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Posted May 26, 2005

Priests Must Take Kindness Seriously

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"Theological differences, different loyalties, homosexuality, heterosexuality, youth, age, born in the United States, born outside the United States....This diversity has given rise to great divisions among priests. This is not true of all presbyterates. But it is true of many. It certainly is true of the national presbyterate."

This disturbing observation by Father Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils, and my own experiences make me wonder what has happened to our priesthood's family spirit?

At home when I was growing up and in the early days of my priesthood, the dinner table was a place where we freely discussed our feelings and differences. There were times these discussions became heated, but they never stopped -- nor did the open atmosphere in which they took place. More important, our friendships deepened, and we became closer.

I fear that the priesthood could be losing this closeness. There are a number of reasons why.

For one thing, the priesthood shortage has priests working double time. There is little leisure time for dialogue among priests. When a priest is running between two or more parishes and is living alone, there is no dinner table, nor are there priestly companions with whom to dialogue.

It is no exaggeration to say that the priesthood has entered a new era of isolation in which spending time with brother priests has become increasingly difficult.

Isolation comes in many forms. The isolation I fear most in the priesthood is caused by unkindness.

Kindness is the ability to be well disposed toward life and toward others. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described it as the "golden chain by which society is bound."

Kindness allows life to begin anew; it is a reminder of God's love.

Many recent circumstances and events surrounding the priesthood have left a sour taste in priests' mouths. The scandals, and now a case of diocesan bankruptcy due to them, have cast a pall for many priests. When this happens there is the natural tendency to blame someone. All of which, in turn, has left many priests less well disposed toward bishops.

Then there are the priests who feel that other priests of a Vatican-Council-II bent have ruined the church. And there are Vatican-II priests who find significant fault in those among our new priests who have a distaste for much that the council did.

Add to this the open realization that the priesthood contains both heterosexual and homosexual men who often don't want anything to do with each other, and you have an atmosphere that lends itself to unkindness.

Priests may object to the image of an unkind priesthood. But older and younger priests don't seem to be mingling the way they once did and negative innuendos bespeak divisions between priests, bishops and Rome. This is cause for concern.

Are too many priests going their own way? Just how damaging are these divisions?

Early on, the sociologist Father Andrew Greeley discovered through his research that the laity desire a kind priest over a good administrator, homilist, teacher, etc. The time has come for the priesthood to think about the importance of kindness and to remember the old saying, "Kindness begins at home."