The National Catholic Review
A Parishioner
When respect for the laity is lost
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Do not fret because of the wicked;

do not be envious of wrongdoers....

Trust in the Lord, and do good.

—Psalm 37:1, 3

While we Catholics profess universality, the fact is that Catholic parishes can differ radically. I do not just mean culturally, in the way that a parish on the island of Guam is different from a parish in the city of Stuttgart, but in the way a parish in one part of Los Angeles, say, can be quite different from one in another part of that city. Or in Boston. Or Atlanta. Or Chicago. Parishes vary in music, in ministry, in outreach, in liturgy, in attitude, in teaching style.

In big cities Catholics can parish-shop, looking for a Catholic community that is a good fit for them. Living in a small town, however, can be a difficult proposition for a Catholic. In our town, newcomers can church-shop among the Christian houses of worship, of which there are many. But Catholics have only one choice: our parish.

When my husband and I moved here over 20 years ago, that fact made us a bit nervous. We had come from a metropolitan area, where there was a Catholic church every few miles and where we parish-shopped. When we really liked the homilies of a priest who worked at the parish in the next suburb over, we got permission to switch our affiliation to that parish, which was a 10-minute drive rather than a two-minute drive from our house. In our new small-town life, the next closest Catholic parish was 50 miles away. So we were relieved when our local pastor turned out to be an intelligent, affable older priest with an open mind and an interest in establishing new ministries and services within the parish. He was a delight, and we felt accepted and challenged at our new parish—a healthy combination. We felt lucky. We felt blessed.

Eventually that priest retired and then passed away. He had baptized our two youngest children and had made us feel like an integral part of our faith community. Now, two decades and a couple of pastors later, we are still here. Our Catholic roots are deeply, emphatically here. This is the church where all of our children have come of spiritual age, receiving their first Communion and the sacrament of confirmation, and where friends have been married and buried. But like never before, we are now contemplating making that 50-mile-each-way weekly commute to another parish.

Why? Our parish has become for us a place of anger and artifice, of division and dysfunction. A 50-mile trip does not seem too great a sacrifice to make, if by staying where we are we become resentful, non-practicing Catholics. But the 50 miles does present burdens. At that distance, how can my husband and I both be involved socially and in ministry beyond Sunday Mass, the way we want to be? How does our teenager feel about attending a youth group full of strangers? We are reluctant to commit ourselves to a parish so far from home.

A New Pastor

The origin of our crisis may be obvious by now: we have a new pastor. The new pastor has brought new priorities with which we do not agree. He also believes that the parishioners are the sheep and he is the shepherd, which translates to: My way or the highway. He enjoys all the power, without the intuition or skill of leadership.

Since his arrival, the parish staff has experienced a 100 percent turnover (including this writer), and three deacons have requested assignments elsewhere. That’s right: at parishes 50 miles away. The parish office, as well as the finance council, is currently staffed by good Catholics who believe that enduring the ego and wrath of their boss is simply an opportunity to turn some exquisite suffering over to God. For the greater glory of God and the Catholic Church, these suffering servants put up with impossible working conditions. For those of us who used to work there, the conditions were affecting our health, our families, our ministries—indeed, our faith—in unacceptable ways. One by one, through various combinations of prayer, counseling and sleepless nights, we came to the painful conclusion that the only sane option, the only way to relieve our cognitive dissonance, was to give notice.

It is hard to describe the parish situation without appearing to cast stones. Every priest is unique in his gifts and his shortcomings, and living in and contributing to an authentic faith community is never simple or easy. Of course there will be differences of opinion, and differing commitments and callings, among parishioners. But the Gospel is the Gospel. To be a dwelling place for the Gospel, a healthy parish requires cooperation, compassion, listening, honesty, respect, trust and shared goals, just for starters. But when all of those things go missing, the community has no foundation on which to rest as it weathers storms. The storms take over. The structure is lost.

Broken, Isolated, Adrift

We are, I believe, a broken parish. We do not really know what to do, other than pray. The priest shortage is partly to blame, as is our own surrender to frustration. Our pastor has accused some of us of a conspiracy to bring him down, but really, we are just broken in our own little ways, isolated and adrift. Some of us who can afford the gas commute to other parishes. Some of us skip Mass. Some of us have begun to give our offerings to other charities, where our dollars will be put to responsible and life-affirming use. We realize, when we are berated for the dwindling collection plate, that we have perhaps hit upon the only vote that counts: our money. This makes us even sadder.

We are Catholics in search of a parish, wanting to practice the corporal works of mercy, but wanting also to be treated as adult persons of faith. We understand the shepherd imagery, but we are not actually sheep. We are thoughtful, functional, searching, caring grownups of good will. We require honesty, a well-formed conscience and a bit of humility in a pastor, because, like it or not, the pastor makes or breaks a parish. I have lately wondered how many other Catholics, in other parts of the world, have decided to sit out parish life because of a heedless hierarchy addicted to trappings and power. How many laypeople find that their gifts and talents go unused, that their leaders are not interested in what they have to say or to offer, that although they are believers, they just do not need the grief of parish life? And if, besides, no one seems to miss them?

If Jesus himself, disguised as a layperson, visited some of our parishes, if he sat somewhere in the middle and did not sing very loudly and forgot his envelope, would he feel welcomed, loved and necessary?

I may be disillusioned and discouraged, but I am also stubborn. Much as I mourn our current state of affairs, I tell myself that I refuse to leave. Not only am I a Catholic, I tell myself; I am also a local Catholic. Our parish may be broken, but our faith is not dead, not as long as we find ways to see Christ in others and as long as we try to be the face and hands of Christ for others. We are called to live as Christ’s followers, a call we must honor and answer, even when we are tired and tapped out, and even when our parish gets in the way.

