This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: the second part of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.
Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.
In the first part of our conversation, we talked about the evolution – so to speak – of the modern ecumenical movement: the prayerful, patient, painstaking search for full, visible unity in doctrine, life, and worship, of all Christ’s faithful.
This search for unity arises out of Christ’s own high priestly prayer at the Last Supper, when Jesus prayed:
Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.
I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee: Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine: And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.
And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.
They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;
That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.
And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them. – Holy Gospel according to St. John, Ch 17
That desire, which comes from Christ Our Lord in the climactic moment of His earthly ministry – at the institution of the Eucharist – is not therefore an adjunct, nor is it an ancillary element of the Faith: it is of the essence.
Toward the end of Part 1, I said something about the surprise I experienced when I first began to encounter Christians of different confessions and discovered how fervently they believe in the so-called “four marks” of the Church: Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity, and Apostolicity.
This week, in the second part of our conversation, A.J. and I explore some of the concrete possibilities for achieving a further and substantial measure of unity, especially as regards the Lutheran community.
We also address what Pope Francis has called, “the ecumenism of blood”: the unity of Christians in suffering and dying for faith in Jesus Christ – and our duty to make the most of the opportunities they have won for us by their heroic witness.
It happens that the second anniversary of one of the most starkly brutal episodes of Christian martyrdom in the early years of the 21st century fell just a few days ago – right in the middle of the week between the two editions presenting our conversation with Prof. Boyd.
I refer to the murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya (I say 22 in the recording), a video recording of which traveled around the world.
Pope Francis condemned the act as soon as he heard of it.
On February 16th – the day after the video emerged – in remarks during a scheduled meeting with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father departed from his prepared text to say, in his native Spanish:
I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!”. They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.
The spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, Fr. Rafic Greiche, gave an interview to Vatican Radio in which Fr. Greiche spoke of the early reception of the martyrdom of these men, whom he described as, “very poor people, but very near to God,” men who, “were not theologians, they were not people who even read the Bible or can read…but [had] the faith, and were brave.”
One of the martyred men was a convert – a man who received a baptism of blood – who came from Chad, and, seeing the faithful courage of his fellows, desired to be counted among their number on earth and in heaven. “He found his faith when he saw the [faith] of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn’t want to leave,” Fr. Greiche told Vatican Radio. “He wanted to be a martyr like them.”
21 Martys of Libya – icon by Tony Rezk
The reason I bring all this up – aside from the obvious and already mentioned 2ndanniversary of their martyrdom this past week – is to emphasize the urgency of the ecumenical project: an urgency palpable in A.J.’s remarks as he begins this segment, discussing a different specific area of ecumenical effort, namely, the work that Catholics and Lutherans have been doing together – work that has some surprising elements of “out-of-the-box” thinking.
That was A.J. Boyd, Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome Program of the Catholic University of America.
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Some thoughts in response to the claim that,
“…for months now we’ve heard how faithful Catholics, looking for clarification from the See of Peter, are schismatics, or an “rad-trads”, an insignificant minority of nobodies… a fringe that isn’t worth responding.”
And, in general, to all related topics.
To be clear, it is not the asking of questions that is labelled “radical traditionalist”, “schismatic”, or an “insignificant minority fringe”. Neither is it faithful Catholics…
The only people being called schismatic are schismatic. Causing division in the church is schism. Promoting it is schismatic. Being a member of a schismatic sect,¹ like the SSPX, is schismatic. Granted, they are in real but imperfect communion, like Protestants, or Old Catholics, or Anglicans – being in schism does not mean completely cut out of the Church of Christ as some seem to think – but when you actively divide the church, that is schism. Call a spade a spade.
The voices that proclaim the pope a heretic *are* a radical fringe. Not of “nobodies”, but then nobody said that they were. It is not, however, a mainstream Catholic view. It is not even a view that can be labelled “conservative” or “traditional” or “orthodox”. It would be a disservice to many faithful Catholics who identify themselves as any of these things to lump them in with the small number of folks so accusing the pope.
For most Catholics, Pope Francis is the first in decades actually speaking a language they find very clear. John Paul II was great with imagery, with stage presence, but his writing was dense, everything wrapped up in layers of personalism or phenomenology. Benedict was brilliant, and as a theologian I loved how much more clear he was than JPII, but it was not the language of most Catholics.
