Observations on the Reflections on
American Catholicism and Priesthood Today
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The following observations are made after a careful reading
of Reflections on American Catholicism and Priesthood Today. The author of
these reflections has been president of the National Federation of Priests'
Council, founded in 1968. The purpose of the federation is, "to give priests'
councils a representative voice in matters of presbyteral, pastoral and ministerial
concern to the United States and the universal Church."
During these reflections, he begins with a brief analysis
of the Catholic Church in America before the Second Vatican Council.
He analyzes the marvelous Catholic institutions in our country,
before Vatican II, as largely the result of immigration from Europe. He tells
us, "Shunted aside from the mainstream, these immigrants developed their
own social structures to carry on the mission of the church (always lower-cased)
and to see to their own well-being. From hospital to cemeteries to schools
and social clubs, Catholic society paralleled and too often imitated the broader
society. The children and grandchildren of those immigrant generations filled
the seminaries and convents with men and women who later ran the institutions
of this vast social network."
then, he continues, "Even as these institutions succeeded, they planted
the seeds of their own decline."
What were these seeds of decline? They were the seeds of
isolation. Inevitably, these immigrant Catholics became Americanized. The
author sees this Americanization as progress. There is no hint that by Americanizing,
so many believers became de-Catholicized.
Restructuring American Catholicism
Having set the groundwork, the author is ready to propose
his master plan. It covers two areas, a shorter one for those present-day Catholic
immigrants who are isolated by their segregation and poverty; and the larger
area concerning Catholics who have adopted changes from the Second Vatican Council
and wish to restructure the Church to conform to the American model.
One Church: Many Ecclesiologies
As might be expected, the author admits that not all Catholics
in America agree with his plans for restructuring the Church in our country.
In fact, he believes there is such a diversity of opinion, even on fundamentals
of the faith, that nothing less than a rethinking of Catholic doctrine is called
for. This rethinking must begin with the priesthood.
There is no way of identifying what exactly the author means
by rethinking the priesthood. One thing, however, is clear. He is unhappy
because so many Catholic priests in the United States are unhappy, and he is
honest enough to identify the five main sources of this unhappiness:
- "The way authority is exercised in the church."
- "Unrealistic demands and expectations of lay people."
- "Too much work."
- "Loneliness of priestly life."
- "Being expected to represent church teachings I have difficulty with."
In the light of the foregoing, it is no secret why the author wants a drastic change
in what he still calls the "priesthood."
Only the Lord knows what the author means by "the terrain
of American Catholicism." But one thing seems certain. This Catholicism
is not that of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.
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