The National Catholic Review
Imperial Presence

I write to commend the effort of Peter J. Donaldson (A Century Behind, 1/16) to present the situation of poverty and illiteracy in Burkina Faso, the former Upper Volta. His account gives urgency to the concerted effort to make poverty history in Africa. Africans are grateful for such efforts undertaken to alleviate their travails. The account, however, cuts both ways. Let me explain.

From an African point of view this account perpetuates the impression well described in Stan Nussbaum’s recent book, American Cultural Baggage (2005)namely, everyone should adopt our values. It is unfortunate that Africans now tend to read Western reports about their continent with a hermeneutic of suspicion. The writer failed to mention, for example, that Burkina Faso is part of the historic pre-colonial kingdom of Songhai, with a bustling commercial and educational center at Timbuctu. This area controlled the famed trans-Saharan trade and was able to enrich ancient North African potentates, until the combined predatory imperialism of France and the encroachment of the Sahara desert reduced it to penury. A self-confident civilization was certainly developing in this region before historic and natural disasters intervened. There were no Great Walls erected, as was the case in China and on the Mexican borders of the United States to hold off the incursions of European fortune hunters during the scramble for Africa. More than summoning the compassion of America, the author should have brought French colonialism to judgment. The situation of the Africans of this region is not very much different from the situation recently uncovered by Katrina in the Gulf region of the United States.

The author gets credit for mentioning the initiative taken by the natives in changing the colonial name Upper Volta to Burkina Faso. That is a clear indication that they have, after political independence from France, taken their future into their hands. The effects of imperial presence cannot be expected to be wiped out overnight. It would have been interesting to readers to have been told the meaning of this new name given the country by its leaders, just as it would have sated their curiosity if they knew the source of the optimism he discovered among the Burkinabes in the midst of their present misery. Without this balanced treatment, Africans will see such accounts as Donaldson’s as a continuation of the colonial policy of the white man’s burden.

Luke Mbefo, C.S.Sp.
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Grave Crisis

Our church has a number of grave problems: the loss of Catholics who remarry outside the church and join Protestant churches, younger members who cannot agree or understand teachings on sexual morality, the problematic selection of new bishops who lack leadership skills and people skills. (See Response to A Blueprint for Change,’ 1/30).

But we believe the lack of priests is the number one challenge facing the church. People are leaving our churches because many pastors are old and no longer have energy or enthusiasm. Churches that in the past had two or three priests now have one priest and therefore fewer pastoral services. Do Rome or the bishops care about the thousands and perhaps millions of Catholic Latin Americans who have come to our country and who have joined Protestant churches because there are no priests?

Many young, healthy priests have left the priesthood after three to five years. There is very little support for a celibate priesthood in our country today. Many people feel there are too many homosexual seminarians as well as priests. Mothers, who are most influential in the lives of their sons, are not encouraging their sons to be priests. With the low birth rate, mothers want grandchildren.

Priests from abroad are undoubtedly good men and lovers of the Lord, but it seems to be rather a common problem that the great majority of the people cannot understand them and either quit going to church or go to another Christian church. While we speak as two, we know others who have also become very angry with Rome for ignoring this crisis and for forbidding the bishops to discuss this issue under threat of losing their episcopacy if they do so. Where is faith in all of this? Where is their real love for the truth? Where is there a genuine humility in the church to gather bright lights to come and light up Rome with the spirit of the Lorda real desire to be prophets and have the courage and wisdom to make a difference?

We call upon you and your magazine to ponder and pray and perhaps become a true light of Christ and call for some response to this grave crisis of the shortage of priests. In the minds of many of us who are growing older (we are 71 and 67 years old), we see no hope for a celibate priesthood, nor do many see it as a healthy profession.

(Rev.) Joseph P. Breen
(Rev.) Philip Breen
Nashville, Tenn.

Precious Memories

Thank you for the excellent article Dan Lord, Hollywood Priest (12/12). David J. Endres brought back such precious memories for those of us who knew Father Lord from the Summer Schools of Catholic Action, from his pamphlets and his books. I still treasure The Song of the Rosary, written in 1949.

Yes, we were the sodalists who sang (and can still sing) Mother Beloved and An Army of Youth. It is great to know that Father Lord is not forgotten.

While he may have been misunderstood by some, he was truly understood by those of us who loved his messages and have endeavored to live them these past decades.

Marie Michael Miller, S.S.J.
Elmira, N.Y.

Comments

Carolyn Disco | 1/31/2006 - 2:53am
I read with interest the letter by Revs. Joseph and Philip Breen citing the shortage of priests as the main problem in the Church today. They called it a grave crisis, noting the advanced age of many pastors, celibacy as an obstacle, disquiet with the number of homosexuals in seminaries and rectories, and mothers’ lack of support for vocations.