Francis speaks to most Catholics, and has the greatest clarity of the set. The only “confusion” has been created not by him, but by his critics, or perhaps by their rather poor formation either in the development of doctrine, the hierarchy of truths, or moral theology in general. Certainly in ecclesiology.
In fact, it is precisely the idea that we must be open enough to dialogue, to engage a variety of traditions, and even to accept that there is not always a centralized, universal answer to everything that is the hallmark of not only Francis, but the broad swath of faithful who do not identify with the radical fringes – whether “radical traditionalism” or “radical feminism” or “radical ecology” or whatever.
People critiquing a papal document, or, in the case of AL, a papal-synodal document, is also a hallmark of this tradition – of a great Catholic tradition of dialogue, of the great both/and – rather than that of fundamentalism. But, the question is, how do you tolerate the intolerant, or dialogue with those who refuse dialogue?
If there are any honest critics of Pope Francis, let them disassociate themselves from the radical fringe of sedevecantism, SSPX, or calling the pope a heretic. Let them disassociate from deliberately dishonest media like Church Militant or LifeSite News, who seemingly exist only to agitate against the Church, under false pretenses, like wolves in sheep’s clothing.
For St. Peter’s sake, let them stop hammering on about the dubia. In what papacy has anyone ever demanded the pope answer dubia? At what time has anyone, with any other pope, been so arrogant as to think they had the right to do so? For that matter, it has barely been a year since the dubia were submitted – when was the last time anyone in the Vatican answered dubia in less time than that? The lack of respect for the bishop of Rome is breathtaking.
It is one thing to say, “this is unclear” or “I do not understand this”, another to say, “because this is unclear, only the pope can clarify it, and he must do so on my timetable” or “because i do not understand, it must be heresy”.
It is one thing to ask questions, engage in debate, and have dialogue – it is something else to foment discord, deliberately spread confusion, encourage disrespect of the magisterium, and threaten to divide the Church.
“Faithful Catholics” do not do these things.
¹Sect: a religious group that has [recently] separated from a larger religion and is considered to have extreme or unusual beliefs or customs. (Cambridge English Dictionary)
The sect is a more exclusive and ascetic group characterized by separatism from the world and often defiance of it, exclusiveness in social composition and in attitude, emphasis upon a conversion experience previous to membership, and voluntary election or joining. (Blackwell Dictionary of the Sociology of Religion)
I received this email – as did many others – from a priest-colleague in Rome. I thought it was fascinating and am sharing here, but redacting some personal details for privacy.
7 July 2017
I arrived here in Ulaan Baatar last evening to participate in the 25th anniversary celebration of the Church’s presence in Mongolia, and I invite you to join with us in prayer and thanksgiving on Sunday for all that God has accomplished here.
With the collapse of communism in 1992, it was Pope St. John Paul II who recognized the fertile ground for evangelisation in this land, and asked the Superior General of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) to send several misssionaries. Four arrived, one of whom was a young Filipino priest who had worked for ten years in Taiwan, now Bishop Wenceslao Padilla, current Apostolic Prefect of the Mission.
I have been associated with the Church in Mongolia since 2002, and was named a “Partner in the Mission” by the Bishop in 2007. When I first visited, there were 186 Catholics. Today there are more than 1300, with 79 missionaries 45 of whom are religious women, including members of the Congregation of Jesus. There are now seven parishes in the country: four here in the Capital and three others in more remote parts of the countryside.
The Mongolian Church has grown largely because of the “works of mercy” with which it is involved: outreach to the poor, the sick, the elderly, the homeless, the addicted- and now also in the education of youth. There is also strong collaboration with the Buddhist Community here as well as good relations with other Christian denominations.
As I said to a bishop (then the U.S. Bishops’ Representative to the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences), as our plane took off after our first visit here in 2002: “Seeing all that I have seen here, it makes one very proud to be a Catholic.” My admiration of the Church’s witness and ministry here has only grown on my return visits these past fifteen years.
We congratulate Bishop Padilla and the Church in Mongolia on their 25th anniversary, and pray that God abundantly bless its bright future.
Today is also the day for presidential elections, so we pray, as well, for the People of Mongolia and for its soon to be elected government.