All the same, each week, I edge a little closer to that long commute. I know that through the centuries the church has survived and grown despite bad pastors, misguided bishops and inept popes. But probably not without some serious parish-shopping on the part of the laity.

The author is not identified here to protect both the staff and pastor of the parish described.

Comments

sagara | 10/13/2009 - 12:17am
Why all the time critisize Catholic priests? There are congregational priests who are not with the Church, But Diocesan priests do some work. Appriciate it. They are not  Jesuites.
sagara | 10/13/2009 - 12:15am
Why all the time critisize Catholic priests? There are congregational priests who are not with the Church, But Diocesan priests do some work. Appriciate it. They are not  Jesuites.
susanc@mo-net.com | 10/12/2009 - 3:37pm
Currently dealing with this same issue.  Please send your advice and success stories my way.
Nancy Harrington Van Ness | 3/5/2008 - 7:08am
Our broken parish I thought it odd to devote so much space to a ‘disgruntled employee’. In my working days I commuted nearly 50 miles a day to a job that paid good pay and benefits. I would tell ‘parishioner’ “If you don’t like the ‘pay and benefits’ where you are (literally and figuratively) ‘Get in the car, turn on the gas, and leave’. Leave those who love their parish in peace, and please, stop the whining!” It sounds more to me like the laity, ‘parishioner et. al’‘ were running the church, a new priest implemented change, and power of the office staff was taken away. Apparently this person was never in the business world; change happens and often requires humility on the part of the workers. Nancy H. Van Ness
James Boylan | 2/25/2008 - 11:10am
What a pathetic article.What about the rest of the parish vs.,the wimps on the staff.They've been caught up by a more business like pastor who probably knows what the parish really needs.What guarantee does a parish 50 miles away offer? What about collections? Have they suffered too? If things are so gloomy and bad have they talked to the bishop? She reflects the trends today to coddle children,and be politically correct,i.e., "...I don't like it,therfore it must go..."...don't upset me...". Toughen up, it's not a perfect world! Catholics and their faith, please tell me lady where is it? Francis Thompson said it a long time ago ..."Is my gloom,after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, fondest,blindest,weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest". (The Hound of Heaven)
TM Lutas | 2/18/2008 - 2:52am
Many comments bemoan the shortage of priests. Nobody so far has considered offering up their service as a priest to help solve the problem. And yes, I'm not immune and I do pray over the question in my own case. I've seen good priests and I've seen bad priests and I've done my stint at protecting my parish from a couple of bumps on a log who caused a great deal of trouble. Here are a few meditations: 1. The excuse factory is generally on double overtime when priests are a poor fit for their parish, or for clerical life itself. Communicat frequently with the diocese. Once a week is probably not enough. 2. Absolutely, uncompromisingly expect that Fr. has a plan to deepen the faith, increase fidelity to the Church's rules, and enlarge the flock. This is priestly calling 101. Don't expect to be let in on his plan but do insist that he has one. 3. Offer to help in *his* plan, in whatever role is appropriate to your talents, consistent with the dignity and respect that any Catholic deserves of his priest. 4. Encourage others in the parish to similarly offer their services on the same generous terms. 5. That communication with the diocese I mentioned above, let them know how your offers of service are rebuffed, how you not only don't know what Fr.'s plan is but how it very much seems that Fr doesn't know either. Explain how it is all falling apart and ask, frequently "could we do more to hold things together?" and "how else can we help this guy avoid drowning not only himself but the parish?" The diocese does not want to remote control your parish's spiritual and organizational life. That's not their job. The irritant of doing the parish priest's job for him is likely to produce movement just as fast as a financial strike is. Dysfunctional, destructive priests get exposed using this methodology. Wah-wah parishioners get exposed too, and put to productive work to boot. Frankly, I've no idea which scenario is happening in the article writer's parish, perhaps both are. I do believe that the menu of choices to fix the Church is wider than most think and narrower too because all my bloviating in this note can be reduced to "follow Christ for real". Christ was one insolent fellow when things weren't following God's plan, no respect for fancy clothes and high offices at all. His solutions are still available.
SUE GRADY MS | 2/17/2008 - 4:13pm
I could have written the article! Many in my former parish could have written the article! Seven months ago a new pastor was sent to our small community located in a suburb of Portland, OR., an easy place to "church shop." This new priest "took over." At his first Mass he rearranged all the furniture, discontinued the vocal prayers of petition, moved the piano to the back of church (without letting the music director know), modified the liturgy to completely comply with the GIRM, and never did introduce himself (either before or after the liturgy). People left Mass in tears and shock. But that was just the beginning! His autocratic and divisive style has resulted in a decrease of the congregation by over 25%. Both the Pastoral (of which I was a member) and Admin Councils have been torn apart. We've lost the laity leadership of the parish. However, two things we have experienced were not identified in the article are: 1) One's loss of their community and 2)The inability to have the pastor removed. First, the author notes that in a parish 50 miles from the next parish, the community does not have the option of "church shopping." We, on the other hand did NOT want to "church shop." We had an incredible community of believers whose support for each other and whose growth in personal spirituality were amazing. One of the deacons at the nearby seminary recently said to me, "Oh I know that parish. They are the hugging parish." We loved each other and did not want to let go of OUR parish. So many of us, myself included, stuck it out until it became much too oppressive and personally stressful. As to the second point, in our diocese, a new pastor is given a 6 year contract and according to what I've been told of Canon Law, there appears to be little or no way (other than a claim of sexual abuse) that the pastor can be removed. Many, many of us have written to the diocese and met with the Director of Clergy, but nothing seems to be able to be done. Recently, I was verbally abused by the pastor who chose to yell at me over the phone and then hang up on me. Luckily there was a witness in the parish office. I have filed a formal complaint to the Tribunal, but have been told that nothing will probably come of it. So the protections that one has in business against abusive employers, do not apply in the church. A pastor can treat his community any way he chooses, apparently without any consequences. As a good friend said to me, "This is a deep flaw in the church." Vatican II encouraged the laity to become part of the church direction. But truth be told, they have absolutely no power, not even to protect what they have built!
