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Priests are not passé, so we’d better care

These pages regularly herald the good priests and their increasingly heroic efforts. The priest who has given his life to the poor in Appalachia; the priest fighting for prison reform; the priests whose parishes are an oasis and inspiration not only in the Catholic world but also the wider culture; the priests who have given the church the wealth of their thinking; those who turned their rectories and ministries over to the world’s refugees.

We will continue to seek out and celebrate such models of Catholic life and ministry. At the same time, we cannot ignore the problems of the Catholic priesthood that, like a low-grade infection threatening to spread its poison ever deeper, continue to fester beneath the surface of the Catholic culture.

Such issues as AIDS in the priesthood, the continuing disheartening drumbeat of scandal and abuse of power, and the growing phenomenon of gay culture in our seminaries and, consequently, the priesthood - these must be part of the Catholic conversation.

That’s why Managing Editor Tom Roberts has devoted considerable space to a new book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, by Fr. Donald Cozzens, rector of St. Mary Seminary in the Cleveland diocese. Richard Sipe, well-known researcher and author, who knows better than most the stories behind the stories of the American priesthood, takes an analytical look at the reaction to recent news accounts of AIDS among priests. Long-time church observer Eugene Kennedy has written an essay that helps place recent clergy tribulations in perspective, with special emphasis on the quiet heroism of so many good priests and what’s necessary to sustain them at this difficult time.

Some will say the solution is married clergy or ordaining women. And there may be wisdom in those positions. Others will say it is not the world’s business. But the credibility of the church as an arbiter of morality and embodiment of mystery in the larger culture, not to mention the very survival of the Catholic church as a eucharistic community is at stake. The ills of the priesthood will not go away by themselves. We hope the special report, supplemented by an editorial, will advance the kind of disclosure and discussion that are necessary first steps back to health.

In the Feb. 11 issue I wrote a perspective on the sad state of Sudan and especially the fact that it has been forgotten and neglected by the world.

An e-mail soon came in to remind us that information about Sudan and the persecution of Catholics there could be found on the homepage of Bishop Macram Gassis at www.petersvoice.com/bishop.htm.

Also, Sudan Relief and Rescue may be visited at www.petersvoice.com/sudan.htm.

In a world of many wounds and woes, few palaces are in more need of help and attention than the Christian half of Sudan.

A documentary on the life and ministry of Bishop Gassis, “The Hidden Gift: Faith and War in Sudan,” recently premiered in Los Angeles, at the Museum of Tolerance, and in New York at Fordham Law School.

Also on this page, in the Feb. 18 issue, we carried the story of heroic Takashi Nagai and the nuclear devastation in the wake of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

“Sadly it is not the last atomic wilderness in the world,” writes Fr. Bob Bowers from Milton, Mass. Bowers is president of the Chernobyl Children Project USA, Inc., which he describes as a 501-c3 private, nonprofit group.

“We assist a pretty-much forgotten people,” he writes, people who live daily with the consequences of ill-advised and ill-managed technology that resulted in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He goes on: “Having stood many times in the contaminated radioactive lands of Belarus and southern Russia, having met hundreds of victims of that time, having prayed with, cried with and hoped for these people, I can fully appreciate the driving force for peace and for justice so needed today.”

Established in 1995, directed and staffed by volunteers from the greater Boston area who seek to help the people of Chernobyl with aid, medical assistance, education and caring, the Chernobyl Children Project has a Web site at www.occpusa.org

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, March 31, 2000