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  Catholic Priests Say Change Is Inevitable
Clerics from Paterson Diocese Discuss Future

By Jerry Barca
Star-Ledger [New Jersey]
March 21, 2003

The Roman Catholic priesthood will undergo some drastic changes in the wake of the scandal that rocked the church last year, according to active and former priests in the Paterson Diocese.

"I hope we don't lose the opportunity to make change happen," said the Rev. Michael Drury, pastor of St. Luke's in Long Valley. "We have to stand up as a whole church."

Drury and the Rev. Dennis Crowley of Assumption parish in Morristown spoke about the future of the priesthood as part of a panel discussion last night at St. Anthony's Church in Butler.

Both priests said the sex abuse scandal, which likely will worsen a current priest shortage, is a catalyst for the changes.

"The number of Roman Catholic priests will continue to dwindle ... If you just don't have the number of bodies, you'll have one priest leading a few parishes," Crowley said.

Along with having one priest manning multiple churches, the priests also spoke about giving more authority to the congregation. Before the meeting, Drury and Crowley spoke about a church that included married priests and ordained women.

The meeting was hosted by the Northern New Jersey chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national organization for Catholic Church reform spawned by the sex abuse scandals.

The Paterson Diocese, which includes Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties, declined to comment on the discussion through spokeswoman Marianna Thompson.

Drury is the lone pastor remaining in Washington Township, a largely rural community where heads of two of three Catholic parishes have been removed. In the midst of the scandal, church officials placed the Rev. Ralph Sodano, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountain Church, on leave and removed the Rev. Allen Stepien, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Church.

"The last year has been the most challenging," said Drury, who has been a priest for 29 years.

In looking ahead, Drury said he sees the church first bringing back married priests who left their calling, and then ordaining deacons, who are already allowed to be married.

Finbarr Corr, who moderated the discussion, has been married for 15 years since he left the priesthood in 1988. The former pastor of St. Vincent's Church in Madison said he would still be wearing a clerical collar today if the Vatican allowed priests to marry.

"There will be a new pope and the changes will come ... This is not a sprint, it is going to be a marathon," Corr said.

The congregation will begin to play a major role in the day-to-day operations of a parish. "The laity may take care of scheduling Masses and the finances," Crowley said.

At Drury's church, he said, he already has given the finance committee more power when it comes to making decisions about money.

"Definitely that's what we're looking for -- more lay involvement," said Bob Calafiore, a Voice of the Faithful member from Morris Plains.

Having women ordained as priests is another change Crowley and Drury foresee.

"The call to the priesthood is not only a male-oriented call," Drury said.

Sheila Arakelian isn't sure the church is ready for that change. "I'm just hopeful we can open up discussion for things like that."

But Drury admitted that setting a timetable for these changes "would be futile."

Continued communication between the church and its members is the key to making changes. "It's going to evolve as long as we keep talking to each other," Crowley said.

Jerry Barca works in the Morris County bureau. He can be reached at jbarca@starledger.com or (973) 539-7910.

 
 

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