Simplicity of clerical life

Simplicity of clerical life

In the thread below on the priest who was arrested after making a drunken proposition to a woman and her 12-year-old daughter in a restaurant, the discussion has taken an interesting turn toward priests wearing their collar in public and excessive engagement in worldy pleasures, like drinking too much. It reminds me of the landmark article we published in Catholic World Report way back in November 2000, called “The Gay Priest Problem.” It was written by Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, a Marine Corps chaplain, and while on the face it’s about homosexuality in the priesthood, many of its lessons also apply generally to the priesthood. In a section called “What bishops can do” he recommends:

Restore simplicity to priestly life. Physical comfort is the oxygen that feeds the fires of homosexual indulgence. Cut it off. When you enter a rectory, take a look at the liquor cabinet, the videos, the wardrobe, the slick magazines, and ask yourself, “Do I get the impression that the man who lives here is in the habit of saying no to himself?” If the answer is negative, the chances are that his life of chastity is in disorder as well. It goes without saying that reforming bishops should lead by example in this department and not simply exhort.

  • All that said above, I have one story I’d like to share.  I had a pastor who was also a chaplain in the Coast Guard and once he said that sometimes coming back from his assignments he’d go to church dressed as a civilian.  He said that it gave him insight into what it’s like at the back of the church instead of the front.  And he always encouraged people to stop sitting in the back (in a nice way) so I guess he thought it could be pretty cold and uninviting back there.  I think he may have actually said so.  But I personally never saw him out of his collar even in the rectory. 

  • I particularly remember a priest from my high school days.  Fr Luke.  Loud booming voice, massive forearms poking out of his robes.  All gung ho V2 at the time, get the Mass to the people, wake up, you sons of suburban bourgeosie strip mall shopkeepers,  passing out copies of “Are You Running With Me Jesus” by that cool Episcopal dude to any student with semi-average reading skills.  He’d pull his collar off in the middle of class, which everybody thought was really cool and daring.  The man was absolutely magnetic to the average pimply faced fifteen year old shmoe.  The spring time of Vatican II in full hothouse bloom.

    Yeh, well.  Ten years later he was a married ex-priest.  His order, the Salvatorians, had pretty much removed themselves from our part of the country.  And I’ll assume you know about Malcolm Boyd. 

  • Strange that this thread is speaking of priests removing their collar for different reasons at the same time Fr. Corapi is on EWTN talking about having to get up in the middle of the night and go to a crack house and and fetch a priest off the floor of it and take him to the hospital. He said if he had worn his garb he would never have gotten in the house.

    He scooped the priest off the floor and was carrying him out and someone stuck 45 in his face. He said that had happened to him years ago and he knew what he would do about it when he was young; but since he was now old…he did the same thing. LOL He told the guy if he didn’t get the gun out of his face that he would put it somewhere else. He made it to the hospital with the wayward priest.

    If Fr. had been wearing the collar he may not have been able to save the life of the priest who was evidentally not living out his vocation in a very holy way. Fr. Corapi may have even given this priest a chance to straighten up before he was taken away in death.

    Other than these kinds of instances, I do not think a priest should go without his collar. I have never seen my pastor without his and don’t expect too ever see him without it.

  • Another anecdote in Sissy’s crackhouse category, from a dinner I was having with a priest a few weeks ago.

    Apparently a mugger came up to the bishop from behind and pulled a gun on him. When the bishop turned around, the mugger saw his collar (apparently the bishop was dressing down) and said in a startled and crestfallen tone: “you’re a priest.” The bishop responded: “I am THE priest.” The mugger just walked away, as if he just couldn’t bring himself to rob a priest.

  • Fr Shaughnessy’s advice was probably regarded as puritannical by clerics and lay persons alike.

    Outside of the infrequently visited (or inhabited) confessional, for all the hugging and handshaking and goopy expressions of warm regard we exchange during Mass, the semi-official policy between pastors and congregants is don’t ask – don’t tell.

    Sometimes Jesus must wonder why He bothered.

  • What if I was on my day off, at my family’s home, having a beer and reading a book.  Do I need to wear my clerics?  How ‘bout when I go on a bike ride for a couple of hours during a nice afternoon?  Or if I am at the beach to swim and relax in the sun (I’m a Cape Coddah)?  Clerics don’t make a priest, the priest makes the clerics.  There have been bad priests who wear their clerics.

    I like the policy of the Diocese of Lincoln which says that priests must be in black clerics at all times except during recreation.

  • I don’t think the article insisted priests must wear their clerics at all times. I think the point is that, like the Lincoln policy, there are few occasions when it is better for a priest not to wear his clerics. For example, when a different “uniform” is required, when swimming, changing the oil in your car, exercising, that’s understandable.

    I think the key is that it is a general prescription, not specific. In general, there’s little good reason for a priest not to wear his clerics in public, except in very specific circumstances.

