View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Priestly vocations: Bringing up the rear again

The latest Catholic World Report study of priestly vocations is out.

Rochester ranks near the bottom again.

"The 20 dioceses with the lowest ratio of diocesan seminarians to Catholics in 2006—starting with the bottom-ranked diocese—were San Diego, Honolulu, Metuchen, Las Vegas, Laredo, Los Angeles, New York, Hartford, El Paso, Rochester, Santa Rosa, San Antonio, Galveston-Houston, Rockville Centre, Boston, Syracuse, Detroit, San Bernardino, Reno, and Monterey."

Sigh. I can take comfort in the fact that Rochester is one of 4 New York dioceses at the bottom - and Rochester is not the worst in the state.

We've been struggling for vocations here for years. Much as I like and admire Bishop Clark, I have to wonder if he is not part of the problem.

I don't know the full reason why - and I am not about to say he is directly causing it. I know him to be a good man, and he does sincerely care about vocations.

Unfortunately, he has also been a lighting rod for criticism.

Indeed, I sometimes wonder if some of the misrepresentations and venom directed at him by some of my "orthodox" brothers and sisters may be making the problem worse. They paint a dark and often unfair picture of him and the diocese.

But, Bishop Clark, while a good man, is, to be honest, not an inspiring leader. He is a mild man, and his preaching is intellectually fine, but, frankly, dull. We need someone to fire up the people here - much as Pope John Paul II fired up the wider Church.

I also think Bishop Clark has allowed the diocese to be infected by some folks who distort Catholic teachings. When I was at the diocesan newspaper, I was disturbed by some of the things I saw being allowed to happen and grew increasingly frustrated at his inaction. In the Corpus Christi situation, for example, I think he waited way too long to act. Father Callan should have been suspended several years earlier. In addition, various liturgical abuses were allowed to continue around the diocese too long.

Even though I have been a Bishop Clark defender, I suspect we may not see a turn around until he retires.

For now, we must struggle with decreasing numbers of priests. It will be years before this situation can be reversed.

7 Comments:

Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

Lee,

Four years ago when the Democrat & Chronicle ran a story marking the 25th anniversary of Bishop Clark's elevation, he was asked about the controversy surrounding his renovation of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

His project had clearly divided his flock; a good shepherd would have recognized an opportunity to heal a wound. Instead, he claimed the renovation's critics "had problems with the reforms of Vatican II."

If you want to know why genuine renewal will not come until 2012, look to this example.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Rich - I don't know the article or the people you reference, so I can't comment directly on them.

They may be some of the same critics I've encountered over the years.

I have been active in the diocese since the 1970s - as a seminarian, and a member of diocesan groups and organizations; as a writer/editor at the diocesan newspaper for 12 years; as a church musician; and so on. I have been part of some of the policy discussions in this diocese as an observer/reporter, and as a participant.

Here's what I've seen.

There are times when I grew uncomfortable at some of the things the diocese was doing or allowing. These were things I think could legitimately be criticized - and I have not been afraid to do so, nor did I have issue with other people doing so in a respectful way.

BUT, many of the criticisms I witnessed over the years were unfair, inaccurate and delivered in decidedly unchristian ways. They included insults, inueando, sarcasm, and so on. When I or others tried to point out facts or would not follow the other's way of seeing things, we were also labeled and attacked.

The Bishop's words and actions were often distorted and twisted, or inaccurately reported. I don't know how many times I covered an event and would see others' reports of the same event that bore little resemblance to what happened (I was an award-winning journalist who was often cited for his fairness and accuracy).

There was also a level of pure personal nastiness in some of the attacks on the Bishop. For example, I remember some writers - the Wanderer folks comes to mind - who seemed obsessed with implying the Bishop was gay and would carfully chose words or describe things to give this impression. They would add a homosexual spin to reports on events.

Finally, some of the folks clearly did imply they rejected Vatican II. I heard them say such things.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

Thanks for your response, Lee. While some of his critics may have been uncharitable in their public statements, that is a trait he too shares.

