This reveals a lot.
I was talking with a couple of ladies the other day who were both surprised and offended to learn that ‘normal’ priests don’t take vows of poverty. I informed them that only ‘religious’ priests must do that. “Aren’t all priests supposed to be religious?” one of them quite predictable quipped.
They were visibly disturbed by this revelation, though.
One of them I know is Protestant. Seeing her indignation, I said, “But Protestant ministers don’t take vows of poverty.”
She retorted, “That’s different: they aren’t supposed to take a vow of poverty.” I said that if secular clergy were supposed to then they would. Obviously, they aren’t supposed to.
I went on, “Scientists don’t take vows of poverty, nor do professors... etc.” But my two interlocutors were not budging. By this point it had become a fruitless discussion. But it is clear, they were scandalized by this bit of news. It didn’t jive with what they knew – what everyone out there knows (their words, not mine) – about the priesthood, and it disappointed them. Of course, they then made passing remarks about ‘most’ priests violating their vows of celibacy. I challenged them on that.
Eventually I shut up. I was flabbergasted, to say the least, by their amazement. I realized something: the world needs priests who take vows of poverty. People need there to be other people out there who live a better life than they do, who live an admirable form of life that they have no intention whatsoever of following. Such people might never darken the door of a Catholic Church, yet they still need it to be there doing its thing.
I realize that a great deal of the information they collected regarding the priesthood comes from the culturally dominant Protestant polemic against the ‘hypocritical and materialistic’ priesthood. Of course, just because it’s mainstream doesn’t make it correct. Protestants haven’t always been the best historians and sociologists of Catholicism. It’s a proud tradition of scientific incompetence, dating all the way back to the English Protestant’s, John Foxe’s, Acts and Monuments of 1563. Sometimes, what ‘everyone knows’ is, quite simply, false.
A quick glance at Canon Law reveals this:
Can. 281 §1. Since clerics dedicate themselves to ecclesiastical ministry, they deserve remuneration which is consistent with their condition, taking into account the nature of their function and the conditions of places and times, and by which they can provide for the necessities of their life as well as for the equitable payment of those whose services they need.
Can. 282 §1. Clerics are to foster simplicity of life and are to refrain from all things that have a semblance of vanity.
Can. 285 §4. Without the permission of their ordinary, they are not to take on the management of goods belonging to lay persons or secular offices which entail an obligation of rendering accounts. They are prohibited from giving surety even with their own goods without consultation with their proper ordinary. They also are to refrain from signing promissory notes, namely, those through which they assume an obligation to make payment on demand.
Can. 286 Clerics are prohibited from conducting business or trade personally or through others, for their own advantage or that of others, except with the permission of legitimate ecclesiastical authority.
By way of contrast, referring to ‘religious,’ that is to say, monks, nuns, friars, etc., Canon Law states:
Can. 573 §2. The Christian faithful freely assume this [consecrated, religious] form of living in institutes of consecrated life canonically erected by competent authority of the Church. Through vows or other sacred bonds according to the proper laws of the institutes, they profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience and, through the charity to which the counsels lead, are joined in a special way to the Church and its mystery.
So there you have it. Frankly, their reaction immediately made me think about the clerical sexual abuse scandal. It is a scandal precisely because people set priests apart – even Protestants set them apart in a way they do not set their own clergy apart. In other words, they expect less from their own clergy than they expect from ours. Of course, as so many horror movies testify, in times of supernatural turmoil you don’t go running for the minister. You run for the closest Romish priest you can find. This is why it has been, and will always be the case that sexual abuse by a priest is front page news but by anybody else it somewhere towards the back of the paper. The blog my SCCB still carries, despite several complaints I have received over the past few months about it, that is to say, Sylvia’sSite, is a blog – it’s plain enough to see – fuelled by a profound sense of disappointment in priests, disappointment in a class of people that Sylvia has obviously held to a much higher standard than the rest of her fellow man. She had ever right to expect better, didn’t she?
Anyway, God bless our priests. I’m not a member of a 410,000 + group who are being continually judged by their weakest members. As a professor, at the worst I am lumped in with people who are 'airy fairy' and 'talk about useless things all day.' As a principal, well, as a principal, I've never been subjected to any form of bigotry - so far.
|The Old Roast Beef of England - a lovely bit of bigotry by William Hogarth.|