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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Not Enough Celibate Priests! Make Way For Married Priests?

Not Enough Celibate Priests! Make Way For Married Priests?

This is the remedy being considered by Cardinal Hummes and Pope Francis for regions with a scarcity of clergy, starting with the Amazon. But there were also few missionaries in 17th-century China, and yet the Church flourished. It’s all in “La Civiltà Cattolica”

by Sandro Magister
Cardinal Claudio Hummes
ROME, September 21, 2016 – Pope Francis received in audience a few days ago the Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes, accompanied by the archbishop of Natal, Jaime Vieira Rocha.

Hummes, 82, former archbishop of São Paulo and prefect of the Vatican congregation for the clergy, is today the president both of the commission for the Amazon of the episcopal conference of Brazil and of the Pan-Amazonian Network that joins together 25 cardinals and bishops of the surrounding countryside, in addition to indigenous representatives of different local ethnicities.

And in this capacity he supports, among others, the proposal to make up for the scarcity of celibate priests in immense areas like the Amazon by also conferring sacred ordination upon “viri probati,” meaning men of proven virtue, married.

The news of the audience therefore gave the idea that Pope Francis had discussed this very question with Hummes, and in particular an “ad hoc” synod of the 38 dioceses of the Amazon, which is effectively in an advanced phase of preparation.

Not only that. There is renewed vigor behind the rumor that Jorge Mario Bergoglio wants to assign to the next worldwide synod of bishops, scheduled for 2018, precisely the question of ordained ministers, bishops, priests, deacons, including the ordination of married men.

The hypothesis had already been addressed following the twofold synod on the family:

> The Next Synod Is Already in the Works. On Married Priests (9.12.2015)

It had made rapid strides forward:

> Married Priests. The Germany-Brazil Axis (12.1.2016)

And now it seems to be gaining ground. Curiously, shortly before the pope received Hummes, Andrea Grillo - an ultra-Bergoglian theologian, professor at the pontifical atheneum of St. Anselm, whose contributions have been systematically relaunched and emphasized by the para-Vatican website “Il Sismografo” - had even forecast in detail the theme of the next synod on “the ordained ministry in the Church,” divided into these three sub-themes:

- the collegial exercise of the episcopacy and the restitution to the bishop of full authority over the diocesan liturgy;
- the formation of presbyters, with the rethinking of the Tridentine form of the seminary and the possibility of ordaining married men;
- the theology of the diaconate and the possibility of a female diaconate.

The authority to whom Grillo and all the clerical and lay reformers invariably refer in formulating this and other proposals is the deceased cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, with his bombshell talk at the 1999 synod.

The archbishop of Milan at the time, a Jesuit and the undisputed leader of the “liberal” wing of the hierarchy, he said that he “had a dream”: that of “an experience of universal encounter among the bishops that would serve to untie some of those disciplinary and doctrinal knots which periodically reappear as hot topics in the journey of the European Churches, and not only European.”

And here are the “knots” he listed:

“I think in general of the explorations and developments of the ecclesiology of communion of Vatican II. I think of some already dramatic situations of a lack of ordained ministers and of the growing difficulty for a bishop of providing for the care of souls in his territory with a sufficient number of ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist. I think of some issues concerning the position of woman in society and in the Church, the participation of the laity in some ministerial responsibilities, sexuality, the discipline of marriage, penitential practice, relations with the sister Churches of Orthodoxy and more in general the need to revive ecumenical hope, I think of the relationship between democracies and values and between civil laws and the moral law.”

Of the Martinian agenda, the two synods convened so far by Pope Francis have discussed “the discipline of marriage” and “the Catholic vision of sexuality.”

And the new synod could indeed resolve “the shortage of ordained ministers” by opening the way for the ordination of married men and of women as deacons, this last point having been already been put into the works by Pope Francis with the appointment last August 2 of a study commission:

> Francis and the Women. Homilies No, Diaconate More No Than Yes


The main argument brought forth in support of the ordination of married men is the same as the one enunciated by Cardinal Martini: “the growing difficulty for a bishop of providing for the care of souls in his territory with a sufficient number of ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist”

The Amazon would be one of these immense “territories” in which the few celibate priests present are capable of reaching remote groups of faithful no more than two or three times a year. Therefore with grave harm - it is maintained - to the “care of souls.”

It must be said, however, that such a situation is by no means exclusive to the present day. It has characterized the life of the Church in various centuries and in the most diverse areas.

Not only that. The scarcity of priests has not always led to harm for the “care of souls.” On the contrary, in some cases it has even coincided with a blossoming of Christian life. Without anyone getting the idea to ordain married men.

