Priesthood Is Not A Profession – Does This Attest For Unprofessionalism?





There is a valid reasoning behind the view that priesthood is not a profession. Because, the primary motivating factor in choosing a profession is the ‘remuneration’ received or monetary benefits involved. The secondary factors are job satisfaction, fulfillment, sense of achievement, success and so on. It should be noted here that reversal of primary and secondary motivating factors is not an unconceivable and uncommon possibility.

As a minister of God, one cannot be driven by the ‘remuneration’ factor or afford to have a 9 to 5 work schedule after which the priest is not available or may not be disturbed. Neither can a priest’s ministry be entirely counted on job satisfaction or achievement. Nor is the call to priesthood just a call to be successful. Similar sentiments were made evident in the 1983 Code of Canon law. Reinforcing the above sentiments the 1983 Code of Canon Law, changed the term ‘stipend’ of the 1917 Code to ‘offering’ for the money given to a priest to celebrate Eucharist. The 1983 Code saw the term ‘offering’ more fitting because the word ‘stipend’ would have connotations of payment in return for a job performed. But the word ‘offering’ brings out the aspect of something that is given freely ‘for the honor of God or for the poor’. These are the considerations that are involved in the argument that priesthood is not a profession. This paper would now go on to discuss the differences between choosing one’s profession and realizing one’s call to priesthood.


As a member of any society, everyone is expected to contribute to that society in a productive way. This has twofold benefits. First, in terms of the individual, it enables one to earn one’s living, and it gives the individual the purpose for one’s existence and meaning and fulfillment in one’s life. The second benefit is to the society. The individual’s talents and abilities are utilized by the society to meet the diverse needs of its members including the basic needs. It would take only common sense to realize that it is impossible for everyone to do everything. Imagine for instance that if every individual has to meet all his or her needs by himself or herself – a situation where one has to grow his or her own food, raise his or her own livestock for milk, meat, and wool and hide, grow his or her own cotton and make one’s own clothes, treat oneself of ailments, make one’s own bricks and produce cement and cast iron and build one’s own house out of these material and manufacture one’s own vehicles and find one’s own fuel boring the earth – how complicated life in this planet would be? Societal living simplifies life. It pools together various talents and abilities and workforce and human-power and makes it available to the individuals in the form of finished products and necessary commodities. So everyone need not have to do everything, but only contribute their part. Thus it can be either the need in or of a particular society or time or one’s interest which determines one’s profession. The individual is free to choose one’s profession basing on monetary benefits or based on one’s aptitude irrespective of proportional monetary gain.

In today’s competitive world, in any profession one has to be highly competent to be successful and to stay in the game or else one would be put out of use. It means one has to equip oneself and undergo appropriate training. One’s personal worth is measured against one’s position in the ladder of success. The pressure of competition is so incredible that no one has any time for anything else or anybody else, not even for themselves. Everybody is busy trying to keep him or herself in the game lest the world would label them as ‘losers’.

Thus, the factors that control the entire cybernetics of ‘profession’ are to be seen in the following: Profit, Power, Success, Staying in the game, Esteem, Self-Worth, Individualism, Wealth and Prosperity. These are both motivating and control factors of the whole gamut of ‘professions’. However, it should be acknowledged here that these are the general trends. There are exceptions. There are people who choose and stay in a profession not necessarily because of the above factors but because of personal convictions. This paper’s interest is to be seen in the general trend and not in the exceptions.

In contrast, Priesthood is perceived as a special call from God to dedicate oneself in a special way different from those who have been called to serve Him through married life. The individual feels the divine call in his heart in a way chosen by God to inspire the individual. For some, the call is realized during one’s moments of success or achievement. For some others, it is realized during the sense of emptiness that follows one’s moment of glory and success or achievement. Others realize it during their moments of failure or depression. For some their wealth and riches become instrumental in realizing this call and it is in their poverty some others become aware of this call. One can go on listing a number of occasions, through which God chooses to inspire one to priestly life. But in all these forms God is the author of one’s priestly vocation as the traditional paradigms of ‘call to priesthood’ teach us: God takes the first step and the individual either responds or negatively positively to the call.- [Jn 15:16]

Thus, the call to priesthood asks of the individual, not success but service, not power but sacrifice and self giving, not status and achievements but a willing heart and its end is not material profit but realization of God’s will through that call. With a striking variation between the dynamics as noted above ‘priesthood’ may not be possibly be considered as just another ‘profession’. Priesthood is not something one does to earn one’s living rather it is ruled by the spirit of responding to God’s call and serving God. The following words of Pope Paul IV summarizes what has been said above and spells out clearly what is asked of priesthood: “Let me, as the representative of Christ, give you two basic principles to guide your priestly life…- Pope Paul VI, to newly-ordained priests 10-12-68.”


If priesthood cannot be treated as one of the professions then what makes for the argument of this paper that a priest cannot afford to be unprofessional in his ministry irrespective of what ever his ministry demands from him? The following discussion will try to answer this question.


