Priests and the Laity: a Dialogue

New York Times
March 7, 2004

As one of the three priests who wrote the petition signed by 170 Milwaukee priests calling for dialogue on the issue of optional celibacy, I take issue with Andrew Greeley's analysis of the issues facing the priesthood and the church ("For Priests, Celibacy Is Not the Problem," Op-Ed, March 3).

The church should open the priesthood to the gifts and talents of married men along with celibates. Not only would this increase the number of candidates at a time when the sacramental life of Catholics is being threatened by the worsening priest shortage, but it would also allow for a more diverse priesthood.

The clerical culture that Father Greeley rightly detests would probably be improved by men with wives and families who would be less prone to the self-centered narcissism seen far too often in the priesthood.

I find it interesting that Father Greeley speaks of how priests are so happy and satisfied, while at the same time the laity - according to the polls he cites - seem to think their performance is so poor.

(Rev.) STEVEN DUNN Milwaukee, March 3, 2004. To the Editor: Re "For Priests, Celibacy Is Not the Problem," by Andrew Greeley (Op-Ed, March 3): The Catholic priesthood sorely needs to understand the utter exhaustion the laity now feels. Those of us sitting in the pews every Sunday are often there despite the priests and the scandals. We are crying for leadership and not finding it. Our priests are failing us.

Not only are the sermons horrible, they almost never provide any type of spiritual leadership other than "Don't do this!" It's a rare priest who is actually able to articulate and share, in any meaningful way, his relationship with God. Is it any wonder so many have rebelled and left the pews to find God somewhere else?

SUSAN WAGNER New York, March 3, 2004. To the Editor: Re "For Priests, Celibacy Is Not the Problem," by Andrew Greeley (Op-Ed, March 3): In my 26 years as director of the Religious Consultation Center of the diocese of Brooklyn, I have counseled almost 500 priests. They were good men but suffering from loneliness, overwork and depression from withheld anger at an autocratic Vatican.

They were men who would never discuss their real feelings in a poll, the main source of Father Greeley's information.

I respectfully disagree that celibacy is not a problem for most priests.

(Rev.) JAMES E. SULLIVAN Whitestone, Queens, March 3, 2004. To the Editor: Andrew Greeley (Op-Ed, March 3) argues against the theory that the frustrations of celibacy have led to abuse by Catholic priests. Another explanation is that most people with a healthy sense of sexual identity and sexual equilibrium would not be motivated to live a life of celibacy.

It is plausible that some who aspire to the priesthood are seeking to vindicate themselves, through celibacy, of a guilty conscience about unhealthy sexual urges.

This theory agrees with Father Greeley's contention that abusers are not driven to abuse by celibacy, but by their own demons. The question is whether those same demons drive them to celibacy in the first place.

BRUCE HARRIS Pomona, N.Y., March 3, 2004. To the Editor: I take issue with Andrew Greeley's contention (Op-Ed, March 3) that "men who have left the priesthood," like me, have been attacking the priestly vocation. Many of the thousands of us who have resigned from the clerical ministry and married continue to love the priesthood.

In fact, a substantial number of us told our bishops that we wished to remain priests but wanted to be free to marry.

As thousands of married priests in Eastern Rites attest, as well as the scores of married Protestant clergy who have been admitted to the Catholic priesthood in our own country, there is no contradiction between marriage and priesthood.

WILLIAM F. POWERS Chapel Hill, N.C., March 4, 2004

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