Pat Perriello: The future of the priesthood looks more hopeful

(NCR Online) My concern about the future of the priesthood in the United States has centered around everything I have heard and experienced involving those priests ordained in the last few decades. Now Time magazine presents a thoughtful article on the latest attitudes among seminarians today, and it is encouraging.

I should say that if I were writing my vision of the future of the Catholic priesthood, it would certainly include priests being able to marry if they choose to, and a priesthood that includes women in significant numbers. It would also include a clergy even less driven by doctrine than the young seminarians appear to be. Yet, the article does suggest that the youngest crop of seminarians is moving in a positive direction.

The article describes the post-Vatican-II clergy as “reserved men, removed and dogmatic, who present themselves at the lectern to guide their congregations.” I would add that my sense has been that this generation of priests sees themselves and their function as sacred and cultic. This has created distance between them and the people. Of course, not all priests fit this stereotype, but it does seem to have some resonance.

The Francis effect seems to be changing that. No one would accuse the latest crop of seminarians and newly ordained as being wildly liberal, but change is evident, especially in the area of social justice.

Whereas the previous generation of priests showed little interest in social justice, that is not true of the newest generation. They are concerned about issues such as caring for the poor. They see themselves as ministering to all in their community — not just Catholics. One example involves outreach to the Muslim community around them. [More]

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