Today, on the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton's birth, I quote a fragment of one of his poems:
Each one who is born
Comes into the world as a question
For which old answers
Are not sufficient.
It so happens that this idea applies to what I wrote today in an Op-Ed piece for the Orlando Sentinel (orlandosentinel.com): "The Catholic Church needs a kick in the pants."
The essay was occasioned by the recent ordination of an Orlando woman, Rita Lucey, to the priesthood. This is not something I would usually go out of my way to applaud, but it struck me as an important symbolic gesture, a wake-up call about what is deeply wrong with the present all-male, all-celibate clerical world.
So I tried to argue--not easy, given the word limit of under 400 words--that the priesthood needs to be opened up: it is on life support, with U.S. parishes either closing or coping without resident priests. "The sheep look up and are not fed," as Milton said of the Anglican clergy of his time.
I believe the laity in the Catholic church must not act like sheep. They should speak up if they feel, as I do, that open and honest discussion must take place about making celibacy optional for men, not mandatory. Pope Francis is the kind of man who can make such a change and also do something about including women in a decision-making role in the church. If this means ordination to the diaconate, great: a first step toward priesthood in the future.
If Merton were alive, I believe he would be in the front ranks calling for ongoing clerical reform since he knew that the old ways, the old answers, are not always enough.