Every time the media, some blogger, or a friend on facebook lament the “confusing” effect of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, or the gospel, they pull out the infamous dubia of Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner or the letter of 45 “theologians” sent to the cardinals critiquing or dissenting from the apostolic exhortation. (Really, only about 15 of the signatories are theologians, some of note, the rest being lawyers, philosophers, grad students and simple clerics).
The latest example, from Religion News Service, covering last weekend colloquium in Paris on the history of deposing popes for heresy:
After Pope Francis did not respond to the call to explain his views, the four cardinals — including an American based in Rome, Cardinal Raymond Burke — released the text of their appeal. Burke also gave an interview saying the pope would automatically lose his office if he professed a heresy.
In December, another group of 23 Catholic scholars and cleric issued a letter saying the church was now “drifting perilously like a ship without a rudder, and indeed, shows symptoms of incipient disintegration.” They urged the four cardinals to issue a so-called fraternal correction.
Whether their complaints and cautions have any merit or not, and whether these are academic heavyweights or not is not my immediate concern. But consider this:
There are 223 cardinals, only four (three retired) signed the dubia.
It is a little hard to find statistics on just how many theologians there are, surprisingly, but a quick estimate* suggests something like 23,000 Catholic theologians (with a doctorate), worldwide. Only 15 singed this dissent letter.
So, <2% of cardinals, and 0.06% of theologians have formally expressed criticism or dissent from Amoris Laetitia.
Granted, it is always fair to assume that there are some whose sentiments are in accord with those expressed by did not or could not sign the letters, so there are larger numbers with similar ideas. But still. These numbers are tiny. Minuscule, even. No way do they deserve the level of attention they have been given.
Though, the fact that they can do so is nothing short of amazing. Barely a decade ago, only tenured professors dared even utter words like “clericalism” or “reform”, much less things like “married priests” or “formal correction of a pope”. For an entire generation previously, criticism of, and even voicing differing opinions than, the pope was a good way to loose your job, damage your career, and guarantee persona non grata status on commissions or as curial consultors. Now, at least ,there is freedom to express yourself on such things without petty reprisals.
The simple reality is the vast majority of people who know what they are talking about back the pope and the bishops. The vast majority of people who mostly know what they are talking about back the pope and the bishops. This should not surprise anyone. But it seems to, almost constantly. Perhaps because too large a voice is given to this cantankerous minority, and it has far too much influence here in Rome. Another three decades of Francis or another in his mold might just shift the paradigm, otherwise, more direct action needs to be taken to balance the perspective to match reality.
Perhaps the press could help, by, instead of highlighting these fringe voices of dissent or doubt, focusing on the 219 cardinals and 22,985* theologians going along with the thought of the Church, hm?
*There are 1358 Catholic higher education institutes worldwide, about 215 in the U.S. alone. Those 215 produce about 90 research doctorates in theology (PhD, ThD, STD) every year. That info I could find easily. So lets extrapolate and guess 570 PhD’s in theology worldwide, per annum (that’s possibly generous). But again, estimate 40 years of being in the workforce before emeritus status, and there are potentially 23,000 Catholic theologians out there. Not even counting those of us with DMin, STL, MDiv, MTS, MA, etc. And certainly not counting philosophers and
sophists lawyers who think they are theologians!
PS: I would love someone with accurate statistics on theologians and theology PhDs to come along and correct me, please.
If you mean non-Christians, the answer is clearly “no”.
But, assuming you mean other Christians, the short answer is “yes”. The slightly longer, but more accurate answer, is “yes, IF…”
It seems pretty basic, but you might be surprised how often this question still comes up, and worse, how often the people offering answers get it wrong, at least in part.
The question asks, “is it possible”, not “is it normally the case”. The answer to the former is “yes”, and to the latter “no, but there are exceptions”.
One thing that is absolutely clear: To say “non-Catholics cannot receive sacraments in the Catholic Church” is plainly wrong according to the law, and potentially sinful.
First let us remember the ideal: That all Christians should be part of one and the same communion, that One Church willed by Christ in a real, visible, tangible way. In such a case, naturally all Christians could receive communion together.
However, because of our brokenness, because of our human failing and sin, because of fault that lay with Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike, the Church is wounded. Its unity maybe substantially present, but it is defective, and needs repair. As long as this abnormal state of division persists, we cannot freely share Eucharistic communion, which is a sign of ecclesiastical communion.