STJOHNSEM | 2/16/2008 - 6:53pm
This whole notion of "church shopping" is rather strange to me. I see the parish as the extended family God has given to me. Searching for another "parish" family seems as bizarre to me as searching for another mother. If I find the mother I have to be rather difficult to live with, can I just go "mother shopping?" We all have crazy uncles in our families which we would just as soon hide in the attic and never relate with because of the suffering that it may bring. However, God gave us the good uncles as well as the crazy ones so that we may love them both. How easy it would be to only love the lovable? However, is that really a cross worth bearing, loving only the lovable? Or is there something more difficult planned for us in this life, perhaps something as difficult as loving someone who we think is a "bad pastor?" Perhaps the pastor is incompetent. If so, we are called to manifest our opinion for the good of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 37), but to do so charitably. On the other hand, perhaps those being pastored are stubbornly opposed to a different leadership style, not liking the new personality thrust into their midst as a result of the mind and will of the Bishop who appointed him. Lousy pastors deserve obedience just as much as good pastors--maybe even more so. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the only reason we can licitly disobey our pastor is when he commands us to something contrary to higher authority, or when they command something outside their scope of authority. Excepting these two reasons, we are called to give "fraternal correction" while always submitting to our lawful superiors. This may seem strange to a "church shopping" mentality, but it is Catholic ecclesiology nonetheless. The pastor may certainly be "off course," objectively speaking, as the "captain" of the Ark of Salvation that is the local parish. However, is it my competence to steer the ship better than he? I don't think so. It is likely that the captain has a better grasp than I as to where he is taking us, and it may only seem to me to be off course, when in truth, it's exactly where the Holy Spirit is telling him to go. I'm of the same mind as St. Catherine of Sienna and will leave it to God to do the course corrections. I humbly accept my place among the governed within the Church, not among those that govern. And when at times, I get a big 'ole chip on my shoulder, and I think I know better than my pastor or deacon, or my bishop or pope, I'm reminded of Heb 13:17, which states: "Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief. For this is not expedient for you." The article did nothing but remind me of the following, written by Thomas a'Kempis in his famous text, The Imitation of Christ: ------------- "OBEDIENCE AND SUBJECTION IT IS a very great thing to obey, to live under a superior and not to be one's own master, for it is much safer to be subject than it is to command. Many live in obedience more from necessity than from love. Such become discontented and dejected on the slightest pretext; they will never gain peace of mind unless they subject themselves wholeheartedly for the love of God. Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different places have deceived many. Everyone, it is true, wishes to do as he pleases and is attracted to those who agree with him. But if God be among us, we must at times give up our opinions for the blessings of peace. Furthermore, who is so wise that he can have full knowledge of everything? Do not trust too much in your own opinions, but be willing to listen to those of others. If, though your own be good, you accept another's opinion for love of God, you will gain much more merit; for I have often heard that it is safer to listen to advice an
KATE CAMPION | 2/15/2008 - 11:15pm
There are those who continue to organize events, cheerfully greet fellow parishioners, generously offer donations, haul, bake, smile, sweep, and otherwise live with joy even after having been berated by a PP who adheres to rules meticulously or who only likes to say, "no." I wish I had their faith. They are beautiful.
William Watts | 2/14/2008 - 7:40am
Every time a power struggle erupts in my parish, I find I have to remind myself that - - The Church is not only the clergy, but the whole Body of Christ. The parish is a Christian community, and the pastor is only one member. - My spiritual life depends on my relationship with Christ, not the Church and not my pastor. - Pastors come and go, so, in the long run, relationships between the parishioners determine the character of a parish. - I try to build positive relationships with other parishioners to enhance parish life. - My position in parish life should be determined by an offer to help, not by a campaign for a position. - This is Christ's Church, not mine. - Blessed be the peacemakers ... The Church has ego driven pastors, just as it has ego driven parishioners. Both are the bane of parish life, and acting contrary to Christ's example of service to others. But, since the Church is Christ's, He must have had a reason for including them.
Jerome Stack | 2/11/2008 - 12:52pm
For some reason I thought of Chaucer's description of the parish priest in The Canterbury Tales. Perhaps it still speaks to us priests today: There was a good man of religion, too, A country parson, poor, I warrant you; But rich he was in holy thought and work. He was a learned man also, a clerk, Who Christ's own gospel truly sought to preach; Devoutly his parishioners would he teach. Benign he was and wondrous diligent, Patient in adverse times and well content, As he was ofttimes proven; always blithe, He was right loath to curse to get a tithe, Enough with little, coloured all his moods. Wide was his parish, houses far asunder, But never did he fail, for rain or thunder, In sickness, or in sin, or any state, To visit to the farthest, small and great, Going afoot, and in his hand, a stave.There is nowhere a better priest, I trow. He had no thirst for pomp or reverence, Nor made himself a special, spiced conscience, But Christ's own lore, and His apostles' twelve He taught, but first he followed it himselve. I've left out some of the text and used a modern translation. The description of the parish priest is contained in the appendix to the Liturgy of the Hours in English (U.S.), by the way.
EDWARD BURKE | 2/11/2008 - 10:00am
