The National Catholic Review
Our readers
Different Findings

While I agree with the Rev. James Garneau’s basic premise in “More Priestly Fraternity” (10/22) that priests need and deserve communities of support, my own research and other studies on seminaries over the past 20 years would yield different findings on a number of other points. The statement that papal encyclicals “are no longer offered as part of most seminary curricula” is demonstrably inaccurate. Within the past five years or so, I have visited every major seminary and theologate in the United States (and many in other countries). During interviews with over 500 faculty members, almost all of them spoke of the foundations of their instruction as residing in Sacred Scripture and traditional teachings of the church, found especially but not exclusively in encyclicals of the past half century. Discussions with at least as many seminarians suggest that indeed faculty do attend to these important documents. Granted, what is taught is not always what is learned by seminarians and others who are studying theology.

As to the suggestion that seminary formation is polarized by “different liturgical rubrics, [and] contrasting teachings with regard to faith and morals,” I have found something quite different: that is, remarkable adherence to authentic expressions of both worship and doctrine as permitted by the rich tradition of the church. Though my own judgment may be flawed or incomplete in these matters, the public statements of bishops who have themselves visited and evaluated seminaries over the past two decades would concur with the positive findings of my research.

The article asserts that young priests (though many newly ordained are not particularly young) face great animosity as they seek “to fashion a new priestly culture.” Some recent extensive research (conducted by Dean Hoge and others at The Catholic University of America) on “The First Five Years of Priesthood” suggests a different dynamic. The study shows that the recently ordained feel tremendous support and encouragement from pastors and other priests, as well as from parishioners. Certainly exceptions to this generally positive environment can be found. Good relationship among longtime priests and those recently ordained is a two-way street, requiring at least some openness on both sides to learn from each other. Presbyterates are, after all, intergenerational and increasingly international, so special efforts are needed to form relationships and bonds of all kinds. The new Hoge research will enrich our understanding of the experiences of a broad sample of the newly ordained and will show how important these relationships are in the retention of priests, thus reinforcing the point of the article that emphasizes the need for priestly fraternity.

Katarina Schuth, O.S.F.

St. Paul, Minn.

Creative Ways

The Rev. James Garneau is right in identifying isolation and loneliness as one of the primary problems diocesan priests face today (10/22). It is understandable that seminarians he knows are trying to find creative ways to deal with this problem. However, today’s seminarians are not the first in the church to notice the problem. Movements like the Iesus Caritas prayer groups for priests and other support groups have been in existence for years. I would dare say that in some dioceses they are flourishing.

I am afraid that the seminarians described in the article are creating some of their own problems. They seem to limit pretty narrowly just which diocesan priests they want priestly fraternity with. When I was newly ordained (1973), some young priests made the mistake of rejecting older priests who didn’t share in an ill-defined “spirit of Vatican II.” The article describes some of today’s seminarians rejecting us fifty-somethings who supposedly don’t share in an ill-defined “vision of Pope John Paul II.” Many of us weren’t really at peace in the priesthood until we developed respect for the priests who came out of an immigrant background and then gave spiritual leadership to parishioners during the crises of the Depression and World War II. I predict that Father Garneau’s seminarians won’t be at peace in the priesthood until they develop respect for those who came out of the stifling 1950’s and found themselves giving spiritual leadership in the lawless Age of Aquarius.

I don’t deny that priests ordained in the 1960’s or 70’s will have a lot to answer for. I don’t even deny that some of us are still causing problems for the church. I would only ask that Father Garneau’s seminarians not assume that those of us who are still guilty of the poor taste of the 1960’s are by necessity also guilty of liturgical or doctrinal abuses. I would ask them not to label us, but to take the trouble to get to know us. If we middle-aged priests return the favor, we will probably all find that we really can be one presbyterate.

The article also implies that ministering with the unordained (and presumably with permanent deacons) is a source of discomfort for some seminarians. For as many decades as I can foresee, the ministry of lay persons in parishes will continue to be a fact of life. Future priests will have to lead by collaborating with non-priest ministers, or else risk increasing isolation.

(Rev.) Thomas Extejt

Toledo, Ohio

Worth Pursuing

I especially enjoyed Karla Manternach’s article “Staying Catholic at Twenty-Something” (10/15). She is able to see some value in remaining with the institutional church.

I have worked with young people most of my life, and I find their honesty and idealism inspiring. I also find that many of them who believe the message of Jesus worth pursuing fail to see the church as a valuable resource for channeling that pursuit. Perhaps instead of encouraging them to get back to the traditional practices of the church, the church needs to recognize that Jesus has changed his address, as someone said. He has moved out of structures and buildings and hierarchy (if he ever was there) and is to be found among the poor and needy. That is where many young people find him.

It seems that today it is not so much a matter of meeting Jesus first in church and then moving out to serve him among the needy; it is rather the other way around: our meeting of Jesus in the poor brings us to our church. Then perhaps we can work to transform our church into the people of God.

Lucy Fuchs

Brandon, Fla.

Opportunities

Thank you for your insightful article regarding the struggles that female ex-offenders face upon re-entering the community, “Women Set Free” (10/22). The systemic nature of these obstacles often leaves women feeling overwhelmed to the point of relapse into their former behaviors of drug abuse and criminal activity. Fortunately, there is a growing number of organizations that support and encourage this underserved population. In Missouri, Let’s Start and Mothers and Children Together are collaborative organizations in which female ex-offenders themselves facilitate support groups, mentor one another and advocate for systemic change at the state capitol. These women prove that formerly incarcerated women can be an incredible gift to society if they are given support to make healthy choices and are invited to claim the opportunities available to them.

Janel Esker

St. Louis, Mo.

Law and Morality

I read with approval Thomas McCarthy’s observations on our near-death experience and took special note of his call for a “national soul searching and disinterested re-evaluation of our culture” (10/22). Then I picked up John Courtney Murray’s 1960 collection of essays, We Hold These Truths. Father Murray made the same call 40 years ago.

I write to you because you may be one of the few places in our world where scholars may begin the soul searching and the re-evaluation. A few subjects come to mind: the natural law basis of our common law; the objective basis for personal and international morality; justice involves more than positive law.

Anthony F. Avallone

Radium Springs, N.M.

Recently in Letters