  • “I like the policy of the Diocese of Lincoln which says that priests must be in black clerics at all times except during recreation. “

    Depends on the meaning of ‘recreation’!

    You got your kinds of recreation (biking, swimming, sunning, changing the oil in your car [who actually does that anymore!]) but then there are other forms of recreation too – like dinner at Tommy Floramo’s in Chelsea. Not to get on this poor priest but you have to wonder would he have done what he did (leave it at getting black out drunk in public at this point) if he had his clericals on during this recreational activity?

    The other night I went to Adoration and the Stations at my local parish and I was startled to see the older retired priest in a sports shirt… first time I ever saw him dressed like that (he was in the pew, not at the altar). He’s in his 80s and is a very good priest. I guess for him ‘recreation’ is Adoration and doing the Stations of the Cross.

  • One excuse I’ve heard is related to travel on an airplane.  If a priest is wearing his collar, the stewardess will outdo herself to give him the best service possible…often at the expense of the service given to other passengers. 

    St. Peter Damian, Happy Feastday.

  • That is not true.  I have worn my clerics on a flight and I was treated like everybody else.  I was not up-graded to first class and they didn’t give me an extra bag of pretzels.  Furthermore, the stewardess still gave me the evil “go-to-hell” smile they are famous for.

  • 1)  When outside the rectory, CLERICALS at ALL times.

    2)  All parish priests live in the rectory, in community, no exceptions.

    3)  10:00 PM curfew, no exceptions.

    4)  When outside rectory, travel only in pairs.

    5)  Salary shall consist of $750.00/month.  All rectory expense, including food and automobiles, to be provided by the Parish.

    That’s simplicity.

  • Where does ninenot live that she/he can suggest that priests travel in pairs?  Around here it can take fifteen minutes just to get to the next solitary priest up the road.  How about a 3 a.m. call to the hospital?

    The point I was trying to make below with the Billy Graham post is to consider with clarity what will really cause trouble.  You can’t just say recreation – collars, yes or no.  You have to say – which things can get me into trouble and which can’t and then act accordingly.  Fixing my bike, no collar, no problem.  Eating out.  MUST wear collar even for McDonald’s.  Going to the choir party?  Tricky.  (‘Course it’s probably not exactly recreation, but I don’t think it demands a collar either.)  Movies?  Seems like a definite collar moment if it is at night.  I dunno.

  • 1) I ride my bike and swim outside of my rectory.

    2) There are not enough priests to live in community.  I’m a secular priest, not a religious.

    3) I get called at 2 AM sometimes to see the dying and I often arrive home from meetings at midnight.

    4) See #2 and I am not a Nun.

    5) Do you want to buy my car, clothes, books, vestments, vacations.  I’m a secular priest, not a religious.  I do not take the vow of poverty.

    Bonus: Instead of criticizing or making judgements about your parish priests (nobody is perfect), pray for him, support him, volunteer your time, treasure, and talent.  If the priest is so bad that you can’t support him (always pray for him), go to another parish

  • I understand both sides of the “clerics” debate.

    Some priests don’t need a physical reminder of who they are and what they do. I’d think a priest to be struggling greatly if he relied on attire to remind him of his station and the extra expectations placed upon him.

    But at the same time, clerics provide an awesome witness to the world, when a priest goes about his daily business elsewhere.

    However, most of the posts regarding clericals have nothing to do with a priest and his role as “witness.” The majority have to do with the clericals acting as some sort of protective armor for the priest. If he needs that sort of thing because he finds that it reminds him of who he is, that’s all fine and good. But many can do without it just the same.

    Imagine the role of the seminarian. I can’t wear clericals, yet by default of who I am in my home diocese, more is required of me (though not as much as any of the ordained). I carry that sense of responsibility within me, not from any piece of clothing.

  • Oh, and as to material goods:

    I’ve heard of situations where priests compensate for their chastity by finding pleasure in worldly things, thinking “I’m chaste and celibate. It wouldn’t be too much of an offense for me to buy that sports car.”

    They warn us against this kind of “compensation” early.

    Notice, however, that there is no correlation between worldly goods and offenses against chastity.

    No man I know is in this seminary for the money. The idea is absurdity at its finest; why would I leave the plush surroundings of Chicago to spend a couple years in the middle of Nowhere, Missouri in preparation for the priesthood at a very minor sum compared to what most people in the suburbs make, if all I was concerned with is making money?

    Simplicity of life isn’t always about how much “stuff” we surround ourselves with. It’s how we manage time and how we act as stewards of the gifts God grants us. Plenty of individuals with few material goods fail to live simply.

  • I like the policy of the Diocese of Lincoln which says that priests must be in black clerics at all times except during recreation.”  Uuh, Fr. I think that’s the problem.  We’re not exactly complaining about recreations like eating ice cream and flying kites.

