I certainly do. It is only in the last four or five years that we
have been facing the crisis here in Los Angeles. We realize that just simply saying
married priests is the answer is not going to solve the problem now or in the immediate
future. Perhaps ten or twenty years down the road we will have married priests, but
thats not going to solve the problem right now so we are getting more and more lay
people involved on a professional basis, and they are undergoing professional training to
help pastors in parishes today.
For example, here at
St. Gerard Majella Parish in the Westside of Los Angeles, I have a business manager who
attended a two year course at Loyola Marymount University where he learned how to be
business manager of our Parish. My first few years here at St. Gerard Majella Parish
I spent a good 90% of my time doing what the business manager now does. The first
thing I did when I arrived was getting a new roof on the church. I was spending all
my time looking for roofers and trying to get contracts and bids, etc. The business
manager handles those things for me now so that I can devote my time being a pastor. His
is a paid position and he does an excellent job for us.
We are trying to get
more and more lay people involved in doing things. There are volunteer
positions that lay people can do. For example, I spend a lot of time on marriage
cases, trying to help people get their first marriages annulled. Certainly we
can train lay people to do these marriage cases. That would certainly help a pastor
who is very busy in this priest shortage crisis. I also spend a lot of my time doing
marriage preparation. Couples wanting to get married. Married people can be
trained to help do this preparation. We are taking a look and are planning how to
get more lay people involved in helping us, not only at a parish level, but on other
levels. These are some of the things that we looking into during this shortage.
We may see the day
here in Los Angeles as it is already seen in the East and the Midwest, and even in the
State of Washington north of us, where parishes are being combined. We do have a
couple of parishes here in LA South Central LA that are joined. Two or three parishes have
been combined to one. We have two instances in South Central Los Angeles where two
priests serve two to three parishes. So it is very important that we get more and
more lay people involved. The lay people need to realize that we priests are working
to maximum capacity.
One of the pastors
here on the Westside lost his Associate Pastor. He is all alone now and overtaxed
and he mentioned this to his people. Instead of saying, "well, Father, we could help
you", their response was "Well gee, you are going to have to work harder, Father
and do more work."
Publisher Kathy Bernard with
I know my Associate
Pastor was on vacation visiting his family in Austria for four weeks and I was here alone
during that time and I am telling you it was stressful. On Saturday, for example , I
would have four Masses, on Sundays I would have three Masses and one Sunday, I had four
when he was away. That Monday I had three Masses. I had the morning Mass at
8AM, I had a nursing home Mass, and I had a funeral Mass. And after Saturday,
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday morning I collapsed at the altar at 8AM Mass.
One thing we need to
do here at St. Gerard this coming year of 2000 is take a new look at our weekend Mass
schedule. Now beginning the first Saturday in December, we are not going to have a
Saturday Mass at 8AM. Well have daily Mass 8AM Monday through Friday
inclusive, but with all the Quinceaneras, weddings, funerals, and the vigil Masses, we
cant continue to have a Saturday Mass here at 8AM. It is fine when my
Associate and I are here but even then we are overtaxed and overstressed because our
Priest in Residence cannot do daily Mass and he is not involved in parish ministry.
He does one mass for me on Saturday, and he will do two masses on Sunday but I cant
rely on him to do daily Mass, I cant rely on him to do weddings, quinceaneras and
funerals so we are maxed out. So we are trying not to have an 8AM Mass. This seems
to be the trend in many parishes.
And then we take a
look at our Sunday Mass schedule. Right now, we have nine Masses here on the
weekend. Well, with the priest in residence we are able to do it. Saturday
inclusive. Our Spanish Masses are pretty much full and some of them are overcrowded.
People are standing around the walls, maybe one of the Masses will just be full so I
dont plan to do away with any Spanish Masses. We have four Masses in Spanish
and five Masses in English on the weekends. But we going to need to maybe combine a
couple of our English Masses because they are only half full. The Cardinal has told
us that where Masses are only half full we should combine them and right now we need to
talk to the people about possibly bringing together the 7:30AM and the 9AM Masses which
are only half full and possibly have a Mass at 8AM. What we must do is talk to the
people and help them make the decision concerning the most convenient time we would have
the first English Mass on Sunday; 7:30 AM or 8AM.