In contrast to the Old Testament priesthood, New Testament priesthood was never confined to sacrificial sphere alone. A priest performs and is expected to perform a lot more than his duties of the altar. Vatican II declares that, “Priests by sacred ordination and mission which they receive from the bishops are promoted to the service of Christ the Teacher, Priest and King.” This threefold mission of Christ can be and is realized in a variety of ways. In this call is to be realized the roles of a servant, leader, manager, counselor, missionary, minister of the word, dispenser of the sacraments, teacher of faith, a social activist, a reformer, conscience of the society and much more. Besides all these, he is the Vicar of Christ and ordained representative of the world’s largest institution – ‘The One Holy Apostolic Catholic Church’. All these indicate that a priest unlike a lone tree that swings and sways to make no observable difference in its surroundings, is a crucial figure in the society. He has a specific and tremendous responsibility to fulfill in the society he lives in. His thoughts, words and deeds have very serious global effects.

Having received such an important role and responsibility the priest in his ministry is always dealing with the lives of people in a number of ways listed above. The effects of the mistakes he makes in his ministry does not reflect back in his life alone but it is suffered at an exponential magnitude in the lives of the people he is ministering to. This should explain the crucial role of a priest in a given society and the reason why his actions may not be marked by arbitrariness but by a touch of professionalism.


At the same breath, this paper is at pains to demonstrate that though a priest is an important figure in a given society, Ordination unfortunately does not endow omniscience or omnipotence to the one ordained to carry out his mission that is crucial. Given the diversity of functions performed by the priest he has to learn like everyone else to perform his duties. He had to be taught. He should allow himself appropriate training to fulfill his responsibilities. He is in the same dire need like anybody else to equip himself with qualifications proper to his office. As the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer prescribes as one of the guidelines for the formation of its members both Priests and brothers, “As far as possible, … each must acquire the professional and ministerial competence that is needed.” [n.89].

When this paper emphasizes about equipping oneself or receiving specialized training, it does not advocate that the priest should be all knowing or he should specialize in exotic sciences. He is not expected to be a specialist in Plate-Tectonics or a specialist in Nano-Technology or a wizard in Polymer designing. All that this paper encourages is that, given the fact that through ‘laying on of hands’ one does not gain skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill all those offices or responsibilities a priest might take up through out his life. He should be able to acknowledge his limitations in terms of competence and shun the illusion that once ordained, one becomes competent in all the fields. Though one may not make explicit verbal claims of such competence but it manifests itself in manifold ways which result in unprofessionalism. The following section would go on to discuss a variety of ways through which unprofessionalism displays its ugly face in the ministry of priests.


Every individual in any civilised society is ruled by a code of conduct proper to that society in general and by a code of conduct proper to one’s role in that society in particular. For instance, doctors and those in the field of medicine have their own code of conduct that stipulates the do’s and don’ts of the field of medicine and so we have ‘Medical Ethics’. People involved in commercial trade and business have their own code of conduct to be observed and so we have ‘Business Ethics’. Every such profession is governed by a code of conduct proper to the profession what in general is understood as ‘Professional Ethics’. This applies to priesthood as well. The code of conduct pertinent to priesthood is to be found in ‘The Code of Canon Law’, in the Official Teachings of the Church, in the deliberations of the Bishops Conference and in the Diocesan stipulations. All these are to ensure that the duties and responsibilities are conscientiously fulfilled by the clergy and the rights and privileges of both the clergy and the faithful safeguarded. Refusal to abide by the stipulations would result in confusion of roles, diminishing law and order, and ultimately failure of the mission of Christ’s mission and undermining of the purpose of Church’s very existence. As succinctly put by Avery Dulles, the Church,

“could not unite men of many nations into a well-knit community of conviction, commitment, and hope and could not minister effectively to the needs of mankind, unless it had responsible officers and properly approved procedures [stress added]. Throughout its history, from the very earliest years, Christianity has always had an institutional side.”

This institutional aspect of the Church demands from its ministers that the code of conduct and the rules of the Church be observed for the reasons discussed above. This paper wishes to relate here a first hand experience to illustrate how this code of conduct can be recklessly ignored. A religious priest seasoned with experience and knowledge who has acquired a Masters degree in Spirituality, and in the process of acquiring a Masters degree in Canon Law, hale and hearty has the habit of asking a religious brother assisting the Sunday Eucharist in the parish to join in the concelebrant’s part of the Eucharistic Prayer. Whereas the Canon Law states that, “In the celebration of the Eucharist, deacons and lay persons are not permitted to say the prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, nor to perform the actions which are proper to the celebrating priest.” [Can.907]

This priest knows beyond doubt that the Eucharistic prayer is strictly restricted to validly ordained priests and he was not acting out of ignorance. The same priest on another occasion gave, a newly ordained religious priest belonging to his congregation who has not yet acquired his faculty to hear confessions from the bishop after ordination, the faculty to hear the confession of a particular faithful in his parish. This particular priest from above, evidently exhibits least respect to the Eucharist and to the norms of the divine institute he belongs to. His attitude and behaviour declare just not recklessness but also unprofessionalism. The Church cannot have a surveillance squad on every priest or bishop she ordains to ensure that the clergy be the instruments of Christ’s salvation in a manner stipulated by the Church. She trusts her clergy and leaves it to them to conduct themselves worthy of their call.

