An Open Letter to Pope Francis

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Your Holiness:

I am a Catholic.  I have a few thoughts on things that should be done with the Church.  I am a layman and have not studied advanced theology.  I would not presume to comment on that.  I am, however, a lawyer and manager.  My comments deal with those subjects.

1)  Governance

The Catholic Church will never manage Luther's precept of "the priesthood of all believers."  In any religious group with a sacramental orientation, I think you are going to have a separate body of "priests" whose "business" is sacraments.  (I'm not sure "higher church" Lutherans reach Luther's goal.  The Anglican and Orthodox Traditions also probably don't.) 

It may not be that important.  In Judaism, for example, certain men (the "Kohanim," patrilineal descents of Aaron, brother of Moses)  were consecrated as Priests.  Today, more than two thousand  years after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, only Kohanim may give the birkat kohanim on Holy Days in the Ashkanazi TraditionThere are abundant underpinnings for a special and separate role for priests.

However, I think we must acknowledge, if not the "priesthood of all believers,"  the . . . stewardship . . .  of all believers. 

In the North American Church, there may have been some logic to a Priest in Boston making all the parish decisions for his congregants back in the 19th Century when the congregation consisted largely of uneducated laborers.  That rationale no longer holds (if it ever did) when many of such a Boston congregation in 2013 may hold MBAs and law degrees from Harvard and engineering degrees from MIT.  Priests are called to be special custodians of the Sacraments.  But the laity have (or should have) a voice in the governance of their parishes and may, as volunteers, be more able than the priests assigned as pastor or parochial vicar to decide how to best replace the HVAC system.  They may also, like the Prophets in the Jewish Bible, be able to hold those called to positions of responsibility to doing the right thing.  The laity, at least here, are not going back to being unheard, and at least some clergy welcome this.

The Church as a whole needs to open itself to other points of view.

2)  Ending the Celibacy Requirement for Diocesan or "Secular" Priests in the Western Rite

This issue is usually seen as one of sexual morality and is bound up in the public perception with the child abuse crisis.  However, in my opinion, the celibacy tradition is less an issue of sexual morality, than of a Priesthood that has become unduly cut off from the laity and has become self-referential.  As described above, there is a need for, in a predecessor of yours phrase, an Aggorimiento; an opening up of things too long shut off.   If all that is visible  to the Hierarchy are the interests of the abstract Priesthood and the institutional Church and the Hierarchy itself, rather then the interests of real congregations and real families and victimized children (as well as sick men), we need the Priesthood to be "aired out" in the way John XXIII intended the phrase.

Moreover, making such a change (at least as to Diocesan or "Secular" Priests) is not a theological issue.  The current practice is a managerial reform made in the 12th Century in response to observed issues with Priests whose oldest son would take over the Parish through primogeniture, without regard to calling or aptitude, and who might have been more interested in what they could grow in the Rectory land than with growing the faith of the laity,

If we are talking about child molesters, the absence of mature, other-enriching, sexual contact with an adult woman is likely not a cause of  the crisis..  But celibacy became a beard for child molesters and having a clergy in the Western Rite that largely did not have things (like family) to give them a larger frame of reference than the rectory or the politics of the chancery did not help to detect or react to the problem.  Nor were there people, like spouses or adult children, who were outside the frame who could see the picture.  I think Catholicism would benefit from our Priests potentially having the in-sights of  the Catholic analog of a Rebbetzin or a "preacher's wife (or husband)."

Making this rule in the Western Church consistent with the rule in the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church (Maronites, Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church, Chaldeans, etc.) where Priest who are not monks may marry before they are ordained to the diaconate, would seem to make sense just from the standpoint of consistency.  This is especially true where this is currently the rule applied to Priests "coming over to Rome" from the Orthodox Churches, Lutheranism and, increasingly, the Anglican Communion (often taking their Parishes with them).  The number of Priests transitioning form other Churches of the Apostolic Succession is small, but growing.  We have seen that this approach is workable within the Western Rite.  This would, of course, not affect the religious orders, such as the Carmelites, Benedictines, Franciscans and Jesuits. 

Also, per the insight of an old mentor of mine,  a DivArty Chaplin, a Lutheran Pastor, Priests should not be forced to marry.  He used to say being a pastor and a husband is a form of bigamy.  However, this change to celibacy in the Western Rite  would encourage the vocations of older, married men (like that Chaplin, a former Infantry  Officer and Vietnam combat veteran, ordained in the late 1970s) with families and careers and experience which would also contribute to Priesthood becoming less insular.

