February 24, 2010

A Good Priest is Hard to Find

Terry has a disturbing post.

It's all true.

A good priest is hard to find. Heck, a PRIEST can be hard to find.

I "do process" for a living but there are times you just need flexibility around the process so you can just jump to the terminator.

Death and serious illness are one of those times.

We all know of instances, maybe it happened to you, where you need a priest for a Sacrament and you can't get to him.

I've ranted before about how messed up I think it is that priests live "off campus". I can understand it, somewhat, if there is no Rectory or if Father is assigned to multiple parishes and for obvious reasons can only live on the grounds of one.

There is too much of an effort these days to give lay people more control over the administration of the sacraments then they should. There is a huge difference between a parish administrator role and the priest. The parish administrator or business adminstrator or office secretary should not be controlling access to Father to the point that they are, in essence, stonewalling people under the guide of "not wanting to bother Father with more stuff"

For instance, and this has loooong been a source of anger for me, you want FATHER to visit a loved one in the home or in the hospital or in the nursing home and the immediate response of the 'gatekeeper' in the parish is: "I'll send one of our LAY ministers" There are times where, I'm sorry, I just don't WANT a lay minister. I want a PRIEST. I get even more furious if they continue on and get down to it: "Father doesn't DO those types of calls" WTH?

Call me suspicious. Ok, yes, I am. But, I always wonder if Father is locked up in the basement closet while the lay people run amok in the office? I wonder if Father was actually ever even consulted on this push to force lay ministers on as much as possible or that's what the parish (read: lay people in charge) have always "done".

We've probably all know (well, I do) of priests who are surprised to hear that people can't access him when he's needed because Father had no idea the office was pushing folks away from him. Father ends up giving his cell phone number and PERSONAL email address out so people can bypass the "office". Is that acceptable? It's ridiculous.

In my opinion, the authority in the parish, the last word, the COO, is the pastor. God is the CEO and ultimate word. The pretenders can all go home. I know it's harsh. There it is.

More and more people are bypassing the church weddings and funerals in favor of doing them at commercial wedding chapels and funeral home entirely. The commercial business world has figured out something we forgot: Give the people what they want AND what they need.


Blogger ignorant redneck said...

The solution is simple: Tell the gatekeeper that you have a seriously ill person in a medical facility who needs the sacraments, and that by sending a layman to them, they are deliberatly denying the right of a Catholic to recieve the sacraments, therefore, if they do so the next action on your part will be to inform the local ordinary of this violation of your rights, and that you will initiate cononical proceedings against them.

My father died without the sacraments because of this sort of crap.

February 24, 2010 12:59 PM  
Blogger Joe of St. Thérèse said...


February 24, 2010 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Austringer said...

Ignorant redneck -- that sounds nice and satisfying and all, but will also land you on the gatekeeper's personal ****list. Then you're really going to be screwed... Try getting a Mass said for a loved one: it will somehow not make it on the calendar --ooops!! Got an item for the bulletin? Sorry -- it must not have arrived in time ---ooops!

And don't bother with the bishop --he has a full plate and unless you've got a priest molesting altar boys, he'll get a pass. He doesn't have time to mess with a gatekeeper.

I'm quite familiar with the gatekeeper mentality. In our parish, the gatekeeper is an unattractive single woman with no family to reign over as queen. Therefore, her position as church secretary gives her many opportunities to push her not-inconsiderable bulk around, giving her the sense of authority and importance that she lacks elsewhere.

Do I sound bitter and hostile? You bet...and with good reason. I think it may have been Chesterton who said that what kept him from the Catholic Church for so long were Catholics.

February 24, 2010 2:10 PM  
Anonymous L said...

Cathy and Terry- great posts!

February 24, 2010 4:22 PM  
Blogger Melody K said...

This post reminds me that I need to take "Carol", our parish secretary, a plate of cookies, because she is such a sweetie; and apparently she is rare.

February 24, 2010 5:07 PM  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

Cath - by mid-Lent lets be like Howard what's his name in Network... mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore.

Seriously, thanks for this post - I'm so worried about offending anyone I haven't been blogging the way I should. Anyway - you say it better than I do.

So today Father was at a diocesean meeting - he had to leave after Mass, gone all day. Gee, I hope no one died.

February 24, 2010 5:59 PM  
Blogger belinda said...

Red doesn't mess around!! hahaha

I forgot about those Catholics who only want something from our parishes or our priests when they have an issue, otherwise they never darken the doorstep.

February 24, 2010 6:12 PM  
Blogger tomschulzte said...

