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  Home :: 2007 September :: Catholic crisis
http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff/4178228a19260.html
 

Wanted: adult males for the priesthood (no women needapply). Join the holy fight against evil by becoming a soldier forChrist. Job requires devotion, dedication, commitment, patience,tolerance, compassion and sacrifice.

Ceremonial and pastoral duties also require successful applicants tobe part social worker, philosopher, psychologist, teacher, counsellor,public speaker and community leader dealing with people from birth todeath. On call 24/7. No wife or children allowed, also no sex of anykind. Minimal pay but room and board provided.

in the early1980s, David Gruschow and Edmund Little answered such a calling - andtwo decades later are priests in the Nelson region.

Neither manmarched out of adolescence into adulthood with his eyes firmly onChrist and the Cross, although each, in his own way, sought to beactive, rather than passive, Christians - and their early work asteachers would have a spiritual dimension.

Gruschow became aMarist brother and teacher, having been attracted to the Marists'lifestyle when he attended a Catholic secondary school in Lower Hutt.The oldest of nine children and raised in a typical Catholic family whowent to mass on Sunday, he was, in effect, making a religiouscommitment but one with an emphasis on teaching.

He describes the Marist brothers as being like male nuns, or monks. They take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

"WhileI was teaching, I did a little bit of parish work and really enjoyedthat, so I felt the Lord was calling me to do that work morefrequently," he says - and to do so meant the priesthood.

Thatcalling became more insistent, he says, while he was teaching in Fiji.At the end of 1985, at the age of 31, he was ordained as a priest.

Ayear behind him at the seminary was a man 12 years older, who hadtravelled from the other side of the world to become a priest.

EdmundLittle's path to the priesthood wasn't a road-to-Damascus experiencebut a more circuitous journey through academia, although along the wayhe always had "an itchy feeling" that he ought to seek ordination.

Born in Essex, England to a Welsh mother and Cockney father, Little,one of two children, says his family wasn't particularly religious. Hisparents belonged to the Anglican Church but did not raise him as anAnglican.

From a young age, however, he was interested inhistory - and it would be the Catholic Church's long history, itscontinuity through time, its community spreading outwards from thepresent and back into the past, and its teaching consistency that wouldappeal to him.

At university he specialised in modernlanguages, especially Russian and French, attained a PhD and taught atthe University of Hull for 15 years. While there, he was asked to teachthe spirituality of the Russian Orthodox Church, which he did forseveral years and the itchy feeling grew stronger.

In 1982, hevisited New Zealand, doing some lectures and tutorials at VictoriaUniversity, and happened to meet Cardinal Tom Williams, then theArchbishop of Wellington. In conversation, Little asked if at the ageof 40 he would be accepted as a student for the priesthood - and wassomewhat surprised to hear he would be.

Little returned to England, resigned his university post, came back to New Zealand and was ordained in 1986.

TodayFr Little is a priest at Sacred Heart Church in Takaka, havingpreviously served at St Mary's in Nelson, while Fr Gruschow came to OurLady of Perpetual Help Church in Richmond early last year after sixyears in Petone (and having been an army chaplain for eight years).

Frs Gruschow and Little are two of 537 priests in New Zealand today,about 10 percent less than there was 10 years ago and a continuation ofa decline in numbers over the past three decades.

Even moreconcerning is that the average age of parish priests is increasing:from 48 in the 1980s, to 62 in 1997, to mid-60s today.

Correspondingly,there has been a gradual decline in the number of seminary trainees. In1979, for instance, there were 43 in New Zealand; today there are 16seminarians.

In that sense, Frs Gruschow and Little are moretypical of men choosing the priesthood in their 30s or even 40s.Neither of them was previously married or has children.

LyndsayFreer, of Catholic Communications in Auckland, says there seems to behesitancy on the part of young people to make serious, long-termcommitments.

"This is reflected in the number of couples whochoose not to commit to marriage. Also, we note that couples aremarrying later rather than at a young age."

