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There should only be five Italian cardinals

The internationalization of the College of Cardinals is neither new nor unique to Pope Francis, despite the grumbling in some circles about his penchant for going to the peripheries to elevate men to the porporati.

The College of Cardinals evolved out of the clergy of the local Church of Rome, as the Church of Rome and its bishop grew to take on more responsibilities beyond the level of a diocese or metropolitan province, in the early medieval period. There were cardinals from each of the major orders:

The cardinal-deacons had been seven originally, actual deacons, one each as dean of the seven regions of the city, responsible for the supervision of clergy and management of church personnel and resources. This number was raised to fourteen under Gregory the Great, and then four ‘palatine’ or curial deacons were added under Gregory II in the early eighth century, giving a total of eighteen cardinal-deacons. The cardinal-presbyters began with the presbyters of the early tituli, the twenty-five early ‘parishes’ of Rome. About fifty cardinals total, all Roman, by the eighth century. The seven cardinal-bishops were the diocesan bishops of the suffragan “suburbicarian” sees around Rome.

It was not even an institution unique to Rome, as at least in the ninth century, dioceses in general were encouraged to name cardinal clergy from the ranks. It is no surprise then that the cardinals were originally Italian, specifically Roman, and that this remained the norm for centuries.

As early as 975, however, we see the first non-Roman being named a cardinal of the Roman Church, when Archbishop Dietrich of Trier is named cardinal-presbyter of Santi Quattro Coronati on the Caelian hill. Within a couple of centuries, it becomes acceptable to appoint cardinals from outside of Rome without any requirement of residency, and the practice of titular churches for cardinals emerges clearly.

While the total number of cardinals evolved over the centuries, it rarely exceeded thirty after the thirteenth century and was formally limited to twenty in the fourteenth. The Council of Basel expanded it to two dozen, and it is about this time that the appointment of non-Italians becomes routine, if still limited. It is Leo X di Medici, famous for his excommunication of Luther and his lavish lifestyle, who dramatically expanded the Sacred College, to a total of sixty-five. Only ten of the forty-five cardinals created by Leo were non-Italian (mostly French), so the Italian majority grew and did not diminish for centuries. By the end of the tumultuous sixteenth century, the limit was fixed at seventy, where it remained until the twentieth century.

Despite the call of the Council of Trent (1545-63) to internationalize the college, the Italian majority remained solidly unaffected until the modern era. At the beginning of the twentieth century, 56% of the cardinals were Italian. It was Pius XII who was the first champion of internationalization. After World War II, Pius held the largest consistory since Leo X in 1517. Thirty-two new cardinals were created in 1946, only two of whom were Italians. By the time of the conclave to elect his successor, in 1958, Italians were only 36% of the college.

Pius XII’s successors from John XXIII to John Paul II continued the trend of internationalization. The Italian representation among the college dropped from 35-36% under Pius and John, to 23% under Paul VI, and 17% under John Paul II.

Benedict XVI reversed this trend. By the end of his pontificate in 2013, he had re-Italianized the college to the level it had been in 1978, undoing the internationalization efforts of his sainted predecessor from Poland.

Today, after Francis’ six consistories, we stand at an Italian presence of 18% (both among the electors only and the total). Perhaps on the next consistory will we will finally be back to the level of internationalization we last saw in 2005. He has so far been able to offer a corrective to Benedict’s Italianization, but has not yet made any advancement in the internationalization from that point. What he has achieved is a greater diversity of that internationalization, like Pius XII, reaching out to countries who had never seen a cardinal to call them to the college.

Why does it matter? Only 4% of the global Catholic population is in Italy. At a similar rate, no more than five cardinal-electors should be Italians. Europe as a whole is overrepresented, with 42% of the cardinal-electors but only 21% of the world’s Catholic population, but almost the entirety of that excess is with the twenty superfluous Italian electors.

The College of Cardinals is not, of course, a directly representational body. But it is representative of the universal church, responsible for aiding the bishop of Rome in his responsibility as presider of a global communion of Christians. It should therefore reflect the reality it represents and is responsible for, if not slavishly, at least the demographic of the Church should be a model reflected in the Sacred College as a microcosm of the greater whole.

While North America and Asia are about par between global and cardinalatial distribution, Africa is slightly underrepresented and Oceana slightly overrepresented. The dramatic shift would have to be from Europe to South America. Especially from Italy to Brazil. With two and a half times as many Catholics as Italy, Brazil currently has four cardinal-electors to Italy’s twenty-five. It should have a dozen or more. Half the world’s Catholics live in the western hemisphere, yet less than a third of the cardinals come from there. It is time to balance the scales, in accord with the wishes of the Councils of Trent and Vatican II, and the actions of every pope (save one) since World War II.

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The Viganò letter: first read

Viganò must be taken with a large grain of salt – it becomes clear he is ideologically driven and fixated on homosexuality – which is not the core issue here, though it has its place.