Above all, this not-sharing is meant to provoke a painful longing that prompts action for unity.
In 1983, the revised Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church was published, nearly twenty years after the Council that mandated it. It outlined several conditions for the ministry of the sacraments in Canon 844. Allow me to summarize:
§844.1 You should normally receive sacraments only from ministers in the same communion. But there are exceptions built into this norm. (That is, as part of the law itself; not even considering exceptions of pastoral prudential judgement or oikonomia)
§844.2 Catholics can always receive some sacraments from some non-Catholic Churches.
§844.3 Some Non-Catholic Christians are always welcome to participate in some sacraments from the Catholic Church.
§844.4 Non-Catholic Christians who do not fall into the category of always being welcome to participate in these sacraments, can be allowed sometimes, in certain situations.
§844.5 Local or national norms must be made in consultation with ecumenical counterparts in any affected church or communion.
There are certain considerations that apply universally to this question, whether for Catholics or non-Catholics approaching the sacraments:
- Only baptized Christians can approach the sacraments
- Proper disposition is always expected
- It is a free and spontaneous act, motivated out of genuine need or desire for the sacrament (as opposed to an act of protest or a ‘shotgun’ sacrament, for example)
- “Indifferentism” and “Triumphalism” must both be avoided
- Indifferentism is the sin of accepting our divisions as normal, and that sacramental sharing between broken communions is normal or normative.
- Triumphalism is the sin of thinking that ‘we’ are better than the other because we ‘own’ the truth, or the Real Presence, or suchlike. Making mockery of other churches’ liturgies or sacraments is an example.
§844.3 and .4 are the most relevant to the original question:
Can non-Catholic Christians receive communion at a Catholic church?
Paragraph three tells us that, given the universal conditions above, the members of the following churches and communions are always welcome at Catholic sacraments: Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Old Catholics; anyone else the pope determines to be “in a similar situation”.
Paragraph four tells us that anyone not in the “always welcome” category can receive Reconciliation, Eucharist, or Anointing under the following circumstances:
-They share the Catholic faith in these sacraments (e.g., believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist), AND
-Their own minister or community is inaccessible, AND EITHER
-They are in danger of death, OR
-They have a grave or pressing need (What these are to be determined by the bishop or bishops’ conference. Those that have done so have named, e.g., weddings, funerals, a child’s first communion, mixed marriages, spiritual crises, et al.).
And that remains the law in force. However, just a dozen years after the promulgation of this code, the same pope who authorized it, St. John Paul II, modified these requirements – and this is frequently overlooked.
In his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, the Polish pontiff said,
…it is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who
1) greatly desire to receive these sacraments,
2) freely request them, and
3) manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. (UUS, §46)
First, it is a “source of joy”. Not grudging admission or acceptance. Not mere tolerance nor haughty triumphalism. It is a a joy that we can share the sacraments, some of the time, despite our divisions.
It is just a pity he did not actually modify the Code to match his encyclical, which would have removed all doubt – but that was a common problem of his pontificate.
Not only is saying “Non-Catholics cannot receive sacraments in the Catholic Church” plainly wrong according to the law, it is morally wrong to take any joy in denying fellow Christians this opportunity or from the state of brokenness in which we find ourselves.
Other developments between 1983 and 1995:
- “danger of death or grave and pressing need” is simplified to “great desire”
- “spontaneously request” is clarified as “freely” requesting, so no one is tempted to hinder someone who has been thinking about this for a while
- the accessibility of their own minister is irrelevant
That was twenty years ago. It is only to be expected that the fruits of ecumenical dialogue have resulted in even further development. Pope Francis, in his visits to the Lutheran and Anglican congregations in Rome, and in his Jubilee recognition of Lefebvrite confessors, has indicated as much.
Perhaps it is time for the apostolic see to recognize “in a similar situation” to the Eastern churches, some of the churches and ecclesial communities of the West, particularly the Anglicans, some Lutherans, and the SSPX. At least, we can acknowledge the growth in agreement about sacraments, especially Orders and Eucharist, to be sufficient to allow more common sharing along the lines of John Paul II’s vision of twenty years ago, or more.
So, can non-Catholics receive communion at a Catholic Eucharist? Yes, they can – if they are baptized, properly disposed, recognize that this division of Christians is not normal, greatly desire them, freely request them, and share a “catholic” belief about them.
