On Thursday, February 17, a Symposium on the baptismal vocation will begin at the Vatican, entitled For a fundamental theology of the priesthood. The inaugural lecture was entrusted to Pope Francis, who reflected on the Faith and priesthood in our times. During the course of the meeting, which will continue until Saturday, sacramentality, mission, celibacy, charisms and spirituality will also be discussed.
The initiative was personally owed to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who founded in 2020 the Centro di Ricerca e di Antropologia e VocazioniThe Center for Research and Anthropology and Vocations, independent of the Holy See, is based in France.
In this interview with Omnes, Cardinal Ouellet reflects on various aspects of the priesthood and the baptismal vocation, and on other topics that will be addressed during the course of the Symposium in these days.
At the Symposium, you will present the priesthood in a Trinitarian perspective. In contrast, we perceive a more "human" or even "functionalist" conception of the priest. Is this the root of some proposals, as in the German Synodal Way?
-The priesthood refers to man's relationship with God. In Christianity, Christ is the sole mediator of this relationship, which is a covenant of love. The priest sacramentally represents Christ as mediator and can only be understood in this light. We cannot be satisfied with a sociological point of view that considers the distribution of power, nor can we limit ourselves to the perspectives of the media.
A recurring idea is that of female ordination. The opening of lay ministries to women has also been seen as a step towards the diaconate, or perhaps also towards the priesthood. Are the diaconate and/or the female priesthood an open possibility?
-Asking the question in this way reflects a functional male mentality that homologizes women to the male role and neglects their own charismatic dimension. Changes in the Church must go much deeper than an assignment of roles, which keeps women in a subordinate position to men. It is time for theology to reflect on the feminine mystery in itself and in reciprocity with the masculine.
The "fundamental theology of the priesthood," on which the Symposium is based, is part of a theology of the Church. However, is the Church understood today?
-A fundamental theology of the priesthood thinks first of baptism as the first participation in the priesthood of Christ, since baptism communicates to us the grace of his divine filiation, which is the foundation of his priesthood and of our participation in it as members of his Body. The ordained ministry presupposes baptism and consists in a subsequent charism of representation of Christ the Head, placed at the service of the growth of the filial priesthood of the baptized. Therefore, the Church must not be reduced to its hierarchy, since it is above all the community of the baptized around the Mother of God.
The life of the Church is rooted in the Eucharist. The priesthood is born of the Eucharist and lives for the Eucharist, but how can we also foster the Eucharistic identity of all the baptized?
- The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church," said Father de Lubac. The Church performs the rite, but it is Christ in the Eucharist who gives life to the Church, which is his Body constituted by baptism. The Eucharistic celebration is a nuptial mystery where the risen Christ gives his Body to the Church, his Bride, and awaits the personal response of love of each baptized person and member of the assembly. We need to re-evangelize the meaning of Sunday.
In what sense do we speak of "vocational culture"?
-The Synod on Youth spoke of a vocational culture in the sense, first of all, of a response to God in all the services that we, the baptized, render to society. Each person receives a particular gift from the Holy Spirit, which is concretized in the choice of a state of life and, therefore, of a specific service to the Church and to society. An ecclesial community should be concerned with awakening and accompanying the particular vocations that normally flourish where there is a vocational awareness of the baptized.
Celibacy and abuse
The child abuse scandal has put priests in the spotlight. With a view to prevention, how can we take care of their formation, especially in the affective area?
-Priests need understanding and solidarity. They are very tested by the current situation of abuses, and they need the community to better live their commitment. This need also concerns the formation of priests, which should not be completely isolated, but should be done in relationship and synergy with families, local communities, consecrated persons and the laity. Priestly friendship has always been a precious resource for maintaining the impetus towards holiness.
Some think that abolishing priestly celibacy would help to stop abuse.
-Some people think that celibacy is the cause of abuse, whereas abuse exists in all situations of education, family life, sporting life, etc. The real cause is not the state of consecrated celibacy but the lack of self-control and affective imbalance. It is certainly necessary to improve the discernment of vocations to the priesthood and to watch over the psycho-affective and moral balance of the candidates.
How can celibacy be explained today?
-Celibacy must be presented from the perspective of faith. Christ called his disciples to leave everything to follow him. He was able to do so by virtue of his divine identity as the eternal Son of the Father who came in the flesh to bring salvation to humanity. To follow him in celibacy is above all a confession of faith in this identity and an act of love in response to his loving call.
Priests have a special task in the mission of the Church. How does the mission, the "sending", define the priesthood?
-The fundamental priesthood is the baptismal consecration that makes us sons and daughters of God. The ordained ministry is at the service of the growth of the baptized through the proclamation of the Word and the gift of the sacraments. The priest thus exercises a spiritual fatherhood that can fill his heart with apostolic joy when lived in a spirit of holiness.
Are there any other aspects of the Symposium that you would like to highlight?
-Yes, indeed. Perhaps the surprise of the Symposium is to see the importance and role of the consecrated life for the communion of the two participations in the one priesthood of Christ, the baptismal priesthood and the ordained ministry.