3)   The Conclusions of Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae Should Be Reconsidered Based on Science NOT Theology

Aquinas believed that abortion was morally acceptable in the first Trimester because of 13th Century knowledge of Embryology.  The teaching differs today, not because the Church's teaching changed, but because we know based on 20th and 21st Century Embryology that every conceptus is genetically distinct from the moment of conception.  The moral teachings of the Church are unerring and unchanging.  Our knowledge of the natural world where we apply them consistently changes through the application of the scientific method.  These are truths that are second nature to you as a chemist and theologian.
Paul VI's1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae drove a lot of lay people away from the Church or away from compliance with dogma.  If the Encyclical is a proper application of theology to the natural world based upon science, that is right and proper, the higher good.  If it is not, then that is the most grievous Scandal.  The fact that John Rock, a Catholic Biochemist who developed the birth control pill in the 1950s with Gregory Pincus, disagreed that the process involved was "unnatural" and the lack of precision in that term gives me pause.   This issue should be carefully re- examined by both theologians and biochemists,  The people involved should include both celibate Priests and the laity, BOTH men and women.  Doing this in a rigorous, fair and open minded manner would do much to restore the Church's credibility in the US, Canada and Europe.


Well to quote an erstwhile Augustinian Priest by the name of Luther:

"Hier stehe ich und kann nicht anders! Gott helfe mir, Amen!"  Fr. Martin Luther


Dale Murrish Added Nov 8, 2017 - 1:08pm
Great article, John! Especially like the Luther quote at the end. Except Luther was condemned at the Council of Trent and fled for his life, kidnapped by his friends.
I am not familiar with Part 3 of your piece since I don't know that encyclical. It has to do with artificial birth control?
Agree completely with Part 2, but then I am a Protestant and think it odd that the Catholic church does not allow priests to marry. Have a  friend (who co-authored the Ecumenical Catechism with me) who is a married Catholic Deacon. 
How does that square with this:
"Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?" 
1 Corinthians 9:5
Dale Murrish Added Nov 8, 2017 - 1:10pm
In my Presbyterian Church of America church, only ordained ministers can administer the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, although the elders, deacons and deaconesses assist with the latter once the elements are consecrated.
John Minehan Added Nov 8, 2017 - 1:30pm
"How does that square with this:
"Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?" 
1 Corinthians 9:5"
It really doesn't, as the requirement for a celibate clergy in the Western Rite is a tradition that largely rests on practical grounds and is traditional, rather than being a matter of faith and morals.
The permanent Diaconate was only revived fairly recently in the Western Rite and Permanent Deacons who are not married prior to ordination are not allowed to do so, which parallels the rule in the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church and the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches that non-monastic priests could be married prior to ordination to the Diaconate as part of their process towards being ordained as Priests. 
John Minehan Added Nov 8, 2017 - 1:38pm
The issue is complicated in the Roman Catholic Tradition by the existence of Religious Communities like the Jesuits and the Franciscans. 
However, in the Orthodox Churches, in the Anglican Communion and even in the Lutheran Churches, there are such religious communities and they are celibate.
Even among the Reformed Churches, especially among Hutterites, there are religious communities consisting of married men and women who live as faith communities, such as the Bruderhof.  
John Minehan Added Nov 8, 2017 - 1:50pm
Catholic Deacons CAN Baptize in a non-emergency situation.  (In an emergency situation (say,  a dying person requests to be Baptized) ANY person with the right intention can Baptize a person as a Catholic. 
Dave Volek Added Nov 8, 2017 - 4:02pm
Well written piece. There are other Catholics who are thinking the same way. Good luck in effecting change. 
Jeff Michka Added Nov 8, 2017 - 4:37pm
JM sez: 2)  Ending the Celibacy Requirement for Diocesan or "Secular" Priests in the Western Rite-This issue is usually seen as one of sexual morality and is bound up in the public perception with the child abuse crisis.-It not only "seen as one of sexual morality" it's the cover-up by the Catholic Church of the sexual abuse OVER TIME.  I'm not a Catholic, and I don't care if a Catholic Priest can't marry.  That doesn't give priest's a "right" to f**k kids and not see a jail cell for it.
John Minehan Added Nov 8, 2017 - 4:55pm
Easier to get away with it where their are fewer people looking and where the institution is very self-involved . . . .
Dale Murrish Added Nov 8, 2017 - 5:16pm
I had heard that the tradition of celibacy stemmed from the Catholic church not wanting heirs for the wealth of priests, but that was probably an anti-Catholic opinion. 
I can understand that married pastors need to take care of their families, so a single guy can care for the flock better.
John Minehan Added Nov 8, 2017 - 5:39pm
