AP report reveals difficulties for priests - is it time for a change?
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The Associated Press published an article detailing the challenges many priests face. It is time for a change in how the Church operates?
Laity already perform many roles within the Church. Is it time for them to perform even more?
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The Associated Press published an article explaining how difficult life can be for priests in the United States. While the article focuses on challenges in America, it also applies globally as the Church continues to cope with a variety of pressures.
After referring to waves of Catholic immigrants who built churches across the United States, the AP explains, "Today the priests leading those churches are under siege due to stresses, challenges and sex abuse scandals complicating their lives and those of their fellow priests across the United States."
The article cites the "ripple effect" of sex abuse scandals which has resulted in an "erosion of support." Priests are burning out under pressure and the responsibility of administering multiple parishes. The lack of trust from the public makes their work even more difficult. Rev. Mark Stelzer told the AP, "You're just trying to be a good priest and now everyone thinks you're a sex offender."
Naturally, these feelings and experiences have a chilling effect on vocations. Nor does it help when the clergy are rushed in their interactions with parishioners, often because they have been told to cover an increasing number of responsibilities. Who wants to sign up for that kind of work?
Many well-meaning people have offered dramatic solutions. Allow priests to marry, end priestly celibacy. Others suggest women should be made priests. Both of these options have been ruled unacceptable by the Church for various reasons. But there are other options.
One rarely mentioned, but workable solution would be to hand over administration of parishes to qualified laity. This has already happened to a great degree since the laity provide most of the services in a parish. However, turning over all of the business administration, all of the day-to-day work, as well as the overseeing of projects programs and more could resolve the crisis. The idea is to free priests to focus on pastoral work, which is the reason why most become priests anyway.
Priests need to be freed from their desks, and their rapid commutes between assignments. They need time to rest and relax, they need meaningful and fruitful relationships that cheer them up, lift their spirits and morale, and provide encouragement. They need stress-free vacations, and to look forward to retirement. They need time off when sick and someone to help provide care and coverage, even if now and then they just need a day for their mental health.
Some priests retain control over their parishes, overseeing most details, especially business and internal affairs. After all, the priest is literally responsible for their parish. But what does that mean? Does it mean the priest is in charge of everything from the physical plant to the staff, to the bills? Or does it mean the priest is in charge of the parishioners themselves? Right now, the answer is "yes."
Reactions to a proposal such as this would be varied. Some priests would welcome the opportunity to focus on pastoral matters, while others would see it as a demotion or a loss of control and responsibility. Some parishes perhaps work this way already, while in others, nothing happens without the parish priest being involved. Many personalities will feel differently about the idea.
But there must be a solution. We must help our priests, and that means the laity should assume every responsibility they can so priests can focus on responsibilities which no layperson can perform. And while this means some priests will no longer manage their parishes as they always have, it could mean less stress and better interactions. Ultimately, this could lead to a restoration of the Church as priests find time to return to classrooms and other places where they can literally speak the Gospel into the world.
Less time pouring over spreadsheets should mean more time pouring out grace.
This is nothing more than an idea. The Church does respond to crises and changes in its own way in its own time. Consider that it took nearly 150 years for the Church to respond fully to the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648; end of the Thirty Years' War). The one great reassurance is no matter what, the Church is protected by the promises of Christ, and it will never pass away from the Earth.
In the meantime millions of priests and priests to be could benefit from a reevaluation of how we administer the Church, and some changes to help priests escape drudgery at their desks, in favor of spreading the Gospel in the mission field.
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