January 27, 2005 | Graham

Physician heal thyself.

Roman Catholicism has a problem – too many churches and not enough priests. In Australia this is normally put down to the presumed fact that a celibate lifestyle is no longer attractive, leading to a shortage of candidates for consecration to a celibate clergy. This was certainly the theme of a discussion on Radio National Breakfast this morning.
It may be part of the explanation, but by fixating on it I think Australian Catholics (and perhaps Christians more generally) say more about their own agendas than about the real underlying causes of this problem, as well as many others that face the whole western Christian Church. Discussion about the shortage of priests inevitably leads on to whether it is time to do away with celibacy, and also whether it is time to ordain women.
While both these issues are important, I can’t help but think that the lack of priests is being used to push agendas that would have been pushed even if there were enough priests to go around.
I accept that in this day and age celibacy is less attractive than in previous ages, but if that were the whole story, then denominations which allow priests or ministers to marry, would have plenty of candidates for the ministry. But at least as far as the Australian Anglican and mainstream protestant churches are concerned, this is not the case. This is even more startling when one considers that most of these ordain women as well as men, so have a pool twice the size as the Romans to draw from.
From where I stand the real reason for the lack of priests and ministers in all Churches is that Christianity has failed to come up with a satisfactory and sophisticated response to the scientific world-view. The result of this is that many of us sitting in the pews on a Sunday regard the bible as being a collection of instructive stories, but without the authentic ring of physically verifiable truth. Who really believes in the virgin birth, or a physical resurrection? Can God really answer prayer?
Without belief in these things, how can any of us develop such a passion for our religion that we would take up a religious vocation? Worse still, at least half the church doesn’t even see the problem, so there is no systemic grappling with these issues. The discussion on RN this morning is yet another part of this denial. Celibate priests is the least of the problems of the church, but that is the one being discussed, because at least one can propose a simple solution to it.
It’s good to see Stephen Crittenden the current presenter of the Religion Report, who is temporarily presenting RN Breakfast, bringing discussion of religion into a mainstream current affairs programme. While in the census most of us say we belong to some Christian denomination or another discussion of religion is generally relegated to a few religiously branded programmes. And then there is the anti-clericalism that rears its head whenever one of the Jensen brothers, or Cardinal Pell, or a born-again pastor makes a fundamentalist pitch.
Whether we recognise it or not, most of us draw many of our gut reactions from some religious tradition or another. Relegating discussion of religion to the periphery makes us less aware of what drives those reactions. For example, any discussion of the social welfare lobby in this country is lop-sided if it doesn’t include a working knowledge of Catholic Social Justice doctrines. Next time you hear a welfare lobby spokesman, note the surname, there’s a good chance they will have Irish Catholic antecedents.
On Line Opinion determined that religion (as well as atheism) would be one of the things that we would cover. Peter Sellick, our regular contributor valiantly grapples with some of these theological issues. I wish the Church more generally would too. If it doesn’t it may give a sharper edge to the concept of the “priesthood of all believers”.
Without priests and ministers, it will certainly be a case of “physician heal thyself”.

Posted by Graham at 5:06 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Religion

1 Comment

  1. Opinion, glorious opinion.
    Religion is irrelevant, the only thing it has going for it is interesting architecture.

    Comment by Benno — January 31, 2005 @ 9:22 pm

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