Saturday, February 03, 2024

Do you think your priests are lazy and selfish?

It is a serious question.

In the context of the Beacons of Light project, in which the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is presently immersed, there are many decisions and steps being taken, to address two shortages:

a) People in the pews in many parishes, and

b) Priests suitable to be pastors.*

Some people deny that there is a shortage of pastor-capable priests; or they dispute that the specific tasks demanded of a pastor are really that demanding; any priest should be able to do it. Or, they dispute that a priest is even needed to administer a parish, it can be done by others. Or, they dispute that reorganizing things will do anything helpful.

Or, they ignore all these issues and simply oppose the changes because of the bad effects they foresee.

Most upsetting to many is the plan for the legal structures of parishes to be reorganized: so that, where there were multiple stand-alone parishes, there will be a combined parish, that will include multiple churches and other facilities, or for lack of a better word, "campuses," that correspond to the previously stand-alone, legally separate, parishes.

Nothing I'm saying here is dismissive of the concerns. So let's, please, not get sidetracked into reactions such as, "why don't you care?"

Which brings me back to the question posed by my headline: Do you think your priests are lazy and selfish?

It really is a serious question and here's why I'm posing it.

Your priests are telling you:

1) They cannot and will not continue with arrangements in which they are tasked with being multiple pastors. The "cluster" model, where a priest is named pastor of parish A, while being pastor of parish B, parish C, and so forth, with each parish a legally distinct administrative entity -- is wholly unworkable. It is BAD.

2) Being pastor is demanding in particular ways, even if that's not obvious to you; so not any priest can do it. That is no more a knock on those priests than saying that not all players on a team can be the pitcher or the wide receiver is a knock on those athletes.

3) The idea of having priests no longer be the administrator of parishes leads places the laity do not want. It may lead places our Lord does not want. In any case, such alternatives have not been well articulated.

4) The consequences of delaying and denying are worse than you think.

5) The Beacons of Light project is certainly not perfect, and there are plenty of legitimate criticisms. Still...

6) The two basic tasks -- reorganizing things to facilitate effective administration, and pivoting to evangelization -- are the best ways forward.

Again, this is what your priests are telling you. The Archbishop is telling you this. Why do you think?

Do you think we are lazy or selfish? Are we all stupid?** If not, then what?

I get that people don't like this. Neither do I. I very much get that many people really don't understand the realities of administering a parish, so they don't see why a priest would be so emphatic about the "cluster" model. But why is dismissing my observation the right answer? I submit the better response is to ask and listen. Especially to find out what I mean by points 3 and 4, because realize: that if these points are valid, the resistance to Beacons of Light may have worse consequences than people understand; wouldn't knowing the costs better make a whole lot of sense?

Finally, attack the messenger if you wish, but that's basically answering the question in the headline with a yes. What else is it?

Update, 2/4:

An anonymous commenter (or two) does not like this question. S/he claims it is an "attack" and an attempt to silence people.

May I suggest contemplating the following. Sometimes people -- say, teachers in a classroom, or speakers giving a talk -- will ask questions that are designed to be "provocative" in the best sense, meaning to provoke thought; to induce the listeners to approach the matter from a different angle.

You may not like the provocative question; you may not understand it. There are many ways to respond. You can ask more questions for clarity, or simply shrug it off. But telling the speaker who is posing a provocative question to shut up is missing the point.

Also, about anonymity: I choose not to disable anonymous comments, yet I tell you, if you choose to be anonymous, that hurts your cause. It's not necessary to sign up for anything in order to be non-anonymous. All you need to do is include a name or pseudonym with your comment. I don't care about your real name; you can be Daffy Duck for all I care. But when a series of anonymous comments are posted, how many actual people are involved? How does anyone know? Don't hide behind anonymity.


* A fellow priest adds this clarity: it isn't precisely a question of being capable of being a pastor anywhere; but having enough who are capable of being pastor in the great majority of parishes. The tight availability of priests for pastorates means mismatches, and the problems that arise are what I have in mind. Strictly speaking, Father X might be capable of being pastor in certain parishes, but not in many, or even most, others. This becomes a huge problem when your "bench" (to use a sports analogy) is extremely thin.

**I will be the first to acknowledge some are stupid, lazy and selfish. But all of us?


Anonymous said...

In my experience yes, most (not all) priests are lazy and selfish.

I worked in the Church and it was disappointing to realize that the 80/20 rule on this issue does not shake out as one would hope.

That doesn't mean that parish consolidation doe not have to happen, or it is not a well thought out response to the situation at hand.