Why would an intelligent and respected publication violate journalistic ethics by publishing an unattributed attack piece on an unnamed pastor to garner sympathy for the allegedly poor, "lost" laity? Is there a Christian alive who does not have at least one parish horror story to tell? So, what's new here? America has embarassed itself in a unique way with this story. When Jason Blair of the New York Times sat in his Greenwich Village apartment and concocted a story about his "eyewitness" account of a returning Iraq war vet, and when Janet Cook of the Washington Post invented her tearjerker about a seven-year old drug addict at least they had the courage to sign their names to their fabrications. But what about the "suffering" Mrs. Parishoner X? Does she exist, or did America invent her to foster its agenda? If she's real, is her story true? With the pastor unnamed, "she" has many parishoners now wondering: Is it my pastor or my supposedly "broken" parish who's being vilified? Father Richard A. Blake begins his movie review in this issue by noting, "Novelists are liars." I would not expect the editors of America to be among them.
Clyde Davis | 2/10/2008 - 11:00pm
Will the author of comment number 14 feel comfortable asking Jesus what he meant by Matthew 25:31.
SHARON FISCHER MS | 2/9/2008 - 4:15pm
I've seen many a parish community demolished and rebuilt in the new pastor's image. It is a sad commentary on our ecclesial life when even a parish with strong, educated lay leaders can be totally changed by just one man. I belonged to such a parish and could only fight for the life of the community for a short while (9 months). I left in fear that I would become like the priest I was struggling with - arrogant and rigid and incapable of listening. Respect is a two-way street for me, and I could not offer respect to someone who had no respect for me. I asked our bishop "Who's parish is it? The pastor's or the people's?" He said "It is Christ's parish." Well, it may be Christ's parish, but it isn't Christ's money and unfortunately that's the only power the laity has in these situations. I have witnessed only one parish (a fairly affluent one) that was able to withhold money from the weekly collection successfully. It took nine months of putting the money in a separate account and sending the deposits slips to the bishop with a note saying that when the pastor was removed the parish would receive the money. Going to the bishop (been there, done that) will not solve the problem because the bishop will take the side of the cleric unless he has done something illegal. Fortunately, I live in a larger city with many parishes. Sadly, I have found only one parish that has a truly collaborative form of ministry: a Jesuit parish with a parish administrator (not a pastor) and close ties to a Jesuit high school and a Jesuit university. Luckily I have found a home and a ministry here. There are many "refugees" from other parishes here and we are all glad we have found a place where the liturgy is prayerful, homilies are good and there is a growing sense of social ministry to the poor. Parish life is fragile, as is all life. So we laity are left with finding ways of being church for each other, (in spite of the negative impact of institutional structures), and giving thanks when we actually find church happening in a parish.
Frank Lawlor | 2/8/2008 - 11:25pm
This is an everyday problem for many parishoners. Whether it be music, money, or ministry the pastor "knows best". Mere lay people are not considered qualified to have a legitimate opionion. Some are lucky enough to have another parish nearby, others aren't so lucky. Unfortunately no matter how much farther a Catholic has to drive there is the potential for severe spiritual damage. Clericalism is a troubling sin which is rampent in the Church.
BARBARA NELSON MRS | 2/5/2008 - 5:13pm
My heart goes out to you. We've been in this situation, more than once and watched others in it. It is gut wrenching. It is not just a small town problem. It is a major issue. A couple thoughts: 1. You didn't seem to mention that there had been a genuine attempt to discuss the situation with the pastor. This is hard to do, takes a lot of finess and even more prayer. It may make things worse. But it is the fair thing to do - essentially the template laid out in the Gospel for when these things happen. 2. If that fails, then go to the Bishop. Not once. EVERY WEEK until the problem is resolved. And continue to stop giving financially. The Church does have a responsibility for good stewardship and leadership, which goes well beyond the celebration of the Eucharist at Mass. We know of a church where this approach was taken. The situation was similar to yours. It took 18 months, weekly visits with the Bishop, collections dropping by more than 50% and persistant planning and prayer on the part of the community to get the point across, but significant changes were made for the better. 3. In parallel, find some way to be involved in the other parish. It may be just one ministry. One parish shouldn't have to address every spiritual need we have, even a good parish. 4. Consider a local Protestant, teen group for your child. I was raised Catholic and 40 years later still am, but our parish when I was in high school had nothing for teens, so I went to a group at a local Presbyterian Church. It was good spiritually and socially, as a lot of my friends were in it. Jesus is Jesus.
SAMUELA POLLACK | 2/5/2008 - 3:19pm
Dear Parishioner. I'm not sure I get the point of your article. Your pastor is a jerk. Too bad. In my last parish, the pastor was a jerk too. Then I moved to a different state. In my new parish the pastor is a feeble-minded twit. Sometimes I commute to the parish in the nearby town. Their pastor seems to be illiterate. I don't like the wallpaper in our parish hall either. But I can deal with it. It's one hour of your week. That's 1/168th of your life. It probably won't kill you to listen to a jerk one hour every Sunday morning. Offer it up. Besides, that's why God created iPhones. So we can read email during the homily.
ELPHINSTONE | 2/4/2008 - 4:53pm
The Italians say that a fish starts to rot from the head. Here in Europe we have bishops who are as ineffectual as the bishops at the time of the reformation. My diocese is just dysfunctional. The bishop cannot make a difficult decision and instead micromanages things which are the responsibilities of others. The Polish priests who have arrived here are rejects with no pastoral skills. We are about to lose many of our Catholic schools because we do not have a strategy to defend them. It is not a happy time for most of us, lay or clerical, anywhere in a local Church. But hell, who can separate from the love of Christ? I just feel so lucky to have the Eucharist and the richness of the Catholic tradition. Hopefully I can pass on my joy, just as I received it through others. Perhaps that is how the Catholics in this country after the reformation felt! We suffer in the Church. They suffered for the Church. It will pass, God willing. St Nicholas Owen S.J. pray for us. (Let the reader understand!)
W. W. O'Bryan | 2/4/2008 - 2:46pm