When I came here to
this parish fifteen years ago in January, it was 50% Latino. Well, the parish now is
70% Latino, and I have added three Spanish Masses. We have a Mass at 1:30PM, and at
7PM on Sundays with an additional Mass on Holy Days in Spanish at 7:30PM. When I
came here I didnt do any Spanish speaking ministry. I was told not to worry
about it since I had a full time Spanish speaking priest from Spain but then he was moved
after my first seven years here and at that point I realized I would have to learn
Spanish. I do everything in Spanish now. The only thing I dont really
feel comfortable doing is confessions because of the nuances, the variety of Spanish
accents, the old people not speaking as clearly and distinctly, and the people from other
countries who have different accents. The Colombians are probably the clearest and
easiest to be understood for me.
I find that my
Spanish is still limited but people tell me that they understand me, I give good short
homilies in Spanish and they are perfectly clear. So, you know, I do weddings and
baptisms, and quinceaneras, and funerals and what have you in Spanish now and that is
important. Because the parish has gone to 70% Latino, I have added, in additon to
more Spanish Masses, a lot of Spanish activities, a lot of Spanish speaking programs while
I still continue for the other 30% who are English speaking. Some of our Latino
people dont speak any Spanish. They speak only English. We also have a good
many who are bilingual and a good number who speak only Spanish. Though some are fluent in
English they are much more comfortable in Spanish. They prefer to pray in Spanish
as we do in English.
opinion, to what do you attribute this decline in gaining new priests today?
Well, I attribute it to
the age in which we live. We live in a very materialistic consumer society.
Sad to say a good majority of Catholics today are what we call nominal Catholics. They are
not practical or practicing Catholics. Polls have been done on a number of Catholics
who actually practice their religion today and I think the most liberal estimate would be
27 to 30 percent of Catholics go to Mass on Sunday. Among those numbers are included
people who only go once or twice a month. Not just people who go every Sunday.
So, there has been a decline in the practice of the faith
and the understanding and appreciation of the faith.
Life is very good
for people today. I notice that among our Spanish speaking, particularly our newly
arrived people, there is a much stronger practice of the faith because their lives are
hard. Their lives are difficult. They dont have it easy as the rest of
us who have made it. You have to make sacrifices to be priests, to be religious
brothers and sisters and many are not willing to make that sacrifice.
feel there are specific issues that deter our youth today from choosing the priesthood as
It is the comfortable
lives that they have, and the materialism and consumerism with which they are growing up.
Theyre growing up without Catholic convictions and the values. Sad to say, the
majority of the children in our schools do not go to Mass on Sunday. Their parents
dont go. The school can only build on the foundation that the home
lays. And the home is not laying a foundation upon which the parish school can
build. The parents are indifferent to religion and the Church. And it is very sad.
seems to be fewer altar servers at Mass. Do you feel that because parents are not
encouraging their sons while they are young to participate at the altar, this is one of
the reasons a child is not inclined or does not even think to consider the priesthood as a
You are absolutely
right. The children who become altar servers whether they are boys or girls come
because the parents themselves are involved in the life of the parish. Their parents
come to Mass and Holy Communion. Theyre the parents that see to it that their
children who learn to serve at the altar are here for their serving appointment.
Some children who at first take an interest in becoming altar servers and are trained
simply do not show up for their serving appointments after the novelty has worn off
because their parents dont take any interest or concern. The parents
dont go to Mass or do not encourage their children to attend or fulfill their
Catholic Christians think that a spiritual calling to the priesthood by God could not
easily be ignored. Has this changed?
Well today it is being
ignored I think by young people because of the comfortable, materialistic consumer style
lives that they have. By the fact that they are not being raised to understand and
to appreciate the faith. Perhaps not recognizing the calling, just not hearing it,
or not paying attention to it. Ignoring it. Probably half the people being ordained
to the priesthood today are what we call late vocations. They have been in other
careers, professions or businesses, and some of them will say that early in life they felt
an attraction or an inclination to the priesthood or religious life but they ignored it.
Once into their profession or their business, the call came back and they decided they
really couldnt get away from it, there was something missing in their lives that
only a religious vocation or priestly vocation would satisfy. Late Vocation ordained
priests or religious brothers and sisters will tell you that satisfaction is now there in
their lives. This was lacking when they were in the business world or other
I was looking at an
article in Parade Magazine, one of the sections of the LA Times newspaper last Sunday
about people who came to religious vocations in their late thirties, forties and fifties
and among them they included one man who was the vice president in entertainment and was
making a fabulous salary. He was fifty three years old and he is now at our major seminary
in the hopes to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese in a few years. He
mentioned the fact that even though he made lots of money, had a very comfortable life
that there was something missing in his life that he had ignored. He had thought
about the priesthood early in life but later found he couldnt resist it any
longer. I think there are a good number who do block this call out and ignore it. We
are always free to say yes or no to God. We are free to say yes or no to His
Grace. We are always free to say yes or no to Gods Salvation.
