Sunday, March 22, 2020

Good Intentions with which the Road to Hell Is Said to Be Paved

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know it all
Essay Seven: Good Intentions with which the Road to Hell Is Said to Be Paved
Many years ago when I was young and even more foolish than I am now, I was invited to be a guest on a radio talk show sponsored by an evangelical organization. They thought they might venture into the heady world of ecumenism that was popular at the time. Being one of the few Catholic priests who, at that time, spoke fluent evangelical-ese, I was to be their first experiment.
At some point a woman who didn’t particularly like Catholics called in with a grocery list of complaints, “How come Catholics added books to the Bible and how come Catholics worship Mary and the pope and how come Catholics call priests Father when the Bible says call no man Father????Huh? Huh???”  
I responded, “Madam, you needn’t call me father, I’ve never even met your mother!!”  
True story. No time delay. Live radio. I think I set ecumenism back twenty years at least.  Still, her last question is not a bad one.  In the gospel of Matthew, (23:19) we read, “You are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called master, for you have one master, the Messiah.”  
Contrast these with St. Paul who called himself the one who fathered the Corinthians and St. Paul writing  ”For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every fatherhood (patria) in heaven and on earth derives its name.(Eph 3:14)  What Jesus is saying is, “Don’t have any gurus.” No one has the absolute right of teacher, leader or father over us save God alone. 
It is curious that every Christian group calls their clergy either Doctor, Reverend or Father, doctor being the Latin word for teacher and reverend essentially meaning leader. If you take the text absolutely literally, what are you going to call that man who married your mother? I guess all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If the Catholic custom is properly practiced, the word “father” is not a title. In the context of the parish, it is a relationship.
It is that very relationship that our current direction is destroying. A priest who lived in his parish until death really did become as if a spiritual father to his parish. He worried about the money, the school, the leaky roof, the health, spiritual and physical, of his parishioners, all the things that fathers do. He took part in their births by baptism. He witnessed their weddings and in turn baptized their children and finally conducted their funerals. He forgave their sins and fed them the Eucharist and listened to their sorrows. They mourned when he died, and they prayed for the repose of his soul. They were the children who loved him and cared for him in his old age. He was their father in the Lord.
That is almost all gone. Now he is temporary help, for at most twelve years. He is paid to love them for a while, then moves on to love another group of people who will pay him the same salary as determined by corporate headquarters.  The parish was a home for believers, Priests were expected to be fathers, nuns were expected to be mothers to the faithful. The parish was the center of our life when I was a child, the place where I met Christ, joined His family and learned the beauty of the faith. True, the pastor could be difficult as could be the nuns who taught me, but it was home. There were certainly horrible exceptions to this rather rosy picture. The parish could be as dysfunctional and even dangerous as any human family, but by in large, it was a system that worked. 
Now it feels like the priest is the manager of a branch office appointed for as long as suits the needs of the head office. The system by which the gospel filled the world prevailed for a thousand years and more. We, the clergy, killed that system one afternoon in Chicago just short of fifty years ago. I am sure we had nothing but good intentions in doing so.
PS I forgot. We can either have someone who cooks for us or get a very generous per diem.  That brings my after-tax salary up to $35,000.  Clearly, I am not starving to death. Also, in addition to paying taxes, I buy my own clothes and pay for my own car. As I have mentioned. I am responsible for my own retirement and pay into social security. That’s the worrisome part.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

