The PriesTHOOD

Although the number of priests in some regions of the world has been increasing, it has dropped significantly among Catholic communities in the United States, Canada, western Europe, Australia, and elsewhere during the past 40 years. This has caused a serious shortage of pastors for Catholics in these lands. Many the community of sant' egidio

The Community of Sant' Egidio began in Italy. Sant' Egidio is a parish church in Rome, where, in 1968, a group of high-school students wanted to take the Gospel more seriously. They formed a community that aimed to promote friendships with the poor, the elderly, immigrants, and the imprisoned to help them overcome loneliness, fear, and prejudice. It is a movement that has spread to 40,000 members in 60 countries and has had notable success in peacemaking efforts during the civil wars in Mozambique and Bosnia. Such movements are very much in accord with the efforts of the late Pope John Paul II and the present Pope Benedict XVI, who have attempted to encourage young people in particular to pursue a deeper form of spiritual life in a context where many view the Christian life as a mechanical performance of routine religious exercises.

Sister Salvinette, a sister of the Missionaries of Charity, teaching a catechism class in Saint Gabriel's Parish, southwest Detroit. This Catholic order, based in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, was founded in 1950 by Mother Teresa to work with the poor and to care for the dying. It now has communities on every continent and in most countries of the world.

parishes have had to be closed, and fewer masses are celebrated on Sundays and feast days. In the United States and Ireland the recent abuse scandals have lowered respect for priests, presenting the danger that calls to the priesthood might diminish even more. In its efforts to reverse the ill effects of these scandals the Catholic Church has most recently considered a review of seminary candidates and their training. In doing so one of the measures for seminary reform has focused on the official exclusion of homosexual candidates for the priesthood. This has raised in many circles the charge of injustice in locating the blame for the abuse scandals on homosexuals. Such a charge disturbs even more those who were already wounded and embarrassed by the abuse scandals themselves, and it lessens even more their respect for clerical church leaders.

It is in this atmosphere that much of the discussion concerning the priesthood turns today. How can the problem of the falling number of priests and the needs of the faithful be solved? Many suggestions have been made. One suggested solution is to do away with the obligation of celibacy and allow married priests: Many Orthodox priests are married, and even Eastern Rite Catholic priests are married. Why can the Catholic Church not follow suit? "Ordain women priests" is another suggestion: there are many Protestant ministers, and even Jewish rabbis, who are women. These religious groups changed their rules and some ask why the Catholic Church cannot do the same.

The late Pope John Paul II and the present Pope Benedict XVI have firmly opposed these solutions, citing tradition as their reason. A similar hard line is taken on the issue of the ordination of women, again citing tradition and a particular understanding of the fact that the Twelve Apostles were all men. The disappointment over women's ordinations touches many Catholics today, but there is currently no sign that the church will move in that direction. While the debate over the shortage of priests goes on, many parishes have opted for practical, acceptable, partial solutions. Many responsibilities that have traditionally been assumed by priests are no longer seen as necessarily priestly duties and have been taken over by laypeople.

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