A recent letter to Online Catholics by Fr Eric Hodgens (see also March AD2000) has been disturbing me for the last few weeks. Some points he makes I agree with, some I would question, others constitute downright dissent from authentic and authoritative Catholic teaching and I think Fr Hodgens should withdraw those statements and apologise for them.
But there is a deeper level of disturbance in me which only this weekend (at the time of writing) was resolved by the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent.
I had been asking myself "How does a Catholic priest get to the point where he is able to so angrily and so, let us hope, sincerely, utter such dissenting views publicly? What has to happen within a priest before he can come to such an extreme?
I believe for a priest, or even a bishop, to get to such a point he has to forget something.
Fr Hodgens, claiming to speak on behalf of other priests, says the leadership of the Church (the Pope and his bishops) is "out of tune with the attitudes, hopes and desires of the priests and lay people whom they serve." Later in the article he says "É they [and presumably he] would resign from the priesthood except for their loyalty to their parishioners whom they love, and their parish which they wish to serve".
Fr Hodgens professes loyalty to his parishioners and expects the leadership of the Church to profess loyalty to the priests. I believe it is precisely here that Fr Hodgens makes his fatal error. He has turned loyalty on its head and at the same time the hierarchical structure of his own commission to serve.
In the aforementioned Gospel, (Jn 4:34), Jesus said: "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me ...". He did not say "My food is to do the will of the ones to whom I have been sent ...".
Fr Hodgens seems to have forgotten these words of the Master. He, like many others, has transferred his loyalty from those who sent him to those to whom he has been sent. No wonder he sounds frustrated and angry. He has set himself a pastoral charge he has no hope of realising.
Christ was sent to do the will of the Father, the Church is sent to do the will of Christ, and Fr Hodgens is sent (like all priests) to do the will of the Church.
Everywhere one looks one sees the same inversion which finds perhaps its ugliest expression in the constant call to laity and priests to "shape the Church of the future" whereas, in actuality, we should be allowing ourselves to be shaped by the Church of the present.
FR JOHN SPEEKMAN