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Posted March 28, 2003

Reclaiming Priestly Identity
at a Time of Complexity and Urgency

Origins March 20, 2003: Vol. 32: No. 40


Our continuing formation as priests is more than continuing education. In fact, it calls us to a whole new culture of formation a culture that cultivates the pastoral, the spiritual and the human as well as the intellect . . . We must be open to learning: not necessarily learning how to minister more, but how to minister better, smarter.

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an address Feb. 24 in Houston, Texas, to the convention of the National Organization for Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy. Skylstad presented reflections on priesthood at the present moment against a background of recent crises in the church and in the world.

We have reached a new moment. That new moment is a time for the renewal of the church's pastoral leadership. A time of urgency which calls us to bring the healing touch of Jesus to the heart of the church.

We must examine the clerical culture, the episcopal culture. Our church culture must be scrutinized and evaluated fearlessly as we strive to be in touch with the power of the Holy Spirit.

In these times priests need to have a renewed sense of who they are as priests. We have all seen the negative publicity focused on us as priests and bishops. To stand against the negative, to continue to minister as Jesus has called us to minister, we must know who we really are not the irresponsible monsters some paint us to be. But that self-knowledge, even self-assurance, cannot include the negative behaviors of the past: control, narcissism, superficiality.

He also stressed the need for fraternity among priests. Our roles as priests in the church are very dependent upon how we relate to one another in friendship, fraternity and acceptance. Our relationship with our bishops and our brother priests should not be weakened by ideology, personal opinion or our own differing personalities.

Excerpts from Text:

"This moment is our opportunity. This moment is a grace, a time to be honest, a chance to restore credibility and trust, to be accountable. This is our moment to ask what the Lord is saying to us, and this is our moment to respond."

"Many of us are already up to our eyebrows with demands of time for functions and relationships. We are not talking about doing more. Rather, we are talking about doing what we already do, but doing it better. We are talking about letting people know that we want to be good shepherds, that we want to be holy, humble servants."

"If we are not careful, the challenges of our priesthood will lead us to forget who we are, to lose our bearings. On the other hand, we can maintain our grounding by keeping balance, a good perspective, cultivating a sense of appreciation and living healthy relationships."

"Painful experience has taught us that when a priest is not connected to other priests, or to the bishop, or to his diocese or religious order, he is most prone to get into serious difficulties, to break boundaries, to suffer emotional problems or perhaps even to leave active ministry."

"The present crises we face as church in the United States calls for a new moment of pastoral leadership. We must reclaim our priestly mission. To do so, we reclaim our priestly identity. We must be forthright and honest about the personal stages and challenges we face and take measures to meet those challenges. And we must develop a truer sense of priestly fraternity and unity within our presbyterates."