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Consequences of A Crisis Of Leadership

News, via the Roman Catholic website Lux Occulta, from the ongoing collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in once-solid Ireland: A mere 12 seminarians are entering St. Patrick’s this year, compared with 22 in 2011, 16 in 2010 and 36 in 2009.  A generous estimate would include about half of them continuing their studies to […]

News, via the Roman Catholic website Lux Occulta, from the ongoing collapse of the Roman Catholic Church in once-solid Ireland:

A mere 12 seminarians are entering St. Patrick’s this year, compared with 22 in 2011, 16 in 2010 and 36 in 2009.  A generous estimate would include about half of them continuing their studies to ordination in 2019. A mere six priests for all of Ireland in 2019! Such numbers are spectacularly inadequate to sustain Ireland’s ecclesiastical infrastructure.

The Irish bishops’ much-celebrated Year for Vocations in 2008-2009 was a failure. Numbers entering Maynooth increased by only 20% in 2009 from the previous year, a relatively insignificant jump when you consider both the low base from which it proceeded and the vast resources that were poured into the campaign. This could be partly attributed to the fallout from the Ryan Report released that year; likewise, the even lower numbers for this year and 2011 might have been affected by the impact of the Cloyne Report and the Cardinal Brady scandal. But the collapse of vocations continues an ongoing trend from long before the sex scandals emerged in the 1990s. By the late 1980s vocations had collapsed to such an extent that Cardinal O’Fiaich provoked surprise when he predicted that Ireland would soon have to import priests from Africa. Even a writer as hostile to the Church as Malachi O’Doherty observes in Empty Pulpits that the dearth of vocations can’t be attributed wholesale to the sex scandals: “Even before that shock hit, there were few left in their right minds who would want to take holy orders.”


One reason for the failure of the Year of Vocations lay in the insipid marketing mentality which has come to dominate the Irish episcopal conference and its attendant bureaucracy. In common with the consumerist mentality of western society, the Irish bishops thought you could solve a problem just by throwing money at it and hiring some advertising consultants. Another reason lay in the campaign’s secular and naturalist presentation of the priesthood. The priest’s role of ‘service’ and ‘listening’ was heavily emphasized, but in such a way that priesthood was portrayed as just another career, entirely devoid of a supernatural character.

In 1963, the Church in Ireland ordained 558 priests. It’s been downhill ever since — and, as Lux Occulta observes, you can’t blame that on the sex abuse revelations alone. Lux Occulta faults the Irish bishops for a failure of leadership.

Not knowing anything about the Irish church, I can’t judge the accuracy of this observation, but it sounds right to me. I was thinking about this last night with regard to the travails of my own church, the Orthodox Church in America, whose episcopal class is undergoing a slow-motion meltdown. Two months ago, the OCA’s Synod of Bishops forced the resignation of the primate, Metropolitan Jonah, allegedly on the grounds that he mishandled a sexual misconduct allegation. That Jonah did so may or may not be true — it’s impossible to say for sure at this point — but there is no doubt at all that Jonah has had enemies in high places in the OCA from the very beginning, and that they have been gunning for him.

This morning the new OCA archbishop of Chicago, Matthias, announced that he has taken a leave of absence. Why? From his public statement:

 It is with regret that I inform you that a formal complaint was made against me last Friday, August 24, 2012.  The allegations are that I made unwelcome written and spoken comments to a woman that she regarded as an inappropriate crossing of personal boundaries and an abuse of my pastoral authority.  I deny these allegations and I plan to respond in due course.

I am reliably informed by sources close to the investigation that the accuser has written proof of the archbishop’s alleged sexual overtures to her. If this is true, then I hope she will make them public. The OCA cannot be trusted to investigate its own bishops.

Last night, I spoke to a fellow Orthodox Christian, who is angry and disgusted with the episcopal leadership of the Church. N. pointed out how the first primate the OCA had was sexually compromised. The second one resigned in disgrace over financial corruption. The Synod ran roughshod over Jonah and pushed him out without fully disclosing why. The OCA bishop in Canada, Seraphim Storheim, is charged with sex crimes. Now Archbishop Matthias is stepping down. Other leading OCA bishops — including, but not limited to, Benjamin of the West, and Nathaniel of Detroit — have about them the smell of corruption and cover-up. There is informed speculation that there is yet more to come. Meanwhile, the OCA is in the spectacularly embarrassing position of being leaderless, yet having three ex-primates still alive.

My interlocutor, who is much better informed about these things than I am, lamented that there are all kinds of good things going on at the parish level of the OCA, but the growing distrust in and disgust with the bishops is sapping the vitality of the grassroots.

I can see that. Here in my town, there are several of us Orthodox families who are looking to start a mission parish. It’s not out of protest of the OCA mess, but rather that we all have to commute a long way to our parish in Baton Rouge — a wonderful parish, by the way, pastored by a good and solid priest — and we can’t participate fully in the normal Orthodox liturgical and communal prayer life, given the distance. Our group has permission from ROCOR, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to start a mission here, and we are talking to a particular priest about coming to serve us. Though we are absolutely not starting a mission over the OCA meltdown, we absolutely are not considering the possibility of an OCA mission because given the behavior of the Synod, none of us have confidence in the stability of the OCA, or the integrity of its bishops, which is to say, its leadership class.

I very much doubt that many men considering the priesthood do so because bishops inspire him (there are exceptions; I know men who did so because they were inspired by the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, and Metropolitan Jonah). But I think it quite plausible that many men would not consider the priesthood because of bishops. That is, fear of corruption (especially sexual) at the top, of instability, of not being able to trust one’s leaders, of putting one’s livelihood (and, if you have a family, one’s family’s welfare) in the hands of a despot who cares first and foremost about his own good and the good of his class.

If the call to the ordained ministry really is from God, then it cannot, or at least should not, be resisted, no matter what. But in both the Catholic and the Orthodox churches — and in every church — the senior leadership of the church should not be an obstacle to men hearing the call and responding to it.

What I saw in the Catholic Church, and I see in the OCA, is a situation in which the church is under fire from a fierce culture whose values are inimical to those of Christianity, and whose front-line troops are at best disregarded, and at worst used as cannon fodder, by an insular class of self-aggrandizing generals who understand neither the war nor the cause.

I suppose this has always been the case. Still, it’s enervating, in part because it is so hard to explain. In the Catholic case, at least the stakes, on a worldly level, are pretty big. But in the OCA? It’s tiny and poor. These guys act like they’re princes of Byzantium. And they’re causing what little they have to unravel, and unravel quickly.

Get it all out, I say. Clean out the Augean stables. This has to stop.