A CONCRETE PATH FORWARD
A thoughtful, well-timed article always smacks of a near miracle. And with growing bewilderment in many circles around the perennial question “What ails us?,” writer Regina Munch’s herculean diagnosis provides enough tangible ideas to generate broad civic renewal—if we can just stop looking for cheap sales (“The Case against Consolidation,” June 2023).
Clearly, strenuous hand-wringing or, God help us, insisting on the return of an incensed autocrat can do nothing to reverse many intentional policy decisions over decades—especially ones emphasizing low-cost consumer goods, leading us toward a dystopian future: a land of disempowered workers with little time or interest in social justice, community, or the search for meaning.
More than half a century ago, astute social critic and author James Baldwin remarked, “It is terrible to watch people cling to their captivity and insist on their own destruction.” In essential ways, Munch’s piece seems a concrete response to Baldwin’s painful insight; it suggests humane, intelligent ways forward, which, though hard, can be pursued with all deliberate speed.
R. Jay Allain
A FOURTH WIN
I was pleased to read Dr. Metz’s article, “A Win-Win-Win” (July/August 2023), on parish administrators. Might I hope for a fourth “win”?
As Dr. Metz describes it, the experience of parish administrators occurs when a parish does not have a priest-pastor. I feel the Church would also be well served if many parishes, particularly larger ones and merged parishes, had administrators or executive directors even when there is a priest as pastor. Metz notes that there are priests who are glad not to manage staff and sit through parish finance-committee meetings. Such priests should welcome a parish administrator working with them. Priests would have more time for pastoral and sacramental duties, which, frankly, in many cases they are failing at. Yes, there are pastors different from the ones Dr. Metz described—the ones who have recruited lay volunteers only to make communion calls to the homebound and hospitalized so the pastor can keep a tight, secretive grip on parish finances. Or the priest in Wisconsin, where I had difficulty for several days getting him to return my phone call to arrange my mother’s funeral. These are the ones who really need a parish administrator brought in.
Additionally, such a program would create a cadre of experienced lay and diaconal parish administrators who can be hired by parishes without resident priest-pastors. As Metz wrote, currently these administrators seem to be brought in on short notice when there is a sudden vacancy in the pastorate and sometimes have little practical training or experience.
THE LIMITS OF THE LAITY
Thanks to Jon Metz for his description of how lay parish directors can help remedy the priest shortage. During my eighteen years as president of Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, we prepared dozens of lay parish directors. I saw their gifts with seniors, young children, adolescents, and married couples. They had insights and a sensitivity to pastoral needs that I did not possess. They are a great blessing to the Church.
Unfortunately, they are limited in what they can do. They cannot preach at Mass, they cannot hear confessions, and they cannot anoint. They can only marry and baptize in extreme circumstances. Important as they are, they will not be enough.
As a sacramental Church, we need more ordained ministers, deacons, and priests. We already have married priests whom we accepted from other denominations, but if you were born Catholic you don’t qualify. This is a scandal. If we invited younger married men (and women) to prepare for ordination, we would have a flood of applications.
They would need at least three years of full-time preparation and enough financial support to replace lost wages. This would be expensive, but cost was never a factor in the past when we were preparing celibate candidates. There is no reason it should be now.
Charlie Bouchard, OP
St. Louis, Mo.
BUILDING AND SUSTAINING
As a fairly observant Jew who is active at my synagogue in Bloomington, Indiana, I was instructed and moved by Matthew Rose’s very fine article on the civil religion of Robert Bellah in your July/August issue (“Serious Play”). Rose’s exposition of Bellah’s thought captures what Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others are trying to do in building and sustaining religious community in an overly individualistic and consumerist American society.
Thank you, Mr. Rose and Commonweal.