26 July 2018, The Tablet

Is the priesthood becoming too ritualistic?

'The most important thing is that the church continues the reconciling work of Christ in the world.'

Is the priesthood becoming too ritualistic?

Dr David McLoughlin and Pat Gaffney of Pax Christi
Photo: Ellen Teague

A senior theologian who teaches on the permanent diaconate programmes of Birmingham and Clifton dioceses has lamented the growth of “an increasingly ritualistic priesthood” which he has warned is “unhealthy”.

Dr David McLoughlin has trained young priests for the priesthood for 25 years and taught theology at Oscott College and at Newman University. He has also been a consulter to the Vatican and the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Speaking to The Tablet after he gave an address to the National Justice and Peace Network conference in Derbyshire, he said many of today’s seminarians “are caught up in the rituals of the sacramental process in a way that I would regard as unhealthy” because its sense of holiness was focused in a very limited way.

“I don’t know where we have gone wrong. They are all lovely guys ...  But when you see a young man on Sunday in a big Roman collar with a cassock with 33 buttons and a cummerbund and he is telling people off for taking the host in their hand – what on earth is going on?

“I think for some of them, the formal elements in religion and the formal elements of priestly dress, is a sort of bolstering and an identity strengthening factor.”

Referring to the Vatican II document on priesthood, "Presbyterorum Ordinis", he said the use of the two words – presbyter and sacerdos – had resulted in two models and that the tension between the two remained unresolved.

“Some priests have settled for a much more ritualistic sacerdotal model. I think a number of our younger priests have gone in that direction because it seems to be purer and more holy.” 

According to Dr McLoughlin the most important thing is that the church continues the reconciling work of Christ in the world and reconciling men and women to each other and to God.

“If there is anything gets in the way of that, we should go beyond it. So, if we have a lack of ordained ministers because we settled for celibate priests from the second millennia on, which is only true of the western half of the church not the eastern orthodox, why shouldn’t we change it? There is no profound theological reason why priests have to be celibate, it is just custom.”

He described CDF chief, Cardinal Luis Ladaria’s recent comments on the commission on women deacons as “a damage limitation job” and suggested that the Jesuit was “trying to manage expectations” and manage the conservatives. “A lot of them are in the States and they provide the central church with a lot of money,” he said.

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