Pope Francis has just changed the rules regarding who could be named “monsignor.”
Monsignor is a honorific title given to priests who have earned it based on their service. The word means “My Lord” and is refelective of the feudalism social system of the fourteenth century.
As monsignor, a priest would be able to wear fushia/purplish-pink colored vestments similar to that of a bishop but without a ring or pectoral cross. This was meant to be a symbol of honor for priests who have been outstanding in their priestly ministry.
Pope Francis has ordered that only priests 65 and over be allowed to receive this title. Some speculate that this move is meant to crush the spread of careerism in the priesthood. Unfortunately, some priests in the Church treat the priesthood like a worldly career and try hard to “rise up the ladder,” so to speak. They desire titles, clothing and power instead of serving God and the Church. This is obviously contrary to the Gospel which calls for humility and service to others, not self.
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
I have mixed feelings about this new decision. Others do as well such as Father Longenecker who wrote a sarcastic blog post voicing his frustration at this new decision. He calls it a “shame” and seems to be focused more on losing out on getting the title and clothing himself. This attitude is exactly what Pope Francis is combating. It’s a shame Father Longenecker is focused more on externals and is criticizing Pope Francis’ work on renewing the Church.
Anyhow, I understand where Longenecker is coming from. However, my issue is not the title or clothing, but the age. I know several young priests who do great work, are humble and most importantly; Gospel oriented who should be given this honor of monsignor. Why should they wait till they are 65?
Moreover, at what age will Pope Francis allow the naming of new bishops? Our Church has a majority of priests who are elderly and with this comes health issues which do not allow them to function well as bishops. Many have to retire early or pass away faster than the Vatican can replace them. Putting age requirements on titles or ranks in the Church in a way puts the elderly above the young. I think this contradicts everything Pope Francis is trying to convey. While the elderly are important and deserve respect, they are not “better” or more deserving than the young. Again, I know many young priests who are “elderly” in spirit and do great work. They are mature, intelligent and know their limits. Guys like Kevin Wallin who cross-dressed, used drugs and had sex in the rectory never should have received this title.
I understand Pope Francis is imitating St. Francis of Assisi who did not like titles. Both focused on one thing: The Gospel. However, there should be an option for bishops to recommend younger priests who deserve this honor. The age requirement should not be set in stone, as it were.
I personally do not desire to be a bishop, monsignor, cardinal, pope or even a pastor. Nevertheless, if called to it, I will pray on it prior to accepting any promotion or cross, as a wise bishop I knew called it. I personally never liked titles nor positions of power. Moreover, I also have made it a priority NOT to allow people to call me “reverend” or “father” after ordination, or kiss my ring if I do become a bishop and so forth. This is just the way I like things and have not found an argument as to why I should use titles and be treated any different.
A priest I knew from Canada – who I will not name – used to get upset at me for desiring this. He argued that I should want to become a bishop etc, and even said I should compete with other seminarians or priests in order to rise in position. Moreover, he used to complain to me that I wore jeans, t-shirt and Yankee cap while on vacation instead of clerical attire. He paid more attention to externals rather than growing internally with God’s grace. While I heard his opinion and disagreed 100%, I simply smiled and brushed it off as nonsense from a careerist who has the wrong priorities in the Church and the priesthood.
I can care less about positions, titles, the color of cassocks, habits, birettas, rings etc. These means nothing to me and I can do without them. What I desire is to spread the Gospel and serve the people both within and without the Church. My priesthood is about serving God and His children, not to promote myself or have others treat me like some prince or dignitary.
Pope Francis is renewing the Church and I applaud him for that. Rooting out careerism is a big step. However, titles and promotions should not be based on age, but merit. Moreover, priests should not desire titles, clerical clothing privileges and so forth. This is my opinion.