Where Did the Vatican II Priests Go?

Jim Burroway

August 4th, 2016

Sr. Jeannine Gramick co-founded New Ways Ministry in 1977 with Fr. Robert Nugent. New Ways is “a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.” Both Gramick and Nugent ran into opposition from the Vatican during the church’s rightward turn during the 1980s and 1990s, and in 1999, both were “permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes.”

Fr. Nugent returned to parish-based ministry and retired in 2014. He passed away a year later. But Sr. Gramick refused to “collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right (so speak).” She switched orders to the Sisters of Loretto, where she continues her social justice and LGBT outreach work. Last June, she attended a meeting of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP), which was formed five years ago by a group of priests who came of age during and immediately following Vatican II. She went to find out what ever happened to the “priests of Vatican II”:

AUSCP priests cAt the end of June, I found out where many of them had been when I bumped into dozens and dozens of them in Chicago. Most of them were retired now or, as one said to me, “Not retired, just recycled.” They were still concerned about spreading the Gospel and fostering justice issues. …I felt right at home with these priests whose organization was founded to keep the vision of Vatican II alive. As Paul Leingang, the AUSCP communications director, put it, “We make Vatican II not a matter of nostalgia, but a matter of urgency.”

…As if to show that the AUSCP recognizes the value of dissent, the group presented an award to Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a church resister who has publicly supported same-sex marriage.

…The significance of community rang clear in a presentation by St. Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn, past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who spoke on Pope Francis’ second encyclical, “Laudato Si‘, On Care For Our Common Home.”

Zinn explained that our care for humankind, the earth, and all of creation centers around connection, not separation. Our care for our common home is based on community, not individualism. Whether the critique is about exploitation of our environment or various species; the abuse of people made poor by physical, sexual, or economic violence; global warming or consumerism; insufficient or unsafe water; hostility toward ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities; or the numerous other sins that cry out for justice — we need to grasp the fact that the cause of all these evils is the lack of genuine relationships. Laudato Si‘ calls us to get the message that the universe is connected; it is not isolated bits of matter. Only when we see our relatedness will we be motivated to care about all the beings in our common home.

Pope Francis has become something of a Rorschach test. People on the left see the things they want to see in him, as do people on the right, even as they also pine for the days of his two immediate predecessors when things seemed more clear cut. Just this week, liberals were pleased but cautious when Pope Francis created a new commission to study the possibilities of ordaining women as deacons, while conservatives celebrated his anti-transgender comments to bishops in Poland.

Meanwhile, and getting back to the story, it’s a great irony that, at least here in the U.S., the stereotypes of the past have been completely turned on their head. How many movies and sitcoms can you recall in which the older, authoritarian monsignor found himself in the exasperating position of having to deal with the hip, smart, younger priest who was fresh out of seminary and hell-bent on changing the world? That trope no longer holds in today’s church, as Sr. Gramick’s post illustrates. Today, it’s the older priests — those nearing retirement and those working past retirement — who are far more likely to embrace the kind of openness exemplified by the Second Vatican Council. They were those hip young priests in those story lines. (Sadly, and back to the real world, they were mostly sidelined when it came to promotions to diocesan offices and the hierarchy.) That’s not true for today’s crop who have joined the priesthood under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Today’s doctrinaire and authoritarian priests are far more likely to sport hipster beards than wire-rim spectacles.


August 4th, 2016

Don’t be too despondent. Those like Father Geoff Farrow still exist. It’s simply a waiting game.

The real problem for why many young priests don’t openly voice dissent is as Father Geoff outlines:

The church’s structure sets out a university degree path which is worthless outside church practice. A master’s or doctorate in divinity does nothing in a job hunt, and the time investment to that degree pretty much assures that the man in a seminary sink his early investing years into the church. It’s much harder to go back to school for new education in his 40-50’s not to mention accruing experience to fulfill his new vocation.

The other aspect is the pension. You lose all benefits, your housing, the Catholic Church puts you on the street with no means to financially keep yourself afloat with a worthless degree after so many years.

Most importantly, as Father Tony from South Florida Gay News points out, the church blackballed Father Geoff Farrow from obtaining jobs in religious centers that had any ties with the Catholic archdioceses. So he’s had to dedicate himself to officiating weddings through some private company.

The cost of dissenting in the church are severely steep for many to bear.

A final point Father Geoff made is that the Church imposes celibacy not out of virtue, but for financial and control issues. The church doesn’t have to pay for family relocation, so they can jerk a priest around any locale without familial attachments. Moreover, the church has nobody to compete with for the priests’s interests and efforts, as the priest has no spouse or children to look after. The priest is completely isolated and made dependant on the church for community and emotional support.


August 4th, 2016

I am glad there are some sane voices of leadership in the Catholic Church. But honestly though… its like watching Harry Potter fanatics debate the correct interpretation of the Deathly Hallows.

All of it is made-up 100%. None of it is true. There is no correct answer.

Shouldn’t it matter in the end whether or not all the ritual, chants, symbols, songs, self flagellation, self denial, tithings, and “histories” are anything more than humanity’s desperate attempt to convince itself of meaning through its own power of imagination.

The human race is held hostage by its own fantasies and it just needs to STOP.

STOP giving nonsense equal footing to science.
STOP giving ancient cosplayers the respect of scholars.
STOP pretending a business entity is in any way hallowed.

Solve the problem by acknowledging the complete, total, and unequivocal farce that is religion.

The Catholic Church fought logic (and the LGBT community) for centuries for their own political convenience, and thats a history lesson I intend to never forget. I don’t want middle ground with the sane members of their leadership, when the institution of religion is rotten to its fictional core.

Unlike their made-up deity, I don’t forgive their sins against mankind.

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