January 16, 2005

Priests screened for cruise ships

Miami Herald


Sitting in the plush lobby of the MS Volendam, the Rev. Frank Wagner looked at ease after 20 days in the Eastern Caribbean. Between reading, praying and lounging on the sun deck, Wagner did the Lord's work: conducting 24 Masses, absolving six passengers of sin and anointing one sick traveler.

Wagner is one of 650 Catholic priests newly approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve on cruise lines. The program, launched a year ago to give the church more oversight in choosing priests who conduct services on cruises, allows Wagner and others to sail for free in exchange for pastoral work.

''It's just very relaxing,'' said Wagner, a retired Catholic priest from Ontario, during a recent stop in Port Everglades. ``I couldn't afford it otherwise.''

Church officials say the program should correct a lax system of selecting onboard Catholic priests -- a problem made more pressing in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, when some suspended priests sought cruise ship work. And it may mollify Catholic passengers who have complained to the bishops that priests on their ships were fraudulent or incompetent.

Posted by kshaw at January 16, 2005 07:53 AM