Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2003
Author holds up priestly role models
But his back-to-future approach is less than fully convincing
Priest: Portraits of Ten Good Men Serving the Church Today,by Michael Rose. Sophia Institute Press: Manchester N.H. 189 pages. Papercover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Priest by Michael Rose is a celebration of priesthood, written to counter cynical media reports and a vague public insinuation that a moral stain, emanating from the current sex scandals, generally envelopes an honourable vocation.
Rose presents the stories of 10 good priests (prototypical of the majority, he asserts) whose virtues of courage, humility, sacrifice and charity honestly reflect a spiritually focused and thriving though numerically reduced body of faithful servants.
These men, he is convinced, remain most worthy of the support and gratitude of the people with whom they minister. Rose accurately maintains that seldom is this side of the priesthood well portrayed or normally understood and appreciated publically.
The author has written prolifically on subjects that challenge many of the assumptions of liberal Catholicism. Most recently, his Goodbye, Good Men (Regnery, 2002) blames the priestly vocations shortage and much of the sex scandal on authorities who have discriminated against candidates affirming classic Catholic moral teaching. He believes the priesthood has been hijacked by leaders with profound spiritual problems.
The priesthood is no longer a protected body of religious functionaries who are spared the travails of ordinary folk, says Rose. "It has taken a series of formidable sex scandals, unprecedented in modern times, to bring many of the well-meaning to their senses. . . . The priesthood is more than worth defending. But it's worth defending for what it is and ought to be."
The problem, he says, is more often than not a failure of young men to hear and faithfully answer their calling; a failure of seminaries and bishops to form and educate their future priests properly; a failure of the ordained to focus on the duties of their state in life; and a failure of the laity to offer the proper spiritual and moral support for their pastoral leaders.
This book advocates a revisiting and renewing of the classic Catholic clerical forms and functions. In suggesting this, he affirms what is good about what is proportionately becoming, for all practical purposes, an ever-smaller cadre of male priests. What he envisions in his back to the future stance is therefore less than fully convincing, given current realities.
The author's passion seems to blind and confine him to what may have seemed appropriate and worked well in the past but may not be generally all that effective in addressing current and future needs. Readers may be inclined to respond nostalgically but realistically with a "yes, but . . .".
Rose believes that the future of the priesthood is as much about attracting the "right men" as it is about weeding out those who don't belong.
In his commitment to focus on the merits of good priests, Rose says nothing about the ministry of the laity, or of roles for women, except that they serve as supporters of male clergy. This leaves the author's prescription, to this reviewer, less satisfying, liberating or visionary than it might be.
During these challenging times for the Church, the voice of the priesthood seems often to be muted. This book applauds a priesthood that remains faithful but also, it is hoped, open to the future.
(Wayne Holst is a parish educator who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)