take five

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 31, 2006

The USCCB has promulgated the fifth edition of its Program for Priestly Formation, duly approved on a five year basis by the Holy See and prefaced by a statement from the CMSM in conventional 1980s Microspeak ("quality training and education for the ordained ministry...").

We meet therein several regrettably familiar Sister Sharonisms. "Diverse," for example, is still used to mean non-Irish ("an increasing number of priestly vocations now come from diverse and sometimes dysfunctional family situations" ... "Applicants from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds should be given every encouragement"), and the word "mission" is still understood as an elusive existential quest.

On the Fire Island front, the bishops punt on first down (the H-word does not appear at all) and shank the ball into the stands: "With regard to the admission of candidates with same-sex experiences and/or inclinations, the guidelines provided by the Holy See must be followed" (56). That's as close as they get to naming the elephant in the sacristy, and the bashfulness about American implementation is -- to put it mildly -- uncharacteristic. There are one or two other places where an Andrew Sullivan sulkiness peeps through, as in their enigmatic definition of "a free person" as "a person who is free to be who he is in God's design" (76, emphasis original). An inadvertent equivocation? Not likely.

Sexual squishiness apart, there are a lot of good things in this document. It says, almost without apology, that priests have "a specific vocation to holiness in virtue of their new consecration" (22). It mentions asceticism or ascetical practices seven times, positively, with clear emphasis, and lists as the requisite skills for living chastely: "ascetical practices, prudent self-mastery, and paths of self-knowledge, such as a regular personal inventory and the examination of conscience" (80). True, the document elsewhere speaks of "acceptance and valuing of one's sexuality" -- but these are bishops after all, and the phrase comes watermarked into their stationery. There is also a straightforward and repeated insistence on the simplicity of a priest's personal life; this too is a welcome emphasis.

No one believes that the Program of Priestly Formation -- any more than Ex Corde Ecclesiae or the catechetical directory -- will cause an unwilling bishop to act against his own inclinations. It's a lever without a fulcrum. But if we forebear to parse it lawyer-wise, and read it instead as an emblem of personal sympathies -- more in the manner of a t-shirt or a neck tattoo -- it has much to commend it. It wants to present the Church with a priest who is holy, chaste, austere, orthodox, and acquainted with mortification. The human values ("a good communicator, someone who listens well ...") also find a mention, but take their proper subordinate place in the grand scheme. Perhaps unique among documents generated by the Bishops' Conference, it puts primary stress on the priest's relationship to God.

Yet I think what will most strike any fair-minded reader of this document is the absence of swagger. Gone is that tone of bumptious self-confidence. Gone are the contempt for the Fathers and the insinuation, since we have the experts on our payroll, that nothing written prior to 1970 is worth reading. Perhaps this is the effect of the committee chairman, Bishop Olmsted, but I'd like to believe that the new and gratifying modesty extends to his brother bishops as well. These are men who can congratulate themselves -- every six months, and from the heart -- on having stayed out of jail, and it may be that the new scale of accomplishment is not without impact.

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  • Posted by: Defender - Nov. 13, 2010 4:10 PM ET USA

    I said it but I didn't mean it? You didn't understand what I meant? I didn't know what I meant to say? I said that? Pick one, two or all the above.

  • Posted by: voxfem - Nov. 12, 2010 7:11 PM ET USA

    Why won't Bishop Kincanas in a gesture of humility and for the greater good of the Church step aside voluntarily? I know there is no one who is perfect but men (and women) who insist that they have the right to be in positions of responsibility and leadership even when being in such a position casts a shadow on the organization they propose to lead, are more concerned about themselves than anything else. Poor leadership material.

  • Posted by: filioque - Nov. 12, 2010 6:17 PM ET USA

    what's missing is any sense that Bishop Kicanas, or the other bishops, now have serious misgivings about the adequacy of all their reviews and counseling. I still don't see or hear anything that makes me think they have absorbed the tragedy to abused people, their families, and the entire Church that they and their predecessors enabled for years.

  • Posted by: rpp - Nov. 12, 2010 5:58 PM ET USA

    I am certain there are many good priests who struggle with alcohol. Seal issues, however, is a completely different issue. This is particularly true when it is male-on-male sex.

  • Posted by: Ken - Nov. 12, 2010 3:41 PM ET USA

    The USCCB as an organization must die. It is an evil organization that continues in its scandolous behavior. It is times like these that make me ashamed to say I am Roman Catholic.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 12, 2010 2:41 PM ET USA

    Actually, I'm thinking of a word beginning with "L" (and it's not the female version of the "H-word" either). I read the Register article this morning, and I was struck by all the legalistically worded, non-answer answers provided by Bishop K. It was only after he was backed into the corner by the interviewer that he actually answered the real question. Yes, there were demonstrable reasons not to ordain this person. And, no, they were NOT primarily related to alcohol consumption.