"I had heard that the tradition of celibacy stemmed from the Catholic church not wanting heirs for the wealth of priests, but that was probably an anti-Catholic opinion."
It was more that they did not want unqualified eldest sons of Priests inheriting benefices. 
Jeff Michka Added Nov 8, 2017 - 9:32pm
JM, TO NOTE: Diocese even like Seattle, Boston, and other big cities seem to take "there was nobody around" to task.  But as you note, suspect "vested institution" had everything to do with shipping the pervs WITHOUT ANY HESITATION to places they could damage more kids.
wsucram15 Added Nov 9, 2017 - 7:30am disrespect to you personally.  I respect anyone that stands by what they believe. I have my faith also.
I assert that in laymans terms, you implore his holiness to ask his "representatives of the catholic faith" to stop molesting, raping and mind-fucking, women and little kids.  They abuse everyone in the name of God.  Tell me that does not mess with you as a human and in a spiritual way for years.  I watched that kind of mental manipulation happen with my mother, brother and myself for years.  I decided to take the ass beating and confront the monsignor (who was a drunk). 
Counselor and advisor my ass.
Ask his holiness to get help for his very large staff and get them degrees in psychology before they can advise anyone.  Men should not be able to tell women to stay married and pregnant to keep the marriage going while she is getting the shit beat out of her, as well as her kids.
Priests should not abuse children, emotionally or any way.  But they do, to this day.  It is something my daughter and I do argue about because she does still attend the church, both kids are baptized. 
As far as birth control...that will never happen, it limits the growth of the faith.  But you should persuade more so by telling his holiness that people would be more inclined to stay within the faith and have it grow..if he fixed problem A first, then relented on problem B.
Sorry John..I appreciate your faith...I really do not like Catholicism and the church.  Just a difference in experience I guess.
Steve Bergeron Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:04am
John, keep in mind that it was Christ Who established the Church, not man.  It isn't the Church that has to change to march in lock step with the world, but the world that needs to change to march in lock step with the teachings of the Church.  Why?  Because the values of Christ are immutable.  The Church does not have the authority to change Christ's teaching.  Part of that teaching is a hierarchical Church, wherein the priesthood has Christ's authority to not just confect the Sacraments, but to rule and govern the parishes on a local, regional, and global level.  It's about authority, and responsibility.  The two go hand-in-hand.  
While it is true that the modern laity is much more educated, in areas such as technology, etc., I think he has regressed seriously in areas such as philosophy and theology.  It's no longer even required in college these days, unless you're in seminary or a related field.  Just look at the kooky posts above from people whose viewpoint is solely that of the world, with no understanding of the things of God.  The world in which we live, remember, is violently opposed to Christ and His teachings.
So, to have the laity govern the parishes, dioceses, etc., without the proper philosophical and theological education, would be to give the Church over to secular viewpoints, which is always a bad idea.  
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:19am
Steve, I don't think that is the point John was trying to make. Properly understood, Luther's "priesthood of all believers" applies to you, John and everyone who claims to follow Christ. We have varying amounts of Bible knowledge and wisdom, so in Protestant churches we rely on our pastors to preach and teach, though the elders in our church are quite qualified to teach, the deacons carry out mercy and the practical mechanics of setup and teardown of our portable church which meets in a middle school:
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:23am
There are all kinds of theories about church governance - Catholic churches are more consistent than Protestant, which have varying forms from denomination to denomination. Some megachurches tend to follow the world's ways. We were members of a Willow Creek style church several years ago - left for a more traditional, biblical church after 7 years.
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:24am
The Bible is our plumb line in the Protestant world. There are congregational, bishops, and presbyterian forms of church government that I can think of.
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:25am
All of them have pastors who can be married, though, which is following the pattern in the Bible quoted above. 
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:28am
The "priesthood of believers" is not Luther's concept. It's from the Bible. Among other places, 1 Peter 2:8-9. Here is commentary on it from the Reformed Protestant perspective.
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:29am
Sorry, verses 9-10
Dale Murrish Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:29am
1 Peter 2:9-10New King James Version (NKJV)
9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Steve Bergeron Added Nov 9, 2017 - 8:37am
Hey, Dale! The Church currently does teach about the "priesthood of all believers." The Church teaches that we are a called to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). But, the royal priesthood and the hierarchical priesthood are two distinctly different things.
