Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mission country?

The archdiocese of Chicago has just announced its ordination class for 2006--12 new priests for its 2.3 million Catholics. Setting aside the fact that probably twice that number are retiring and more will die in the coming year, it's hard to miss a significant absence: Not a single new priest will be from Chicago, and only one will be from the United States (Michigan). Four come from Poland, three from Mexico, two from South America, one from Vietnam and one from Tanzania. In the whole U.S. ordination class this year, foreign-born priests now make up 30% of the newly ordained, up from 24% in 1998.

Houston, we have a problem.

Now, I should say that I don't think it's a bad thing for a local church to include clergy from other local churches; in fact, it's probably a good thing that keeps any church from being insulated from the gifts and needs of the rest of the baptized. But there's a reason the European missionary clergy and bishops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have progressively been replaced by indigenous leadership: The leaders of God's people in each place should come from among them, and they need to be people who can help the gospel take flesh in that place and culture.

The U.S. needs a native church leadership, too, one that reflects our democratic, multicultural values, one that recognizes that women deserve an equal place in society. Whether this is true anywhere else, the churches in the U.S. are ready for a clergy that really reflects the church, one that, of course, includes new arrivals to the this country, but also includes married people, gay and lesbian people, and, of course, women. But continuing to steal clergy from other clergy-poor churches is no solution--and it's no less colonialist than stealing their other natural and human resources.


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