Our Town downtown
June 26, 2006
There are more Catholic churches in neighborhoods than there are libraries, and in many neighborhoods there are more of them than there are Starbucks. But there are fewer of them all the time.
The archdiocese is planning to close more of them soon. Other cities are doing the same. There are reasons: the migration of many Catholics to the suburbs, the high cost of fuel and other maintenance expenses, the paltry number of nuns and priests. Of course, loss of faith is a big reason too. And so, in a big way, is television, which you can accurately blame for just about everything that’s slipping away in our culture: family meals, reading, evening papers, conversation, sleep, fitness (if you really think McDonalds is why kids and the rest of us are fat you’re gullible. Generations before this one grew up on whole milk and Sugar Smacks and chocolate chip cookies and Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes and 3 Musketeers bars and mashed potatoes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder Bread and red cans of Coke and sugar-laden Kool-Aid and Sara Lee coffee cakes.).
Many Catholics who traditionally marched off to church on Sunday morning kid themselves that they’re doing something religious by watching CBS Sunday Morning. People find television’s flickering lights irresistible, and the flicker of candles on an altar can’t compete.
Which is too bad, because there’s something to be said for combing your hair and walking up the street to sit with a crowd of folks for an hour or less and listen to some music under a vaulted ceiling and some words that usually are much more challenging than even the most progressive politician’s. The church nearby us consistently sermonizes about war and death and selfishness. Its bulletin is dotted with pleas for food and clothing donations for the hungry and the homeless.
The parish runs a homeless shelter and a soup kitchen. It also holds weekly meetings for gay and lesbian parishioners, as well as a discussion group on peace and justice. For believers or non-believers, it’s a place to get a message. But the ranks are thinning and so are the donations.
One thing the Church could do to re-invigorate itself is to change its anachronistic policies regarding who can be a priest. As it stands now, only young men who have no ardent desire to be with a woman are the norm. That has caused problems which everybody knows about in numbers which may be way beyond those reported. There are other problems too which stem from the all-male club that runs things in Catholicism.
Here’s a telling anecdote. A woman, a cousin of ours (we went to Catholic grade school together), in her late 50’s has for nearly 20 years been a dorm prefect in a small Catholic college in New England. For the past half dozen years she has been the head of all the prefects. She’s a lovable person and has no doubt been befriended and admired by all who’ve come in contact with her, students and administration alike. In the past year the college has restructured the way the residential life of the campus will be administered. The new model allows for no one without a master’s degree to be a prefect. So, she’s out at the end of this month. It was a shock to her and left her, divorced and barely solvent, wondering where to go next. When we suggested she might talk to a monk or a priest there that she may be close to who could give her guidance or maybe find her some other job at the school, she laughed and said that she did indeed have men there she’d known and worked with for years but they would never meet with her. They couldn’t she said, they were forbidden by the administration to meet with females alone; they might develop a fondness for a woman and their vows might be tested beyond what they could endure.
That’s nuts. It’s time for the Church to allow for married priests and for women priests.
-- Bill Gunlocke