Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Priest Shortage

The one area that is really feeling the “Catholic Priest Shortage” is the United States Armed Forces. It doesn’t help that Catholic “Progressives” often dislike the military and either discourage priests from considering serving as Army (or Air Force, or Navy, or Marine) Chaplains or have nothing but contempt for them. It’s a sad but true statement of their real priorities so present on the website of the National “Catholic” Reporter. But I digress.

The United States Army has requirements or MTOE (modified table of organization and equipment) for 200+ Catholics priests to serve as Army Catholic Chaplains. During WWII and Korea the Catholic Chaplain was an indelible part of life. One of the greatest scenes in the WWII classic “The Longest Day” is an Army Catholic Priest walking the streets during the Battle for Carentan administering Last Rites. Today, there are only 80 Catholic Priests in the United States Army. That obviously creates a situation where the shortage is especially present and its impacts felt. The priest shortage is not nearly as severe in parishes in the United States where demand for access to the Sacraments has fallen precipitously since the early 1960s (I don’t assign the problem to Vatican II, though some of its “Fruits” perhaps caused problems). If you want to go to Mass, you don’t have an issue. My mom recently discovered where you can find Mass times for the entire United States. In the military, with a finite number of priests, but enormous demands, there will be a shortage.

The unit that replaced the 172nd SBCT up in Mosul in August of 2006 did not have a Catholic Priest. That meant that Catholic Soldiers would maybe have access to the Sacraments once a month at best. I’ve been fortunate that both brigades I’ve been a part of had assigned Catholic Chaplains with the Brigade Support Battalion (BSB). Fr. Greschel was an outstanding and committed Catholic priest from Chicago with a great sense of humor and of duty. Since the Brigade was based on a Super FOB (first Courage/Marez and then Victory) there was no problem offering the Mass for as many soldiers as desired it. This deployment our BSB has a great Polish missionary priest (who first was a missionary to the native population of Alaska). It’s an experience going to the Sacrament of Penance in three languages: English for the confession, Latin for the Act of Contrition, and Polish for the absolution. That’s the universality of the Church. Anyway, now that we are on deployed COPs, our priest has to travel to offer the Mass for soldiers who do not have access to it on FOB Warhorse. The end result is that at least every other week, if not a couple weeks in a row, we do not have access to Sunday Mass. Today was no exception. I went to Mass, expecting mass, but Fr. Maciej had not returned from one of the outlying FOBs/COPs to offer Mass. We had to have a Sunday Service in the Absence of a Priest (SSAP) instead, which is still a great opportunity to gather and pray, but without the benefit of the Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass.

On a somewhat related note, the Mass and the whole story of the Christian Faith is summed up in the Pulpit of the Cross. This synopsis by the late great Archbishop Fulton Sheen is such an important discussion of the Heart of the Christian Faith and Salvation History. Please take the time to read it.

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