3-15-2020 Pastors of Long Ago

When I was a boy, and the wooly mammoth still roamed, there were two kinds of pastors in the Catholic Church. There were irremovable pastors who could only be removed by the pope and there were removable pastors who could only be removed by the pope. If you were a removable pastor you could be removed by the bishop, but you had the right of appeal to Rome and the process took so much time and effort on the part of the bishop, why bother? In effect a pastor had tenure and was expected to leave a parish, carried out feet first. (Dead, for those of you who are humor impaired.)
All this changed one day in Chicago in, I believe, 1972. Those were the heady days of the Age of Aquarius, the post-conciliar era when the changes wrought by the Second Vatican council were going to make everything perfect. The young priests of Chicago realized that the liturgical changes that would be needed to introduce this Golden Age would never happen as long as the old curmudgeon pastors occupied the “plum” parishes.
So, at a meeting of the Priest’s Senate of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the clergy assembled asked Cardinal John Cody to petition Rome for permission to limit the terms of pastors to two terms of six years each. It is said that Cardinal Cody responded, “If that’s your wish, my sons, (he talked that way sometimes) I will petition the Holy Father.” It is also said that his eminence left the hall smiling. He realized that if the pastors lost tenure, they would lose any control over the bishop of a diocese. The old “barons,” as we called them, had a great deal of influence over the bishop. They could disagree with him publicly, and worse they could withhold cooperation in fund raising, and could not be removed for either. A pastor with tenure could only be removed for insanity, immorality, heresy, or an interesting combination of the three and these had to be proved by a canonical trial! If the bishop needed funds, he had to schmooze his pastors. They knew where the money was and how to get it.
All this seems rather cynical, but don’t kid yourself. Religion doesn’t come cheap. There are buildings to maintain, staffs to be paid, schools, charities soup kitchens, orphanages retirement homes, hospitals, etc. etc., etc. to be maintained. And tuck -pointing. Tuck-pointing! The very word sends a chill down the spine of a pastor. Just try tuckpointing a five-story brick building. The cost can run into the high hundreds of thousands if you’re lucky! So, if you want to take the high road and do not want to mix filthy lucre with religion you might as well throw out your Bible. From the Old Testament through the New, there is an honest presentation of the relationship between worship and money, so get off your high horse.
Where was I? Oh yes… pastors. The priests of Chicago threw away their right to tenure and in those exhilarating times after the council, as Chicago went so went the nation. As the nation went, so went the world. Pastors in most places don’t have limited terms of pastorate, but they do have an obligatory retirement. The results of that fateful meeting in 1972 have been wide ranging.
Here is one result. There is something called the cathedraticum. (Cathedra meaning the bishop’s chair which is kept in the cathedral.) The cathedraticum is the money owed the bishop from the Sunday collection. I have no idea what the cathedraticum was in my youth. I have heard that was about 3 percent of the parish revenues, but this cannot be accurate. The cathedraticum in this country seems to have been around 10 percent of a pastor’s income as far as I can tell and is currently 10 percent of the regular parish collections. The whole thing is very confusing. In times past, the collections, funeral stipends and pew rentals seem to have been considered the pastors personal property and from these he owed the bishop a substantial amount. From the rest he maintained the parish and the school, paying the salaries of priests nuns and lay people who maintained the parish. All those income sources were removed from the pastor in the latter half of the twentieth century and the priest was given a salary.
After working for the “company” for 45 years the salary paid me by the parish is around $30,000 after taxes. Yes, I pay taxes. Lots of them. In addition to the salary we have automobile insurance, health insurance until we qualify for Medicare, and housing. That housing is above the store, so in effect we are also night watchmen. In the past priests did not retire. As I have said, it was expected that they died in their rectories. That was the retirement plan. Now it is expected that we must accept retirement the year we turn 70 and we receive the generous pension of $1,200 a month, provided we do not live in a rectory. If we live in rectory or other church facility, I believe that our pension goes down to $600 a month.
At the moment, to the best of my knowledge, the official cathedraticum is still about 10 percent, but to that is added 6% for the Priests’ retirement fund, formerly unnecessary, insurance assessments and a 7% expectation for the annual diocesan fundraising campaign. To this is added the special collections for various diocesan charities. This all seems rather dry and unreligious. But it has a far more important significance. Financial control has effectively been removed from the pastors. It is in the hands of an ever-growing professional bureaucracy that uses a business model.
PS. I am not poor. I have other sources of income than my parish salary. Diocesan priests don’t take a vow of poverty. I have other reasons for discussing finances which I hope will become clear in future essays.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Fun Facts about the Papacy

A Series of Essays “On the Business of Religion” by the Rev. Know-it-all

Essay Four: Fun Facts about the Papacy

Perhaps you heard me say that the bishop of Rome is the Pope, but the Pope is not the Bishop of Rome. Let me explain. The Bishop of Rome is the heir of both St. Peter and St. Paul. Both were martyred in Rome and their relics rest there. This doesn’t matter that much to us, but it did to the first Christians. I have already mentioned that St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote, around 170 AD:

“For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.”(Adversus Haereses III, 3.)

The doctrinal preeminence of the Church of Rome rested on its apostolic foundation and the churches of the world could look to the Roman Church and its bishop as to a lighthouse guiding a ship to safe harbor. The bishop of Rome was to fulfill the mandate that the Lord had given to St. Peter to “strengthen the brethren.” (Luke 22:32) This was his assignment because HE WAS THE BISHOP OF ROME, THE HEIR OF ST. PETER. No one was chosen to be pope and, oh by the way, you’re the bishop of Rome too. Nope.

Job one was bishop of Rome. The idea that the pope was elected to be the leader of a vast international organization developed slowly. The Roman emperors became Christians starting with the emperor Constantine in 312 AD following his vision on the eve of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine moved the capital of the empire to Nova Roma, later called Constantinople and now, of course, Istanbul. The expectation was that if the city of Rome moved east, so would the bishop of Rome move east. Not so. The bishop of Rome stayed put in the old crumbling capital with his precious relics and his political independence.

Constantinople grew and Rome shrank to a small town 0f 10 or 20 thousand people. The emperors knew that no matter how small old Rome became, it was still important. The clergy and people of Rome elected their new bishops, but the emperor in faraway Constantinople was not going to let them install anyone he didn’t approve of. This system endured until the papal election of 1903 when the election of Cardinal Mariano Rampolla was vetoed by Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

Yes, you read correctly. 1903!! For 1600 years the election of the pope was interfered with by the political powers of the world. The pope approved the emperor and the emperor approved the pope.

One wonders if this is what Our Lord intended when he said “thou art Peter…” Over the course of 16 centuries of political involvement, the papacy became a whole lot more than the bishop of Rome and the ultimate spiritual authority for the universal church. Instead the pope must endure the endless dreary procession of diplomats having their pictures taken, the embarrassing circus acts performing at papal audiences and papal visits to obscure countries with more photo ops and enthused locals waving papal flags.

Fun fact! For the first eight centuries of the Church’s life, if you were made a bishop of a
particular place, you could never change your diocese. You were considered married to the diocese, hence you wore a ring. To change diocese was considered adultery.