Once again Garry Wills demonstrates why his book should have its title shuffled and be called “Why Am I Catholic?” [http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/24/books/review/24WILLST.html?ex=1039115718&ei]He has a new op-ed in the New York Times[/url] that cites a sociological study of the declining numbers of priests and concludes therefore that married and women priests are inevitable. Yeah, I’m trying to figure it out, too.
Even Cardinal Roger “Rog Mahal” Mahony of Los Angeles got it right back in 1990 when he dismissed the report by saying that “our future is shaped by God’s design for His Church—not by sociologists.” Wills responds by showing how the number of priests declined in Los Angeles even faster than the study had predicted. Look Garry, the cardinal wasn’t denying the decline, but he was saying that as God wills it, so shall we go. If we get down to one parish priest for every 10,000 Catholics then so be it. Going to Mass won’t be as convenient—you may have to drive further and pack them in tighter, but then that’s what a lot of Catholics have had to endure for a long time. You didn’t see the Church changing her doctrines then.
The study uses models of how secular institutions respond to crisis to predict how the Church will respond to “a world environment that has altered many of the assumptions on which the celibate priesthood was based.” Again, it’s a profoundly non-spiritual outlook that puts faith in the works of our hands and minds rather than the mercy and will of God.The crux of the study, which Wills wholeheartedly endorses, is the end of normative celibacy and the ordination of women within three or four generations. Safe bet since they won’t be around to see if they’re wrong.
The thing that Garry and the sociologists don’t take into account is the Lord’s promise. If the Church can speak definitively about her doctrine—as she did when the Pope declared the doctrine of the male priesthood—and be wrong, then the survival of the whole institution is in question. For, if error can exist in the fundamentals, then the gates of hell can prevail and the promises of God are dust. In such a world, it wouldn’t matter how many priests we have because the sacrifices of their altars would be play-acting and foolishness.
Thank God, that isn’t possible. Yes, we may soon have too few priests for our liking—we’re probably there now—but it’s not the end of the world, or the Church.