The Pope has made it clear that
women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. Should this shortage of priests become a stark
reality, do you think this stance would change?
The Pope has said that
professionally I am not allowed to remark on this but I am on an ecumenical commission
here in the archdiocese that includes Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans and I
suppose I can give you their attitude or view on this. I really cant
give you mine professionally. Their attitude is that it is not your gender that
makes one an apt candidate for Holy orders rather, it is your preparation, your
intelligence, your compassion, your concern for people and your baptism that makes you an
apt candidate for Holy Orders; Bishop, Priest or Deacon. Thats pretty much
their position and that Christ doesnt, as a human being, represent men only.
He represents men and women both and I know that an argument from our side though is that
we look upon the Church as the spouse of Christ, the wife of Christ and Christ would be
the husband or father of the Church and in this line of reasoning then, if the Church is
looked upon as a feminine dimension as the spouse of Christ then the representative of
Christ the Bishop or Priest should be male. Thats the Catholic position. But this is
not the way my friends on the ecumenical commission see it.
Is the lack of faith in todays society a contributory factor to the
shortage of priests?
Yes, definitely. It goes
right along with consumerism and materialism. There seems to be a real lack of faith
and indifference to faith and religion.
Is it viable to say we are
importing priests from other countries because of the diminishing amount of priests here
I dont think this
is the answer. I know that amongst dioceses, many priests from Africa and Poland
have been imported but it is very difficult because of culture rating in our society and
our American way of life. With no disparaging of the Irish Clergy, I am half Irish
descent myself, some of these priests never really became Americans. It was as if
they had never left Ireland. We need American priests in this country to know where
our people are and can talk to them in our own language. We, in recent years, have
gotten some very fine young Irish priests from Ireland. I am very impressed when the
young Irish priests have had our University education. They are very fine. They are
very good. But I dont think importing priests is the answer. We have
got to develop our own American priests and as I said earlier we need to find ways of
getting lay people more involved in help our priests.
the laity help with the shortage of priests?
What I said
earlier. Having a business manager to help with parish preparations, people helping
with marriage cases, doing more with religious education, we have a religious education
director here, dealing with religious education programs. This month, she is going
to begin the Little Rock, Arkansas Bible Studies here. She has young adult
members in our parish who are prepared to work with her in doing bible studies. So,
there are ways that she has taken such as having volunteers to help her. For
example, we had some wonderful
volunteers here at the parish working on
our stewardship program during the month of October last year.. There are some
really good people who are helping in every way they can.
We are also
fortunate to have a deacon who is instrumental in giving homilies, doing marriages and
baptisms, and quinceaneras, for example. He comes well prepared after studying for
five years at a Catholic Seminary. He is bilingual and can do both Spanish as well
as English Masses. This has been a tremendous help in our parish and he is well
received by both the English and Spanish Parishioners. His duties frees the priests
to address the other numerous issues that must be attended to. Having more deacons
in various Churches throughout the country could be most beneficial during this priest
crisis. The only thing that deacons cannot do is the Consecration of Holy Communion
and the Rite of Confession.
estimation, when did the scarcity of priests begin to be apparent?
Well, in this diocese I
think probably in the last five to ten years we began to notice the shortage and began to
do something about it. It is only in the last four or five years that we are really
working on it. It began around 1966 or 1968 but I wouldnt attribute this to
the Second Vatican II, I would simply attribute it to the world at large and the way
the world is going with the increase in consumerism and secularism.
critical issue for most Catholics in some areas of our country seems to be "what will
be the impact on the celebration of the Eucharist" should they face a priestless
Mass. What do you think about this?
