SIOUX FALLS (SD)
April 27, 2019
By Patrick Anderson
When Bill Walsh left behind the priesthood it was because he saw a problem with the old ways and wanted to move on with his life as much as he had once wanted to be a leader in the Catholic Church.
Walsh served in small towns in South Dakota, in Salem for a year and then in Sioux Falls for the larger part of a decade.
He left because he didn’t think joining the clergy was a lifetime commitment – he chose to value the function of priesthood and leading a church over the form of priesthood emphasized by the old ways, Walsh said.
As Catholic dioceses in South Dakota and other states release the names of priests accused of child sex abuse, it’s time for Walsh and other lay people to again re-asses how they think about the priesthood, he said: Either take charge in protecting the future of the church, or continue to leave that responsibility to clergy.
“I don’t want anybody to leave the Catholic Church because of these accusations,” Walsh said. “You’re just feeding into this clerical culture that puts these guys on pedestals.”
More Catholics are considering leaving the church years after years of revelations about child sex abuse by clergy. Dioceses in Sioux Falls and Rapid City joined other church leaders across the country this year in naming accused priests, a movement that started after a grand jury in Pennsylvania accused dioceses there of covering up abuse by more than 300 priests.
About 22 percent of adults in South Dakota are Catholic, according to Pew Research Center.
Being a priest should be more about the functions of priesthood, not about the old beliefs that granted so much power and responsibility to members of the clergy.
That’s exactly why Walsh left.
Walsh was ordained in 1965 in Mitchell.
He compared his membership in the Catholic clergy to the military. Between seminary and priesthood, Walsh spent 20 years training and serving as a religious leader in the church. That was enough, he said.
“I really feel that very strongly, that a young man or a young woman can put in 20 years, which I did,” Walsh said. “And move on.”
The future of the Catholic Church depends on its followers’ willingness to leave behind ideas that members of the clergy are infallible representations of the church and instead focus on the roles and responsibilities of the entire church community, Walsh said.
In fact, every Catholic who leaves only lends strength to the same culture that assigns too much power and responsibility to the clergy, Walsh said.
“In so doing they just feed into the clerical culture of the church, where they think the bishop or the priest is somehow the church.”
Priests are human, Walsh said.
“With all the frailties of human beings,” he said.
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