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Father John Paul Kimes is a Maronite presbyter serving in the Supreme Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the section which deals with grave delicts, those sins which involve the desecration of the sacraments and, since 2001, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
The Maronite Church is one of the 23 “self-governing” churches that make up the Catholic Church, and is the only patriarchal church with no Orthodox counterpart. The short version of the history is that while communion between the church of Rome and the church of Lebanon was never broken, communication was lost for some centuries at a time. However, at any opportunity where communion could be expressed, it was. So, it is common to say that the Maronite church was always a part of the Catholic communion. Born of the Syrian tradition surrounding Antioch and Edessa, this church settled in Lebanon and took its name from a hermit-priest of the late fourth century, St. Maron.
Given the connection to these communities, the liturgical rites are West Syrian, or Antiochene, and the liturgical language is a variation of Aramaic, and also includes Arabic. While most of our celebration was in English, some key prayers and responses were said in Arabic, and only our Egyptian Muslim and our Italian scripture scholar could keep up without the transliteration!
It’s a beautiful liturgy, even in the simple setting of our chapel. Perhaps especially so. After my experience with the Syro-Malabar Divine Liturgy recently, I was stuck by how much more of a role the deacon has in the Maronite rite. Also that neither the Alleluia nor the Gloria are omitted in the Maronite liturgy during Lent. (I found a Maronite liturgy on YouTube you could check out)
After dinner Fr. Kimes engaged questions and shared something of his work in the CDF. One of the questions posed was around the role of lay people in curial offices. There are few offices which are actually required, by law, to be held by a cleric, and the CDF tribunal is one of them. In most dicasteries it is simply a culture that has not been challenged. When he was prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger apparently filled as many positions as he could with qualified non-ordained people. Even when, after becoming pope, the Congregation needed the very particular expertise of a lay person in a position reserved in canon law to a cleric, Pope Benedict granted it without question.
So why hasn’t this openness translated into changes across the curia now that he’s pope? He leaves his deputies to do the hiring themselves; rather than micromanage he prefers to lead by example. I’m not sure it’s a clear example, however, to most that are unaware of this. There remains, too, what might be described as a benign clericalism (my term, not his), a belief that the limitations to certain offices to clergy is broader than it actually is. In some cases this is more explicit and less benign. But even in the case of the Supreme Tribunal of the CDF, which is clearly clerical by law, Fr. Kimes expressed the opinion that this was a wisdom – some of what is dealt with is so heinous, the thought is that the judges need all the sacramental graces and spiritual strength that they can have, hence the preference in law for someone ordained.