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Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

Category: Radio 4

Date: 30.06.2004
Printable version

BBC Radio 4, Monday 12 July, 11.00-11.30am

The Catholic Church in Britain is facing a future with far fewer priests and open talk within the church itself is one of impending crisis.

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation takes up the debate quietly raging within the Catholic Church as to what it means to be a 21st century priest and whether ultimately the priesthood in its present form can survive.

Going right to the heart of the Catholic Church contributions come from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor; former Master of the Dominicans Father Timothy Radcliffe, who has written on the future of priesthood; Catholic writer and journalist Peter Stanford; and present and former priests.

All agree that the church has to make changes and confront the issues which are discouraging many from entering into the priesthood - issues such as isolation, loneliness, a lifetime of celibacy and the increasing demands of a job tainted by scandal and loss of respect.

And radical questions are now being raised as to exactly how this can be achieved.

Presented by journalist and author Michael Ford, who has written on the spiritual dilemmas of priesthood, Vocation, Vocation, Vocation talks to Catholics about their own personal experiences and the question of celibacy, the ordination of women, leadership, and whether their church is out of touch in today's world.

Voices include Sister Myra Poole who campaigns for the ordination of women as the only way to stop the church from dying, despite the Pope saying the issue shouldn't be debated; Tim Pike, who withdrew from ordination when he realised he was gay, and whose hope lies in the Catholic Church adopting a more liberal attitude; and alcoholic "Father Richard" who wants a more supportive Church that doesn’t shy away from the truth when things go wrong.

For Father Richard change will only come when what he sees as a "secretive and hierarchical church" starts owning the problems of its priests.

He says: "I think that when we live in a church that has been accused of hiding secrets, of hiding problems, well that's a culture of denial.


"I would like to see a priesthood that is I suppose more mature about some of the problems that human beings have to face, not just priests.


"I think we need to move away from a kind of church that has always played mother and which does keep people in a very infantile state."


But can the church change? The programme also talks to Peter Stanford who thinks this will only happen once there is new leadership.


He says: "I see the imminence of a new papacy as an opportunity for even greater renewal, and perhaps for once in its life the Catholic Church, instead of this being a top-down process, actually some of the very good things that have been going on quietly at a local level, often without the Vatican particularly knowing what's going on, might feed upwards through the church."

Lots of priests lead deeply fulfilling lives and are dedicated to their calling and many argue that they in fact should be the real focal point for change.

Opening up the debate and enabling priests to have their say is vital, according to Timothy Radcliffe.


He argues that the silencing of debate on issues, such as the ordination of women, is a misuse of the church's power and that a new honesty is required.

He says: "I think as priests we have to be confident the laity may see us as we are, as the fragile, vulnerable, faulted, struggling people that priests are.


"If we dare have that nakedness ourselves we mustn't be afraid that we will lose people's respect.


"We may lose their admiration but we may gain something which is more important than admiration, we may gain their love."




Category: Radio 4

Date: 30.06.2004
Printable version


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