing factor to the "priest shortage". This can primarily be seen in the Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI. With what has come to pass for "active participation" in the modern liturgical rites, the priest is no longer seen to occupy an exclusive role.

At one time, only the priest would have access to the altar. His alone was the privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the Word of God, administering the sacraments, holding in his consecrated hands the Body of Christ and drinking the Precious Blood. His duty could not be replaced by a committee, nor his functions consigned to the laity. These days, in pretty much every parish in America, any member of the laity can read an epistle, become an extraordinary minister (distribute the Body of Christ) and receive communion in the hand. In some of the more "forward-thinking" parishes, properly termed "disobedient" (for now, at least), any man or woman can read the Gospel, deliver the Homily, recite the "opening prayers" or completely lead a priestless "communion service".

So what is so special about being a priest? Why would a young man want to take a vow of celibacy and dedicate his life to serving God in the priesthood if those priestly functions most visible have been consigned to the laity? Why not just be a layman who "actively participates" in the liturgy? It is not insignificant that what was once the exclusive domain of a consecrated priest, is open to all. Fr. James McLucas provides an excellent analogy:

Apart from the liturgy, modern collegiality and lay ministries have allowed for laypeople to take on a greater role in parish and diocesan administration. Vanishing is the parish run by a single priest attending to all the pastoral needs of his faithful. We have seen the emergence of "committees" of every sort whose sudden necessity, we are told, is beyond question. Worse yet, clerical pastors are being replaced by "Pastoral Life Directors". In Seattle, these are typically "nuns" performing duties and donning liturgical costumes frighteningly similar to priestly vestments (or the modern alternatives). Even in such instances when priests have been available for pastoral assignments, they have been passed over in favor of such "nuns" and committees. While it's doubtful that Pope Paul VI foresaw such aberrations, the foundation was laid when he opened various "ministries" to the laity: As with any sociological issue, an exact "cause" cannot be absolutely determined with scientific certainty, but that does not eliminate all reasonable hypotheses. No doubt there have been other factors contributing in the decline of ordinations to varying (and I'd argue lesser) degrees. These include novel theology, modern ecumenism, clerical perversion and scandalous behavior.

Seminary screening

If the post-Vatican II orientation and New Mass provide the implicit disincentive force working against vocations to the priesthood, seminary psychological screening is the impenetrable wall. The hundreds of stories of young men being dismissed from seminaries and blocked from ordination cannot be ignored. In 1995, Archbishop Elden Curtiss, a former seminary rector and vocations director, commented:

Many seminarians are dismissed for what is judged to be undue "rigidity" on such "issues" as homosexuality, the "ordination" of women and married clergy. This is all done under the guise of necessary "psychological evaluation" to determine whether an individual is considered "fit" for the priesthood. This practice is justified as a measure to catch perverts and pedophiles but is more often used to screen out orthodox Catholics, often completely ignoring any homosexual tendencies. Sister Kathy Bryant of the Los Angeles Archdiocese (and formerly of Seattle) is perhaps the most notorious for ensuring Catholics don't get into the seminaries for which she works. According to one former seminarian: Such claims have been reported around the country and verified by both bishops and priests. This is much more than unfounded rumor or paranoia. The situation has been so bad that just over two years ago, the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) deemed it necessary to release the following guidelines to the U.S. bishops: In the event that the Catholicism of a seminarian was somehow overlooked in the initial screening, not to worry. It was always caught later on in a "retesting" procedure. The CMA report continues: What basis does a bishop whose seminaries systematically screen out candidates for being too Catholic have for using the "shortage" of priests as an excuse for unheard of novelties and liberal agendas?

Q. "What if one of my personal beliefs clash with that of the institutional church?"

A. "Do you think that St. Martin de Porres, the mixed-race Peruvian slave who doctored and fed the poor of Lima, was comfortable with the institutional Church's position on slavery? There are great saints who challenged the institutional Church during their lifetimes, and great Catholics today who do the same. There is a prophetic dimension to our Catholic tradition." (emphasis mine)

(Question and response from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' Office for Vocations Web site as of 1/10/02 - grammar from original)

The "shortage" as a justification for further aberrations

In many dioceses, the current condition may have been the plan all along. With a celibate male priesthood coming to be seen as merely a necessary (rather than ideal) component of the Church, one wonders if some bishops would just as soon do away with priests completely and have parishes run by "lay committees". The first steps have already been taken by appointing "nuns" as "Pastoral Life Directors". Priests are just brought in for certain parts of the Masses and to occasionally hear confession (which often amounts to little more than a free therapy session).

These new measures are defended as "necessary" due to the "priest shortage" which, remember, is beyond the bishop's control or understanding. But are these such measures unfortunate or regrettable? Not according to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles:

It is ridiculous to believe God is showing His love by withholding priests, but at least Cardinal Mahony is willing to admit that this crisis is one of the "fruits" of the Second Vatican Council. On this point, the Cardinal and I are in complete agreement. However, the fruit I see as clearly rotten, he will happily dine upon and then demand more!

At the beginning of 2001, Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett announced his intentions to commission a "study" to investigate new ways to utilize the "gifts" of the laity in response to the vocations crisis. Does anyone doubt what the results of this "study" are going to be? Certainly not a strong repudiation of the questionable steps already taken, particularly the use of lay "Pastoral Administrators".

Calling a laywoman a "Pastoral Life Director" rather than "Pastor" (or "Pastress"?) does not avoid the serious disruption of authority it incurs. This also applies whenever "pastoral committees" are put into service. The usurpation of the priestly role is not without its cost:

These new structures are not as temporary as one may think and undermine the priestly role of "pastor". This is all contrary to the words of Pope John Paul II:

The "vocations crisis" has not only allowed feminists to come to positions of power in the Church, it has succeeded in convincing an increasing number of Catholics that liberal agendas are acceptable as "solutions". We've already seen this in lay-run liturgies but it goes much further, as shown in surveys of those calling themselves "Catholic":

Where to go from here

Since I'm regularly derided for making criticisms without proposing any solutions, this article will end on a somewhat positive note. Not that I acknowledge that clear demonstration of a solution is a necessary prerequisite for making obvious observations or necessary criticisms. Just because I can see the immense crater where a city recently stood and recognize it was caused rather than just happened though a natural geographical development, doesn't mean I know the guaranteed method for repair or have a magic "quick fix". Even such, the restoration of traditional Catholic beliefs and practices is an obvious place to start.

The re-establishment of the pastor as the head of the parish is a necessary step against the growing trend towards laity administration, but is much less important than the re-establishment of the traditional liturgical rites. We should return to (or at least propagate) the Tridentine Latin Mass which emphasized the special nature of the priest and his exclusive role in offering a Holy Sacrifice rather than just a "presider" of a congregation.

What to do about seminary screening is less of an issue, particularly if the priests are going to go from their ordination to a role of "Mass priest" for three parishes run by feminists in Jedi costumes. How will traditional Catholic seminarians ever make it through to their ordinations without being screened out? Deception was the method used by Modernists and Communists to get through seminaries, but for Catholics, that's not an option. The first (and best) means is through the prayer and sacrifice of all Christ's faithful. We should continually keep in our thoughts and intentions the simple truth that the restoration of the Church cannot come about without faithful Catholics entering the priesthood.

The second option is the establishment and expansion of traditional priestly orders like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) which are outside the normal diocesan structures. This addresses both of the main problems and allows for a seminary training not influenced to the same degrees by the liberalism infecting the Church. Although such orders have the problem of being shunned by local bishops or receiving undue scrutiny and intervention by Vatican officials, they are successful in their mission of turning out truly Catholic priests.

Those who deny the New Mass could have anything to do with the "priest shortage" and don't believe their bishop could possibly screen out acceptable seminary candidates, can still easily witness the refusal of bishops to bring in a priest from a traditional order. In Seattle, it has been deemed preferable to have laywomen "pastresses" and priests who "cover" multiple parishes than an FSSP priest. It's not that priests are unavailable, it's that the ones available are not in-line with progressive agendas.

The correlation between traditional practices and ordinations can clearly be seen in the seminaries of traditional orders. While bishops across the nation struggle to attract new seminarians, the FSSP receives more seminary applicants than they can accommodate. This correlation can also be seen in certain "conservative" dioceses (e.g. Lincoln, Nebraska) which receive much more vocations than their "liberal" counterparts. Although this is a step in the right direction, the state of vocations in "conservative" dioceses still does not represent any sort of "renewal" of pre-Vatican II days, but a slight recovery after decades of a horrible free-fall. While these examples are useful for demonstrating an important correlation, they should not be held up as the new acceptable standard and praised as the "solution" to all the Church's problems.

To those who claim the return to pre-Vatican II days and restoration of Christendom are not possible, I ask why not? We've already seen how much change can happen in fifty years, and the Church is still standing (albeit weakly). Could changing back possibly do more harm than we've already endured? If "communion services" run by laywomen and parishes run by committees can all be justified by the current "priest shortage," can not the restoration of traditional Catholic beliefs and practices also be justified?

Peter Miller
Seattle, WA

1 "Shortage" is put in quotations not to suggest no such shortage exists but that it is not entirely accurate and suggests the Church hierarchy has no culpability in the matter — that the "shortage" occurred about in normal operation because the well just dried up.
2 K. Woodward, "An Acute Shortage of Priests," Newsweek (4/18/1983)
3 J. McLucas, "The Emasculation of the Priesthood", The Latin Mass (Spring, 1998) [EOP]
4 Ibid.
5 M. Rose, "Priestly Vocations: A Self-Imposed Shortage" (09/2001)
6 R. Kumpel "It was us against them; Does Mahony Want a Priestless Church?" (3/19/2001)
7 Catholic Medical Association, "Statement to U.S. Bishops" (11/1999)
8 Ibid.
9 R. Mahony, "As I Have Done for You, A Pastoral Letter on The Ministry" (2000)
10 [EOP]
11 Vatican Information Service, "John Paul II Profiles the Parish Priest" (11/23/2001)
12 K. Meyer, "Accommodations to continuing priest shortage", National Catholic Reporter (10/29/1999)
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