Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The Roman Catholic Church in America is running out of priests. The average age of

a Catholic priest is over sixty. In the next ten to fifteen years, the Church will lose half of its

active priests due to retirement or death. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops is

soliciting priests from all over the world, particularly Africa where there is a surplus, to come

to America and serve. There is a real possibility parishes will have to share their priest with

another parish and an even more real possibility that the practice of weekly Sunday Mass will

end, to be replaced by weekly prayer or communion services and Mass once a month.

A Church built around the sacraments could take on a very Protestant look and feel.

I grew up in a family where four of my uncles were Franciscan priests. Through them,

I came to know many other priests and nuns. My father was a member of the Serra Club.

He was dedicated to increasing priestly vocations and was friends with most of the priests in

the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Back then, San Francisco was almost 50% Catholic. When

you met someone, you asked what parish they were from; and their answer designated their

socio-economic standing, geographic neighborhood, and who their friends were. In every

parish you would find a young priest fresh out of the seminary, usually 25-27 years old. He

would work in the school, supervise alter servers, mentor the teen club, and be a touchstone

for young Catholics in the parish. He could relate to the community's youth. He understood

and he was someone to identify with. Those young priests were great recruitment posters

for other young men thinking of joining up; and their preaching and interactions were in touch

with Catholics, both young and old.

Today, my children live in a parish where no priest appears to be under fifty, and most

much older. At college they meet Catholic chaplains who have no idea what Facebook,

Twitter, or social networking is all about. They have little in common with today's college

student's needs or wants; and the Church is losing it's relevance to an entire generation of


There are new priests being ordained; however, they average in their mid-thirties. Many

are regressive and out of touch with the communities they serve. They disagree with the

majority of American Catholics on everything from abortion to birth control. They don't like

the idea of allowing women to be priests. They seem to be more in love with wearing a collar

than they are with meeting the average Catholic's post-internet, computer savvy, ethically-

challenged world.

Some Church critics are using the lack of priests as proof the Holy Spirit is not inspiring

new vocations until the Church cleans up its act. Others say the lack of priests shows how far

the American Catholic Church has moved from its roots and core message. A priest friend of

mine said the National Conference of Catholic Bishops more resembles an adjunct branch of

the Republican Party than an organization dedicated to the message of the Jewish carpenter.

I was once asked what I would do if my son wanted to become a priest. Offhand I replied

I would lock him up in his room until he came to his senses. I was wrong. In my life, I have

been blessed to know some of the finest priests and nuns. My uncles are among that group.

They dedicated their lives to living in a community of brothers committed to the ideals of

St. Francis. They owned nothing. They worked with the poor. They built schools and parishes.

One uncle bought three school buses and enough fuel for a year using Green Stamps solicited

from all over the country; effort well spent to serve his parish in Utah. Another, Harry (Philip

was his Franciscan name), was a tireless advocate for poor and working class San Franciscans.

He was also one of the kindest men I ever met. I got to know Father Floyd Lotito OFM, who

ran St. Anthony's Dining Room. Frs. John Hardin and Louis Vitali OFM moved me to serve

and to advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves. These humble men live their

sacred vows daily.

The list is long and the priests impressive who I have been affected by and who I admire.

Growing up as a rebellious adolescent (lasting into adulthood?), Tom Burns showed me how

to walk the walk of Christianity and not just talk the talk. My intellectual life was built and

nourished by more Franciscans including Francis Baur OFM, Kenan Osborne OFM, Michael

Guinan OFM, and Pierre Etchelecu OFM. Monsignor John O'Connor served as a moderating

voice and taught me not to be so black and white about everything. Joe Walsh, Brian Joyce,

Miles Riley, Bishop Francis Quinn, and other diocesan priests showed me what great pastors

and shepherds were like. Steve Privette S.J., Ed McFadden S.J., Jerry Wade S.J.,

Dick Cobb S.J., Bill Muller S.J., Tony Sauer S.J., and lots of Jesuits, taught me how to teach

and minister to students and their families.

The common thread for all these men was their understanding that the collar they wear

or the vows they take don't separate "them" from "us". Just the opposite is true. They live or

lived lives immersed in the communities they served. They were humans first, Christians

second, Catholics third, and clerics last. The current crop of priests seem to believe the order

should be reversed; and it's one of the reasons they're having such a difficulty attracting good

people to join their ranks.

But it goes deeper than that. There are at least two more reasons the Church lacks

priests: First, the Church is guilty of the sin of sexism (pronounced a sin by John Paul II).

