Cardinal unveils major Vatican conference on priesthood slated for 2022
Pope Francis greets Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, during the sign of peace at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this Jan. 6, 2020, file photo. Cardinal Ouellet announced plans for a major international conference at the Vatican in 2022 on the theology of the priesthood. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
VATICAN CITY — Increasing vocations to the priesthood, improving the way laypeople and priests work together and ensuring that service, not power, motivates the request for ordination are all possible outcomes of a major symposium being planned by the Vatican in February 2022.
“A theological symposium does not claim to offer practical solutions to all the pastoral and missionary problems of the church, but it can help us deepen the foundation of the church’s mission,” said Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and the chief organizer of the symposium planned for Feb. 17-19, 2022.
The symposium, “Toward a Fundamental Theology of the Priesthood,” seeks to encourage an understanding of ministerial priesthood that is rooted in the priesthood of all believers conferred at baptism, getting away from the idea of ordained ministry as belonging to “ecclesiastical power,” the cardinal said at a news conference April 12.
The three-day gathering, the cardinal said, is aimed specifically at bishops and delegations of theologians and vocations personnel from every country, although it will be open to other theologians and people interested in the topic.
The relationship between baptism and ordained ministry needs greater emphasis today, Ouellet said, but reviewing the foundations of a theology of priesthood also “involves ecumenical questions not to be ignored, as well as the cultural movements that question the place of women in the church.”
The recent synods of bishops on the family, on young people and on the church in the Amazon all show the urgency of questions surrounding priesthood and relationships among people with different vocations in the church, the cardinal said.
Michelina Tenace, a professor of theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, is helping organize the symposium and told reporters that going back to baptism and the priesthood of all believers “isn’t just a fashion, it’s the basis for all Christian life.”
The clerical abuse scandal, she said, makes the questions of priestly identity, vocational discernment and formation more urgent.
Fr. Vincent Siret, rector of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome, said a deeper reflection on priesthood — both the priesthood of all the baptized and ministerial priesthood — is essential for those engaged in training men for the priesthood.
“The baptismal life is the fundamental human vocation, and all must exercise the priesthood received at baptism. Ministry is at the service of this,” he said. “Reflecting on the fundamental theology of the priesthood will also make it possible to return to the justifications for priestly celibacy and the way it is lived.”
The Catholic Church requires most priests in its Latin rite to be celibate. While Ouellet, Siret and Tenace all mentioned the importance of celibacy in the Latin rite, none of them mentioned the traditions of the Eastern Catholic churches that continue to have both married and celibate clergy.
It is by now well-known that Pope Francis is unhappy about the dangers of what he, himself, is disposed to call the problems of ‘clericalism’ in the Roman Catholic Church He is also known to favour the forward-looking incentives of the Vatican II Council to modernise the Church’s pastoral and liturgical functions – in order to emphasize the Baptismal call on all Christians, both clerical and lay, to exercise ministries appropriate to their particulkar vocations, but with the understanding that ‘ministry’ is all derived from the charism of a common Baptism into Christ.
Pope Franics’ keenness to include the ministry of women into the Church’s administration – although he has not yet included them as being suitable for (or necessarily called to) ordained ministry – has now been proved by his appointment of various women into the organisational structures of the Church. Such functions were formerly carried out only by men, and mostly from the ranks of the ordained.
What is at stake, perhaps – in this calling of a special meeting to consider the ministry of the priesthood in the Catholic Church – is the constant tension between the elements of function and authority in priestly ministry. The faculty of trust has been a major preoccupation for the hierarchy of the Church, especially over the matter of the abuse of laity by the clergy. These matters will ievitably form part of the discussion that will take place at the meetings.
The ontology of the ordained priesthood must have a place in the discussion – a matter which will certainly concern the women of the Church – especially the likes of Michelina Tenace, a professor of theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, (who) is helping organize the symposium and who told reporters that going back to baptism and the priesthood of all believers “isn’t just a fashion, it’s the basis for all Christian life.”
Cardinal Ouellet the Organiser of the upcoming symposium has offered his own take on “The relationship between baptism and ordained ministry (that) needs greater emphasis today”, but reviewing the foundations of a theology of priesthood also “involves ecumenical questions not to be ignored, as well as the cultural movements that question the place of women in the church.”
This latter point is mentioned in this report at the end: “The Catholic Church requires most priests in its Latin rite to be celibate. While Ouellet, Siret and Tenace all mentioned the importance of celibacy in the Latin rite, none of them mentioned the traditions of the Eastern Catholic churches that continue to have both married and celibate clergy.”
So; one wonders whether there may be any substantive changes in the established R.C. tradition of (1) Celibacy; and (2) Male-only Priesthood – suggested or even made at this conference?
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand