Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 18, 2006
New day dawning for priesthood
Priests enjoy a new reverence
By GLEN ARGAN
It was billed as the largest fundraiser in the history of the Edmonton Archdiocese. But maybe it was even more than that.
Maybe that Sept. 9 gala evening for the Priests' Retirement Fund symbolized that this diocese has turned the corner on the decline in the priesthood.
There was a time when the priest was revered by local society. Priests were on a pedestal and their numbers were abundant.
But in recent times, the priesthood has fallen on hard times. First, there was the mass exodus of ordained men in the confusing times following Vatican II.
Then there was the long desert in priestly vocations. For decades, few men entered the seminary and fewer were ordained. It seemed no one wanted to be a priest.
Then there came the sexual abuse crisis of the 1990s. The priesthood was no longer simply ignored; it was despised. Not only were the guilty brought to trial, but the others - men who had devoted their lives to serving the people of God - were treated as though they too were under a cloud.
In recent years, the cloud has begun to break up. More young men began to trickle into the seminary. Today, the Edmonton Archdiocese has 20 men preparing for the priesthood. It's still not as many as we need, but it's a start. A good start.
And then local Catholic businesspeople took it upon themselves to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to reduce the $2 million underfunding of the archdiocesan priests' pension fund.
The support for this venture was incredible. Not only wealthy Catholics, but many Catholics of very ordinary means, paid $300 a ticket to help ensure priests would have a financially secure retirement. All in all, there were more than 1,300 paid admissions to the Sept. 9 gala.
The organizers put in enormous efforts and many people of modest means paid a lot of money not simply because they want to fix a problem, but because they have respect for priests and the priesthood.
Attitudes are not changed in a day. But do not doubt that the tide is turning. Priests may still be despised in some quarters. But among faithful Catholics, at least, people are no longer running away from the priesthood. A new reverence is developing for priests and all that the priesthood represents.
Letter to the Editor - 10/02/06