The parish is broken. The diocese is broken. The Church in the United States is broken. The institutional bureaucracy sees itself as vendors of religious commodities to captive recipients who are still living in that church of previous centuries where salvation had to be earned. I doubt there will be any change unless or until the people in the pews force the institutional bureaucracy to stop saying one thing and doing something totally different. Read the documents of Vatican II about the role of lay persons in The Church and then see how often we are told (in word and action) the Fathers of Vatican II didn't mean what they said. I am tired of the lies and the duplicity and can't figure out why I even bother with this church anymore.
Marcus Tork | 2/4/2008 - 12:14pm
Understanding that all of us, even Pastors, have weaknesses, failings, and sometimes veer off-course, the comments about leaving the Church and the Catholic faith are saddening. If we, the Laity, truly hold the beliefs of the Catholic Church to be the fullest expression of God's Truth on earth, how could we contemplate moving to another, non-Catholic church over even a well-founded issue with a particular Pastor? That course is much like throwing the baby out with the bath-water isn't it? What makes us Catholic isn't a good Pastor - or a bad Pastor. It is our shared beliefs encapsulated in the Apostles Creed; recognition of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, in ALL the Sacraments, in Apostolic Succession from Chist forward, etc...Please consider this when choosing your response to a Pastor who isn't performing his duties as he should. Leaving the fullness of the Church over a Pastor does oneself much greater harm than any lesson-teaching one hopes for.
Tony Patronite | 2/4/2008 - 11:47am
Been there...done that! I've lived in a town of 100,000, a town of 12,000 and now in Southern California. In all three we participated in "Christ Renews His Parish". It brought diverse communities and personalities together to be "parish in Christ". It could be the vehicle that will enable your pastor to trust the parishioners and share his ministry.
David Pasinski | 2/4/2008 - 11:44am
The range and intensity of comments is the microcosm of the Church today. There surely were greater internal struggles in history, but I do beleive we are building towards some defining moments in our ecclesial history with the Hispanic emergence, the world shift in the Catholic centers of gravity, and the entire crisis of defining elenments of priesthood. I believe in the Holy Spirit, but meanwhile we will struggle for the identity of Catholicism in America and our role vis a vis the emerging Churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
KEN LOVASIK | 2/4/2008 - 10:13am
The article that generated these responses is heart-rending, and I write this, not as one who is suffering the same fate, because I belong to a wonderful, vibrant faith-community presided over (not ruled over!) by a humble Franciscan Friar who is approaching his 50th anniversary of ordination. The article describes, I believe, one of the most serious results of the "priest shortage". In the origins of Christianity, we read about Christian commnities searching for the "charism of leadership" in those being presented for ordination to the presbyterate. In a time like our own, where the shortage of leaders grows worse, we do not have the luxury of searching for this charism, and so we settle for "willingness." The sad truth, however, is that sometimes the willing are not able. Comments are coming from many quarters about "new" pastors who lack the basic management skills that are required in middle management in any business! Many of these new "leaders" would not be retained, let alone prompoted, by companies who are concerned about profitability and customer service. To "preside in the person of Christ" does not make one "another Christ", i.e., it does not bring with it the obligation that parishoners treat their priest as if he were Christ himself! St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, writes that we should "defer to EACH OTHER as we would to Christ. These are painful days for local Churches, for a "people of God" formed by Vatican II, but, unfortunately, the failure of leadership goes further up the ladder than the local parish. We are living with a pastoral situation where "loyalty to the institution" has taken preference over "pastoral sensitivity and competence" in the choice of leaders.
Douglas McGreevy | 2/4/2008 - 9:27am
I understand that you will not post this because I have not "signed" it. I believe I will not be the first, nor the last. I have not signed it because of the sensitivity of my local parish situation. It is very difficult to explain the amount of extreme pain our bishop caused by posting a man who, in 6 months, absolutely destroyed what was once a vibrant, ecumenical, multilingual, outreaching parish. 6 months. The PP's aspergers (I guess that is what it is) turned Hispanic against Anglo through a series of artfully placed comments and suggestions. Distrust ensued (or was fostered), and the rift seems permanent. I know that with God's grace, nothing is permanent regarding such things, but the pain is so very deep...so very deep. People who had given their lives to the parish were also ostracized through outright lies on the part of the PP, all in the name of centering the power in his hands. Anglicans who had been attending our services left, seeing the painful discord. Hispanics left, or retreated to their own Hispanic Mass. Parishoners and families left, upset at the outcome. Some saw the PP as the Hand of God since his Mass was, indeed, so very good. Friends stopped speaking to each other, even those who were old-timers. Some died, never breaching this wall. I mention the PP's great Mass, and it was! Holy, inspiring, and laced with lies that broke my, and many other's, hearts. The writer of the piece could have been from here. And it hurts...bad. I am a Catholic from birth, and have had my Faith strengthened by the converts we have in our midst. But converts rarely, if ever, happen her anymore. It's like our very building is crying out in pain, and who needs that additional burden to their lives? The PP was removed, yet it appears he is still in ministry in the diocese. The Arch knew of his problem before they sent him here; he had been moved out of other parishes before ours, but had never been placed in the role of the PP. I don't know what the Arch expected, but the devastation has been deep. And the pain. This is pain that reaches the soul. How dare the Arch; how dare they! And how dare they who would say "suck it up"! This is eternal life we are talking about, not a ball game or job. I am tired; tired of our greedy, corrupt world. Tired of the manipulation by greedy, corrupt politicians. Tired of a dishonest banking system led by greedy, dishonest people. I didn't expect my Arch to do a similar thing to my little parish, but they did, and the pain is deep. The last refuge from the world, and we are lashed, smashed, and beaten down by the very institution that claims to shelter us. Pain.
Victoria Figueroa | 2/4/2008 - 7:29am
