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CORPUS Responds to Bishop Gregory

August 22, 2003

The Most Rev. Wildon D. Gregory
Diocese of Belleville
The Chancery
222 South Third Street
Belleville, IL 62220

Dear Bishop Gregory:

I received the article, below, including your comments from the Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN Pioneer Press in this morning's email. For your ease, I have included that article at the base of this email.

On behalf of CORPUS, I need to respond to some of your quoted comments.

While "no one can deny Catholic priests in the United States have felt tremendous pressure" at the same time, no one in authority in the Roman Catholic Church is doing anything tangible about it. It reminds me of the often told joke about the man who, facing certain death from flood waters, turns down three offers of rescue because "God will save me." When he meets God in death and asks why God didn't save him, God replied "I sent you two boats and a helicopter!!"

I'd venture to say that none of our hierarchy still touting mandatory celibacy live the existence of the lone and lonely parish priest. The proponents of mandatory celibacy are men always surrounded by other priests wherever they live, wherever they go. Whether in a religious community or diocesan environment they never have to face a day, a week, a month where the only other priest they see is the one looking back at them in the mirror.

These bishops do not live on the front lines as the only priest in their parish, the only priest 'riding circuit' covering multiple parishes. They never have to personally deal with parishioners denied Eucharistic celebrations because there is "no priest available." They never have to be in the position of Fr. Bob Dalton, coordinator for the lay pastoral coordinator program of Glenmary Home Missioners whose job it is to tell people calling for ministry support services that he just has no priest to send them. Glenmary covers 15 geographically dispersed rural dioceses from Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, and Oklahoma to the Atlantic Ocean.

Bishop Gregory, you may state that "we do not proclaim doctrine by polling the faithful," a claim neither pastorally or theologically quite correct in Catholic tradition. Doctrine and dogma in our faith has, for over two thousand years, been underpinned by the "sensus fidelium" or "faith-sense and understanding of the community of believers." Even given an acceptance of papal infallibility, which is never invoked when speaking of the "canon law discipline of celibacy," not "doctrine of celibacy," not "dogma of celibacy," or even doctrine supporting keeping women from sacramental ministry, the pope can only lay claim to speaking infallibly in matters of faith and morals specifically as he pronounces the held sense of faith of the whole church. It is clear that while many in the hierarchy may hold this as their sense of faith, the church at large is not with them.

Furthermore, you are being being dishonest, Bishop, when you state "We are in the long haul for a lot of honest, open, heart-to-heart conversation." Roman Catholics are not given the freedom of honest, open, heart-to-heart conversation as witnessed by any Christian community. First and foremost we are reminded about our "unique identity," translated into the vernacular as "Pray, Pay, and Obey." This is immediately followed up by a statement about "the authority of the church," which translated into the vernacular equals "the authority of the hierarchy." Where open discussion is broached on issues of pragmatics, not doctrine, it is usually quashed... see the handling of Voice of the Faithful groups in many places around the country for example. When open discussion is broaced on developmental issues of theology, the theologians are silenced... see the experiences of Roger Haight, SJ, Michael Morwood, and liberation theology proponents. Revisit your own letter to our board members when we asked you to engage in dialogue last October.

For 500 years around the world, and only recently in North America and Europe, the Church has supressed "honest, open, heart-to-heart conversation" about mandatory celibacy and the lack of inclusion of women in sacramental ministry. Missionary countries around the world have never had the opportunity of daily, let alone weekly or sometimes annually, Eucharistic celebrations. The Roman Catholic Church has imposed a mandatory celibate male clergy as the price of Catholic faith around the world. Ask your brother bishops in Central and South America and Africa and they will tell you quietly that celibacy is observed in the breach.

For centuries Rome has demanded that the Eastern Catholic Churches, in communion with Rome, not be part of our whole church's worldwide missionary effort specifically because they held to a tradition of married clergy for 2000 years. As Eastern Catholics came immigrated to the US during the last century the Roman bishops in this country banded together and petitioned Rome to demand that celibacy be imposed on Eastern Catholic clergy in the Americas.

You "stressed the need to recruit, train and sustain lay leaders to help the church in its educational mission." Catholics care about their faith, they care about the sacraments. While the wholesale refusal to accept mandatory celibacy has reached watershed proportions, at the same time, during the past 25 years, vocations to the "permanent" diaconate in the the Roman Catholic Church in the United States have increased 10-fold specifically because permanent deacons can be married. At the same time, conservative estimates from official sources tell us that there are over 35,000 married and single men and women in advanced theology (masters and certificate) training programs in this country alone. Those numbers don't even take into account the millions of men and women who currently staff our parishes pastoral ministry roles, religious education programs, parochial schools, hospitals and charitable organizations. This is not a laity that needs to be recruited in support of the church's educational mission. If that same laity were to pull out of our institutions tomorrow the system would hemorrhage.

In conclusion, we do agree with you, Bishop Gregory on one issue in particular. It is way beyond time that this "family" ... "talks very seriously among itself about issues." ALL the members of this family, not just the hierarchy.

Sincerely in Christ
C. Russell Ditzel, president
CORPUS


Bishop Gregory's comments, as reported by Stephen Scott:
ST. PAUL: Bishop says he understands request for married priests

BY STEPHEN SCOTT
Religion Editor

A letter from more than 160 clergy in Milwaukee asking the Catholic Church to allow married priests has not yet reached the hands of Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But Gregory, in St. Paul on Thursday for an educators' conference, said he understands the source of the request.

"No one can deny Catholic priests in the United States have felt tremendous pressure," Gregory said in an interview after a speech to the Minnesota Catholic Education Association.

In their letter sent to Gregory on Tuesday, the Milwaukee priests cited the shortage of priests as a central reason to make celibacy optional.

Recent tensions in the church have "given some focus to questions simmering for a long time about church life," said Gregory, bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.

"We are in the long haul for a lot of honest, open, heart-to-heart conversation," he said. "The church is a family of faith, and every family has moments when it talks very seriously among itself about issues."

Gregory called such conversations healthy, but he said Catholics can't forget their unique identity or the authority of the church. "We do not proclaim doctrine by polling the faithful," he said.

In his speech to the Minnesota group at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Gregory stressed the need to recruit, train and sustain lay leaders to help the church in its educational mission.

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