success stories

Posted February 4, 2003

The Priest as a Man of Communion

Father Stephen Rossetti
Origins Oct. 3, 2002 Vol 32: No. 17

The question I have posed is not what is wrong with the priesthood, but what is right with it. Father Stephen Rossetti said in an address in Boston Sept. 18 to the convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

. . . He said in the midst of the child sexual abuse crisis . . . a basic assumption about priesthood quickly emerged namely, that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. But, said Rossetti, there are many things right with the priesthood, with our seminaries and with vocational discernment and formation today. This must be the backdrop to any discussion of the issues; otherwise we are giving a skewed and false impression.

He asked, if this is true and the priesthood and our seminaries are essential strong, then what is the fundamental challenge that lies ahead for our priests and for you who are responsible for their formation?

The challenge that has struck him most forcibly over the past few months has been the intense negative polarization of the church in the United States today.

At a time of crisis, a community is called to work together to face the problems . . . We have done just the opposite and embarked upon much name-calling and finger-pointing, including looking for scapegoats to blame.

The reality of child sexual abuse is much too complex, ubiquitous and difficult a problem to place the blame at the feet of any one group of people.

Rossetti said that among qualities to foster in future priesthood candidates is an awareness that a priest is to be a man of communion. Priests who are not able to include one group or another and subtly reject them quickly splinter parishes.

Rossetti outlined four qualities of the reconciled heart needed by the priest who is a man of communion: a solid sense of self-identification and a secure self-image; an integration of one's emotions and sexuality; the ability to see the complexities and nuances in life; and a mature faith.

Among other matters, Rossetti discussed the issue of homosexuality in the seminaries and priesthood as well as a type of rigidity in some priesthood candidates, found in both liberals and conservatives, that is seen when a mature faith has not yet been achieved.

Excerpts from text:

"In the 1960s through the 80s, there were some excesses and moments of laxity in our seminaries and in the priesthood. I personally witnessed some of thes and it was painful . . . But it must be noted that it is difficult to place the current crisis at the feet of a periodic laxity of the church and seminaries of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Child sexual abuse is long-standing and has been with us for centuries; it is not a product of the 60s. Sadly, it is as impossible to eradicate completely as alcoholism or adultery. And some of the abusers have been our most stridently orthodox of priests. Doctrinal orthodoxy is not a firewall against child sexual abuse."

"It is not that we should all think alike, cannot challenge each other or that we should agree with everything that others say. No, there should be a healthy tension within our communion . . . But it should be a communion of dialogue. There should be a charity of brothers and sisters that marks our exchanges. As this crisis slowly wanes and it will wane, the underlying anger, distrust and animosity which have surfaced during this crisis may not. It will likely surface again and again in different venues, with different masks, but it will continue to spread its destructive poison."

"Indeed, could we not have a priest who loves the sacraments and has a high theology of priesthood, dresses in clerical garb and is faithful to the breviary and at the same time is pastorally kind and sensitive, one who empowers the laity and is among them as a servant? Are these two models mutually exclusive?