The August 26-Sep 8, 2016 issue of the National Catholic Reporter carried an editor’s note by Dennis Coday about Fr. John Madden, a priest of the Syracuse, N.Y. diocese for nearly six decades, who died Aug 10 at the age of 84. His obituary describes a man faithful to his calling, and to his conscience. His nephew, Richard Hunt, is determined to carry out his last request: that his “mission manifesto” first delivered at his retirement party, be shared with others. With his permission, Fr. John’s dissent regarding Church teaching on several key issues is reproduced here.Richard Hunt has also started an online petition requesting that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops begin discussions of the Ordination of Women and of the end of Mandatory Celibacy. Richard Hunt can be reached at R42hunt@gmail.com.
Mahalo, Richard. Mahalo, Fr. John.
May 24, 2009
Dear Parishioners, Family and Friends,
I would not want to leave this day without a most sincere and well considered expression of what is in my priestly heart. It is about my concerns and hopes for the Faith Community of the Roman Catholic Church which I have had the privilege and joy to serve for 50 years. But we all know nothing is perfect. I am quite aware (and I assume that all of you are too) that I am not perfect. Vatican II reminded us that our Church is a pilgrim and even sinful Church, which will always fall short.
In light of this, I have planned that this day of celebration and joyous reunion for many of us, would not pass without using the opportunity for a “Teachable Moment.” While we have reflected upon the growth, renewal and development in the Church, it seems to me that several issues and policies must be acknowledged and confronted.
Over the years we have benefited from many changes as we have appreciated Liturgical Reform, strong Religious Education, clear attention to Social Justice and enabling the laity their rightful role in ministries. But on this occasion, I feel I must call attention to some of the more troublesome issues which have been ignored or denied, in particular; celibacy of the priesthood, ordination of women, contraception and divorce. My views on some of these matters will come as no surprise to many of you. So now, as we leave this occasion, I will ask all of you to share the concerns of a troubled heart.
The future of the Church appears in many ways, to be in crisis, and I feel saddened to enter the final stage of ministry with such a bleak outlook. Unfortunately, much of the impending tragedy is of our own making. At the heart of this tragedy is the shortage of ordained priests, which leads directly to the issue of celibacy. A discipline of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church instituted a mere 1000 years ago. My views on this issue have been clearly stated to most of you. I feel strongly that the requirement of celibacy should be abolished for the diocesan priesthood — or perhaps observed as optional celibacy. Fifty years ago I embraced this discipline, but I must confess that I have often felt resentment for celibacy being a sine qua non of the priestly office. I have also pondered what this has done to my own psycho-sexual development throughout adulthood. If I seem to express anger, it is mostly against myself.
When some years ago, as a member of the Priest Senate, I brought forth the issue of celibacy, I faced a fire storm of criticism and slipped meekly “back in line.” Now, I wish to do what I can to be part of a grassroots effort to abolish this outdated discipline which is hurting our church.
The Ordination of Women
Another aspect of the priest shortage is the unjust denial of women to be ordained to Holy Orders. I don’t know why we are waiting to undo unfair treatment, which has disenfranchised those wishing to dedicate their lives and talents to priestly ministry. I would rather not join the revolutionary efforts for ordaining women, since it only adds consternation of the Faithful and breeds distracting controversy.
However, I now believe I have no choice since a movement is in progress. A long struggle may await us until this clear and self-destructive injustice is ended. Meanwhile a grass roots movement among all Catholics in favor of ordination of women seems to me to be the voice of the future.
Contraception, Divorce, Family Life
The inability of the Church to cope with some realities today is also obvious in our lamentable service to marriage and family life– a statement I make despite having been a Family Life Director for 15 years! Our failure to promote the Teachings of II Vatican Council concerning responsible parenthood and the mutual expressions of love in marriage and family life seem abysmal. During the past forty years the Sensus Fidelium (The Sense of the Faithful) has clearly and thankfully dealt with the ban on contraception, noting that 96% of practicing Catholics have come to Family Planning with little help from the Church, something is very wrong.
My final issue is the failure to face reality in our Tribunals granting Annulments. To say that our Church does not sanction divorce is disingenuous, to say the least. Reviewing Church history, it is clear to me that if you jump through the right hoops, you are free to remarry. I do appreciate that the annulment process can be helpful and wholesome for some young people whose marriages have failed quickly. However, to ban conscientious, faithful Catholics from the Sacraments unless they submit to the Church re-visiting their failed marriages is not, in any way, good pastoral care. I suppose we have done our best to prepare folks for marriage and family life — but apparently it isn’t good enough. We have to do better to guide and support couples. More Pastoral Ministers, who know what they are doing because they have shared the joy and challenges of marriage would be a blessing!
If you are still with me, you may be wondering why I have remained a priest for 50 years. I am convinced we are truly a pilgrim people and Jesus Christ never told us it would be quick and easy. Rethinking the issues of celibacy, female ordination, contraception and divorce will require much hard work and a lot of good will. May we all do what we can – at the grassroots level “to change the things we can.”
Thank you for being a part of my journey, which isn’t over yet. Bless you always.