It is clear from your post and Terry's that this is a hot-button issue. And no wonder- we are dealing with the life of loved ones and their dying wishes- a sensitive issue indeed.
Nevertheless, from all the many thoughts that went through my head in reading the posts and comments, I encourage everyone to always be charitable, and never stop praying for your parish priest. This might sound over-simplistic, but let me tell you (and this is no secret to anyone who has ever worked in a parish), parish employees (and even priests) see so much crap everyday that they can become desensitized to the real needs of people. We are but fallen humans, weak, and prone to let our brothers and sisters down.
Ranting against the gatekeeper or the priest is not going to do any good. Slighting the bishop by claiming that he has bigger fish to fry is not only uncharitable, but a damnable lie.
Again, I am not trying to downplay the hurt and pain caused by these unfortunate events. I only encourage everyone to see that what is needed is charity and patience (as well as support for our priests and the people who work for them in the parish), not demands and force.
I enjoy your blog, bringing relevant topics to the table.

February 25, 2010 9:55 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

tomschultze: I appreciate the charity reminder. Thank you. My Lenten plan is to work on my charity, well, lack thereof.

February 25, 2010 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Austringer said...

I pray daily for our priests, with special attention to my own. Since I did work part-time in our church office some years back, I am quite aware (more than if I had not worked in that environment) just how much our priests do and the many demands that are made on them.

However, I have also seen the damage done by the uncritical, insulated environment wherein a priest becomes a king, surrounded by yes-men and adoring parishioners who will give Father a pass on most anything because he's a priest. It's clericalism, and is as destructive to the priest as it is to those in the pews.

The church office environment can become an "us vs. them" environment, wherein the parishioners simply annoy the staff by the demands they make on their time. Sorry, but that's reality, and it is far more likely to happen when people feel that they ought not to criticize, because, after all, it's a church and is therefore off limits.

And I am not intending to slight the bishop. It is simply a fact that he has bigger fish to fry -- that too is just reality. Unless there's a serious infraction of canon law by a priest, especially one with the potential to give rise to a lawsuit, the bishop can only go so far. It's not unkindness or even indifference, it's a question of time.

I once looked into Archdiocesan Conciliation process when a staff member (a particularly close friend of the priest) had attempted to use her closeness with Father to get me dismissed from my teaching position in the parish school. When I told Father that I was intending this, he promptly hired an attorney for a thousand dollars (I believe from parish funds). Needless to say, I decided that I wouldn't pursue that avenue of reconciliation...I can't afford an attorney! All I had wanted to do was just discuss the problem with a third party present! But pastoral concerns were not Father's concerns -- he just wanted to protect his dear special friend from stress.

That's what an uncritical environment leads to -- an insulated, self-protecting royal court. If you've never experienced the effects of this, give God thanks.

February 25, 2010 10:36 AM  
Blogger tomschulzte said...

Thanks for your comment, and thank you for praying for priests.
You are right in seeing how easily clericalism can creep in. Some people subcumb easily to the allure of power, and so they abuse it. Unfortunately, sometimes parish employees fortify this type of thinking. (At times, I personally think that there should be a turnover of parish employees every few years, because more often than not, it is those who have been in the parish for many years give parish administration a bad name)
Anyways, it is clear that everyone is called to constant conversion, and we must not lose sight that we are serving God through people.
I sympathize with your former situation- but the reality in our litigation happy society is that priests have to always have their behinds covered.
In regards to the bishop- he is indeed limited by time- I suggest you try him. You may not get the answer you expected, but if you knock, the door will be opened to you.

February 25, 2010 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Austringer said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

The scenario I described was just one of a whole series of very nasty, uncharitable events that ocurred due to our priest's desire to protect and serve his special friend rather than be a pastor. To accomplish this he used -- and abused -- his very king-like authority. He was helped in this by his faithful gatekeeper, though other staff members told me privately that they were very aware of the problems. And yes, when I had no options available at the parish level, I did go to the bishop. (Actually, I went to the Vicar General, who then became a bishop.) I am pleased to report that he was very helpful, though he had his hands full and almost a year went by before any progress was made. But the bishop could only get my priest to go so far: in fact, the bishop stated, with blunt honesty, that the priest's authority is more like a king's than a CEO. My going to the bishop angered my priest, and so now my situation is worse -- what is a layperson to do? Go whining to the bishop every time the priest acts badly? Go to the press?

February 25, 2010 4:23 PM  
Anonymous Austringer said...

Tom, I should also add that the bishop mentioned that sometimes the chancery doesn't do anything to correct a problem if it is deemed that correcting the problem might do more harm. He referenced Aquinas, but the modern term would be "cost/benefit analysis". In this case, the priest is a powerful, well-liked priest whose parish runs in the black -- so, what's a sheep or two worth, eh, compared to a popular priest? What this tells me is that a priest can get away with bad behavior right up until it reaches lawsuit level, and ordinary pew-warmers will not receive justice. This is the corrosive effect of clericalism.

February 25, 2010 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Beate said...

Our new, relatively young, priest doesn't want to be bothered. It doesn't matter if a loved one is sick. It's so bad that our bulletin states that if someone dies, the family needs to call a funeral home and the funeral home will make arrangements with the church. I kid you not! So apparently, some seminaries are teaching that it is someone else's responsibility to shepherd the flock :-( Yup, I could rant along with you...