Dear Readers, Please read my comments below after the quoted text from a previous reader-responder. "Wha! Wha!! Our pastor is a such a bad guy. As usual no specifics just whining from the pews. Grow up and deal with it. The Parish is about the Eucharist, number one. I'm sure there are loads of volunteer groups you could join if you're loking for an outlet for social action. The Church is not a democracy and the Parish does n't exist solely as a place for you to self actualize. In an environment where ordained clergy are a rare comodity, you need to learn to deal. " ** How horrible and insulting of this reader to respond to a fellow member of the Body of Christ in this manner. True, the church is not a democracy - nor is it a monarchy. Both Priests and Parishioners have responsibilities and rights as co-workers of the church of our Lord. No, she doesn't have to "put up with it" - no one should put up with unnecessary suffering. A clergy shortage ("rare commodity") gives no priest the right to be condescending and elitist towards parishioners. But there could be pressures from outside the parish that are influencing the priest's style of leadership: How is the gospel message visible among parish activities? Are the same volunteers in leadership or are they calling forth new co-leaders? Is membership stable, increasing or decreasing? Are young adults and young families visible? Are offertory collections up or down, and are they sufficient to sustain the church? I would follow the previously mentioned strategy - contact the bishop and request a meeting. The diocese needs to know that its members are in need of help. To the original author, my prayers are with your parish. Thank you for caring and loving the church enough to bring your comments to this forum. God Bless You, and don't give up.
Catherine McKeen | 2/3/2008 - 8:52pm
It seems to me that like other leaders, parish priests have personal failings that easily spill over into their work. But for Catholics, the parish is the one key place where we look for holiness, i.e., wholeness in leadership. What we might endure and tolerate in a workplace, we find intolerable in the parish. Why? So much of what happens in a parish goes to the heart of our deepest identity. If the Eucharist is celebrated with intelligence, awareness and self-forgetfulness, one feels the presence of the Holy One in and with and through the priest and the congregation. This is no illusion. It happens. Blessed is the parish where a priest has these gifts and puts them at the service of a parish community. And blessed is the parish where the priest loves his people and helps them grow. Yesterday I was in a parish not my own for a memorial Mass. In the middle of the Consecration, the pastor stopped to tell a story about the Waterford crystal chalice he was using. It was a cute story and had a cute point about his mother, but I found it heartrending to see the sacred ritual reduced to something one might find at an Elks club meeting. At the end of the Mass, the pastor kept us in our seats while he gave a solo performance of the Ave Maria. We all have similar stories of how the Mass for some priests (and now deacons) becomes an opportunity for self aggrandizement. Maybe what the church needs is a whole new ministry devoted to retraining priests for their most important roles: sacred liturgy and kindness to people who -- surprise! -- are very much like themselves, even ontologically. Catherine McKeen
cheval blanc | 2/3/2008 - 5:52pm
As a Catholic who goes regularly to Church to pray, this articles reminds me of the many busybodies I often see in Church who appear to be there more for social activity and collection of funds than prayer. It seems that they are complicit with those who want to collect our money to distribute to caterers, builders, and funeral homes who provide nominal monetary support to the parish in return for the regular business of the parishioners. The role of the Church is to provide us with the Sacraments and the Liturgy, not to be a venue for social action. Those who wish to be involved in social activity belong elsewhere. The Church must stick with what it does best - pray and administer the sacraments - since no one else can do this. Lay people who wish to be involved in social activities should first pay attention to their own domestic church - their families - and then, if they have any time left over, there are more than enough areas where they can serve effectively, rather than bothering their pastors and bishops, whose lives should be dedicated to leading us in faith and morals, not in social activity, building more buildings, etc.....
Trudy Keating | 2/3/2008 - 2:33pm
Why protect the pastor. That is what is wrong with the church today, start thinking of the whole parish not just the guy who thinks it is his. It is not his!
JOSEPH LIGORY REV | 2/3/2008 - 2:30pm
I am so sorry for this parish. Where is the Bishop? Although there are 2 sides to every story. The majority of the laity should be respected. Has the Bishop responded to the laity? I hope the complaints have their real names attached to it. If the names aren't included the problem will not get recognized. I hope this get resolved and more than that-- I pray that the faith that these people have doesn't get lost in the dispute.
CAROLYN COLBURN SFO MRS | 2/3/2008 - 12:32pm
I agree with the others who say that no specifics are given and no action to help is described. I know a parish with a pastor who would explode at parishioners before and after Mass. Even during his homily he would go on an a rant about people who don't listen and can't read. A group of concerned parishioners made an intervention, similar to the interventions made by concerned friends in 12 step programs. They appeared in his office and explained to him the effect his behavior was having on the parish. They suggested an anger management program. His response was to write an apology that appeared in the church bulletin and to apologize at Sunday Mass. The situation wasn't perfect after that, but there was improvement and more understanding on both sides. The pastor described in the article may be too far gone for this, but it would be worth a try.
Mary Wood | 2/3/2008 - 11:32am
I have a lot of sympathy with many who have commented and was especially interested in the Frustrated PP. I am a frustrated parishioner. My PP is a good man and I say that sincerely and truthfully. But he is unfitted for a priestly role and we are suffering as a result. He is intellectually, educationally, socially, emotionally, relationally, administratively and psychologically unsuited to pastoral ministry, and when challenged in his previous parish he had a breakdown. This in addition to his probable handicap of suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. Consequently he was appointed to our small quiet parish 8 years ago as “fragile” and we are aware that if he has a further breakdown he is unlikely to weather it, and the diocese will be a priest short, due to the stress WE have generated. But he doesn’t do anything. He escapes from the parish/parishioners at every opportunity and is a reliable attender at clergy funerals and committees. He has never got to know the parishioners - only 110 of us all told, including 5 children – and never “visits”, not even the sick unless they’re actually about to die. His lady