PORT EVERGLADES, Fla. – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has started screening those celebrating Mass on cruise ships, a plan geared toward preventing former, rental and even fraudulent priests from ministering to Catholic passengers.
More than 650 priests have been approved to work on cruise lines, where some priests suspended in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandal have recently sought employment – and some Catholics have complained to the bishops that priests on their ships were incompetent.
Celebrity and Holland America lines are working with priests approved by the Apostleship of the Sea, while other cruise lines are still striking private deals with priests, use talent agencies or hire clergy through Rent-APriest, a group that provides former, now-married priests who are no longer authorized to conduct Mass.
Eventually, the bishops hope that all cruise lines will adopt a more thorough screening process for clergy.
"It wasn’t being regulated by the bishops’ conference and they weren’t doing background checks on these guys," said the Rev. Sinclair Oubre, president of the AOS-USA, a chaplains’ organization affiliated with the Apostleship of the Sea. "Since we started this, some of the cruise lines have become more alert."
Priests who apply for the program must have their bishops’ approval and are subject to yearly review, said Doreen Badeaux, secretary general of the Apostleship. All dioceses conduct their own background checks on priests, Badeaux said.
Lee Breyer of Manatee County left the priesthood when he married a former nun in 1969, yet has been conducting Mass on cruise ships with Rent-APriest since 2002. He doesn’t announce beforehand to Mass attendees that he’s married, and Catholic leaders believe that’s simply deceptive. [Source]
With the declining number of priests this will probably be a greater problem for cruise lines. I had wondered in the past about priests on a cruise line and had assumed that they were mainly retired priests who sail for free in exchange for their services. That cruise lines have contacted priests from rentapriest.com in the past is a sign that they have not taken this issue seriously previously. There is some demand by faithful Catholics that before they go on a cruise they ask if there will be a priest onboard for daily or at least Sunday Mass. When they answer yes I think the passenger would be surprised to find out that the Mass was being offered by either a suspended priest or one that was laicized. This is indeed false advertising since these priests do not have faculties from their Bishops to perform Mass except under very rare circumstances. Now after twenty years in the Navy there is not much chance that I would ever desire to go on a cruise. If I did I guess I would have to go farther then to just ask them if there will be a priest onboard.