This is a piece written for the Association of Catholic Priests website by Paddy Ferry from Scotland, which, apart entirely from the part referring to myself, is an excellent account of issues around priesthood, church, and development of doctrine.

Peadar, I was interested to read your post and your book recommendations for Tony re our Catholic priesthood. I would have expected that Tony has already read more than most priests. He certainly has helped me with some recommendations and I have also read all the books that Tony himself has written.

However, one book which was not a Tony recommendation was Garry Wills’ “Why Priests”. Early on after the ACP was founded a contributor to this site who only identified himself as Fr. S told us about a book he had just read, ” Papal Sin” by Garry Wills, Professor of History at the Northwestern University in the US. Fr.S was impressed “by Papal Sin” and on his recommendation I bought and read it. To be honest I found it to be rather dense and quite hard going. Many years previously I had read Peter de Rosa’s ” Vicars of Christ” which I thought was much better.

I discovered that Garry is a practising Catholic, once a Jesuit seminarian and someone who dedicates some of his books to those priests who have influenced his life. Garry Wills, I learned, is a genuine scholar and is regarded as one of America’s most distinguished intellectuals. And he just doesn’t write on church issues alone. He is Pulitzer Prize winner for his book on Nixon.

After the success of his book on Papal Sin people asked him why he was still a catholic. So, Garry’s next book was titled ” Why I Am a Catholic”.

Now, this is a great book which I can recommend. One of the most interesting sections is where he examines what he calls Twelve Century Papal Populism.

This era began with the First Crusade during Urban II’s pontificate, (1088-1099) and so began the process of going to the Holy Land and slaughtering the infidel and later, if I remember correctly, applying these new slaughtering skills to some infidels in Europe too.

Then to compensate –pay — those involved in the crusades a new currency had to be introduced and this was the beginning of indulgences. It obviously must have seemed like a good idea to Urban at the time but would, of course, prove to be a great curse to the church later on. So, what could you pay for with this new currency. Then, we got purgatory. The purgatory doctrine was a necessary adjunct to the theory of indulgences. But more had to be added and that was venial sin .Only venial sins could be punished in purgatory — mortal sins sent you to hell –for ever!! So, this new currency –indulgences — could buy us redemption from purgatory,. The system in which mortal sins are contrasted to venial sins was fully worked out only in the second half of the twelve century.

However, that was still not the end of it. Something else was needed to complete the doctrinal jigsaw. And that, of course, was confession. The discipline of the confessional was only formally established in the western church by canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). This is when the formula “I absolve you from your sins ” first came into use.

How true of Fr. Kieran O’Mahony when in that wonderful and courageous letter in the Tablet he explained how the claim at the Council of Trent that all seven sacraments were somehow instituted by Jesus “brings with it insurmountable historical difficulties”.

I am digressing now.

After that I sought out more of his books to read.

And, that’s when I discovered ” Why Priests”.

Now, I am not sure what my view was of the priesthood and it’s origins until then. I probably accepted what we were told each Holy Thursday that we were celebrating the anniversary of the institution of the priesthood and the eucharist. However, once I began to read “Why Priests” I realised there was a problem.

And, the source of the problem lies in the fact that only one writer in the New Testament (NT) refers to Jesus as priest and that is the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews.

I began to understand that Jesus himself never claimed to be a priest, nor did the Gospel writers make that claim  nor is it claimed in the uncontested letters of Paul according to Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer SJ, another hugely respected scholar of scripture. Jesus was a practising Jew and knew his scripture and, as he wasn’t a descendant of Levi, so, obviously, he knew he could not be a priest. In fact he spent a lot of his time challenging the priests of his day.

So, the writer of Hebrews invented a new line of priesthood for Jesus and here’s where Melchizedek enters the story.
He tells us that Jesus is a priest in the line of Melchizedek. Melchizdek is a minor figure in scripture who in Genesis in chap. 14 had a chance meeting with Abraham when Abraham was returning from sorting out his nephew, Lot’s enemies. The only other place he is mentioned in all of scripture is in Psalm 110.

There are problems which undermine Melchizadek’s credibility. Scholars, including Prof. Fred Horton, author of The Melchizedek Tradition, explain how those verses in chap. 14 of Genesis, 18-20, represent an intrusion into the text as it has no connection with what follows or what precedes it. So, it appears to be an implant. Now, infact, there is a school of thought that all of chap. 14 of Genesis is an implant as it does not seem to show any of the primary sources of Genesis.