assistant downloads irrelevant sermons from the internet (he cannot cope with the computer) and he reads them out to us with no expression or eye contact or adaptation. But the current problem is that 20 months ago we had a very good respected deacon ordained, and this deacon is being used to do all the parish work by the priest who retains for himself the Baptisms, Marriages and Funerals and pockets the stipends, even on occasions when the deacon’s services have been specifically requested. This PP is obstinate to the limit and rules out every pastoral initiative suggested by the parish council, and spends the parish money on ghastly statues (Medugorje) and banners and stuff for the church. The parish has never been favoured with a first-rank priest- we are too small – and so we are not well instructed in taking any part beyond attendance. Quite a few have forgotten about that. A small core group tries hard to maintain some semblance of life by caring for each other but the PP is not with us. What can we do? I genuinely think the poor man’s not capable of doing any better, and if we asked him to do anything useful like improve communication, encourage folks or whatever, we would break him. All suggestions gratefully received. Alternatively, pray for us please.
Rebecca Mandala | 2/3/2008 - 8:08am
This is not a liberal versus conservative issue, I've seen similar problems from both directions. "Liberal" priests can be as controlling and autocratic as "conservative" ones. The issue stems from not listening to the laity and what they desire.
Bonnie Jachowicz | 2/3/2008 - 1:09am
Your decision to become a part of a neighboring parish requires soul-searching and prayer. If all you experience at your present parish is irritation and fault-finding, fueled by the remarks and frustration of other parishioners, perhaps it is time to move on. I have moved to different parishes in the past several years in order to continue to experience the remarksble talent of an extraordinary priest. His homiletic and musical talents and pastoral care distinguish him as one of the best; yet he is not always welcomed warmly by parishioners in a new parish. He is sometimes resented because he chooses to do some things differently from his predecessor, but not given credit for his creativity. Some watch his every move and keep track of every word said in his homilies. To be placed under a microscope of public criticism is demoralizing for anyone; particularly one who has consented to be your pastor. I don't know how to repair relationships when distrust, anger, resentment and revenge are constant undercurrents. Have you tried expressing your concerns to your pastor? If that has failed,then approach your diocesan office for an arbitrator/ consultant to visit your parish to hear your substantiated complaints or search for a new parish in which to worship.But above all, prayer will help the process of softening the hearts of all concerned.
J Compian | 2/2/2008 - 11:32pm
Your article is right on point in so many ways. An unmotivated, arrogant priest certainly challenges our desire to remain a Catholic. Where no other Catholic parish exists, one has to look for other dynamic churches from other denominations.
John Andersen | 2/2/2008 - 10:00pm
Dear Friend in the Lord, Peace and Good. Thank you for your great sincerity. Your parish is much blessed for you and your family's sharing during many years. This comment comes from a Sydney priest working on the banks of the Amazon in northeast Peru. I would like to share something of our experience - we had a problem in our parish, over years - the length of time of our catechumenate. Sometimes we have baptized over one hundred catechumens during the Easter Vigil... our catechumenate was for two years, but some people protested that it was too long. I think there are good grounds for a solid catechumenate, in this envirionment, to give a good basis for christian life - so we invited our Bishop, Julián García, OSA, to our Parish Council, and he listened to us, gave us his view, and left it to us to decide. (We decided to change to one year...)It was a good experience. It is good that a Bishop come to a parish to listen, and to guide us, in difficult situations, and we have the right to approach our chief Pastor with serious, legitimate concerns. I pray the Lord guide you in this difficult time. Fraternally, John Andersen
JUAN JARAMILLO M D MR | 2/2/2008 - 9:11pm
Dear Parishoner: Don't make that commute yet..Join forces with others, and go to your Bishop, and present the issues clearly (I didn't see, in the article, that you had already done that). And join forces in prayer too, asking Jesus (and Mary--"they have no wine"; and St John Vianney) to either change that Priest to a different Parish or, ideally, to change his heart. And have faith that it can be done. I will pray for your situation tomorrow during communion. Hang in there !
Margaret Hickey | 2/2/2008 - 8:57pm
My heart aches for you and all who find themselves in such a horrendous situation. My wonderful parish also suffered with the arrival of an egotistical, condescending dictator. Many of us felt we could stick it out and maybe Father would be transferred. Life became unbearable because of the pastor's abuse and we stormed the Bishop with no holds barred facts. Long story short, he was finally removed and replaced by a wonderful, charismatic, holy priest. I would urge the story writer and spouse to look to join Voice of the Faithful. This organization if desperately working to create structural change in our beloved church. We lay people must be listened to and given an opportunity to sit at the table and help with the reform that is so needed. As the organization says: keep the faith, change the church.
david hennessy | 2/2/2008 - 8:18pm
Wha! Wha!! Our pastor is a such a bad guy. As usual no specifics just whining from the pews. Grow up and deal with it. The Parish is about the Eucharist, number one. I'm sure there are loads of volunteer groups you could join if you're loking for an outlet for social action. The Church is not a democracy and the Parish does n't exist solely as a place for you to self actualize. In an environment where ordained clergy are a rare comodity, you need to learn to deal. Pastors are not Angels sent from heaven, but Men chosen from among men.Fewer men are allowing that choice to be realized in their lives, fewer men are willing to make that sacrifice. Is there nothing about this man that is good or worthy of your loyalty? If his actions are outside of canon or civil law your diocese and local law enforcement offer methods to deal with your situation. If it is a matter of pastoral style... grow up. Have you ever walked a foot never mind a mile in this man shoes? Is this another issue of the liberal/conservative divide? The first Pastors (the Twelve Apostles) were quite a diverse group. Chosen by the Lord from all sectors of society. They were loyal at times they ran away from Him at other times.At the end of the day they were frail humans with a super human task, to bring people to the Lord while trying to attain the sainthood we are all called to. Your Pastor may be too much this or too much that, but remember he stands in Persona Christi, The stakes for him are higher even than those we lay Christians face. He needs to get you to the Promised Land while keeping his own soul on a steady course at the same time. Pray for Him and for all Pastors. DH
