Easter week and every person in Christian ministry is running like a rabid wolverine from one Holy Week activity to the next. In the Catholic Church the activities really hit the high point time wise starting on Maundy Thursday and running through the overnight vigil into Easter morn. It's amazing any of our parish priests are left standing on Easter night.
The Catholic media will bemoan the shortage of priests this week, and the church itself will want parishioners to add a few extra prayers on top of the liturgy for vocations to the priesthood. All nice ideas to be sure, but there is are a couple of glaring solutions to the shortage of qualified, hard working, spiritually devout priests in the Catholic faith...married people and...women.
I am not a scholar, I am a protestant turned Catholic that is a member of a very diverse and theologically liberal Franciscan parish. I do not portend to know all of the reasons and rhetoric that the Vatican continues to espouse as reasons for leaving the priesthood to single abstinent men. Frankly, I no longer care. The reasoning behind the omission of women and married persons from the full priesthood in the Catholic Church has ceased to make any sort of sense and hanging on to the fallacious reasoning associated with it will only leave the church whiteknuckling it into obscurity by the dawn of our next century.
What I do care about is the Catholic Church remaining vibrant, alive, diverse, and multifaceted. There is room for more than one kind of priest, and there is more than enough room for the thousands of people turned away because they are married or like me, female. They want to serve the church, they are willing to make the sacrifice of ministering to the flock and losing much of themselves in the process-but they are not willing to sacrifice the gift of marriage, their sexuality, the creation and blessing of family.
Much has been written about the sex abuse scandals that have devasted millions of lives and alienated millions of Catholic faithful and it should be acknowledged that pedophiles can be protestant too and that there are certainly ministers and religious leaders of every faith who have abused their positions of authority to take advantage and wound the most vulnerable of their community. I don't for a moment think priesthood causes pedophilia-but I do believe there is something inherently wrong in having individuals commit to a life of denying not just personality traits like greed and lust, but actual parts of their human makeup, in this case, their sexuality.
All mammals are sexual creatures and sexuality is an undivisable part of humanity. Not to be shamed or denied, but to be embraced, valued, treasured. I think denying this whole part adds stress and tension that is entirely avoidable, and places further distance between priests and those they minister to by making them less approachable, less able to understand the innerworkings of a sexual relationship.
I understand priests should be separated from those they serve based on their behavior, etc. But the reality is, having priests removed from the real emotional lives of those they care for leaves parishioners less apt to seek counsel, comfort, solution. Priests who are able to marry would benefit not just from having the emotional support and companionship of a spouse, but the balance of continuing to see themselves as fully human and part of the body of Christ, rather than the ones draggin the rest of us along.
As for women, well we chicks are a problem for the Vatican. Heck we were a problem way back before the Vatican in the days of Mary Magdalene. Women have, by and large been the ones keeping many small parishes open during the last several years. Nuns have been able to provide the eucharist (after it is blessed by a priest) in many parishes throughout the U.S., and it's women who run Catholic schools and parishes. It is predominantly the women of the church who clean the linens, manage the day to day operations, lead religious education, and...oh yeah-give birth to new parishioners.
In the days when the priesthood was established the role of women in society was markedly different. Women were not necessarily considered human, certainly didn't lead their families or communities, and were not given the type of education that led to a profession. One of the things I cherish about the Catholic Church is the fact that it has continued to evolve, albeit at a glacial pace, but as time and science continue to move forward the Church has acknowledged error in the ways scientists were disregarded and persecuted.
The Church has acknowledged the world is no longer flat and that speaking in Latin was antiquated in the setting of everyday mass for the majority of the world's people. With each admission and clearheaded, honest assessment the church has moved itself closer to its' people. Closer to acknowledging that just as all of humanity is flawed, all of humanity is capable of forgiving and forgiveness.
There is no true shortage of priests, there is a shortage of single abstinent men willing to be separated forever from those they serve and that is nothing to be disappointed about-but a dawning opportunity for the Church alive to reconsider rules that disregard and limit the power and purpose of the whole church and all of its' people to move closer to God. There are hundreds of thousands of people willing to serve as priests, they just need the invitation.