There is a number of fallacies in Hebrews which Garry Wills highlights. If you want a readable and in dept critique –suitable for a non-scholar –of Hebrews then “Why Priests” is the place to go.

Another major problem with Hebrews is in its presentation of human sacrifice as an improvement on animal sacrifice. This goes completely against what cultural historians have held. The change from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice had been regarded as a sign of greater enlightenment and towards a greater civilisation. The opposite contention is to be found only in Hebrews. Today even harming an animal would land us in court!

I mentioned Fr. Joseph Fitmyer SJ above. We have already discussed here on this site on many occasions the section which I am about to share. This is what he had to say: “Paul never says that Christ was sacrificed for our sake. That notion enters the later theological tradition, but it is not one that can be traced directly to Paul……The notion of Christ’s death is more tributary to Hebrews and to the Deutero-Pauline Ephesians 5.2 than to the uncontested Pauline letters.” ( from his book on Romans, p.122)

I must confess that reading that for the first time was when I first became aware that there were such things as contested letters of St. Paul.

I mentioned Holy Thursday above and being told since I was a child that we were celebrating the anniversary of the Last Supper and the institution of the priesthood and the eucharist. I have also mentioned Fr. Kieran O’Mahony OSA and his letter to the Tablet. The primary purpose of the letter was to express a view on the ordination of women. However, I thought it might be of interest to read what he had to say about the Last Supper.

The opening of Fr. Kieran’s letter asks: “Has the Holy Father made a mistake in not permitting the ordination of women, even initially only to the diaconate? The exclusion of women from ministry can be traced not only to tradition but also to an erroneous reading of the evolution of “church” and its ministries. In common with many other biblical scholars, I would affirm the following. Firstly, the historical Jesus encountered very few non-Jews. His ministry was “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Jesus did not foresee a separate religious movement, later given the name Christianity. Much less did he foresee a Church (the term is found in the Gospels in Matthew alone), with specific structures and ministries. In the New Testament, varieties of ministries are indeed evident, in particular in Paul, Matthew and Luke-Acts. Towards the end of the first century, these settled into servants, elders and overseers (the later deacons, priests and bishops). The Council of Trent, in affirming that all seven sacraments were somehow instituted by Jesus, made the mistake of accepting the way the Reformers posed the question. This was unnecessary (though understandable in pre-critical times) and brings with it insurmountable historical difficulties. If the above is substantially accurate, then the historical Jesus “ordained” nobody at all and the Last Supper was not an ordination service, simply because the historical Jesus did not reckon with a body separate from his own Jewish faith. As a result, the argument from the Last Supper that only men can be ordained makes no sense. What we have inherited, across the Christian centuries, is the Spirit-guided tradition, reflecting a graced evolution. There is no reason to think that the Holy Spirit has stopped guiding us in these critical times. Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches!” (DR) KIERAN J. O’MAHONY OSA BIBLICAL STUDIES COORDINATOR, HOLY CROSS DIOCESAN CENTRE, DUBLIN, IRELAND

For many, I am sure, such revelations may be upsetting and disconcerting.

However, I think we should heed the wise words –again –of our greatest poet, WB Yeats when he advised us that we should always regard knowledge not as a threatening bird of prey but rather as a beautiful butterfly.

I like so many others think that Tony’s treatment has been appalling, Not just shame on Rome but shame also on the Redemptorists and the Irish bishops.

I have shared on this site on a number of occasions my meeting with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin over here in Edinburgh a number of years ago. The World Council of Churches and the Catholic had had a joint project , Towards a Common Vision of Church ( Sharing Future Church)

A conference took place in Edinburgh to evaluate the process and Diarmuid was over taking part. I was representing our archdiocese. He was staying with a priest friend of mine and, so, we were introduced. I had always regarded him as one of the good guys.
And, his mother was from Donegal he told me so that was an important connection.
We got on very well.

Then I spoke to him about Tony’s situation and what a great scandal so many of us thought it was and I put it to him that surely he, as a leading and influential bishop, or as part of the hierarchy, could surely act to bring Tony’s suffering to an end.

Well, he obviously wasn’t up for that.

I finally put it to him that what Tony had said about the origins of the priesthood was extremely mild when compared with what Garry Wills had said and I wasn’t aware of anyone challenging Prof. Wills. Diarmuid agreed with me on that.