Applying at ayoung age, sometimes straight from school, as often happened years ago,is discouraged today, Freer says. "It is more desirable to have men whohave come to a mature decision after time to consider what they want todo with their lives."

The Catholic culture has also broken down a bit, says Fr Gruschow. "It isn't as strong as it was when I was a child.

"Partof that culture was it was perfectly acceptable to go into thepriesthood. Families encouraged you and thought it was wonderful. Thesedays, I think it's more complex than that. A family, while theytheoretically might like their son to be a priest, in practice they maynot be convinced that it's the best life, the most wholesome orfulfilling life for their son."

Catholic families have fewerchildren today, as well. It's no longer a case of one son out of seven,nine or 11 children becoming a priest, but one son out of threechildren, he adds.

Also, since lay people have replaced Maristsin many schools, there is less opportunity for teenagers to be inspiredtowards a religious vocation, as he himself was.

Fr Littlepoints out that the shortage of priests is one that only Westerncountries are experiencing - priest numbers in Asia, Africa and LatinAmerica are burgeoning. However, language and cultural barriers canblock many of them from bolstering numbers in Western countries.

The result is a serious problem for the Catholic Church - and perhaps other denominations as well, Fr Little says.

"Nobodyknows quite what to blame - consumerism, post-modernism, the me-mesociety, the availability of entertainment on television, at the cinemaand on video and DVD," he says.

"We're also a much more mobilesociety. People used to walk to church, now they drive. At a basiclevel, going to church was something to do on a Sunday; mobility nowgives them many more choices."

The impact of distractions andother options to attending church affects the numbers of people goinginto the priesthood, since it is from the church's congregations thatmost aspiring to be priests come.

What might be a disincentiveto join the priesthood is the bad publicity the Catholic Church hassuffered in recent years about priests involved in sexual abuse cases,including paedophilia.

Fr Gruschow says the publicity has been"hugely damaging", and Fr Little says it has made other clergy feel"sick and despondent".

"It's very demoralising," Fr Littlesays, "because aside from their direct victims, children or adults,these (offending) clergy have abused the trust put in them - and madeour life more difficult."

As well as coping with such badpublicity, the church has had to contend on occasion with debate aboutits attitudes towards, and position on, such issues as celibacy,artificial birth control, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and theordination of women.

Celibacy can carry risks of isolation,alienation and loneliness from having a lack of intimacy - but, FrLittle adds, there are dangers attached to the married state as well.

"Some of the loneliest people I have met have been married," he says.

FrGruschow says that in the history of the church, celibacy hasn't alwaysbeen necessary - and its requirement today should be re-examined. FrLittle agrees.

Fr Gruschow also points out that Anglicans whohave converted to Catholicism and become priests are allowed to do soeven if married, thus celibacy doesn't apply to them. Nor does itapply, Fr Little says, to some branches of the church, such as theEastern Catholic Maronites, whose clergy can marry.

Fr Littlebelieves the focus on celibacy is a symptom of an age in which sex hasassumed an importance he suspects it didn't have before.

"Celibacy- the very word has a mystique, an attraction, that people findmysterious and strange, and celibacy is often blamed for whateverproblems the Catholic Church is seen as having."

He recalls aconversation years ago in which the wife of a Protestant clergyman toldhim that the Catholic Church shouldn't rush to abolish celibacy as aneasy fix to its problems, because it would raise as many problems as itsolves.

"She said, `If you think that a minister can have a normal family life without serious difficulty, you're kidding yourself'."

Onmany other issues, such as artificial birth control, divorce andhomosexuality, Fr Gruschow says the church's position is one of statedideals rather than strict rules that damn those who transgress them.

"Evena surface reading of the Gospels illustrates the Lord beingcompassionate and forgiving and not overly worried about the letter ofthe law," he says.