It's manipulative to try and justify it by saying that any disappointment or disagreement with the plan is an attack on priests.

There will be those who have been taught to support priests who will be made to feel bad and will be cowed into agreement. This is not a kind or respectful way to treat laypeople.

Having read (and enjoyed) your blog for years I assume this was not your intention.

I would have never brought up in your comments that in my experience yes, most priests are lazy and selfish. Never ask a question when you might not like the answer.

As to why priests are lazy and selfish - I have thought long and hard about it. Clearly some priests started out that way and figure out this is a lifestyle that will allow them to be lazy and selfish. The more frustrating version is the priests who realize over time they can elide their responsibilities and everyone will give them a pass.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Thanks for your candor, including in candidly attacking me: "It's manipulative to try and justify it by saying that any disappointment or disagreement with the plan is an attack on priests."

Too bad it didn't occur to you to choose the more charitable approach, which would lead you to ponder, why does Fox think this is a clarifying question?

The answer is: because if you rule out explaining these moves as being motivated by laziness or selfishness, or stupidity, then what does that leave? How do you explain the moves?

Fr Martin Fox said...

"[B]y saying that any disappointment or disagreement with the plan is an attack on priests."

Who said that? I didn't.

Anonymous said...

Father I charitably assume that it is not your intention to manipulate laypeople.

I think the moves are reasonable and understandable they just need to be communicated to laypeople with respect and kindness. Ideally with consideration of the history and communities who are impacted.

The communication has been terrible with a message of the priests and Archbishop know more and this defensive message that to question them is to attack the clergy as lazy and selfish ("Do you think we are lazy or selfish? Are we all stupid?** If not, then what?") does not help.

Maybe, laypeople who were raised to believe that the Church is a safe, constant home that was built by their ancestors to be there for us today and our responsibility to protect for our descendants.

So far, in the 21st century we laypeople have learned the Church it is NOT safe place with the scandal of abuse by priests and cover up by Bishops. The price for that was paid by laypeople Virtus/SafeParish.

Now we have priests and bishops taking away our patrimony in the destruction of the parishes. A price that will be paid by the people of those parishes who are there for the long term. Priests and Bishops come and go but the communities who built those parishes and their descendants will pay the price in the long term.

You asked "Do you think we are lazy or selfish? Are we all stupid? If not, then what?" As an old boss said, 'Stupid or evil - pick one'. Through very difficult effort of will I choose to believe it is NOT evil, or stupidity, or laziness leading to the the destruction of the Church in our Archdiocese, nation and world. I can still understand how other people do believe it is.

The priests and Archbishop are dealing with a difficult situation the best they can. Laypeople should be considerate of that.
Laypeople are dealing with the same difficult situation with much less information, control and power. Priests and the Archbishop should be considerate of that.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Anonymous 2:

Sorry, totally missing the point. I guess it is a bad priest who asks clarifying questions. And it infantilizes the laity to protest when anyone does that.

It is a false accusation -- by you -- and by Anonymous 1 (I can't assume both are the same, since you hide behind anonymity) to say I am "attack[ing]" anyone. It is a false accusation to say I am against anyone questioning. As would be clear to anyone who either knows me or has read my posts on this subject, I welcome questions.

When you and Anonymous 1 choose not to make false attacks but to dialogue, then let's do that.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I have a question: I have autism and I like playing make believe with my action figures. I want to introduce Jesus’ church to them (even though they’re not human) in my Micronation Kingdom and I was wondering if you could give me a blessing (in a comment below) to establish an ecclesiastical community for them in my game. It would mean a lot to me if you could say a blessing.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Hi Anonymous 3:

I don't really understand your question, and I don't care to guess about a meaning that is obscure to me; but if it is meant to be taken at face value, I'd say a make believe priest will be sufficient to give a blessing in a game. If you want a real blessing from a real priest, contact your local parish and the priest there will gladly bless a real human being. Objects can be blessed in certain cases as well. Ask him about it.

rcg said...

I don’t think I have ever known a selfish or lazy priest. There no doubt are some, but I don’t know them. People have a wide variety of capabilities and those capabilities are not uniformly distributed among people. So the priest must use his judgment to decide what is the most important task he has that he can succeed at that day. For either minor tasks that can be accomplished by a modestly capable volunteer or a critical challenge that he needs high-powered specialists then he has to recruit that help, accordingly. Even the action of recruiting help is a triage action of anther task. These are actually sophisticated thought processes that are learned by imitation and introspection. Sometimes I may wish the priest would have done it differently. But as long as something bad was not chosen on purpose then the laziness and selfishness may be in me for not helping or accepting that decision.