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Is the priesthood becoming too ritualistic?

'The most important thing is that the church continues the reconciling work of Christ in the world.'

A senior theologian who teaches on the permanent diaconate programmes of Birmingham and Clifton dioceses has lamented the growth of “an increasingly ritualistic priesthood” which he has warned is “unhealthy”.

Dr David McLoughlin has trained young priests for the priesthood for 25 years and taught theology at Oscott College and at Newman University. He has also been a consulter to the Vatican and the Bishops Conference of England and Wales.

Speaking to The Tablet after he gave an address to the National Justice and Peace Network conference in Derbyshire, he said many of today’s seminarians “are caught up in the rituals of the sacramental process in a way that I would regard as unhealthy” because its sense of holiness was focused in a very limited way.

“I don’t know where we have gone wrong. They are all lovely guys ... But when you see a young man on Sunday in a big Roman collar with a cassock with 33 buttons and a cummerbund and he is telling people off for taking the host in their hand – what on earth is going on?

“I think for some of them, the formal elements in religion and the formal elements of priestly dress, is a sort of bolstering and an identity strengthening factor.”

Referring to the Vatican II document on priesthood, "Presbyterorum Ordinis", he said the use of the two words – presbyter and sacerdos – had resulted in two models and that the tension between the two remained unresolved.

“Some priests have settled for a much more ritualistic sacerdotal model. I think a number of our younger priests have gone in that direction because it seems to be purer and more holy.”

According to Dr McLoughlin the most important thing is that the church continues the reconciling work of Christ in the world and reconciling men and women to each other and to God.

“If there is anything gets in the way of that, we should go beyond it. So, if we have a lack of ordained ministers because we settled for celibate priests from the second millennia on, which is only true of the western half of the church not the eastern orthodox, why shouldn’t we change it? There is no profound theological reason why priests have to be celibate, it is just custom.”

He described CDF chief, Cardinal Luis Ladaria’s recent comments on the commission on women deacons as “a damage limitation job” and suggested that the Jesuit was “trying to manage expectations” and manage the conservatives. “A lot of them are in the States and they provide the central church with a lot of money,” he said.


We need the debate on Ordination

Crispian HollisI am one of that “number of bishops” referred to by Bishop John Crowley in his admirable letter of 23 June and further challenged to reveal themselves by John Mulholland in his letter of 30 June. Your correspondents are seeking to raise the whole issue of ministerial priesthood, male or female, in today’s Church. It is clear to me that this is a debate which needs to be taken seriously.

I serve as a committee member of the Movement for Married Clergy (MMaC) and, as a committee, we have repeatedly requested that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales should establish a commission, comprising bishops, priests, deacons and laity, so that there can be a proper and official discussion about the ordination of married men. Our repeated requests have received no substantial reply.

We are not saying that celibacy should be abolished – it is a precious gift in the life and history of the Church – but we are saying that priesthood and marriage are not mutually exclusive. Bishop John has taken the debate a step further to include the possible ordination of women. All these questions are current at various levels in the Church and proper and considered discernment needs to be made.

I, and MMaC with me, am continuing to ask that the debates, taking place informally among our people and in many of our parishes today, should become official, so that a proper discernment can be made. The matter is urgent and the diminishing number of priests is real. I have said it before and I say it again: “The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.”
Crispian Hollis
Retired Bishop of Portsmouth
Mells, Somerset

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The Time The Place 1992

So, I have been digitising my 8mm and VHS video recordings and came across this TV programme from 1992 - 26 years ago ! Hopefully next years Amazon Synod will include the issue of optional celibacy for priests. It takes a very long time for the Church to change but hopefully the Spirit is blowing with the pastoral ministry of Pope Francis.


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