In its hunger for celibate priests, as John Cornwell puts it in the Guardian this morning, the church has recruited "men with unresolved sexual, social and psychological problems", with the consequent problems that dominate the news pages these days. Yet British Catholics retain a remarkable loyalty to the Church, one that doesn't extend to weekly mass-going, for sure, but is nonetheless an identity they won't give up. It's as though this vast quiet diaspora is waiting patiently for the Church to catch up with it, and it's looking increasingly like the Church is in error, and not its people.
For a young man to express an interest in the priestly vocation today is almost akin to declaring a mental aberration. Yet the priesthood is closed to men of mature years who may have achieved an elevated spirituality, who may have passed through marriage, family and children to arrive at a comfortable celibacy. I know three retired professional men, all under 60 and all well-endowed with priestly qualities. With maybe twenty years of service left in them, doesn't it make sense to allow them to give their gift to the Church, particularly when the average stay in the priesthood for those ordained in youth is just six years?
But I fear the Catholic Church is blind and deaf to change, and that over four million British Catholics will have to continue to wait, loyally and patiently, for the crook of a shepherd they trust to gather them into the fold.