Which, if you think about it, would likely be the case if someone is intentionally approaching the sacrament in a Catholic Church anyway, no?
Yesterday, Crux and others shared news that Pope Francis, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, had indicated openness to ordaining married men in the Latin Church. It is not the first time. Twenty, thirty years ago, one could safely bet that the world’s bishops supported the idea, but it was the pope who was opposed; now it seems to be the other way around.
However, as you read the comments available from today’s article (so far, only portions of the interview are available) it does not sound all that “open” after all. There are some serious red flags already flying. At first glance, fully anticipating more clarity from the full interview, I have three questions:
- Who are these “viri probati”?
- What would be the effect on the diaconate?
- Why would “isolated communities” be better for married priests, or, why would it be difficult to “find what to do with them”?
Who are these “viri probati”?
Viri probati is a red herring. Not that I have anything against the ordination of “proven men”, of course. However, all the ordained, not just the married ordained, should be “proven” or “tested” before ordination. To raise this ambiguous phrase exclusively in the discussion of ordaining married men, either to the diaconate or the presbyterate in the Latin Church, is potentially distracting from more serious issues.
The standard should be the same for married and celibate men, in terms of formation and education, character and ability. It is unethical and unnecessary to set a higher bar for married clergy than for celibate clergy – or for that matter, to set a higher age limit.
Who is “proven”? This phrase floats around with virtually no formal definition or context. If the practice of the diaconate is any indication, many bishops seem to think that it means retired volunteers without formal ministry formation or experience. That the “proof” is in a life of being a happily married faithful Catholic in a secular vocation. This is good, but it is insufficient, and better “proof” of being an active lay person in the Church than an ordained minister.
If we are to turn to “proven men” we must think of the same people that the Council Fathers thought of as “already exercising diaconal ministry” (AG 16) as the first candidates for ordination to the diaconate. We ought to consider those men “already exercising presbyteral ministry” as candidates for the presbyterate.
Look first to the lay ecclesial ministers, catechists, chaplains, pastoral workers, lay theologians who have committed their lives in service to the Church, whose vocation is already clearly ecclesial, rather than secular. They have already given years to the education, formation, and experience we want in our priests and deacons. Most often, they have done so at considerable expense and sacrifice to themselves and their families – usually, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, compared to “traditional” seminarians, who have been sponsored by the diocese throughout formation. These are your “proven men”.
What of the effect on the diaconate?
Because of the accidents of history and the slow, and often piecemeal, approach to reform and development in the Church, there can be no doubt that several men called to be presbyters have been ordained deacons because, and often for no other reason than, they are married. Similarly, there are men in the presbyterate who really ought to be deacons, but as celibates, were pressured into the presbyterate.
I have long been convinced that we need more married presbyters and more celibate deacons. It is an error to believe that celibacy defines the presbyterate or marriage the diaconate. In their ancient roots, if anything, the reverse was more likely to be true. One’s vocation to ministry, and one’s vocation to relationship, are two distinct questions.
Whenever discussion turns to the topic of restoring the discipline of a married clergy in the Latin Church, I envision disaster for the diaconate, if it is handled badly. We are only part-way through the process of restoring the diaconate as a proper order of ministry, full and equal to the presbyterate, of a lower “rank” than the bishop.
As long as we still have transitional deacons, and the question of women in the diaconate is unsettled, we have not yet completed this process. As long as people still define the diaconate more sociologically – as a band-aid solution for a lack of priests, as a retiree’s volunteer ministry, as the holding place for married clergy – rather than a vocation and ecclesiologically essential order in and of itself, we are still a work in progress on the diaconate. Simply waking up tomorrow to a a married presbyterate would lead to an exodus from one order to the other without the balance going the other way.
Though, perhaps this should be encouraged – a discernment of orders without the distraction of the celibacy/marriage dichotomy. Say, a ten year open period where anyone previously ordained to one order could ‘relocate’ to the other, if it fit more their calling.
This would necessitate making clear what belongs to the deacon as the first assistants to the bishop: the diocesan curia, the deaneries, the diplomatic and ecumenical work, responsibility for personnel and finance, assisting in the governance of the church. The presbyterate is primarily an advisory group to the bishop, the local church’s ‘council of elders’. In short, deacons extend the bishop’s ministry (diakonia), as the presbyter extends the bishop’s priesthood, as cultic leader and presider at Eucharist.