He also gets a few facts wrong, to support this ideology. For example, he claims 80% of abuse is of a homosexual nature. This is untrue. If you look at the most comprehensive study to date, and at the people doing the abuse the breakdown is this: 45% homosexual abuse of teens or vulnerable adults, 33% heterosexual abuse of teens or vulnerable adults, 22% pedophile abuse of children.{1}

His tone develops from factual and well-reasoned to one of taking advantage of the crisis to smear names that don’t deserve it (e.g., Cupich is “ostensibly arrogant”?? Francis had a ‘deceitful way’?? BS). Some of the cardinals he seems to list for no other reason than that they were appointed by Francis, and Francis he imposes sneering and snide comments on without justification.

He was unhappy with his job placement, and has a mixed record. He has personally tried to quash an investigation into a bishop who facilitated and covered up abuse, that whole Kim Davis meets the pope debacle, and a number of other moments. (Which alone does not mean we should dismiss everything he has to say, but acknowledge that it is not at all an objective or proven claim).

When asked to provide proof for his claims, he responded with “silence and prayer.”

But if you can keep all that in mind, that he names names and shares what he knows (even if it is tainted by his bias) is nearly a good example. The dirty laundry must be aired in order to be cleaned. But it would have been better had he stuck to facts rather than gossip, innuendo, and whining.

It becomes clear at least, from this and other sources, that:

a) John Paul II so utterly failed in this issue, and/or was sufficiently incompetent to serve in his office, by 2000, that he is basically a non-factor – but not in an excusable way. The worst of the abuse and the cover up happened on his watch – and one could easily suspect that the reason his canonization was rushed was to avoid this all coming to light before that happened;

b) Benedict may or may not have acted regarding McCarrick, but if he did, he did so secretly and late, and this is the crux of the problem. What good are ‘sanctions’ if no one knows about them? Benedict’s record on abusive priests was good as pope, but with regard to bishops and cardinals he did nothing. Another fail.

c) Francis is loyal to his friends to a fault, and just telling him about someone (Barros, McCarrick) is not enough, without evidence or clear first-hand testimony. This too is a failure.

d) Viganò’s ire seems motivated by other reasons. As a schemer, he sees scheming behind everything, even if it isn’t there. His wholesale attack on Francis and everyone connected to him is not justified by the facts he presents earlier, but there are some legitimate questions raised. The pope resigning is not one of them.

e) There is a whole list of curial cardinals and other bishops who ought to go. Just maybe not the whole list Vigano complains about, since some of his assertions are little more than gossip and retribution, the rest are documented and valid. It would be better had he not mixed the two.

He names a dozen people who should have known, by virtue of their office, of these sanctions – none of whom have confirmed Viganò’s account.

Some appear serious and well-founded: Bertone, Bootkoski, Myers, Sambi, Sodano, Wuerl.

Most seem just to be speculation at best, and ideological mudslinging at worst. These probably should have been left out entirely, if he wanted to be taken as a straight shooter: Coccopalmerio, Paglia, O’Brien, Martino, Farrell, O’Malley, Cupich, Tobin, Martin.

To that end, yes, there should be an investigation into the McCarrick affair, into the US bishops broadly, and into Viganò.

It is after all the pope – as well as the People of God – who have been asking for honesty, transparency, and reform. This kind of ideologically driven rant does not help, but it does not mean that there is not something worth including in an investigation here.

Popes and abuser-cardinals

August is normally a quiet month in Rome.

A month ago today, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick, 88, from the college of cardinals. And that was merely the beginning.

This was a first: No pope – none – has removed a cardinal for reasons related to the sex abuse scandal in recent memory, if ever. Compare Francis’ two immediate predecessors:

When it became known in 2013 that Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Scotland) was found, like McCarrick, to have engaged throughout the 1980s-90s in the abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault of adults under his authority, Pope Benedict (who would announce his retirement a few days later) finally accepted his retirement as archbishop, and allowed him to go on retreat for a period of “spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”. Ostensibly on his own volition, O’Brien choose not to participate in the conclave the following month, but there is no indication that there were any sanctions imposed on him as a cardinal by Benedict.

Only after Francis was elected was a visitation and investigation initiated – again, something unprecedented – and when the results of the investigation landed on Francis’ desk, O’Brien was he relieved of the “rights and duties” of a cardinal, though he still remained a cardinal, entitled to dress and be addressed as such. It was a bizarre half measure, some attest to Benedict’s intercession.

When Cardinal Bernard Law was found to have covered-up sexual abuse by priests in Boston for years, and his resignation from that post eventually accepted, Pope John Paul II gave him an honorary post as cardinal-archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and allowed him all the rights and duties of cardinal, with a great deal of influence in the Roman curia for several years to come. Benedict did not change this, allowing him to continue unabated until retiring at the age of 80 from these roles.

We can only imagine how many other cases there have been without any public action on the part of popes at all.

Now comes this letter of former nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Viganò, claiming, among many other things, that Pope Benedict had in fact placed McCarrick on some kind of (double secret) suspension, but that Pope Francis had allowed McCarrick freedom again, and for this reason he should resign. (More on that later).

