The bishops' refusal to confront the priest shortage is killing the Church

07 January 2014 | by Michael Knowles | Comments: 14

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read your report “Dioceses face up to having fewer priests” (The Tablet, 4 January). I wasn't astonished by the numbers provided from two dioceses, Birmingham and Northampton, of churches closing and the parishes being amalgamated, and of the meagre number of new priests being ordained and aspirants for the priesthood being trained.

The situation is dire across the whole Western world and everyone knows it. And it is totally self-inflicted. Before our very eyes the Church in the West is being stripped piecemeal, place by place, of parish and national leadership, and with it, of the full vibrant Eucharistic life Christ wanted for it.

No, what really astonished me, really and truly appalled me, was the hierarchical response. “Some of the changes that affect parishes will create a sense of sadness for both parishioners and clergy. However, we all are guided by the belief that our Church is not just made up of bricks and mortar but by the living presence of the Holy Spirit who guides and directs us all.”

What a pathetic get-out! Not only is there not a scrap of evidence that the Spirit of God wants his Church to be in such a mess; everything the Spirit of God tells us in his Scriptures proclaims the opposite.

The Word of God declares that “in Christ there is neither male or female”; it tells us both in Acts and in Romans that “God has no favourites”. And what's more, in the first sermon of the newly founded Church of Christ on that first Whitsunday, Peter said: “God says, ‘I will pour out upon everyone a portion of my Spirit and your sons and daughters shall prophesy ... and yes, I will endue even my slaves, both men and women, with a portion of my spirit.’”

The restriction of the priesthood to males has no God-given authorisation. His grace flows through every single one of the members of his glorious risen body equally like blood through our bodies. And the Magisterium and the hierarchy know this.

There are thousands upon thousands of Catholic married men out there – and not just ordained deacons – and Catholic women, both married and unmarried. There is no shortage of aspirants for the priesthood. There is instead a self-destructive blockage like that of an aneurysm that is bringing about a fateful coma within the Body of Christ. Let no one say this is the way “the living presence of Holy Spirit guides and directs us all”.

The mess the priesthood is in is bonkers. Imagine a major aspect of a business openly in decline brought about by the obstinacy and the clinging conservatism of its directors. What would its shareholders do? They'd bang their heads together until they ached and they changed their ways or got right out.

As the poet Shelley said in the Masque of Anarchy about the Peterloo Massacre of 1819: “We are many, they are few.” The Peterloo demonstration set in train the Great Reform Act that was passed 13 years later. It was a long struggle against oppression but we now enjoy universal suffrage. If we show the determination and courage of those demonstrators, the living presence of the Holy Spirit will guide and direct us to getting a renewed and revitalised Catholic Church.

Michael Knowles is a lay theologian and writer based in Congleton, Cheshire

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