Sunday, November 23, 2008

Catholic Singles Feel Angst

Check my article in the Washington Times about Catholic singles!

Through interviews with Washington DC area Catholic singles, this article addresses the problems they face when trying to find a spouse and vocation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Power of Candor

I recently wrote an article for the Washington Times that is slated to appear in the Culture section this Thursday. It's on Catholic singles...surprise, surprise! Through the experience, the theme of "candor," and the power of it, kept re-emerging. The power is there when either positive and negative experiences are shared.

Thankfully, I was supported in this project for the Times by several single Catholics who were happy to talk to me about their experiences. Their openness enabled me to write an article that accurately represented the single Catholic scene in the DC area. The more candid they were, the more powerful the story.

Some of the people I interviewed were very open, but asked to remain anonymous. This can be understandable in some circumstances and depending on what they shared. A newspaper usually demands some background info a general job description or place of residence. Others gave me very spiritual qoutes or explanations of Church teaching...which was not as helpful for the newspaper article necessarily, but interesting.

Many of my single friends will tell me horror stories about their experiences in the Catholic dating community, or explain that they see a pattern, or a particular subject area that is frustrating many people - but this candor can disappear when it's time to tell more than just their closest friends. They may fear hurting a friend, an ex, or causing scandal by admiting that things can go terribly wrong. The Church really needs to hear some of these stories though...because in some cases, the issues are causing people to delay marriage, to reconsider marriage, to give up on something, to live in confusion and depression...

Why the reluctance to share among Catholics, I wonder? You a former Protestant, I remember that sharing was really promoted as a means of communicating what the Lord was doing in your life. People were eager to talk about their relationship with the Lord, their lives, their journey. When I became Catholic, I noticed that folks were more reserved. They didn't "witness" as much.

Also, I notice this because I am a fixer. If I hear about a problem, I want to contribute to the solution. I want to improve the world around me. If I can't eliminate some of the issues, I at least want to give people the tools to make better choices and be more discerning. Not talking about a problem can mean that a solution is never created or tried out.

And here's the deal: the people I talked to from the Washington Archdiocese really wanted to help singles...but they can't know what to do unless people suggest it and are willing to help out! They need people to ask. Out of my years of frustration, I don't think I ever sent in a suggestion or any feedback.

What if someone wants to hear a good story? People need to hear about success stories. Finding people to tell them to you or a large audience can be challenging though! I have observed on at least three occasions, that Catholic lady friends disappeared completely once they founnd a spouse. They didn't pass on any lessons learned, support any of their former girlfriends, or remain accessible. They got amnesia about their previous struggles and got all detached. I know that life changes...but come least tell your good story!

I found a married Catholic woman with grown children to pass on her lessons learned to me when I was dating, and it was extrordinarily helpful to me. She also had remain plugged into the lives of single women in her community and family, so she was knowledgable about a variety of relationship scenarios. Singles need that support, and we can't have it if once we are not longer single....we vanish. and do not talk about our life experiences.

Many times, people freak out when dating, getting engaged, whatever...and they need a married person to help them get through it. I've seen it many times. But this requires candor and openess!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Vatican Issues Guidelines for Discernment to the Priesthood

A document titled "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood," was released Oct. 30 by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education.

One of my friends who has seen instances of seminary candidates with psychological problems and a generalized comfort with hypocrisy showed me the document.

Happily, the document lists some traits that a candidate should have:

“Some of these qualities merit particular attention: the positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity, and the capacity to form relations in a mature way with individuals and groups of people; a solid sense of belonging, which is the basis of future communion with the presbyterium and of a responsible collaboration in the ministry of the bishop;[10] the freedom to be enthused by great ideals and a coherence in realizing them in everyday action; the courage to take decisions and to stay faithful to them; a knowledge of oneself, of one's talents and limitations, so as to integrate them within a self-esteem before God; the capacity to correct oneself; the appreciation for beauty in the sense of "splendour of the truth" as well as the art of recognizing it; the trust that is born from an esteem of the other person and that leads to acceptance; the capacity of the candidate to integrate his sexuality in accordance with the Christian vision, including in consideration of the obligation of celibacy.[11]”

The document reminded everyone that many mistakes are made in the vocations process.

Section 4 states:
“The document of this Congregation for Catholic Education, A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy, recognizes that "errors in discerning vocations are not rare, and in all too many cases psychological defects, sometimes of a pathological kind, reveal themselves only after ordination to the priesthood. Detecting defects earlier would help avoid many tragic experiences."[16]”

The document also warns of eager candidates minimizing problems to psychologists or other people they encounter in the vocations process. At the same time, some people are overly scrupulous and accuse themselves too much.

“Nor must it be forgotten that there is a possible tendency of some candidates to minimize or deny their own weaknesses. Such candidates do not speak to the formators about some of their serious difficulties, as they fear they will not be understood or accepted. Thus, they nurture barely realistic expectations with respect to their own future. On the other hand, there are candidates who tend to emphasize their own difficulties, considering them insurmountable obstacles on their vocational journey.”

This is all very good.

However, here is my concern. Nothing in the process, as far as I can tell, has really changed. The same psychologists, vocations people, and other “formators,” as the document calls them, will be privately considering a person’s suitability for seminary. They will ask questions and encourage the man to be honest about his strengths and weaknesses. This isolated process can cause a problematic blind spot.

How can it be truly determined if a man’s actions are in line with his beliefs and words if people from his community are not consulted? The fear of accidentally damaging a man’s reputation, or prying too much into his life is more important than doing a thorough job of testing his word. The top secret security clearance process in the government seems slightly more rigorous than this.

Why do I care? I care because I know that as a single Catholic woman, I saw men cherry picked from the Catholic scene who had brought scandal to the community. I also met and interviewed other women with the same stories and observations. When women speak up about their observations, they are rarely taken seriously.

If we want to really reduce the number of scandals among the priesthood, it seems that we really should give people in the community a voice when they have something to contribute to the discernment process.