Deacon Greg makes an interesting point about how “something was missing” from John Corapi’s priesthood. I’ve got a lot to say on this today but let’s start by examining the now Mr. Corapi’s recent statement with regards to missing being a priest:

“I didn’t do very much of that quite honestly in the twenty years that I did minister,” he says, adding, “90 percent of what I did in the past did not require ordination. Speaking through social communication—radio, TV, so forth—that’s not ministry, strictly speaking. My particular mission was speaking, writing, and teaching—not so much in the sacraments, but outside of them, in conjunction with them. So what I’m going to be doing in the future is pretty much the same thing.”

So than what attracted him to the priesthood? I think the answer lies in one very simple word: Clericalism.

As a layman, I know I can be on TV thousands of times but if one of my priestly brothers goes on once, they’ll have much more impact. Why? It’s simple. The collar makes what they say more legitimate in the eyes of the general public. I know often I would need Frs. Brett and Dave, two good priests I worked with at BustedHalo to “back me up” if I said anything on a retreat during a question and answer session with some of the young adults. People don’t realize that lay people often have the same degrees and study in the same seminaries as their pastors and associate pastors. The symbol of the collar continues to speak silent volumes.

Now that said, I’m also not bemoaning that fact (as I’m often accused of by some of my priestly brothers). Priests are indeed entitled to be considered experts by virtue of their ordination, but it also doesn’t mean that they know everything and that nobody else has a valid idea. We all need to work in collaboration with one another to bring the gospel alive.

My second point, is I think Corapi has a valid point. I do think that priests by and large should be presiding at mass, hearing confessions–essentially being sacramental ministers. But what if that’s not their best expression of self. Say what you might about John Corapi, but he is one heck of a good broadcaster. I think will continue to be a good broadcaster. But what if priests are called to do more than this? I know that Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP works 5 nights a week on the radio at Sirius XM, but he’s also been very firm about being a priest who says mass and hears confessions and does all those sacramental elements as well.

I think we do need to revision our leadership as church–perhaps a new kind of ministerial leadership approach. We have different gifts but the same spirit as Paul tells us. Isn’t there room for all of these gifted people in our leadership? Aren’t there some great lay people who are also greatly gifted at the more pastoral elements of ministry who would be great at some of the sacramental roles presently held by priests alone? And shouldn’t there be some priests, who are simply not any good at leading worship, but have lots of other gifts that other priests and laypeople alike lack.

A few examples:

In my parent’s parish was a very holy priest, Fr. Rosario, who wasn’t very good at being a homilist. He had a soft spoken voice, was clearly nervous speaking in public (mostly because he had a speech impediment) and wasn’t all that good at leading us in prayer generally in that form. What were his gifts? He was a superb confessor. One on one he’d give dozens of people a day an experience of being healed and forgiven by God. I know many people went to him because they assumed English was his first language. What a surprise they’d get, when his speech impediment would vanish in that reconciliation room and he’d deeply discern what might be a good penance with people. Some of the best experiences of God’s grace came to me through the healing hands of that man.

And some of the worst have come from priests who were great presiders but horrible confessors.

His second gift was art. Another surprise, when it was announced that they were going to have Fr. Rosario’s art sale in the church basement one day. Many parishioners politely went downstairs thinking that they were helping the priest make ends meet by buying art that he had collected over his many years. What they found were hundreds of pieces that the priest had created himself. He could talk for hours about these pieces and held people’s attention one at a time as he made them feel like they were getting a personal tour by the museum’s curator (they were!). My mother bought a beautiful carved piece of the Virgin Mary which still hangs in their home. Fr. Rosario considered it all a gift from God and an expression of his rich prayer life.

And God spoke through each one of those pieces through him profoundly, dare I say, more profoundly, than during his homilies.

Fr. Ron Franco, CSP, a priest I admire, once said to me that he’s very careful about presiding at mass because “it’s the most important thing I do all day.” Agreed. And therefore shouldn’t we allow the people who lead liturgies well do that more often and let other people express their experience of God in ways that more befits their personalities? Doesn’t God speak through us outside of mass?

What about us lay people? Maybe some of us are great at leading the community through preaching, leading prayer, even providing healing in hospitals as chaplains. But many of us are not called upon or looked upon as “valid” when we get an opportunity by the community because they still believe that “Father” or in some cases “Sister” can only hold that role. Gifts get muted when that happens and the church is worse for it.

Ordination brings with it the community’s endorsement of leadership at mass and sacraments. My point here is that maybe it should do something else. Maybe ordination should be the community’s blessing of someone’s God-given talents to be used primarily for the good of a parish community.

And that just might turn this church from its unhealthy clericalism and move us into a church that can celebrate the gifts that we all have and appropriately call everyone into sharing their best selves with all.

Priests and Bishops have to be willing to share power at this juncture, especially since so many of our leaders have abused that power. Priests need to call other young men and women into leadership and not just priesthood. We’re not going to solve the priest shortage anytime soon and it’s going to be inevitable for us to find people suited for leadership who are not priests.

That’s what many of the priests I’ve worked with have done for me and a good deal of my colleagues. And I am grateful for it. I think the church is too. We in turn have tried to pass along the leadership to others, calling them into vocation, into an awareness of their gifts.

I think that’s exactly what Jesus did with 12 men some who who were simple fishermen. He did with the women, who followed him to the cross and one who was graced to witness the resurrection first. He pushed the religious authorities to examine their own lives, their gifts. Who among them weren’t being as compassionate as he thought they could be (probably because they were leading liturgy badly–I might add).

It’s time for a slight readjustment of the people of God. And I think Fr. Corapi is a good example of a priest that needed not be one, rather he could have just been a Catholic leader who spoke eloquently on TV.

And now those gifts have may indeed be limited because it seems likely that Corapi, at least in some way, abused a priesthood that he wasn’t suited for.

Let’s pray today for a better discernment of our leaders and their gifts–so that all might be used for the greater glory of God. Amen.