Fr. Martin Fox, writing in his personal blog, Bonfire of the Vanities, has issued a broadside against the Association of Catholic Priests and their upcoming meeting in Seattle, calling it the “Sad-funny-ironic swan-song of the ‘Spirit of Vatican 2’ crowd.”
Calling their agenda “pointless,” his dismissive remarks about the group, which has 950 members, highlight not only the generational differences between age cohorts in the American Catholic priesthood, but also the increasingly acerbic and derogatory tone that younger priests feel free to take in public when speaking about their elder brothers.
In fact, it would be hard to tell from Fr. Fox’s remarks that he regards older priests as brothers at all, much less valued older colleagues in ministry. They are described more as if they are either enemies or a pathetic nuisance to be gotten out of the way. Younger priests such as Fr. Fox, confident that they hold the whip hand, now seem ready to snap it — on other priests.
This attitude toward older priests and indeed toward an entire generation of the Church as blameworthy targets to be attacked, is of course nothing new to blogs. Significantly, Fr. Fox writes in red letters in the midst of his blog post “Welcome Fr. Zeee….ians!”
All of this would be of little interest, except for the fact that Fr. Fox is director of priestly formation for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Generally, priests who are placed in positions of trust and authority in priestly formation are also regarded as role models for the young. (Fr. Fox, judging from his picture, is middle-aged.) Sadly, one reasonable inference may be that his Ordinary, Archbishop Schnurr, approves of his conduct and manner of expression and wishes to see it replicated in those who are drawn to the ordained ministry. Or does he? It’s not always clear that bishops read the blogs of their priests or approve of everything they do.
Personally, I think this blog post illustrates a deplorable state of affairs in the priesthood today. Nothing of substance said here is new. But the spectacle of angry contempt speaks louder than the content of the argument. To demean anyone because of age is inhumane. It’s un-Christian. I don’t know of any other Christian community in which the younger generation of ordained would mount an attack on their elders as elders. Whatever happened to respect? Have younger priests (I won’t say young, because many of them are now middle-aged) surrendered to the spirit of the age so much that scoring points with like-minded readers is now more important than modeling respect for their brother priests?
Clerical culture, once known as a bastion of solidarity, would seem to be cracking.