Letter from America
ACCORDING to a recent Gallup poll, 75 per cent of American Catholics are in favour of allowing priests to marry. The poll was sponsored in part by Corpus, an association of resigned priests who are now married but are interested in serving once again within the priesthood.
Respondents were asked what would be the impact if married priests were brought back into the active Church. 28 per cent said it would make no difference and 51 per cent said it would help. Of the female respondents, 82 per cent were in favour of allowing priests to marry.
Dr Antony Padovano, a married former priest and president of Corpus, makes frequent use of the word "devastation" in relation to the situation. He believes that the results of the poll indicate that the Church must open the priesthood to include either women, married men or both.
He says: "While there are as many priests in the US today as there were in 1920, the number of Catholics have increased from 15 million to 60 million. In 1968 there were 48,000 seminarians, now there are 7,000. Over the last 20 years, 125,000 priests have resigned world-wide and 45 per cent of all parishes lack a resident pastor. The data show that our views are not only within the mainstream but continue to gain currency. Since the last poll in
1985, those opposed to priestly marriage have gone down from 35 to 18 per cent. With around 20,000 married priests in the US alone, we could eliminate the priestless parish altogether.
"Nevertheless, the devastation continues. It is the youngest and best educated priests who are leaving; the average age of priests is 60. The laity is disenchanted; giving has gone down drastically. No institution can handle this kind of deterioration and not make massive changes. Some cardinals and many bishops have told us privately that they agree but they refuse to say so publicly. They are waiting this Pope out and hoping things will open up in the next pontificate."
Raymond J. Boland, Bishop of New Orleans, Louisiana, says: "The Catholic Church has never been run by polls."
Ken Untener, Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, believes that the hierarchy's refusal to discuss issues such as married priests or women clergy may be a sign of dysfunction: "I would like to agree with some of the results of this poll and I would like to think that it expresses the feelings of the people. While there are many things in this response I would agree with, and interpret as
positive, I do not like to see politics run by polls.
"Bishops are not swayed by polls. Bishops are swayed by reflective people and by insight. If the opinions in this poll are accurate and if they come from reflective people then we must listen carefully. They must be talked about openly and extensively. But that is exactly what we seem reluctant to do.
"These issues are as big as life but when the bishops get together we pretend not to see the problems. This is analogous to a family which refuses to discuss the fact that Dad is an alcoholic. This is the mark of a dysfunctional family. We have seen discussion occurring at the lay level but not within the hierarchy. In this regard the poll is positive because it may stimulate some such discussion.
"When this issue is finally resolved it will be by the College of Bishops. Ultimately, it is the faith of the people which will prevail. Sometimes, however, this takes an awfully long time."
A lady questioned by Gallup volunteered the following comment: "I did not like this poll. Frequently, the questions were worded in such a way that no answer was appropriate. Most serious was that my responses were at times influenced by the poll-taker, which made me feel narrow-minded and biased."