I see the problem differently from the Breen brothers though: that the shortage of priests is perhaps the work of the Holy Spirit, forcing changes that a celibate male culture still imbued with absolute power would never accept, but are necessary in the future. They ask America magazine to lead discussion of subjects foreclosed by Rome to bishops under threat of removal from office, when actually magazine editors also face the same penalty.

Can these discussions include making celibacy optional for diocesan priests, asking why a married Catholic priest should first have to be an Episcopalian priest? What about discussion of women priests, or horrors, married women priests? Where are we headed, if not toward the revelation that nothing in Scripture forbids such? And Tradition that aborts the spread of the Word of God in sacrament and ministry needs to evolve, as the Spirit moves where She wills. (Still breathing?)

The longstanding clerical mindset that combines all administrative, legal and executive powers in one person, the bishop, unaccountable to the people of God, must pass into history as have other feudal structures. Broadening our understanding of priesthood, both in and outside of orders, allows the talents of all to find expression. It also helps foreclose the culture that brought us the sexual abuse scandal, abetted as it was by an inbred sense of exemption and privilege.

So, the discussions will be held, whether in chanceries or not, as change makes its inexorable mark from below. Those little grey cells refuse to stagnate and in prayerful contemplation move forward with optimism and hope for a renewed, truly accountable Church.

Joseph P. Nolan | 2/21/2007 - 2:52pm
The letters by the Fathers Breen (2/6) and Carolyn Disco (2/13) concerning alarm over the vocation shortage could be tempered with just a cursory glance at the history of the Catholic Church. Since the time of Jesus, the church has experienced major crises and scandals. Despite all, it is a potent force in the world today. It is also the largest nongovernmental helping organization in the world. The Roman Catholic Church will be here long after we have crossed over.

Ted Zerwin | 2/21/2007 - 2:51pm
I am writing in response to the honest and thoughtful letter to the editors by Fathers Joseph and Philip Breen, entitled “Grave Crisis” (2/6). I congratulate and thank them for their willingness to speak out so eloquently about the priest shortage we face today. I agree with them totally.

We do, as the Breens have pointed out so well, have a real crisis. And I cannot believe that a change in this Catholic tradition of celibacy would not produce quickly a flood of new applicants to undertake this needed vocation. What bothers me the most about this is my personal conviction—verified over and over in conversations with others—that our people in the pews find almost no meaning in the fact that their priests are celibate. And yet I see priests struggling to maintain this most difficult lifestyle, priests leaving their chosen work because they cannot maintain a celibate lifestyle, and fewer and fewer young people being attracted to this needed vocation precisely because of the celibacy requirement.

Isn’t it time that we had an honest and full discussion about this in the church we all love so much? Isn’t it time that we listen to the voice of the Spirit speaking to us through the voices of the Breens and many others? If we don’t, then we won’t be able to provide this world with the spiritual leadership it so badly needs in these very frightening times.

Carolyn Disco | 1/31/2006 - 2:53am
I read with interest the letter by Revs. Joseph and Philip Breen citing the shortage of priests as the main problem in the Church today. They called it a grave crisis, noting the advanced age of many pastors, celibacy as an obstacle, disquiet with the number of homosexuals in seminaries and rectories, and mothers’ lack of support for vocations.

I see the problem differently from the Breen brothers though: that the shortage of priests is perhaps the work of the Holy Spirit, forcing changes that a celibate male culture still imbued with absolute power would never accept, but are necessary in the future. They ask America magazine to lead discussion of subjects foreclosed by Rome to bishops under threat of removal from office, when actually magazine editors also face the same penalty.

Can these discussions include making celibacy optional for diocesan priests, asking why a married Catholic priest should first have to be an Episcopalian priest? What about discussion of women priests, or horrors, married women priests? Where are we headed, if not toward the revelation that nothing in Scripture forbids such? And Tradition that aborts the spread of the Word of God in sacrament and ministry needs to evolve, as the Spirit moves where She wills. (Still breathing?)

The longstanding clerical mindset that combines all administrative, legal and executive powers in one person, the bishop, unaccountable to the people of God, must pass into history as have other feudal structures. Broadening our understanding of priesthood, both in and outside of orders, allows the talents of all to find expression. It also helps foreclose the culture that brought us the sexual abuse scandal, abetted as it was by an inbred sense of exemption and privilege.

So, the discussions will be held, whether in chanceries or not, as change makes its inexorable mark from below. Those little grey cells refuse to stagnate and in prayerful contemplation move forward with optimism and hope for a renewed, truly accountable Church.

Recently in Letters