Tuesday, February 27, 2024

We Catholics should stop calling priests 'father.' Here's why.

 ...Because we don't really believe it. 

Do bishops believe priests are fathers? 

Then why do they move priests around, as if they are branch managers? Priests are encouraged not to get attached to any particular parish; to expect to move on after a set term. Their brother priests encourage this and take it as normal.

Do priests believe it? Some of us do, but as I explain in this post, I starting to think I'm in the minority, perhaps a small minority. 

Do the faithful believe their pastors are fathers? 

Sad to say, but I think far fewer really believe it than we realize. We expect a father to take care of the needs of the family, to lead, to protect and to provide. We love when dad tells us what we like to hear, but what happens if he says something we don't like? Everyone knows what happens.

When father says, to take care of our family, things need to change? He will be given a hard time. He will be treated as the enemy.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: the current project of reorganization and renewed evangelization, Beacons of Light. 

For all the flaws in the planning and execution, it is founded on a completely sound theological understanding: that the pastor is a father, who has a spousal relationship to his community, which is commonly called a "parish." What few realize is that the terms in Latin for parish priest and parish are cognates (which I explain here), meaning that an essential part of the definition of a parish is it's relationship to a priest; a parish priest is a unifying feature of a parish.

Therefore, the arrangement of a single priest being pastor twice, three times, four times or more -- meaning, he is "father" to multiple families -- is not normal, and should not be tolerated except as a temporary expedient. For decades, this abnormal arrangement was the solution for not enough priests who were equipped to be pastors. And now, as the situation became increasingly unworkable, the Archdiocese stopped addressing the problems in a piecemeal way, and did a comprehensive re-working: Beacons of Light. 

Based on projections of what number of parishioners and pastor-capable priests would be available for the next couple of decades, our parishes were re-grouped into 57 "families," with the plan that, after several years' transition, each of the multi-parish families would be reformed legally into united entities under church law, while maintaining multiple churches and campuses, if this is feasible. Why 57, and not 52 or 63? As mentioned, it's based on projections of both lay participation and priestly resources, not just for the next 5 years, but much further out.

So now the fight is on in many places, and what people are keying in on is the change in the legal structures. But back to my earlier point: this change reflects the sound insight that a "parish" is the pastor -- the father's -- family. One father implies a oneness of the family.

What would happen with a natural family in this situation? Supposing a man, with his own family, became aware his nieces and nephews lost their parents; it fell to him and his wife to provide for them. How would the family arrangements change? 

Would anyone consider it acceptable to say that the arrangements of the initial family should continue undisturbed, while the cousins would continue living in their home, with dad shuttling back and forth? Would it not be the case that only rare circumstances would justify that?

It may seem strange to American readers to consider such a hypothetical, but in much of history, and much of the world today, it is all too real to have children lose their natural parents, and either relatives take them in, or...what? And what is formed is a new family; maybe people call it a "blended" family, but how many families are there? 


Now, let's look at Beacons of Light. It takes for granted this principle: that a parish community is centered around a priestly father. 

In theory, this unity might carry over into the unity of the physical home; but given the practical issues involved, this point is not really being pressed. Yes, I know many people are certain that's the hidden agenda, and if you believe that, no denial of mine can be strong enough to convince you. 

All I can do is repeat what I've said: only an extremely stupid archbishop and parish priest would force the closure of beloved church buildings over the objection of the people who are ready to use them and pay for them. Even those who suspect me of being lazy and selfish like priests supposedly are, do not accuse me of being extraordinarily stupid (only run-of-the-mill stupid).

The oneness of the family may need to deal with certain practical realities, but the principle of oneness should prevail, yes? So with the natural family, and so with the spiritual. Hence, if sad to say, spiritual families that used to have their own father must now "share" a father with another family, then isn't it obvious and necessary that they operate as one, enlarged family, rather than try to function as two (three, four, seven) families, and the father must make a pretense of being two, three, four, or seven fathers?

In many cases, the objections to the Beacons project center on trying to keep what has been lost: people want their parishes to be stand-alone, with their own pastor. That would be wonderful, but given the demographics of our priests for the foreseeable future, and the particular demands of being a pastor, that isn't possible.

The back-up plan being advanced is to say, well let's keep each parish stand-alone, but the priest can shuttle from location to location, being the pastor in each of the sites. Some people think that's a new idea, but it isn't; it's what was tried in many places, in our archdiocese, for the past 30 years. It seems to work because we priests didn't tell you otherwise. We didn't tell you because we figured it wouldn't change anyway, so what was the point?

Where it seemed to work, what happened either was the priest simply didn't do a lot of things a pastor really ought to, like long-term planning, because he was shuttling, shuttling, shuttling. Or, the priest simply abdicated his responsibility as a leader to others. Truly being, not *a* father, but two fathers, three fathers, five fathers? That is simply impossible; what seems like success is a masquerade, only now the masks are coming off.

But I've been told my insistence on the fatherhood of the pastor -- including a spousal relationship -- is all wrong, even by the most faithful Catholics. And I can't help noticing that much of the resistance in the northern part of the diocese is centering not on maintaining the priestly relationship, but the legal structures. As I explained in a February 5 post, the conclusion of one of the very fine, very faithful Catholic laymen up north who is fighting Beacons was that canonical-legal structures are essential to what make up a parish, but the familial-fatherly relationship of the priest? This was not highlighted in his article.

Now, I hasten to explain, the author didn't deny the importance of a pastor; but I  would argue his article takes it for granted; and the main thing is, he doesn't address my point at all, namely: what happens to the family when the family must share dad with several other families, all attempting to be separate families. The key thing these good people are insisting on is the separateness.

They seem to want, if they can't have stand-alone parishes, each with their own pastors, then the "clustering" model in which a father must be father two, three or five times over. 

My conclusion: is that we just don't really believe it when we call priests "father." In which case, let's stop doing that, and call them them something else. 


Anonymous said...

Jesus said Matt 23.9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Anonymous @ 7:49 pm:

Since I'm stupid, in addition to being lazy and selfish, I need help knowing what your point is. Please say more?