  • Josh, wearing the collar identifies the priest and is a disincentive to getting into trouble.  Sort of like going around with your two-year old toddler….There are just some things that keeps you out of.  =) 

    I hate to tell you, Josh.  There’s big bucks in parish priesting.  One of the biggest problems the Church has in the USA is skimming the basket (and expensing out of parish accounts).  Most of the clerics who engage in this stuff aren’t caught either.  They have to steal some insane thing like a half million dollars in 5 years or something to get caught.  And then only because it becomes so obvious, secretaries start telling their relatives.

  • Personally, I love to see priests in their clericals (especially cassocks) out in public doing anything (ok, not riding your bike [the flying priest?] or swimming or even changing your oil) but it is a wonderful witness in a world where a lot of people feel stupid wearing a crucifix that shows. Same thing when I see nuns in their habits… reminds me and the kids that faith is not separate from how you present yourself to the world.

  • On the one hand, you have folks who are preoccupied with defining minimal compliance; on the other, you have folks who can’t do enough.

    On the one hand, you have Sissy’s pastor.  What a blessing to have access to a priest who spends much more than a half hour a week, before the Saturday afternoon Mass, in the confessional; who actually teaches CCD classes himself [when was the last time you witnessed THAT?]; who celebrates Mass in both rites, edifying the spirituality in ALL of his parishioners [gee, I wonder how many dozen EMHCs he uses].

    Then, no offense intended here, but nevertheless, you have folks who worry quite a bit about not being able to spend time at the beach, or who are concerned with parsing the meaning of “recreation”.

    Which are you more impressed with?  Which do you regard as more serious about his vocation as alter [not “altar”] Christus?  Which do you want as YOUR pastor? 

    One last thing:  no one is saying clothes MAKE the man.  That is the kind of argument a kid makes when he finds out he has to wear a dress shirt and tie to parochial school.

    But clothes do INFLUENCE the man—both the wearer and those around him.  Does anyone doubt that the drunkard priest would have acted the way he did had he been required to wear black and a collar?  Of COURSE he has problems that apparel cannot solve, as do we all—still, we ought not take the prideful step of disdaining every manifestation of actual grace God gives us, no matter how humble.

    Similarly, does anyone doubt that being in the presence of a priest dressed as a priest, instead of Joe Rockhead from down the block, influences their own behavior?  Is that a good thing, or is it something just too trivial, campy, and out of fashion to mention?

    God bless all priests, grant them conviction and resolve.


  • Hey Father Ethan, thank you! Especially for my son and for the many young boys I know in your neck of the woods. Think back to when you were a kid and how cool it was to see a young priest (not too many of you around) going about life in his clericals, what a witness. Especially today, these boys need to know that priests aren’t just born old.

  • Peter,

    Which are you more impressed with?  Which do you regard as more serious about his vocation as alter [not nt_author_IP>
    2005-02-22 16:07:02
    2005-02-22 20:07:02
    O.K., Peter Damien.  I don’t spend a lot of time catching rays or swimming or riding my bike.  I always take my day off late and I come back early.  You don’t know me.  I don’t know who you know, but most priest I know try to be an alter Christus (sorry I misspelled above) to the best of their ability.  I wear my clerics, I pray the office, the rosary, say Mass, and I work my a** off for the people of God.  What can I say?  Of course, I should just not exercise and get fat.  Or maybe I should give up my hobbies and recreation and be boring.  For Peter’s sake, read the life of Pope John Paul II and you will see a man who takes his recreation seriously.  He needs it, I need it, every bishop, priest, deacon, religious, and lay person needs it.  It is part of humanity.  Priests are human, and therefore, need daily recreation.

  • Maybe Christ played hackey-sack with the apostles on slow days, but there is no record of it.

    Perhaps, but I don’t recall reading that Christ was dressing any different than the people of his day. 

    Also the whole thing about “if he’s truly dedicated… not much time playing tennis”  infers that these activities have nothing to do with witnessing the Gospel.  I would strongly, strongly dispute that!! 

    We have a young priest that goes out and plays kickball almost daily with the middle school students.  Maybe he really enjoys kickball.  But I think what he’s trying to do is be a witness to the Gospel. 

  • Josh, au contraire.  A priest (up til Boston) couldn’t get *fired* even for raping a kid.  Many many have done whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and simply billed the firm.  If that’s not stealing, I don’t know what is.

    It was (and in some places, still is) the common practice that the priest could simply do anything whatever with the collection plate as long as he was attentive to the wishes of the bishop when it came time to pay the “parish tax.” 

    It would be tolerated in no business that I have ever heard of.  Even CEOs are accountable for spreadsheets.  Even CEOs turn in receipts for their expense accounts and tax returns.