Pope emeritus Benedict has not, as of this writing, said anything about them, nor has Pietro Sambi, who was apparently responsible for communicating them to McCarrick. Pope Francis apparently trusts our ability to read critically enough to see Viganò’s letter for what it is, and no more.

Viganò claims that “the Cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel,with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.” 

It seems unlikely that there were any such restrictions, except perhaps the request to move out of the seminary.

First, if such sanction existed, the failure to make them public would be a grave scandal in itself. “Secret” laws are no law at all, and one of the issues at the heart of this ongoing scandal is the lack of transparency. In which case, yes a pope would be morally at fault for failing to act appropriately, and for covering up knowledge of an abuser. But that pope would be Benedict, not Francis.

It does not stretch the imagination much to think that the old guard would have thought this an acceptable solution: McCarrick was elderly, no longer a threat, and already retired both as archbishop and on curial dicasteries. Let him meet his maker without another public scandal. Very Romanità. Very much the kind of thing Francis has decried since the beginning.

Even if this were the way it played out, wrong though it might be, that would not be reason enough for Benedict to resign (though he eventually did). It would be reason to confess his error, correct it, and never do it again. It certainly is not a reason for Francis to resign.

But Ockham’s Razor suggests that most likely, there never were any formal sanctions. Certainly, both Pope Benedict and Viganò “violated” these sanctions if there were, concelebrating mass with McCarrick, being at public events with him, and saying and doing nothing about it. 

What is more likely is simply that McCarrick was told to sell his beach house and stop spending summer vacations there with seminarians (done in 2000) and then, in retirement, not to reside in the seminary. Which he did. And that’s about it, as far as ‘sanctions’ seem to have gone, until Pope Francis acted.

The culture of secrecy that pervaded the Church up to and including the papacy of John Paul II, only slowly began to crumble under Benedict XVI, and finally being torn away by Francis, is part of the clericalism that allowed this filth to spread thoroughly through the House of God.

As with any serious housecleaning, things get messier before they get organized, the dirt becomes more visible –  but you don’t blame the cleaner! As with anyone shining the light of Truth into dark corners, those who prefer the darkness will do anything to put out the light.

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And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018

For years, I collected and collated the calendar for the celebrations during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity here in Rome. Thankfully, Churches Together in Rome has taken up the task this year! Here are the events we know of; probably, there are others. Please let me know and I can add them.

WPCU poster

WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY : 18 to 25 JANUARY 2018

Thursday 18th

16.30 An afternoon of prayer and reflection,
with an address by Mgr. Paul Mc Partlan, on
“Chieti and the Trajectory of Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue”,
followed by an Ecumenical Celebration of the Word:
Presider: Rev. Tony Currer (PCPCU); Preacher: Rev. Ruth Frampton (Salcombe England).
At Centro Pro Unione, via Santa Maria dell’Anima, 30, 1st Floor (Piazza Navona)

18.00 Evensong (Evening Prayer) with the Anglican community of All Saints
at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.
Presider: Rev. Jonathan Boardman

Friday 19th

18.00 Evening Prayer with the Evangelical Lutheran community of Rome.
At St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Presider: Rev Jens-Martin Kruse

Saturday 20th

17.00 First Vespers at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls
18.00 Vigil mass at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls

Sunday 21st

10.30 Morning service at Ponte Sant` Angelo Methodist Church
Preacher: the Most Rev. Bernard Ntahoturi, the new
Director of the Anglican Centre

11.00 Eucharist at Caravita (Oratory of St Francis Xavier).
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Tim Macquiban,
Director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome

17.00 Churches Together in Rome service at St. Patrick’s
(American Catholic Parish, Via Boncompagni, 31),
Rev. Tony Currer, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

18.00 Mass (Basilica Polyphonic Choir) at St Paul’s Without the Walls

Monday 22nd

18.00 Evening service at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls
led by the Methodist Community in Rome.
Presider: Rev. Dr. Tim Macquiban

18.30 Christian Unity Service, Diocese of Rome/Vicariate for the City
With Walk of Witness from Piazza di Spagna to S. Andrea della Fratte.

Tuesday 23rd

16.00 to 18.30 Communion in growth: Declaration on the Church, Eucharist, and Ministry – A report from the Lutheran- Catholic Dialogue Commission for Finland,
Presentations by: Bishops Teemu Sippo and Simo Peura
Rev. Dr. Raimo Goyarrola and Rev. Dr. Tomi Karttunen
Rev. Dr. James F. Puglisi; Thanksgiving for the Dialogue: Kurt Cardinal KOCH
At Centro Pro Unione

17.45 Evening Liturgy St. Paul’s Outside the Walls led by the Romanian
Orthodox community. President: Bishop Siluan

Thursday 25th

17.00 Papal Vespers at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls
(ticket only – apply through your local churches)

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Papal Major Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls

No ‘faithful Catholic’ thinks the pope is a heretic.

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.

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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)

Tyranny of the minority: AL edition

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.

ALimageThough, 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. 

Married Priests? “Viri probati” and other challenges.

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).

In closing….

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.

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