There are already
liturgical guidelines for a Sunday celebration in the absence of a priest. And that
celebration would usually be a Holy Communion service and a deacon or a religious brother
or sister or lay man or lay woman would conduct the service of the word, which would be
the first part of the Eucharist Mass. They would be licensed by the Bishop to do the
homily, followed immediately by the Lords Prayer, then proceed to the reserved
Blessed Sacrament to give Holy Communion to the people present. So there
wouldnt be a Eucharist of making present a celebration of the Lords Death and
Resurrection which is what Holy Mass does as a Perfect Sacrifice of Praise and
Thanksgiving. The priest who had come last at Mass would consecrate enough altar bread so
the people could go to Holy Communion until the priest came again, perhaps on a monthly
basis to celebrate Mass. I dont think this is the answer because we are going
to become a Church lacking the Eucharist, Holy Mass. What makes us Catholic is the
fact that we have the Eucharist and the Celebration of the other Sacraments of the Church
so we would become a Church of the Word only without the priests. We will become a
Protestant church if we dont have the Sacraments. For Catholics it is the Mass
that matters. When my British ancestors were persecuting my Irish ancestors, those
Irish Catholics died for the Mass. They went to Prison and died for the Mass.
Episcopalian priests are being accepted in the Roman Catholic Church as Clergy. What
is your view on this, since the strict rule of celibacy applies to the Catholic priest?
Well, they are being
accepted and they are being ordained as Catholic Priests either conditionally or
absolutely. I think they are being accepted not because of the priest shortage but
because they are allowed to continue in the Catholic Church either in an Anglican usage or
an Anglican Rite and some are being ordained as married priests for the Latin Rite.
The rule of celibacy still applies in the Latin Rite if the ordained Episcopal priest is
received or an ordained Lutheran minister is received. If the wife later dies they are not
allowed to remarry similar to the rule in the Eastern Orthodox Churches where a priest is
sometimes already married before he is ordained. He is not allowed to marry again if his
wife dies, or if he hasnt married before admission he is not allowed to marry after
admission. The law of strict celibacy still applies in the Western Church. With the
shortage of priests, I think one partial answer would be to allow priests who have already
left the priesthood to marry to come back and to function as worker priests. It
certainly could help on weekends in parishes so that people would not be denied the
celebration of the Eucharist in Holy Mass. I really think it is anti-Catholic to
deny people the Eucharist based on a Church rule or a Church law on the discipline of
celibacy. I really think that a alongside celibate priests we do need to have
married priests. We are going to wind up having very, very few priests or no priests
eventually if we dont have married men ordained to the priesthood. So I think
there is room in the Church for both. Celibate priests and married priests. I
believe that the Church does have the right to make that decision, but I also, at the same
time, believe that there are men called to the priesthood who are not called to
celibacy. That is my own humble opinion and I dont see any reason why they
could not be ordained to the priesthood. I think probably in ten to twenty years
that will be the situation. I think the next Pope will probably allow married
priests on a limited basis. I think in Latin America the bishops have asked for
this, and I think in Africa the bishops have asked for this so it will come but it will be
in that time span and it will be slow. Well begin with a few.
William, why be a priest?
(laughing) Well, I really
was convinced that this was my calling: That God called me to be a priest. I
cant think of anything better or more important that I can do for people than
minister to them as a priest. Preaching Gods word, celebrating the Sacraments,
listening to them, enabling them and supporting them in lay ministry. To me, this is
the most important thing I can be and I can do is be a priest. In high school I once
thought about being a doctor like my grandfather, I even thought about being a high school
teacher or a college professor, but to me being a priest was even better and more
important and more satisfying.
summary, what do you think would attract our youth to the priesthood?
talked to high school kids. Some will say to me, "I really would like to be a
priest but I want to be a husband and a father too." I dont think that one
would necessarily exclude the other. So somewhere down the road I think if we are
going to attract young men to the priesthood we are going to have to have married
priests. I really dont know what to do about the materialism and the
secularism that we experience so strongly in the world and what to do to overcome
that. In our school, for example, I have sat with our principal and our junior high
religion coordinator and we talked about trying to convert our junior high kids to Christ
Jesus as their Lord and Savior, that He should be the most important person in their lives
and the Eucharist should really be the most important way we can commute with our Lord,
and to try and make Catholic Christians out of them. To try to convert them even
though there isnt a backup from the families, from the home.
Thank you for being so generous with your
time. I am sure our readers will enjoy having many of their questions and concerns
answered clearly and precisely and will benefit from the knowledge you have shared with
hope at some future date we may do this again.
Thank you and I very much
appreciate you as a member of this parish and I am very glad you are a Eucharist Minister
here at St Gerard Majella Catholic Church.
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