This is what happened, for example, in the China of the 17th century. An account of this is presented in the September 10 issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” with an erudite article by the Jesuit sinologist Nicolas Standaert, a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, and therefore an irreproachable source, seeing the very close, statutory relationship that the magazine has with the popes and with the current one in particular, who personally follows its composition in agreement with the director of the magazine, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro:

> Grandi personaggi della Chiesa primitiva in Cina. Il ruolo delle comunità cristiane

In the 17th century in China, the Christians were few and dispersed. Standaert writes:

“When Matteo Ricci died in Peking in 1610, after thirty years of mission, there were about 2,500 Chinese Christians. In 1665, there were probably about 80,000 Chinese Christians, and around 1700 there were about 200,000, which was still a small number compared with the whole population, between 150 and 200 million inhabitants.”

And there were also very few priests:

“At the death of Matteo Ricci, there were only 16 Jesuits in all of China: eight Chinese brothers and eight European fathers. With the arrival of the Franciscans and Dominicans, around 1630, and with a slight increase in the Jesuits during the same period, the number of foreign missionaries came to more than 30, and remained constant between 30 and 40 over the span of the next thirty years. Afterward there was an increase, reaching a peak of about 140 between 1701 and 1705. But then because of the controversy over rites, the number of missionaries fell by about half.”

As a result, the ordinary Christian met with the priest no more than “once or twice a year.” And during the few days over which the visit lasted, the priest “conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized.”

Then the priest disappeared for many months. And yet the communities held together. On top of  that, Standaert concludes, “they turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice.”

The following are the details of that fascinating adventure for the Church, as reported in “La Civiltà Cattolica.”

Without any reflection on the need to ordain married men.


“The missionary came once or twice a year”

by Nicolas Standaert, S.J.

from "La Civiltà Cattolica" no. 3989 of September 10, 2016

In the 17th century, Chinese Christians were not organized in parishes, meaning geographical areas around a church building, but rather in “associations,” headed by laymen. Some of them were a combination of Chinese-stye associations and of Marian congregations of European inspiration.

It appears that such Christian associations were very widespread. For example, around 1665 there were about 140 congregations in Shanghai, while there were more than 400 congregations of Christians in all of China, in both the big cities and the villages.

The settling in of Christianity at this local level took place under the form of what can be called “communities of efficacious rituals,” groups of Christians whose lives were organized around particular rituals (Mass, feasts, confessions etc.). These were “efficacious” both in the sense that they built up a group and in the sense that they were considered by the members of the group as capable of bringing meaning and salvation.

The efficacious rituals were structured on the basis of the Christian liturgical calendar, which included not only the main liturgical feasts (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.), but also celebrations of the saints. The introduction of Sunday and of the Christian feasts made it so that the people lived according to a rhythm different from the liturgical calendar used in the Buddhist or Taoist communities. The most evident rituals were the sacraments, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and confession. But communal prayer - above all the recitation of the rosary and the litanies - and fasting on certain days constituted the most important ritual moments.

These Christian communities also reveal some essential characteristics of Chinese religious devotion: communities that are very oriented toward the laity and have lay leaders; the important role of women as transmitters of rituals and traditions within the family; a conception of the priesthood oriented to service (itinerant priests, present only on the occasion of important feasts and celebrations); a doctrine expressed in a simple way (recited prayers, clear and simple moral principles); a faith in the transforming power of rituals.

Little by little, the communities came to function in an autonomous manner. An itinerant priest (initially a foreigner, but in the 18th century mainly Chinese priests) was accustomed to visit them once or twice a year. Normally the leaders of the communities gathered the various members once a week and presided over prayers, which most of the members of the community knew by heart. They also read sacred texts and organized religious instruction. They often held separate gatherings for the women. Moreover, there were itinerant catechists who instructed the children, the catechumens, and the neophytes. In the absence of a priest, local leaders administered baptism.

During his annual visit of a few days, the missionary conversed with the leaders and with the faithful, received information from the community, cared for sick persons and catechumens, etc. He heard confessions, celebrated the Eucharist, preached, baptized, and prayed with the community. After his departure, the community continued its usual practice of reciting the rosary and the litanies.

The ordinary Christian therefore saw a missionary once or twice a year. The true center of Christian life was not the missionary, but the community itself, with its leaders and catechists as the main connecting link.

Above all in the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century these communities turned into small but solid centers of transmission of Christian faith and practice. Because of the absence of missionaries and priests, the members of the community - for example, the catechists, the virgins and other lay guides - took control of everything, from financial administration to ritual practices, including the leading of sung prayers and the administration of baptisms.


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.