Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Priesthood

The decade of the 1970’s was not a proud time for the United States military. The political and military failure of Viet Nam produced an American military without a clear mission. By the end of the 1970’s, military leaders from the different branches of service fought amongst themselves for the small parcels of resources that were being granted to them by a congress that mostly felt and expressed disdain for anything and everything military. Moral amongst the troops was low, soldiers were ridiculed by civilians and recruiting was difficult as the downward spiral seemed to continue without hope. The more standards were lowered to increase recruiting, the worse the moral of the soldiers became.

The beginning of the renaissance of the American military started in January 1981 just as soon as Ronald Reagan was sworn in as fortieth President of the United States. At the time it happened the turnaround seemed miraculous, but looking back now it is clear what happened. President Reagan didn’t treat the military leaders and the common soldiers with contempt. In fact, he treated them with respect. He made sure the military leaders were competent and motivated, he defined a new mission for the military, he asked congress to increase funding, and increase pay. Most importantly though, he increased the standards to become and stay a soldier. Most of President Reagan’s critics thought he was crazy. They didn’t understand how the military would be able to recruit more soldiers by raising the standards. But a funny thing started to happen; the harder it was to become a soldier, the more High School graduates started wanting to become soldiers. The harder it became to stay a soldier, the more soldiers’ started taking pride in their military occupation and the more professional the military became. The rest is history. Since the first Gulf War in 1991, the United States military has been the most respected and feared military in the history of our planet.

The new Pope will face a similar problem at the start of his papacy in regards to the moral of priests as Ronald Reagan did at the start of his presidency in regards to soldiers. For the last thirty years the number of Catholic men who feel called to become a priest has been shrinking. The reason has very little, possibly even nothing, to do with celibacy. The parish priest has lost the respect of the average parishioner because the parish priest has lost the support of the Catholic leadership and because the standards have been lowered to a point where just about anyone who is willing to take a vow of chastity can become a priest. It’s no wonder so few men want to become a priest since priesthood is no longer an honored profession.

The new Pope must first start by actively recruiting the best and the brightest to consider priesthood. He should also set some very high standards for joining the priesthood while at the same time he should begin pruning the current ranks of priests who don’t meet these same very high standards. He should also demand that every Cardinal and every Bishop give emotional, financial, and very public support to the parish priests. Once dignity and respect have been restored to the priesthood, the shrinking number of Catholic priests will no longer be a problem for the Catholic Church.


Hammertime said...

Great post! I must admit, that while I agree with you 100%, I neve considered this angle. I suppose I was already at the point of kneee-jerk because of all the "end celibacy" nonsense coming out of the press, and I apologize.

This is, indeed, a problem that the Pope must address, and I think you have the key! Now, how do we get it to him...

Unfortunately, while I think the Marines have maintained their high standards, the Army has not. I have told leaders and subordinates repeatedly, that "no one joins the Army expecting it to be easy. When we allow them to slack and don't enforce standards, we let them down, and they get disillusioned with the Army and become permanent slackers." Unfortunately, in our society, where popularity has replaced character as the defining element of one's worth, it is hard to find leaders who will risk not being "liked."

Teresa said...

I'm not a Marine, a Pope or a President, but I am in leadership and I beleive that the concept you have mentioned applies to all leadership and standards. John Maxwell speaks of this as well. The mega church that I left has had a huge decline in leadership and I beleive it is because they have relaxed the standards. They have taken away any value and then there is no support. They have allowed any body without question to serve in a leadership postition and therefore there is a huge lack of commitment! Just show up--what kind of commitment is that? Then it is passed down and passed down. John Maxwell speaks of this as A leadership who raises B leadership who raises C leadership etc...

Derek Simmons said...


Add my vote to those who have already given you kudos for your insight.

If your insight had come to my mind--and dammit it didn't--I would have broadened it to apply to the "visible church" and not just to Roman Catholics. And I would not limit your valuable insight to just our "priesthood"--the paid pulpit--but would have extended it to the pews--the "priesthood of all believers" as well.

The invisible church is visible only to God and has no standards save Christ and Him Crucified and the confession with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. And Risen.

Not so the visible church.
As for me and my "visible church", I believe we would be more Spirit-pleasing if we had higher membership standards; if we required "first-fruit" committments from any professing Christian who chooses to become a member of our particular community of the "visible church."
We don't and I think that failure explains in part the burgeoning population of "nominal Christians"--a term I think is the poster-child of oxymorons.
Your Brother in Christ,

Buz said...

Excellent post.

The church has long flourished under persecution and become almost comatose under favoritism for the exact reasons you mention.

However, I will take somewhat of an exception with Derek. I am not sure what he means by "the church [...] has no standards save Christ crucified". We cannot separate our salvation by Christ from His Lordship. And that is a very high standard to live up to.