Over half the Catholic population is denied the opportunity to serve as priests due to their

gender. There are no scriptural excuses as to why women can't be priests. Regressives cite

the fact that Jesus picked all men to be apostles as proof women need not apply; but nowhere

in the scriptures does Jesus assert the apostles were picked due to their gender. Following

that logic, all priests would have to be Jewish too. How do we know their religion wasn't

absolutely essential to be selected? And, by the way, the word used to describe God's spirit

hovering over the water in Genesis is female in gender. In spite of all this, the sin of sexism

is still dominant in the Roman Church. Possibly God, through Her Spirit, is trying to tell us


Second, by prohibiting married priests from serving, a huge supply has been eliminated.

The irony should not be lost on anyone that at the same time the Roman Church pushes a

celibate, non-married clergy; it is encouraging married Anglican priests to cross over, convert,

and become active Roman Catholic priests, wives and children welcome.

If my son wanted to be a priest in the manner of the amazing Franciscan, Jesuit, and

Diocesan priests I have been honored to know in my life, I would encourage him and hope he

could fill their shoes. I would be willing to pray for more vocations if I thought they would

produce the kinds of religious men and women I have been blessed to know all my life.

However, if my son wanted to become a priest like the current meager aspirants, more

attracted to the collar than the call, more concerned with the law than the Spirit, seeing

himself as separate from those he is supposed to serve, comfortable with a sexist Church,

more committed to rules rather than to Matthew 25, I would do my best to discourage him.

My life is a constant blessing because of all the religious folks that have joined with me.

For this I am truly grateful. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Buddhists have become one

in this larger Spirit. I am lucky to have met so many through whom I have encountered

Jesus, thus God. I worry that my children, or theirs, will be deprived of the richness and

witness I have experienced. It saddens me to think they won't have the priestly role models

to look up to or the living examples of lives well lived. The possibility that they won't have

loving, peaceful, inspirational women and men to guide them, and move them, and comfort

them when needs arise, that able loving men and women won't be rushing in to fill the gaps

in my children's lives when I am unexpectedly called away, the fact that they won't hear

inspired preaching and witness extraordinary faith of adults in their world dedicated to more

than just the latest consumer fad, leaves them with such a different take on the world than

I have had in my life. I believe in the Holy Spirit and She will continue to call men and women

to witness and to be involved in people everyday in a spirit of love. The only question is:

Can the Roman Church stay quiet long enough for Her to be heard? What do you think?

I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to


  1. Nice Warped. Very close to walking the path of the carpenter. And anonymous, too! So brave!

    Very well written Bernie. Glad to have your occasional commentary. It keeps me sane.

  2. @ Warped...
    What's absurd here is that you've had your angry & ignorant say, and you continue to post rant material unrelated to the original post. I guess it's back to the Reader for me so I don't have to wonder about how many flat tires there are on your pickup. It's too bad - sometimes commentary can be interesting. It's always sad when people would rather dumb-down their day rather than add to the common good.

  3. Hi "ward is warped"! Please tell me what the fright-wing Republicans
    have done for our country during the last ten years. I am sure you will come up with a really great answer since you think that you are so very
    brilliant. Sincerely, Patriotic Liberal

  4. Chris says...
    I am ready to read more Bernie Blogs ASAP
    Hang in there Bernie and thanks for all you post

  5. Thx for blocking the troll Bernie. I can understand allowing people to speak their mind, but there should be no room for abuse - and that to me was abuse.

  6. well put friend, it saddens me to see the leadership of the church make us look self indulgent, when most still cling to the B attitudes. Jesus said my kingdom is not on earth but they went and build one anyway and expect their dictates to be equal.\ps why do we still read the old testament if Jesus brought a new covenant. hopeall iswell
    your friend in Iowa

  7. I didn't get to read whatever "ww" said, and I'm glad I didn't. Trolls always seem to attack Bernie on anything but the substance of his arguments. Ad hominem after ad hominem. Useless drivel. Several have asked: what have the Rethugicans done for the US? Ans: absolutely nothing. I patiently await your return of your voice, Bernie; please consider a subscription podcast like Peter B Collins is doing.

  8. The person who wrote the first comment to this post seems like someone who has been abused and is transferring his anger to the Lion.
    I started as altar boy at age 9, served many priests, went to Catholic prep school and continued there at daily Mass, then four years in the seminary where we lived with priests ... and there was in my experience NOT ONE instance of a priest being inappropriate in any way.
    Thank you, Lion, for reminding us of the benefit there is to be gained in associating with these priests in a way there reflects their commitment to being Another Christ.
    Sure, we all have our problems with aspects of the Church, but we also remember the edification of the committed men and women who take up their cross daily.
    Easter is coming soon -- another new beginning for each of us.

  9. Pope Implicated In Cover-Up Of Wisconsin Sex Abuse Case:

  10. Bernie
    Glad to see more people are reading your blog. To think you wrote this right before the Irish and German scandals linked the current pope with cover up and moving pedophiles to other positions of power where they could continue to molest children. Fire the pope.
    Women priests and married priests should have been the practice when we were young.
    There is no other way as the current clergy evaporates.
    Peace and love