Another common area in which unprofessionalism manifests itself is the area of relationships. In his relationship, the priest is to treat the people he is ministering to with great respect and dignity. But it is a painful truth see the shepherds themselves plundering their flock. No better demonstration than the recent exposure of pedophile scandals is needed to prove this. Regular featuring of sex scandals by the Catholic clergy as headlines in the Dailies and Magazines render themselves as proofs. Webpages to expose the sexual abuse of women and youth and children by the clergy is strewn all over the Internet. To use the language of John’s gospel, ‘there are many things that the clergy did and do; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written!’ If the clergy were to maintain their professional boundaries in their relationships the Church would have been saved of all this scandals and shame. This paper by no means is suggesting that the clergy should see the people whom they minister to as sources of sin and create a hindering wall. Rather suggests just the opposite, the clergy should genuinely get close to the people to serve them and not pretend to get closer in order to use them. Jesus the model priest did not shun women and children rather he attracted them close to him. But in him was genuine concern for them.

Unprofessionalism in relationships need not necessarily be in the area of sexual weaknesses of the clergy. It covers a much wider area. For instance, the priest as manager and administrator may have to work with wide range of personality types. There may arise occasions whereby one has to work side by side with somebody one does not like or with somebody who has wronged him in the past. In such situations, the temptation is to utilize one’s authority and power that comes through one’s office to fix the other or to seek revenge. If one has to give in to such temptations, which is at once both unchristian and unprofessional. The priest as an administrator is expected to see that the needs of the institute are met may it be a boarding school, a college or a seminary. The administrator is expected to be available to its staff and to the members of the institute and that he is approachable. If the administrator is to drain his energy in seeking revenge and in fixing others, ultimately it is the Institute that is managed by these individuals who seek revenge that suffers. Because here the decisions are not made based on the growth and for the good of the institute but on the basis of how much discomfort and if possible suffering that it would possibly bring to the other.

Another clear manifestation of unprofessionalism is to be seen in the role of a priest as a lecturer or teacher. As noted already elsewhere in this paper that the individual does not gain omniscience through ordination, a priest who is called into teaching ministry in institutions such as colleges, schools and seminaries should equip oneself with proper qualification. Just because one is a priest does not mean that one can teach any subject under the sky. If one is qualified as a scripture scholar then he should do with best of his abilities to impart his scriptural knowledge. It would be unprofessional for him to accept requests to teach Dogmatic Theology at a professional level in a seminary. He might be knowledgeable in Dogmatic Theology after his wide reading in the field but it does not make him a scholar in that field. And the blunt fact is that he is not competent to teach Dogmatic Theology at tertiary level in a seminary, may be he can give a talks on Dogmatic Theology to interested guilds in his or other parishes. No one opts to go to a stonemason to attend to their dental problems just because both work with cement, neither a dentist is employed as a rocket propellant scientist for the simple reason that they are not competent in those fields though they are specialists in their own fields of stonemasonry and dentistry respectively. Perceive the chaos and damage they would create if the above mentioned swapped roles. The same applies to the teaching ministry as well. Therefore, it would be inappropriate and unprofessional on the part of the institutions to approach unqualified lecturers. And it would be inappropriate for the individual priest to accept such requests. The offence becomes even more grave when the institution happens to be a seminary, which trains future priests. Hundreds of students pass through the seminaries and they become the future leaders of the Church. And if that seminary happens to be the only seminary that trains priests for the whole nation as in the case of Zimbabwe, it is scary even to speculate the repercussions it would have on the Church in that country.

Another area of interest would be the managerial skills of priests. Whether they like it or not priests end up at one stage or the other as Managers in one form or the other. As Managers, their role entails Planning, Organizing, Motivating, Decision-Making and Animating. Flaws in any of the above would proclaim the inefficiency of the priest. Many of the Manager-priests’ unprofessionalism betray itself when it comes to the question of Planning and Decision-Making. Be it in a parish as a parish priest or in an institute as an administrator of the institute. One may not always come out with award winning plans or make the best of decisions all the time, which means there is room for making mistakes. But at the same time mistakes should not become the order of the day. The priest should seek recourse to all available tools and techniques in his planning and decision-making. The decisions made should be ‘well informed decisions’. As the Gospel according to Luke reads, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower…..” [Lk 14:28:32]

Other areas where unprofessionalism manifests itself that are worth noting are preaching the word of God, handling of money, celebration of the sacraments. A priest is expected to be conscientious in fulfilling the above duties in a noble manner.

From the above discussion it is evident that a priest cannot afford to say “I am a spiritual leader I will concentrate only on spiritual affairs, I do not want to waste my time in mundane endeavors. I trust in divine providence and God will take care of his Church.” It would be as foolish as the man who had complete trust in divine providence and went to a restaurant with out a cent in his pocket and started ordering for oysters one after the other hoping to find a pearl in one of the oysters to pay his bill! Divine providence is to be realized through utilizing the faculty of reason and talents and abilities God has endowed on human beings. So one need not have to despise reason in order to be spiritual in his approach. After all ‘remaining spiritual’ and ‘being professional’ are not mutually exclusive.

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