"In the past, people believed you must meetthese rules, whereas these days they're more seen as ideals. It'swonderful if you can meet them - but if you can't, you work towardsthem.

"There's more an appreciation of this journey towards perfection rather than being perfect now, which nobody can be."

So where is that line that says you haven't strived hard enough to work towards an ideal?

"That'san interesting question," says Fr Gruschow. "We always say that's theprovince of almighty God, that God is the judge."

However,there are some subjects which are still non-negotiable - for instance,the church's rejection of abortion and homosexuality.

"Abortionis one of the black-and-white rules," says Fr Gruschow. "It has muchmore moral impact than the (artificial) contraception one does."

Asfor homosexuality, it's a case of damning the sinner, not the sin.Thus, a homosexual can be a member of the Catholic Church as long asthe homosexuality isn't physically expressed, says Fr Gruschow, just asa homosexual can be a celibate priest.

Asked how suchattitudes towards abortion, homosexuality and not allowing women tobecome priests fit in with Christian tolerance and compassion, FrGruschow says it's possible to have a strong moral code and still becompassionate and tolerant.

"Jesus showed that. He was prettyintolerant of various things, like hypocrisy and injustice. The art isto hold both together without compromising either. It's important tohave strict rules to protect human dignity and it's also important tobe compassionate when people don't live up to those rules and toprovide a way of helping them to do so.

"Strong moral codes are important but you have to allow people the space to make mistakes."

If a man thinking of becoming a priest adheres to the church's positionon various contentious issues, despite how they reflect society, and ifhe is willing to make the sacrifices the priesthood requires and copewith inherent stresses, there can still be a question of money.

FrGruschow says some priests are "making waves" about remunerationbecause the church has started employing lay people to replace priestswhere there aren't priests available, and they won't do such work forwhat priests receive.

He says lay people get about $45,000; priests get $6000, although they also receive free accommodation and food.

It's a demanding job being a priest, and some men do choose to leave the priesthood each year.

"Somemen have left in recent years in order to marry," says Lyndsay Freer,adding that stress can be a factor but money is not usually a reasonfor leaving.

Fr Gruschow says he is thinking of retiring whenhe turns 65. "We're allowed to do that, though they don't like it",explaining that priests are encouraged, even expected, to continuetheir work until health or other circumstances cause them to retire, orto move to less onerous duties.

Last year Fr Littleexperienced "burnout" first-hand, a factor in his move from Nelson toTakaka after taking nearly a year off to recover.

So what are the joys and rewards that make the priesthood satisfying and worth the sacrifices and stresses?

Fr Gruschow cites the pastoral work and being a leader at worship.

"Mostof my job is being with people and often it's an important time intheir lives - birth, baptism, marriage, sickness, death and funerals.

"So at key times they invite you into their lives, as a spiritual dimension which they find very important."

Hefinds providing good quality sermons at church services a daunting task"because people demand a good quality sermon these days" - but it's achance to reflect on scripture and how it applies to life and discussissues from the Catholic perspective.

"Part of our role is toeducate our Catholic people because there are lots of people who aren'tCatholics and have all sorts of different ideas about what Catholicsbelieve or don't believe and do or don't do, which are often incorrectand impinge on our Catholic people."

Ultimately, though, theEucharist, symbolising the body and blood of Christ is the essence ofthe Catholic faith and a priest's reason to be.

"The Eucharistis the source and summit of our Catholic life. When people come tomass, it's not for the priest but the Eucharist."

Fr Little echoes Fr Gruschow: "I like to help people in their joys and sorrows where I can - that sounds pious, but I do.

"And,yes, celebrate the Eucharist, follow the commandments of Christ and tryto acquaint people with the mystery of divine love, which in theEucharist recalls the suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord,the triumph of life over death and of good over evil.

"BeforeI became a priest, an old priest said to me that when he celebrates theEucharist, he's always conscious of doing something much greater thanhimself - and that's what I feel too."

 
 
 


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia