ALMOST everytime the matter of the shortage of priests comes up for discussion, the vow of celibacy becomes the convenient scapegoat.
Supposed, the absence of marital bliss for the virile male in priestly robes turns off the prospective youth from pursuing the challenge of a celibate priestly ministry.
As if on cue, the issue of optional celibacy, married clergy, the ordination of women would litter the discussion floors and coffee shops, hoping against hope that the stoic and archaic tradition would give way to a more liberalized”enlightenment” of the sitting Petrine successor.
We can blame for this perception a secularized hedonistic mindset that jeeringly regard those who turn their backs on marriage as unnatural freaks cast into the dark shades of outdated religiosity. (As if married people are exempt from fifty shades of grayish sexual aberrations and inanities that range from the maniacal to the beastly.)
As if inevitably drawn into this paradigm, Pope Francis recently threw into the ecclesiastical debate the issue of allowing married men with tested moral and spiritual aptitude (viriprobati) to take up the priesthood.
Of course, this is not a novelty. It was practiced in the early Church and even more recently on a strictly case-to-case basis, using the Church’s mechanism for accommodation, namely, dispensation.
Many far-flung mission stations, in addressing the shortage of priests and the necessity of an authentic local clergy, have benefited from this “dispensation.” And somehow it has worked for the secluded mission areas.
With this new papal trend-setting, it is hoped that the practice becomes universally acceptable.
However, addressing the dearth of Catholic ministers cannot be confined just to the issue of celibacy.
For instance, where are the Catholic parents who should have prodded their sons to answer God’s call? In my experience as a former vocation director, the parents themselves are, surprisingly, the first to oppose, giving a myriad of excuses, such as, “Who will support us in our old age,” or “There’s no money in that profession.”
I guess, I got mine from the encouraging “Go for it” of my parents.
Then, how about the Catholic schools that are supposed to be breeding places not only of brilliant academic outputs, but supposedly also of boys discerning and deciding to become priests. In my time, our school, Sta. Catalina College, allotted funds for students who mightdecide to venture into seminary education after much goading and support from their mentors.
I cannot forget that my high school principal, the late Mother Elena Lazo, was an avid stakeholder in my priesthood.
Yes, of coursethe minimum of nine to 10 years of training is definitely a deterrent. I have long proposed a shorter period of about five years.
After ordination, however, the neophyte priest should continue his formation under a mentor and pursue his studies in theology. Although limited in his ministry, being under formation, the young priest could already celebrate Mass and help out in the basic administration of the sacraments and especially in homiletic activities. Longevity of training does not necessarily guarantee undaunted commitment and dexterity in the ministry.
Also, and many confreres of mine will hate me for this, how about priests vacating their postings and assignments that are not directly related to ordination?
Priests are not ordained to become, for instance, rectors, presidents, deans, regents, treasurers of schools or administrators of attached institutions such as hospitals, even if such institutions are for “evangelistic” purposes.
Most recently, quite a number of parochial schools managed by religious sisters were taken over by the local clergy after being sent by their superiors to gobble up courses in education management.
Not to demean priests handling such jobs or apostolates, these posts, however, should have been assigned to an “empowered laity” who are professionals in their field and at times are better trained for these tasks, thereby enabling the priests to “mind their own business.”
The late Fr. Ben Villote was of the opinion that priests should relinquish teaching loads in the seminaries to lay people who could be trained and educated to handle theological, philosophical and biblical subjects so that priests can focus on preaching and the sacraments.
And lastly, young people are always honed to action via role modeling and hero worship, at least for openers since their lofty ideals have to be concretized by the exemplary.
I am one with the rest of the clergy in saying, “mea culpa.” Probably, we failed as models worth emulating.
The above observations may seem simplistic and may not even touch the tip of the problem, but definitely they could defocus the issue of the shortage of Catholic priests from the “usual suspect” or scapegoat, namely priestly celibacy.
The author is a priest of the Prelature of Batanes and has been a full-time preacher and minister for the past 35 years.