(This is the second part of a two-part article.)
Part IV Where to start?
I mentioned the growing gap between the number of our parishes and the number of priests. The simple regrouping of parishes, whether for the sake of having a parish priest in each parish, or for the sake of future financial resources, does not solve the problem because ultimately everything depends on efficiency and pastoral animation.
An alternative to combining parishes is available when Church law allows parish pastoral care to be entrusted to lay people, with a priest appointed to provide general supervision (canon 517/2), usually from another parish. We are already experiencing the insufficiency of suitable priests, which justifies recourse to this canon. Of course, when this happens, priests are still required for sacramental ministry. It is possible that some priests even prefer this kind of role, leaving the management of the parish to a team of qualified lay women and men. Lay leadership in parishes requires appropriate formation – of the parish and of leaders – and appropriate remuneration.
Another starting point for renewal can be found in the experience of small grassroots communities started by the Church in some countries in South America and Asia. Of course, we cannot simply transfer the experience of other local churches to our situation. But we too can establish smaller communities within parishes, where leadership can be shared by teams and on a voluntary basis.
Such gatherings would be run by lay people and would not need any official authorization. They can already occur and develop in an artisanal way.
The Basic Christian Communities in the countries of South America were born from lay people gathered to pray and reflect on the Scriptures and on their life situations, using the principle of Catholic Action: “see, judge, act”. Their goal was a fairer society and a more truly human life for all – “the way the Church should take.” If this were to happen in our own country, we might ask the kinds of questions they asked: What are the causes of poverty in our country, and what can we do about those causes? Indeed, this is an appropriate level to analyze the flaws in our culture that leave us less able to deal with the epic problems of our time – those that degrade human life, human dignity, human rights. man and the planet itself.
Addressing these questions – through the prism of divine revelation – is in itself a way of participating in the mission of the Church. This is a good starting point because it is already doable; it can include those who feel unable to participate in other aspects of the life of the Church; it does not need clerical direction or control, but leaves room for the ordained priesthood to present itself as a supporting ministry; it can shape shared leadership and lead to any form of ministry that may be needed.
It is also a way of being Church which is “synodal” (being “on the way together”). The large gatherings that we call “synods” presuppose the experience of walking and working together before being ready for the decisions we come together to make at synods. It also gives an opportunity and an opportunity for the participation of many who will not be at the synods.
Part V What more?
Pope Francis has rightly said: “The customs, ways of doing things, timetables and timetables, language and structures of the Church must all be channeled for what best serves the mission of the Church. ‘evangelize the world’; (Pope Francis, The joy of the gospel, 27).
Acting on that would make big differences. Yet even these changes are only a “small change” from where the Church has been and can still go. Bigger changes rightly require wider consultation. And synodality is useless if it is not a question of the road to be followed and of exploring what could still be.
The ministry authorized to speak and act in the name of Christ has its origin in the historical intentions of Christ. But its structure and concrete forms were determined by the Church during and after the apostolic period, until the end of the second century. What the Church gave form after the apostolic period, it can give another form today. Being faithful to Tradition involves more than just receiving what the early Church did; that implies do what the early church did: it shaped its ministries to meet the needs of its mission.
As long as the fullness of the ordained responsibility remains intact – as in the college of bishops with and under the bishop of Rome – less participation in the ordained ministry can be redistributed. The “powers” currently distributed within the three ministries of bishop, priest and deacon would live on, but embedded in a greater variety of ordained ministries. This would open up new significant pastoral opportunities and integrate a wider range of charisms into the ordained ministry.
Be that as it may, 50 years ago, the International Theological Commission said: “It is urgent to create much more diversified structures of the pastoral action of the Church both in terms of its ministries and its members, if the Church wants to be faithful to her missionary and apostolic vocation. . “(The priestly ministry, pages 99,100).
- Bishop Peter Cullinane is Bishop Emeritus of Palmerston North