Pope Cautions Against Dilution of Priestly Ministry

Encourages Solid Doctrinal Education Among Clergy

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is affirming the importance of the ministerial priesthood in the Church, and is calling for greater attention to the education of clergy.



The Pope said this today during an audience with participants of the Congregation for Clergy's plenary assembly, a Vatican communiqué reported. In this meeting, he also announced his intention to convoke a Year for Priests, beginning June 19, on the occasion of 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars.

The Pontiff cautioned his audience against confusing the baptismal and ministerial priesthood, stating that the two are distinguished on an ontological level, rather than by a variance in degrees. The second dimension, he said, "arises from [the priest's] sacramental configuration to Christ the Head."

This configuration, he noted, "brings with it, as a consequence, a cordial and total adherence to what ecclesial tradition has identified as 'apostolica vivendi forma,' which consists in participation in that 'new way of life' that was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and which the Apostles made their own."

The Holy Father urged the bishops to ensure that "the 'new structures' or pastoral organizations are not planned for a time in which it will be possible to 'do without' ordained ministry, on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the promotion of the laity, because this would lay the foundations for a further dilution in priestly ministry, and any supposed 'solutions' would, in fact, dramatically coincide with the real causes of the problems currently affecting the ministry."

He also admonished them to cultivate a "truly paternal" relationship with the priests, and to concern themselves with "their permanent education, above all in the doctrinal area."

The Pope stressed the importance of the ministry, without which "there would be no Eucharist, no mission, not even the Church" and he recalled that the mission of the priest "has its roots in a special way in a good formation, carried out in communion with unbroken ecclesial Tradition, without pausing or being tempted by discontinuity."

"In this regard," he continued, "it is important to encourage priests, especially the young generations, to correctly read the texts of the Second Vatican Council, interpreted in the light of all the Church's doctrinal inheritance."

Visibility

The Pontiff spoke about the urgent need for priests to be "present, identifiable and recognizable -- for their judgment of faith, personal virtues and attire -- in the fields of culture and of charity which have always been at the heart of the Church's mission."

He said the mission of the priest concerns the Church, communion, hierarchy and doctrine, and added that these aspects should not be separated.

He explained: "The mission is ecclesial because no one announces or brings themselves, but rather in and through his own humanity, every priest should be very conscious of bringing Another, God himself, to the world. God is the only treasure that, definitively, mankind wishes to find in a priest."

The Holy Father said the mission concerns communion "because it takes place in a unity and communion which only at a secondary level possess important aspects of social visibility. These, moreover, are derived essentially from that divine intimacy of which the priest is called to be an expert, so that he can bring, with confidence and humility, the souls entrusted to him to the same meeting with the Lord."

He said that "the 'hierarchical' and 'doctrinal' dimensions emphasize the importance of ecclesiastical discipline -- a term related to that of 'disciple' -- and of doctrinal -- not just theological, initial and permanent -- formation."

The Pope concluded by urging those present to discover the centrality of Jesus Christ who gives meaning and value to the ministerial priesthood.

He added, "As Church and as priests we announce Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, crucified and risen, Sovereign of time and history, in the joyful certainty that this truth coincides with the deepest hopes of the human heart."