Related to this is the age of ordination. Canon law currently suggests that celibate candidates can be ordained at 25 while married candidates at 35 (CIC §1031). Recent discussion on raising the minimum age of presbyteral ordination to 27 have been entirely too modest. This double standard should end – a single, common minimum age for both orders and both states of life. All candidates, whether married or celibate, for deacon or priest, should be at least 35 years of age.
As a seminary professor in Rome for the last few years, and from several years of working on lay ecclesial and diaconal formation, I have come to know a variety of candidates for ministry. In my experience, there is really no such thing as a “late” vocation, but I have witnessed many premature ordinations.
Many of these prematurely ordained presbyters end up leaving, and/or doing great damage to the local church, not having been “proven” in any real way. This older minimum age would allow a testing period as lay ecclesial ministers, and/or in a secular vocation. I do not think anyone should be ordained who has not put in at least five years of pastoral ministry in some context. It would also allow for discernment between vocation to each order in its own right and on its own merit, questions of marriage/celibacy aside.
Isolated communities? Really?
It is not clear if this is a response to a question, or part of a larger comment. But it raises the spectre of a kind of ‘clericalism within clericalism’. What possible reason is there for restricting the ministry of married clergy other than an elitism of the celibates?
I can think of two good ones:
1) that more stable positions (such as parish pastor) would be a better fit to married clergy than more itinerant positions (such as missionary or diplomat) which might better suit a celibate. Many of the former are more presbyteral, as well, while the later tend to be diaconal, which is worth considering.
2) In those areas where persecution is a real threat – and here I think danger of a martyr’s death – there is perhaps more freedom in a celibate clergy. But this is not the case in many parts of the world.
Perhaps in some communities or cultures a transition period will be necessary. I remember meeting a Filipino priest here in Rome who had never heard of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and had no idea there were married Catholic priests anywhere in the communion. He assumed all such were Anglican or Protestant. Or an American who was shocked at seeing her parish deacon, still vested, give his wife a chaste kiss after mass. These things have to be normalized, with charity and intentionality. That can take a little time, but not really that much.
There is no reason to suggest that married clergy would only be useful in “isolated communities” but it is not clear yet if that is entirely what the Holy Father said or meant. He could have meant that this is one obvious example of need – in many parts of the world the Eucharist is not a daily or weekly liturgy, but monthly or quarterly, for no other reason than a shortage of presbyters. In such ‘isolated communities’ more priests, married or celibate, would be a great service to the local church.
In most cases, there is no compelling reason to make such a distinction, between how and where a celibate or married priest might serve, and no burden or barrier should be placed without grave reason (cf. Acts 15:28).
Finally, two other possible considerations, as long as we are rethinking the discipline of our ordained ministers.
First, the Latin Church does not share the Eastern tradition of restricting the episcopate to the monastic (and therefore celibate) clergy. While there is wisdom in this discipline, there is also wisdom in the Western tradition of married bishops, who are called from, and in service to, the diocesan churches. Perhaps that is for later consideration, but we must face these questions with a full awareness of our own tradition.
Second, since Nicaea, the Catholic/Orthodox Church has allowed ordination of married men but not marriage of ordained men. Yet there are apostolic churches that allowed marriage after ordination (e.g., The Assyrian Church of the East). This is also the almost universal practice of the other churches and ecclesial communities of the Western tradition.
At the time this disciplinary compromise was reached, the normal age for marriage was as early as 12-14. Ordination might come a decade later, and life expectancy for those who had lived long enough to get married was about 45. It was obvious that questions of marriage would be settled before questions of ministry.
Today, the reverse is true. In many contemporary cultures, one is expected to have completed education and established a career before entering into marriage. Following the logic that gave us the ancient discipline, it would almost make more sense today to forbid marriage before ordination! At least, we should reconsider this ancient discipline in light of the same sociological factors that inspired it.
All of these questions need to be considered for their ecumenical impact, too, and the wisdom of experience from both East and West should be part of our discernment in revisiting these ancient disciplinary questions.
If nothing else, we can be grateful for a bishop of Rome willing to entertain the question, no matter the result.