How is the experience of being a priest different in various parts of the world?
Apart from a year after my ordination in Japan, I have no experience of being a priest anywhere but in these United States, but I suppose I got to observe priests in Ireland, France and Japan as a Scholastic (seminarian.)
The experience of being a priest in Ireland has changed dramatically. In the ’70s, when I joined the Jebbies, the Irish clergy were held in high esteem, would be consulted on both civic and religious matters and many of them seemed to see themselves as “important” people. On my recent visits to Ireland, diocesan priests have told me that they sometimes fear to wear clerics and that they face quite a bit of hostility. They’ve experienced a Copernican revolution.
In France, which has had quite a history of anti-clericalism over the centuries, there was no sense of power or prestige among priests, (at least as far as I could tell). A fairly common expression in the Catholic Church was, “We do what we can with what we’ve got.” Catholicism was for many French a cultural relic rather than a living faith. (My parents once vacationed with my French sister-in-law’s family. My folks got ready to go to Mass on Sunday and were surprised when their hosts were still lounging in their pajamas. My mother said, “But aren’t you Catholic?” “Yes, of course,” replied Elisabeth’s mother, “But we’re not fanatical…”)
I haven’t lived in Japan since 1989 and things may have changed mightily, but I was aware of a huge change in attitude towards me post-ordination. I used to get called to the phone with a simple, “Campbell-san, Campbell san, the telephone.” After my ordination it became, “Most Reverend Father Campbell, Most Reverend Father Campbell, there is honorably an honorable phone call for you.” And our seamstress, a non-Christian, refused to repair a pair of jeans for me because she thought it unsuitable that a priest wear denim. I said to her, “You’re not a Christian. Why do you care?” But she would not be budged.
All I’ve given you is a series of anecdotes, but I don’t know how else to respond to this question.