(Occasionally I receive a reflection written by a friend that, with his or her permission, I really want to post on Another Voice. That happened this week. I will simply call the author “Fr. Jim.” He is a retired US Army chaplain.)

Jesus criticized his followers who were looking for power. He reminded them that, if they had learned anything from him, they would know that following him was about service, not power and prestige. 

There is a lot going on in the church these days that is all about power. There are a number of bishops, especially in the US, who are openly playing the power game. 

A number of them want to deny certain people communion for a number of reasons, one of which is that thosepeople are not sufficiently against abortion. The Pope has asked them not to do this, but they have publicly ignored and defied him and even now the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) is preparing a document to do this. 

Recently a number of bishops have chosen to ignore, or perhaps even defy, Pope Francis in the matter of the Covid vaccines. Francis has said there are no moral problems in getting the vaccine, and doing so is an act of charity and concern for others. A number of bishops have publicly ignored this and acted against it, including the Archbishop for Military Services. 

The way so many Catholics, not just bishops but certainly with the bishops’ support and encouragement, treat our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is totally opposite from how Jesus lived, yet this mistreatment is done allegedly in the name of God. I can bless bombs, rockets, gunships, animals, but not two people of the same sex who love each other. God’s first act of self revelation is creation, so the more we know about creation, the more insight we have into God. I don’t think God is done revealing God’s self yet. We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t get to judge who is or isn’t created in God’s image and likeness.

Currently Francis is calling the whole church to take part in a Synod to look at where the church is and where it is going. He want folks at all levels to have a part in the discussion. Again, in the US a great number of bishops are ignoring his call or giving it faint lip service. It is public knowledge that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is a Francis-free zone.

One of the most serious delicts (crime), on a par with child abuse, a Catholic priest can commit is to be in favor of ordaining women as priests. If a priest is publicly in favor of ordaining women, which I am, he can be suspended from priesthood and thrown out of the church without any process. Catholic Cancel Culture?

The way the clericalist church treats folks whose marriage has failed and who are just looking for, and perhaps have found, love again is a brutal disgrace. Some marriages fail. They may have started out well, but bad things happen to good people for any number of reasons that the clericalist mind just does not grasp, and so the acts of power and control begin. For some folks the annulment process is good, while for others it is painful. There has to be another way. It would seem that a significant number of celibate male church officials really believe they know more about how to live a Christian life than the folks who are actually living it. This celibate male has at least a glimpse of the reality but I really don’t know much.

The polarization in our country is happening with the support of a number of bishops, who are definitely encouraging it in the church. Many of the bishops are clearly aligned with a particular party and its reputed leader, and this alignment seems to be the basis for their leadership or lack thereof.

Francis is calling the church to be like a battle ground field hospital that is working to help the folks deal with the suffering in their lives, just to walk with them. I have served in some of them, and have experienced the kind of care he is talking about. A great number of bishops, especially US bishops, see the church not as a place of healing, but as a system of laws and penalties. As it was in the days of Jesus when the priests told the people if you want to go to God you have to go through us, the bishops of today are saying the same thing.

In my own life, I am in the very fortunate position of being retired and not in charge of anything. I do not depend on the church for anything, except perhaps the opportunity to help out in parishes, hospitals, and similar places. I am thankful for my active duty Army experience which has afforded me some insight that others might not have. No doubt I look down the alley with my own set of lights. This does not make me better or worse than anyone else, just perhaps unique, a character, so to speak.

I don’t think there needs to be a separate class of person (clergy). The fact that there is one now is a source of many of the problems in the church, clericalism. As clerics we were taught that ordination makes a person ontologically different. I do not believe this at all. A number of experiences in the Army convinced me beyond any doubt that this is just not true. We just have a different role in the church, one of gathering and leading folks in prayer. We don’t need a separate caste to do this.

I believe that Jesus said “I will be with you always”, and “I will send the Spirit to remind you of what I taught you”, and this is happening right now. Perhaps the church will be led kicking and screaming into a new awareness of what it means to be followers of Christ in our own day and time. Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, had already foreseen something along this line in a 1969 radio broadcast: “From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge.” We certainly are in a current crisis. I hope we can be open to the Spirit leading us forward.

17 thoughts on “Power and Prestige

  1. What a marvelous, insightful testimony. “Fr. Jim” gives cause to hope that more ordained folks will speak out and call the evident majority of US bishops to task. There is hope yet.
    Thanks for passing this along.

  2. Unfortunately, those priests who think, as does Fr.Jim, are also retired. Most of our churches are now pastored by priests of the JPII era, and they are totally in line with the USCCB. My parish is served by two of those priests. The “rules” are more important than the people. God bless you, Fr. Jim. I enjoyed your thoughts very much.

  3. Dear Fr. Jim and Jack,
    What an inspiring and hope-filled essay! As my friend, Patti, says, we need more Fr. Jims in the ranks of active priests who will stand up for an inclusive, love-filled vision of the church. His perspective coming from a practical pastoral experience gives such power and credibility to his words. Would that he could take on a ministry to reach out via the media to spread this inclusive, healing message. Can you imagine the power of the dynamic duo of “Jack and Jim!” Thank you, Jack, for allowing Fr. Jim to speak and thanks to him for being another voice of the Spirit.
    Peace,
    Frank

  4. Wishing Fr Jim, many more good years in retirement! His practise of considering service towards people as being his priestly vocation is well needed in these times.
    The Quakers are a Christian denomination that has endured without clergy, so maybe that is a marker for the RCC. I wish that the insights of Liberation Theology had been more widely applied in the USA!!

    1. Well said. Jim is a wonderful person and very good friend. I always liked the Quakers and actually discovered some years ago when I got into my paternal family genealogy that I have very strong Quaker roots😁

  5. Jack,
    Thanks for sharing these thoughts from Fr. Jim. It is a strong, succinct condemnation of the evil of clericalism. The problem is that those priests and bishops do not realize that a great number of Catholics just are not listening to them any more. One side benefit of COVID is that many people started “shopping around” on the Internet for liturgies and services (of any denomination) that are relevant and in sync with their own spirituality. They have found that they do not have to endure the mindless prattle and bad theology that they had been subjected to.

    Dennis

    1. Yes well said Dennis. Not so long ago I also experienced an hour of
      mindless prattle and bad theology and resolved never again in that church.
      Warmest regards
      Jack

  6. Jack

    Thanks for sharing Fr. Jim’s letter with us. Some of the developments in the Church that he mentioned were new to me. While I was in the seminary, I was always amazed at how many seminarians were not interested in studying theology. They just wanted to get into a parish to do good work. Well the kind of work those ignorant of theology perform is clear in Fr. Jim’s letter. As someone who is also retired after more than seventy years in the priestly world, I recognize that the failure to understand grace and hostility toward women have characterized Catholic life for two thousand years. The solution to what Fr. Jim has described is to keep bringing into focus, as he does and you do constantly, the need to better understand the Gospel message. The history of Christianity shows us that this is more easily planned than accomplished. The New Testament is not that clear about what Jesus actually taught; there seems to be a text in the Gospels that contradicts most of what we believe about God as love. If any of your readers know of studies that clearly develop what it means to love, I would be most grateful to know of them. Give our thanks to Fr. Jim for the letter.

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