Does the Priesthood Need a Major Rethink?
Frank Bompas, Johannesburg – In the parish where I belong, the present priest and his predecessor have not been South Africans, and it seems as though the diocese does not have enough local priests to provide for all the parishes.
I think part of the blame for the shortage of priests has been a failure to energetically recruit vocations. In the last 20 years, I cannot recall any vocations drive being made in my parish; and if there have been any efforts made by the diocese to recruit men for the priesthood anywhere else, this parish never publicised them.
It is important to realise what the consequences of a shortage of priests are. The Catholic Church is a sacramental Church heavily dependent upon priests to say Mass, hear confessions, officiate at marriages, and administer the sacrament of the sick.
While married deacons do exist in some parishes, the ministry they have is peripheral. Only when there are simply no priests around does the Catholic deacon seem to have anything other than a ceremonial role.
The main reason for the present shortage of priests is, of course, the fact that the ministry is restricted to celibate males.
Traditionally these were recruited from school leavers and more recently from young men who had not yet settled their careers. The problem in many cases was many young men do not have either the experience or spiritual maturity to act as Church leaders and the training they received often did not give them enough guidance in effective pastoral ministry.
Opportunities for ministry must be opened up so that the pastoral and sacramental mission of the Church is not further undermined.
Whatever theological reasons there may be for restricting meaningful Church ministry to celibate males need to be put aside in the interests of the survival of Catholicism as a significant Christian community.
Instead of searching for vocations among young, uncommitted and untried males, we need to look for candidates for full-time ministry among those whose character and talents have been tested and tried.
Those found to be suitable need to be given intensive practical training that focuses strongly on the pastoral needs of the Church to enable them to function effectively as Church builders and spiritual leaders.
Fundamentally, we need to rethink our Church ministry. For guidance and inspiration we can look at what many of the newer Churches have done: we can learn a lot about running successful Church communities from charismatic and evangelical Church organisations.