There is a principle called "Apostolic succession" that is illustrated in the book of Acts, when the Apostles chose the replacement for Judas Iscariot.  The replacements didn't appoint themselves, but were selected by the Apostles, who were chosen by Christ.  And, the Apostles chose their successors, the bishops, who did likewise through the 2000 years of the Church's existence.  Without this lineage, self-appointment means that the Apostolic kerygma and the authority of Christ is not present.  That's why Protestants only have two Sacraments (at most), Baptism and Matrimony.  Those two do not require Apostolic authority to confect.  
The Catholic Church teaches that the Word of God is not something, but Somebody, Jesus Christ.  St. John, in his Gospel, says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."  Clearly, he's talking about Jesus here.  But the Word of God must be spread, in obedience to Christ (see Matt. 28:20).  There are two modes for spreading the Word of God:  Oral (called Oral Tradition or Holy Tradition), and written (Scriptures).  Note that "Tradition" in this sense is not mere customs, as we use the word in our day.  It is synonymous with "Teaching."  But when Christ commanded the Apostles (and, by extension, their successors the bishops) to teach and preach "all" that He had taught them, that presented a problem for those who rely solely on the Bible.  See John 21:25, where John says that not everything Jesus did and taught was in the Bible.  So, where's the rest?!  In Oral Tradition.  See 2 Thes. 2:15, where St. Paul speaks about oral and written tradition (teaching) on an equal level.  Self-interpretation of the Scriptures as the only source creates error and goes against 2 Peter 1:20, which warns against this approach.  If there were any validity to this approach to the faith, then there would not be 40,000 different-believing, man-made Protestant denominations, all believing something different, even though they all claim to be interpreting the Bible by means of the Holy Spirit.  The truth cannot contradict itself.  It is immutable.
Dave Volek Added Nov 9, 2017 - 1:38pm
My understanding of early Christian governance was that it was a hodge-podge of different systems.
There were Christian communities, closer to Rome, that more or less had the current Catholic model of appointments from the top.
Further from Rome, some communities had developed a democratic system where the believers elected a council of presbyters to administer to the affairs of their Christian community. The presbyters then elected their bishop, the person in charge of the day-to-day operation of the church and its representative when interacting with other Christian communities.
The Council of Nicea in 325 AD more or less did away with the elected approach.
John Minehan Added Nov 9, 2017 - 2:18pm
Mr. Murrish and Mr. Bergeron's disagreement predates the Protestant Reformation.
In fact, the dispute between (in Lutheran terms) "Sola Scriptura" and an "Oral Tradition" (to borrow another term from the Lutheran Tradition, a "Magisterium") was seen during the public ministry of Jesus as a Rabbi.
In those days, the Sadducees only acknowledged the Written Torah, while the Pharisees (the precursors of modern Rabbinic Judaism) acknowledged BOTH the Written and the Oral Torah (later compiled into the Talmud and the Midrash). 
In my personal belief, there is room for both the Scriptures (Jewish and Christian)  and what people have learned through learned reflection upon those scriptures.
There is something from the Talmud that bears on this. 
Two Rabbis are having a dispute on an issue in the Torah and a third Rabbi meets the Prophet Elijah and asks him where G-d stands on the matter.  And the Prophit Elijah says that G-d says, "'He says, ‘My child Eviatar says like this, and my child Yonatan says like that.’”  See Talmud, Gittin 6b.
Which is to say that reflections upon the Scriptures by people like Luther, Aquinas, Augustine (and Maimonides and Ibn Rusd), is itself worship, as are reflections on those reflections.
As Robert Bolt said in his play A Man For All Seasons:
“God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.”
Michael B. Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:08pm
John, I'm not religious by any stretch, but a good and well-written post, as usual. The Catholic Church obviously has many challenges it has to deal with. You mentioned a DIVARTY chaplain, which reminds me of something. When I PCS'd from 2/3 FA in October of '87, I was too short to go to Graf, so was on the rear detachment while clearing. One morning, a muster alert was called, and we all reported to the conference room/auditorium of the battalion HQ building. The NCOIC of the rear detachment, a certain SSG Porch, who was WAY too old for a SSG, was doing a roll call, and the chaplain's assistant, who was also on RD for some reason, was neither present nor accounted for. SSG Porch instructed another soldier he was apparently familiar with (both were in Circus, I mean, Service battery) to go "find that motherf**king fa*got f**king candy-a*s a*shole! Just because he sucks the chaplain's d*ck doesn't make him exempt from alerts! Tell that sorry-a*s motherf**ker to bring his sorry ass here, NOW! And tell him I said that!" From what I heard, SSG Porch suffered consequences, lol.
John Minehan Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:23pm
Too bad . . . but that kind of eloquence is its own reward . . . . 
Michael B. Added Nov 9, 2017 - 11:38pm
Funny, I was thinking along very similar lines, lol!