He stated that his renovation was to put the cathedral in line with the norms of Vatican II when the council is either silent about or opposed to the sort of things he imposed. He released a column two weeks ahead of the Vatican's instruction on seminary formation and homosexuality that was obviously intended to "get ahead" of the document and strip it of its impact. He has stated that he has the authority to permit lay preaching, when this practice is absolutely forbidden. There are other examples to be sure.

By any measure -- ordinations, catechesis, number of practicing Catholics, number of active parishes, etc. -- Bishop Clark has been an unmitigated disaster for the diocese; unfortunately Rochester's current abysmal state invites rancor and "nastiness."

4:20 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Rich - “While some of his critics may have been uncharitable in their public statements, that is a trait he too shares.”

I have known Bishop Clark on a professional level (12 years as a print journalist, 21 as a radio reporter), as an active member of the diocese, as an avid reader of news, to a lesser extent, on a personal level, for more than two decades.

In all that time, I have NEVER heard Bishop Clark deliberately insult another person, call a person a name, mock anyone, imply things about another, twist and distort what another person has said, or outright lied about another person. Never. Yet these are things that have been consistently done to him.

Unless you’ve got some documentation, your statement that this is a trait he shares with his critics is unsubstantiated.

You list several things he has done with which you disagree. That’s fine, We can criticize his actions. But none of these actions support your accusation.

You conclude with “unfortunately Rochester's current abysmal state invites rancor and `nastiness.’"

No, it invites criticism of actions and suggested solutions (other than just get rid of him). We are human, and our sinful natures might incline us to act in uncharitable ways. But as Catholic Christians we are called to a higher level of conduct, and anyone who engages in such tactics – and offers such excuses to justify such behavior – is setting a poor example and is certainly not modeling what’s good about our faith to others.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Rich Leonardi said...

Unless you’ve got some documentation, your statement that this is a trait he shares with his critics is unsubstantiated.

No, it isn't. Charity resides in truth; he has made assertions about the Catholic faith that are untrue.

You list several things he has done with which you disagree. That’s fine, We can criticize his actions. But none of these actions support your accusation.

They aren't things with which I disagree; they are decisions that contradict Church teaching -- authorizing lay preaching, to name just one example.

No, it invites criticism of actions and suggested solutions (other than just get rid of him). We are human, and our sinful natures might incline us to act in uncharitable ways. But as Catholic Christians we are called to a higher level of conduct, and anyone who engages in such tactics – and offers such excuses to justify such behavior – is setting a poor example and is certainly not modeling what’s good about our faith to others.

I did not say that Rochester's state justifies such behavior, but that it "invites" the nastiness you decry, i.e., it provides an explanation.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Rich wrote (the first part quoting me):

"Unless you’ve got some documentation, your statement that this is a trait he shares with his critics is unsubstantiated."

"No, it isn't. Charity resides in truth; he has made assertions about the Catholic faith that are untrue."

What I've been talking about is personal statements, insults, mocking.

Alleged heresy is a totally separate issue. It has nothing to do with what I was talking about.

SO ... As I said before - your allegation that Bishop Clark has made insulting comments is unsubstantiated. Find me a few statements in which Bishop Clark insulted another person, called someone a name, made allegations about a person's sexual preference, lied about another person, etc.

We are talking slander here, not heresy.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, you may be wasting your breath with Rich. He's known in St Blog's for his long-distance hatred of Bishop Clark. He's long escaped from the diocese of Rochester, but posts a surprising amount on the man.

Your assessment: "BUT, many of the criticisms I witnessed over the years were unfair, inaccurate and delivered in decidedly unchristian ways. They included insults, inueando, sarcasm, and so on. When I or others tried to point out facts or would not follow the other's way of seeing things, we were also labeled and attacked."

This holds true for the blogosphere as well. The Culture of Complaint has surely affected Bishop Clark's detractors, including Rich, to the point where there's little hope of reason. The insults become part of the background noise. The blame is put on the object of scorn. If they think a new bishop is going to change that, I suspect the habit of behavior will be pretty tough to break.

Todd

8:19 AM  

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