Priests cannot be replaced by the laity, Pope Benedict explains
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 17, 2009 / 10:27 am (CNA).-
In an audience this morning with bishops visiting from Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI advised them on how to respond to the lack of priests, emphasizing that the shortage cannot be solved by having lay people substitute for the clergy. (It could if those lay people were made clergy.)
The Holy Father began his address to the Brazilian prelates by pointing out the difference between the identity of priests and the laity. While the lay faithful share in the "common priesthood," they are not ordained ministers of Christ and His Church. "Hence," the Pope cautioned, "it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the 'clericalization' of the laity."
Fulfilling the lay vocation, he explained, involves working to "give expression in real life - also through political commitment - to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church."
On the other hand, "priests must distance themselves from politics in order to favor the unity and communion of all the faithful, thus becoming a point of reference for everyone," Benedict said.
When dioceses are faced with a lack of priests, the Pope emphasized that they should not resort to "a more active and abundant participation of the laity" since it could take away from their own calling. (Wow, what a sad, sad, statement.)
"The truth is that the greater the faithful's awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head," Benedict XVI stated. (It would be far more accurate if the word 'responsibilities' was changed to liabilities, because that is what is implied in the rest of this statement.)
"The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist," he insisted, saying that for this reason it is "vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity." (Wow, so much for discussing any of Fr. McBrien's concerns or returning the Church to it's roots. Apparently the roots stop at the Council of Trent.)
Looking to the future, the Pope made it clear that "the shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs." (It is becoming sadly apparent that the solution to the priesthood crisis lies in the purposeful reduction in the numbers of the laity.)
He exhorted the bishops resolve the crisis by combining efforts to "encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission."
As the Church celebrates the Year for Priests and the 150th anniversary of the death of the "Cure of Ars," Pope Benedict pointed to the French priest as a model for priests, "especially in living a life of celibacy as a requirement for the total giving of self." This total gift of self is "expressed through that pastoral charity which Vatican Council II presents as the unifying center of a priest's being and actions," he reminded. (So much for married priests, unless they are Anglican or Lutheran converts.)
The Holy Father ended his address on a positive note, assuring the prelates that "many signs of hope" exist for the future of particular Churches. This future, he said is one that "God is preparing through the dedication and the faithfulness with which you exercise your episcopal ministry." (He certainly can't mean the Church in Brazil which is losing members at a catastrophic rate and has a priest to lay ratio of 1-7,500 which is the worst ratio in the entire Catholic world.)
For all practical purposes it looks to me as if Pope Benedict has written off most of the Brazilian church. These Brazilian bishops have to be heart sick because every meaningful attempt they have made to keep some contact with the faithful has involved lay participation. I wonder if they reflected on the fact that in their country they have some 18,500 priests, but in Benedict's Italy there are 50,000+ priests. Maybe they wonder if Pope Benedict really gets their problem because Benedict is surrounded by nothing but priests and has always lived that way. Maybe they think Benedict should transfer a couple thousand of his Italian priests to Brazil. Or maybe they think he is just completely out of touch. In any event they return to Brazil with no solutions and no hope for their particular church.
Mabye there's something wrong with me, but it's terribly sad that so many of the Body of Christ will be deprived of the Sacraments as the cost of maintaining the ordained celibate male priesthood. No matter what flaws are exposed, or shortages recounted, or corruption uncovered, none of these make any difference. It seems the single most critical aspect of Roman Catholicism is not Jesus Christ. It's this clerical version of priesthood which must be protected at all costs. This is a classic case of the mythos transcending the message of the Founder.
I just wonder if the future Benedict sees for 'particular churches' doesn't include one particular church that is not chained to the current model of the ordained priesthood. Progressive Americans sometimes see this as the future for the American Catholic Church, but it may be it rises in response to the ashes of the Brazilian Catholic Church. In any case, it's coming because I can't believe the Holy Spirit will let this church founder on the Rock of Peter.