February 27, 2010 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Austringer said...


The information your bulletin states is correct, and is the advice you would receive from many parishes (including my own). I wouldn't take it as a sign that your priest or parish staff is out of line or uncaring.

The funeral home is the place to call, and then they coordinate with the church -- at least, that's the arrangement I'm familiar with.

February 27, 2010 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Fr. Jim said...

While things are different in various regions, and there are differences in parishes as well, one thing that is overlooked here is that the demands on priests today are very different than even a few years ago. I can say that the church I minister in today is very different than when I was in seminary 20 years ago.

We have fewer priests available. I am in a parish of 3400 families with two priests (which is considered a luxury in our diocese, if you can believe it). Our parish assists with ministry in a local hospital and there are several nursing homes and assisted living institutions in the parish as well.

While I could never see how one could justify refusing to provide the Sacrament of Anointing to a sick person in a timely manner, lay people do need to understand that it's not always possible for a priest to make the communion calls and visits. Our parish has over 100 homebound parishioners in addition to the residents in the nursing homes. We have a wonderful sister who coordinates our pastoral care ministry which insures that people are able to receive the Eucharist on a weekly basis. She is fortified with an army of dedicated volunteers who do a marvelous job of bringing the Church to people.

I would recommend that the church be called as soon as possible when one is diagnosed with a serious illness or when a surgery is scheduled. Also, realize that today it is not uncommon for parishes to help each other out so the priest that comes to the hospital may not necessarily be a priest from your parish.

Bottom line: We need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and thank God for those we have and the wonderful lay ministers who do so much to assist in these ministries.

March 02, 2010 9:42 AM  
Blogger ignorant redneck said...


I have much sympathy with your response to my response, so I'm responding again (heh).

Being intimidated by the "gate keeper" is the key to the gate keepers power. Don't be intimidated, they don't have power. As far as not getting your Mass for a loved one said, here's the stratagy: Pay up front (the stipend) with a check. When the Mass isn't said, that becomes an excommunicatable (Latae Senentae--and no fair checking spelling) offense. Then tell the ordinary again, and again initiate canonical proceedings. That's the only way much of what's wrong with the institutional aspect of the Church will get fixed.

Let me put it this way--I managed to get a priest to my loved ones, last time there was danger of death, simply because he new that my take was next time I"d make the biggest stink I possibly could. In a Parish of 2400 people, with multiple gate keepers, response time was 17 minutes.

March 02, 2010 1:05 PM  
Blogger belinda said...

Red cracks me up. He's the king of "no spin". hahaha

Red gives the gatekeeper a smackdown!

March 02, 2010 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Austringer said...

Ignorant redneck,

Although I appreciate your responding, and with all due respect, I just don't think what you advise is feasible.

I'm not intimidated by our gatekeeper, but she wields considerable power because of her loyalty to Father, right up to and including lying to justify his behavior. The bishop doesn't hire or fire the secretary; the priest does. When I finally went to the bishop with my problems with my priest, she gained considerable job security (which she did not have prior to this...) by supporting his version. I do think the bishop believed me (I suspect my priest's king-like tendencies and infallibility are well known in the diocese), but so what? So -- who do I go to?

As for a Mass not being said being an excommunicable offense: fer Pete's sake, the bishop isn't going to sack a lowly secretary who can always plead forgetfullness. Really, now -- there are so many, many awful things that occur in our parishes, including outright heresy, and very seldom is anything done. Nor would I take that kind of action for something as relatively insignificant as that -- I can always get a Mass said elsewhere. No, I went to the bishop with far bigger problems, and though he did his best, ultimately the "cost/benefit analysis" was not in my favor. The only thing I can do is to go to the press (not necessarily a bad option, as sometimes it seems as if that's the only thing that gets any response), which would alter the "cost/benefit analysis".

March 02, 2010 8:44 PM  
Blogger belinda said...

It was my intention to present my commments in a light hearted fun kinda way. No disrespect was intended.

It's getting really hot in this room. I think I'll excuse myself now. :)

March 03, 2010 10:57 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Belinda: you are fine!

Obviously, this is a hot button item.

Father Jim: If you are who I think you are, you are in my prayers. You raise a good point and I can see there may be instances in very large parishes where the priest can't help with all the needs (I'm curious how far flung your parishioners are-I could rant at length about parish traveling but I'll get off topic-ok, I already did). I'm concerned; do the lay ministers treat the host appropropriately on those communion calls or are they carrying hosts around in their purse or pockets for weeks?

Absolutely, we need more priests! I pray on this regularly. Thank you for your service and your comment. There is always another side. I appreciate that people remind me of that! :-)

March 03, 2010 8:44 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< # St. Blog's Parish ? >>
Locations of visitors to this page