St Peters Basilica, Rome
Image courtesy of Simon Howden/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One very interesting part of our conversation concerned the future of the Roman Catholic church. He described the huge geographical area for which he is now the only full time working priest. There are other retired priests who help cover the masses on Saturdays and Sundays but many of them are very elderly. There has only been one ordination of a new priest in his diocese in the last twelve years.
He said that it is interesting to see the resilience that is emerging in the parishes that are, for the most part, being left on their own to get on with it. Some of them are coping and coping very well. Others who have been heavily priest dependent are coping less well and are floundering like a headless chicken. The lay people all know of the crisis they are in and my priest friend knows that if asked what should be done they would suggest two solutions. They would suggest that the church should allow priests to marry and should ordain women.
Do you have a problem with that I asked? He replied that with his dioceses finance hat on he wonders where on earth they will get the money from to pay enough to support the wives and families of priests! That was not the answer I was expecting.
The pressure is building - in all sorts of places and all sorts of different ways. The Roman Catholic church does not do gradual change - it changes by sudden revolutions and he believes that there is a revolution coming. It is now fifty years since Vatican II.
And what do you think will be the tipping point I asked? It will come after Benedict he said. Benedict is not a administrator he added, he has done nothing to reform or change any of the curia (The Vatican civil service with its built in conservatism). He finished by saying that the log jam will burst suddenly with a new broom coming in that will sweep much that is now taken for granted and then who knows.