Addressing the Stresses of Priesthood
A recent article by Brendan Hoban published in The Western People, and on our website, drew attention from national and local media.
On ‘Faith Alive’, a Mid West Radio programme that deals with current affairs in the religious world and is co-hosted by Brendan Hoban and Monica Morley, there was a fairly lengthy interview with Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe Diocese.
Bishop Monahan gave his views on some of the topics raised in Brendan’s article. In the programme Brendan again outlined his understanding of the stresses that are multiplying on priests due to increased workloads, their increasing age profile, and the acute shortage of men coming forward to join the priesthood.
In short Bishop Fintan spoke of the difficulty and struggle to recruit men to come forward to be ordained. He agreed that bishops need to come up with solutions or we risk falling over a cliff in regard to having priests available to serve in parishes.
In his own diocese of Killaloe at present over one third of parishes have no resident priest under 75 years of age and Killaloe like other places is trying clustering parishes into pastoral areas in an attempt to cope.
In the future Bishop Fintan said it could be that Mass will be provided in strategic locations. He also spoke of growing lay involvement and of training being provided in pastoral ministry and catechesis.
He went on to say that the lack of vocations was a reflection on the faith of people, there is a crisis of faith and vocations came from the home. At present he said that vocations are coming from groups devoted to divine mercy, Medjugorje and other traditional types of devotions.
The interviewer challenged him saying that many people had concerns that those priests who had come from those backgrounds are out of sync with modern Ireland and it was queried if it is where we should be trying to foster vocations.
The question of married priests was raised. Bishop Monahan replied by referring to the situation in the Amazon and how the response from Pope Francis was awaited.
On a question about the care of priests and the pressure men were under leading to their health breaking down, old men waiting on after retirement age because there was no one to take their place, Bishop Fintan said that there was a sense of fulfilment and happiness among many priests. There was a need for priests to cut back some in some areas like administration and he stressed that there is no obligation to work beyond 75.
The following Sunday, 02 February 2020, ‘Faith Alive’ gave a flavour of the responses from listeners to the programme.
The relevant piece is at -40:00
Some were critical of Monica Morley’s style of interview saying she was too easy on the bishop. But, having listened to many so called interviews in recent days on t.v. and radio with election candidates I have to say I tend to switch off when the interview is about the interviewer trying to bolster their own ego through rude, aggressive, hectoring interruptions. It is far better when the interviewee is allowed to speak and explain their position; then we get to hear their opinions and their reasons for forming them. If we are allowed the opportunity to listen and hear by the interviewer it is then that we can decide for ourselves what we think.
Many people did just that and responded to the Faith Alive programme and to the substance of what Bishop Monahan had to say. It was said that among them a good number of priests contacted the programme.
One person commented that it was good to hear a bishop full of optimism and faith and yet honestly admit the church is struggling to attract men to join he priesthood. The commentator added that a lot needs to change.
Others pointed to the two very different worlds presented by Brendan and Bishop Fintan. It was said that the bishop did not address the reality of lay people struggling to be involved in the church in parishes burdened with very traditionalist priests; and nothing he had said offered hope that he understood the unsuitability of priesthood as it is to attract the young people of today.
Another commented that they were saddened and annoyed at the blaming of families for lack of vocations due to lack of faith. This is a cop out.
The expectation that old men keep working is neither good for them or the people.
One longer comment was read that summed up much of the reaction of the listeners.
Dear Monica / Brendan
I listened with interest to the interview with the Bishop on Sunday morning last. Let me say from the outset I am an ex priest. It was not an easy decision to leave the priesthood but it was the right decision and I have never regretted a minute of making that decision. Many of your listeners may feel I lack any moral right to make a comment about the show last Sunday, but we all should all listen to other perspectives.
I am old enough to remember watching my father kiss the ring of Cardinal O Fiaich. Looking back, I am not sure if I was impressed or embarrassed. At that time we were well used to a hierarchical Church that told us what to eat, how to sleep and how to drink. We took it with what we believed to be a grace by our obedience.
Today, and for the last number of years, we are treated to a Carr Communication Church of “Call me Joe, Call me Michael or Call me Fintan”. We are invited to be on first name terms with these men who love bomb us with “sure aren’t you all great, you lay people and when it comes to it we are all the same” .
But we are not the same. We are not the ones who have the ability to make real change or the people who should have the courage of a convection that the Church will only survive when decisions are made to open up Priesthood to all who have a calling. That is more than a married male clergy, which will just add another male layer of bureaucracy.
We have a leadership in the Irish Church that is waiting for someone else to make the decisions. Are we really waiting for the Brazilian/Amazon Church to lead the Western Church in a wake-up call to the reality that we have a vocation crisis? A vocation crisis that is 56 years old in the West and in Ireland. Is the leadership of the Irish Catholic Church saying that our churches will be sustained by Asian or African clergy? I say that, with not a shred of offence to the men from Asia and Africa who served the Irish Church so well these last few years.
Please do not take this as a Job Application by an Ex-Priest. In my marriage I have learned so much about what a woman is and it is a process of learning that will never end. There are no limits to what a woman can do and what a woman can withstand. If God created us, he spent a lot longer creating a woman because women are far more life giving, creative, nurturing and resilient and a lot more full of love and faith. Our children are the litmus test. Who do they go to when they are in need – is it to their father or their mother?
Not wishing to reopen the issue of child sexual abuse, but how different our Church’s response would have been if its leadership was made up of men and women. If over the past 60 years the clergy had to return to homes where they were met by wives and children, they would have reacted so differently to the scandal of sexual abuse. Instead of trying to save face they would have saved lives.
I would never consider returning to priestly ministry until the day there is parity of men and women in the Catholic Church. I am a realist and I know that even if I am to be graced with great grandchildren, I doubt they will see that day if the mentality of the present Church persists.
I don’t envy the task and the responsibility that bishops must face, but if the best they can do is point at the lack of faith in the homes, may God have mercy on us all. Because there will be a day when there will be only one priest in each county. A day when there will be no Catholic school week. Why? Because other Christian faiths will make a lot more sense. On that day it will not be the families of Ireland who will be blamed, it will be the leadership of the Church. That does not start or end with Pope Francis. Rather it starts at diocesan level. You who wring your hands and say that you can’t produce priests from thin air, well it’s time to open the doors if you have the FAITH. We don’t need leaders who are rigid with indecision. Lift your heads out of the sand. Take the bold decisions now and stop waiting for others to make the first move. Don’t fret about the deeply conservative people you may lose in the process, think instead of those you will win and who will gladly follow your new vision.
As Pope Francis says “Since God created the world, He also created reality.”
Brendan’s article and local radio programmes like Faith Alive with Monica Morley stimulate debate and an exchange of views. Bishop Fintan Monahan’s ready willingness to be part of the discussion on the radio is to be welcomed. Judging from the reaction of listeners it is one place where debate can happen if we are willing to treat each other with respect. We don’t always have to agree but it’s vital that we listen to each other and actually hear different viewpoints and that we are willing to learn from others and, at times, challenge their views and, at other times, allow our own views to be challenged.