Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Year For Priests: But what kind of priest?

by Juan Cejudo Caldelas *

It is noteworthy that the current pope declared June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 the Year for Priests and offers us a priest who has been declared a saint as a model to imitate: St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, born in 1786, famous for the hours he spent at the Sacrament of Confession, something that today has fallen into virtual disuse by most of the faithful.

The problem of the lack of priests and religious in the Church is terrifying. In Europe, the average age of priests is about 68 and in Spain, 65. The same problem occurs among men and women religious who are forced to bring in "reinforcements" from African and Asian countries to fill the necessary vacancies.

Please tell me what would happen if in any other professional group — teachers, police, medical personnel, firefighters, etc. — the average age was around 65-68. They would be doomed to failure and the profession would end.

But in the Church no one seems to be self-critical about this problem. Nobody asks why this is happening. No one is proposing ways to correct this disastrous trend.

The consequences in many countries, especially in Latin America (but also in Europe), are tremendous. Many communities are deprived of the Sunday Eucharist and have to replace it with liturgies led by lay people. In many parts, Christians can only participate in the Eucharist 4 or 5 times a year because of the lack of priests. Many parishes and religious residences have closed their doors.

There is contrasting data on this that could be presented such as a report by the Dutch Dominicans or the book by Fritz Lobinger, a German bishop living in South Africa, titled Priests for Tomorrow, which strongly embraces the ordination of married priests belonging to the same communities.

The Church must have the courage and the valor to understand that the model of the "traditional priest" taken from the time of the Council of Trent is already long outdated and that we must offer very different models of "priests", ones that are much more suitable to modern life and today's culture, as Lobinger points out so well.

They would be priests who have their professions, their families, who live their faith in their Community and it would be the Community as a whole that would take ownership and not just the priest. It would be the entire community that would organize and distribute the different services that are necessary for all, attentive to the qualities of the individual members.

There doesn't have to be just the parish priest, although this model still has to exist for a while.

We need new ways of being a priest that should coexist with the traditional model. The worker priests are a good example that it is possible to be a priest in a different way than the traditional one. Today the parish structures are obsolete for many people. Doesn't anybody in the Church wonder why young people are bored with Church Masses and drift away?

Other frameworks are required in which they can express their faith with the Community.

"Our meeting places are not the churches, they are our homes that are open and inviting for the whole Community, the open field, where we can all feel more at home, or spacious rooms for civil use which we use for our religious celebrations."

They should therefore be Christian communities that are very involved in the specific problems of the people, sharing their struggles, their demands, supporting the demonstrations in the street and all the just causes of the disadvantaged sectors of society.

("Las Comunidades de los discípulos de Jesús de Nazareth…" ["The Communities of the Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth..."] by Juan Cejudo (Cádiz) y Gabriel Sánchez (Montevideo-Uruguay))

The new model of priest will have much to do with his concern about social and environmental issues, his commitment to the disenfranchised and to those who have the least in this society, his interest in the problems of the Third World, his active membership in the world of the Internet where you can do much good for so many people in so many ways ...

It doesn't seem that the solution today is to give us St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney as an example, a lover of the sacrament of confession that almost nobody uses.

Rather, the example today should be a bishop like Casaldáliga who has so much to offer those who want to become priests, by living a spirituality of liberation and total commitment to the most excluded of this world, even unto death. Or the [late] Jesuit Vicente Ferrer, married with children, with his commitment to liberation for the poorest of the poor of India.

Cádiz, Spain, September 1, 2009

* Member of MOCEOP and Comunidades Cristianas


  1. You mentioned confessions. I think that confessions are good because they make you pause and reflect upon your life and the wrongs that you may have committed against others or yourself. You can do the same in solitary meditation or with a trusted friend but you may want to do it the confessionary with a priest to seek also advice and guidance. I don’t know the reason –as you said- of why Catholics are not practicing confession more often, perhaps because many are loosing that sense of “guilt” or inner awareness of their actions, don’t see the consequences of their actions or those actions are so reprehensible that don’t even want to entrust them to a confessor.
    I remember people in my country saying that if they sinned, that’s OK, because then they go to confession and get absolved.
    (Sort of like George Burns saying that he can quit smoking his cigar every day).
    Clearly, they totally missed the point of what confession should be.
    Confession should be more about repentance and the strong sincere desire to modify the personal behavior and line of thought that has led to the commission of the sinful or dishonest though and/or act, because lets not forget that all reprehensible act is, before it sees the light of day, a thought which none can see.
    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-30

    Personally I believe that if the sin involves wrong done to another person, and if I’m truly sorry and repentant, God will forgive me, but the matter will not be completely settled and the situation resolved holistically until I make the necessary reparations according to the situation and I obtain the forgiveness and reconciliation from whom I have wronged.

  2. I actually addressed the "why Catholics don't go to confession" in an earlier column I wrote called Sounds of Silence.