Sunday, May 12, 2013

Resolving Conflicts within the Parish Community

A professor at the diocesan seminary, who is also a pastor, discusses in a recent issue of the Kyeongyang Magazine some of the reasons Catholics have lost hope in the Church and have left. Using a Korean expression you hear often:  he will be spitting while lying down-- a foolish thing to do. However, since he is a  pastor and  has something to say on the subject he proceeds.

Some have been hurt by the words or actions of their parish priest or religious; others have left, disapproving of the lifestyle of the clergy and religious. What should be done, he asks, when parishioners dislike their priest or sisters? Some may even criticize their celibate state as unnatural, and mistake a lack of social skills as self-righteousness, stubbornness, pride and hypocrisy.

It's helpful to remember, he says, that priests, starting from the time in the seminary, have been receiving love and respect from the Christians, but have not in many instances returned to their Christians, in like measure, the same love and respect they've grown accustomed to receiving. Priests also are not practiced in self-examination, except for the ones who see themselves humbly. In addition, they are often tempted to do what they want in their parishes without consulting the community. 

The same difficulties apply, but perhaps less so, to the sisters assigned to a parish; they fill the maternal roll in the  parishes, while also living a life of humility and poverty, and are respected and  loved by the parishioners. But the professor points out that the sisters are also no less influenced by the greater society, and at times can become authoritarian. The relationship between the priests and the sisters is also not without its potential difficulties, occasionally resulting in the sisters being recalled from the parish. And there are cases when a priest sins and it becomes the gossip of the parish; he then can no longer continue in his pastoral capacity.

These problems can be seen as caused, in part at least, from the special position of the priests and sisters in the parish. The times when these problems have been overlooked have long passed. The faults of the priest in the past would have been accepted, and the parishioners would pray for a change. Today, the community would not hesitate to prepare a petition for the bishop and marshal parishioners to oppose the priest. 

The professor tells us it's not love to unconditionally overlook the faults of priests and sisters. The problems are not only limited to the priests and sisters but some blame belongs to the community. The community has to realize that they are the leaders of the community along with the priests and sisters. What does it mean to live a life of faith? When they have a problem with a priest or sister, they stop going to church, but they should reflect, says the professor, who is being hurt when they take this action. They should remember that  priests and sisters are not their spokesperson in their faith life.

When problems arise with a priest, a sister or another Christian, there are many resolutions possible: write them a frank letter, express to them directly the problem they have, go to confession. When this is not done there's usually bickering and hurt feelings. With prayer and a desire to speak honestly to those they believe to be the offending party, something good will usually result. We should remember that even if our expressed concerns are not accepted at that time, for whatever reasons, it maybe that we have prepared them to eventually come to a new understanding of their roles as priest and sister.

The Church can no longer disregard the legitimate complaints of many Christians by relying on organizational formalities as was done in the past. We now have the example of  Pope Francis who, in his first act after being selected as the new pope, asked for a blessing from the people gathered in St. Peter's Square waiting for his appearance on the balcony, and then bowed his head to the people.

A person with a mature faith life does not allow a priest or sister to interfere with his or her relationship with Jesus. Our life should be a life of gratitude for what we have received. There is no need to desire or to receive the approval of the priest or sisters. Emotions are a part of life and we can't run away from them but we can, the professor says, ask for help in getting them under control. 

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