Deconstructing the Priesthood by richard lennan In the wake of the multiple challenges confronting the ordained priesthood today, Richard Lennan considers not only why change is difficult, but why change is necessary.
spectre of change that they presage, that immunity comes at a cost. Thus, for example, the deleterious effects of the refusal to face directly the implications of the reduced number of priests are already evident in the levels of “busyness” and frustration among priests: “at our worst we act like castaways, men seemingly forced by circumstances to rush and improvise and juggle just to get through the day.”5 One issue that various authors identify as an obstruction on the path to reform is the prevailing image of priests. Thus, Enda McDonagh argues that the notion of the priest as “superior mystery-man, even magic-man” has been so popular, among both priests themselves and the general populace of the Church, that it has eclipsed
c 21 r e s o u r c e s
On the whole, Roman
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The contemporary circumstances of the ordained priesthood confront the Church with what Theresa Monroe names “adaptive challenges.” Drawing on principles of leadership theory, Monroe argues that these challenges arise “because some fundamental aspect of the ‘world’ in which an individual or organization operates has changed.”1 In order for adaptation to occur, however, there must be a commitment “to re-examine deeply held values, beliefs, habits, ways of working, or ways of life.”2 The basket of “crises”—aging, vocations, “busyness,” and sexual abuse—the ordained priesthood faces suggests that “the world” of ordained ministry has changed, that there is a lack of congruence between the contemporary circumstances of the priesthood and ways of thinking and acting that were formerly applicable. Nonetheless, there appears to be little enthusiasm for facing such issues. In part, this might be because negotiating change “generally produces a degree of distress as people are challenged to give up perspectives and behaviors that are no longer helpful or productive in furthering the deepest purposes of the organization.”3 As a result of this reluctance to address the questions, there is a danger of the Church being seen, particularly in the context of clerical sexual abuse, to practice “autoimmunity,” that is, to be resisting the implications of the very beliefs that it claims as constitutive of its identity.4 While avoidance of difficult questions might grant temporary immunity from both the distress attendant on facing them and the
conceiving priesthood as an expression of the discipleship that unites all members of the Church.6 Similarly, Michael Heher suggests that “this pious image of ourselves, while charming and useful in former times, will haunt the effectiveness of our ministry if, as it obviously has in the past, it remains or is seen to be a convenient way for us to evade taking responsibility for our actions.”7 Such arguments resonate well with the work of Kenan Osborne, who highlights the deleterious impact on the Church of what he terms “the Euro-American image of the priest or bishop.” This image, etched in popular culture by its repetition in books and films, identifies priests by cassocks or black suits with Roman collars. Osborne sees danger in the image’s implication that priests are not only always and everywhere the same, but are so because that is Jesus’ desire for the Church:
Spring 2011 issue of C21 Resources, The Church in the 21st Century Center, Boston College