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part-time priests of a part-time god

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 30, 2005

Saturday's Dallas Morning News has a sympathetic "personal interest" story on a 65-year-old renegade ex-Jesuit priest named John Stack, who intends to marry in a few months.

He said he didn't set out to be a crusader on the issue of marriage and the priesthood, but he's glad to find himself in that role. And he said he finds plenty of support. "I think a lot of Catholics think it's time to move on," he said. ...

On a practical level, John said, he has always thought the celibacy rule was bad for the church. "In my Jesuit class of 25 guys, 20 of them left to marry," he said. "The class that followed mine had 35, and they all left. All of them!"

Father, let me put it to you straight. ALL professions are celibate professions. Forget the movies you've seen and the profile pieces in the Sunday papers, and look around you. Every lawyer, every doctor, every professor (&c.) must make a choice between advancing in his field and attending to his family. Time paid to one is robbed from the other. True, some rare individuals are so talented that they can go on for years -- or so it seems -- out-distancing their professional colleagues on one hand and out-parenting the parents of their acquaintance on the other. But sooner or later they hit a ceiling -- or the family implodes. In fact, the main difference between a true profession and a job is that the latter takes only so much of your time each day and then releases you to yourself, whereas the former never ceases making demands. Each new day sinks the professional deeper in debt to his field; even while he sleeps, other professionals are reading important books that he has yet to read, other professionals are writing important articles that he will never see. Even Nobel Prize winners are forced to make a compromise with mediocrity; they just make it at a higher level than others.

So you've lost enthusiasm for your profession, Father? Happens all the time. And given the way most priests of your generation view their priesthood, I'd lose interest in it too. Further, I suspect that those of your brethren calling for the option of a married priesthood look back on their lives with distaste and a vague sense of shame: desk-bound officers in a peacetime army. Celibacy apart, you've had an unexacting time of it, and the legacy left to your fellow Catholics is plain to anyone who opens his newspaper to assess the state of the Church. I hope your second bride gets better treatment than your first.

Father, there are priests who came before you (and there are newly ordained priests coming after) who see sacerdotal chastity not as a "celibacy rule" extraneous to their priesthood but as an element in the imitation of Christ that is intrinsic to it. The imitation of Christ might prove too demanding for some people, but can it ever become boring?

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Show 11 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Novus744 - Feb. 02, 2005 3:03 PM ET USA

    unpathedhaunt, I don't understand what you mean when you say that Diogenes will answer for his judgement of others. All I see here is his correcting the way that FrStack was thinking. It seems to me that your criticism of Diogenes is closer to judging than his comments are. You implied that he would answer for what he did wrong, all he did was say that FrStack was wrong. I'm not worried about the Church accepting a change like that-it couldn't happen without changing belief on Faith or Morals.

  • Posted by: Buck Brown - Feb. 01, 2005 9:57 PM ET USA

    Living in Dallas nothing published in the DMN suprises me; this writer obvisouly showed a sympathetic bias toward Stack and made some backhand comments about the Church. My question is this: he supposedly is holding 'Mass' at a local high school for 150 of the 'faithful' - 'Father' what are you doing with the collection? The Jesuits are really starting to bother me. We had one as a fill in at out Parish and he had everyone sit during the Gospel while he inserted comments after every line!

  • Posted by: - Jan. 31, 2005 8:54 PM ET USA

    It's the old story; I quit so the institution is horrible! The Jesuits may get it right some day and I hope to live to see it!

  • Posted by: Abraham Tolemahcs - Jan. 31, 2005 8:04 PM ET USA

    I am as convinced now as a father of 7 as I was as a father of 2; a man can not fully serve the Church as a priest and a family at the same time. Perhaps it can be done with RARE exceptions but to make it the rule would be a disaster for either the Church or the family. It's simple math. Add the hours in a day that a wife and children should have the attention of a father and add the hours in a day that a parish needs the attention of their Father. Who is the priority?

  • Posted by: Zoromyster - Jan. 31, 2005 7:34 PM ET USA

    << He said he didn't set out to be a crusader on the issue of marriage and the priesthood -- ex-father John Stark >> Neither did Martin Luther, John. And -- after 'ol Martin was finished destroying the Church, he too abondoned celebacy to marry one of the good sisters. << I hope your second bride gets better treatment than your first. >> I would call that a head butt, Phil.

  • Posted by: Pseudodionysius - Jan. 31, 2005 3:45 PM ET USA

    Diogenes has raised an extremely interesting, and subtle, point that many are tempted to skate over. Thumbing through Josef Pieper's Leisure: The Basis of Culture is required, as is giving a moment's thought to the position of those lay Catholics who take a vow of celibacy as a non-cleric. This occurs in secular institutes, I believe (an ecclesial expert can correct or enhance, of course). Well done Uncle Di. A most apt polemic to meditate on during Lent.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 31, 2005 2:15 PM ET USA

    Wrong emphasis, Diogenes. The scandal in the Fr. Stack story is not that he feels he can no longer live the celibate life and wishes to be freed from his vows. He is hardly the first and there is an ecclesiastical process to deal with that. The real scandal is that he uses his weakness to attack and tear down the institution. This is the tactic of CORPUS and Rent-A-Priest - illicitly administering the Sacraments and leading people astray. Be hot or cold - not lukewarm...

  • Posted by: - Jan. 31, 2005 9:05 AM ET USA

    The world, which is maintianed in existence by our own immanent God, will continue for as long as He wants regardless of what we do. What the former Fr. Stack also never learned, and which necessarily reveals a very defective understanding of both the Old and the New Testament, is that just laws and rules are essentially for teaching not for denying or bossing men.

  • Posted by: Eagle - Jan. 31, 2005 7:09 AM ET USA

    I disagree. I was laicized in 1974, and have been a practicing attorney since 1977. Both professions demand dedication to one's people and a striving for excellence in expertise. I was also married, in the Church, in 1975 and have been blessed with two children. Being a father was, and is, the most transforming experience of my life. So priorities, and time allocation, became a permanent part of my life. But setting priorities did not mean neglecting family or clients. It can be done.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 31, 2005 5:43 AM ET USA

    Oh, Diogenes, you will answer for your judgment of others. A priest is called by God; the Church recognizes this call (hopefully). Celibacy is a man-made rule. How dare you get between a priest and his God.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Jan. 31, 2005 12:51 AM ET USA

    Great essay, Diogenes. Father Stack certainly seems stuck in the muck/mire of his generation. He doesn't realize the truth of his statement that "it's time to move on..." So many priests from his generation want to remain in the period of the 1960s-70s... all the while labeling the younger priests as "pre-Vatican II." Most of the younger priests simply want to move forward with the Church. It's many of the Stack-type priests actually who want to go back to a time of dissent/traitorism.

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