Robin ELLWOOD | 2/2/2008 - 7:32pm
I read with interest the article by a frustrated lay person. Up until April 2005, I was a PP in Great Britain, ministering in a parish with three churches within a small island community. In the previous five years, I had overseen the merger of two parishes, and other clergy had also overseen mergers so that we had reduced from six to three parishes. Although this had been inevitable, obviously there was much reluctance to change. An island community is by its very nature, inward looking, and doesn't benefit from the cross-fertilisation that parish communities do in the mainland with close relationships with the rest of the diocese, other dioceses and national events. Having said this, together with the laity I encouraged to come to fruition, I believe that we changed the outlook of the parish, moving forward from the closed shop mentality, and prepared them for the inevitable changes of the future, when the island would have to become not three, but one parish community. My problem however, was like your article writer - the clergy appointed to the other two parishes. One, a senior priest of the diocese, a well known figure, who apart from his dominant personality and lack of humility obviously did not understand the principles of the Second Vatican Council. He thought he did, but in fact he did not at all. He was open to 'quick fixes' like the Neo-Catechumentate, or Alpha courses, but like the Parable of the Sower, these were not planted in rich soil. The results might be instant, but not long lasting, and to be honest he was more interested in creating great building monuments to himself, spending vast quantities of money on his house, a church centre and on the church building itself whilst at the same time the St. Vincent de Paul Society were struggling to minister to the poor and hungry of the area. In these days of reduced clergy numbers, we are often asked by parishioners why we can't bring over priests from other parts of the world - well, apart from the obvious selfish action, (surely the Church in those parts of the world need their clergy more than we do), the issue here must be one of inculturation. The other priest in the island was a young Polish man - although younger than myself, he had obviously no comprehension of his Vatican II documents or of the basic Code of Canon Law! Often I had to pick up the pieces after he had caused one upset or another, refusing baptism or marriage, or making the semi-lapsed or lapsed run through particular hoops. This was a misuse of his powers. Sadly, the first priest I mentioned, the dean, did not seem either to comprehend, or be willing to face the divisiveness this caused or more importantly, the injustice towards the People of God that we read about in documents such as Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, or even Christefidelis Laici, written by his fellow Pole, John Paul II. One example was: Whilst on the one hand we had religious sisters and laity (both Catholic and Anglican) working collaboratively to introduce islanders to adult forms of guided Ignatian prayer, he, on the other hand introduced a personalised sort of pre Vatican II benediction service where the laity were only good enough to pray through his back, and sadly this was promoted by the dean - the number of 'bums on seats' was seen as a success rather than detrimental to the work we had tried to do over a period of five years, including a year long all island project presenting the English and Welsh Bishops' document 'On the Threshold', looking at the ways we initiate people into Catholic life. Sadly this went pretty well unpromoted by both of these men as it meant challenges to the current ways of working, and rather than giving black and white answers, often brought up more unanswered questions! This is just a small example - I could write a book (!) - on so many occasions I tried to bring the situation up with the diocesan bishop or the vicar general who sat on the proverbial fence and seemed unable to
MARGIE GUADAGNO | 2/1/2008 - 4:16pm
I feel a great deal of compassion for the writer of this article. I, too, was a victim of a new pastor at the parish of my baptism. I have been a member there for 58 years and was a paid employee for almost 20 years. Unfortunately, it is very true that the spirituality of a pastor will color the spirituality of his parish. If you have a good pastor, a welcoming, tolerant, and charitable community will be the result. If not, the community will be divided, gossipy and eventually stripped of all hope that someone--anyone--above the pastor will care enough to do something to bring peace to the parish. I sadly watch many life long parishioners attend Sunday mass but no longer commit their time and talent to the ministries of the parish. Donations have dwindled by at least 30% and attendance at fundraisers are minimal at best. The parish savings are being eaten away little by little putting the 50 year old parish school in the very real danger of being closed in a year or two. What was once a vibrant lay led staff who truly lived the call of their baptism have all been forced out and even volunteers who do not buy the 'party line' of the pastor are being asked to stand down. It is ironic that this is happening during a stewardship campaign in which the pastor has been calling on parishioners to donate their time, talent and treasure! Part of the problem lies in the clericalism the institutional church is so fond of forcing on a laity that is no longer illiterate when it comes to the tenets of their faith and is fully aware of the checkered past of the church. We are not willing to accept at face value whatever "Father" tells us. We will use our minds as well as our hearts to discover the call of the gospel and how we should live it in our ordinary, but holy, lives. We will survive this pastor, but the damage is monumental and the scars run deep. Our parish will never again be the place it once was. But, my trust in God will continue to draw me to the resurrection of Christ and the seed of hope that plants in my heart for the future of my own parish. ( if you print this letter in your magazine, I respectfully request that my name be withheld. My parish has been struggling for four years now and we are doing our best to maintain a tentative peace that may be superficial, but nonetheless is all that holds us together at times.)
LEONARD VILLA | 2/1/2008 - 10:02am
Why publish an article like this? A pastor of a parish is vilified. A lawyer might say this pastor was denied due process because as the cliché goes there are always two sides to every story. It would have been helpful to know what were the new priorities of the pastor with which the author does not agree? What were some examples of his "wrath and ego?"

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