Recent events among so-called “Progressive” Catholics, gleefully talking about the “devolution” of Church authority in our time, especially since Francis, has reminded me several times of something I was told by an Oblate priest while I was making a personal retreat in the late 1980’s. It was at the Oblate Fathers Retreat Center in Hudson, New Hampshire (pictured above).
I was sitting at table with two priests and, I think, an older woman having lunch. Because I was only in my thirties at the time both priests seemed older to me, but not terribly old, though one as I recall looked oldest of the two.
Anyway, one priest was given to talking more than the other and he went on and on about how the Church was way behind the times. He obviously wasn’t crazy about John Paul II, which startled me though I was careful not to let it show. Instead I asked him to explain what he meant by “behind the times”.
He began speaking about the priesthood and how it was inevitable that it would soon be changing. He said that while nuns were way ahead of the priests throughout the world, “soon” priests would follow.
I pretended to be non-plussed by his remarks (and, judging from the smirks, and occasional subtle rolling of the eyes at me, the other older priest, wasn’t pleased to hear all this either).
This talkative priest told me that he was convinced clerics would strip themselves of their collars soon enough and look like everyone else, and probably take only short term vows and then return to ordinary Catholic life.
He said “Masses” throughout the world would be held in ordinary “small base Christian communities” outside, among friends, or in ordinary homes, “like in the early church”.
He wasn’t impressed when I asked him, “didn’t that situation only last during periods of persecution?” He insisted otherwise (and I subsequently found out he was dead wrong on that one).
He said the world had changed and the Church couldn’t sustain these old massive structures (churches, seminaries, and schools, etc) anymore, and that the Church was changing “with” the times, so we’d better get used to it.
The other priest was quiet but wasn’t buying it.
In any event, that lunch I suspect was a microcosm of the debate going on today, though one must observe it possibly going on more than hear it, since it’s not discussed much in the open. But there are hints I fear in all this talk about devolution.
Cardinal Ratzinger might have agreed with some of that during those heady days at Vatican II, but after 1968 he reversed his thinking it seems, and began a slow but steady walk nearer the other priest I was lunching with. By the time he became Pope Benedict XVI, Progressives almost universally found him utterly distasteful.
Then came Francis…and the future? Quo Vadis?
N.B. That Oblate Retreat Center (once a seminary I believe) is now closed, no more priests are there. Like countless churches and church facilities here in Massachusetts the Faith appears to be gone, all but in ruins, a grim shadow of what it was when I was young.
—- Update. June 2022. “Synodality” and Church closings.